Liberal leadership race heats up

In my last post, I speculated that New Brunswick Liberal MP (and son of a former Governor General) Dominic LeBlanc would throw his hat into the ring for leadership of the Liberal Party. Today, LeBlanc became the first MP to announce his intentions to seek the leadership running between Ignatieff on the relative right and Rae on the left of the party.

I’ve learned some other details about who might back a LeBlanc bid for leadership. I suggested yesterday that a Martin adviser such as Steve MacKinnon would back LeBlanc. With McKenna expected to remain outside of the race, I mused that MacKinnon may go LeBlanc. However, I’ve learned today that the former national director of the Liberal Party will likely back Ignatieff while communications gurus from Paul Martin’s PMO such as Scott Reid and Tim Murphy will be more likely to back the New Brunswick MP while a Liberal insider I spoke to expects John Duffy to go with Rae.

If Ujjal Dosanjh enters the race (if he survives a putative court challenge for a recount), he is expected to do so for the purpose of gathering BC delegates for Bob Rae.

Conservatives and New Democrats I have spoken with have previously feared a bid by Bob Rae. Conservatives believe that Rae will unite and polarize the left while the NDP fears massive hemorrhaging of their membership for Rae. Recently, however, Conservatives are more bullish on their future against a Rae-led Liberal Party as the Global Economic Crisis has severely diminished Rae’s futures on the leadership market. Conservatives would easily remind Canadians of Bob Rae’s tenure during Ontario’s last economic recession and would make the case that Rae days would soon return.

As for second tier candidates, Ruby Dhalla is considering a bid. Sources of mine in Brampton–Springdale have told me that even during the election (before the knives were in Dion’s back), Dhalla told Punjabi language radio that she would be running for the Liberal leadership. Dhalla is seen to be on the right-flank of the Liberal Party and backed Ignatieff’s bid during the 2006 leadership race so unless her candidacy caches fire, she may be building proxy support for the other Liberal professor.

Woe for my love of a great comedy, Justin Trudeau is not expected to jump into the leadership race. Indeed, the son of the former Liberal Prime Minister has not yet got his feet wet in the House of Commons. Trudeau is expected to back LeBlanc as the current standard-bearer of the next generation of Liberal leaders. Trudeau backed former Ontario-cabinet minister Gerard Kennedy for leadership in 2006. Kennedy is testing the waters for entry into this contest, however, many believe that as Dion’s kingmaker, Kennedy may sit this one out to put some time between this aberration and his ambition.

Yesterday, former Chretien finance minister John Manley tested the waters in a most self-deprecating way but found none to dive into as he metaphorically suggested. The author of the Harper-initiated Manley Report was seen by many Liberals as betrayal to a weakened, embarrassed and voiceless party on the opposition benches. Manley may find redemption in his party by organizing for a front-running candidate and this would have the benefit of keeping his name in the minds of Liberal partisans.

Ironically, Dion’s election as Liberal leader may see more longshots enter this race. Ambitious Liberals with at least an ounce of name recognition may see a divided field and plan a run up the middle. LeBlanc’s entry into the race gains credibility because he is first to announce. Others may see that LeBlanc is planning a Dion-like charge up the middle as Dion had done and work to position themselves as a more palatable consensus candidate. Ottawa politicos are guessing that the field of candidates will be necessarily narrow due to a shallow and parched pool of donors. Since leadership contenders can carry previous debts into the next Liberal race, the Liberal base will again be tapped for sparse cash from not only the next crop making the case to be the Liberal Party’s next PM, but from those that are resume building and those paying down old debts during an economic crisis.

UPDATE: Ruby Dhalla’s office contacted me and they would like you to know that Ruby Dhalla did not state that she was running for leader on Punjabi radio. So, for now it’s a matter of she said vs. they said. (UPDATE: I’m now concluding that these Brampton–Springdale sources are likely inaccurate. My sincere apologies to Ruby Dhalla on this point.) Also, Dhalla’s office wants everyone to know that the image above is doctored and that Dr. Dhalla did not pose for the photo. They asked that I remove it. However, I will not comply as the image is obviously satire.

Government’s motion on Afghanistan will split Liberals

The following is text of the government’s motion on extending the mission in Afghanistan. My comments appear between segments of the motion. The key point of contention is Canada’s extended role in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar from 2009-2011.

That, whereas the House recognizes the important contribution and sacrifice of Canadian Forces and Canadian civilian personnel as part of the UN mandated, NATO-led mission deployed in Afghanistan at the request of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan;

This sets the scene and important in the emphasis of the internationalist, multilateral mandate that Canada operates under in Afghanistan. The mission operates with the blessing of the UN, an organization in which most Canadians believes strongly and with which Canada self-identifies when it comes to its foreign policy. The UN mandated mission should be something that Liberals can easily subscribe to, but it’s interesting to note that despite the UN’s acceptance of the mission, the NDP and Bloc take a strict isolationist approach.

whereas, as set out in the Speech from the Throne, the House does not believe that Canada should simply abandon the people of Afghanistan after February 2009; that Canada should build on its accomplishments and shift to accelerate the training of the Afghan army and police so that the government of Afghanistan can defend its own sovereignty and ensure that progress in Afghanistan is not lost and that our international commitments and reputation are upheld;

The Speech from the Throne of course is an important reference point. The government received a mandate from Parliament when the Throne Speech passed in the fall. The Liberals, forming the Official Opposition, passed on judging the government’s proposed mandate and abstained from the vote. The Throne Speech first outlined the government’s intention to extend the mission in Kandahar through 2011. So, what has changed since then?

whereas in February 2002, the government took a decision to deploy 850 troops to Kandahar, the Canadian Forces have served in various capacities and locations in Afghanistan since that time and, on May 17, 2006, the House adopted a motion to support a two year extension of Canada’s deployment in Afghanistan;

whereas the House welcomes the report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan, chaired by John Manley, and recognizes the important contribution they have made;

What has changed is that John Manley has released his report. Manley expressed that Canada lost its voice on the international stage but has now regained it. Manley stated that when Canada speaks, the world listens. He cited the former Liberal PM Lester B. Pearson as a source for inspiration and for doing the right thing with respect to Canadian foreign policy.

whereas their Report establishes clearly that security is an essential condition of good governance and lasting development and that, for best effect, all three components of a comprehensive strategy military, diplomatic and development need to reinforce each other;

The report by the former Liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs has stressed the need for a mix of a number of Canadian efforts in Afghanistan (including military).

whereas the government accepts the analysis and recommendations of the Panel and is committed to taking action, including revamping Canada’s reconstruction and development efforts to give priority to direct, bilateral project assistance that addresses the immediate, practical
needs of the Afghan people, especially in Kandahar province, as well as effective multi-year aid commitments with concrete objectives and assessments, and, further, to assert strong Canadian leadership to promote better co-ordination of the overall effort in Afghanistan by the international community, and, Afghan authorities;

The government states, in its motion, that it is following the lead of Mr. Manley. Here the motion stresses aid development and international coordination. All of which should be found acceptable to a majority of Parliament.

whereas the results of progress in Afghanistan, including Canada’s military deployment, will be reviewed in 2011 (by which time the Afghanistan Compact will have concluded) and, in advance, the government will provide to the House an assessment and evaluation of progress, drawing on and consistent with the Panel’s recommendations regarding performance standards, results, benchmarks and timelines; and

Full reporting to Parliament on progress in Afghanistan.

whereas the ultimate aim of Canadian policy is to leave Afghanistan to Afghans, in a country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure;

How could any MP disagree?

therefore, the House supports the continuation of Canada’s current responsibility for security in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to the end of 2011, in a manner fully consistent with the UN mandate on Afghanistan, but with increasing emphasis on training the Afghan National Security Forces expeditiously to take increasing responsibility for security in Kandahar and Afghanistan as a whole so that, as the Afghan National Security Forces gain capability, Canada’s combat role should be commensurately reduced, on condition that:

Stephane Dion has stated that he wishes Canada’s “combat role” in Kandahar to cease by February 2009. John Manley recommends against this. The House will essentially be voting on the recommendations, or at least within the guidelines of the Manley Report. This motion is not inconsistent with John Manley’s recommendations and the Liberal Party (many of whom have incredible respect for Mr. Manley) will find itself divided on this motion if allowed to vote freely. John Manley and Mr. Harper are framing Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan in a Pearsonian perspective; internationalist intervention in failed states is the right thing to do and consistent with values that Canadians cherish. Mr. Dion faces a tough choice. If he chooses to abstain from voting on this important motion, he loses his credibility on speaking on the most important issue facing Parliament today, Canada’s role in Afghanistan. If Dion whips his caucus into voting against, there will be an open revolt against his leadership. If Dion allows a free vote on the motion, internal divisions within the party will be counted as if a roll call and the public division will emphasize that the Liberal party is only a loose collective of membership card holders waiting for the next leadership review.

(a) Canada secure a partner that will provide a battle group of approximately 1,000 to arrive and be operational no later than February 2009, to expand International Security Assistance Force’s security coverage in Kandahar;

A move entirely consistent with a recommendation from the Manley Report. A realistic move to shift some of the weight to a partnering NATO country.

(b) to better ensure the safety and effectiveness of the Canadian contingent, the government secure medium helicopter lift capacity and high performance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance before February 2009.

This is important for Canada’s success in Afghanistan. UAVs are recommended for road surveillance especially during the night in order to spot and help neutralize Taliban fighters planting IEDs at the sides of roads used by the Canadian military and aid workers.

Tonight’s Throne Speech

Prime Minister Harper has penned the mandate he seeks from Parliament for its next session and Governor General Michaelle Jean will deliver the Speech from the Throne tonight in the Red Chamber in about 2.5 hours time.

Most observers expect that the Prime Minister will be asking a lot of Parliament as Stephane Dion, the Liberal and Opposition leader is weakened by fratricide within his own party. The recent recruitment of former Liberal leadership hopeful John Manley will also allow the Prime Minister to pen a few more ideological lines into the speech and dare Dion to vote against.

There are a few factors which will determine the outcome of any brinkmanship that’s anticipated by some, however. For example, does the Prime Minister want to seek a defensible mandate and extend his term without triggering an election. In some cases, this is an advantageous move for Harper; the more time that he governs, the more of a record he has to run when he finally faces the electorate.

However, Dion is in a wounded state and could eventually recover through his own strategy (more unlikely) or via unforeseen “events” (less unlikely). Depending on the crises and issues faced by the Prime Minister over the next year, public opinion may turn. For example, the economy is healthy right now. What will we see in one year’s time? Should Harper go for an election now?

We can be certain that the NDP and the Bloc will be sure to come out immediately and oppose the Throne Speech claiming that they are they only principled opposition in Parliament to Stephen Harper and that Dion and the Liberals are weak. This will allow Jack Layton to represent the Canadian left and Gilles Duceppe to claim to represent both that constituency and Quebec’s interests. This has the benefit for both leaders of being the anti-Harper choice and of taking away Liberal votes as the Grits try and sort out what they stand for. Almost immediately after the Throne Speech, I can picture Layton claiming that the throne speech favours the rich (if personal tax cuts are a theme), the boardrooms (if corporate tax cuts are mentioned) and that this comes at the expense of “working families”. Duceppe will state that Harper cannot appeal to Quebec’s interests. Layton and Duceppe would also be wise to point out that Dion will not stand up to Harper and that the Liberal leader is ineffective and inconsequential.

Dion is of course between a rock and a hard place. He has few options and none seem to portray him in a good light. Dion does not want to trigger an election for a few reasons. In the best of interpretations it’ll be seen as suicidal and in the worst interpretation it’ll seem absolutely foolish. Further, for this weakened leader, what he doesn’t need is to draw the scorn of a Canadian electorate for precipitating an election that his own deputy declared somewhat prophetically that Canadians “don’t want”.

If Dion votes for the Throne Speech (after demands that Harper won’t meet fully, if at all), he will be seen to be an ineffective opposition leader. In fact, this voting outcome is a very possible scenario; we haven’t heard much pushback from Dion on Harper’s stated goals.

In one scenario we could see Dion voting against the speech with the strategy of showing up with a only a handful of Liberal MPs in order to prevent the fall of government. The Conservatives have 126 MPs, and the Opposition (minus Liberals) has 79 (let’s leave out the 3 independents for the sake of an easier model). This leaves a 47 vote difference that Dion has to make up in order to tie the Conservatives (with the Speaker breaking the tie). Therefore, Dion must have at most 47 MPs show up to vote against the speech, unless he wants to trigger an election (which he most certainly does not want to do). Here’s where Harper could have some fun. The Prime Minister could order 46 of his MPs to be absent from the vote leaving 80 to vote “yay”. With the 79 non-Liberals opposition members with 79 voting “nay”, this leaves Dion to show up and vote alone. Those close to Harper say the man likes to play strategy with the issues rather than with the musical chairs in Parliament. Therefore this final scenario, while amusing, is unlikely.

I do, however, think of it more likely that Dion will eventually vote against the speech. The embattled Liberal leader has to save face and any further wishy-washy behaviour by him will only encourage his enemies within his party.

It is pretty much assured that the NDP and Bloc will seat every member for the Throne Speech vote.

However, if we see Dion vote against, I wonder if we will see if his “honourable friends” in caucus line up behind him, triggering the election that he doesn’t want.

UPDATE AFTER THE SPEECH: Jack Layton won’t support the speech.

Gilles Duceppe won’t support the speech.

Elizabeth May would support the speech, but she hasn’t any members.

Stephane Dion says… ‘uh… we’ll sleep on it’. However, it’s likely that he will support the throne speech after overtures such as “well we knew it wasn’t going to be a Liberal throne speech” and “we’ll let you know tomorrow at 3:15pm” and “no government’s ever been defeated on the Throne Speech”. Although there’s news that members of his caucus are encouraging him to go (election-wise and therefore also into retirement).

If Dion supports the throne speech, the NDP will jump all over them and emphasize that the Liberals are an ineffective opposition. The Conservatives will also continue along the “Stephane Dion is not a leader” line and this is evident in the titling and branding of the Throne Speech, “Strong Leadership. A Better Canada.”

Macleans 50

Macleans newsmagazine has put together a new initiative called the Macleans 50 which is described as “A diverse field of Canada’s most well known and respected personalities from journalists to politicians offering their comments on the issues of the day, everyday.”.

To my astonishment, Macleans editor Adam Radwanski named me to the 50 and invited me to participate and to comment at the website along with other “50s” such as Tom Flanagan, John Manley, Steve Paikin, Paul Wells, Irshad Manji, Barry Cooper, Christy Clark, and L. Ian MacDonald (among others). The “Mac 50″ will comment on a variety of news from politics to health to education.

The official launch was on Monday and we’ve already seen many animated discussions.

I’m also happy to see Dan Arnold of CalgaryGrit on the list.

The next Governor General?

The PMO has announced that Paul Martin will be naming the next Governor General tomorrow. I’ve started a pool of candidates (both good and bad) and I need your help adding to them. Please add your candidates for Governor General in the comments and evaluate the odds that I (and/or others in the comments) have placed on their candidacy. I’ll add the best good/bad/funny suggestions below.

Bob Rae – 10:1
Preston Manning 25:1
David Frum – 300:1
Ezra Levant – 450:1
Lise Thibault – 5:1
Monique Begin – 5:1
Naomi Klein – 100:1
Wayne Gretzky – 50:1
David Suzuki – 20:1
John Manley – 10:1
Peter Mansbridge – 20:1
John Ralston Saul – 100:1
Warren Kinsella – 32,146,547:1

Comment submitted:
Carolyn Parrish – 32,000:1
Dave Nichol – 560:1
William Shatner – 7,000:1
Brian Mulroney – 200:1
Ralph Klein – 300:1
Ken Dryden – 12:1
Celine Dion – 150:1

Personally, I’d give Shatner better odds.