Peek-a-boo politics

The Liberals are complaining that Julian Fantino, the Conservative by-election candidate for Vaughan is playing “Peek-a-boo politics” by skipping all-candidates debate. For Liberals, they hope, this plays into a bit of a weak narrative of a secretive and scripted government that doesn’t want to engage “real Canadians”.

“This type of ‘peek-a-boo’ politics is straight out of the Harper playbook where scripted, invite-only photo-ops keep candidates safely out of reach of real people with real questions.”

All-candidates debates, while they sound great in principle, have very little value to the candidates themselves, especially if they represent mainline parties. If you’ve ever been to one of these events you know that each candidate brings their staff and volunteers and cheers and jeers and “engagement” with the “voting public” comes in the form of planted question after planted question. All-candidates debates sound good on paper, but in practice they’ve become farcical. All-candidates debates are more accurately described as “all-decided”.

In fact, when we used to train campaign managers (of all stripes) at the Manning Centre, we advised that all-candidates debates should actually be avoided if possible. Why? Because more accessible (leaning or undecided) voters are met at the door or on the telephone. A candidate’s time is much better invested knocking on doors or by doing telephone canvassing. All-candidates debates turn into a competition for fevered applause versus exaggerated boos for all candidates. The media is disappointed when a candidate is a no-show, of course, because these “debates” are a lazier opportunity for “getting the pulse” of the “electorate”. In fact, we used to advise candidates show to as few as possible in order to check the box for the media.

The Liberals should also be careful with the “Peek-a-boo” label as they’ve been guilty of their own charge in the past,

From a Globe and Mail report during the Liberal leadership race of 2008,

The weekend brouhaha at a meeting of Liberals from Ontario made it clear that Mr. Ignatieff is viewed as the leading contender, and that Mr. Rae’s first goal is to ensure his opponent does not quietly coast through the race.

On Sunday, Mr. Rae boycotted a leadership “forum” where candidates were to take questions from riding presidents and other party officials, after Mr. Ignatieff refused calls from his two rivals to open the session to reporters and cameras.

Mr. Rae accused Mr. Ignatieff of preparing a “peekaboo” campaign.

“There is a fray: It’s called a leadership race. And you can’t very well stay above it. If you want to stay above it, you’re not going to be in it,” Mr. Rae said outside the meeting at a Mississauga hotel.

“The Liberal Party is a political party. It’s not a private club.”

Live stream of the Alberta’s future conference in Edmonton

Liveblogging the opening panel of the Manning Centre Alberta Future conference.

Panelists:
Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party
Kyle Fawcett, PC Party of Alberta MLA Calgary North-Hill

Q: technological factors in Alberta’s future

Smith: we need to figure out what our policy on CO2 is. We don’t have a coherant policy. Smith explains that science of climate change is still under debate. Smith says rest of Canada doesn’t undrstand the value of oil sands for economy and energy security. Oil sands reputation repair needs to be job #1 according to the WAP leader. Smith asks audience to consider jobs created by oilsands development. “We should be celebrating the success of the oilsands”. Smith suggests we should also be investigating green energy alternatives. New producers and energy types are jockeying for position in the new electricity grid. Smith says there is no conflict with being a hydrocarbon producer and a green energy leader.

Q: if you could write the next chapter of Alberta’s future. What would it be?

Smith: we will find maturity as a province. We assert rightful jurisdiction in confederation. Now we are refered to as part of the west or as prairie province. We must be recognized as a grown up province. Perhaps we should be looking for our own provincial pension plan. We should have our own police force. We should take control over our own immigration like Quebec. We need to lead health care reform. Quebec leads it now, Alberta leads it now. WAP is not another “west want in” movement. WAP is about restoring Alberta’s leadership in Canada.

Q: what are the most important things we need to do today for Alberta’s future

Smith: we need a natural gas strategy. Change consumer behaviour. Gas prices are low, this gives us opportunity to develop this sector vs. coal. Our job in government is to establish free market to encourage entrepreneurship. We need most competitive tax structure in Canada and even North America. On democratic reform, the current government intimidates people that meet with me. Premier’s office seems to be writing down names of people getting involved with WAP. This reflects an erosion of our democracy.

Q: Alberta’s role on the national stage. Re: fed govt’s deficit, how should we deal with the feds?

Fawcett: we’re not immune to global economic trends. When the PM meets with other heads of state he must fulfill our commitments. I know that our fed ministers are treating everyone fairly including Albertans.

Smith: 65% of Alberta’s self-identify as right of centre. Best way we can influence federal decisions is to be a good role model. Lately, our provincial government has not been one. Why are we issueing Alberta bonds and going back in debt. We must balance our budget and get our spending in control first before addressing the federal government.

Fawcett: we are not running an operational deficit. We are spending money from when times were good. We don’t need to cut and slash but run on longterm wise fiscal management.

Smith: Alberta bring in 32 billion but spending 36 billion. The amount of official deficit is understated by governement.

Q: how do we increase voter turnout?

Smith: All parties, not just two right-of-centre parties will have input. Social media also allows us to connect directly with voters. This will help improve the overall dialogue and this will cause more people to turn out.

Fawcett: we haven’t even scratched the surface with techology. (Fawcett echoes Smith’s comments on social media). But not everyone will follow online. There’s still a role for traditional means: mail and townhalls. Had a senior’s forum two weeks ago and only 3 people came out. Social media cannot address all needs. We must still reach out using other means.

Manning: technology is part of getting voters to the polls but it’s not the only way. If yoy look at past visions it was core values that connected with people. You must ask, what are the core valuies that fill out your policy prescriptions. Not just a technological fix, but core values must inform policy to get more people out to the polls.

Smith: people come to Alberta because of leadership in policy. Alberta Advantage was about economic growth, best delivery of services.

Q: what kind of story do you find most resonates with Albertans

Smith: my grandfather came from the Ukraine. I was surprised to see that a story of my hard working immigrant grandfather resonated more in urban areas than rural. Alberta is a place where immigrants can realize their entrepreneurial dream. We need a governement that believes in individuals to govern themselves.

Fawcett: I hear stories of people born and raised in Alberta. I hear that they’re very proud to have achieved success in the province. To persue your own vision and dreams without govt standing in the way and then helpimg your own individuals. We must have equality of opportunity for Albertans to achieve their own vision, and for those that can’t we need to give them a hand up. Story is about achieving individual success and taking that to help your community.

Smith: I think it used to be that way. Now people are looking elsewhere. People aren’t looking to PC Party to respect property rights and democracy. This is why other parties are seeing new interest from Albertans.

Fawcett: we can’t govern off of public opinion polls. We’ve earned an outstanding mandate from the people. How can it be said that we’ve lost the support of Albertans?

Q: what would you say to someone that hasn’t wanted to get involved with either of your parties?

Fawcett: if you’re upset, get involved. Find your passion and get involved where you can make the best change.

Smith: in leadership race, I was surprised by new people who were never involved in politics, getting involved. We kept selling memberships after leadership race was over. This doesn’t usually happen. People are now seeing that we can do better. If not to replace government but to elect an effective opposition to ask uncomfortable questions to the government.

Q: oilsands. How do we improve alberta’s position ethically, economically, internationally with respect to the oilsands?

Smith: some Canadians feel that Canada’s reputation is damaged and that oilsands blight is not their fault. Ottawa wants to make oilsands reputation management a national priority. This is a mistake. Oilsands are a national jewel. Oilsands are not well understood by many Canadians. Immense amount of tech being developed to improve efficiency of oil extraction from oilsands. Why aren’t we talking about this? We should be talking about how we’re improve environmental sustainability of oilsands.

Fawcett: we hope Danielle and her caucus will support the premier when he sells the oilsands internationally. Buisiness also has a role in getting the story out. I hope Danielle is not advocating for cuts in the ministry of the environment. We can talk about natual gas all we want but we cannot put all of our eggs in one basket. Albertans should not be ashamed for taking the lead on economic development and environmental sustainability of oilsands. Technological innovation may well take us to bring our emissions on par with other extraction methods.

Smith: Carbon capture and storage will be a massive sinkhole for government spending. We don’t seem talk about reductions in CO2, we only talk about reducing rate of growth. Simple measures will bring us the furthest: consumer action on home reno, auto efficiency choices.

Q: what do we do about selling our “dirty oil” as some in the US put it?

Smith: one solution on talking about emissions with US may come from honest discussion about US decommissioning coal plants.

Q: what makes an Albertan? What makes us the same and what makes us different?

Smith: “every fiscal issue has a social dimension.” Albertans more disposed to looking to community issues to solve public policy problem. Some think that paying taxes will solve problems. We’re seeing that paying taxes do not provide services. Education and health are suffering because more people are looking to government to solve their problems.

Fawcett: agree with Danielle that solutions come from communities but definition of community has changed. Consider urban condo dweller. Is there community there as we have traditionally defined it?

Smith: we must consider outputs vs outcomes. Government focuses on outputs. We need to focus on outcomes. Found agreement with NDP activist on community involvement. Community connections are vital. Community doesn’t break down in urban environment, it is actually more important. Social media allows us to connect but we must still meet each other eye to eye.

Q: what is the role of society? What is the role of government? What does the “good life” mean?

Fawcett: the society that we want is the one that strikes the right balance. Where would we be without government involvement in the oilsands? Not that we should encourage more government encroachment, but we need to be more strategic. We need to be having more conversations like we’re having here this weekend? Where do we want Alberta to be in 20 years? We need find the vision and implementation strategy moving forward. This comes from individuals and collective society.

Smith: we must acknowledge that we’re a young province. We have every right to look at our next century as optimistically as we saw the last. You can avoid making public policy missteps by looking to the governments to increase liberty and freedom. Libertarians and social conservatives believe that governement has gotten to big for its own good. Stong families and communities are foundation of society. We cannot look to government to solve each problem. Must invest in infrastructure to increase economic growth. Our first objectives as MLAs is to “do no harm”

New worldclass laboratory to be included in the federal budget?

In 2008, I had the opportunity to tour the level 4 laboratory in Winnipeg Manitoba with my boss Preston Manning.  In my day job, I am the science policy and communications adviser for the Manning Centre for Building Democracy and part of our mandate at the Centre is to track policy initiatives that move Canada forward on the science, technology and innovation front.

During our visit, we were briefed on the national integrated network of research facilities and the technology which innervates it all to rapidly respond to biological hotspots as they emerge in Canada and around the world.  For example, rapid genotyping of pathogens to trace origin and spread is but one function of tracking function of the national lab in Winnipeg.  Communication is critical to rapid assessment and control of biological threats and we were treated to a glimpse of where outbreaks are monitored in the state-of-the-art “war-room” of the facility complete with banks of LCD televisions, situation desks and and digital maps with epidemiological data overlays.  While the facility serves to track and address global infectious disease, the research of level four biosafety pathogens such as the Marburg and Ebola viruses are at the foundation of the facility’s work.

Recently, I learned that the International Centre for Infectious Diseases and the University of Manitoba among others have forwarded an ambitious proposal for the upcoming federal budget which is getting a lot of buzz in the corridors of power in Ottawa.  A level 5 laboratory (L5L) has been proposed for the Winnipeg facility and such an infrastructure development would make it the facility the only one of its kind in the world.  The facility would continue to study biosafety level 4 pathogens but would do so in a sophisticated and unparalleled environment which would include a realistic hospital-like training facility, simulation facilities and a containment hospital ward replete with multiple airlocks.

Of course, Marburg and Ebola are of periodic global concern.  From a Canadian public policy perspective, the greatest sustained value of the facility would be tracking, research and containment of hospital acquired infections such as C. difficile, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus.  Hospital patients that acquire surgical infections find their survivability halved.

The proponents of the new facility project a 20% reduction in cases of hospital acquired infections by 2019.  They suggest that over 30 years of innovation and subsequent intervention accomplished through work at the facility, over $40 billion (healthcare costs and would-be lost wages) would be saved.

I know that this proposal has been presented to the ministers of industry, health, transport (infrastructure) and the minister of state for science and technology.  It has been well-received by many of them and I know that the proposal is being seriously considered.  If the budget this month is to include significant infrastructure development, such a world-class project would solidify Canada’s position as a leader in the research and treatment of infectious disease.  The $300 million facility would create highly skilled jobs, retain high value workers in Canada, export skills training to the US and overseas, provide testing facilities for commericial research and products and provide extensive support for the health services sector.

Hugh McFadyen interview

Today, I had the opportunity to chat with Hugh McFadyen, the leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Manitoba. McFadyen talked about the CPC Convention, the impact of the economic downturn on Manitoba, the NDP’s move to supress political speech and where he’ll be taking the party into the next election. McFadyen also spoke at a Manning Centre event in Winnipeg where he outlined his vision for the future of Manitoba.

Preston Manning Live Interview

Today, at 6pm EST, we’re going to try something new. My boss at the Manning Centre, Preston Manning, will answer your questions live here on this blog. The floor is open to whatever you’d like to ask (within reason) and I’ll do my best to moderate the discussion. It’ll be like those old days of the AOL celebrity chat, but with new web 2.0 technology. I hope that you’ll join us.

UPDATE: We’re live!

UPDATE: I think the experiment was a success. Here’s the video.

Canadian Networking Conference and Exhibition

Blogging has been light recently as the Manning Centre for Building Democracy (where I am a Fellow) held its annual Canadian Networking Conference and Exhibition in Ottawa this weekend. Here’s how the Hill Times reported on it this morning,

“Meanwhile, a whole slew of Conservative heavy-hitters attended the Manning Centre Conference, including former Alberta premier Ralph Klein and former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord who spoke about his early days as political leader. Health Minister Tony Clement also delivered a speech on his election experiences, while former Ontario premier Mike Harris participated on a panel discussing the Conservative movement and health care. Conservative blogger Stephen Taylor made a presentation on social networking and Richard Ciano, who runs the Conservative Campaign University, spoke about campaign technologies and techniques. Former Nova Scotia premier John Hamm introduced former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who gave the closing address.”

The conference kicked off with a reception held on Thursday evening which was attended by the Prime Minister, Preston Manning and a handful of cabinet ministers including Jim Flaherty and Monte Solberg. Preparing for the conference all day, I had not been able to evaluate the gravity of the Cadman-related allegations (I had only been peripherally aware of some Cadman-related story in the news) and greeting the Prime Minister, I cheerfully told him of my optimism related to recent events. In retrospect, I’m thankful that after this potentially disastrous declaration I referenced Dion’s deflation over the budget and the Liberal leader’s general troubles. That night, after getting home very late, I got caught up on the news and knew that it would be unsettling for my Conservative friends in Ottawa for some time.

The conference however soldiered on and the mood was generally upbeat. I got to catch up with a number of Blogging Tories and met a few of them in person for the first time. Dr. Roy, Steve from OfficiallyScrewed.com, Luca Manfredi and Sara Landriault were there among others. Even former BT “alumnus” Monte Solberg hung out for most of Saturday’s speeches. A quick poll that I took during my Saturday talk indicated that Blogging Tories was known to almost all of the attendees of the conference but many were surprised as to the depth and utility of the website; I took the opportunity to launch new features of the website from the stage including aggregated columnists, the aggregated conservative movement and the new version of Blogging Tories television. I’m also planning on launching a new feature on the website today so watch for it.

For all of those that came to the conference, thank you! For those that were unable to attend, we’ll be aiming for an even larger gathering of the conservative movement next year.