McKenna in Ottawa

Frank McKenna is in Ottawa today for an informal and intimate dinner at a small Centretown restaurant. He’ll be meeting with political staffers from all four parties, journalists, civil servants, lobbyists and intellectuals, all of which are Atlantic Canadians.

Given SES’s recent poll showing Dion’s Prime Ministerial potential at rock bottom, is McKenna in the first stages of testing the waters for a future bid at Liberal leadership?

The former New Brunswick Premier was smart to sit out for the last contest. But would McKenna steamroll Rae and Ignatieff in the next race?

Insiders say that McKenna would be a strong contender for the Liberal Party if he should ever become leader, however, it has also been said that the former Canadian ambassador to the US would rather be the clear favourite in such a race rather than getting down into the mud to slug it out with others that aspire to lead Trudeau’s party.

Ignatieff laughs behind Dion’s back

I was sitting up in the gallery on the day after the Speech from the Throne to catch the show after question period. Stephane Dion would be making a decision regarding what path his party would take in response to the government’s proposed mandate for the next parliamentary session.

Observing the Commons first hand can be quite different from watching it on TV. Particularly, the television coverage, wired in and directly controlled by House of Commons staffers often omits peripheral detail when it focuses in on the parliamentarian who happens to be speaking. Thus, catcalls and taunts between government and opposition benches are often barely heard on the television feed. However, this noise can be highly distracting when one has a front row seat.

What the television coverage captured, and which I missed because of my vantage point, was Michael Ignatieff chuckling along with Conservatives when they tossed barbs in the direction of the hapless Stephane Dion when the Liberal leader was delivering his response to the Throne Speech. I had even heard from an observer afterwards that Ignatieff had placed his hand over his mouth to stifle laughter while Dion was speaking.

So, I went back to check the videotape.


The first clip shows Ignatieff smirking and even rolling his eyes at one point . The second clip shows the deputy Liberal leader smiling, grimacing hard and then finally burying his face in his hand. It appears to be a man trying, but without much effort, to contain composure.

Here’s an excerpt what Sheila Copps (former Liberal leadership candidate and now Sun columnist) had to say about the incident:

While Dion has been fighting for his political life, Ignatieff underlings are doing everything possible to finish him off. With friends like those, Dion doesn’t need Conservative enemies.

While Ignatieff has recently taken to the airwaves in support of Dion, his face during the throne speech told a different story.

One eye cocked, and a smirk bubbling below the surface, at one point he even joined Tory guffaws at Dion’s awkward delivery. With Ignatieff’s poorly disguised glee, don’t expect the hemorrhaging in the Liberal Party to end any time soon.

and from Aaron Wherry of Macleans.ca:

The catcalls, meanwhile, grew louder — the government wits even winning a laugh from Ignatieff. As those who remained in the press gallery took turns groaning, the Conservative caucus descended into fits of giggles.

It has also been reported that Ignatieff remained seated for a number of standing ovations that the Liberals gave Dion during his speech. Here’s what Don Martin wrote:

One Liberal’s reaction was particularly telling. When all other MPs rose to celebrate a rare good jab in Mr. Dion’s address, deputy leader Michael Ignatieff seemed to stay in his seat most of the time. I’m not sure whether this was a sudden attack of leg cramps or the opening shot of a leadership challenge, but the optic was hard to miss.

Here’s a video summary of the standing ovations given to Dion during his speech. Also, look for Dion’s quick check of Ignatieff who isn’t applauding like the rest of caucus at 1min 18s (-1:41)


The new “opposition”

If Joe Clark’s mistake was that he arrogantly governed with his minority government as if he had a majority, will Stephane Dion’s mistake be that he is timidly opposing Stephen Harper’s minority government as if the Prime Minister had a majority?

But it’s even worse than that. Stephane Dion as Opposition leader is not opposing or even supporting the government’s mandate. In effect, by abstaining from judging the government’s sought mandate, Dion isn’t showing up for work.

The NDP has parsed the opposition benches into the absent opposition (Liberals) and the effective opposition (NDP).

The Prime Minister should play along this theme.

Since Dion is effectively silent on the Prime Minister’s mandate by abstaining from voting on the Throne Speech, Harper should simply rebuke Dion’s future questions and remind him of the opportunity he had to support or oppose the government’s outlined agenda. Harper should then proceed to only debate the points of the NDP and the Bloc as the effective opposition since these parties are the ones fulfilling their parliamentary roles.

If elections are held for parties to seek a mandate from the people to govern, the Throne Speech is ratification and confirmation of that mandate by Parliament. If Stephane Dion wants Parliament to work as he so clearly states, it can do so by approving the government’s mandate or by opposing it sending the parties back to the hustings to determine the true support/opposition to the government’s plan. In effect, by abstaining Dion has made Parliament less functional and by not wanting an election it seems that the Liberal leader would rather leave Parliament, with its checks and balances, in limbo for the sake of our convenience rather than allow us to fulfill our duty as the electorate since he cannot exercise his as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

If Dion cannot enunciate his party’s position in opposition when the government seeks its mandate, how can he expect us to trust his abilities to do so if he should ever form government?

UPDATE: I found this post on Ignatieff’s website concerning what the Liberals should do for the Throne Speech.

“I’m driving down the highway with Suzanna and Scott Brison is at the wheel. It is a white knuckle experience. I’ve just given a talk to 300 students at Dalhousie Law School and tonight well be in Cheverie at a fundraiser for Scott. There is media at every spot asking what the party should do on the throne speech. We need to read it first and then decide what party interest and national interest require. One thing is sure : we — and not the PM — will do the deciding. Let’s keep and hold the initiative. More later. MI”

Unfortunately for Ignatieff (or fortunately?), the Liberals didn’t take initiative and the Liberals instead decided on being indecisive.

“Canadians don’t want an election right now”

The line “Canadians don’t want an election right now” is becoming an interesting bit of spin now used by both the Liberals and the Conservatives regarding both the lifespans of their respective governments and now by the Liberals, in Opposition.

I suppose that part of the rationale for this new but now becoming ensconced in the political lexicon is that for the past three years and three months, we’ve had two successive minority governments and the possibility of an election falling upon Canadians by parliamentary discordance has become more and more probable. The last time we, as Canadians, had a majority government it was up to the Prime Minister to determine when Canadians wanted an elected (or didn’t, whatever the strategy may be). However, now that Prime Minister Harper has passed legislation taking this out of the hands of future majority Prime Ministers, elections will happen for majority governments on fixed dates and the mood of the electorate on such timing issues is moot. Yet, here we are with two successive minority governments and “electoral mood” is something to consider, even if it is unmeasured and declared by party spokesman for whatever strategic reason.

Consider Paul Martin’s minority government in the spring of 2005. The Opposition Conservatives at the time pulled out all of the stops in order to force an election on Paul Martin, a frantic and frenzied leader who looked uncomfortable with the power he sought his whole life. Paul Martin wanted to govern. Desperately. Couple this with mounting scandal and a general consensus that the man that promised over 200 Liberal seats when he took over the reins was floundering and may at best only pull off another minority.

Governments in power declare that Canadians don’t want an election because of a sincere desire to govern. For Paul Martin, this desire to govern was a function of his desire to avoid the dreaded fate of another minority (and leadership review to follow) or worse, defeat to the Conservatives.

The good news for Prime Minister Stephen Harper is that today, there isn’t a looming scandal and the barbarians in Opposition aren’t taking a battering ram to the gate of his small but secure fortress. Indeed, Stephane Dion is at the weakest point in his leadership since he was chosen by Liberal delegates in December of 2006. Harper doesn’t have the benefit of 13 years in power and thus doesn’t as much of a record to run on. When Harper says that “Canadians don’t want an election right now”, like Martin it means that he wants to govern, but unlike Martin it means that he wants to build a solid foundation of trust with Canadians rather than desperately try to patch together the semblance of a working government build upon the cracked concrete of waste and scandal.

Most recently, we’ve seen Michael Ignatieff muse in Opposition that “Canadians don’t want an election right now.” First of all, it is the Opposition’s role to oppose the government. Is this the deputy Liberal leader’s way of lowering expectations for what we should expect from the Liberals on their “opposition” to the Throne Speech. Is Ignatieff preparing us so that we aren’t shocked when Dion and only a handful of Liberals show up to symbolically vote against? But on the topic of the desirability of an election to Canadians, to the best of my knowledge, this poll question has not been asked as of late, so we can safely assume that this is rather a reflection of Liberal wishful thinking that Canadians will spare political parties of judgment at the polls, at least for the next little while. It is indicating, yet not surprising that the Liberals fear judgment of their party, rather than the incumbent Conservatives.

Nobody could reasonably spin that Stephen Harper fears the voters, yet it doesn’t take much creative interpretation to muse that the Liberals are terrified of their own electoral prospects. For which reasons do Canadians desire elections? At a base level, Canadians desire to make their democratic will known at least every 5 years. But to want an election for reasons beyond that, there has to be an overwhelming desire for change. Since such a desire does not exist, Ignatieff is likely right when he says that Canadians don’t want an election right now. However, his reasons (and those of his embattled caucus and leader) are clearly different from those of Canadians and if the Liberals hope to lead, their desires regarding election timing and change must be aligned with at least that of a plurality of the electorate.

Decoding Harper’s Political Strategy on Afghanistan

This article by Campbell Clark of the Globe and Mail describing Defense Minister Peter MacKay’s comments on Afghanistan on CTV’s Question Period this past Sunday, left me a bit unsettled and confused.

OTTAWA — Canada has made it clear to its NATO allies that they cannot count on our troops to fight on the deadly battlefields of southern Afghanistan after February of 2009, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday.

“The signal that has been sent already is that our current configuration will end in February, 2009,” Mr. MacKay said in an interview on the CTV television program Question Period.

“Obviously the aid work and the diplomatic effort and presence will extend well beyond that. The Afghan compact itself goes until 2011,” he said. “But the way the mission is currently configured, with respect to our presence in Kandahar, there is an expiration date that has been set.”

This is a clear step forward from the Prime Minister’s earlier assertion that a consensus in Parliament would be needed to extend the mission – in it’s current state – past February 2009.

So, what is going on here? Is this what it seems? Is this surrender by the Conservative government on a key conservative principle?

The more I thought about it, the more I started to think about this announcement in a strategic way.

So, here’s my prediction:

Afghanistan is going to be the wedge issue during the next election to take place when the government puts the mission to a vote in Parliament. The vote will fail, the opposition will indicate its majority intention to withdrawal from Kandahar and the government will fall, because Harper will make it a confidence vote.

Why? Numbers.

As it stands, 50% of Canadians support the current mission in Afghanistan while 50% of Canadians do not. Harper needs about 40% of the vote to get a majority government.

MacKay’s announcement on Sunday does a few things. First of all, it indicates an utmost respect for Parliament as the mission and extension will still go to a vote (as indicated in Clark’s article). Secondly, it makes the opposition put down their guns on the Afghanistan issue for a while (continuous shelling of the mission puts it in a weak position in the forum of Canadian opinion). The opposition looks foolish when continuing to whine about the issue when the government has indicated that the mission (in the current parliamentary climate) cannot continue past February 2009. Third, it allows the government to prepare behind the scenes to sell the mission. The governing party has an advantage over the opposition parties in that it has two forums to spread its message, the House and outside of it. By indicating that the government recognizes that it is unlikely to win the Afghanistan mission vote, this disarms the opposition from consistently bringing it up in the House. Meanwhile, the government (the Conservatives) aim to sell it as an issue campaign across the country.

While the government recognizes it is unlikely to win an extension in Afghanistan, the Conservative Party will still maintain the position that an extension is in Canada’s interests and will advance that position up to the vote. There is a bit of a dichotomy here: Minister MacKay concedes the realities of the government’s minority position on the policy, while the politics of Conservatives will continue to lobby for an extension. By playing government minister, MacKay disarms the House (because the House checks the government, not the Conservative Party).

The Afghanistan extension is a perfect wedge issue for Harper. Only the Conservatives and the NDP have a clear position on the issue and only one can form government. The Liberals are bitterly divided on the issue. Ignatieff supports the mission in Afghanistan and Rae has indicated a tough on terror position in the past. Dion’s position is weak, somewhat against but certainly not for the mission. In fact, he has flip-flopped so many times in the past on the issue of Afghanistan. Of course, this plays into the Conservative narrative of weak leadership regarding Dion. Both Ignatieff and Rae are looking to topple Dion after an election, but concerning an extension as far away as 2009, this might be a wide enough window for both Rae and Ignatieff to act sooner rather than later. Harper’s strategy is to both create both a stronger NDP and a Liberal Party bitterly divided.

What other issue creates these winning conditions?

Afghanistan is a perfect issue to rally the conservative base, a reluctant group that has become angry over income trusts and only came out to vote in their champions in the wake of the biggest corruption scandal in Canadian history.

Regarding Quebec, I’m starting to think that the media’s read on Quebec voting intention regarding Afghanistan are overblown. I think that more Quebeckers would get out to vote for the mission than get out and vote against it come election day. Quebec remains a puzzle though despite Harper’s continuous attention to that province.

Speaking of which, Harper has also taken hits among the base for increased spending. Where, however, has this government spent? Childcare cheques, the military and transfer payments (fiscal imbalance) have been the shifted spending priorities of Canada’s New Government. The latter of which should help buffer some of that anti-military sentiment that the Toronto press believes that exists so pervasively in la belle province.

Back to leadership, this issue favours Harper in an electoral footing. Because he has a better control of the timing of an election, he will obviously define a ballot issue that favours his government and personal leadership. Afghanistan is a red meat issue while the environment is assorted mixed greens. Defining the election on Afghanistan favours Harper’s strong grizzle-laden leadership style, while the weaker Dion will be left sitting in vinaigrette. Harper is not going to willingly contrast himself in an election on any other issue. The only thing green that the Conservative Prime Minister hopes to talk about during the election is Dion’s leadership and that Dion “doesn’t have what it takes”, “isn’t a leader” etc.

Conservatives will also ask, “If Dion is a weak leader with an ambiguous stance on Afghanistan, is he ready to be Prime Minister?”

I believe that Conservative strategists are counting on a majority coming from NDP gains (hoping to catch that unambiguous 50% against the mission) and the bottom falling out on the Liberal party on Afghanistan and Dion’s leadership.

Who will sing a folk song for the women of Afghanistan?

There are times when I cannot understand the logical path that the left takes in order to come to some of their conclusions.

For example, the other day, Stephane Dion floated a trial balloon on his idea that perhaps instead of handing Taliban detainees over to the Afghan people, we should import them and detain them here in Canada!

Nevermind that Dion and Jack Layton’s activist base have been advocating for the release of men linked to al Qeada in Canada and held on security certificates. They advocate that if we can’t deport them back to the backward countries that may torture them, we shouldn’t detain them here but rather release them into the public. Now, consider Dion’s plan: import Taliban fighters for detaining, and failing the stomach to detain them — the logical progression and historical record goes — release them into the general Canadian public when leftwing activists condemn the Canadian government for holding combatants without charge.

Most times, while logic is lacking, left-wing positions can often be explained by a sense of self-loathing as these revolutionaries are dyspeptic of their presence in our modern Western civilization.

Let’s look deeper into the intellectual pretzel of Dion and Layton’s crowd.

In a March 2007 article in the Globe and Mail, Amir Attaran wrote:

Transport our detainees from Afghanistan to prisoner-of-war camps in Canada. This sounds awful, but that is a shrill and unhistorical analysis. Starting in June of 1940, Canada transported about 40,000 German and Italian enemy combatants to this country and held them in camps in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. Those enemies were treated humanely. They were fed even as Canadians suffered under food rationing. They were given democracy classes, so they could spread those ideas in their fascist homelands. When the war ended, they went home; some returned as immigrants.

All of this was expensive, but Mackenzie King decided Canada should uphold the Geneva Conventions — and we did.

Not only would this option show Canada at our humanitarian best, but it poses vital questions. If Mackenzie King could imprison 40,000 European enemies without devastating Canada’s war effort, then how can it be seriously contended that Stephen Harper cannot now imprison roughly 40 Afghan enemies (the number detained by the Canadian Forces from 2002 through mid-2006)? Mr. O’Connor says the Canadian Forces will always follow the Geneva Conventions. If that’s so, why does the military fail to provide Geneva protections to 0.1 per cent of detainees, compared to the Second World War historical norm?

The heart-rending answer to these questions appears to be race. Canada’s inability to treat European and Afghan enemies on equal terms indicates that our military and foreign-policy establishment may still be dominated by a Eurocentric ethos. The current detainee policy suggests a subterranean racism that lags decades behind Canada’s contemporary reality as a multicultural state.

A primary concern for the Allies and Canadian forces during the Second World War was that Germans and Italians would escape or be liberated by their comrades and rejoin the fight. The removal of 40,000 prisoners from the European theater made sense strategically. If Canadians have captured 40 Taliban fighters, this number is certainly more manageable (and less significant of a strategic concern) when it comes to detainment.

Layton and Dion and their supporters on the left are inconsistent when it comes to their claimed ideology of rights and their policy position that we ought to pull out of Afghanistan. Why do these leaders want to abandon the Afghan mission when the alternative is unthinkable from a human rights perspective? To the Liberals, was the Charter a practical document for Canadian rights or does it represent a global ideal? Women in parliament? Girls in schools? The crackdown by the Taliban would be horrendous if Canada left. In fact, why was World War II worth the fight and why would Layton and Dion suggest that we shirk our responsibility to stop fascism in Afghanistan? Is it the Eurocentric ethos of the NDP and Liberal Party? Or is it more consistent with the trend of reductio ad americanum practiced by the left?

Who is Amir Attaran? Unfortunately, he’s close to the only seemingly sane faction of the Liberal Party. The Globe and Mail provides some information:

Amir Attaran, now Canada research chair in law, population health, and global development policy at the University of Ottawa, was a research fellow at the Kennedy School during Mr. Ignatieff’s time at the Carr.

He ran afoul of an influential faculty member and the school’s administration over a line of academic inquiry he insisted on pursuing, and found himself about to be booted out.

He brought his troubles to Mr. Ignatieff, who gave him office space and mentoring support until he could find another academic home. “Michael stuck up for me against some extremely nasty attacks,” Prof. Attaran says.

Tous ensemble in a twisted stew of self-loathing. It is illogical to suggest that we must transport Taliban fighters to protect them from torture while advocating that we withdraw from Afghanistan leaving women and vulnerable minorities to certain dehumanization.

Canada is in Afghanistan to enable the vulnerable to stand up, but we must also work to protect the human rights of all Afghanis. While war never happens as planned and calls for constant refinements to operations on the ground, we must always work towards maintaining our fundamental principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law so that others may enjoy them too.

The Code of the Centre Block Schoolyard

“The Prime Minister should apologize” whines Her Majesty’s Loyal Official Opposition in reaction to Stephen Harper’s latest attack on the sensibilities of the Liberal Party. This week in the House, in reaction to a call from Stephane Dion for the Defense Minister to resign, the Prime Minister retorted,

“I can understand the passion that the leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers.”

How dare he? Who does he think he is? Liberals are offended!

Of course, this brings up thoughts of the recent incident involving the Prime Minister and his quoting from a recent Kim Bolan article (which was included in Quorum that day, no less) which suggested familial ties between a Liberal MP and the Air India investigation. Outrage from the Liberal benches! How dare he? The Parliamentary Press Gallery went into a tizzy and questioned the Prime Minister’s tactics and found him to be quite rude in his reading.

Of course, baiting the Liberals is turning into a sport for Mr. Harper. The now famous attack ads on Stephane Dion famously put a spotlight on the Opposition Leader’s whine “This is unfair!” to then-opponent and fellow leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff.

The main street Canadian, as PMO strategic whiz Patrick Muttart’s psychographics must show, is not very likely to sympathize with the pain from the verbal bruises that Stephen Harper is handing out to the Liberal benches. Frankly, those of us who live outside of the Parliamentary bubble understand that tattling to the adults (the public and the press, in this case) in the face of Prime Ministerial bullying isn’t likely to earn much respect. In fact, this is a thread on which the press, by sympathizing with Dion, is finding itself out of touch with Canadians. When Peter MacKay allegedly implied that his former girlfriend Belinda Stronach was a dog, the press covered the incident for two weeks and while claiming that the public was being turned off by the degrading decorum in the House, the press felt that the story had enough traction to sell tons of newsprint. We weren’t sold on the outrage; we were tuned in because of the same reason why kids drop what they’re doing and converge whenever they hear the far off words “fight, fight, fight” during recess.

Similarly, when Stephane Dion whines that Stephen Harper is being unfair, he is not appealing to our sense of sympathy, he is unwittingly appealing to our schoolyard instincts. Nobody likes the whiner and his whiny mother in the press gallery who called our parents and the principal (besides, we’re pretty sure that our dad can beat up his dad). Instead, we all like the guy with the snappy comeback.

Too bad for Stephane, he can’t whine and take his ball home. This Parliament is Harper’s and our pal Steve is the king of the court.

LIBERAL DEBRIEF: I figured that this would be necessary. This article does not condone bullying. It is in fact a piece of creative writing that describes the parliamentary arena as if it were a schoolyard full of children. The piece describes the dramatis personae including the bullies, the victims, the other kids, the parents and even the principal. If Harper is the bully and Dion is the victim, we’re the other children and we act as such (like it or not), and we reinforce the model. As parliamentary observers, we tend to reflect the psychology of schoolyard children when it comes to observing Harper being aggressive with Dion. When Dion cries “unfair”, he doesn’t get sympathy from the rest of us.

Schoolyard analogies aside… Dion is all grown up now, and he has a job in federal politics.

UDPATE: The National Post weighs in (3/24):

“This is certainly a pattern,” Mr. Dion told Parliament, referring to the Prime Minister, “where he acts as a bully and I don’t want to follow this way, I don’t want to do that.”

Then don’t follow it, Mr. Dion. Or do. Either way, stop whining like a child whose older brother just got a bigger lollypop. Act like a leader, or at least a grownup politician. Accept that in the cut-and-thrust of political jousting your opponents are going to make allegations against you and your party every bit as outsized as the ones you make against them.

Liberal vs. Conservative narratives

in 2007 and post Liberal leadership, we’re seeing two narratives emerge on the federal political landscape. The Conservatives are telling us that Stephane Dion is not leadership material and the Liberals are pushing the idea that the Conservatives are weak on the environment and the Liberals will save the day.

Today, it’s about -21C (much colder with the windchill) and a friend of mine emailed to say that he counted just 56 Liberal MPs in attendance. Who can blame them, it is really cold out. But, that’s just part of the problem for the Liberals when it comes to their message. The environment as an issue became much less of an important issue for Canadians when they finally started to chip ice off of their windshields. The Liberals didn’t have enough dedicated members to carry Dion’s singular message: that Stephen Harper isn’t doing enough to keep the Earth from warming.

That brings us to the Conservative narrative: that Stephane Dion is not a leader. I believe that this narrative will be much more effective than the dual-citizenship of the Liberal leader. On the surface, Dion does not instill confidence. Back during the leadership convention, I met the man who would become Liberal leader and found him to be a very nice guy however, at the time I wrote that he’s not the kind of commander to lead his troops over the hill. Pundits at the time gushed that the two Steve’s would bring policy to the fore, leaving politics behind. Well, the honeymoon is over and politics is always a constant in this town.

Dion’s full investment in a single issue also makes his leadership a liability to the Liberal party. If the Conservatives are able to make progress on some green issues, show that the Liberals would be just as bad, or accomplish some from column A and some from column B, they will disarm this Liberal iteration and in my opinion, they will accomplish this soon.

Former Liberal leadership contenders are still passively organizing behind the scenes? Bob Rae just announced that he’ll be running as a candidate in the next election; the former Ontario NDP premier doesn’t want to miss the second act of the Liberal leadership contest. It is clear to anyone paying attention that leadership runner-up Michael Ignatieff doesn’t have much confidence in Dion. He almost looked ill after having to stand up and parrot Dion’s environmental attack on the Conservatives. Clearly, there’s much more that the former Harvard professor wants to discuss than how Stephane didn’t get it done and how Stephen won’t get it done.

The Conservative narrative is more likely to resonate with Canadians while polling shows that Canadians believe that the Liberals are just as bad as the Conservatives on the environment. The difference, Harper is in a position and appears so much more capable of getting it done.

Liberal meltdown

This week was the first week back after a break for Canada’s New Government. Climate change was expected to lead the agenda as it seems to be the sole issue on which the Liberals care to define themselves. Conservatives rose to power promising to clean up government after the most significant corruption scandal in Canadian history. The Liberals think that they’ll rise to power cleaning up… Carbon dioxide and water vapour? Canadians have perceived Harper delivering on the Federal Accountability Act while Canadians believe that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals will deliver on climate change.

In fact, I believe that this underlines a key weakness in Liberal messaging. While polling has shown that the environment is a top priority for Canadians, they’re not about to throw out the government on the issue when they actually go to the polls. If heathcare — an issue which actually has a direct effect on the life and death of Canadians — can be taken off the ballot of the electorate by a couple of weeks of warm weather in Toronto, it would seem that there aren’t any pressing issues that are really on the minds of Canadians. “Environment? Sure that sounds like something I should care about”

Unless a hurricane hits Toronto killing scores of people, the electorate is not about to uproot a government to install the old guard led by a sponsorship-era cabinet minister with no real record on the only issue on which he has chosen to define himself.

That’s why this week’s messaging was so puzzling. At the beginning of this week, a protester braved the freezing temperatures of downtown Ottawa to stretch out to play the part of a sunbathing polar bear. One wonders if the protester only had the suit rented for that day.

Liberals were sporting green ribbons in the House this week,
presumably to show that they care about the environment. Since Dion’s election as Liberal leader, the Liberal website has also incorporated a splash of green. Apparently this is to make it known that our Liberal friends care about the environment so long as the vehicle for their environmentalism is the Kyoto protocol. According to the popular narrative these days, one does not believe in saving the environment if one does not believe in a global, bureaucratic, statist wealth transfer agreement. In fact, one also does not believe in the science of climate change if one does not also believe in such a one world collectivist approach to saving the Earth from certain doom (according to our latest amended models). In fact, while Michael Ignatieff was lecturing the government to meet global Kyoto targets, the green ribbon-clad Ignatieff had his own words thrown back at him when environment minister John Baird quoted Ignatieff questioning Kyoto by saying “nobody knows what Kyoto is or what it commits us to”.

Thursday afternoon, Mark Holland, part of the new Liberal rat pack, had a meltdown (actually he didn’t flinch) when he said on Charles Adlers’ show that a Liberal government would control oil sands development in Alberta. Sacrificing the Canadian economy just because green has become fashionable will have Canadians thinking twice about the Liberal party. (The Liberal Party of Canada is already dead to Albertans).

Earlier on Thursday, Dion had a poor question period performance as he bizarrely stated that Harper was “paralyzing the world” when it came to Kyoto. Somebody ought to proofread Dion’s notes before QP, but I imagine this would be a difficult talk as I hear that Dion is very top-down in his approach and has no time for criticism from his staff.

All in all, a bit of a bizarre week for the Liberals on their climate communications. We heard some whispers about an old Harper letter calling Kyoto a “socialist scheme”, but the Liberals didn’t seem to get any mileage on it.

Why would the Liberals spend this frigid week lecturing the Conservatives on the global warming file (one on which they themselves have a dismal record). Is there really nothing else to talk about? Did the Liberals really spend the week telling Canadians “We got nothing”?

BONUS BAD MESSAGING: Bill Graham demanded Conservative action on Guantanamo Bay, a bizarre request given that Graham was foreign affairs minister in the years after 9/11.

Also, Dion called Harper fat?

Has the media love affair with Dion already begun?

First, Kate McMillan and Bob Tarantino rout out a suspicious Dion friendly source used by CP.

Next, Lawrence Martin the Globe and Mail scribe, former Chretien biographer (two books…one was written under duress), and a man paid over $6000 by Liberal governments for two speaking jobs gives new Liberal leader Stephane Dion the highest of praises, and apologizes for one of Dion’s recent flip-flops (my comments in bold):

There is a suspicion out there that Stéphane Dion is a man of honour, a politician of dignity with true character. (there’s only one thing I’m suspicious of at this point Mr. Martin, and it’s not Dion)

True character is the reverse of trying to be all things to all people. It means not seeking others’ approval. (Lawrence never wrote any biographies about Paul Martin, you’ll note) When, as a political leader, you stop doing that, and just be the essential you, people want some of what you’ve got, some of that core. You’re the magnetic field. (oh captain, my captain!)

But politics is about selling, reaching out, pandering. (first hints of apology) And so here was Stéphane Dion in his first week as Liberal leader, already in the grip of the ugly claws of the enterprise(the grip!… the ugly claws, poor Stephane!). He was faced with a middling controversy over whether he should maintain his dual French citizenship. It was a sensitive issue for him, one that cut to his heart and, in responding, he got testy. (I’ll make full disclosure for Lawrence Martin here… the Globe and Mail scribe is a dual citizen too)

His answer was sound enough (of course…), but he couldn’t help thinking of the political equation. Well, if maintaining my French citizenship loses me votes, he said, he might have to reconsider. In other words, let’s cast aside the principle involved here and make a decision on the basis of politics.

That wasn’t the man of honour talking. It was hardly the new politics. It was an example of him looking over his shoulder, seeing the dark shadow of pollsters in pursuit, about to smother the light within. (dark forces made Dion do it. Dion is made of pure light, by the way)

Martin then contrasts “honour” with big bad Stephen Harper:

Stephen Harper has an impressive skill set. He had a chance, himself, to bring more honour to governance. But since the opening bell when he elevated a floor-crosser and an unelected senator to his Cabinet, he has shown himself to be a leader whose abiding imperative is political opportunism (wow…). His Senate reform, announced yesterday, which would allow voters at last some say in Senate appointments, is a step forward that he need not have framed in the context of political partisanship. His brazen approach in this regard has cost him, as voters, turned off by this kind of politics, have responded with declining approval ratings. (brazen, turned off, declining!)

Hence the Dion opening is all the greater. The Leader of the Opposition must find a way to resist the temptation to respond in kind to the cheap attacks and slanders. To succeed, to avoid being dragged down into the brothel, the rules of engagement are many: He must be a champion of principle. He must remain stoic, keeping the level of discourse high and noble, holding to his true character (wow…). He must, while letting other caucus members tackle the seamy questions, be seen as frequently as possible with the other tower of integrity in the Liberal thicket, Ken Dryden.

It’s not difficult to figure out how Lawrence Martin votes.

Finally, when Dion named Ignatieff as the deputy of the opposition Liberal Party, it made the front page of the Globe and Mail. When Stephen Harper named Carol Skelton as deputy leader of the opposition Alliance party in 2003, no such fanfare from the Globe. However, it did make page A10 of the National Post!

UPDATE: You may have read in Macleans that Susan Delacourt and Greg Weston were snubbed from the PM’s media Christmas party. I’m also hearing that Delacourt, after her invite was “lost in the mail”, was trying to lobby her fellow PPG members to boycott the PM’s party. UPDATE: The pro-Delacourt camp assures me that this isn’t true!