It’s the first big meeting to begin planning the 150th celebration of Canadian Confederation. It’s an opportunity for public servants, business leaders, social innovators, and artists to gather in Ottawa and spend two days thinking about how we will celebrate the next great year in Canadian history. 2017 still seems far away. But the spirit of our Sesquicentennial starts in Spring 2010.
150!Canada is a new initiative from the Institute for the Public Administration of Canada to imagine, plan and celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017.
Michael Ignatieff’s year in Canadian politics has been marked by ups and downs. He walked into the Liberal leadership earlier last year acclaimed as the new leader of that party after the failed attempt by Stephane Dion. In order to differentiate himself as a different kind of leader — one that could stand tall — he sought to wrestle a concession from the Conservative government on EI reform in May. Indeed, what has plagued the previous two leaders, first Martin and then Dion, was the lack of firm roots in the ground. The Liberal crop blew about as the party that defines itself as the broader middle, and one that tries to be everything to everyone, was finding itself without a firm foothold. Martin tried to branch out in all directions while Dion let the budding weeds of the Conservative party grow throughout the parliamentary plot.
However, under Ignatieff, the Liberals have not fared too much better and any planting has soon after been uprooted. On EI, for example, the ultimatum given was then rescinded — a concession for a “blue ribbon” panel to study the policy, insincerely under the watch of the Conservative Party’s Pierre Poilievre and the Liberal’s Marlene Jennings. And then inthe fall, Ignatieff must have too believed that it was a firm and definitive stand that the party lacked in supply. Ignatieff made another bold pronouncement, this time that the Liberals would no longer support the government. He hoped to give the Grits new growth, but at the same he marked the party for a brutal harvesting.
Canadians, both in the media and those that follow politics to a lesser degree, apply the tall poppy syndrome to those that would deal in our trust in our democracy. When Michael Ignatieff famously told Stephen Harper that “[his] time was up”, this focused attention squarely upon Ignatieff. The questions shifted from Stephen Harper to Michael Ignatieff.
Why do you say his time is up?
Why are you seeking an election?
Why are you seeking an election now?
What is your plan, Mr. Ignatieff?
And as the tall poppy syndrome goes for Canadians, suddenly we saw an opposition leader that we hardly knew ready to take down the government, for no real comprehensible reason. The Conservative narrative built around Ignatieff was that he was “just visiting” and that “he’s only in it for himself”. Ignatieff found that while he may have been trying to shift focus off of himself and onto the other parties supporting the government in the House, he found that now he was getting too much sunlight. Subsequently, Ignatieff’s poll numbers were pecked at and the Conservatives got new space to grow while journalists started to mention “majority”.
And then Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament. For what seemed like a routine parliamentary procedure for anyone who, well, knows parliamentary procedure, the media-driven perception was that Mr. Harper was tempting the Tall Poppy prejudice of Canadians. Whereas Mr. Ignatieff sought power for no discernible reason, rightly or wrongly the prorogation of parliament was perceived by many observers as an arrogance of power. The narrative worked, the sunlight became too intense and the Prime Minister’s poll numbers wilted. This time, Stephen Harper’s poppies got a trim from the Canadian public.
Perhaps this is to be the lesson learned about Canadian politics in the past 16 months. The first example of slicing our politics back down to size during this period was the coalition attempt by the Liberals and NDP supported by the Bloc Quebecois in December of 2008. Just seven weeks after an election that had returned a Prime Minister to power, the opposition sought to reverse the perceived order that had come from ballots. This time, the arrogance and ambition of power befell the opposition. While many Canadians saw the Bloc’s involvement in brokering a government as poison, many others were appalled by the perceived unfairness of the move. The opposition tried to stand too tall and were trimmed.
Now, as Michael Ignatieff faces poll numbers on par with Stephen Harper, will he be tempted by power? How will he manage the perceptions of the Canadian electorate? Will a defeat of the government now be perceived to be opportunism?
Anyone that seeks power to govern possesses a certain arrogance and anyone that attains power possesses the strategic skill. Therefore, in Canadian politics, arrogance and crass raw political strategy must be seen to be the character of one’s opponent. When government falls to trigger an election, Ignatieff and Harper will do their best to let the other poppy be boastful and stand too tall.
Bill Curry and Tara Perkins have the byline on a Globe story today that reports on the politics that are going back and forth between Ignatieff and the Conservatives over recent statements by Ed Clark, the CEO of TD bank regarding the deficit and raising taxes.
Last week at a conference in Florida, TD Bank CEO Ed Clark said Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn’t listening to the overwhelming view of Canadian CEOs that tax increases are the best way to reduce a record deficit.
He told the conference that almost every person at a recent meeting of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives said “raise my taxes” to erase it.
The Conservatives then fired off an internal e-mail titled “Millionaire Ignatieff Economic Czar Calls for Higher Taxes.”
Mr. Ignatieff on Thursday demanded that the Prime Minister apologize to the senior banker. He said in a statement that the e-mail is the latest Conservative attack on non-partisan citizens who challenge the government’s direction, citing former deputy finance minister Scott Clark, former Nuclear Safety Commission president Linda Keen, Peter Tinsley, former Military Police Complaints Commission chair, and former RCMP complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy.
Where do the Conservatives get off labeling the CEO of TD bank an “Ignatieff economic czar”?
A review of Elections Canada financial contributions indicate that Edmund Clark gave $2000 to Ignatieff and $2000 to Rae during their runs for Liberal leadership in 2006. Clark has also given $10,857.56 to the Liberal Party since 2005. (and no others An Edmund Clark also gave a $1,100 to the Vaudreuil–Soulanges Conservative EDA in 2007).
This is the first time Clark seems to have popped up in a political skirmish as reported by the mainstream press, so we’re still putting together the pieces of his partisan background.
Further, for names such as Amir Attaran and Errol Mendes which have been heavily bandied about as non-partisan experts for too long, let’s start providing some broader context shall we?
Have the Conservatives erred in labeling Clark as a died-in-the-wool Grit partisan? Digging a little deeper, we find that Clark’s full name is William Edmund Clark, and that “William E Clark” has donated roughly $11,000 to the Conservatives since 2005, whereas “Edmund Clark” (both names of the same postal code) has donated roughly $11,000 to the Liberal Party! Is Clark an equal opportunity donor to Grits and Tories but uses a more igconito name given name when donating to Tories? Inquiring minds would like to know! If true, then we cannot definitively say that Clark has acted as a Liberal agent recently despite his Ottawa tenure under Trudeau three decades ago. Are the Conservative right to label Clark Ignatieff’s czar? At this point, based solely upon donor data, we here at stephentaylor.ca cannot support this conclusion.
Is Red Ed still red? The Tories say yes, the Liberals say no.
The Prime Minister at the World Economic Forum last week announced an initiative to put the health of mothers and children on the agenda at the G8 conference this summer.
Instead of cheering or at least giving an approving nod to a laudable policy topic, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff decided to make a rare pronouncement on policy. This time it was about abortion of all things.
Abortion has been a topic that is scantly discussed and rarely debated, if at all, within the realm of public policy in the last couple of decades. How it has come up now, represents an objectionable political goal for Michael Ignatieff. The Liberal leader is looking for a wedge.
To respond to politics, the Conservatives should consider responding politically. In this case, to neutralize the issue. Many Canadians feel strongly about the topic, but nothing but failure (for both sides) can come from playing politics with the issue.
Here’s what the Conservatives might say about Michael Ignatieff’s flirtation with abortion policy,
“Mr. Ignatieff doesn’t seem to realize that in the past 34 years, we Canadians closed the divisive debate on abortion in this country. This topic has split families and the debate has caused heartache for countless Canadians. We are saddened by Mr. Ignatieff’s attempt to reopen the topic for discussion and to callously use the philosophical debate over life and the exercise of reproductive rights as a political football to be tossed about carelessly.
Mr. Ignatieff we’ve moved past this. We will not allow you to bring the American-style politics of abortion to this country as a wedge issue to divide Canadians.
Canadians that we’re consulting these days are concerned about jobs and the economic recovery. While Mr. Ignatieff wants to hold university style seminar discussions about abortion, we’re focused on phase II of our Economic Action Plan.”
It should also be noted that the only leadership of any party to try and reopen the debate on abortion in recent memory has been that of the Liberal Party, mostly as a wedge issue to imply that the Conservatives have a hidden agenda on social issues. If merely revisiting the Canadian abortion debate is a slippery slope for pro-choice activists, why applaud Liberals when they keep bringing it up and condemn Conservatives for their non-agitation on the issue?
In reality, this move by Ignatieff reflects desperation. The abortion maneuver by Liberals is always done when the Liberals have nothing left to talk about. In this case, the Conservatives should deprive Ignatieff of oxygen on the issue and ignore it completely for the cheap attempt that it is.
One of the talking points from the Liberal Party concerning prorogation is that the Prime Minister has given MPs a “vacation” as the Members are left in the riding without work to do in Ottawa.
Despite the fact that Ignatieff himself was literally on vacation when his office was lecturing the Tories on the concept of work during the Parliamentary pause, many observers either are ignorant or purposefully neglectful of the truth when it comes to the responsibilities of MPs.
I spoke with an MP yesterday — perceived to be on vacation by the Ottawa press gallery and Liberals — whose backlogged caseload includes a large number of Haitian adoptions.
The glorious life of an MP isn’t just limited to heckling other Members in the House of Commons. Funny that the decorum of Parliament is mourned when the House of Commons is in session while democracy is declared dead when Members are given more time to accomplish casework in their ridings or elsewhere.
Take Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis who is not “on vacation” despite the bleatings of his fellow members of caucus. Karygiannis is currently in India “not working” on the work surrounding the case of Parminder Singh Saini, a convicted terrorist who was deported from Canada. Karygiannis is also in India for other MP related matters. Here is the report from PunjabNewsline.
Canadian MP visits Guru Aasra trust in Punjab, defends deportation of Saini
Punjab Newsline Network
Thursday, 28 January 2010
MOHALI: Jim Karygiannis M.P of canada visited Guru Aasra trust here Thursday on an invitation by SAD Panch Pardhani. Members of different religious,political and human rights organization questioned M.P regarding deportation of Parminder singh Saini convicted for hijacking plane. Saini was depoted to India from Canada on Wednesday.
First Ignatieff condemns Conservatives of taking vacation from his high horse stabled in the barn of his villa in the south of France, and now his own Member is — by the Liberal definition — “on vacation” in India.
[It] shocked the Canadian public and brought to light internal problems in the Canadian [Forces]. Military leadership came into sharp rebuke after a CBC reporter received altered documents, leading to allegations of a cover up. Eventually a public inquiry was called. [It was] controversially cut short by the government…
Is this today’s story of alleged (yes alleged) torture in of Afghans in Afghanistan by Afghans? No. This was about Somalia. This was about Canadians. This was about a cover-up by a Liberal government.
Today, Afghan detainees, one allegedly beaten with a shoe by an Afghan prison guard, is (allegedly!) throwing the country into madness. This is not Canada’s Abu Ghraib as some Liberal strategists have regrettably suggested.
Get the scandal playbook! Look up Chapter 3: What did you know and when did you know it?
The Liberal ad continues:
“When questions arose about what he and his government knew about torture in Afghanistan, Stephen Harper shut down Parliament.”
Flashback to Michael Ignatieff in a New York Times magazine op-ed piece, May 2, 2004:
“To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war.”
And for full context, we know that Michael Ignatieff has since climbed down on the Iraq war, and called it a mistake. And torture? Well, that was intellectual pretzel making, his defenders will say. He has, afterall, grappled with the issue and has come around to the fact that torture is wrong. We think.
“His current view is the same view he held as a renowned human rights expert who helped author the Responsibility to Protect: he is opposed.”
Case closed? Seems good enough for some reporters.
And Stephen Harper?
“The Prime Minister unequivocally condemns torture in all its forms. Canada is a signatory to both the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.”
Good enough for others?
And the prorogation of Parliament? Was this to “cover-up torture” in Afghanistan? The Liberal line is a classic political attack from days gone by: “we don’t know, he just won’t say”.
Much has been said of prorogations and their history. Shutting down Parliament at the apparent whim of a Prime Minister should perhaps open up a broader debate about the use of this power, and those that prorogue may incur the political cost that goes along with it whether large or small. But while we’re on the topic of Parliament and the apparent upset that prorogation has caused some Canadians, surely the dissolution of Parliament at a Prime Minister’s whim should be much worse shouldn’t it?
Flashback to 2000, Jean Chretien in a comfortable majority not only padlocked parliament, shut it down, cast aside committees and put up a chain link fence, but he also fired all MPs from their job and made them reapply, just because Stockwell Day was weak and ready to be slaughtered (he was).
And to 2008 when Stephen Harper, despite his own fixed election date law, called an election citing the log jammed committees in Parliament. Granted, the law allowed for an early election to be called if Parliament could not proceed smoothly, but despite this subjective test for maneuvering within the law and straight into an election, opponents called it crass opportunism because Stephen Harper perceived Stephane Dion to be weak and ready to be slaughetered (he was).
So, does prorogation cause anger and if so, does it amount to a high political price to be paid by whomever invokes it? And yet, dissolution is in effect, Prorogation Plus. Prime Ministers have been accused of political opportunism in the past and will be accused of political opportunism in the future. And if opportunism is the currency of politics, who knew that in Canadian politics we’d see… politics?
The question remains. Is this an unusual time in Canadian politics? Does prorogation cause more upset than dissolution? Are we in a place where down is up and black is white in Canadian politics? If so, does Michael Ignatieff perceive the Prime Minister to be weak and ready to be slaughtered in an election?
In Ottawa, depending on their content requirements, Hill reporters are loving or loathing the prorogation so far. For activists, a second prorogation in little over one year has those on left seething in anger over what they perceive to be an “affront to democracy”.
To be sure, this isn’t to be dismissed lightly; despite your political inclination, there is a tangible perception that Stephen Harper is firmly in control of Parliament and its functions, for better or worse. While our Parliamentary system and it’s advantages and shortcomings may be formally debated at another time, some online activists have taken to Facebook to informally vent their frustrations. The CBC’s Terry Milewski reports on the Facebook group with over 25,000 people:
Too bad Terry wasn’t the The National’s senior national affairs correspondent last year when the anti-coalition Facebook group soared to over 125,000 in a week. To be fair, this week has been slow while last year’s coalition story was the busiest week we’ve had in Ottawa in years and there were many other non-Facebook stories to report!
Anger over prorogation is a parliamentary issue, so one wonders, where is the parliamentary political leadership? A healthy democratic grassroots movement is forming online and the would be leaders are… on vacation!
As Milewski remarked, and as CTV’s Roger Smith confirms below, Michael Ignatieff is on vacation in Europe while Jack Layton is snorkling in Belize. Opponents to prorogation have remarked with some hyperbole that “MPs just gave themselves a three month vacation”. While the Conservative line is that MPs are indeed working in their ridings consulting with constituents on the next phase of the economic recovery, it is Stephen Harper’s opposition that is on vacation. Grassroots Canadians on the left are upset that their Parliamentarians aren’t “working” in Ottawa, while their partisan leadership jets off for a little R&R.
Smith reports that the Prime Minister has been in Ottawa working.
This isn’t the first time that Michael Ignatieff has been criticized for being out of touch with the grassroots of his party and of course, this will just feed into the Conservative narrative that the Liberal leader is aloof and on “academic time”.
“Indeed, there were rumours that he needed a nap in the afternoon or turned into a snarling wolf by nightfall.”
and from the Toronto Star, his adamant defense of “Iggy time”,
Also, Iggy’s staff misled Canadian media about his 2006 vacation – they told the media that his mother-in-law was ill, when in fact he was off on a European holiday. “There is no health crisis. There never was… I’m entitled to a holiday.”
Last year, the Ottawa Citizenreported that Ignatieff’s family has a villa in the south of France where “property of similar size in the area sells for upwards of $1.8 million”. It is unknown if he has made time to visit the estate while on vacation.
Meanwhile in Canada, are we seeing the budding of a significant political movement? If so, where is the political leadership?