Transcript of NDP conference call

Judy: Judy, and when I hear the beep stopping, I’m going to start the meeting.
Hello?

Judy: Hang on everybody, you don’t even need to give your name yet, I’m going to do a check in a second.
Hello?

Judy: Hi there, it’s okay, it’s Judy, we’re all set.
Okay Judy.

Jack: Hi Judy, we’re all, we got a bunch of caucus members here, we’ll just wait for your instructions, we’ll leave it on mute in the meantime.

Judy: Okay. Alright, I think I’ll start, uhm, it’s Judy, we’ve got exactly one hour and no more. We’re going to run this meeting very tight. I want everyone to put your phones on mute, also please do not anytime during this call, put your line on hold, because that causes a noise for everybody. We’re going to give an update, an over view from Jack, a report on what’s happening procedurally from the House, generally from Libby, and then thirdly a overview on the issue of platform and policy, from Kathleen, and then a chance for each caucus member to give a very succinct and brief point to indicate their concerns or issues that they would like to see raised by our team as we prepare any further documents. So, as you all know, we have our next meeting as our regular meeting Monday at ten o’clock, in Ottawa, we will have a chance there to have a more extensive roundtable that in through the week, so please don’t feel you have all the time for questions and concerns, but we will deal with that on Monday, so without further ado, let me call on Jack who must be very tired and going non-stop for the last three days, we appreciate what you’re doing Jack, and I think we’re all excited to get an update. Thanks, Jack.

Jack: Thank you very much, uh, keep the myth alive that I’m exhausted and working incredibly hard (laughter) I appreciate you relaying that, I was asleep by ten o’clock last night, and had a very good night, a very good sleep, and that was my Friday night. So, an update on where we are, the, uh, we’re in the middle of a very historic time, and we’re playing a key role in it, in some ways a catalytic role actually, because as we think back, we’ll realize that nobody really imagined that it would be possible for the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberal party of Canada ever to enter into any kind of a discussion around the future of the country and it turned out that we were the glue, and spotted and prepared for the opportunity, and had taken the steps that were required so that when that opportunity arose, which was when Mr. Harper made his disastrous strategic error, by not providing stimulus to the economy, and instead playing political games, we were able to move, and things began to move very quickly, however, many obstacles remain in our way, and so we’re in a real battle now. The negotiating process, I am, by the way in very very regular touch with the leader of the Liberal party, and the leader of the Bloc, frequently every day. At the same time, negotiation processes are underway, and in fact as we speak, our negotiating team that I’ve named to meet with the Liberal negotiating team are discussing the mechanics of a coalition government, and the form that it would take, the structure of cabinet, the way in which the logistics of a coalition government with the Liberals and the New Democrats would work, the key roles, and dispute resolution mechanisms, timelines, et cetera.
05:23 –
All of the logistics issues that you would expect would be a part of such a discussion are being negotiated now we hope that that part of the negotiations would be completed today. Our negotiating team consists of Brian Topp, who negotiated as a senior member of the Romano team in Saskatchewan, negotiating a similar coalition with the Liberal party there, and of course you know Brian is our campaign co-chair director. Ann McGrath, in her chief of staff role, she’s also wearing the president of the party hat still, and so she’s got several hats on at the moment. Ed Broadbent, Alan Blakely, Dawn Black, as a member of caucus I’ve selected to participate in this process, someone that I happen to know is also respected and trusted by key Liberals, Tom Mulcair, as our Quebec lieutenant, and Carl Belanger. Tom and Carl are the negotiating team with the Bloc team, and Brian and Dawn Black are negotiating with the Liberal team. We’re starting with two party talks, this will resolve itself into a tripartite conversation before the weekend is up, and the goal is to produce by the end of the weekend, an agreement on the machinery of the coalition, which would be signed off, particularly by the NDP and Liberals, but endorsed by the Bloc, and an agreement on policy program for the coalition, that would have three party agreement. I can’t go into the details on all of this stuff, particularly the machinery, but it’s in the process of negotiation, and we could consume an awful lot of time speculating about it, so I don’t propose that we spend that time today on this particular matter of question. But instead, there’s a golden opportunity today, for you to provide input on the policy matters, you can be assured that we have looked at our program, we’ve looked at our platform, we’ve looked at what I’ve been saying about economic stimulus, we’ve been in close consultations with the leadership of the labour movement around some of their key ideas and they’ve been providing terrific support, including at a high-level early morning meeting this morning, so much of what you would have want to see, it’s probably already there, you’ll hear a bit more about it later, but there’s an opportunity to touch base with all of you, because in the end, you’re going to be intimately a part of the delivery of all of this, and so that’s why we’re having this meeting at this point in time.
08:32 –

Jack: I made a list Judy, so I’ll take a whack and you’ll say if I’ve missed any…

Judy: Ya. Meetings, confidentiality, what can be said. Go ahead.

Jack: First, do MP’s have to be in Ottawa until we have a better sense of the potential confidence motion stakes. You have to remain agile. And with Ottawa being the base. Uh, and so when you’re organising your community meetings make sure there’s a speaker phone facility, or a webcam. Secondly, I believe that we should get immediately into the driver’s seats on organizing these community meetings, you have people who worked on your campaign who are exactly the kind of people, whether in labour movements, labour councils, uh, childcare groups, environmental groups, these are people that need to be pulled together. You get them together, and then they’ll take it from there, it doesn’t have to be your meeting, it shouldn’t be your meeting, but of course you’ll be there as the MP, and you’re part of the coalition, and you’re consulting with the community to make sure they’re open, so if anyone wants to come and protest and say it’s a bad idea, be there to make a real news event out of it, the youth comes with the emotion in favour of the coalition and an action plan coming from Thursday night, particularly focused on the weekend, with petitioning, and phone in shows, and god knows what else, a letter writing, one of the goals here is to of course, recruit as many names, addresses, emails, phone numbers as possibly can, because this coalition will need the support of these people, and then we will need their support when we get an election. Now, will there be an independent NDP caucus, yes. BQ stability issues, worry about BQ potentially being off-side, we’re taking that very much into account.  We have numerous strategies designed to deal with it, I actually believe they’re the least of our problems, but in case I’m wrong, let’s just say we have strategies, this whole thing would not have happened if the moves hadn’t have been made with the Bloc to lock them in early, because you couldn’t put three people together in one, in three hours.  The first part was done a long time ago, I won’t go into details, and the managing expectations, lists from groups, actually, the wisest people in the groups are already coming to the conclusion, some of them are in direct contact, saying probably wouldn’t be too helpful if we had long lists of stuff, right? What we really want is just to get Harper out and get the new group in because it’s going to be a hell of a lot better for everything we believe in, correct? Correct. So let’s stay on that track, and not start debating whether or not it’s twenty five percent change or fifteen percent change over here, let’s get them out, on the basis of unity not the basis of division. Somebody asked about Bill Casey, absolutely, in the game, uh, on confidentiality, we now have to get out and defend the idea of the coalition. This is not a secret that it’s been discussed, the various elements that are in it, you can say it’s all about getting the economy going, and transforming the economy for the twenty first century, use everything that you’ve seen in my speeches up until now, that you’ve all been using so well particularly when I’ve seen you on panels, and by the way, our team on panels, everybody, staff and MPs, rocking, absolutely rocking doing us proud, so yes, there is a coalition, we’re fighting for it, we’re trying to make it happen, we think it’s a good idea for Canada, the majority of Canadians voted to go in a different direction than Harper’s taking us, you can’t trust him, no matter anything, throw him out. What about the legitimacy of the democratic process, yeah, what about it? He was given a minority, and he refused to work with the other parties, he had 38% of the vote and he’s trying to govern like he had 100% of the power, he’s the one who’s got democracy wrong, not us. So do not be defensive, to work among what we are doing is to give effect to the wishes of the majority of Canadians, have no doubt about that. The coalition for Canada, I love the idea, it could be a deal-breaker for the Bloc (laughter) so if we don’t go, we call it “The Coalition for Canada and Quebec,” (lots of laughter).  Well, welcome to the real world of….that’s not funny

Jack: And let me come to, I know it’s complicated, so let’s just be wise about how we put this thing together. I think that there were many good comments that were developed from this, right from Aboriginal, which was on our mind, right through to many of these other suggestions and we will do our very best to put this together. And I’ll just say one other thing about the issue of the Bloc: nothing could be better for our country, than to have the fifty members who’ve been elected to separate Quebec to actually helping to make Canada a better place. I think we just approach it on that basis, and say we’re willing to make Canada happen, here’s other things that we’re going to be investing in and transforming together, they’re willing to work with us, we’ll accept that offer. What will be important to point out is that this will be an NDP-Liberal coalition, which is supported by the Bloc, with policy ideas that the coalition is bringing forward. Okay? And that’s going to be helpful to you in your dealing with those that have concerns, because they, you can see where Harper’s going here, he’s going to say it’s the socialists and the separatists and the opportunists getting together. You know? Those are their talking points, and so we just need to push back. I want to thank everybody for the input, I would get going this weekend on getting groups together, start talking about organizing those Thursday meetings, act as the catalyst to make it happen, and then just let it go, it’ll roar, and it’ll be very exciting. If you’re in a larger city, and there’s several of you, or if you’re in the largest city and you’re on your own, act as the catalyst anyway, chances are there’s a bunch of Liberals in the other ridings on whom we want pressure placed, as I mentioned at the outset of the conversation. I guess we’re at the end.

Judy: I just want to add one thing, and that is so the major thing is here that the message we’re focused on the message, so that’s not confidential, what’s confidential is strategy, the discussion, details, the speculation about the other parties and their motivation and what they will or they won’t do, we should not talk at all about war rooms, or campaigns in that sense. We’re building, trying to create a coalition government that will be a Liberal-NDP coalition that will be supported by the Bloc and that’s the message that we want to get out, nothing about the discussions in the background, and when in doubt, call, probably Brad, and Brad on that issue and on the whole issue of the campaign, and organizing meetings, people will want to reach you quickly, what’s the best way?

Jack Harris: Judy, Jack Harris here, I know it’s a structure question, but I’m at a loss at this point to know whether we’re talking about a short-term, quick economic stimulus coalition, or are we talking about something that could last two or three years, this is kind of important in our own minds, as well because aside from economic stimulus of course, this coalition will have to govern on every part of the government, of the legislative of the –

Judy: Okay, let me ask Jack to answer that and then Brad, you give the best contact information.

Jack Layton: Longer term. Not short term.

Judy: Now, Brad, you’re going to be in demand, what’s the best way to get to you quickly?

Brad: For folks that are going to be holding panels that we’re setting up, we’re going to be briefing you and your media office, for your press secretaries, the press secretaries have been divided into thirds, so every member of caucus has been assigned, so those folks are going to be available to you, and working very closely with me, and I discourage anyone from phoning me, the smartest move would be to give me as much heads-up as possible, I’m on a panel in two minutes, is highly unhelpful, and I will fail you miserably, and I know some times that situation has to happen and it’s understandable, but obviously calling me on my cell is the fastest way or by sending me an email, at brad@ndp.ca

Judy: Alright, and is it you, not just on panels, organizing meetings, events, here at the grassroots level, who’s the best person?

Brad: It will not be me, I will not be able to assist with your meetings on the Thursday night, we will assign a member of the team to that.

Flaherty to end campaign welfare

On November 7th, I argued that we should end government-subsidized campaign welfare in this country and follow the example set by President-elect Barack Obama and amend our electoral system to eliminate our $1.95-per-vote subsidy received by political parties each year. During the US Presidential campaign, Obama did not take a single dollar of public financing and went on to win the election. On a panel for the Public Policy Forum yesterday, I suggested to my Obama-obsessed co-panelist Judy Rebick that Mr. Hope and Change had set the wheels in motion for the elimination of public money for political campaigns.

In my post earlier this month, I suggested that such a system implemented in Canada would cause parties to actually appeal to the electorate and work for donations rather than put their hand out for a per-vote subsidy for being the least offensive option. The theory goes that if our politics inspires (Yes We Can) rather than demonizes (No They Can’t), people will show additional financial support that parties should depend on rather than be the public cash-receptacle of successful fear mongering campaigns that they are. How many Quebeckers these days actually support the Bloc Quebecois on its principles (they’ve all but abandoned sovereignty these days) rather than voting for that party to “block” the Conservatives or the Liberals?

I argued that we should end party welfare to motivate parties to appeal on their own issues.

In the past couple of hours, we’ve learned that in Jim Flaherty’s economic update tomorrow, the Conservative government will move to do just that in the name of showing that even politicians can tighten their own belts.

I may have been a bit of a tongue-in-cheek cynic by using the Obama magic to suggest removing critical funding from two parties of the left. The Bloc Quebecois, as mentioned, has depended on their status as those that could block Liberal corruption in 2006 and the Conservative Party’s… er conservatism in 2008. The Liberal Party on the other hand has depended upon what they are not. Specifically, they have warned Canadians of the Harper hidden agenda and what the Conservatives would do if they had a majority. In this spot and in relative comfort, the Liberals have relied on their per-vote subsidy. Under the new proposed financing cuts, the strength of the Liberal brand won’t matter as it is veritably without substance as conservatism is represented by the CPC and progressive politics is claimed by a resurgent NDP.

CTV reports that under Flaherty’s cuts, the parties could stand to lose up to:

* Conservatives: $10 million
* Liberals: $7.7 million
* NDP: $4.9 million
* Bloc Quebecois: $2.6 million
* Green Party: $1.8 million

Late this evening, I’ve learned that the per-vote subsidy stands to be reduced in full.

In this, the Conservatives aim to level a strategic blow to the Liberals as Conservative fundraising efforts — rooted in the Reform tradition of passing the hat in legion halls and church basements — has remained strong. Buoyed by detailed supporter databases, the party is set to compete on an advantageous — despite it’s now mutually diminished — footing with other parties. The Liberal Party still has not mastered grassroots fundraising and with an expensive year ahead with another leadership convention, Liberals will need to determine how to appeal (and fast) if they are to survive as a viable organization.

First Speech from the Throne of the 40th Parliament

Reactions (if you represent a stakeholder and would like to see your release quoted here, email me):

Liberal:

The official Opposition is focused on making Parliament work for all Canadians during this time of economic turmoil and will not oppose today’s Speech from the Throne, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said today.

“By electing a minority government, Canadians are asking Parliament to work together to see our country through the economic challenges that we now face,” said Mr. Dion. “Demanding strong action from this government on the economy will be our primary task as the official Opposition.”

NDP:

“It’s more of the same and people . . . want bold action” (no statement yet on the NDP site)

Canadian Taxpayers Federation:

Today’s throne speech earns a mixed review … The speech contains some good, some bad, and in some cases, downright ugly news for taxpayers moving forward in uncertain economic times.

The federal government will find Canadians are receptive to taking aim at wasteful programs, and a pledge to control the growth in the size and cost of the public service is welcome news. … It is unacceptable that a modern 21st century democracy appoints one quarter of its lawmakers. Keeping Senate reform on the agenda is a good move.

The Throne Speech seems to prepare for a return to deficit spending when it states that it would be “misguided to commit to a balanced budget at any cost.” … It is worrisome that a responsible government would be prepared to spend more than it takes in during tough times … Responsible Canadians do not have this luxury, why should governments? The federal government should leave no stone unturned in its pursuit of keeping the books in the black and getting spending under control is the first step … Taxpayers should be warned that a ‘cap-and-trade’ tax scheme is the evil twin of a carbon tax. Either way, it means higher energy prices and a costly bureaucratic mess that couldn’t come at a worse time. … Also, ugly is a commitment to offer further aid to the auto and aerospace industries.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

The Government of Canada has recognized the need to boost Canada’s economy in the face of worldwide financial turmoil and an impending recession, and it has chosen infrastructure spending as one of the remedies. We agree with the diagnosis and applaud this choice of remedy. Spending on infrastructure is a tried-and-true response to an economic slowdown. A study released by FCM earlier this month shows that accelerated infrastructure spending is the best way to boost our country’s economy and immunize it against a recession.

National Union of Public and General Employees:

It’s clear from this throne speech that the Harper government doesn’t view healthcare as a top priority and in fact seems to suggest the job is pretty much done.

That’s a huge disappointment for over-worked health professionals and patients waiting for critical services who are expecting and demanding national leadership on healthcare issues.

Canadian Labour Congress:

Today’s Throne Speech offers little hope or assurance to thousands of people being hit hard by the economic crisis, says Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“This speech is supposed to put forward the government’s vision for the future,” Georgetti says, “but what Canadians heard today won’t help them sleep any easier tonight and some of what they heard may well give them nightmares. People want jobs and if they lose them they want protection but I don’t see those promises here.”

Canadian Housing and Renewal Association:

We commend the federal government for remembering that four million Canadians still cannot afford adequate housing and that 300,000 people experience homelessness in Canada annually. Today’s throne speech made promises for health care, jobs, the environment, and family life in order to help Canadians fully participate in the economy and in society, and it has to be remembered that housing is the foundation of this participation and therefore needs to be a top priority.

Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada:

Today’s Speech from the Throne gives some hope for the four million Canadians who lack decent affordable housing, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada said today. The government committed to extending the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and helping more Canadians find affordable housing.

The Canadian Lung Association:

The Lung Association is pleased to see the government’s Throne Speech commitment to improving the lung health of Canadians.

Approximately 6 million people in Canada struggle with asthma, COPD, lung cancer and other lung diseases. The fact that the government has recognized how critical it is to improve the lung health of Canadians is excellent news and a clear sign that they wish to continue partnering on building a Canada free of lung disease.

Canadian Bankers Association:

he Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) fully supports the federal government’s commitment to a common securities regulator in Canada as announced in today’s Speech from the Throne. This step, along with other recent initiatives to facilitate credit markets in Canada, indicates that the government continues to take an appropriate and measured approach to deal with the global economic situation.

Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association:

In its Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada has pledged “To further reduce the cost pressures on Canadian business, our Government will take measures to encourage companies to invest in new machinery and equipment.”

The Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association (CCPA), along with other manufacturers, has been advocating such measures.

Canadian Association of Retired Persons:

CARP chapters and retiree groups were disappointed to learn that no action was promised in the Throne Speech to address the threats to their retirement security wrought by the current market chaos.

CARP chapters and other retiree groups across the cross country assembled to listen to the Throne Speech in the hopes of hearing what the government would do to respond to the clamour for immediate relief and longer term protection of their pensions.

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.

New NDP ad – going negative on the Bloc

VOICEOVER: Un vote pour le Bloc Québecois… bloque l’environment, bloque les familles moyennes, bloque l’économie, mais surtout, bloque l’avenir du Québec. (A vote for the Bloc Québecois… blocks the environment, blocks average families, blocks the enconomy but more than anything else, blocks the future of Quebec.)

JACK LAYTON: Un seul geste pour débloquer les choses. Joignez vous a nous, votez pour l’NPD.
(One single gesture to unblock things. Join us, vote for the NDP)

This ad carries a theme that the Conservatives initiated last election; like the Conservatives, the NDP are focusing on the decreased mobility of Quebeckers and their province when they vote for the Bloc Quebecois. We see a similar image in the bicycle with square wheels. Comparatively, during the 2006 campaign, the Conservatives showed an image of a bicycle with one wheel in cement as a cyclist tried with futility to move forward.

This campaign is seeing a few new developments in Canadian politics. During the last week of the campaign, the NDP usually runs out of cash and can’t finish with a heavy ad buy during this critical time. Now that they plan on spending the limit (something past their reach previously), the NDP is able to buy critical air time for ads right up to election day. However, I question the value of the NDP buying ads in Quebec. Even behind a surging Bloc and resurgent Liberal Party, the NDP still runs fourth behind the Conservatives. Close races for the NDP will be won or lost in BC and Ontario in this final week. Perhaps the NDP is making a long term investment in Quebec to establish a beachhead to show that Mulcair’s byelection win wasn’t a fluke.

Speaking to a senior NDP official in these past couple of days, the NDP has confirmed to me that they are planning an ad buy specifically targeted against Dion’s 43 abstentions in the House of Commons and these missed opportunities for the opposition to bring down the Conservative government.

The NDP could become a spoiler and this is evident in their focus during this last week of the campaign. At first, Layton said he was running for Prime Minister — a theme he will still carry this week though muted. This message served to wedge the Liberals to provide Canadians with a choice between left and right between the NDP and the Conservatives. Now that it’s crunch time, we’re seeing the NDP focusing regionally and against left-wing opponents in order to fight among a crowded field, against the inevitable perennial Liberal call to think twice to stop Harper and against the Bloc for progressive voters in Quebec.

Elections Canada takes up arms, risks losing the war for us all

I admit, I have an abnormal obsession with politics, and as I’ve reassured some of my concerned friends during these past weeks: this is the call to battle for political geeks and if I’m my Blackberry becomes even more of an extension of my thumbs, do not worry, I will soon emerge to my “normal” state of following politics for only a few hours a day rather than full-time.

What is at the root of my attraction to politics? It’s a love of liberty, of this country and a love of the democratic system which undergirds it. The wisdom of the people and power and rights conferred to them — not by a constitution, Charter or any other political derivation, but from their very birthright as free persons — is at the core of the concept which defines our understanding of governance.

Election is war. In fact, battling factions called parties wage campaigns carefully considered from their war-rooms complete with psy-ops and black-ops, while pollsters provide reconnaissance for planners in the map room who send their lieutenants on tour. Foot soldiers are marshalled to the front lines by local commanders to knock on doors, make calls and at times good coffee. Communications officials are on the horn spinning their stories, boosting morale and deploying propaganda over enemy territory.

Some say that all is fair in love and war but in this war, there are rules. In a war for democracy — certainly a cause worth fighting for — all soldiers should fight fair lest something greater than their campaign is lost.

Elections Canada is the arbiter of the rules of electoral war. The agency, which could have been set up in The Hague, surveys the battlefield, tends to the wounded and at times runs its own carefully calculated raids. Elections Canada keeps civilians out of harm’s way and unlawful third party combatants at bay.

I have spent some time during this campaign pointing out various missteps and technical infractions of unfriendly parties in order to do my part to ensure that the battles fought during this campaign are fair and that the rules of combat are equally enforced. However, what is to be done when those that enforce the rules are ignorant of them?

In a spirit of a temporary armistice to protect the process and its ends that we fight for — no matter our stripe — from the protectors of this process themselves, I must call into question the occurrences reported in this dispatch from the field,

Landlords can order tenants to remove signs supporting federal election candidates, Elections Canada said Tuesday, after an Edmonton woman told CBC News she was threatened with eviction if she didn’t remove her sign.

Marilyn Dumont said she received a letter from her landlord saying she would be evicted within 14 days if she didn’t remove the sign from her apartment window by Wednesday.

“What I have is a signed letter from the landlord saying that I need to take the sign down and that we’re not allowed to post signs inside or outside of the premises,” she said.

The sign was for Linda Duncan, who is running for the NDP in Edmonton-Strathcona.

In Dumont’s lease, there is a prohibition against placing advertisements in apartment windows.

“Yes I do rent a space. And yes I did sign a lease that says, you know, I couldn’t put signs up for advertising. But I don’t feel this is advertising. It’s an election and it seems to me my democratic right to be able to express my opinion,” she said.

CBC could not reach Dumont’s landlord for comment.

But a spokeswoman for Elections Canada said while the agency has guidelines for the placement of signs on public land, it has no rules and takes no position about signage on private property, because its an issue between a landlord and a tenant.

“It’s a legal thing and has nothing to do with Elections Canada. It’s up to the tenant and the landlord to come to an agreement and follow up,” said Marie-France Kenny of Elections Canada in Alberta.

However, Elections Canada’s own rules state:

322. (1) No landlord or person acting on their behalf may prohibit a tenant from displaying election advertising posters on the premises to which the lease relates and no condominium corporation or any of its agents may prohibit the owner of a condominium unit from displaying election advertising posters on the premises of his or her unit.

Elections Canada should enforce the rules of this election fairly, no matter the fighting party. For if the rights that our troops fight to protect are victims of the process, all of us have lost the war.

Absent Liberals – The video player

UPDATE: The code is now working. Copy and paste the code below.

Be sure to put this on your blog. Instructions are below.

I was browsing YouTube earlier this evening and came across some recent uploads by somebody messaging against Stephane Dion for instructing his party to sit on their hands during the last session of Parliament. Dion’s Liberals abstained 43 times and could have brought down Stephen Harper’s government with any of these skipped votes. The videos that I found were uploaded by a user called “AbsentLiberals” and I’m fairly certain that it’s an NDP war-room effort. I believe that the NDP campaign created these videos to emphasize the point that their party was the only national opposition party to stand against the government. The NDP is making the point during this campaign that the Liberals gave Harper a de facto majority because they allowed the passage of his agenda by abstaining from votes. Of course, if Dion had voted against the government, we would have been in an election long ago as the Conservative Prime Minister made most bills issues of confidence. I also think that these videos are a product of the NDP war-room because they are also provided in French. Most unofficial activists would make the videos in either French or English but not both (there are 43×2 videos). UPDATE: As I suspected, these videos are from the NDP war-room.

Despite this likely being an NDP production, the message is plain for Conservatives and their supporters too; these videos show that Stephane Dion does not show leadership.

Years ago, I wrote a video distribution technique for Blogging Tories television and I think that the same can be applied for these videos. I modified my BT-TV program to deploy these “Absent Liberals” videos easily on your websites whether you support the Conservatives, the NDP or perhaps you are a Liberal that doesn’t support Dion. Just copy and paste the code into your own blog’s sidebar to embed the “Absent Liberals” video player. Imagine the player embedded on hundreds of blogs both left and right.

Sidebar player

Large player

Election’s a go

Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked the Governor General for the dissolution of Canada’s 39th Parliament and Her Excellency will ask for the return of writs in 37 days. All five major party leaders made television appearences to either give speeches, take question or both. Here are my initial impressions.

Stephane Dion started by saying that in this election there will be “two stark differences”, that between the Liberal Party and the Conservatives. Stephane Dion is picking up right where Paul Martin left-off. No, I’m not talking about a firesale where all seats must go, but rather by trying to define the election as one of two choices. Unfortunately for Mr. Dion, this election is crowded on the left and will see attention given to NDP, Bloc and even the Liberal-proxy Greens which may end up being more trouble than benefit for the Liberals. In modern elections, Liberals have always had to strike out against their main Conservative opponents while taking time to suppress NDP gains on the left. By defining “two stark differences”, the right may be well-defined but there is a low signal-to-noise ratio on the left. Dion also made a point of saying that he “loves Canada” and took a minor tangent and regaled people on his love for our country. You’ll remember that Stephen Harper wasn’t so explicit when asked by a reporter/plant during the last campaign on this topic. It took the then-opposition leader by surprise and his answer wasn’t prepared. This may be significant because of the similar backdrops of the House of Commons; Dion gave his launch speech in exactly the same location that Harper did in December 2005. The Liberals may be trying set the scene quite literally for a contrast video piece on “loving Canada”.

A reporter asked Dion if he accepts the premise that this election is defined by leadership. Dion stumbles by accepting this directly and says that he leads on the environment, poverty and a whole list of Liberal policies. The Conservatives would like nothing better than the national media to accept leadership as the ballot box question and define the rest of the race through this lens through which the Conservatives have already focused their message for almost two years since Dion won the leadership race in late 2006. I also think that it was a disastrous mistake for the Liberals to lead with what is their de facto main policy plank months before this election. Questions have arisen even among Dion’s own MPs about the implementation, the regional differences and even the concept of the Green Shift itself. Canadians are aware of the Green Shift, so how does Dion plan to re-launch it? A reporter asked about the “carbon tax” and whether its a good policy for Canadians. Dion responds without redefining the question about the “Green Shift” and answers it instead in the context of a tax. These were two significant mistakes by Dion; to accept this election as a referendum on leadership and taxation.

Jack Layton addressed supporters from Gatineau along the banks of the Ottawa River overlooking Parliament. The speech was somewhat annoying because his crowd of supporter either wasn’t big enough, or didn’t translate on the microphone well enough to sound big. The camera shot also featured a somewhat disheveled looking lady and a guy in a bucket-hat. While his supporters applauded every speech point (which were many and frequent), Layton defined this election for himself; Jack Layton is running for the job of Prime Minister. Layton is taking a bolder and different track this time around and doing (what he may argue) Dion cannot. By echoing the same message of a choice between two visions, Layton is trying to drop the Liberals from the game. How can NDP voters go Liberal to stop Harper when Liberals gave the Prime Minister the green light during the last session? The Conservatives and NDP will attack the Green Shift on two fronts. On the right, increased taxation will be Conservatives warning to Canadians while on the left the NDP will make try their point that only the NDP has credibility on the environment (Bill C-377).

Gilles Duceppe with each passing election is becoming an anachronism in Canadian politics. The Bloc Quebecois leader’s speech had a number of hidden agenda references from George Bush to abortion to gender equality. Isn’t this 2008? We’ve heard this song before et désolé, ici ce n’est pas le Bloc. Also of note, Canada may be unique in modern western democracies in that it is a viable election strategy to inflate your opponents chances indicating that they may win a majority government.

Finally, Elizabeth May gave an impassioned speech about voter participation which should be well received by anyone watching. However, May’s passion moved into a speech about climate change that gave me the feeling that an advocacy group has not yet fully matured into a political party. If the Greens are going to debate, they need to broaden their platform and present themselves as alternative on the left rather than a pseudo-Liberal coalition. Watching CPAC coverage, I could not believe my ears that former Sierra Club senior policy adviser and now-Green Party spokesman John Bennett said that because of climate change “Stephen Harper doesn’t give a damn about his children’s future”. The Green Party is not ready for prime time. However, the fact that CPAC is putting them on panels, featuring May in the rotation may indicate that the most balanced political news outlet considers them part of the mainstream and this will have an effect on their coverage (and political gains). Will the Greens’ coverage actually harm the Liberals? Does the emergence of a fifth voice (and fourth on the left) amplify trouble for the Liberal brand especially under the weak leadership of Dion?