NDP climbs down

Just received:

STATEMENT

Ms. Mathyssen phoned Mr. Moore earlier this evening.

Mr. Moore offered to explain that it was of his girlfriend.

Ms. Mathyssen has accepted the explanation and offered her apologies and she will be making a formal statement in the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity.

Courtesy: NDP Press Office

Well ok then.

Since when did the NDP become the party of prudish moral outrage?

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.

Tonight’s Throne Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gilles Duceppe won’t support the speech.

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

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

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

Throne Speech and Fall Election

The Parliamentary break is effectively over as Ottawa Hillites are speculating about the future of the government, of Stephane Dion’s career and, of course, about a future election which would significantly affect both.

The traffic levels at Blogging Tories shook off the relatively low summer numbers on the night of the Quebec by-elections and traffic patterns are back up to normal as they were prior to the break. While Parliament has not yet resumed, everyone is hungry for politics.

Everyone, that is, except for the Canadian electorate. Just as I laughed when the Liberals said it back when they had a minority government, the other day I had to chuckle when a heard a Conservative tell a reporter on TV that “Canadians don’t want an election right now”. For people that watch politics, an election is like the Olympics; an election only happens every two years and it’s what the political junkie lives for, and what their “heroes” train for. Politicians and reporters can easily find themselves out of touch with the Canadian reality as they try and match Wellington st. with Main st. Do Canadians want an election right now? It’s pure speculation.

However, we can be sure about a few things concerning this fall in politics. First, the Liberal leader Stephane Dion and the Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe came from quite a beating in those Quebec by-elections a couple of weeks ago. Despite this, Duceppe has released his demands for the throne speech including some particularly difficult requests for the government to meet including the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan and the cessation of federal spending powers in Quebec. Some say that Duceppe is staking his priorities against Harper to show that the Bloc is the real champion of Quebec’s interests when the Prime Minister inevitably turns him down.

As for Stephane Dion, it is pretty much assured that the professor doesn’t want to fight the Prime Minister at the moment. The Liberal party lacks momentum, especially in Quebec, a traditional stronghold. Dion has also made some lofty demands of the Prime Minister including a similar demand for withdrawal from Afghanistan after February 2009, and a promise to keep the Liberals’ controversial private members bill on Kyoto alive. If the Prime Minister balks at a clear position on both, the Liberals for their sake will at least have two wedge issues to run a campaign on.

Despite this, Dion must not be particularly excited about his prospects. If anyone around him is telling him privately that they are excited about an imminent election, he should fire them now. Dion still has a lot of building (and recovering) to do if he is to even crack Harper’s incumbent seat total, not to mention score a weak minority. As opposition leader, Dion will not vote for the throne speech, but it will be difficult to abstain from it as well as such a move plays towards the “not a leader” narrative and the Conservatives will capitalize on this. Likely, the plan for Dion is to show up, make a symbolic vote against the government but ensure enough of his MPs “have the flu” as would be needed to allow the renewed mandate of the government to pass, but allow him to save face with Canadians. However, if we see too many Liberals show up to defeat the government’s throne speech, it may be a sign of Ignatieff and Rae supporters showing up to eject Dion via election. Pundits will say that Dion couldn’t count that day, however, it may be indicative of some Liberals ready to push Dion on their own sword.

We haven’t been hearing too much from the NDP regarding their demands for the throne speech and I think that this is indicative of their intent to support the government. Layton may have realized that with newly acquired momentum from Outremont, there’s more wedging to be done with the Conservatives to gut the ambiguous Liberal middle both left and right.

Thoughts about the by-elections

Repeating my bit from Macleans.ca, just for the record:

“Earthquake in Quebec.

“Stephane Dion fails his first electoral test as Liberal leader as the Grits lose a safe Quebec seat.

“Stephen Harper becomes the buffer against separatism in Quebec, a role traditionally attributed to the Liberals. Where dominoes fall in Quebec, vote-rich Ontario takes notice.

“The NDP picks up only their second seat in Quebec history. Does this represent a realignment on federalism in Quebec along the lines of left and right as we saw in the Quebec provincial election?”

Further to that point, Jack Layton’s leadership is secure for at least another two years. The man from Montreal promised to deliver seats in Quebec. He delivered one, but he’s got momentum. This Mulcair fellow may however be the MP that replaces Layton as leader.

From most accounts, Stephane Dion is a nice guy. From the couple of times we’ve crossed paths and from what I’ve been able to observe, the man is a class act. However, if what is being reported in Outremont is true and there’s a movement afoot to undermine his leadership, it’s time to either bring down the hammer Chretien/Martin-style, fade away or, or… something. Unfortunately for him, with party unity still a real issue, and no easy option presents itself. Before the ballots were even counted, the truth came out last night: in the Quebec by-elections, this nice guy finished “last”.

This certainly plays well for Stephen Harper and he is ahead on two majority elements today: Dion’s failing leadership and the redefinition of federalism in Quebec. While Quebeckers are rejecting Mr. Dion’s strong centralizing vision of the federation (even though he denied this characterization of Liberal federalism last night), nationals from la belle province are embracing Mr. Harper’s respect for regional identity and power. Further indication of this can be seen in the falling Bloc numbers. As I stated above, we may see a reconfiguration of Quebec politics along left and right rather than federalist/separatist as in the past. Progressive-minded Quebeckers that voted for the left-wing Bloc are realizing a real option in Jack Layton’s NDP, while the rest are electing to choose Conservative government MPs and a new respect for Quebec’s place in a united Canada. The end-game of this in the rest of Canada is of course to cut the ballot left and right, between the policy-principled NDP and Conservative parties, wedging the Liberals out.

Ontario by-elections

Two by-elections are upcoming this fall in Ontario and I’ve got a bit of info on these individuals and the timing of the contest to be called by the Prime Minister.

Maureen Harquail will be taking on Martha Hall Finley from the Liberals in Willowdale and Mark Warner will be appealing for votes in Toronto-Centre as he battles against former Liberal leadership contender and NDP Premier of Ontario Bob Rae.

Harquail has completed reserve duty with the Canadian armed forces and was an environmental prosecutor. She also happens to be the cousin of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty. The cousin connection has already come in handy as the Tories are said to be packing their war-chest for the riding pre-writ by bringing in some highly visible cabinet minsters for fundraisers. Peter MacKay has already been seen in the riding pitching for Harquail, and besides cousin Jim, environmental minister John Baird is also expected to raise some funds for the Tories in Willowdale. Willowdale consists of significant jewish, korean, persian and japanese communities among others. Retiring Liberal MP Jim Peterson won the riding last time for the Grits by 14,000 votes, however, a significant portion of that support rested in Peterson’s popular personality rather than the Liberal Party. Yet, Willowdale should be a challenging riding for the Tories to pick up. At this point, the NDP have yet to forward a candidate and Harquail would only benefit from a strong NDP effort in that riding against the Grits.

Mark Warner will be challenging for Toronto Centre. Warner is a lawyer will some impressive credentials that include lecturing in law and practicing for the OECD internationally. In the riding, Warner will have a bit of work to do as the Tories only secured 18% of the vote in the last election. We may, however, see some split with the “progressive” side of the spectrum with NDP voters showing up to vote against Rae, and a relatively stronger Green presence there. Plus as Warner is running for the incumbent government, this may produce a small boost. Warner was acclaimed February 9th and has already hosted a couple of successful fundraisers including one with justice minister Rob Nicholson and popular Ontario candidate Tim Hudak. Despite the good fundraising start, Warner is still a bit of a long shot in this realist’s opinion.

I’ve heard from a couple of senior Tories that the by-elections will be called after the provincial election. Former Toronto city councillor David Shiner, the provincial challenger in Willowdale is likely to be a bellwether for Harquail’s success in that same riding federally. The Tories may be angling to hold the federal contests after the provincial election in order not to be seen as interfering in provincial politics and to tap into the mood of the electorate after the provincial contest (whether to balance a McGuinty win, or buttress a breakthrough by John Tory)

An experiment with unintended results

The CBC wrapped up their Facebook initiative on Canada Day. The Great Canadian Wish certainly provided some unintended consequences, yet it teaches us some truths about social media and its participants.

As an aside, the next time an NDPer boasts that Tommy Douglas is The Greatest Canadian based on the shaky authority of a CBC populist initiative, show them this:

Poor CBC! The only wish that would have made them cringe harder would have been if “Privatize the CBC” had beaten out the rest.

The fate of the CBC isn’t as much of a divisive issue as that of abortion to be sure and that’s where we draw our first conclusion on why the public broadcaster got the results that it did.

Polarizing issues will drive people to mobilize. Frankly, it’s been an effective tool used by the Liberals during the latest rounds of electoral combat. Going nuclear on the Conservative Party meant referencing abortion during the last desperate days of the writ period.

Secondly, anti-abortion activists mobilized quickly and early. They also had the advantage of not representing the status quo; if abortions were illegal, you can bet that the pro-choice wish would have had more traction as it would have indicated a desire for change. The very concept of change is more mobilizing because it is natural to take the status quo for granted. Indeed, the issue of abortion is a real and emotional one for people on both sides of the debate.

CBC also touched on a particular rationale for the presence of the the highly contentious issue: forum. Since the topic of abortion has been one that hasn’t been polled or discussed in any real public sense for years (CBC illustrates this in its report above using Environics as an example), advocates against the practice felt that the Facebook group represented a “back-door” of sorts to bring it front-row-centre on a highly visible stage, the CBC. Are more Canadians on Facebook pro-life rather than pro-choice?

Not necessarily.

Since reproductive choice / access to abortion is the norm in this country, the pro-choice advocates have had the advantage (and in this contest, the disadvantage) of arguing from a comfortable, mainstream position. The most significant motivating factor for pro-choice advocates only came into action when it became apparent that their pro-life foes might actually pull off an upset. The pro-lifers were primarily motivated by the issue, while the pro-choicers were too comforted and slowed by the mainstream acceptance of their position, and were only motivated when that position came under threat. Where the pro-lifers sought to act on the issue, the pro-choicers found their strength in reacting. Since acting comes before reacting, acting had a head-start.

There are parallels, of course, to real life politicking that we can draw from the Facebook/CBC wish initiative. As, I’ve mentioned, emotional issues mobilize support and have been used by parties to get out the vote. The Liberal line was “we may have had some ethics problems in Quebec, but have you heard what the Conservatives want to do to your rights?” Since abortion isn’t actually an issue on the Conservative radar, Conservatives have difficulty appealing to emotion. “Rights” are compelling issues and the Conservatives would be wise to determine where they can successfully leverage their strengths in that domain (Rights for Afghani women and children is compelling). Status quo versus change is also a significant factor as the desire for latter can be a stronger motivator than protecting the former (for Conservatives and Canadians, economic freedom is a compelling right, however, it is the relative status quo). People take the status quo for granted and may only become motivated when a real threat is perceived. Often, these issues may come too late during an election for the reacting party.

Certainly, the CBC experiment had some unintended consequences (I’m sure that they’re thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t commit to making this an 8-part mini-series starring George Strombolopolous), however, I feel that it highlighted some very interesting characteristics of human nature, politics, and evolving social media networks. I wonder if other experiments that test human nature can be conceived and then realized on Facebook?

As an addendum, as a Conservative partisan I was somewhat worried that the prominence of abortion as an issue would have instigated a renewed negative focus on the Conservative Party regarding the topic. Kudos to the CBC for including the clip of Stephen Harper in this report on the CBC/Facebook wish:

UPDATE: Looks like the comments section has erupted into a pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. Consider that the post is actually about human behaviour as it relates to the motivating factors on social networks as a potential snapshot of the real-life world of political mobilization.

Adjournment

Negotiations are currently underway, and barring some procedural snafu, the rumour is that we’ll see adjournment of the House either today or tomorrow. That’s the current word from the gossip-hounds on the Hill.

UPDATE: Peter van Loan, the government House leader has moved for emergency debate on two pieces of legislation. Yes, they’re pushing through to wrap up soon.

UPDATE (Friday afternoon): Alas, it’s not to be. Liberals and Conservatives (and journalists) are complaining that its the NDP that’s holding up the House. But good news, the latest consensus estimate is that the House will break after Monday with unanimous consent.

Harper continues to embrace Afghan mission

Pollsters and media analysts alike have been warning the Conservative government that as we head into the spring and summer of this year, Afghanistan will become the Prime Minister’s true Achilles heal as more fatalities are likely to occur during the NATO mission in that country.

As bad news mounts alongside the good, it is the bad that becomes entrenched within the Canadian mindset as details emerge about alleged claims of torture from Afghan-detained detainees, the setback faced whenever one of our heroes falls, and the parallels that some dishonestly draw with the American conflict in Iraq.

However, Canadians have a history of shouldering the heavy burden of the responsibilities met in the hills and on the shores of foreign lands. Indeed, as Canadians we have always supported the fight for what is right and the common thread of this struggle has always been the establishment of the rule of law, peace abroad – which begets security at home – and the liberation of those who could not speak for themselves.

Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a visit to Kabul to emphasize the reconstruction and humanitarian efforts that currently underway in Afghanistan. Just over one year ago he made a similar yet different trip to visit soldiers that country’s southern tumultuous province of Kandahar. The Prime Minister has gone to underscore the part of the mission that can only succeed with the success of the other; Harper is promoting humanitarian efforts which can only come from the efforts of establishing civil order.

Canadians are understandably wary of seeing ramp ceremonies televised on our national news networks but it appears that enough of us appreciate (if we can never fully comprehend) the results that come from sacrifices made.

Support for the mission usually hovers at about 50% (granted, that means that 50% are either opposed or ambivalent), and Harper generally polls at about 42% while the party (and Harper) sit at about 30-35% (depending on the poll). Generally this means that Afghanistan is not a liability for the PM and that if the NATO mission starts to define this Prime Minister’s tenure, then he actually has a deficit to make up between his own numbers and that of the mission.

Thus from a communications standpoint, the Prime Minister should never act ashamed or himself wary of the mission if Afghanistan; at the end of the day, Canada is doing the right thing and the majority of Canadians understands this. Everytime the NDP captilizes on the doubtful among us, Harper is able to take a firm and rationed stance while leaving Liberals to flop around on the issue to the point where Canadians won’t trust them on any position. When Jack Layton talks about the ‘confusion’ over the Afghanistan issue, Harper can clearly enunciate humanitarian benchmarks reached. When Layton asks about the human rights of Taliban detainees, the Prime Minister can announce that the aggregate sum of rights in that central Asian country has increased x-thousand percent.

In fact, the Prime Minister has taken some of Layton’s more rational concerns and has focused them through his own lens. Take today’s trip to refine the Conservative government’s messaging on Afghanistan. The end goal of the mission has always been to help that country stand on its own with the base ideals that Canada can reflect in an emerging democracy. While security must be realized before reconstruction can be successful, if Harper is to message on all fronts and to embrace the good that has always been the Canadian mission there, he can assuage doubters of the mission while focusing some of the broader spectrum of Canada’s ideals along his own message.

Did you know that…

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe is entitled to a $110,000 annual pension once he retires?

Why is the Bloc still running candidates for federal office? How are their dreams for sovereignty served by sitting in Ottawa, collecting a salary (and eventual pension) paid for by the Canadian taxpayer?

As the the leader of the third largest party, Duceppe even occupies a better office on the Hill than the leader of the “fourth party”: Jack Layton.

Of course, Duceppe and his party were elected by Canadians in Quebec to represent their interests in Ottawa, however, with separatism at low levels of support, and with the PQ talking about shelving discussions on sovereignty for the time being in favour of focusing more on socially democratic issues, can we start electing federal members from Quebec that can represent the real and current issues on Quebeckers?