Tim Hudak interview at the Manning Centre Conference

I asked Hudak about principle vs pragmatism in opposition compared to government, about how he would balance the deficit, the difference between Harper/McGuinty deficits and about the renegotiation of health transfers that is rapidly becoming visible on the horizon. I spoke to the Ontario PC leader after his remarks at the Manning Centre networking conference in Ottawa this weekend.

New Senators

The new senators:


Quebec

Claude Carignan

Judith Siedman

Jacques Demers

Ontario

Doug Finley

Linda Frum

New Brunswick

Carolyn Stewart-Olsen

Manitoba

Don Plett

Nova Scotia

Kelvin Ogilvie

Nunavut

Dennis Patterson

Senate appointments tomorrow

I’m hearing that the Prime Minister will be naming nine new senators tomorrow by 2:00pm.

Here are the party veterans that I’m hearing are sure bets
Manitoba – Don Plett
New Brunswick – Carolyn Stewart-Olson
Ontario – Doug Finley
Nova Scotia – Brooke Taylor
Quebec – Jacques Demers

In the running:
Ontario: Bob Runciman, David Braley
Quebec: Judith Siedman
Nunavut: Dennis Patterson

I’m still digging on this. If you’ve got any tips (anonymity guaranteed) please send them via email or bb pin.

UPDATE: Appointments will be announced between 1 and 2pm tomorrow
UPDATE: Brooke Taylor is a surer bet than Macdonald for NS from what I hear. Finley upgraded to a sure bet now that I’ve heard from more than a few sources.
UPDATE: Brooke Taylor sure bet for NS
UPDATE: Added David Braley to the shortlist of potential senators from Ontario
UPDATE: hearing rumour that the PM will only appoint 8 of 9 tomorrow, but cannot guess why
UPDATE: Senate seat from Nunavut open. Hearing that the PM met with appointee last week while on the northern tour
UPDATE: Added Dennis Patterson and Paul Okalik from Nunavut. Bet on Patterson.

EI Politics

A hallmark of Michael Ignatieff so far as Liberal leader, both actual and interim, has been his penchant to transactional politics; he has so far picked his battles on small and short term policy differences rather that outlining a long-term plan. At the Liberal convention which concluded yesterday in Vancouver, Ignatieff did not spell out his demands, policy outlook or election warnings to the government in his convention speech, he felt that such minor details would be more appropriate for a press conference proceeding the event. Despite his insistence that he will be a transformative visionary leader that is looking forward to shaping Canada over the next eight years through 2017, it is not too credible when Ignatieff’s Canadian hindsight only extends back just five. The latest election threat (but not necessarily an election) is his insistence that the Prime Minister look at EI reform to temporarily extend benefits to workers who have worked 360 hours and to harmonize standards for EI benefits across jurisdictions.

The history of EI in this country has been quite tumultuous for parties that have manipulated it, back to RB Bennett who proposed it, to Trudeau who vastly expanded it to Mulroney and Chretien who subsequently slashed it to Martin who allowed EI surpluses to balloon under his watch. Ironically, it was Chretien in 1995 that changed the standards of EI payments to reflect local unemployment rates breaking down benefits by region. Though all of Canadians pay into EI, the benefits distributed are dependent upon local employment rates. Thus, EI is sort of like equalization but for jobs.

“It seems unfair to Canadians that if you pay into the thing, your eligibility depends on where you live. We think 360 (hours) is roughly where we ought to be.” — Michael Ignatieff

Now Mr. Ignatieff is proposing that we do away with regional differences and temporarily make EI more generous. An election threat from Ignatieff does not ring in the ears of the Prime Minister today after the Liberal leader put the screws to the Liberal senate to pass the Conservative budget just months ago — a budget, which among other things, included a global five-week extension of EI benefits despite region.

What Mr. Ignatieff may instead be attempting is to wrestle an easy “concession” from the Conservative government in order to show that he intends on making Parliament work while boasting that he will decide the timing of its dissolution. EI may indeed be an important policy issue for the Liberal leader to champion as for deregionalizing the program would be beneficial for Ontario, a province that disproportionately pays into it for the benefits received. As Ignatieff is looking to regain Ontario seats lost under the wayward leadership of Stephane Dion, the new Liberal leader may figure that he can shore up his Ontario base and challenge Stephen Harper where the Conservative Prime Minister needs to grow.

Yet today, a spoiler appeared on the scene. Ontario PC leadership candidate Christine Elliott and wife of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty also declared that the EI program was ineffective and unfair for Ontario. Elliott proposed reforming the program to benefit a fairer proportion of out-of-work Ontarians considering the number of the province’s residents pay into it. If EI cannot be reformed, Elliott suggests, Ontario should opt-out of the program. Does this signal a tag-team effort by federal and provincial Conservative forces to deflate Ignatieff’s election threat? Christine Elliott may be serving as a safety valve to deflate Ignatieff by suggesting that a friendly to the Conservative government is advocating a similar position. If a June election is contingent upon EI reform for Ontario, Elliott may be providing the Conservatives cover should they move forward with reform and it would have the added benefit of splitting credit from Ignatieff.

Tim Hudak comes by the office

Our office in downtown Ottawa today hosted potential Ontario PC leadership candidate Tim Hudak for a meet and greet with friends and colleagues on Parliament Hill today. Many thanks to Dimitri Pantazopoulos and Phil von Finkenstein for coordinating and to Chris Froggatt for tieing it all together.

Hudak spoke about returning Ontario to a clear sense of conservatism and will be attending the Manning Centre conference this weekend.

On the developing news front, I’ve learned that Hudak is receiving the endorsement of Rob Nicholson, the federal minister of Justice. Does Froggatt’s involvement with today’s event mean that endorsement from his boss John Baird will follow?

The Manning Centre is hosting a reception tonight prior to our conference and I can confirm that Tim Hudak, Christine Elliott, Randy Hillier and Peter van Loan will be in attendence. The Manning Centre conference will be the first significant venue for leadership pre-campaigning.

Who is considering a run at the Ontario PC leadership?

I’ve been hitting the phone, email and blackberry PIN asking known PC organizers, student leaders and strategists who’s been calling them “testing the waters”. I’ve learned that there are at least seven people considering a bid for the Ontario PC leadership to succeed John Tory. Here they are:

Tim Hudak: The perceived front-runner for the PC leadership is backed by a number of student/youth leaders, much of the party executive but has shallow support in caucus. Hudak’s people are pushing for an early leadership election (June) in order to deprive oxygen from other rivals who are trying to catch up. Hudak has been billed as a “true-blue conservative” by many of his supporters.

Christine Elliott: MPP from Whitby-Oshawa, lawyer and wife of Canada’s federal Conservative finance minister, Jim Flaherty. Flaherty ran for the PC leadership against John Tory and the organization and team may fall into place should Elliott contest the leadership.

Frank Klees: Among Hudak and Elliott, Klees rounds out the top three frontrunners who are making active and concerted pitchs to potential supporters to form a team for the 2009 leadership race. Klees ran against Tory for leadership in 2004 and served as a cabinet minister under Premier Harris.

Randy Hillier: Hillier is the former president of the Lanark Landowners Association and has represented a defiant conservative streak during his time in the Ontario legislature. The most conservative among the lot, many see a bid by Hillier as principled yet politically untenable. According to my sources, Hillier has been pushing for a later leadership election.

Peter Shurman: One of the only gains during the last election for the Ontario PC, Shurman is the MPP for Thornhill. A former broadcaster and businessman, Shurman has the profile and resources for a serious bid though my sources say that he is testing the waters carefully at this time. (update: Shurman’s out, but was considering this possibility)

Peter van Loan: Yes, the Conservative federal minister for Public Safety is said to be “leaving the door” open for a potential run at the provincial party leadership. PVL is the former president of the PC Party of Ontario, former government House leader for the Conservative government and, in his previous private sector life, he was a successful lawyer in Toronto. Van Loan is a “no guff” style administrator and would likely bring order to a divisive caucus that churned under Tory.

Dean Del Mastro: Del Mastro is the federal Conservative MP from Peterborough and has served in the House of Commons since 2006. Mr. Del Mastro is also allowing talk to circulate about a potential leadership shot to make a bid for the Premier’s office in the next Ontario election. Del Mastro plays the wouded partisan role well and this may be the contrast to John Tory’s approach that Ontario PC partisans are seeking. Del Mastro has been a visible member of the CPC caucus and has done a good job to raise his media profile in the short time he’s been in Parliament. (update: Del Mastro has ruled out a run at leadership but confirmed that he was approached to run the day of John Tory’s resignation)

UPDATE: Shurman says he’s out, Elizabeth Witmer says she’s considering a run.

Ontario PC Leadership race details

I’m receiving word from senior sources who are discussing the future of the Ontario PC Party right now. At the moment, leader John Tory is in a caucus meeting now discussing what he’ll be talking about at his presser at 2pm.

The party is pushing for a leadership election to occur the second weekend of September (see update). The thinking is that this best time that won’t interfere with a potential federal election.

There’s a special executive meeting to be held on Monday to discuss process and to have an interim leader in place by the end of March.

UPDATE: Now I’m hearing that June is a possible for the leadership election. We’ll know more details on Monday. June sounds a bit early for the number of candidates that are thinking of entering and there is no sense of urgency for June.

The morning after for John Tory

Now that the sun has come up on a new day at Queen’s Park, many are taking stock of last night’s PC loss Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock by-election. There are a few truths that need to be said as well.

I sincerely believe that the PC Party will now be better equipped to fight an election against Dalton McGuinty than it would have been under Tory. A leadership process will bring out policy debate, will highlight personalities and will give Ontario a fresh face for the next election.

As for John Tory, obligatory nice guy references aside, the guy was not a conservative’s Conservative. In fact, at the recent PC policy convention I quickly identified Tory’s base of support within the room as it voted on policy. I came to realize that an easy crib sheet for voting became to vote in the opposite way of these folks. When John Tory announces that he’ll step aside later today, the party will begin the process of voting for a leader that will excite conservatives. Though it was a by-election, 10,000 PC voters stayed home last night and you know you have a problem when its the electorate that informs the party that it is not conservative enough. In politics (and more often Liberal politics) lack of ideological purity can be forgiven if your leader has a sharp political instinct. John Tory was weak on both.

In politics, as in life, one should focus upon areas where one excels. John Tory excels at a number things, but I don’t believe this pursuit is one where his efforts and skill will be most appreciated.

John Tory loses by-election, expected to resign as party leader

Earlier tonight, as the polls came in, it became clearer and clearer that PC Party of Ontario leader John Tory would lose his last chance at challenging Dalton McGuinty for the Premier’s office.  By the time the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock by-election was called by the Canadian Press at about 10:30pm, Tory’s margin of loss represented a 9% point drop from former PC MPP Laurie Scott’s electoral footing.  Scott beat her opponent by 20% during the last provincial election.

Tory has scheduled a press conference for Friday and many expect the embattled leader to resign.  Having faced a humiliating loss in the previous provincial election after championing a policy on religious school choice and polarizing the party after a divisive leadership review, it is unknown how the former CEO of Rogers and commissioner of the CFL expects to quarterback his team after this evening’s loss of what was considered a “safe seat”.  Tory did hint to reporters tonight – and I’m paraphrasing – that his future ‘may not be in public life’.

From reports on the ground, party workers were not expecting this loss though some cite the typical organizational campaign and e-day deficiencies.  I have it on good authority that the PCs did not do any internal polling in the riding for this contest. (I have it on better authority that polling was done and 10 days prior to e-day and it showed Tory trailing by 5 points).

As a leader, John Tory retired the debt of the PC Party bringing the party’s fiscal position back into the black.  The party will hopefully continue to benefit from his strengths as a fundraiser.  Many have described Tory as a good man, though not the right man.  Despite his shortcomings tonight, public service is a sacrifice to one’s family life and career and I know that Conservatives, myself included, are thankful for his tireless contributions.  From my personal experience, I’ve known Tory to be a dedicated, passionate and faithful activist for Canadian Conservatives.  I know that he’ll continue to be committed to advancing our parties both provincially and federally.

Names of potential candidates to replace Tory as leader of the PCPO that are being pushed around tonight include Christine Elliot, John Yakabuski, Randy Hillier, Peter Shurman and Tim Hudak.  It is expected that many will step forward as there were many known to be waiting in the wings prior to the previous leadership review.

An interesting and chaotic era in provincial Conservative politics begins tomorrow.  Rebuilding starts in the morning.

FLASHBACK: Five years ago this month, I met John Tory as he went on a provincial listening tour before contesting the provincial PC leadership.

Politics is at times a sport, but should always be a serious business

Yesterday, Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan ‘leaked’ the news that Ontario would see a budget deficit of $18 Billion over the next two years.

We’ve been hearing hints of an Ontario deficit for a little while now. Of course, this is a communications strategy for mitigating bad news.

Just as the federal Conservatives did prior to the release of their own budget, PMO director of communication Kory Teneycke passed on the detail that the budget would be projecting deficit.

Strip the bad from the budget day headline and frontload some tax cuts and the other ‘silver lining’ elements on the day of the budget announcement. By that time, deficits are yesterday’s news and the media is biased towards reporting what’s new.

The federal Liberals protested when their Blue friends on the government benches did just over one month ago, while their provincial cousins are doing the same thing. Provincial Conservatives should avoid the same temptation.

Communications is necessary to move dry, plain or just ugly policy through the emotional and human crucible of the public forum. However, to burn at communications as a method instead of policy as substance is often too easy and while it may produce a bright flash, the flame is short and does nothing to get at the essence of debate.

We should not, however, dismiss real debate and positioning on issues. Some bemoan that politicians are ‘playing politics’ at a time of economic crisis. But, politics is getting to the core of an issue and at the methods by which it should be addressed. Let’s get past the bright flash and get down to it.