Mario Laguë

A terribly sad day in Ottawa. Michael Ignatieff’s Director of Communications died this morning in a motorcycle accident. Here are the statements from the party leaders. I met Laguë once. There was a kindness and quiet about him. My thoughts are with his family.

Michael Ignatieff:

“It is with great sadness that we learned this morning that our Director of Communications, Mario Laguë, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in Ottawa.

“A man of many talents and accomplishments, Mario was a beloved member of our staff, and a valued personal advisor to me and the entire Liberal team. A man of great integrity and spirit, Mario served his country in many capacities with honour and dignity. Whether as a public servant under Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, Ambassador to Costa Rica or in his most cherished role as a husband and father, Mario brought a bright light to everything he did.

“While we will miss Mario’s extensive talents, we will miss most of all his warmth, his humour, and his passion for Canada that inspired us all.

“On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and our Parliamentary caucus, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, loved ones and the many, many friends and colleagues that knew him.”

Stephen Harper:

“I was very saddened to learn of the sudden and tragic passing today of Mario Laguė, Director of Communications for the Leader of the Opposition.

“Throughout a varied and distinguished career, Mr. Laguė served his country with dedication both in Canada and abroad. His numerous roles included serving as Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Director of Communications, as Quebec’s Delegate in Venezuela and in Mexico, as Canada’s Ambassador to Costa Rica, and as Assistant Secretary to Cabinet – Communications and Consultations in the Privy Council Office.

“Mr. Laguė will be greatly missed by those who knew him personally and who worked with him throughout his career. His devotion and service to his country are his legacy.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in their time of grief.”

Jack Layton:

I was deeply saddened this morning to learn of the sudden death of Mario Laguë, Director of Communications to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. On behalf of all New Democrats, I wish to extend my heartfelt sympathies to Mr. Laguë’s family, friends and colleagues.

Beneath the political fault lines that we find ourselves negotiating each day, there is a foundation of deep respect among those who devote their lives to public service. No matter what political stripes we may wear, we all feel this loss profoundly.

Mr. Laguë was a man of gentle strength who devoted decades to building a better country. We admire the consistent integrity he brought to his work, whether he was advising a Quebec premier or Canadian prime minister, or representing us all overseas as a Canadian ambassador.

We reserve a special place in our hearts today for Mr. Lague’s wife and two children. I know so well that a political career is always a full-family endeavor. They too have given much. And as we mourn with them today, we do so as extended family.

Census change is about smaller government

I received a call today from a reporter around noon about what he conceded was “the story that just won’t go away”. He was, of course, talking about the census. He wanted to know if I could pass on a few names of possible interviews for right-wingers that support the government’s stand to scrap the long-form census. Of course, there are the folks over at the Western Standard who are taking up their obvious position against the mandatory “burden”, but in broader view, it got me thinking about who opposes the government’s plan and why the story would not just go away.

Every day it seems that there’s a new group of people lining up to bemoan the Industry Minister’s announcement that the census would forego the long-form. Certainly, this illustrates a serious problem that Stephen Harper faces as Prime Minister. Facing an opposition that can’t get its act together is one thing, but a nation where the voices of special interests are louder than ordinary citizens is another.

Indeed in this country, there are two groups of people. In fact, some would call these groups the haves and the have-nots. This is an not inaccurate way of describing it, but those that would might have the two switched. Canadians form two groups: those that receive from the government and those pay to the government. Those who form — or are constituent to — organizations dependent on government policy (and spending) are firmly against the changes to the census. Those on the other side are largely ambivalent because they are the large, unorganized and unsubsidized net taxpaying masses.

The conservative/libertarian Fraser Institute think tank’s motto is “if it matters, measure it”. The untruth of the inverse of this statement is at the centre of why this government should follow through. “If you measure it, it matters” is the motto of those net tax receiving organizations who only matter if they can make their case. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried the ideological argument against these groups for years. But ideology is by its nature debatable; removing the framework of debate is his shortcut to victory.

If Stephen Harper succeeds in moving in this direction, he will be in the initial stages of dealing a huge blow to the welfare state. If one day we have no idea how many divorced Hindu public transit users there are in East Vancouver, government policy will not be concocted to address them specifically. Indeed if this group were organized (the DHPTUEV?) and looking for government intervention, they’d be against the census change. The trouble is that in Canada, the non-affiliated taxpayers not looking for a handout have not organized. Indeed, the only dog they have in this fight is the amount of tax they pay (aka “transfers”) to sustain the interests of others.

QMI’s David Akin exclaimed surprise that from his cell within the beehive of special interests that is Ottawa, he was shocked to find that a full half — that other half — of Canadians aren’t upset about the changes to the census when it seems that’s the only thing the other bees seem to be buzzing about. The story that “just won’t go away” is a flurry of activity “inside the beehive”, because until you go outside, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

The other recent Lockheed Martin-related news story of the past couple of weeks was the Conservative government’s huge sole-sourced $16 Billion contract with Lockheed Martin to buy F-35 fighter jets. Perhaps I was a bit naive to think that every part of that sentence should be offensive to the Ottawa media… sole-sourced… American arms dealer… flying war machines… Conservative government. No, this largest military purchase in Canadian history didn’t even make a significant blip on the Ottawa establishment radar, simply because it didn’t challenge the position of any special interest groups. There’s no bevy of community/cultural/government organizations ready to line up to criticize/laud such a move. If the government had taken $16 Billion out of HRSDC’s $80+ Billion annual budget to pay for it, however, there’d be a swarm.

I believe that this Prime Minister has a few objectives in mind as he integrates seemingly transactional initiatives into something transformative. First, he merged the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance to challenge what seemed to be entrenched Liberal electoral domination. Through initiatives such as financial starvation via election finance reform and ideological force-feeding on the policy front, Stephen Harper seeks to diminish or destroy the Liberal Party to replace them with the Conservatives as Canada’s default choice for government. His greatest challenge is to dismantle the modern welfare state. If it can’t be measured, future governments can’t pander. I imagine that Stephen Harper’s view, Canada should be a country of individual initiative, not one of collective dependence “justified” through the collection of data.

So we’re talking merger?

The news over the past few days has been Liberal-NDP merger. This is all talk and serves to undermine Michael Ignatieff as leader of the Liberal Party. Over the past month, there’s been renewed talk of coalition between the Liberals and NDP and this was spurred on by a couple of polls indicating that a Michael Ignatieff led coalition would lose to Stephen Harper, a Bob Rae led one would tie and — just for fun — a Jack Layton led coalition would win. Another poll was released to suggest that a majority of Canadians would support a coalition party against the Conservatives (you gotta love those leaderless ideal-leader poll questions!)

The problem is, however, is that the electorate wouldn’t be asked as they were by their friendly dinner-time-calling pollster friends. Michael Ignatieff has explicitly said (at least in his latest iteration) that he would not run as a coalition during the next election and that the numbers post-election would govern his choice.

When we ran against the coalition (extra-writ) in December 2008, what most Canadians found offensive about such a proposed coalition was that the separatist Bloc Quebecois would be given a veto on government of Canada decisions (as a partner to government). Furthermore, an election result returned just six weeks earlier would have been overturned. While constitutional, most Canadians felt that such a move lacked moral authority; Stephane Dion had dismissed any talk of coalition during the election campaign and then was ready to form one after the ballots were counted. A coalition was forced upon Canadians without consultation or consideration, but worse, it was done so after it was explicitly stated that it would not happen.

Fast forward to today. Michael Ignatieff’s problem during any future election will be the big question mark placed upon him by voters (helped by the Conservative Party) that asks if he has different intentions in his mind than what he utters from the stump. He’s been for the coalition, then against, then for one if necessary but not necessarily, then against, then for but only after Canadians decide against his party. Canadians rejected Stephane Dion because they were unsure of his uncertain carbon tax (and leadership) during tough economic times. Now, a question of political instability still looms and Michael Ignatieff is doing nothing to firm up confidence in his leadership.

Make no mistake, coalition talk (and merger talk) at this time serves no other purpose than to undermine the leadership of Michael Ignatieff. In fact, winners from such musings are Stephen Harper, Bob Rae and Jack Layton. Michael Ignatieff has had few perceived victories since taking the helm of the Liberal Party. His now famous “your time is up” bellicose utterance to Stephen Harper is now a cliche in Ottawa circles. The summer season can spell death for opposition leaders as they clamour for the media spotlight and Michael Ignatieff is about to embark on his summer tour with no gas in the tank. Consider that while Michael Ignatieff was trying to find his feat during prorogation, Stephen Harper hosted the world at the Olympics. While Michael Ignatieff uncomfortably flips burgers with all of the enthusiasm of a dyspeptic turtle this summer, Stephen Harper will be hosting world leaders at the G20/G8 summits and the Queen during Canada Day to boot. Michael Ignatieff will emerge this summer a faded version of his grey self or with Rae’s daggers in his back.

And now there’s talk of merger with mere weeks of Ottawa spotlight left for Michael Ignatieff? This is nothing more than to give the party something to chew over while they consider their leader’s long-term viability. The Liberal Party will not merge with the NDP. The party’s grassroots put up with enough as they told their Central-Nova activists to stand down against Elizabeth May during Dion’s cooperation deal with the Greens. One cannot imagine 308 (times 2) riding associations trading horses for the right to run their chosen candidate — most have already been nominated. Consider too that the Liberal Party of Canada is the most successful political party of western democracies over the past 100 years. A mere four years out of power is no time to get desperate, lads.

Rae’s real prize is convincing the left that he can lead them to power, but as leader of that historic Liberal Party. With Rae in the Liberal top-spot, Liberal-NDP switchers will go Liberal leaving the NDP a shadow of itself. Is merger on the table? No. But talk of a merger sends a signal to all that the Liberal Party is not content with itself and when you do the math it’s a question of leadership, not its constitution.

The Canadian media on Stephen Harper and the global bank tax

The Toronto Star (June 4):

Is the shine coming off Stephen Harper’s summit spotlight?

As with the economy, a host of other issues appear to have conspired to take the shine off Harper’s role at the upcoming summits in Huntsville and Toronto.

Despite trying for months to defuse the hot-button issue of a global bank tax, Harper still finds himself at odds with Obama, Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Le Devoir (translated from June 5):

Harper returned empty handed from Europe

After London, Paris refused to waive a tax on banks

Paris – If the objective of the whirlwind trip that Stephen Harper was finished yesterday in Europe to persuade London and Paris to abandon their proposed tax on banks, it now appears as a failure. Like his British counterpart had done the day before, the French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, said yesterday that France had no intention of abandoning its intention to tax the banking business in order to establish a fund for emergencies. …

Back from 48h to London and Paris, Harper is so isolated on this crucial issue because the proposed tax on banks is supported by both the European Union, the United States and the International Monetary Fund. The project is also likely to take shape fairly quickly in Europe.

So about that failure of the PM to fend off a global bank tax?

Canwest and Reuters (June 5th):

Finance ministers scrap plans for global bank tax

In the face of fierce opposition from Canada and several other countries, finance ministers from the Group of 20 have axed plans for a global bank tax
,
giving individual nations more freedom to decide how to make banks pay for any future bailouts.
The ministers ended a two-day meeting in Busan, South Korea, on Saturday that was held to review progress on a string of initiatives aimed at making the financial system safer in the wake of the last year’s global collapse.

A bank tax, a measure pushed for by the United States, Britain and France, would have imposed a levy on all global financial institutions. All three countries spent billions of taxpayer dollars to rescue their largest financial institutions after the fiscal crisis of late 2008.

Stephen Harper congratulates David Cameron

Just received:

‎​A few short moments ago, Prime Minister Harper spoke with the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron.
 
Prime Minister Harper warmly congratulated PM Cameron on his electoral victory and appointment as prime minister by Her Majesty the Queen.
 
Prime Minster Harper told Prime Minister Cameron that “we will see each other in Muskoka and Toronto at the upcoming G-8 and G-20 Summits. The relationship between our two countries means a lot and I look forward to working with you in the years to come. Give my best to your wife Samantha, Laureen and I look forward to meeting her. Once again Prime Minister congratulations and my best wishes.”
 
Note: Prime Minister Harper has previously met Prime Minister Cameron while he was leader of the opposition.

Governor General speculation!

The Star kicked it off and the Wicary at the Globe is trending the topic, so I might as well add my own two cents to the story.

I usually don’t report on the daily non-political lives of people in Ottawa because, well, there’s a certain line to be respected and sometime you just let people be. However, I made a particular observation about a month ago that I only then shared with friends in casual discussion, yet it now seems to inform a broader political context so I’ll share it here. I spotted the Governor General and her husband furniture shopping. Yes, Rideau Hall comes fully stocked but yet not stocked with the sort of timber that this middle-of-the-road sort of store had to offer.

So, why were the Viceregal and the Viceregal Consort shopping for furniture? With the revelation that the PM is actively seeking Michaelle Jean’s replacement, perhaps we now know the answer.

Now, the speculation begins for Jean’s replacement.

My guess as to who the PM will pick is Wayne Gretzky. The PM has made a special effort to normalize the idea of a good working relationship between himself and the Great One. Earlier this year, the PM hosted a reception with Gretzky for the Kinsmen club and hung out with Gretzky at some key Olympic events. The PM’s favourite photo ops are also said to be with athletes.

Some would point out that Gretzky’s french isn’t fantastic. He wouldn’t be the first Governor General to struggle with the language as Ray Hnatyshyn’s french abilities were also criticized.

The PM’s choice of Gretzky would be politically sound as no opposition MP or oped editorialist would find much currency in criticizing the choice.

Prime Minister will use social media to connect with Canadians

I just found out from my friends in the Prime Minister’s office (and at Google) that the Prime Minister will be using YouTube to livestream his reaction to the Speech from the Throne and will use Google Moderator to take questions from Canadians regarding the Throne Speech and Budget.

Social media has been creeping into many different fields from its rapid uptake in entertainment to cautious integration in politics. Barack Obama used social media extensively during his campaign and has used it during his presidency. Some will remember that President Obama used Google Moderator to hold a first-of-its-kind townhall answering questions submitted via the service.

Canadians can watch the Throne Speech reaction live at Tuesday March 11, 2010 at 11 a.m. ET at http://www.youtube.com/TalkCanada and submit questions via the same address and see the townhall on the 16th at 7pm ET.

Here is the release from the PM’s office:

Canadians, especially younger Canadians, are no longer getting their news from just television, radio and print media. They are turning to new media in increasing numbers. This marks the first time that a Prime Minister’s speech will be livestreamed on YouTube.

Social media is changing the way Canadians interact with politicians. It allows Canadians to have unfiltered and immediate access to information. And it facilitates conversation between citizens and their elected representatives. Livestreaming complements our Government’s current use of social media, which includes Twitter, Facebook and pre-taped YouTube videos. In fact, Prime Minister Harper has an active following – 47,383 followers – on Twitter.

Here is the YouTube video explaining the event: