Dave Taylor and the realignment of Alberta politics

Unless you are paticularly ill with a case of alberta politicitis, you probably can’t place the name Rob Anderson, Heather Forsyth and Dave Taylor. But for those of use stricken with the ailment, these names are near the top of our minds.

Today Dave Taylor, a Liberal MLA from Calgary, held a press conference to declare that the provincial Liberal party doesn’t excite him or the province anymore and that he figures his constituents will be served better if he sits as an independent.

Earlier examples of party defection this year came from PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth who crossed the floor to join the Wildrose Alliance, a party enjoying great poll numbers since it elected its new leader Danielle Smith.

Three makes a trend and the current trend the is realignment of Alberta politics. For small-c conservatives, it has the first blush of a coming family feud, for Liberals it presents a stark reality of being pushed out the doors while the battle for the province’s top prize is done within the forum. Taylor is predicting the spotlight shift and seeking to appeal to his constituents on his own brand.

As for the family fued, about two months ago I asked Smith about the metric for success for the new Wildrose. She remarked that bringing the PCs further to the right would mean success for her party, but joked that it was a bit early to talk about a “united alternative”.

If the trend continues, it may yet echo a similar scene seen federally under the tenure of Stock Day when he was leader of the Canadian Alliance. Missteps in leadership at the top had MPs in flux between parties and pseudo-parties in the Canadian House of Commons. Dialogue that transpired between members of the (rebel) alliance and the PC in those days helped forge a path for merger.

These events also occurred within the context of a bitter decade-long divison between conservative traditions. I asked Monte Solberg about this and he explained, “after several election losses the logic of uniting the federal conservative parties became so overwhelming that it even overcame the petty resentments between our parties, and they really were petty.”

For conservatives in today’s Alberta, the PC Party of that province represents their vehicle for power while the Wildrose projects their ideological core. The question becomes, will the Wildrose become a viable vehicle while maintaining conservative values or will the PC Party shift right to maximally capture Alberta’s political realignment?

One factor which will significantly determine this outcome is organization. While PCers have long grumbled that their problems stem from the top in the Premier’s office, the Wildrose’s challenges stem from some of the senior grassroots of the organization. The party has taken big steps to address this in recent times, seeking to professionalize its executive tier with recent hires, however, some of the old guard of the previous incarnation of the party — those that sit on riding executives — still call many shots from the “this is how we’ve always done it” perspective. Smith and her new pros must balance their ambition of creating that viable vehicle with grassroots demands of the party while being mindful to embrace grassroots ideology while eschewing tired tactics and strategy presented under the guise of the same.

If Dave Taylor had seen long term viability in the PCs for the big debate that is yet to come, he probably would have joined the PCs — the caretaker party that has governed the provice for the last three decades. Though, perhaps his reluctance is a sign that the party is indeed shifting right to meet the Wildrose’s challenge. For the Liberals, their longterm viability has never been apparent. Again, Solberg: “The problem in Alberta is that the Liberals are so weak that at this point a conservative vote split wouldn’t make a huge difference. I doubt very much that Taylor is leaving because Liberal fortunes are improving. Vote split or not the Liberals are in very sad shape.”

Stockwell Day interview

It’s been a summer of swine and seals in the office of the International Trade Minister, Stockwell Day. Colloquially, H1N1 is called swine flu and it’s been causing some trade sniffles for Canada as we’ve been affected by cases in almost every region, while other countries are taking it as an excuse for trade protectionism. Another file on Day’s desk is the EU decision to ban the marketing of seal goods. I had a chance to chat with the Trade Minister on these topics and briefly on the topic of free trade.

Liveblogging the cabinet shuffle

9:52AM: Rob Nicholson, Gail Shea, Leona Aglukkaq, Peter Kent and Peter van Loan, Chuck Strahl show up to Rideau Hall

9:52AM: And Christian Paradis, Jim Prentice. CTV has speculated Prentice to environment.

9:54AM: John Baird has arrived.

9:55AM: Some MPs showing up in Blue Line cabs, some in airport cabs, some in their own cars.

9:55AM: Rona Ambrose shows up. Rumour is she’ll move to HRSDC.

10:00AM: Lynne Yelich is at Rideau Hall and Stockwell Day

10:01AM: James Moore arrives

10:03AM: Rahim Jaffer has shown up. Probably to support his newlywed wife Helena Guergis.

10:06AM: Jim Flaherty arrives with wife Christine Elliot.

10:08AM: The Prime Minister’s motorcade makes its way up to Rideau Hall.

10:16AM: Rumour is that Jason Kenney is moving to Citizenship and Immigration. You heard it here first.

10:25AM: Cabinet embargo about to end. Should have the list up soon.

10:31AM: Other MPs at Rideau Hall: Bev Oda, Peter MacKay, Keith Ashfield, Gary Lunn, Chuck Strahl, Gordon O’Conner, Tony Clement, Gerry Ritz, Stephen Fletcher, and Lawrence Cannon.

10:40AM: Here we go. Here comes cabinet into the hall.

10:44AM: Nicholson stays in Justice, no surprise there.

10:45AM: Greg Thompson at Veterans Affairs, Chuck Strahl at INAC, Vic Toews at Treasury Board

10:48AM: Bev Oda at CIDA, Flaherty at Finance, Gerry Ritz at Agriculture

10:50AM: Jean-Pierre Blackburn to Revenue. Aglukkaq to Health. Finley to HRSRC.

10:55AM: Raitt to NRCan, Day to International Trade and Asia-Pacific Gateway.

10:55AM: Ambrose to Labour.

10:58AM: Prentice to environment. The could be to negotiate new regs with the provinces when it comes to GHG emissions. Alberta will need to sit down with the federal government soon to finalize the new regulations for the oil and gas sector.

11:00AM: Baird goes to Transport/Infrastructure.

11:01AM: Cannon goes to Foreign Affairs.

11:02AM: Tony Clement goes to Industry.

11:05AM: Josee Verner to intergovernmental affairs.

11:05AM: Jay Hill to House Leader.

11:05AM: PVL to Public Safety.

11:07AM: Jason Kenney to Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

11:08AM: Christian Paradis to Public Works.

11:09AM: James Moore to Heritage and Official Languages.

11:14AM: Gail Shea to Fisheries.

11:16AM: Gary Lunn to Sport.

11:17AM: Gordon O’Connor to Government Whip.

11:18AM: Helena Guergis to Status of Women.

11:19AM: Diane Ablonczy stays at Small Business.

11:20AM: Rob Merrifield to Minister of State (Transport).

11:22AM: Lynne Yelich to Western Economic Diversification.

11:24AM: Steven Fletcher to Democratic Reform.

11:27AM: Gary Goodyear to Minister of State for Science and Technology. Goodyear will work closely with Minister of Industry Tony Clement.

11:29AM: Denis Lebel to economic development for Quebec. Lebel will be the cash man for Quebec and this will help him electorally.

11:31AM: Keith Ashfield to ACOA.

11:32AM: Peter Kent to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas).

The Media on poorly bilingual leaders

It’s the new low in a snake’s belly of a campaign.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion misunderstands a complicated question and the Conservatives trot out leader Stephen Harper to declare it the definitive proof this Liberal leader is unfit to serve as prime minister. (Don Martin in the National Post, October 9, 2008)

“Day, who lived in Quebec as teenager, is desperate to improve his mediocre French so that the Alliance may broaden its appeal to Quebec voters. He was the first to admit yesterday that his French needs work and brushed off previous reports that tagged him as perfectly bilingual.” (Windsor Star, July 28, 2000)

“Mr. Day read carefully from a written French text. Even with the text, it was obvious within two minutes that any claims to bilingualism are seriously exaggerated.” (Paul Wells, National Post, April 1, 2000)

“Compounding Reform’s problem is that its leader can’t tell Quebecers his message in their language. Manning is unilingual. But he’s trying. He thanked those present for coming by reading from a prepared text in French – a halting, tortured dialect exacerbated by his natural nasal twang.” (Toronto Star, July 19, 1994)

They were kids, but they didn’t handle Reform Party Leader Preston Manning with kid gloves when he spoke yesterday at an all-girls’ private school.

Manning, who wants to run Canada’s proposed new right-wing political party, was asked in French about his notoriously poor skills in the language by a student during a stop at St. Clement’s school.”(Kingston Whig-Standard, March 11, 2000)

“Despite the appeal to posturing and sound-bite simplicity, the televised leaders’ debates sent one undeniable message: Reform leader Preston Manning is not worthy of being Canada’s next prime minister. Despite the appeals to a Fresh Start, which is his party’s campaign theme, he has personally not made a fresh start by still being unable to speak French. A modern leader of this nation cannot have such a liability. Forty years ago, Canadians could forgive John Diefenbaker’s famously tortured French. In 1997, such bilingual ineptitude in a national leader is inexcusable.” (Kingston Whig-Standard, May 15, 1997)

“But national public life happens in both languages. The federal government serves Canadians in both languages, and if you were a public servant, you would want to be evaluated in the official language you feel more comfortable in – which is one of the reasons senior government jobs require bilingualism. You would think that anyone who wanted to engage in national public life, as opposed to local or provincial public life, would learn both English and French.” (Toronto Star, October 20, 2002)

“It first became clear that Preston Manning’s campaign to win the leadership of the Canadian Alliance was in serious trouble during the candidates’ debate in Montreal. Manning’s composure was shaken by his inability to perform in French; he looked, for the first time, as if he thought he was losing. Stockwell Day, on the other hand, looked like a winner.” (Toronto Star, April 29, 2001)

Stephane Dion should be thankful he’s not a conservative party leader

During the 2000 election, one of the greatest “blunders” that Stockwell Day made during the campaign was to compare the Canadian “brain drain” to the flow of the Niagara River, which as it turns out flows north, not south as Day was trying to imply.

“Surely a man who doesn’t know the flow direction of the Niagara River is unfit to lead this country” became the narrative of the journalist pack that covered the race.

Fast forward to yesterday and Stephane Dion’s musing that NATO should expand its mission into Pakistan. Not only has the Liberal leader changed his position on Canada’s most significant foreign policy direction a number of times, he’s now spitballing under-developed ideas which no serious policy analyst would responsibly suggest.

This is a man who will soon be running in an election to lead our country. Where is the scrutiny that we have come to expect from our easily offended geography buffs in the Canadian media?

The Parliamentary Press Gallery complains that there’s never a microphone around the Prime Minister or any ministers when they’d like. Conservatives have long since learned that in the Canadian media environment any sniffle becomes a sneeze. While members of the press try to pin down conservatives (in power or not) with a barrage of microphones, conservatives worry that there isn’t a press mic powerful enough to pick up any sound that comes from the Liberal leader who is showing that he just may be unfit to lead a serious discussion on Canadian foreign policy on the national stage.

Read my previous article on Dion’s Pakistan thought experiment

In and Outright Hypocrisy?

The Liberals have been trying to make gains from the so-called “In and Out scandal” in which they allege impropriety in the transfers of money from local Conservative election campaigns to the federal campaign for the purposes of funding national advertising.

Transfers of money from local to federal campaigns is of course legal as all parties do this (there is even a category for it on Elections Canada returns that all candidates, EDAs and political parties must file). Indeed, the Conservatives and the Liberals have a different tradition here: The Conservatives send their EDAs 10% of all the money the national party raises, and the Liberals tax their EDAs 40 some percent of their candidate’s Elections Canada refund. However, it is the channeling of local cash to the federal party to pay for advertising where the Liberals see red in the Tories’ blue campaign.

One of the most vocal critics of this alleged scheme has been Liberal MP Marlene Jennings of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Lachine. Here is a quote of hers from the House of Commons:

Mr. Speaker, the in-and-out financing scandal implicates at least six Conservative ministers, like the public safety minister and the foreign affairs minister. Their response? Dead silence.

The member for West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country [Blair Wilson] did the right thing. At the very first hint of any questions about his campaign he stepped aside so he could clear his name.

The independent investigation into the Conservative scheme has not been completed. Will the government demonstrate true leadership and demand resignations from its six ministers?

Let’s take a closer look at Jennings’ 2004 and 2006 Elections Canada filing:

jennings2004.jpg
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and 2006:

jennings2006.jpg
Click to enlarge

Jennings’ 2004 election return shows a $300 expense for advertising paid to the Liberal Party of Canada and a $1500 expense for the same paid to “The Federal Liberal Agency of Canada”. The 2006 return shows a $11,206.86 expense for advertising paid to the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party.

The Liberals have alleged impropriety in the Conservative practice of transferring money from local campaigns to federal campaign for use by the federal campaign for “advertising”. Here, we see Jennings transferring sums of money to both the federal party and Quebec wing of the federal party for “advertising”. What sort of advertising services did the LPOC and LPOC(Q) provide for Ms. Jennings? It should be noted that Jennings also declared expenses that her campaign paid to her riding association for advertising, so what of these similar expenses paid to national HQ? Did Jennings pay the party to produce Marlene Jennings specific advertising, Quebec regional advertising or national advertising? What is the difference between each of the three if they were paid for by the official agent for Marlene Jennings?

When you look at other Quebec campaigns it appears that more than a few Quebec Liberal candidates including Stephane Dion bought about $11,000 or $4,900 of advertising from the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec.

Is the LPOC an ad-agency or did they purchase advertising for their candidates like the Conservatives bought for their Candidates?

Of course, in my opinion, no laws have been broken here and if this shows that the Liberals were also involved in a so-called (by them) “In and Out scheme” the only things they are guilty of is hypocrisy.

Furthermore, why was this practice given a green light in the past for the Liberals by Elections Canada when it now raises questions by the federal agency. Are not all parties equal under the law?

Cabinet Speculation*

Ottawa is abuzz with cabinet speculation this week as the summer starts to wind down and there’s no election in sight. Between elections, I’m told, the parliamentary press gallery’s second favourite fix is speculating how the front bench of the government will change. Since the days are hot, and while filing stories about the arctic might cool some off it is still viewed as playing into the man’s hands, and since there are only so many grumble pieces that can be written, cabinet speculation will have to do.

I’ve been chatting with a few friends and sources about the topic and here’s what I’ve deciphered with a high level of confidence.

Ottawa staffers can breathe a bit of relief (just a bit though) because while Carol Skelton is retiring from politics, no other cabinet minister will be shuffled out of cabinet. There will be promotions and demotions within the cabinet structure, but no current cabinet minister will find themselves without a chauffeured car next week. Thus, contrary to some reports, Oda will remain in cabinet.

On the flipside, no back-bencher is to be promoted to cabinet this time around.

Therefore, besides Skelton, the cabinet will neither grow nor shrink.

The shuffle within cabinet itself will be substantial enough that it’ll make a few headlines. I previously speculated (but didn’t write) that a shuffle could be quite surgical and we’d see a trading of two or three portfolios without making other waves, but now I’m hearing that there will be more than a few ministers with new titles. The government might say that such a switch affords new experience to already very capable ministers. Most of us might acknowledge this while recognizing that some fine tuning is due.

Specifically, Maxime Bernier may be shuffled out of Industry (not entirely sure about this) but I can say with certainty that he will not be shuffled into defence or finance.

Security minister Stockwell Day will stay in his current portfolio as most Hill people (including press) have found him to be very capable in his current role.

John Baird is also staying in environment.

I can also say with a certain degree of confidence that there will be a throne speech this fall and that the government is not likely to be shocking the country’s system with a brand new set of priorities as there is a lot of the current agenda that still needs attention.