Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Jack Layton Media Blitz

Jack Layton has landed himself a prize marlin, I mean Martin! I'm rather surprised that he managed to get Martin to agree to $4.6 billion worth of new social spending but good on him for doing so!

Unlike PM the PM, Layton seems to have a solid team of advisors working on this issue, regardless of what I heard Robin Sears say on CBC Newsworld's Politics (of course, the fact that I'm good friends with one of them doesn't bias me one bit on this point). This is a win-win-win situation for him. He's managed to get more media coverage on this than he has since he was selected as head of the NDP, and I'm including last year's election campaign in that assessment. In an election campaign, the NDP can paint itself as relevant, and a key player in a minority government scenario, that can get its objectives adopted by the government in power. I don't think that there is any negative blow-back to be had from propping up the Liberal government. For one thing, this amounts to a maximum of a 10-month extension on the government's life, given Martin's promise of an election call. And they can claim it was for some very good reasons, not only to make Parliament work, but to get some pet legislation passed, such as same-sex marriage. This will appeal solidly to their base, and to the waffling left-wing Liberals. Plus, polls show that Canadians aren't eager for an election call.

Does this deal hurt Harper, or force him to change his strategy? Hard to say. I don't think he can do worse in a new election than he did last time around, whereas the Liberals are pretty much bound to lose a few seats to the Bloc in my home province. The question is whether a snap election will strengthen his representation in Parliament. Ideally, he should be trying to hold all his existing seats, and then make inroads in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Let's leave aside the optics of a joint Conservative-Bloc election call, for the time being (although I will say that this would not go over well in Ontario, which in the past has run to the Liberals like a scared sheep when there are any optics of Quebec separatism on the rise). A stronger, viable NDP opposition hurts the Conservatives in two significant ways. First, in Atlantic Canada, when the region turned away from the Liberals in 1997, the NDP benefitted in a big way. That was with Alexa as leader, but the precedent is there. Who knows how the chips will fall this time - it's not a lock for Stephen "let's cut subsidies to the Maritimes" Harper.

The other electoral concern for Harper should be some of his Western base. There were a number of seats in Saskatchewan and British Columbia that were very close three-way races in 2004. Most of those went Conservative (to my chagrin in my electoral pool). But a good third of the Saskatchewan seats could be NDP pick-ups, as well as a number of BC seats in the Vancouver Island-Lower Mainland area, particularly if the provincial party gains steam in the current provincial election. If I was Stephen Harper, I would be worried about this. Losses here could offset his gains in Ontario.

The NDP has also been a-flutter with email activity of late. I've received almost daily updates on what Layton is doing, so he is clearly trying to keep party members in the loop (and in the party). I also got a reply within 24 hours to an email I sent him urging him to keep Parliament alive until Bill C-38 passed. That's good politics. It won't win him the election, but all of this should be enough to allow him to really play king-maker the last time around. For want of one seat last election, he would already be there.

On a personal note, unless an election is actually called before Friday, or there is earth-shattering news, this will likely be my last post until May 15th. I'm off for some much needed R&R, but will be back in action in mid-May. And please, feel free to post some comments. I like to know that people actually read this blog.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Electoral glove-slapping

I'm a bad political blogger. I let a conversation about a job offer interfere with watching Paul Martin's speech. What follows is based on news coverage...

I think that promising an election call within 30 days of the Gomery Report was a fairly smart ploy of Paul Martin's. It gives the appearance that he is willing to face the electorate once all the facts are in. Any attempt to bring down the government before then can then be couched as an attempt to circumvent due process and full disclosure of information and conclusions. It becomes a question of "why are six months going to make a difference?" or "why is the opposition overly eager?"

I think that Paul Wells is correct in his analysis that this will make it hard for the opposition to have a non-confidence vote before Gomery reports. And if Paul Martin is smart, he will look carefully at Jack Layton's openness to making the minority Parliament work. A few changes to the budget and the NDP will be onside, and independent MP Chuck Cadman has indicated a willingness to wait for the Gomery Report. This government may just live through the summer.

Of course, all this depends on the Liberals playing smart politics, and working effectively with Parliament, rather than pulling stupid stunts like cancelling Opposition Days. Frankly, between now and the fall, Paul Martin should be purging his advisors and building a more effective communications team, to get ready for his desired winter election. But I'm not holding my breath. Whether or not he could survive that election, even with careful governance between now and then, is anyone's guess.

P.S. - Sorry if my blogging has been infrequent of late. Life has been rather active on the job front these past few weeks. It is exam season, after all!

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Parliament's Pulse on Same-Sex Marriage

It is a comfort to know that, if Parliament survives that long, same-sex marriage is highly likely to pass. Yesterday's vote on a Conservative motion to kill the bill was defeated by a margin of 164 to 132. This was roughly what had been predicted at the tracking site There were almost no surprises whatsoever in terms of who voted in favour and against the bill.

Although there were few surprises, I would like to single out a few individuals that I think deserve particular praise. First, the four Conservatives who stuck to their guns and voted against their party's motion. Thank-you Belinda Stronach, Jim Prentice, James Moore and Gerald Keddy for having the courage to stand up for your convictions. I would also like to thank NDP member Bev Desjarlais for abstaining on the motion. If you cannot bring yourself to support your party's stated position on this issue, then abstaining is a defensible stance, and I can live with that.

More broadly speaking, I am pleased that the Bloc did deliver on their promise to support Bill C-38, and that most Liberals did as well. As for those who didn't, how long is it going to be before such dinosaurs as Tom Wappel, Pat O'Brien, Dan McTeague, Roger Gallaway and their ilk are finally denied the right to run as Liberals? They certainly seem to be out of step with the rest of their party on virtually every social issue conceivable, and are an embarrasment in election years.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that Parliament survives long enough to pass Bill C-38. I'd like to have my marriage recognized by federal law.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Punish the bums without punishing yourself? A tricky proposition indeed!

With all the hoopla surrounding the latest news from the Gomery Commission, there seems to be much discussion of a possible spring election. Herewith, a few comments on the whole debacle, in no particular order:

1) I hate the idea of a spring election, if for no other reason than the selfish one that it will kill the gay marriage legislation - possibly indefinitely. If those chomping at the bit could wait until it is signed into law, yours truly would be most grateful. Then you can continue with your self-immolation and petty politics.

2) The prospect of another election is making me a sympathizer to the proportional representation cause. With first-past-the-post still firmly in place, I see very little chance for the NDP to make significant gains in a Gomery-related election. I suspect that most left-leaning Liberal voters hate the Conservatives more than they like the NDP or are disgusted by the allegations being spun by Brault. This will mean more "strategic" voting, which will again hurt the NDP's chances, and possibly cost them a few of their seats.

I write this particularly from my vantagepoint in Quebec, where I voted NDP last time around, fairly secure that my local Liberal (whom I personally detest) would still win this seat. He did, but only by about 5% of the vote. And frankly, an Ex-Blocquiste is better than a present Blocquiste as far as I'm concerned. Will I have to hold my nose and vote for Jean Lapierre in a spring election? I certainly hope not.

3) I have to say that none of these revelations have surprised/horrified/shocked me. A government that was in office for a long time engaged in some corrupt dealings? No shit. But unfortunately, it can hard to effectively punish the government responsible without causing damage that will make the voters hurt more.

Let's look to Quebec's history of the past century for examples. The Union Nationale government of Maurice Duplessis was notoriously corrupt. Election time was when promises of bridges and roads would be trotted out, with the accompanying promise that a vote for the Liberals would lead to their cancellation - which was known to happen. After 15 consecutive years (1944-59) of this and other abuses of power, Duplessis died and the Union Nationale was booted from office by the Liberals. Thus began the Quiet Revolution, which modernized the province and began a raft of important reforms. In this case, punishing the guilty party led to positive change.

Alas, this is not always the case. Back in the early 1930s, the Liberals had been in office in Quebec since 1897. Louis-Alexandre Taschereau had been Premier since 1920, and corruption had set into the operations of the province. Young Liberals, dissatisfied with their opportunities for promotion, a say in policy, and cabinet seats, formed a breakaway movement, the Action Liberale Nationale, under the leadership of Paul Gouin. So eager were they for power that they teamed up with the Conservative party under Maurice Duplessis to run in the 1935 election as the "Union Nationale Duplessis-Gouin". Together, they rocked the political firmament and then used the Public Accounts Committee to expose government graft and topple the Liberals.

Those familiar with Quebec politics know what happened next. Duplessis purged the ALN members from his party, won the 1936 election, and with the exception of the war years, ran the province until his death in 1959. This period is commonly referred to in historical discourse as "la grande noirceur" - the great darkness. Union activity was supressed, left-wing political movements were blocked with the padlock laws, education failed to advance, and the natural resources of the province were sold wholesale for pennies to American and English-Canadian businesses.

So, which are Canadians likely to get from punishing the Liberals for the misdeeds of Adscam. They would probably hope for the Quiet Revolution scenario. But with the Conservatives the likely beneficiaries of an election, I fear that the Grand Noirceur scenario is more likely.

So prosecute those involved in the corruption, purge them from the party by all means, but let's hope we don't see an election on this issue.

(Addendum: My personal prediction is that even with an election, we'd be looking at a Conservative minority and some Bloc gains. But that still does not warm my heart to the idea.)

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