Friday, May 27, 2005

Of nomination battles, religion, ethnicity and the structure of political parties

Today's Globe and Mail bears an article boldly claiming Christian activists capturing Tory races. This has prompted me to muse somewhat about our current process for determining who runs in an election.

Let's get one thing clear first. I stopped using "Tory" to describe the Conservative Party when they dropped the Progressive from their name, and I think this is part of the current image problem. They're seen as Reformers/C-CRAPers, and with good cause. Using "Tory" because it is four letters long and fits better in a headline is a bad idea.

With that little aside out of the way, it seems to me that Canadian politics is rapidly approaching a turning point in terms of how political parties are conceived of (and all of what follows may become irrelevant if we move to proportional representation, which may just sort out these issues on its own). For some reason, both the Conservative Party and the current incarnation of the Liberal party are loathe to place any restrictions on a) who can become a member, and b) who their leader will sign the nomination papers for. Last election saw a number of sitting MPS bumped from the party nomination by well-orchestrated membership drives in their riding, usually among a select interest group (as the allegations go, Indo-Canadians in Surrey North - for which Harper must have been unhappy last week, and Martin supporters in Hamilton East, among other Liberal ridings).

There does not appear to be any enforceable membership criteria for joining an existing political party, which theoretically means that if they wanted to, the entire membership of the Liberal party could temporarilly give up their existing party memberhips, take out NDP memberships, take over the party, and shut it down or force it to adopt an extremist party platform. I'm surprised that parties allow such an open door membership policy. I suppose it permits the party to adopt the image of being open to change, but it also means that they cannot exclude those who hurt the image, progressive or otherwise, they want to put forth (I'm looking at you, Dan McTeague, Tom Wappel, Roger Gallaway...)

I think at some point in the near future, political parties are going to have to start exercising some real control over their membership, and certainly over the nomination process for who will run under their banner in an election. Some vetting of prospective members, to see if they actually agree with a party's ideals, is needed (although some claim that neither the Liberals nor Conservatives firmly stand for anything, which is another post altogether). It is not as if a new political party could not be formed from like minded citizens who did not agree with the current policies of an existing party - that's how we got the Reform Party. A move to proportional representation would, as I mentioned above, facilitate this process.

I am, however, ambivalent about the rise of single-interest candidates. For now, they seem limited to the Conservative party, and each anti-abortion, anti-same-sex-marriage candidate they allow to run makes it that much easier for the Liberals and NDP to paint them as extremist. This is a good thing in my books. But this could just as easilly spill over into the other parties, and more seriously, actually start a trend of Canadians voting for a candidate on the basis of a single pet issue, which is bound to fragment the country further.

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Saturday, May 21, 2005


After a little bit too much wine last night, I came up with the above nickname for the newest "It" girl of the Liberal party. It combines the moxie of J.Lo with a bit more upper-class Toronto style. What do you think?

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Le vrai scandale de 1995

This Montreal CBC story will likely never make the national headlines, given the brouhaha in the House of Commons. This is a pity, because if true, it confirms what many anglophones in Quebec have long believed: that the 1995 Referendum in Quebec was corruptly administered, and thousands of "Non" ballots were illegally rejected in predominantly anglophone and allophone ridings. The source for this? Former PQ Cabinet Minister Richard Le Hir.

I wonder if we would have a sponsorship scandal today (and indeed if the program would exist), if the margin of victory in 1995 had been its actual 6%, rather than the post-"spoiled ballots" 1%.

I hope this doesn't get completely buried in the budget hoopla.

UPDATE: A more in-depth article is available on the Montreal Gazette's website.

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A real question of confidence? Or a Polaroid snapshot thereof?

Calling tonight's votes a pair of confidence motions really is rather rich, isn't it? After all, the original budget bill, C-43, is now going to receive the support of the Conservatives, who until two days ago were committed to defeating the government at the first opportunity. Had the decision to support the original budget been made clear a month ago, there would never have been a Bill C-48 (the NDP compromise). So does it really show that the Liberals have lost the confidence of the house if only one of the two passes (assuming this scenario plays out)?

I think that all this really would show is that the Liberals did not have the full confidence of the House at precisely 6:00 pm on 19 May 2005. But there is nothing to demonstrate that they had utterly lost the ability to govern, since their original budget would have passed.

One other fact that seems to have become lost in all this fixation on Kilgour, Cadman, et al., amidst the allegations that the votes are being held on days when MPs are sick, is that the only reason that the Liberals are vulnerable to the votes of the independents is that the by-election in Labrador has not yet occurred, which they are highly likely to win. Wait about two more weeks, and the Liberals (with Stronach and Parrish), will again have a working majority with the NDP.

On Grewal's mystery tape - what a load of hooey! This sort of cloak-and-dagger sting operation is not going to be very convincing. Did he really think that senior Liberal advisors would be stupid enough to make a firm commitment without one on his part? I mean, they may not be the best and the brightest, but they're not that dumb.

I really hope that the budget passes tonight, and we can get through to the fall without an election. There are some pieces of legislation (particularly gay marriage) that I'd like to see passed before the summer. After that, the parties can get back to campaigning for the winter election.

Incidentally, the worst thing that any party could do for their own self-interest, assuming the budget passes, is to trigger an election in the fall before Gomery reports. That would completely let Paul Martin off the hook, and give him tons of ammunition to lob back at the inevitable allegations of Liberal party corruption.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Politics of Ambition? Not Likely

If nothing else, I will give credit to Belinda Stronach for making Canadian politics engaging and entertaining once again. The darling of Rick Mercer's Monday Report has everyone talking, and with good cause. Here is a slightly more thoughtful analysis of this whole brouhaha.

If the best response to Stronach's resignation that Stephen Harper can come up with is to accuse her of being overly ambitious, then he is truly shocked and scared by this move on her part. If ambition were her motivation, then she could have quietly allowed the non-confidence motion to succeed, followed by at best a Conservative minority, then slipped a dagger into Harper's back while rising to power. She's not about to be selected Liberal leader by the party faithful, and she would have been guaranteed a senior portfolio in any Conservative government. That explanation does not ring true.

If I were Stephen Harper, I would be very concerned about what this decision says about the position of Peter McKay and other red Tories. Does anyone really think McKay was not somehow involved/consulted in this decision? What does it say about his feelings towards the party that he did not help them formulate a better reaction to Stronach's decision? Where does that place him within the Conservative camp? What is Stronach's pull with the Ontario caucus of the Conservative party, particularly the newly elected members?

If I were Stephen Harper, I would be quietly praying that his non-confidence motion fails on Thursday. I might even be telling my Newfoundland MPs, who are under such pressure not to support to the motion, that it would be ok if they developed a mild cold on Thursday. Losing Stronach is going to be a major blow to Harper's efforts to portray the party as a welcome place for centrist voters, since she was emblematic of the type. For the time being, he can kiss the prospect of any major gains in Ontario good-bye.

Was this the best decision for Belinda Stronach herself? Difficult to say. I do think that if a June election had been held, and Harper had only squeaked out a few more seats, he would have been pushed out as leader, and McKay would have been heir-apparent. Belinda Stronach would have a strong role to play in a McKay-led party, and this combination might have won a Conservative majority in the 2006/7 election. But, given the way polls have been looking in Ontario, she could just have easilly gone down to electoral defeat personally in 2005, which would have left her nowhere. Can she win Newmarket-Aurora as a Liberal? My gut says yes, since I think her star quality is what helped her take the riding initially.

It's an exciting week to be watching Canadian politics. Rumour has it the Queen arrived in Saskatchewan, but I'm betting she won't be the lady on the cover of Canada's papers tomorrow!

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Holy smokes!

This changes everything...

More thoughts as I become coherent, but I think this might mean that a summer election is off the agenda. Losing a social moderate like Belinda Stronach will severely hurt the Conservatives' changes in Ontario, even if they do can still pull together enough votes to kill the budget.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Absence does not make the heart grow fonder (and my Red Tory conspiracy theory!)

He's back! Two weeks away in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong have refreshed my brain, accustomed me to tropical climes, and given me an unhealthy obsession with char kway teow (Malaysian stir-fried broad rice noodles with seafood).

Although I checked my email periodically while I was away, I only checked Canadian news sites to see if the government had fallen yet. It tends to do that when I leave home, but this time, it kept plodding along, such as it is. So I'm back in town in time to watch the budget vote.

A quick check through the archived entries of my preferred news sites and a few bloggers/columnists (thank-you Paul Wells, Chantal Hebert, Adam Radwanski, and CalgaryGrit) over the past two weeks shows me that there has been no useful movement in the House of Commons fiasco. Honestly, I don't know how daily followers of the saga can keep it up. Reading it all at once, it's hard not to find it all profoundly and insanely navel-gazingly pathetic and boring.

Reading between the blaring election fever headlines, I see that this country is now well on the way to a national child care program. Of course, one of the first major new national social policy initiatives since the early 1970s is getting buried by Parliament hi-jinks, which is a tragedy. Bill C-38 passed second reading (and will likely now fail to be enacted, despite having the necessary support in parliament). There is a same-sex marriage court challenge in New Brunswick (which actually started just before I left here), which is good news for me, as I'm likely moving to that province in the fall, and would like to have my marriage recognized there. Apparently there is also a major foreign policy reform underway, but nobody seems to care much about this development either.

On the CBC this morning, it appears that David Kilgour thinks that an election is needed to provide a clear consensus on what the Canadian people want. In theory, he's probably right, as the government is adrift. But I for one fail to believe that an election held right now would produce a Parliament substantially different from what we have right now. My predictions from a few weeks ago hold. The Bloc will pick up a few more seats, but fewer than some columnists believe (the Outaouais and the West island aren't going to change), the Conservatives might pick up a few more seats in Ontario, but they're maxed out right now in the West, and if anything, might lose some seats there to the NDP. The NDP could pick up a few more seats, particularly in Saskatchewan, BC and Ontario. All in all, a June 2005 election will likely produce the same pizza parliament, the same instability, and another election in less than two more years.

Who stands to win from this scenario? Peter McKay and Belinda Stronach.

Paul Martin will continue to be useless in another minority government, and the Liberals will try to replace him, but find few contenders, given his supporters' effective putsch of all other talented aspirants from the party over the past several years. The current Cabinet is largely filled with the charisma-free, and there doesn't seem to be a great number of provincial heirs to the throne. As for the Conservatives, failure to win a majority will sign Stephen Harper's death warrant. They don't support losers there. This positions Nova Scotia's dauphin and his beautiful Ontario Red Tory partner quite nicely for a takeover of the party, and the return of the Conservative party of old.

Hmmm... maybe it's just the effects of jet lag on my addled brain, but maybe this is all part of a secret plot by the old Tory wing of the party to finally kill Reform, and they are skillfully playing on Stephen Harper's ambition to force an election in which he won't be able to win a majority. Maybe an election would not be such a bad thing after all, pointless as it will be in the short term...

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