Thursday, November 17, 2005

Serendipitous Meme-ing and the NDP

Goshdarnit, these memes are striking bloggers down like avian flu. J.Kelly Nestruck at On the Fence has tagged me with the 23:5 meme. You're supposed to find your twenty-third post, and post the fifth sentence from that blog. As these are infectious little buggers, you're then supposed to tag five more bloggers. I'm pretty late in the chain on this, so most of my regular blogs have already been hit. So, I'll content myself with two: Idealistic Pragmatist and Paul Wells. Kelly suggested that I should write a story that starts with the line, but not being a literary type, I'm going to content myself with a commentary.

My 23rd entry was on April 27th, when Jack Layton had just secured his big concession from Paul Martin. Line 5 of the entry read:
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.
I want to tag on line 6 as well which read: 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.

Interesting that this particular entry should be pinged, given the current state of the NDP/Conservative/Bloc power play to oust the Liberals. In his column in the National Post today, Andrew Coyne suggests that since a minority Parliament will be the most likely result of the impending election, Jack Layton has painted himself into a corner, and is indirectly supporting Stephen Harper. Coyne's argument boils down to this - if the NDP cannot support a corrupt Liberal minority government now, they can't do so after the winter election either without being hypocritical; ergo they must support a Conservative effort to form a minority government.

I really hope Canadians don't read Layton's manoeuvre this way. I think his ploy to force the early election was a mistake. In the spring, the NDP was riding high, getting their policies adopted, and seeming above petty Parliamentary games. In essence, they could have entered an election saying "Yes, the Liberals engaged in corrupt dealings with the Gomery report, but as long as they are a minority relying on us, Canadians will get the policies they want. The more seats you deliver to the NDP, the more we have clout in Parliament." I fear that these days the NDP is looking like Harper-lite (or Harper-left), having placed a health care ultimatum on the table that was unlikely to be accepted, and then cozying up to the opposition party games.

And for what reason? An early election doesn't help the NDP. Duceppe benefits from Gomery - Layton does not. Frankly, given polling numbers, it looks like Harper might not either. Rather than announce that the NDP was going to bring the government down, it could have voted against bills that it disagreed with, and if the government fell, it fell. Conversely, it could have continued to press Martin to make his legislation NDP-friendly. The non-confidence motion makes the NDP look delusionally opportunistic, and narrowly partisan.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Quebec: The white-liner defeats the hard-liner

Yes, it's a cheap shot. But I couldn't resist. And nor should organizers for the Quebec Liberal party. Here's why.

Andre Boisclair has decisively defeated Pauline Marois for the leadership of the Parti Quebecois. In many ways, I think this is a victory of image over substance (or substances over substance - ka-ching!. Okay, that's the last one for this post). Boisclair presents a telegenic image of youth, the future, seemingly progressive values - he is gay, after all - whereas Pauline Marois was identified with the long-term history of the PQ, and might have been perceived of as "yesterday's woman". If you look at the polls, you might be tempted to think that all Boisclair has to do now is sit back and wait for Jean Charest to implode. He can then march merrily to a referendum victory.

I'm less convinced of this fatalistic scenario, for a number of different reasons. First off, the Liberals have at least two years left in their mandate - a tremendous deal can change in that period of time. Charest has just received a booster shot from Lucien Bouchard's manifesto, which he claims justifies his policies. If he can spin that report effectively, it could be a major boon to him. Certainly, a glance at the manifesto's contents seems to favour the Liberal approach to governance more than the traditional PQ stance, and Bouchard still has a lot of clout in Quebec.

There is also something to be said for how past Pequiste leaders haunt their successors. Landry seemed to rebuke Boisclair during the campaign for his cocaine use. His waffling on the referendum issue - although he claims to be committed to a fast-track approach - may foster divisions in the party. Jacques Parizeau certainly played the albatross role for Landry's term in office - will he be any kinder to Boisclair? Will Marois' supporters rally behind him?

As The Globe and Mail points out, Boisclair is also far more conservative than the PQ rank-and-file. What will this do to the party's ability to position itself as the champion of the left? What will Boisclair do with the Bouchard manifesto? We might see a wave of support for the Union des forces progressistes, or some other left-wing splinter group abandon him. Choosing the relatively inexperienced Boisclair over Marois, who had held virtually every senior portfolio, also means that there is room to quiz Boisclair on his command of the issues - I suspect the veneer does not run deep.

Most important is the fact that Boisclair does not appear to do well under pressure. When questioned about his past cocaine use he: a) snapped at reporters; b) claimed it was a youthful indiscretion (like deciding to be a PQ cabinet minister?) and c) blamed it on being under a lot of pressure. If the Liberals do not haul out those quotes at election time to suggest that he would not be capable to lead the province without cracking, let alone a sovereign nation, then they are fools. Don't think that the cocaine issue is a dead one either. I suspect that people are willing to overlook it in the early days, to see if he has really put this behind him, and they'll give him a chance. But when he slips up, the issue will return in force, and people who said it didn't matter to them will be singing a different tune. I also suspect that many Liberal voters in the province lied to pollsters on this issue - of course they didn't care that he was a cocaine user - it was ammunition for the election if he won the party leadership.

The Liberals need to take a full-court press approach to Boisclair in the next election, and indeed over the next two years. Focus on his leadership capacity. Focus on his ideology for governing Quebec. Focus on his judgement. This needs to be a campaign that is not about image, because he's too attractive for the Liberals to beat him here.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Pour un Canada lucide

Yesterday I posted about how Quebec politicians have been dancing to the same tune since the 1960s, but that there finally seems to be some new ideas circulating in the public discourse.

Would that the same could be said for the Canadian government. Instead, we get another round of the Gomery two-step. Obsessive poll-watching is set to continue through the winter - all of it amounting to a hill of beans. Is anyone really shocked to see the Liberal party's support fall in the week that the report came out (according to Ipsos-Reid and Strategic Counsel)? It would have been a complete shocker had it been otherwise. How would anyone but the most die-hard Liberal supporter have answered a series of questions that probably started off with something along the lines of "Do you believe the Gomery report's conclusions that Paul Martin had nothing to do with the sponsorship scandal?" and then proceeded through several more questions about Gomery and the trustworthiness of the Liberal party before finally asking about voter intentions?

Will Conservative party support stay where it is, or even grow? Can it win an election on the sole issue of government corruption? Normally, I would say no, because deep down I believe that most Canadians consider politicians of all stripes to be corrupt to a certain degree, and will not buy the argument that a Conservative government would be any different than the Liberals. That being said, these same voters will overlook corruption if they are given a good reason to vote otherwise.

And herein lies the problem for the Liberals. They have allowed the corruption song to play on repeat endlessly, without doing anything noticeable to change-up the playlist. They can rail on all they like about the Conservatives being a visionless party that is only interested in government ethics, but if they aren't putting forth their own vision, then there is no good reason to vote for them. Like it or not, they will enter the next election tainted as the party of the sponsorship scandal, and no amount of spinning will completely erase that. Far better to accept that reality, promise to improve, and then get some real policies on the table, so that voters might have a reason to want to see a Liberal government in power. It's called vision, people - can't you see that!

I would be remiss if I did not mention the NDP's role in all of this. As J. Kelly Nestruck pointed out yesterday, Jack Layton is just as guilty right now of playing election footsie. He is in a difficult position as the leader with the least to gain from an election, and his clout has been reduced by the death of Chuck Cadman. But if he wants to make gains in the next election, he needs to keep hammering on issues that matter to his would-be supporters, especially those in BC, Saskatchewan and Ontario. People who vote for the NDP often do so because they care about issues, and the party needs to cling to this approach to politics, rather than singing from the Corruption hymnal.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Ten years after the referendum - some tidbits

As part of a cunning plan to make my teaching relevant, my Contemporary Canadian Issues class is currently working on a unit on Quebec Nationalism and Separatism. Yesterday we were discussing the 1995 Quebec Referendum. Ten years later, I've been pondering the state of Quebec within Canada, and what the prospects are for the future. Here are some tidbits to get started on. (My apologies if this is not as well fleshed-out as it could be. I've been pouring most of my energies into the classroom of late, but I don't want to fall completely off the blogging wagon).

1. In Wednesday's Globe and Mail, Alain-G. Gagnon and Raffaele Iacovino made a very important point about why Gomery has injected new blood into the sovereignty movement. They argue that it was not so much the sponsorship program's incompetence or lining the pockets of Liberal organizers that upsets Quebeckers, but the implied insult that the sponsorship program was considered a suitable response to Quebec's grievances. As they point out, this was a laughable response to the nationalists' demands. The combination of the Supreme Court Reference and Clarity Act - while they may make a future referendum result clearer - address issues of process, not of the substance of what was sought by "yes", and many "no" voters. While other Canadians are concerned about the money and the scandal, it is the program itself that is a concern in Quebec.

2. This points to another fundamental problem - a seemingly complete lack of quality political leadership in Canada, particularly where the Quebec dossier is concerned. Neither of the two English-speaking opposition leaders has anything constructive to say on Quebec (unless the options of "who cares about Quebec?" or "let's cave into all of Quebec's demands and abolish the Clarity Act" strike you as constructive). Paul Martin doesn't have any sort of vision on any issue, and his Quebec lieutenant is an ex-Bloquiste and political opportunist. When Gilles Duceppe is looking like a highly articulate, seasoned debator, you should know that he is winning by default.

3. From my current perspective, the only real hope that Canadians have of avoiding a successful Quebec referendum in the near future is the fact that the PQ leadership hopefuls don't seem to have much of a vision themselves. Andre Boisclair, while telegenic, doesn't seem all that committed to an independent Quebec. Pauline Marois, who is, is trailing in the polls, and is probably not well-liked enough by the general Quebec electorate to win a mandate to become leader of an independent Quebec. In short, both the federalist and sovereigntist camps are trotting out tired old arguments, and without much passion

4. I'm slow to mention this, but I'm really quite excited by the manifesto published by Bouchard et al. late last month. Pour un Quebec lucide takes aim at the sacred cows of Post-1960 Quebec politics and society. It acknowledges, among other points, the need for Quebec students to have a firm grasp of the English language, the need to rethink the state's involvement in the economy and its relationship with unions, and points out that sovereignty would not be a panacaea for Quebec's ills - the same problems would still exist the day after a "yes" vote. Bouchard and his colleagues, both federalist and sovereigntist, are aware that when the clerical nationalism of the Duplessis era was swept away by the Quiet Revolution, it was replaced by a new orthodoxy. The Quiet Revolution's etatiste approach to governance is almost fetishized in Quebec, and it is refreshing to see some new ideas being aired. It may take quite some time for them to gain any acceptance (and I don't agree with all of their points), but it will take someone of Lucien Bouchard's stature to enunciate them.

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