Monday, July 04, 2005

Summer in Ottawa

With parliament done, I suspect most of the summer’s political news will be confined to Stephen Harper’s exploits on the dance floor and his ever-improving hamburger flipping technique (“notice…he now can flip with his left hand…and his elevation has improved…this man should be our Prime Minister”).

But, luckily the Hill Times is here to provided gossip from Ottawa. Among the (free) stories this week:

1. Election Speculation: It now appears that several Liberals want Paul Martin to break his promise of calling an election 30 days after Gomery. D’oh! I think it’s fairly safe to say that even Paul Martin isn’t dumb enough to do this. The article is still worth a read, if only for the so-stupid-they’re-funny comments from Liberal backbenchers. Among the highlights is Allan Tonks who believes all parties would support this and Jim Karygiannis who says voters “will freeze” if they go to the polls in the winter…as if Canadians can’t handle a 2 minute drive to their polling station.

I do however, still think there’s a good chance for a fall election. The final Gomery Report will be harmless enough since it will detail ways to prevent future abuses in the system – yawn. The juicy interim report might still come out November 15th and I can’t think of a more appetizing prospect for the opposition parties than a report like that being announced in the middle of an election campaign. So the temptation to bring down the government in October to force a, say, November 28th election will be very real.

2. Tony Valeri: Valeri has been drawing a lot of praise in the press for his performance this session. In my opinion, the jury is still out. Sure, the government survived, but this man has poisoned relations with the opposition parties to the point where he won’t even talk to Jay Hill. A lot of the tactics used to ensure survival were heavy handed and little was accomplished. We also saw Valeri take a page from his boss by repeatedly snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. This parliamentary session had to go into overtime to get anything accomplished after months of filibustering their budget and dithering on SSM. But they’re still standing, and for a government that has switched slogans from “The Politics of Achievement” to “The Politics of Survival”, that’s saying something.

3. Jean Charest: There’s no real substance in this article but the fall of Jean Charest has been remarkable to watch. In a province that always gives Premiers two chances, it’s really hard to explain. I know a few of the regular visitors to the comments section of this blog live in Quebec, so I’d be very curious to read their thoughts on why Charest has turned into such a dud.


  • The fall of Monsieur Charest is easily attributed to two things:

    1) Anger at the federal liberals. As a Quebecer, I have first hand experience with people who automatically equate Provincial Liberals with Federal ones. Even after the well publicized Johnson-Chretien enmity, people here believe the libs in Quebec are an arm of the PMO. Adscam anger has spilled out and now targets the Provincials, who for some reason are now attributed with being corrupt and only serving their own interests.

    2) Youth activism. College students in Quebec are bored. There is nothing to rally them anymore. They need a cause and they found one. Seperatism. Not because they are seperatists per se, but because it is fashionable in Quebec these days to be anti-establishment. I base this on the fact that two years ago that was the case when I was in University and the climate does not seem to have changed much according to some friends who are still in that environment. Remember when it was cool cry out against Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe? Same damn thing. They somehow equate activism for an unproven cause with Political Revolution and the upheaval of ideology.

    By Anonymous Martin B., at 3:05 PM  

  • Posting from work. Shouldn't, but can't resist. Will be as brief as possible.

    I attribute it to two reasons:
    Unions. Sovereignty and the Bourassa effect.

    Unions have struck heavy, repeated, skillful blows on Charest from the moment he was elected. They have, relative to other periods of Quebec political life, more credibility than at other times. He earned their ire initially by tampering with the labour code and subcontracting, but generally his "reengineering the state" promise resulted in widespread "j'ai pas vote pour ca" banners. And Charest didn't respond, partly for the reason which follows.

    Secondly, a federalist premier can never be perceived as tough in the eyes of Quebecers if he wants to stay in power. And, sovereignty-association and asymetrical federalism sound not at all like polar opposites, such that there's no fear in electing the PQ: the Liberals have a credible, skilled opposition. Which wasn't the case the last time they were reelected.

    By Blogger matt, at 3:51 PM  

  • 1. While it's foolish to think that a Winter election will have much of an impact in urban centres, they do have a good point about the far north. Already people in some communities have to travel distances in order to vote, if it was held in the dead of winter there is a good chance that polling stations could be snowed out.

    Martin cannot reject a Winter election after he promised to call one, but he could make the request at the Gomery report for the other parties to agree to a delay. Martin could say "I promised to call an election, and I will -- unless the other parties agree it is in the best interests of Canada to have an election at this time." Give them the option, if the other parties want a winter election then Martin should give it as he promised.

    2. Valeri did well, but he was too antagonistic to be useful in future sessions of parliament. He should probably return to cabinet, and someone more concilliatory should take his place. Especially with the next election looking to be like another minority, they really ought to try to work together a bit more. Can you imagine another few years like this one?

    By Anonymous ryan, at 4:27 PM  

  • It would be foolish (not to mention, self-destructive) to break that particular promise (election 30 days after Gomery report).

    We'll know more come January/February (or whenever).

    By Anonymous calgary observer, at 5:31 PM  

  • Martin B and ryan are both on the mark, except that I don't notice the "it's cool to be a separatist" meme as much. But Charest is surely a co-author of his current troubles.

    One thing that has struck me is how often his government has fumbled the ball. Charest just hasn't won many of his battles. He had to make a desperate cabinet shuffle after losing his Finance minister in a too-public dispute, and was forced to capitulate on where the french-language super hospital will be located. The tax cuts he won election by promising have not seen the light of day, and the support that gave him his current majority was never more than lukewarm to begin with.

    His government isn't exactly capturing the voters' imagination either. He ran a very good campaign, but has only made people (pick one or more) annoyed, bored or vehement since he got to power.

    By Anonymous Scott in Montreal, at 6:10 PM  

  • Sorry - I meant Matt (not ryan) in the previous comment

    By Anonymous Scott in Montreal, at 6:11 PM  

  • Liberals break a promise? They have the track record of doing it successfuly so why change.
    I bet a national poll that asked:
    Would your voting intentions change if the LPC decided not to hold a federal election 30 days after Gomery reports?
    I bet that most Canadians would still vote for them.

    By Anonymous D Mitchell, at 6:30 PM  

  • Martin has to keep the election promise and he expressed his awareness of that quite clearly. This problem of campaiging in winter is a problem for politicians, not for voters.

    By Blogger Jason Cherniak, at 12:03 AM  

  • Charest has also alienated himself a bit internally - the PMO is pretty hard to crack, even MNA's have a hard time getting his ear. The communications strategy has been a disaster, and almost every file that the government has handled has been dropped at least once. Instead of making a lot of tough, consistent calls in the first year, they stretched it out, so that the unions and other activists just keep at them...

    By Blogger Jim, at 5:40 PM  

  • By Blogger Unknown, at 6:37 AM  

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