Monday, November 30, 2009

Parliamentarians Gone Wild

Tories suspended for animated protest over harmonized tax

Ontario's Legislature ground to a halt Monday afternoon because of a protest over Premier Dalton McGuinty's controversial 13 per cent harmonized sales tax.

Owen Sound-area MPP Bill Murdoch of the Progressive Conservatives refused to leave the chamber after being ordered out for using unparliamentary language, with fellow MPPs Randy Hillier and Toby Barret blocking the sergeant-at-arms from escorting him out.

Both Murdoch and Hillier were suspended from the Legislature for the rest of the session – which means until the government decides to prorogue the House and return with a throne speech in a new session.

I can't remember many recent cases of parliamentarians being suspended for a full session - in any event, it's probably good for Tim Hudak to have Hillier and Murdoch as far away from Queen's Park as possible.

Between this and last week's walk-out, Hudak is doing a great job drawing media attention to the HST. He's making Liberals across the province hate him, and that means he's doing his job as opposition leader.

But you have to wonder. Yeah, the guy can oppose, but are weekly hissy fits and temper tantrums in the legislature really what voters are looking for in a Premier?

Consider the latest Nanos poll for Ontario. The Liberals are down 10 points, but the Tories are only up 4 points. McGuinty's had a rough ride, but when asked who would make the best Premier, he still blows Hudak away:

McGuinty 27%
Hudak 17%
Horwarth 14%

Again, McGuinty is down 15 points, but Hudak is within the margin of error from the numbers interim leader Bob Runciman got in April. Yes, THAT Bob Runciman. And he's 3 points ahead of Andrea Horwarth, who is still unrecognizable to most Ontarians New Democrats Facebook friends blood relatives.

So, yeah, Hudak can oppose. He makes a hell of an opposition leader. And maybe this is only the first phase of a 2 year plan. But the man certainly doesn't look like a Premier in waiting.

Hat Tip - CB


That's swell, but can he play the piano?

Michael Ignatieff comes in 64th on Foreign Policy's list of the Top 100 International Thinkers.


Christmas Letters: Elizabeth May

An exclusive look at Elizabeth May's Christmas letter, after posting ones for Harper, Ignatieff, and Layton earlier this week.


Hi, it’s me - Elizabeth May. From the Green Party. I was the lady in the debates last year.

I know you’ve probably been wondering what I’ve been up to. It’s not that I’ve been quiet, it’s that the media continues to unfairly ignore the Green Party.

So you may have been surprised to see a BC postmark on this envelope, but don’t be – I’ve got a new home! After Green Party strategists pointed out that it was foolish for me to take on an established Cabinet Minister like Peter MacKay in the last election, I’ve picked a new riding to run in. This time, I’ll be tricycling door to door to defeat Minister of State for Sport Gary Lunn, so I would really appreciate your vote. Unless you want to vote Liberal, which I’m mostly cool with too.

Given all that’s happened with the world economy over the past year, I know there’s one issue on the minds of all Canadians - proportional representation! This issue is often confusing so let me put it in terms so simple that even Canadian voters, in all their ignorance, will be able to understand:

Let’s say your family is sitting down for a winter equinox tofurkey dinner. Do you think it’s fairer that one person gets a majority of the tofurkey, or would you rather everyone gets a fair portion? Proportional representation is kind of like that.

Please recycle this letter at your earliest convenience,

Elizabeth May

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Separated at Birth

From former blogging superstar Jason Cherniak:

Friday, November 27, 2009

"A powerfully problematic ultimatum to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff"

That's how Harper's HST legislation was described this morning. It turns out, it may not be quite so ultimatum-y:

The Bloc Québécois says it will “probably” support a Conservative motion next week on the harmonized sales tax, a move that would give the government the votes it needs to move ahead with the plan.

The Bloc’s support will be welcome news to the premiers of Ontario and British Columbia, who have campaigned hard in favour of the tax change scheduled to take effect July 1.

Bloc House leader Pierre Paquette made the comments to reporters on Friday outside the House of Commons.

The Bloc’s support would also take some of the political heat off of Liberal MPs, who have been put in a political bind by the imminent motion. Several Liberal MPs have been vocal critics of the tax change, but voting to kill the measure risks alienating the Liberal party’s provincial wings in the two provinces.

If the Bloc do vote in favour of the HST, the bill will go through, much to the public delight of the BC and Ontario Premiers, and much to the private delight of the opposition leaders in those two provinces.

However, Ignatieff will still need to take a position on this issue and anyone who has watched him over the past year will agree that's still a powerfully problematic pickle for the Liberal leader.

Ignatieff basically has three choices:

1. Vote in favour of the HST: He's decisive, he's a "serious" politician...but the NDP get to whack him for supporting a policy few voters like.

2. Vote against it: The Liberals get a populist issue to attack the CPC with ("tax on everything!") and rally voters to their cause...but get accused of flip-flopping, and alienate provincial Liberals.

3. Allow a free vote: Caucus stays happy, he avoids pissing anyone off...and comes across looking like a man unable to make any sort of decision. And, oh yeah, he still needs to vote himself so see points 1 and 2.


Personally, I hope he chooses option 1, if only because the HST legislation is good policy and that should count for something, right? Right?


Hey Look! Policy!

Michael Ignatieff gives a major speech on the environment at Laval University.

The Post's Kelly McParland compares Ignatieff's position to the government's.

Christmas Letters: Jack Layton

After a look at Harper and Ignatieff's Christmas letters, we move on today to Jack Layton's.

Dear working families,

It’s been a great year for progressives across North America, with Barack Obama entering the White House, and the NDP winning the New Westminster-Coquitlam by election. All together now – Yes We Can! Yes We Can!

The year started with Michael Ignatieff showing a lack of conviction and principle, propping up the Harper Conservatives and their pro-bank, pro-oil, anti-kitchen table agenda. Luckily Canada’s New Democrats were there to oppose both Stephen Harper and ATM fees.

Then, in the fall, when Michael Ignatieff tried to plunge the country into an unwanted election, Canada’s NDP were there to support the Conservatives, in order to get real results for people.

People often come up to me and say “Jack, what do you do when you’re not getting results for people or offering hope to Canadians?”. After signing an autograph for them, I usually reply “thinking about getting results for people”. Because that’s really what it’s all about. That, and kitchen table issues.

Live long and prosper,


PS. Ed Broadbent

Thursday, November 26, 2009

One Year Ago

Flaherty to axe subsidies to political parties in fiscal update: sources

The Conservatives are poised to eliminate the public subsidies that Canada's five major political parties receive, a move that would save $30 million a year but could cripple the opposition.

Sources told CBC News and other media outlets Wednesday that the subsidy cut is one of the key elements of the fiscal update that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will present Thursday in Ottawa.

And, with that, the first domino fell, setting off two weeks of absolutely political pandemonium in Ottawa. So, for those nostalgic for a less simpler time, here's my recap of just what went down a year ago:

November 26th: With a recession looming and Canadians losing their jobs, Stephen Harper decides the best way to turn the situation around is to...go for the jugular. In these tough economic times, opposition parties are a luxury we simply cannot afford.

November 27th: All hell breaks loose.

November 28th: Harper pulls the changes to the public financing rules, averting a messy showdown...or not.

November 28th: Harper postpones confidence votes and opposition days. But this is way different than when Paul Martin did it. Really.

November 29th: The Tories strike the anti-strike legislation from the fiscal update and announced a January 27th budget.

November 30th: The Tories pull a Grewal and tape an NDP conference call hinting at a secret NDP-Bloc deal.

December 1st: John Ivison announces that Michael Ignatieff will lead the coalition government. His sources weren't wrong, they were just ahead of their time.

December 1st - a few hours later: The coalition leaders meet and sign an accord, with Dion as leader. Hey, who invited Gilles Duceppe?

December 2nd: Tory attack ads begin airing.

December 2nd: "Separatists, traitors, betraying Canada, separatists, power grab, separatists, they didn't even have a canadian flag behind them!"

December 2nd: Michaelle Jean cuts her vacation short...again.

December 3rd: If you'd told me a week ago that a webcam video would force a politician to resign, I would have guessed you were talking about Maxime Bernier. Alas, Dion's address to the nation arrives late, out of focus, and with the production values of a Tory attack ad.

December 4th: After forcing the PM to sit through a two and a half hour slide-slow of vacation pictures, Michaelle Jean agrees to prorogue Parliament. After all, confidence in the House of Commons is like the stock market; you haven't lost money until you sell, and you haven't lost confidence until they vote.

December 6th: Are you for democracy? If so, there were several competing ways to express your support for democracy...and to voice your displeasure over what you thought was the worst thing to ever happen in the history of Canada - regardless of what specifically you thought that was.

December 8th - morning: Just over three years after winning the leadership, Dion resigns...again.

December 8th - afternoon: Dominic LeBlanc drops out and tosses his support to Michael Ignatieff.

December 8th - late night: Some people wanted 137 Liberal MPs and Senators to pick the next leader. Others wanted 68,000 Liberals to. The National Executive splits the difference and enfranchises a couple hundred party officials.

December 8th - later night: Did landing on CNN make this crisis important? No. Did landing as the number 3 story on google news make this crisis important? No. This story became important the minute it got the lead on the Daily Show.

December 9th: Ready to Roll...over. Bob Rae drops out of the race, handing the crown to his old roommate, Michael Ignatieff.

48 hours in 14 seconds
My uneasiness with the coalition
What If History: Martin Prorogues
How the Grinch Prorogued Parliament

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Pro-life feminists have also come to see abortion as part of a male agenda to have women more sexually available"

I'm willing to bet someone at the PMO has a google news alert for "Maurice Vellacott AND abortion" wired to a giant siren...because that's a very dangerous combination for the Tories. The latest:

Maurice Vellacott, the MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin and a former pastor, faced criticisms for a news release lashing out against the "devastating emotional, physical and psychological effects" of abortion.

Released on Friday in response to a local news article about the availability of abortions in Saskatoon, Mr. Vellacott issued a lengthy statement about the "current abortion regime."

"Pro-life feminists have also come to see abortion as part of a male agenda to have women more sexually available. With widespread abortion access, the male partner has come to think that he can blame the woman if she chooses not to have an abortion after an unplanned pregnancy," he wrote.

"Saskatoon's doctors should be commended for the leadership they are showing by reducing the availability of abortion in our city."

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Christmas Letters: Michael Ignatief

Yesterday I posted an exclusive copy of Stephen Harper's Christmas letter. Today, a draft of Michael Ignatieff's, obtained from my OLO contacts. I publish it here so that those of you not on Michael's Christmas card list can get a look.

Salutations my Canadian friends,

Isaiah Berlin once proclaimed “philosophers are adults who persist in asking childish questions” – over the past year, I have found that the same could be said about politicians in question period. There, now that I have successfully lightened the mood with a joke, allow me to recap 2009 as is custom to do in these letters.

In May I was named Liberal Party leader, following in the footsteps of many great men, and my predecessor Stephane Dion. I owe a special thanks to my good friend Bob and (NOTE: Can someone in the Liberal research bureau please find the name of the other chap in that race and insert here) for stepping aside.

I immediately placed the Prime Minister on probation, then on double probation. I flirted briefly with the idea of upping this to triple probation, but after wafer-gate and the Iqauluit typo, I felt the time was right to strike. As Machiavelli said “It is double pleasure to deceive the deceiver”, so I concocted a clever plan, whereby I would reveal a bold policy vision to Canadians, letting voters know where I stand involving special committees, EI reports, and opposition days. Alas, I was foiled by Jack Layton! Foiled by Jack Layton – what an ignominious fate, would you not agree?

On a personal note, I’ve enjoyed spending time eating my double-double at Tim Hortons, as I watch the Canadians and Maple Leaves duel it out for hockey supremacy, eh?

In conclusion, let me leave you and your family with a quote from one of my favorite philosophers, Michael Ignatieff – “Patriotism is a strong nationalistic feeling for a country whose borders and whose legitimacy and whose ethnic composition is taken for granted”.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Joyeux Noel, Sincerely yours,

Michael Ignatieff

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Culture of Defeat

Too lazy in Halifax to work?

OTTAWA - If anyone ever stops Nova Scotia farmers from hiring migrant labourers to harvest their crops, they would destroy a lot of businesses because unemployed Nova Scotians don’t want those jobs, says Gerald Keddy, the Conservative MP for South Shore-St. Margarets.

"Nova Scotians won’t do it — all those no-good bastards sitting on the sidewalk in Halifax that can’t get work," Mr. Keddy said Monday.


Christmas Letters: Stephen Harper

It's that time of the year again, when Christmas cards and year-end letters start arriving in the mail. I've managed to get my hands on the letters being sent out by all party leaders and will be posting them here over the next week. First off, the Prime Minister.

Greetings friends!

It’s been another great year despite these grave economic times, which we are only now coming out of thanks to Canada’s Economic Action Plan. I guess you could say, we all get by with a little help from our friends.

I was able to travel a lot this year, representing Canada internationally at the G8 summit in Italy, and learning more about the country I have lived in my entire life during visits to Iqualuit and the Tim Hortons Donut Innovation Centre. Some Canadian political leaders (and I won’t name names) have said they are ashamed to be from Canada, but not me – I’m always amazed at the great things Canadians can accomplish when we put our mind to it. For example, did you know there is now a triple chocolate donut?

As you’ve no doubt read in “Hot or Not”, Laureen has also been quite busy this year, feeding homeless kittens and supporting the arts community (que j’aime aussi!). In October, she arranged for me to play the piano with Yo Yo Ma, in a spontaneous and non-calculated show of my humanity (the video is available on most government of Canada websites if you haven’t seen it already).

As for Ben and Rachel, I’m quite proud of my offspring. Like his dad, and most suburban swing voters, Ben has a strong affinity for hockey. Which reminds me, I’m still hard at work writing my book on hockey history. (Fun fact: Did you know there used to be a team in Hartford?)

Finally, if you’re still looking for the perfect gift for that special someone of the opposite sex, may I suggest making a 50$ contribution to the Conservative Party of Canada. Your donation will help us fight the tactics of the un-elected an un-democratic Liberal Senators who are stalling my aggressive get tough on crime legislation. I’m not saying Canadians will die this Christmas because of these Liberal Senators, but can we really take that risk?

Merry Christmas!

Stephen, Laureen, Ben, and Rachel

Monday, November 23, 2009

In Case You Missed It...

Some things in the news today...

1. There's been a big hullabaloo recently over ten percenters and a movement appears on foot to set guidelines, or to outright ban them. Good.

For the record, I think the parties would be crazy not to use them so long as they're allowed to, but if they're not going to be used for anything more than taxpayer-funded attack ads, there's really no point to them. If MPs can't use the toy responsibly, I think it's time to take it away.

2. Some more research projecting the HST "will increase capital investment [in Ontario] by $47 billion while creating 591,000 net new jobs".

But, you know, it's a greedy tax grab! And the price of a haircut will go up 5%! Stop the DST!

3. This is encouraging:

Donolo believes his task is "not so much to package (Ignatieff) as to unpackage him," allow him to be himself and to build on his strength as a thoughtful, insightful deep thinker - the very qualities that initially excited Liberals and evoked comparisons to Trudeau.


Among other things, the long game is expected to include having Ignatieff spend more time on the road (as he did last week, although those particular cross-country appearances were planned before Donolo came on board), delivering a more targeted message and giving Canadians a clearer picture of what he stands for.

4. This is just weird:

Janine Krieber, the wife of former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, is known for being blunt and outspoken, but her online outburst over the weekend about how the party is heading for the "trashcan of history" left the Liberals and Leader Michael Ignatieff dealing with yet another self-inflicted wound.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Party Like It's 2009

Everyone went list-crazy in 1999, but the end of the aughts is fast approaching with little fanfare or retrospective.

So, since this December figures to be a lot less interesting than the last, this is the perfect time for a Calgary Grit mini-contest. So, what I want from everyone are suggestions for the “top Canadian political moment of the decade”. You can define that however you see fit, but the general gist would be to find a good balance between what was exciting at the time and what would make it into a Canadian political history textbook 30 or 40 years from now (assuming we still have textbooks).

I’ll give everyone a few weeks to suggest nominees (either in the comments section below or via e-mail), before putting it to a vote. Nominees could be important policies (i.e. legalizing gay marriage), big elections (federal or provincial), shocking scandals (AG’s Adscam report), or just those moments that made average Canadians tune in (coalition threat, Belinda crossing the floor, Paul Martin leaving Cabinet).

Asleep at the switch

Stephen Taylor poses the following, regarding the Ruby Dhalla nanny thing (which I absolutely refuse to "gate"):

Just a few minutes ago, the House of Commons unanimously endorsed a report produced by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration which included the following recommendation,


The Liberals had a chance to amend the motion in the House today, but perhaps they were asleep at the switch?

Since this report is a faster page turner than the new Dan Brown novel, I'm sure everyone has gotten to page 26 by now (page 34 on the document viewer on Taylor's site), which contains the Liberals' disenting opinion.

And, as I'm sure you're all familiar with the House of Commons Procedure and Practice (2009) book (just $19.95 at - makes a great Christmas gift!), you'll know that you can’t amend the text to a committee report at concurrence in the House. Like, duh!

“When a motion to concur in a report is before the House, it is the concurrence in the report as a whole which the House is considering. No amendment may be presented to the text of the report.” Pp 1074

“A motion for concurrence in a committee report is debatable. No amendment may be presented to the text of the report (…)” Pp 459

So, really, who's the one asleep at the switch here?

Yet he who is without sin cast the first tweet


Charlie Angus wants MPs banned from Twitter just “to save politicians from looking like idiots.”

The Northern Ontario New Democrat is serious: “I have nothing against the technology, nothing,” he said this morning. “But it really exposes the absolute banality of this place. … There is something about it that turns otherwise intelligent professionals into Grade 9 jocks and cheerleaders in a school cafeteria.”


The scene. The day ended, fittingly, with an apology - the member for Timmins-James Bay, Charlie Angus, asked to excuse himself for yelling "bull----" as the government's man on native affairs, Jim Prentice, attempted to explain his department's alleged inaction on some controversy or another.

Angus said he would indeed apologize for his language, but he would not apologize for the government's failings. This seemed reasonable, he being an NDP critic and therefore entirely unresponsible for the affairs of governing(and equally unlikely to ever be so).


It was around this time that Charlie Angus started swearing. And the rest is pretty much a blur.

It's safe to say that it's going to take a lot more than a ban on twitter to "save politicians from looking like idiots"...

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Meet Your OLO All-Stars

People voters have never heard of, replaced by DIFFERENT people voters have never heard of - film at 11!

Dear Liberal Colleagues,

Today is my first day on the job as Chief of Staff in Mr. Ignatieff’s office and I am delighted to be back on the Hill and part of the Liberal Team.

As Mr. Ignatieff has said, we have a lot of work ahead of us to earn the confidence and support of all those Canadians who want a strong alternative to the Harper Conservatives. I look forward to working shoulder-to-shoulder with all of you – and with Liberals across Canada - in the months ahead in earning that support.

Indeed, as with any winning effort, to succeed we must work as a team, a disciplined and determined team. To that end, I am very pleased to announce the new senior staff compliment in the OLO. This is a very seasoned group of proven individuals with a wide breadth of experience in politics and the wider public sphere. Moreover, as you will see from the organization chart, the emphasis will be, as it must, on clear lines of authority and responsibility as well as accountability for execution and results.

Principal Secretary – Jean Marc Fournier
Jean Marc was the Liberal Member for the riding of Chateauguay in the Quebec National Assembly from 1994 to 2008. He served, respectively, as Opposition Whip and, later, as Minister of Municipal Affairs, Minister of Education, Minister of Revenue, and House Leader in the governments of Premier Jean Charest. After deciding not to seek re-election in 2008, Jean Marc was a senior advisor to Mr. Charest in the election that saw the Charest government return to majority status. As Principal Secretary, Jean Marc will provide senior strategic counsel to Mr. Ignatieff.

Chief Operating Officer – Patricia Sorbara
Pat is one of the most experienced Liberal organizers and logistics experts in Canada. She was a senior member on the staffs of Ontario Premier David Peterson and his ministers. She served as Chief Returning Officer for the Liberal Party of Canada in the hard-fought 2006 Leadership Convention. In 1997, Pat co-founded Advanced Utility Systems, a software company she very successfully built and later sold in 2006. As COO, Pat will be responsible for the entire operations of the OLO, with all directors reporting to her. She will report directly to me.

Director of the Liberal Caucus Research Bureau and Senior Policy Advisor to the Leader– Brian Bohunicky
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Brian served in the Chretien government as an aide to Lloyd Axworthy and as Chief of Staff to David Anderson during the latter’s time both as Minister of Fisheries and Minister of Transport. He has worked in provincial and federal Liberal campaigns in both Manitoba and British Columbia. Since 2000, Brian has been a public servant in four successive departments, most recently Agriculture Canada. Brian also holds a Rhodes Scholarship from Oxford University. In his new capacities, Brian will hold two roles: As Director of the LCRB, he will report to the Liberal Caucus Executive, as Senior Policy Advisor to the Leader, he will report within the new OLO structure.

Director of Communications – Mario Laguë
Mario served as a communication aide to Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa and as Quebec’s representative in Venezuela and Mexico. In the Government of Canada, Mario has been DG Communications in Inter-Governmental Affairs, and he served for five years as ADM Communications in the Privy Council Office – the highest communications function in the federal public service. In 2004, Mario served as Director of Communications for Prime Minister Paul Martin. He subsequently served as Canadian Ambassador to Costa Rica, and most recently, as head of global communications for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest environmental organization, based in Switzerland. Mario will hold responsibility for all OLO communications, including the Press Office.

Director of Operations – Sachin Aggarwal
Sachin has been in the OLO since 2008. He was National Director of Operations in Michael Ignatieff’s 2006 leadership campaign and managed Mr. Ignatieff’s two successful campaigns for Parliament in Etobicoke Lakeshore in 2006 and 2008. Prior to joining the OLO, Sachin practiced corporate law at Torys LLP in Toronto.

Director of Legislative Affairs – Jeremy Broadhurst
Jeremy has been in the OLO since 2006. He has served as senior policy advisor under Liberal leaders Bill Graham, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Jeremy entered government in 2004, when Mr. Graham was Defence Minister. He also boasts practical political experience, serving as Mr. Graham’s campaign manager in the 2004 and 2006 elections. Jeremy holds a law degree from the University of Toronto, and was an associate with the law firm Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg in Toronto. Jeremy will be the OLO lead on all matters pertaining to Parliamentary strategies and tactics, working in close coordination with the Opposition House and Senate Leader’s offices.

Caucus Liaison – Karen Redman
Karen was MP for Kitchener Centre from 1997 to 2008. She has served as both Chief Government Whip and Chief Opposition Whip, as well as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the environment. In her decade on the Hill, Karen was one of the most respected and hard-working Members of Parliament in Ottawa. Karen is already nominated to be the Liberal candidate in the next federal election. Her strong and deep ties with her former – and future – caucus colleagues will ensure maximum coordination between the OLO and MPs and Senators.

Party Liaison – Heather Chiasson
Heather has been involved with the Liberal Party since the early eighties. She has been a member of the National Executive, representing Atlantic Canada. Since 1992, Heather has been a constant and steadfast presence at the LPC National Office, first as a volunteer, later as a staffer. Heather has also been vice chair of a crown corporation for 8 years and has also served on a variety of NGO and Community Boards. In her new role, Heather will serve as a link for the OLO – and, importantly, for Mr. Ignatieff personally – with the National Office, the National Campaign Committee and active Liberals across Canada.

Executive Assistant to the Leader – Jim Pimblett
Jim served as EA to Prime Minister Paul Martin from 2003 to 2006 – the perfect, high-pressure, high-performance experience for his OLO responsibilities. Prior to joining Mr. Martin’s staff, Jim was Director of Tour and Events in the office of then-Ontario Opposition Leader Dalton McGuinty. He has an MBA from Queens University and was working as a management consultant prior to joining the OLO. Jim will travel with Mr. Ignatieff and be responsible for Mr. Ignatieff’s schedule.

These appointments, with one exception, are effective immediately. Brian Bohunicky will join the team on December 7.

In Michael Ignatieff, we Liberals have a leader of truly international standing. He understands the huge, long term economic challenges our country is facing – and the tremendous human cost they are already exacting across Canada under a callous, uncaring, incompetent government. And he knows that our future depends on innovative thinking and caring, engaged leadership to enable our country to secure the industries and jobs of tomorrow - and the prosperity and the strong, vital social programs that go with them.

Our job in the OLO is to help Mr. Ignatieff and his Liberal Team across Canada bring that message of hope and change to Canadians in the months ahead.

Peter Donolo

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Fun With Numbers: 2008 Conservative Breakthroughs

A few weeks back, I posted on the ridings where the Liberals exceeded retrospective expectations in the 2008 elections (how's that for a Rumsfeldian opening sentence?).

Click on the link for a fuller explanation, but the short of it is these were ridings where the Liberal candidate did a lot better than you'd expect them to, once regional shifts and incumbency effects were taken into account. So, for example, if the Liberal vote dropped 7 points in Edmonton from 2006 to 2008, and a Liberal candidate held onto the party's 2006 vote, then (ignoring incumbency for a second) he'd be considered to have performed 7% better than expected.

Keep in mind this is relative - Stephen Harper's +1% residual doesn't mean he's not an asset in Calgary Southwest...only that 2008 Stephen Harper wasn't any better than 2006 Stephen Harper.

So, here are the top 10 Tory ridings from 2008 - the ridings where the Conservatives did a lot better than we might have expected:

1. Chicoutimi-Le Fjord (+14%): Despite all the problems Harper had in Quebec in 2008, Jean-Guy Maltais increased the Tory vote here by 10%, largely at the expense of the Liberals.

2. Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou (+13%): Same story as above. Despite Harper's problems in Quebec, there were a lot of ridings where the Tories made big gains last election. Some may peg the blame for this on Dion, but I'd be inclined to think a lot of hard work on the ground may have had something to do with it.

3. Western Arctic (+12%): Part of this was a "bounce back" from 2006, when the Tories seriously under performed in this riding.

4. Manicouagan (+12%): See 1 and 2, above.

5. Peace River (+10%): This one deserves an asterisk - the bump is really only because an independent candidate snatched up 20% of the vote in 2006.

6. Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup (+10%): This one is really interesting, because it means last week's huge by election gains in this riding built off of big gains in the last general election. Given that, I could certainly keep an eye on some of the other Quebec seats here, where the Tory vote increased last election.

7. Thornhill (+9%): This is definitely a riding the Tories targeted before the last campaign. And, with a little help from Peter Kent's name recognition, it certainly paid off at the ballot box.

8. Sault Ste. Marie (+9%): Cameron Ross and the Tories did a great job turning this from an NDP-Liberal duel in 2006 to an NDP-CPC duel in 2008.

9. BC Southern Interior (+9%): Another asterisk, as the Tories dropped their candidate in 2006, after he was hit with smuggling charges during the campaign.

10. Vaudreuil-Soulanges (+9%): Well, I guess that's some consolation for Senator Fortier.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

From the "it could be worse" files

Are you an embattled Canadian political party leader?

Well…it could be worse:

Outgoing ADQ Leader Gilles Taillon claims he was the victim of a plot organized by the party establishment and federal Quebec Tories that led to his political downfall only three weeks after winning the leadership.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Turnout Last Night

I hate to toss up yet another by election post because we shouldn't read too much into them. So rather than look at the results, I'll just add a final word on voter turn-out. Here's where it was yesterday:

Montmagny 36.6%
Cumberland-Colchester 35.7%
New Westminster Coquitlam 29.9%
Hochelaga 22.3%

The average turnout of 31.1% isn't much worse than the normal for by elections - since 1998, it's been 34.5%. And last night was actually an improvement on the dismal 27.8% turnout in last year's 4 by election.

The only number that really stands out is Hochelaga, where under 1 in 4 registered voters took the time to vote. I know it was a slam dunk election for the Bloc, but the riding was right around the national average in the last general election (58%), so it's surprising that it would get so low.

Especially when you look at it historically. Elections Canada only has turn out rates going back to 1998, but Hochelaga marks the lowest by election turn out over that time period (36 by elections) - making it, quite possibly, one of the lowest vote turn outs ever in a federal by election. Here were the previous lows:

Saint-Léonard–Saint-Michel (2003) - 22.9%
Calgary Southwest (2003) - 23.1% (in fairness, there weren't any good candidates to vote for in this one)
Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière (2003) - 23.5%
Willowdale (2008) - 24.4%
Denesthe-Missnipi-Churchill River (2008) - 25.0%

So what was the best by election turn out over that period, and the only time half the voters came out?

That would be the 2005 Labrador by election that sent Todd Russell to Ottawa in a rout, showing that it's not just a close by election that gets people to the polls. On the flip side, everyone expected Denesthe to be close last year and it still made the list of worst shows.

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Topp Spin

There's no positive spin to put on yesterday's by elections for the Liberals, which may be a good thing, because trying to spin by elections too much can make you look rather, well, like Brian Topp:

The Liberal vote in Montreal dropped by about 30 per cent (the Michael Ignatieff-led Liberals got slightly more than 14 per cent in that riding, compared to the Stéphane Dion-led Liberals, who got 20.7 per cent in the 2008 general election).

The Liberal vote in rural Quebec dropped by about 15 per cent (Ignatieff a little over 13 per cent, Dion 15.4 per cent)

The Liberal vote in British Columbia dropped by about 10 per cent (Ignatieff a bit more than 10 per cent, Dion 11.3 per cent).

[...]these by-elections will give the NDP under Leader Jack Layton new energy, new credibility, and an opportunity to focus on providing Canadians with their best alternative to Mr. Harper. As the results show, Canadians are taking a careful look at Jack Layton and the New Democrats.

The Conservatives are holding their rural franchise and filling it in around the edges. But they appear to be in big trouble in British Columbia, and going nowhere in urban Canada. There is no Conservative majority in these tea leaves.


33,608 Canadians voted Tory in these by-elections, which was 35.72 per cent of the total vote cast.

22,783 Canadians voted New Democrat, 24.22 per cent of the total.

19,709 Canadians (perhaps we should say, Quebeckers) voted Bloc, 20.95 per cent of the total.

And 13,914 Canadians voted Liberal, 14.79 per cent of the total.

Ergo, in terms of the absolute national poll, Mr. Harper got in the range of what he had in the 2008 election. Mr. Layton is a solid second, improving nicely. And Mr. Ignatieff led his party to fourth place in terms of total vote, behind the Bloc Québécois.

So, to recap, the Liberal vote drops from 11.3% to 10.3% in a BC riding, and, ergo, this translates into disastrous news for the grits across British Columbia. Some people look at a smudgy window and see Jesus' face - Brian Topp looks at a smudgy window and sees NDP victory.

Now, I don't want to dwell on this too much because, to be honest, if there was any good news, the Liberals would be doing the exact same spin-job. However, I would like to point out to Topp that in the March 2008 by elections:

1. The NDP vote in British Columbia dropped by 10% (from 16.1% in 2006 to 14.4% in the by election).

2. The NDP vote in Ontario collapsed by nearly 50%.

3. The Liberals were in majority territory with a total of 48% of the vote in these by elections, while the NDP were just 2 points up on the Greens (12% vs. 10%).

And even I'll concede the Dippers had a fairly good 2008 election, gaining seats. So, you know, maybe those by elections weren't the best predictor of what was to come 7 months later.

I'm not saying by elections are meaningless - my post yesterday, which looked at the numbers, shows they're about twice as useful as past election results when it comes to predicting electoral outcomes.

But trying to predict how an entire city or province will vote, based on a few shifting percentage points (when only a quarter of people are voting)? Or simulating a national election based on four ridings?

In the words of Gob Bluth - Come On!


Monday, November 09, 2009

It's By Election Night In Canada!

Can you feel the excitement!

Early twitter reports have the Tories winning back Bill Cassey's old riding in Cumberland Colchester. I won't post this until 10 because, well, Elections Canada seems to think BC by election voters (all 12 of them) will see this shocking win and change their votes accordingly. Since, you know, voters will want to deny the Tories that long sought after 145 seat benchmark.

Regardless, let's play! Ba dum du da dum dum, ba dum da da da dadum!

10:00 pm- Tories handily take a plurality in Cumberland Colchester:

CPC 45.5%
NDP 26.2%
Lib 21.1%

Most exciting, the Christian Heritage Party are only 4 votes back of the Greens for 4th, with 10 polls left to report (UPDATE - Greens hold them off by 31 votes).

In Hochelaga, Daniel Paille is well on his way to becoming the next MP. Paille, you'll remember, was the former separatist who Harper hired to embarrass the Liberals for their Earnscliffe dealings, but who ended up embarrassing the present government, before announcing that he actually wasn't a former separatist but a Bloc candidate. Yeah, so he's up 51% to 21% with 30 polls in.

Meanwhile in Montmagny-L'Islet-Yada-Yada, we're got a dog fight between the Tories and Bloc.

10:11 pm - Looking at things a bit closer, Cumberland Colchester is about what you'd expect. In 2006, Casey got 52%, the Liberals got 24%, and the NDP got 21%. So the Tories drop a bit because they lose the popular incumbent in a gong show, while the NDP ride the Dexter wave to a few extra percentage points.

10:34 pm - The Tories are now ahead by 450 votes in Montmagny. Given they lost by 15% last time, this would be a big catch for them but, as the post below points out, the Tories did very well in the last run of Quebec by elections and it didn't translate to general election success. We might be able to chalk some of this up to the Tories' having a much better ground game than the Bloc in Quebec.

10:44 pm - OK, let's look at voter turn out. Since 2004, the average by election turn out is 36.7%. Cumberland Colchester should be at 36% once the last poll comes in. Montmagny is on pace for 34%. Hochelaga, however, is only on pace for 20%. Now, the late polls are usually the bigger ones, so they may go a bit higher once all is said and done, but it's questionable if they'll match the post-2004 record low of 24.4% set in Willowdale last year. If anyone out there is really adventurous and wants to find out the lowest by election turnout from the last 10 or 20 years, by all means, start digging and let me know.

11:00 pm - The NDP are sitting pretty in BC, so the story tomorrow will likely be the Tory gains in Quebec (if they can hang on in Montmagny - now up by 620 votes). And that's fair enough, given all of Harper's problems in the province. If nothing else, Paille has put another riding in play for them next election.

But before the Blogging Tories get too excited, in Quebec by elections before the last election, the Tory vote changed -4.3%, -2.1%, +12.5%, and +22.5%, for an average gain of 7 points. And we all know what happened in Quebec come election day.

So far, the Tories are up 0.9% in Hochelaga and 11.6% in Montmagny, for an average gain of just over 6 points.


By Elections - Should we give a damn?

With four by elections tonight, the party spin machines are in overdrive, playing the expectations game. The best example comes from this article where the parties trip over each other to lower expectations – “we expect to lose all four” says the Tory spokesman with a smile, “if we beat the Marijuana Party it’s a win” proclaim the NDP, “we don’t expect a single voter in any of the four ridings to vote for us - they’d be insane to” the Liberals proudly exclaim.

So, regardless of what happens tonight, the results will be spun, hyped, and downplayed by each and every party. Half the newspaper columns and blogs will try to read something into them (Green Party heading for Maritime breakthrough!), with the other half saying that by elections are absolutely meaningless, the modern day equivalent of examining entrails to predict the future.

So which is it?

Let’s take a look at what the numbers say.

There have been 10 by elections since the 2004 election – that’s when the ridings were redrawn, the Liberal monolith crumbled, and the conservatives merged, so it’s probably a good place to start, even if it makes for a small data set.

What I did was use the by election and previous election vote percentages as predictor variables and the ensuing election results as the response. Doing this for the four major parties gave 34 data points.

So what does the data say?

For starters, the entrails are actually telling us something. Election results for a riding are more closely correlated to the most recent by election (r = 0.926) than to the most recent general election (r = 0.870). The best model to predict election outcomes is based about two-thirds on the by election and one-third on the previous election. So, at least in recent years, by elections have been able to give us an idea of the way the winds are shifting in a given riding, but they’re certainly not the end all.

Here’s another way to think about it. The following graph shows the relationship between the by election change (i.e. Liberals get 30% in a 2007 by election after getting 35% in 2006 - a 5% drop) and the general election change (i.e. Liberals then get 37% in the 2008 election - a 2% gain). You can definitely see there’s a relationship.

If you’re curious, the top right hand corner points are Outremont (NDP up 30% in 2007 by election, up 22% in the general), Roberval Lac St. Jean (CPC up 23% in 2007 by election, 6% in general), and Labrador (CPC up 17% in by election, 24% in general). So of those “take notice” by elections that really surprised people, in at least 2 of the 3 cases the results somewhat transferred through to the next election.

Along with Roberval, the two other by elections that were most out to lunch were also in Quebec. In Repentigny (2006), the Bloc gained 6% in the by election, but dropped 10% in the general. In Saint Hyacinthe (2007), the Conservatives picked up 12% in the by election, but the breakthrough cooled come election time and they finished behind their 2006 total. But in all three of these cases, the by election may not have been a bad thermometer, since it’s generally agreed that Harper crashed and burned in Quebec during the 2008 campaign.

So there may be some use in using by elections to get a sense of how a riding will adjust to the loss of an incumbent or to shifting political winds locally. But using them to create a national or provincial narrative? That’s where it becomes fool hardy to read too much into things. The Bloc was heading for a wipe out in 2008 if you only looked at by elections. Even the now-mythic Outremont by election turned into a bit of a dud – the Liberals lost the seat, but gained both votes and seats across Quebec in an otherwise dismal 2008 election.

So, I guess the short of this would be that there’s nothing wrong with celebrating by election wins – doing well tonight is a sign the parties will do well in these ridings next election. But as far as reading something into the national results? I have doubts about how useful that will actually be.

Which is why, of course, I will be doing just that starting at 10 eastern tonight once the results roll in...


Frank McKenna's Perpetually Ajar Door

With today's "McKenna keeps door ajar" headline sure to generate some buzz, perhaps it's time for a stroll down memory lane.

1989: Ontario Premier David Peterson interrupted a brief vacation with Frank McKenna Tuesday to suggest that the New Brunswick premier should run for the federal Liberal leadership.

1990: Whispers about McKenna's interest in replacing John Turner have been growing in New Brunswick in recent weeks because the premier is shopping for a new speech writer.

1997: Journalist Allan Fotheringham, who reported this in the Financial Post, suggested the Martinites regard former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna as a real danger, though it's hard to see the country choosing a man so earnest and eager to please.

1998: Frank McKenna, the political wunderkind who ran New Brunswick for a decade and is still only 50, might be persuaded to leave the corporate world and go into federal politics, where he was once expected to go.

2002: The former premier of New Brunswick, Frank McKenna, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate.

2003: Mr. McKenna, who attended the Liberal convention briefly last week and didn't rule out running.

2004: McKenna has made it clear that while he wants to run for election in a seat in the Moncton area, he does not want to fight for the nomination with an incumbent MP.

August 2005: Canada's ambassador to the U.S., Frank McKenna, is seen as the prime contender to replace Prime Minister Paul Martin.

December 2005: Topping everyone's list of heirs-apparent is Canada's ambassador to the U.S., Frank McKenna.

January 2006: The body isn't even warm yet, and already there are at least two senior Liberals -- Frank McKenna and John Manley -- who insiders say are quietly gearing up their leadership campaigns.

January 2006: A longtime friend and political ally of McKenna's said the former premier is a "political addict" and will be very tempted to plunge into the leadership contest.

May 2006: A source, however, told The Hill Times that "don't be surprised if you see the draft [Frank] McKenna campaign by late July" if none of these official Liberal candidates emerges as a clear front-runner.

July 2006: If you ask some Liberals whom, among the 11 candidates, is going to win the
leadership campaign, the answer is now the twelfth, Frank McKenna.

October 2008: McKenna Eyeing Liberal leadership: source

October 2008: "I don’t think the people who are putting his name out there are doing it without some indication that he wants it out there," one Liberal said Thursday.

November 2009: And he said the door - which always has been slightly ajar since he left elected office - is still open for a return to public life. "It's fair to say that door is ajar, but I don't say that in a kind of tantalizing way," McKenna said.

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How to Ensure your MP Panel is Filled

When the Tories balk at putting up an MP to discuss the gun registry on Question Period yesterday, CTV lets Craig Chandler speak on behalf of the Tories.

Safe to say, this will be the last time the Tories refuse a media request from QP.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Smitherman Jumps

Ontario's Deputy Premier will be making a run for the Toronto mayoralty:

After months of speculation, George Smitherman is making the move to municipal politics.

Ontario's deputy premier and energy minister confirmed in an interview Sunday that he is leaving Dalton McGuinty's cabinet to run for Toronto's mayoralty in November 2010.

So far, it sounds like John Tory and Glen Murray will be his biggest competition.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Stelmach gets 100% in review

Well, according to the Edmonton Sun. In reality, Stelmach comes in at 77.4%, right below the 78% I'd predicted.

So what does it mean? Well, it's humbling for a man who won 72 of 83 seats just a year and a half ago.

But it's certainly enough for Stelmach to stay on as leader. The ambiguous leadership review zone is usually in the high 60s - Clark stayed with 66.5% in '81 and quit with 66.9% in '83, while John Tory stayed (then quit) with 66.8% earlier this year. I can't think of someone getting a total this high and leaving, although Bernard Landry did resign after getting a similar 76.2% in 2005 (but, of course, the PQ had superstar Andre Boisclair waiting in the wings).

But Stelmach is the Premier, whereas all the aforementioned were in opposition, coming off dissapointing election results. He has given no sign of backing down so, baring a caucus mutiny, Stelmach will be the man trying to keep the 40 year old dynasty alive next election.

Which, if you think about it, probably makes Danielle Smith and David Swann the big winners of the night.


Friday, November 06, 2009

This Week in Alberta - All Good Things...

With Ed Stelmach's leadership review vote coming up tomorrow (I'll be sure to post the results, and offer analysis, as soon as the numbers hit Twitter), this is certainly not welcome news for the embatled Premier:

Across the province, 34 per cent of decided voters say they support the Tories, down from 55 per cent a year ago.

The Wildrose party, under new leader Danielle Smith, is now the solid second choice of Albertans, with 28 per cent support. The Liberals have the support of 20 per cent and the NDP nine. Despite being deregistered by Elections Alberta, the Green Party polled at eight per cent.

The numbers suggest the Wildrose Alliance is particularly strong in Calgary, polling 34 per cent among decided voters, compared to 30 per cent for the Tories.

The Wildrose appears to have considerably less support in Edmonton, where it polled in third place, with 17 per cent of decided voters. The Conservatives polled at 34 per cent support, the Liberals 27 and the NDP at 13 per cent.

Outside the major cities, 38 per cent of decided voters say they would cast ballots for the PCs, 32 per cent for the Wildrose party and 15 per cent for the Liberals.

It's hard to project what numbers like this would mean in terms of seats, especially when you consider how little is known about the Wildrosers or their leader. But the Alliance are ahead in Calgary and are highly competitive in rural Alberta. Throw in Redmonton's history of turning on the PCs, and Stelmach is looking out at a very unstable political landscape. A lot can change in 2 or 3 years but, right now, an election would probably produce the first minority government in Alberta's history.

Over the past two months, I've mused on here from time to time about the possibility of Alberta's 38-year old political dynasty crumbling. And this would definitely follow the pattern.

To recap, in 1971 the SoCreds were swept aside by the PCs, a party that had never governed Alberta and had won just 6 seats in the previous campaign, up from 0 the election before that.

36 years earlier, the Socreds, having never elected an MLA before, completely wiped out the United Farmers of Alberta.

18 years earlier, the UFA, having never won a seat, took out the Liberals, who had governed Alberta since its founding.

So Danielle Smith (Fun Fact: Rome wasn't built in a day, but only because Danielle Smith wasn't there) certainly has history on her side.

After tomorrow, we should have a good idea of who Smith and history will be up against.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

The reports of its death...

The private members bill to abolish the gun registry passed last night by a 164-137 vote. However, it may not be time to stick a fork in the registry quite yet .

From second reading it will go to the Public Safety and National Security Committee, which, if I'm reading right, has the following members:

Garry Breitkreuz - CPC
Shelly Glover - CPC
Dave MacKenzie - CPC
Phil McColeman - CPC
Rick Norlock - CPC
Brent Rathgeber - CPC

Don Davies - NDP
Mark Holland - Liberal
Andrew Kania - Liberal
Serge Menard - BQ
Maria Mourani - BQ
Robert Oliphant - Liberal

So the committee would appear to be locked 6-6, but Breitkreuz is the chair, which means MPs who voted against abolishing the registry have a voting majority on committee.

What they do with that majority remains to be seen, and will likely depend on how Layton and Ignatieff decide to play their cards. Which has been somewhat haphazard to date.

Back in April, Ignatieff was proclaiming he wouldn't let the registry die, and then last night he let his MPs vote to do just that. He also made some noise about decriminalizing the registry although, him being Michael Ignatieff and all, it's not exactly clear what he's proposing or when he's proposing to do it. Perhaps it's another piece of the super-secret platform (since, you know, the Tories might steal his idea to keep the registry alive). Layton, by virtue of his caucus being even more split, has been tap dancing even more feverishly than Ignatieff.

So the decrim option does seem to be the logical path since it gives Layton and Ignatieff an out, and finds one of those good old Canadian sunny compromises. If the Bloc can be brought onside (debatable), they could effectively kill the current bill in committee or third reading, and then re-introduce new legislation.

Of course, there might be an election before then, but I can't see the decrim position hurting the Liberals or NDP dramatically - it gives rural MPs a leg to stand on, while at the same time attacking urban and Quebec Tories for wanting to kill the registry.

So, stay tuned. The registry is far from dead.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Ahhh...the gun registry debate. A chance for civilized debate free of hyperbole.

Ha ha. Just kidding of course.

Nothing gets people fired up - on both sides of the divide - quite like it. In a light hearted article last week about how U of O convocation ceremonies are dealing with H1N1, the first dozen comments (since purged) were angry rants about how Allan Rock, now the University's President, had destroyed Canada by bringing in the gun registry. And from there, the conversation degenerated to the standard debate about just who exactly is killing Canadians, the colour of the necks of farmers, and why Torontonians hate freedom. On one side of this epic debate, those who believe the government wants to take their guns away, on the other, people who think it's smart to get gun owners really angry at them.

So you can image that tensions on both sides are high in anticipation of today's vote to scrap the registry which will, from all indications, be a close one:

According to my own informal survey of rural opposition MPs, it looks like Candice Hoeppner's bill to abolish the long gun registry is well on its way to becoming law.

The vote on second reading is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 4.

And because C-391 is a private member's bill, it'll be a free vote. That means MPs are freed from the usual requirement of voting along party lines.

Despite holding almost all of northern and rural Quebec, a spokesman for the Bloc Quebecois says every one of its MPs will vote against Hoeppner's bill.

But a number of Liberal and NDP MPs from rural ridings say they're in favour of ending the registration of all shotguns and hunting rifles, as well as destroying the records of roughly seven million people who had previously registered their non-restricted weapons.

Among those supporting Hoeppner's bill are New Democrats Nathan Cullen, Dennis Bevington, Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, and Carol Hughes, and Liberals Larry Bagnell, Wayne Easter and Anthony Rota.

Personally, I never really got the intensity of opposition to the registry. Let's put it this way - if you live in the conservative heart land of Calgary, it takes more time and money to register your cat than it does to register your gun. Of course, in fairness, the number of homicides involving cats in Calgary has dropped significantly since that registry was introduced.

On the other side of the aisle, I have a hard time swallowing studies that say the registry is responsible for dramatically decreasing rates of gun violence. And yes, the program was set up poorly and, looking back, the money could probably have been better spent elsewhere.

But that's a sunk cost. Moving forward, the registry costs about 60-80 million a year to run, and that amount would drop if the government actually collected the registration fees they're supposed to. So the real question is: it worth the money?

Now that is a fair debate worth having, and you could make the case either way. I think, on balance, it is, but I wouldn't hold it against anyone arguing the opposite.

The way I see it, most police chiefs and officers support the registry, and that alone counts for something (yes, yes, there go those law-in-order liberals worrying about what police officers want again...). John Geddes at MacLean's had a good piece this spring about just how exactly they use it.

And while it may be hard to quantify, there are other benefits to registering weapons - that's why no one is seriously advocating for the abolishment of the hand gun registry. Having a registry makes it easier to de-register ownership after someone commits a crime, to return stolen guns to their rightful owners, to track weapons, and to add a bit more accountability to the system. I don't want to overstate these benefits, because it's easy to give the registry credit for what gun licensing accomplishes, but more information certainly helps.

If I could trade the registry for stricter ownership and licensing rules, and a concerted crack-down on illegal weapons, I would. But since no politician is proposing anything of the sort (and I'm not really sure why no one is, since that seems like clever positioning to me), I tend to think the registry is, on balance, worth keeping around.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Proposals Certain to go Nowhere Fast: An Ongoing Series

Michael Byers has an interesting proposal in today’s Toronto Star, getting a bit of attention. Here are the key points:

There is only one surefire way to prevent a Harper majority [ED NOTE: …other than, you know, the opposition parties getting their act together]. The Liberals and NDP should agree to not run candidates against each other in the next campaign.

In each riding, the party whose candidate fared worst in the last election would pull its current candidate out, or refrain from nominating one.

Importantly, what is proposed is not a coalition, but a one-time ceasefire between two opposition parties whose combined vote share last time was significantly higher (44.4 per cent versus 37.6 per cent) than the Conservatives.

The only post-election condition in the agreement should be an unqualified public commitment to holding a national referendum on proportional representation within the first year.

The ceasefire agreement, once struck, could be expanded to include the Green party, which has always sought proportional representation and would benefit substantially from it.

An arrangement could be made to rectify this lack of representation by giving all five second-place Greens a clear run in the next election, with May having that opportunity in her new riding – in return for the Green party withdrawing its candidates from every other race.

Let’s start with the junior partner in this not-a-coalition. According to Byers' plan, the Greens would raise the white flag in all but their 5 second place ridings (3 of which are in Alberta, so good luck!). This isn’t an awful deal for the Liberals and Dippers – in the last election, if you make the somewhat far-fetched assumption that all Green votes would have transferred to the second place candidate, that would take 20 seats away from the Tories.

The problem is, that would drop the Greens down below 2% of the national vote, erasing the 2 million dollars a year they now get in funding from voter subsidies. You think Green Party members would be down with that? Remember, these are the same people who wouldn’t vote Liberal when Dion put forward the boldest environmental program ever seen in Canada. These are the same people who think the NDP has “sold out”. Good luck telling them to get into bed with these two parties, close their eyes, and think of proportional representation.

So the Greens are out.

Now, why does this deal suck for the Liberals-NDP notalition?

1. Even if you assume a perfect transfer of the Liberal and NDP vote, the two parties would have been below the 155 seats needed to pass a PR referendum last election. And good luck convincing the Bloc to vote for a system that would halve their seats.

2. You’d never have a 1-for-1 vote transfer. It just doesn’t work that way. So both parties, by virtue of running in fewer ridings, would lose a lot of cash on per-vote subsidy funding.

3. There would be huge internal dissention in the ranks when 97 Liberal ridings and 211 NDP ridings are told they couldn’t run candidates. Good luck getting the members (and already nominated candidates) in those ridings to volunteer for the party, donate money, and renew their memberships. I haven’t noticed too many Olivia Chow posters at Trinity-Spadina meetings…I suspect some of the members there might be a tad annoyed at this deal.

And while I know the media shies away from printing stories about internal party feuds, even they may pen one or two columns on the topic.

4. Even if this deal wouldn’t be for a formal coalition, I tend to think most voters (and Tory ad writers) wouldn’t make this fine distinction.

Beyond all that, if the Liberals are going to be a national party and a government-in-waiting, they need to act like it and this would send all the wrong messages. For the NDP, only running in 100 ridings would seriously undermine their credibility. Maybe there would be some value in doing this in a half-dozen 3-way split ridings, but on a national scale it would be a complete disaster that, in the long run, would only serve to weaken the left-wing parties, strengthening the Tories par consequence.

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