Friday, January 29, 2010


More Tory hacks in the Senate, giving them a majority.

This should end the whining about the "Liberal Senate" which in recent years has been responsible for everything from stopping crime legislation and setting pedophiles free on the streets, to the Maple Leafs' on-ice woes.

Now let's see how serious Harper is about Senate reform and the host of other issues he's blamed the Liberal Senate for holding up.

January Poll Soup

I neglected my monthly polling updates a bit during the end of 2009 - and can you blame me, given how bleak they looked? But, poll soup has returned, with the January 2010 numbers.

I could offer up some analysis but these numbers speak for themselves - it's fairly evident what effect prorogation has had on Harper's polling numbers.

Ekos (Jan 20-26, n = 2,823 auto dialed)
CPC 31.1%
Lib 31.6%
NDP 14.6%
BQ 9.1%
Green 11.0%

Angus Reid (Jan 25-26, n = 1,005 online)
CPC 33%
Lib 29%
NDP 19%
BQ 10%
Green 7%

Decima (Jan 21-24, n = 1,000 phone)
CPC 32%
Lib 31%
NDP 15%
BQ 10%
Green 10%

Ipsos Reid (Jan 19-21, n = 1,000 phone)
CPC 34%
Lib 31%
NDP 17%
BQ 9%
Green 8%

Strategic Counsel (Jan 5-8, n = 2,168 online/phone)
CPC 31%
Lib 30%
NDP 18%
BQ 9%
Green 10%


CPC 32.2%
Lib 30.5%
NDP 16.7%
BQ 9.4%
Green 9.2%


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Diverging Views on Democracy

Two quotes, from two Tories, both posted on Macleans:

“We have a government that is focused on the economy, focused on safer streets and focused on research and development,” Clement said. “If you don’t agree with that, which is your right, then you can vote us out of office. That’s democracy.”

For [Conservative MP Rob Cannan], prorogation is an opportunity for the Conservative government to concentrate on the economy by implementing the next phase of its economic stimulus program and prepare a new budget.

If parliament was in session then the opposition parties could vote non-confidence and force an election before those tasks are complete. “That’s what we don’t want,” said Cannan.

This Week in Alberta - Blue Grits

Very interesting, both because of the message and the messenger:

Signalling a major shift in the party's energy policy, the Alberta Liberals unveiled Monday several proposals for revamping the sluggish oil and gas sector, including lowering royalties in some cases.

Calgary Grit MLA Dave Taylor, the party's energy critic, said the province's main industry is hurting, especially companies involved in natural gas.

While weak commodity prices have converged with a significant expansion of shale gas production in the United States, the Stelmach government's constant royalty changes have added to an uncertain climate for producers and investors, Taylor contended.

"The oil and gas industry is the backbone of our economy," Taylor said in Calgary, as he released the party's new oil and gas policy.

Personally, I favour high royalties. I think the government should squeeze as much out of the oil companies as they can - after all, it's not like the oil is going anywhere if drilling slows.

But this is a great strategic move from the ALP. The biggest stigma the party faces is that it's "un-Albertan". And the perception that they're battling with the oil companies doesn't help - even last election, Stelmach revived the ghost of the NEP.

Beyond the message itself, I like that they're doing this early - with the Wildrose Alliance surging, Alberta politics has entered an unusually turbulent two year pre-writ period. Now's the time to position yourself, not during the election.

The use of Taylor to deliver this message is also an interesting, and welcome, decision. Yes, you want to put your leader front-and-centre, but there's nothing wrong with using designated hitters for certain issues/constituencies - consider Taylor the Liberals' response to Ted Morton.


-Another defection from the PCs to the Wildrosers

-Someone by the name of Flanagan writes about Alberta's political culture. I don't know who he is, I've never seen him in Alberta, but the article does make for an interesting read.

-Rick Mercer rides a roller coaster with Danielle Smith

-Daveberta on Smith's free ride with the media

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A brief history of why no one cares about prorogation

"Anyone can get 20,000 in a Facebook group - call me when they pass the 127,000 in the anti-coalition groups." (now 214,000)

"Oh, that's just Facebook. It won't impact the polls." (Liberals and Conservatives in virtual tie)

"But no one really cares. No one will actually show up at the protests." (most estimates have comparable crowd sizes to last year's coalition rallies)

So now...

It's all the media's fault!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Stephen Harper: He Prorogues

I was at the Victory Fund fundraiser last night in Toronto. I thought Ignatieff was better than he's been at past events and he tantalizingly teased us that there would be concrete policy coming from the Liberals shortly.

However, the highlight of the night was the Piano Man, Bob Rae, who regaled everyone with "you are my sunshine", "Auld Lang Syne", and his own version of "Let It Be". Here's the video, courtesy of Jeff:

Anonymous Liberal senior strategist strategizers I talked to after the performance generally placed Rae's talent on par with Harper's, although one party insider felt Harper had a better singing voice. Still, most were willing to give Bob the edge on creativity, while conceding Harper chutzpah points for the venue choice.

So let's put it to a vote. After watching both videos, who deserves the title of Political Piano Man?

Who is the Piano Man?
Bob Rae
Stephen Harper free polls

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Grassroots Fury

Another day, another poll confirming the beating the Tories are taking over prorogation. Perhaps an even better political barometer would be Rick Mercer:

So, the real question is - how did this happen? Why are Canadians actually giving a damn? It's not like voters were really up in arms over the Afghan detainee issue, and no one has talked about prorogation in that context. Have voters suddenly taken an interest in procedural politics? Doubtful, given all they do is bitch and moan about how juvenile the House of Commons is - surely they aren't missing that.

Is it an arrogance or abuse of power issue? I doubt it - this isn't worse than any of the dozen or so other dictactorial moves Harper has made during his 4 years as Prime Minister. And anyone who subscribes to Will Ferguson's "Bastards and Boneheads" theory will know that arrogance is more often a voter "turn on" than a voter "turn off".

No, if you scan the Facebook posts and listen to people outside of the political bubble, what they seem to be latching onto is the "vacation" element. This is being interpreted as Harper taking an extended vacation from work to watch the Olympics. And that's something voters can understand.

It's like when MPs vote themselves pay raises or expense thousand dollar meals. People will accept it when their elected MPs are juvenile, when they're petty, when they're assholes. But they hate it when their elected representatives come across as lazy or selfish. Maybe it's because, deep down, voters know that underneath all the bickering, these guys and girls are actually working hard. So when they stop working, that's when you get problems.

And there lies Harper's mistake. He assumed voters couldn't get upset about something they didn't understand. After all, to him this was just another procedural manoeuvre - it probably never crossed his mind that Canadians would see this as an extended vacation. Taken in that context, the Liberals hokey "show up to work" stunt will probably go over well, if executed properly.

At this point, the only question is whether or not this will stick to Harper, or if all will be forgoten come March.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Another Day, another shuffle

It's been a busy week for Cabinet shuffles - first Alberta, then Ontario, now the feds. Assuming this was more than a "hey! look over here!" ploy to shift attention away from prorogation, what should we make of Harper's moves?

Well, even though 10 ministers change jobs, it doesn't feel like a big shuffle. The only new face is future "stump-the-At-Issue-Pannel-picture" Rob Moore. Sure, there are a few promotions and demotions - Lisa Raitt gets bumped down to Labour, where she will presumably do less damage, while Rona Ambrose gets promoted to Public Works after a few years me - no one's seen or heard from her since 2006. So I guess she's served her time in purgatory.

Oh, and Diane Ablonczy moves from an enjoyable tourism portfolio over to Seniors Affairs. Let that be a cautionary warning for any other Harper Cabmins thinking about showing any sort of support for the gay community.

But, on the whole, the Cabinet doesn't look a lot different. Stelmach and McGuinty went for face lifts - Harper seems content with a new haircut.

Looking at some of that fine tuning, the two moves getting the most ink are Christian Paradis to Natural Resources and Stockwell Day to Treasury Board. On Paradis, the thinking is that Quebecers will feel better about a Quebecer selling them on oilsands expansion, than an Albertan. Or, at the very least, Paradis will be able to spar with Gilles Duceppe on that issue.

I'm not sure Stockwell Day's move to Treasury Board in itself means the Tories are preparing for a round of cuts, but the Conservatives are spinning it that way, and that likely means Flaherty will be more restrained in his next budget. As an aside, I did enjoy hearing Stock refer to the stimulus program as the "Action Canada Plan" - clearly there hasn't been enough government advertising to get the message out!

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More Shuffling

Analysis to come later, but for now:

-Van Loan moves to International Trade,
-Toews takes over the Public Safety portfolio
-Day becomes president of the Treasury Board
-Lisa Raitt moves over to the Labour portfolio
-Rona Ambrose takes charge of the Public Works portfolio
-Christian Paradis takes the lead on the Natural Resources file
-Diane Ablonczy becomes the Minister of State for Seniors
-New Brunswick MP Rob Moore becomes the Minister of State Small Business and Tourism
-Jean-Pierre Blackburn takes over for Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson
-New Brunswick MP Keith Ashfield becomes the new Minister of National Revenue

Monday, January 18, 2010

'Tis the Season to Shuffle

You know, it occurs to me I have more to say about a PC Cabinet shuffle in a province I don't live in, than on McGuinty's shuffle today. Perhaps I'll make following Ontario politics closer my New Years resolution for 2010.

So I'll be sure to update this post with links to some solid post-shuffle analysis from people who know what they're talking about.

As for my take, a large scale shuffle was definitely needed. Let's be honest, McGuinty has lost some big guns, and his 2009 was about as good as Tiger Woods'. This move lets Dalton recalibrate and refocus. Moreover, there's been some talk of a new throne speech when Queen's Park resumes sitting, although with proroguing on the "not hot" list for 2010, that may not be in the cards.

Beyond that, I won't comment much on the individual moves. Brad Duguid is the big winner, taking over Energy (making him the point man on the Green Energy Act's implementation) - everyone I know in the know speaks highly of him and the work he did in Aboriginal Affairs. Eric Hoskins is an excellent choice for Citizenship and Immigration. There's also been some speculation that one of the combo ministries could be split to let Glen Murray in after the by election, which would be a welcome addition.

But while Alberta's shuffle was designed to signal a new (rightward) shift, I don't really get the sense this one was designed to send a big message to the electorate. Rather, this was about McGuinty putting in place the team he wants selling his government in the lead-up to the 2011 provincial election.


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Friday, January 15, 2010

Moment of the Decade: #1 The Merger

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the first two weeks of January, I've been counting down the top 10 vote getters. Today, the political moment of the decade:

The right wing merger didn’t get a lot of Canadians excited. There weren’t protests in the streets. Canadians outside the Ottawa bubble may not have even been aware it was going on. If they did, few immediately recognized it as the game changer that it was – after all, right wing parties in Canada changed their name and their leaders every few years. And it seemed unlikely they would even change their leader this time.

So former future Prime Minister Bernard Lord and a slew of other high profile candidates yawned and took a pass, letting Stephen Harper walk over Belinda “Bake a Bigger Economic Pie” Stronach and Tony “Never Get Tired of Losing” Clement. Most assumed Stephen Harper could never become Prime Minister – hell, he was the Canadian Alliance leader. And he was from Calgary. We all knew Ontarians would never vote for him. The thought of Quebecers doing that was laughable.

Because, after all, the Alberta firewall guy was up against the Paul Martin juggernaut. One of Martin’s top Alberta organizers was going around the 2003 leadership convention telling everyone that, merger or no merger, the Liberals were going to win 9 seats in Alberta next election. I still have my Paulberta t-shirt, as an ironic keepsake. Everyone just knew Paul Martin was going to win 200 seats. It turns out he barely did…it just took him 2 elections to do it.

So it’s fair to say the merger didn’t really grip the nation the same way the coalition or the Stronach floor crossing did. Sure, we enjoyed watching David Orchard and Joe Clark huff and puff. Scott Brison joining the Liberals was kind of interesting, but all it did was reinforce the feeling that a Martin landslide was inevitable. Let’s face it, this wasn’t political theater of the highest caliber.

But in retrospect, it proved to be one of the most important events of the decade. Because, to pick a moment of the decade, you really need to think about what the decade was all about.

The story of the 90s was the Liberals balancing the financial and national unity books. The story of the 80s was Brian Mulroney's rise to power and what he did there. For the 00s, the overarching political narrative was the fall of the Liberals and the rise of Stephen Harper. The event that made it all possible was the merger.

And that, is why I suspect it was voted the political moment of the decade.

You can see the full results here. Thanks to everyone who voted - I had a lot of fun with this one, and I must say the final list is very close to the top 10 list I'd have produced if I did this myself.

#10: Paul Martin is Quit-Fired
#9: Dions Wins LPC Leadership
#8: The Clarity Act
#7: The 2006 Federal Election
#6: Confidence Vote Mayhem
#5: Adscam
#4: Same Sex Marriage Legalized
#3: No to Iraq
#2: The Coalition Crisis
#1: The Merger

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Harper Quickly Losing The Elitist Vote

Three polls out yesterday and today, all showing some erosion in Conservative support:

Angus Reid (Jan 12-13, n = 1077 online)

CPC 34%
Lib 28%
NDP 19%
BQ 9%
Green 8%

Strategic Counsel (Jan 5-8, n = 2168 online & phone)

CPC 31%
Lib 30%
NDP 18%
BQ 9%
Green 10%

Ekos (Jan 6-12, n = 3730 demon dialed)

CPC 30.9%
Lib 29.3%
NDP 15.3%
BQ 10.2%
Green 11.9%
Other 2.3%

You know, I honestly didn't expect there to be much backlash to this prorogation thing. And maybe it's just temporary. But, for the moment at least, it certainly seems to be having an impact.

Now, it bears noting that the Liberals still can't crack 30%, so it's probably a little premature to start measuring the curtains at 24 Sussex. Ignatieff still needs to give voters a reason to vote for him, and I don't think "I'll prorogue less" is going to form the backbone of a winning campaign platform.

If you want to look beyond the horse race numbers, Angus Reid has a more thorough poll out that looks at prorogation, the effectiveness of the latest Liberal ads, and impressions of the leaders. (Which is a lot of fun - did you know that 3% of Canadians find Harper and Ignatieff exciting? I would love to meet these 3% of Canadians and take them on a roller coaster or something - it would probably do them a bit of good.)

On prorogation, around half of voters are at least paying some attention (up from last week), with the number paying close attention doubling from 11% to 20%. For procedural politics, that's a pretty high number.

44% strongly disagree with Harper's decision to prorogue, with the most common belief being that Harper did it out of self-interest. If he did, it's safe to say it hasn't exactly turned out that way, now has it?

UPDATE: Decima confirms the trend: 34-30.


Moment of the Decade: #2 The Coalition

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the first two weeks of January, I'm counting down the top 10 vote getters. Tomorrow, I reveal the complete voting results and the number one moment of the decade.

If nothing else, it made Canadians pay attention to politics.

Over the past year, people had complained about how dull our politics were – the Americans had just gone through a thrilling election whereas you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could tell you anything memorable about our election that had happened around the same time. There’d been something about sweater vests and puffins, but nothing had really happened, and nothing had really changed.

Then, for a fortnight in December, everyone paid attention. And I mean everyone. That Christmas, friends and family who couldn’t name their local MP didn’t want to talk to me about anything except the coalition. And they all had an opinion. Someone had committed an affront to democracy – just who had committed what affront depended on who you asked. Those dastardly Liberals were going to use the separatists to steal an election! That bully Stephen Harper was using an economic crisis to play petty politics!

In one of my favourite political memories, I bundled up on a cold Toronto Saturday and visited a pair of competing rallies, both accusing opposites side of subverting democracy. At one rally, the coalition was described as “the saddest moment in the history of Canada” and a “coup”. At the other, Jack Layton talked about how Stephen Harper had “taken away your right to vote”.

Looking back, it’s actually easy to see how it all happened. The Liberals were weak and Harper went for the jugular. The opposition fought back with the only weapon they had. So Harper backed down. But this was the only chance Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton would ever have at power so they kept punching. So Harper used the only weapon he had and prorogued. Then Michael Ignatieff saw an opportunity to skip the unpleasantness of a leadership race and he took it.

It was wild, it was exciting, but even with emotions higher than they’d ever been, it really wasn’t anything more than a bunch of politicians behaving completely rationally, like basic game theory would expect them to. One by one, they saw an opportunity for power and they took it. Even though we faulted them at the time, can you really blame politicians for doing what politicians do?

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Alberta Cabinet Shuffle: Ted Morton is the Man

For a more organized version of these thoughts geared to those outside of Alberta, check out my online column at the Post.

I'll have more analysis later tonight, but the biggest headline grabber in Ed Stelmach's cabinet shuffle is the move of Ted Morton to Finance.

You probably don't need me to point this one out, since every pundit will, but this seems like an obvious move to shore up on Ed's right flank, with the Wild Rose breathing down his neck.

UPDATE: One commenter remarks that Morton's influence may be dampened, since Treasury Board (still Snelgrove) makes a lot of the big decisions. True, but this is all about optics, not reality. And the optics of this are that Morton is the man. That's important when it comes to cutting off the Wild Rose on the right.

And I tend to think it's also important when it comes to Stelmach holding on to his leadership. Morton is the heir apparent right now, and puting him in Finance staples him to Stelmach. Sure, disgruntled PCs will complain about Stelmach's financial mismanagement, but how do you replace him with a guy who's going to bring in a monstrous deficit this year?

As for the other moves, there aren't a ton of surprises. Liepert was hurting in Health, so he had to go. A pair of Stelmach loyalists - George Groeneveld and Fred Lindsay - get punted. I presume the thinking is that anyone else kicked out of Cabinet would just keep on walking over to Danielle Smith's welcoming arms.

Three youngsters join Cabinet, to try and stave off accusations that it's an old and tired government - Jonathan Denis from Calgary, Thomas Lukaszuk from Edmonton, and Frank Oberle from Peace River. Lukaszuk, the oldest of the bunch, was 2 when the PCs first came to power in Alberta in 1971. Denis is a good addition - he's young, he's talented, and he's far more capable of holding down a Cabinet spot than a lowly bus driver - he'll do well in housing.

So there weren't a ton of surprises - Stelmach did what he had to do and, by and large, I tend to think these moves will help him in 2010. Whether it's enough to stop the bleeding remains to be seen.

Political Moment of the Decade: #3 No to Iraq

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the first two weeks of January, I'm counting down the top 10 vote getters.

The biggest ovation Jean Chrétien got during his farewell speech at the 2003 Liberal Coronation Convention was when he talked about his decision to keep Canadian troops out of Iraq. If you read Chrétien or Eddie Goldenberg’s memoirs, you can tell they both saw it as a huge part of Chrétien’s legacy. And rightfully so.

While it seems like a slam-dunk in retrospect, it wasn’t at the time. The Americans were going, the British were backing them, and everyone was still in that post 9/11 mind frame. Public opinion was decidedly split, the Chrétien Cabinet was decidedly split, and the Premiers were decidedly split. There were rallies in the streets both for and against the war. And even though the man will deny it to his grave, Stephen Harper was urging Canada to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans.

So, yeah, it was a big moment for Canada. And, when you look at it in the context of the decade that was, it becomes a defining moment. You had Jean Chrétien making a difficult decision during his farewell tour. You had Stephen Harper opposing him, in a move that would be thrown back in his face in three subsequent election campaigns. You had Paul Martin dancing the hokey pokey.

It was a decision about the largest international conflict of the decade, and the politics behind it were closely tied up in the moment of the decade - 9/11. It marked a turning point in Canada-US relations, which would continue to sour throughout the Bush years, to the point where the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc often seemed to be waging election campaigns against George Bush, rather than Stephen Harper.

If you've been following along, you've figured out by now that the top two moments in this end-of-decade poll are all about process and politics, rather than policy. But process and politics are a means to an end, and the Iraq war decision showed that who we vote for actually matters. It's certainly worthy of finishing in the top 3 moments of the decade.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The World According To Pierre

It's not nearly as fun pointing these things out when the guy giving the quotes is aware that he's full of shit but, via a Macleans commenter:

"These are his words and it's perfectly fair to quote his words and cite his deeds."
- Pierre Poilievre; in defense of May 2009 attacks ads against Michael Ignatieff.

"My message to Mr. Ignatieff; put aside the election ads and the smears, and work with us to build the next phase of the EAP."
- Pierre Poilievre; in response to January 2010 attacks ads against Stephen Harper


And the Senate appointments? Well, that's part of our job-creation strategy...

“As you know, as part of our economic action plan, one of the things we’ve of course done is to step up government advertising. One of the purposes of that has been to support media outlets during the recession that have been particularly hard-hit.”

Stephen Harper, A-Channel Ottawa, Jan. 11.

In the absence of anything else to talk about...

...Cabinet Shuffle Speculation!!!

In Ottawa!

In Alberta!

In Ontario!

Moment of the Decade: #4 Same Sex Marriage Legalized

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the first two weeks of January, I'm counting down the top 10 vote getters.

If you want an example of how quickly the public mood shifted on the issue of same sex marriage, look no further than the House of Commons. In 1999, the House voted 216 to 55 in favour of the “traditional” definition of marriage – that is, the traditional “one man and one woman” definition, not the more traditional “one man and one woman of the same race and religion” definition, or the biblical “one man and many women” definition.

Anyways, in 2003 the Canadian Alliance introduced the same motion and it was defeated 137-132. In 2005, the Same Sex Marriage Act passed 158 to 133. Now, no one even talks about revisiting the issue.

Personally, I never really understood the opposition to same sex marriage. It simply doesn’t make sense to deny a right that won’t cause a harm, so it was only a matter of time before it became law.

Because of that sense of inevitability, it’s tempting to downplay the significance of the event. After all, thousands of same sex couples had been married by the time Parliament passed the law because of provincial court rulings. And the Supreme Court had basically forced Parliament’s hand on the issue. Even as Liberals were arguing in favour of the law, their support seemed to stem more from the Supreme Court ruling rather than a belief that equal marriage was the right thing to do.

But I do feel the moment still belongs in the top 10. We’ve seen court rulings overturned by representatives and referenda in the United States, so it was important for Parliament to pass the law. And we shouldn’t forget that parliamentarians and the public were both divided on this issue, prompting a genuine national debate about same sex rights.

This decision showed us something about how Canadian values had evolved. Being the 4th country to do it, the decision told the world something about Canadian values. That’s why this policy really stands out and is a worthy finalist for the moment of the decade crown.

No history book is ever going to talk about a 2-point cut to the GST. This is something that will make the history books.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Stupid elitists, sipping their lattes and caring about democracy

From Tony Clement:

Industry Minister Tony Clement (said) Monday that ordinary Canadians don’t consider prorogation to be a big issue. ”I know it’s a big issue with the Ottawa media elite and some of the elites in our country."

For those keeping track, there are now over 155,000 elitists in the Canadians Against Prorogation Facebook group.


Moment of the Decade: #5 Adscam

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the first two weeks of January, I'm counting down the top 10 vote getters.

I’ve had Paul Martin’s autobiography on my desk for over a year. I've been meaning to write up a book review on it but for some reason I keep dithering.

I have, however, read his Adscam chapter, and here’s how he explains it:

I personally believe that a government whose ethics are doubted – rightly or wrongly – is a government paralyzed. You cannot summon the political will or public support for change unless people are prepared to give you their trust. That is why I decided to call a judicial inquiry that was led by Mr. Justice John Gomery.


Let’s be clear: it was the misdeeds revealed by the Auditor General and later by the Gomery inquiry that damaged the party. My condemnation of them was right in principle and also, as it happened, right politically. That catastrophic drop in the polls the day after the Auditor General’s report was released was quickly stemmed and then at least partly reversed as I showed the public that I shared their outrage.

As I see it, Martin hits the head on the nail in the first line I quoted. Governments become paralyzed when their ethics are doubted. The problem is, the Gomery inquiry only served to cast more doubts, as Martin himself admits when he says the Gomery inquiry revelations damaged the party.

So, contrary to what Martin claims, I’m not so sure calling the inquiry was the right thing to do politically and I think his narrative on what happened in terms of public opinion is way off. Here’s what some polls said at the time:

"This one is like a wildfire," [Ipsos-Reid president, Darrell Bricker] said. "It's out of control and everything the prime minister has done at this point has just blown the flames higher."

Despite a determined effort to restore Canadians' confidence in government, support for the ruling Liberal Party continues to slide. A new poll shows support for the Liberals has fallen another four points since Thursday.

The AG’s report was provocative and when you poll on a day when it’s on the front page of newspapers across the country, of course you're going to see movement in the polls. However, you’d normally expect that gut-reaction drop to recover and, given what we saw in the ’04 and ’06 elections, the reaction only got worse over time as support solidified against the Liberals.

But maybe Martin’s right and it would have been worse had an inquiry not been called. So the question is, was it the right thing to do? I’m not so sure.

Because, after the “explosive” embargoed testimony was made public, after Jean Chrétien’s show with the golf balls, after Quebecers saw the daily soap opera on TV, and after the opposition used Gomery’s report to bring down the government, I’m still not sure what the inquiry accomplished. I’m not being glib here – criminal acts were committed and people went to jail. But let’s be perfectly clear - no one went to jail because of the Gomery report and most of the good judge’s recommendations were either considered to be unenforceable or ignored - ignored by Stephen Harper, not the libranos.

All that said, we can debate whether or not the inquiry should have been called, but I think everyone can agree the AG’s report and the fallout from it certainly left their mark on the decade that was in Canadian politics.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cover Up

New Liberal radio ads out:

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On the bright side, Ignatieff was picked as "the leader you'd most like to attend an Isaiah Berlin leture with"

Angus Reid has a fun poll out, where they ask "the beer question", amongst others. In it, we learn that the mustached socialist is the "jock" of Canadian politics - he's the one voters would like to have a beer with, or have on their sports team. Harper wins most of the "prime ministerial" questions - negotiating with other countries and representing Canada. Ignatieff, well, he's the one voters would go to for a book recommendation, and they'd love to have him on their trivia team.

The question that really caught my eye was this one - "who would you prefer being Prime Minister in the event of another Quebec referendum?". And, wouldn't you know it? The firewall guy from Calgary wins hands down - 29% to 17% (for Ignatieff) to 10% (for Layton). It shows the kind of progress Harper has made in the eyes of voters over the past few years.


The other poll released this weekend (but fielded a month ago), shows McGuinty up 38% to 34% on Tim Hudak in Ontario. Nothing too surprising there - it's well in line with what the Ontario polls have been saying over the past 5 or 6 months.

UPDATE: Angus vote numbers are out, and it's 36-29...about the normal over the past few years...

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Moment of the Decade: #6 Confidence Vote Mayhem

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the first two two weeks of the new decade, I'm counting down the top 10 vote getters. Next week, the top 5 (in alphabetical order) - Adscam, Coalition, Iraq, Merger, and Same Sex Marriage.

It had everything you could possibly want in a political thrill ride. Scandal! Backroom deals! A long time government fighting for survival! Sex! Tape recordings! A dying man with the fate of the country in his hands! A tie confidence vote!

When I first asked for nominations to this contest, Globe blogger Andrew Steele wrote the following to me:

Belinda crossing the floor and that confidence vote perfectly summarizes the knifes-edge reality of minority government that has become the dominant storyline of aughts political coverage. Process over result. Personality over policy. The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff dancing on a speaker at the after party.

And the knife’s edge had never been narrower. As soon as a media blackout on Gomery Inquiry testimony was lifted, what had been tantalizingly described as “explosive” allegations were made public, and the opposition parties made it fairly clear they’d had enough.

Now, this was before people realized you could just prorogue the House if you were chickenshit scared of a confidence vote, so the Liberals postponed opposition days and Paul Martin went on TV and talked about his father. Paul cut a deal with Jack Layton who was in one of his “results for people” moods, thinking “Yeah, corruption is awful, and they wasted taxpayer dollars, but for a billion dollars, I’ll keep them alive. It’s what Ed Broadbent would want.”.

With a "too close to call" vote looming, Scott Brison stood up in the House every day saying “let Judge Gomery do his work” while the opposition heckled and screamed. The government lost a confidence vote, but it wasn’t really a confidence vote. Parliament was shut down. Either way, a vote was inevitable and everyone started doing the math and quickly realized that, holy crap, the fate of the government was in the hands of a few independents, among them Carolyn Parrish and David Kilgour. Ouch.

Then, in what may have been the single biggest jaw dropper of the decade, Belinda Stronach became a Liberal. Remember, this was before David Emerson and Wajid Khan (KHAAAAAAAAAN!) – it was a big deal. This was a woman who had helped bring about the Conservative Party merger just 18 months earlier. She was seen as a future Tory leader (by herself). And, oh yeah, she was dating Peter MacKay. Talk about a bad breakup.

So this changed the math, and it soon became fairly obvious that the fate of the government would come down to a maverick MP who was dying of cancer. The media pestered him. The Conservatives did some stuff which I won’t go into because, well, everyone who has gone into it has wound up getting sued.

So on May 19th, 2005, Chuck Cadman stood up, wearing jeans and chewing gum, and calmly forced a tie. Peter Miliken then, in a moment all young boys who hope to one day grow up and become speaker of the House of Commons dream of, got to cast a tie-breaking vote, to save the government.

It didn’t end there, because that set off the whole Gurmant Grewal fiasco which, if nothing else, allowed Tim Murphy to utter what is probably the quote of the decade, calling the Liberal Party “a warm and comfy mat with lots of fur on it”.

So, in he end, the Liberals survived. But, as Paul Wells’ book made clear, that survival likely gave the Conservatives the time they needed to ensure victory 8 months later.

So this moment left its mark. And when it comes to sheer popcorn politics, it was about as good as it gets.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Today in Prorogation

1. From Tory MP MP Brent Rathgeber, comes this darling quote:

“Democracy and Parliament are not being sidestepped — they are only being suspended.”

I look forward to the campaign signs around St. Albert next election: "Suspend Democracy - Elect Rathgeber!"

2. The Economist weighs in, with a critical editorial on Harper's decision to go prorogue.

3. Two polls are out today, with Ekos showing a narrowing of the Tory lead.

Angus Reid shows a majority of Canadians against the decision to prorogue - which is all swell and good, but it is likely worth mentioning that only a third of Canadians are paying attention to this story, and only one in ten are paying close attention to it. Ekos asks the question a bit differently, and finds that 52% of Canadians are clearly aware of Harper's prorogation vacation.

Still, the polls found that 18% and 14% (on Angus and Ekos, respectively) of Conservative voters strongly disagree with the decision, so Harper may in fact be up against a bit of backlash on this. Getting Liberals and Dippers mad is one thing, but when your own voters turn against you, that's a sign you may have miscalculated.

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Memory Lane

From a Liberal press release, some oldies and goodies:

The Liberals, apparently, want to prorogue the House. They want to run out of town, get out of town just one step ahead of the sheriff. Is the Liberal government committed to staying here as planned throughout the month of November so that it can be held accountable in the House for its actions?” (Stephen Harper, Hansard, October 20, 2003)

Now is it true that the government will prorogue the House so that it will not be held accountable for its shameful record?” (Stephen Harper, Hansard, October 20, 2003)

I'm pretty convinced now that they intend to prorogue and run away from accountability.” (Jay Hill, Alaska Highway News, November 17 2005)

It wouldn't surprise me one bit if they decided to prorogue Parliament... I'm sorry if I sound a little cynical... This is a government (for which) the rules of engagement don't apply. They'll move the goal post, change the boundaries and bribe the referee.” (Peter MacKay, Nanaimo Daily News, July 18, 2005)

It's like hitting tilt on a pinball machine... I think it's a bald-faced admission that the government doesn't really have an agenda and... that there's a few contentious bills that I think they just want to deep-six.” (Peter MacKay, Canadian Press, September 16, 2002)

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Moment of the Decade: #7 The 2006 Federal Election

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the next two weeks, I'll be counting down the top 10 vote getters.

For about two weeks, everyone who liked politics started talking in staccato: “There’s no mayonnaise. On my sandwich. No mayonnaise. In Canada. I’m not making this up. I’m not allowed to make this up.” I went to a model parliament the weekend after the election and there were 12 "soldiers in our streets" jokes during the first 5 minutes of our mock question period.

But, for all the flack surrounding it, I think the commercials that really made a difference were “Change” and “Entitlements”, shown below:

The first (which I can’t find a video for anywhere) was released at a time when things seemed to be going well for the Liberals. They were up by 5 or 6 points in most polls (and a dozen points in most Ekos polls). Yes, there had been the beer and popcorn gaffe. But Harper had released his entire platform and it hadn’t exactly lit the world on fire.

But the signs were all there. Sure, people said they’d vote Liberal, but Stephen Harper had caught up to Paul Martin on the best PM question, and voters paying attention to politics were flocking to the Tories. People were ready for change after 13 years, and the ad played on those feelings.

The second ad was released the first day after the Christmas holidays, right after the Income Trust investigation had been announced. It played on the corruption theme perfectly and, having already announced a relatively unscary platform, Harper was now free to go neg.

From there, the Liberal campaign went into free fall. No matter how perfectly clear Paul Martin made himself, the media decided Liberal policy wasn’t quite as exciting as the Liberal mole and sagging poll numbers. John Duffy and Mike Duffy went at it on air before the debate. (Imagine that! A Liberal strategist daring to question the journalistic integrity of Mike Duffy.) Later that night, Paul Martin launched his often-ridiculed notwithstanding clause hail mary. Not that it really mattered, since everyone was busy talking about the aforementioned soldiers ad.

So it looked for a while like Harper might get that majority, but the man has always been kind of like BJ Ryan when it comes to closing the game. So he complained about the liberal civil service, judiciary, and senate. This was back when the “Stephen Harper Bogah Bogah!” tactic still had some resonance, so he was denied the landslide many had expected.

Despite those late stumbles, it was still a beautifully run campaign by Harper, and the election I would use as a case study if I were ever teaching a first year Poli Sci class.

Sure, there were gaffes and the income trust wild card, but I don’t think those made a difference. Rather, the Tories understood the mood of the electorate and played on it. They controlled the agenda from day 1 – getting ugly issues out of the way early, then rolling out daily policy announcements early each morning to control the day's media cycle. This served as an early inoculation against the hidden agenda attack, allowing them to go for the jugular on the corruption issue after Christmas. They had popular policies and could tell voters how those policies would impact their lives.

They were well prepared but willing to adjust and call the occasional audible – when Martin challenged Duceppe to a national unity debate then backed down, Harper volunteered to fill in. When Harper moved from challenger to front runner for the second round of debates, he changed his tone accordingly.

It may not have been the most exciting, the most shocking, or the most important election in our nation’s history (I’m sure Paul Martin would disagree). But it was far more memorable than the 2000, 2004, or 2008 campaigns, which failed to crack the top 10 of this list. And it’s not hard to argue that the change from Liberal to Conservative government was the defining political moment of the decade.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Facebook Rebellion

There’s been a lot of back and forth over just how meaningful the ever-growing “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament” group really is. Membership was at 73,367 when I started writing this post...I imagine it will have grown by the time I'm done.

On the one side, the Toronto Star has adopted its usual understated approach, blasting a front page “grassroots fury” headline in response to a then 20,000 member Facebook group. Which, in fairness, looks kind of impressive when compared to the 473 fans of the Toronto Star on Facebook.

This headline prompted ridicule from Dan Cook (“0.06% of Canadians are Mad”), while Conservative bloggers such as Stephen Taylor have generally scoffed at the group, noting that 127,000 joined the anti-coalition Facebook group last December. (Of course, if this prorogation even generates even half the backlash that the coalition did, the Tories are probably in quite a bit of trouble.)

Charles Adler and Matt Gurney have also ridiculed the group, complaining that people were acting immature (on Facebook of all places!) posting Harper "nazi" pictures on the group...and we all know that sort of juvenile photo-shop would never happen in a real grassroots movement.

More to the point, Gurney has drawn attention to a rival group, to show just how easy it is to get 70,000 130 people in a Facebook group.

So just how impressive is the anti-prorogue group?

Well, Ignatieff, Harper, and Layton all have between 27,000 and 30,000 supporters on Facebook. And they’ve been building those numbers over some time, so there’s reason to believe this group isn’t just composed of people who join every political group they’re invited to (“Help elect Joe Nantuckett for the PEI Liberals? Sure!”).

While it’s difficult to get a comprehensive list, I ran a few quick keyword searches and the following appear to be the largest Canadian political groups out there:

Canadians against a Liberal/NDP coalition: 127,191
Canadians petition to cut gas prices to 79.9 cents: 111,709
Fair Copyright for Canada: 86,349
Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament: 75,752
Canadians against the new copyright bill C-61: 71,885
Legalize it, Canada: 70,923 (“it”, being pot)
Ordinary Canadians DO SUPPORT the Arts, Mr. Harper. You are dead wrong: 63,246

So the anti-prorogue group has been able to match some of the largest “lefty” issue groups out there, in a very short time. No, that doesn't mean it's an issue that will move votes -I'd imagine most of the members weren't exactly Harper-holics beforehand, and I have a hard time seeing anyone changing their vote over this.

But as it creeps towards the membership total of the anti-coalition group, it certainly shouldn't be ignored.

UPDATE: 83,000 in the group and, more importantly, the tories are down 3 points in the latest Ekos poll.


Moment of the Decade: #8 The Clarity Act

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the next two weeks, I'll be counting down the top 10 vote getters.

When I first announced this contest, one of the e-mails I got argued against the inclusion of the Clarity Act on the list. The argument was that the Clarity Act was the conclusion to the national unity crisis that dominated the 90s, and really had little to do with the aughts.

But I think it’s a worthy finalist.

The Clarity Act, along with Jean Charest’s 2003 victory (which would have been my only addition to the Top 10 had I just done this list up myself) took the national unity card off table for much of the decade. Ha ha. OK, it didn’t take the card out of play because, this is Canada, a country where Paul McCartny concerts and the roster of Team Canada become national unity debates. But it did help shift the nature of the debate away from separation – even in the hay day of Adscam, no one really saw separation as a real possibility.

I’d like to think it also showed a tough-love approach vis-à-vis Quebec could work, but the 2004 Health Care Accord, 2006 Tory election platform, and the Nation debate make me question this. Still, these changes didn’t come about because there was a knife at Ottawa’s throat and, in the long run, that's a healthier environment to be having the debate about federalism in.

Still, as far as how it affected the decade, the direct cause-and-effect relationship is a little, shall we say, unclear. So how about this for a more direct link: Stephane Dion’s 2006 leadership win and, par consequence, the coalition crisis, would not have happened if not for the Clarity Act. Because, if not for the Clarity Act, no one would have ever taken Stephane Dion seriously in the 2006 Liberal leadership race. Yeah, I know everyone thought it was cute that his dog was named Kyoto, and that might have still gotten him past Dryden, but sans clarity, he simply doesn’t win.

So maybe Stephen Harper still rides out the decade as Prime Minister and the only thing that changes is that the tag line in the attack ads goes from “Not a Leader” to “Bob Rae: Can we afford him again?”. But I do think the last half of this decade would have looked a lot different without Dion, who for better or worse, left his mark.

The Clarity Act, more so than the other two policies that cracked the top ten (Iraq and SSM), will probably go down as Jean Chretien’s greatest legacy. And, yes, by now, the Conservative commentators are already thinking of just how they will tell me to go shove it in the comments section because, as we all know, Stephen Harper was the real father of the Clarity Act. But, regardless of whose idea it was, it's hard to deny the Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation we've seen over the past 20 years.

Maybe the Clarity Act had little to do with the 00s – maybe it was the conclusion to the national unity crisis that defined Canada throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But if it actually was the conclusion of our long national unity nightmare, well, I’d say that certainly means it’s an event worthy of inclusion in the history books and worthy of inclusion in this list.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Political Moment of the Decade: #9 Dion Stuns the Favourites

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the next two weeks, I'll be counting down the top 10 vote getters.

It’s overall impact on the decade is debatable. In retrospect, it seems likely that Stephen Harper would have destroyed whomever crawled out of the octagon alive in Montreal. But for everyone involved, that leadership race was one of the most thrilling events of the decade.

You see, up until that point, the Liberal Party had held 7 leadership votes in its history. And, while Sheila did manage to scrounge up a few dozen votes in 2003 (yours truly included), in reality, it had been 16 years since a real leadership race.

And when the heavyweights started dropping…well…that changed everything. Suddenly you had candidates no one had ever heard of. These weren’t political machines that had been organized for years. It was every politico’s fantasy come true – pluck a candidate from obscurity and turn them into the next Prime Minister.

For me, I was intrigued early on by Gerard Kennedy. I liked that he had western roots. I liked his involvement with food banks. I liked what I’d heard about him. Not knowing much else, I found an e-mail address on the Internet and sent off an incredibly lame note along the lines of “so…you gonna run?”. Eventually myself and some friends from Alberta got in touch with his people and helped build up a pretty impressive team. Talking people onside, being with a candidate from the start…it’s exciting stuff, and I think a lot of Liberals had the same experience.

So, because of that, it was hard for Liberals not to get a little offended when someone suggested that maybe your guy didn’t have the greatest French or English, or maybe a candidate should have more than 6 weeks of political experience, or have been a Liberal Party member before declaring his intent to run. We all looked past this, because it was such an intriguing field. An NDP Premier, one of the smartest men alive, the Clarity Act guy, the founder of Canada’s first food bank, a Hall of Fame goalie…this wasn’t just the 3 highest profile Cabinet Ministers of the last decade slugging it out – this race had something for everyone. Hell, this being the 21st Century and all, there was even a woman!

And it was all kinds of fun. Every week there was a new deadline, a new Joe Volpe scandal, a new Michael Ignatieff gaffe, and a new rumour that Frank McKenna was on the verge of entering the race. You never really knew who was going to win. The media was in love with Iggy…then it was Bob Rae’s race to lose…then the At Issue Pannel had a love-in with Stephane Dion…then Kennedy looked good in membership numbers…then a poll showed Dryden to be the most electable.

By the time you got to Montreal, it was anybody’s guess. Ignatieff was the front runner, but expectations had been spun so high that I’m not sure it was even mathematically possible for him to get the votes on the first ballot he was expected to. Every candidate who had dropped out had endorsed Bob Rae, but then it was common knowledge that the Tories wanted Rae to win…unless that was a clever reverse psychology trick of theirs. Gerard Kennedy had Justin Trudeau and was against the Quebec Nation resolution but the guy only had a dozen Quebec delegates. Stephane Dion had run out of time during his Friday speech but, really, I’m sure the ability to deliver a speech on time would never prove important for the next Liberal leader, right?

So everyone had a theory. I was feeling fairly good at the start of the week when talk of a Dion-Kennedy suicide pact kept making the rounds. I was feeling really good when I was told in confidence that Ken Dryden was going to announce his support for Gerard during his speech Friday. I was feeling less good when the National reporting Dryden was set to endorse Ignatieff. I was on the floor and had no clue what the hell was going on when he eventually endorsed Rae. It was wild.

Back at home, the country tuned in. They saw the tightly scripted spontaneous demonstrations, the signs, the tambourines, the scarves.

It was exciting. An underdog won and everyone loves the underdog.

Until they realize the underdog talks funny and is a bit of dweeb.

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Monday, January 04, 2010






Two legislature members from Alberta's governing Progressive Conservatives are defecting to the Wildrose Alliance, a fledgling political party gathering momentum in the province.

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth and Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson announced the move Monday morning at a Wildrose Alliance news conference.

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Moments of the Decade: #10 Paul Martin is Quit-Fired

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the next two weeks, I'll be counting down the top 10 vote getters.

You wouldn’t expect a Cabinet Shuffle to make the top 10, but this was the culmination of a bitter feud that had defined the Liberal Party for a generation. Hell, even today, Liberals can’t agree on whether Paul Martin quit, or was fired.

So, in the interests of Liberal unity, it’s likely best to say: "Jean Chretien and Paul Martin ran against each other for leadership in 1990 and, yada yada yada, John Manley was named Finance Minister a dozen years later."

No one will ever really be able to agree on what happened during those yada yadas. Did the kids really think they were shouting “fondue”? What exactly happened at the Regal Constelation? Did Chretien do a third term out of spite? Would Martin have forced him out in a leadership review? Were the campaign finance rules a giant F U from Chretien to his successor?

None at that really matters because, through the beauty of politics, one of the biggest political feuds in Canada's history would simultaneously be the most successful PM-Finance Minister partnership this country has ever seen. Go figure.

That’s not to say it wasn’t ugly. The Liberal Party spent a dozen years eating itself alive, and the scars of this fight would be felt throughout the decade. It was the political version of the Jets and Sharks. In the words of Stephen Colbert – “we’re at war, pick a side”. I joined the Liberal Party my first year of University as a naïve kid who liked politics, and quickly had to decide which half of the party I would hate and which half I would go to war for. It was like that everywhere. In Alberta, you couldn’t get membership forms to sign up new Liberals if you didn’t support the right guy. Because, after all, the worst thing that could happen to the Liberal Party in Alberta would be getting more card carrying members.

And while it’s true this feud may have been more about the 90s than the 00s, the over-arching political story of the aughts was the fall of the Liberals and the rise of Stephen Harper. And Martin leaving Cabinet was the first domino in a series of events that would define the decade.

Later that year, the next domino – Chretien announcing his long goodbye – fell. That pushed over the CPC merger domino. And the Chretien-forced-out-early-leaving-Adscam-on-Martin’s-lap domino. Which hit the Mad-As-Hell domino, and the ’04 election domino and, well, you get the picture. The feud forced a lot of big names out of politics – Allan Rock, John Manley, Sheila Copps – changing the dynamics of the next two Liberal leadership races and the shape of the political decade that was.

On June 2nd, 2002, the first domino was pushed over. Or pulled itself down, depending on your perspective.

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

2009 in Pictures: And All The Rest...

For more 2009 pictures, check out:

The Dippers
The Liberals
Team Tory
Stephen Harper