Monday, February 28, 2011

And so it begins...

With a spring election highly possible (70% possible according to well placed and shockingly anonymous sources), the air war has started, with new NDP and Conservative ads released today.

The NDP ads start with "average Canadians" raising an issue - it's a cute trick, since it shows Jack responding directly to Canadians. There are BC and Ontario-specific HST ads, along with this one:

So if you're keeping track, Jack is now in his "making parliament work" mood. For those of you without your Parliament Hill decoder rings at home, "making parliament work", "putting partisan games aside", and "getting results" (for people?) can all be translated loosely as "rolling over". Of course, even if Jack wants a way out, he still needs Harper to offer him one or we'll be in an election campaign by month's end.

And judging from the CPC ad buy (which has included Superbowl and Oscar commercials), they're very much ready for that. The latest from our Conservative friends includes a surprisingly policy-related attack ad going after Ignatieff on corporate taxes.

There's also a positive spot where you can see Steve playing the piano, see Steve in a hard hat, and see Steve visiting world leaders. Oh, and there's a $16 billion dollar F-35 fly over:


Sunday, February 27, 2011

The only person who talks about coalitions more than Stephen Harper...

From Christy Clark's victory speech last night:

"Our party is a coalition, it is a great coalition, and I am proud of the support that I have received from all elements of that coalition."

Clark's talk of the BC Liberal "coalition" is a direct response to her largest challenge - keeping the right flank of the BC Liberals content. Right now, the BC Conservatives aren't in the game, but that doesn't mean they can be ignored. That's the external threat. The internal threat is a caucus that didn't really want Clark as its leader - sure, it's in their best interest to get behind her, but that never seems to help when you're dealing with elected officials, now does it?

From the vantage point of someone who pays only passing attention to BC politics, Clark strikes me as the party's best bet to win the next election. She's likable and, more importantly, is a fresh face at a time when the BC Libs desperately need a fresh face.

All eyes now turn to the NDP, who will pick a leader to go up against Clark on April 17th.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Making Sense of the NDP Gains in Quebec

In my mind, Chantal Hebert is the finest political columnist in Quebec. But I have a hard time understanding how she put deux et deux together in her column today. Here's the underlying thesis:

That hope is not totally unfounded. Over Jack Layton’s tenure, the NDP has gained a lot of strength in Quebec — mostly at the expense of the Liberals and mostly to the benefit of the Bloc.

Now, that certainly doesn't sound like crazy talk, and it fits in with what Hebert has been saying over the past year about the benefits of a Liberal-NDP merger or non-aggression pact.

Where the argument falls down, is in the supporting evidence. Let me call as my first witness, the finest political columnist in Quebec, Chantal Hebert, to rebut her own point. From earlier in the same article:

Since the New Democrats wrestled [Outremont] from the Liberals in 2007, it has fallen off the BQ radar. That was a fortunate development for NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair. In 2008, the erosion of the Bloc vote in his favour ensured his re-election.

Yes, despite Hebert's belief that the Liberals and NDP are splitting the federalist vote, it appears the NDP's lone victory in Quebec came with a little help from their separatist friends. This is consistent with the first two "second choice" polls I found on a google search - both show the NDP as the clear cut second choice of Bloc voters.

Now, that's not completely inconsistent with Hebert's argument. It's possible Bloc voters like the NDP but NDP voters don't like the Bloc (or, at least, prefer the Liberals). But I'm not so sure that's the case. Those same polls show that 20-25% of NDP voters in Quebec list the Bloc as their second choice. And just yesterday, Gilles Duceppe announced the poaching of a second former NDP candidate.

Moreover, a look at the 2008 Canadian Election Study shows the following previous election (2006) vote breakdown of NDP supporters in Quebec last election:

NDP 35%
Lib 23%
BQ 18%
CPC 13%
Green 5%

Yes, there's no denying some of the NDP's Quebec gains have come at the expense of the Liberals. It's certainly possible a strong NDP in Quebec hurts the Liberals. That's definitely true in Outremont.

But I just can't accept that this is as simple as the federalist vote being split. The NDP are fishing in Bloc waters, and I have to imagine that at least concerns Duceppe. And the fluidity between NDP and Bloc support in Quebec has to make you wonder if a Liberal-NDP pact would do either party any good there.

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This Week in Alberta - Bored Now

After the political earthquake we felt in early February, everything else feels like minor aftershocks. All we had this week was a throne speech and a budget. Yawn.

Tuesday was the throne speech, which typically outlines a government's priorities and vision. Mind you, outside of his bold promise to change Alberta's license plate motto, we haven't seen much vision from Stelmach during his 4 years as Premier. My expectations were so low for this throne speech, I'll confess I didn't bother watching or reading it. But by all means, if you're curious about Ed's vision for his final few months as Premier, mosey on over to Daveberta for the full scoop.

The budget Ted Morton refused to bring in was released yesterday and it's clear as day why Morton did all he could to distance himself from it. The budget calls for a $3.4 billion dollar deficit, and the projected "back in black" date has been pushed back a year, to 2013-2014. Of course, it's highly possible that may be nothing more than wishful thinking. I will give the PCs credit for mostly holding the line on spending, but that left the budget devoid of the big ticket eye candy you'd expect with an election on the horizon.

With the next election a year away, you'd expect a throne speech and budget to be highly charged political documents, placed under the microscope by the opposition, public, and media. Instead, with the PCs and Liberals kicking off leadership contests, it's hard for anyone to get too worked up over what would otherwise have been a crucial week.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bev Oda: (Not) Impacting Tory Fortunes

Well, there you have it. The Tories have been "odacized", with their lead halved to 5 points.

However, just like a doctored CIDA document can end up saying the opposite of its original intent, it appears odacized can have several meanings too.

Because, after all, no one know Oda from Yoda, and Harper has opened up a 15 point lead.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

So, to summarize 400 articles and columns:

We may, or may not, be going to the polls this spring.

Carry on.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For those in the GTA on March 5th...

Why not come out for breakfast with yours truly?

Friday, February 18, 2011

This Week in Alberta - Liberal Leadership

After a look at the PC leadership contenders last week, I turn to the Liberal field.

The last three Liberal leaders have all come from within caucus, so any conversation about the next leader should start there.

Despite initially musing about running for the Liberal or Alberta Party leadership, Laurie Blakeman is this contest's first declared candidate. Blakeman is a polished and seasoned politician; she is probably the most "job ready" of the candidates, which is an important consideration with the next election around the corner. Blakeman would solidify the party's base, especially in Edmonton, but does have a reputation for being a bit to the left, despite where she places the Liberal fruit in this video:

Former PEIslander and current mustache enthusiast Hugh MacDonald also appears likely to run. MacDonald would bring a lot to the table - he has 14 years of experience in the legislature, and spent 20 years in the petroleum industry prior to that. Although he sometimes gets carried away with his pet issues, MacDonald is likely the Liberal MLA most able to connect to average Albertans. Most importantly, he's got fire in his belly and is fiercely Liberal, at a time when the troops need rallying.

Down in Calgary, Kent Hehr is the other name often mentioned as a possible candidate. I profiled Kent during his aborted run for mayor last summer. As I said then, the man is incredibly likable - he also strikes me as the caucus member most able to expand the Liberals beyond their base and cut down the Alberta Party in its tracks.

All three bring something to the table, but none of them jump out at you as a premier-in-waiting. And remember, for various reasons all three passed on the job three years ago.

So the real question is whether any outsiders will toss their hat into the ring. While you hate to throw a rookie in with the election a year away, a lot of Liberals will certainly be looking to shake up a party in need of a shake up.

To date, there hasn't been a lot of chatter about potential "outsider" candidates. Rick Miller has reportedly said he won't run. Dave Bronconnier, quite obviously, won't. Likely Calgary Varsity candidate Bruce Payne sounds like a long shot. There are rumblings about Karyn Decore, but that's probably just because of her last name.

So, with no obvious outsider candidate, who should jump in? Here's my wish list:

1. Someone with passion and energy: The PCs have healthy riding associations across the province and a donation pipeline flowing steadily from big business. The Liberals do not. Because of this, the Liberal leader's job description includes organizational tasks that will have him or her cris-crossing the province every week. They need someone willing and able to put the time in.

2. Someone who connects with Albertans: They don't need to write a cheesy theme song or look good in a cowboy hat. But the Liberals need someone who's able to relate to the problems facing Albertans.

3. A good communicator: Ed Stelmach could succeed despite being one of the worst communicators in modern political history because he was backed by a powerful political machine. With the Alberta media still suffering from Danielle-mania, the Liberals will need to fight to get their message out next campaign - they'll need someone able to deliver a clear narrative and sound good doing it.

4. Someone with political smarts: Or at the very least, someone willing to take advice from people who know what they're talking about. With the next election a year out, there's not a lot of time to learn on the job and there's very little room for mistakes.

5. Someone who can manage the ALP caucus and bring the party together: It's no secret the ALP caucus is as dysfunctional as the Jersey Shore household. The last thing the party needs is another Dave Taylor situation. Throw in the defection of many long time volunteers to the Alberta Party, and the biggest challenge of the next leader may be motivating and uniting the party.

Does such a person exist? Beats me. Probably.

The more relevant question is if such a person is willing to take on the leadership of a party in turmoil, with an election just around the corner.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Not a Fan

Unless she can explain that discrepancy, which she has failed to do so far, the only logical conclusion is that she lied to MPs at her first appearance.

Once again, the Harper government appears most vulnerable to problems of its own making. As with last summer’s census gambit, Ms. Oda’s apparent indiscretion represents a self-inflicted political wound.

-National Post

At best, Oda has shaken confidence in the way the Harper government doles out taxpayers’ cash. At worst, she tried to mislead Parliament and the public. Either way, she should go.

Bev Oda, the International Cooperation Minister, committed a serious transgression when she willfully misled a House committee in December and, prior to that, appeared to oversee the falsifying of a document from a government agency. She should apologize unequivocally to the Foreign Affairs committee and explain the decision-making process involved.

Oda's removal is necessary, but it alone will not create the kind of coherent international aid-funding policies that Canadians demand, and that groups like KAIROS which are trying to improve lives around the world, deserve.
-Ottawa Citizen

While it is pro forma for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and field boss, House leader John Baird, to back cabinet ministers from time to time for forgetting a certain page in the playbook, it is quite another when respected rules of the game are so blatantly ignored.

There is no denying Bev Oda lied to the Canadian people.

There is no denying she misled Parliament.

-Toronto Sun

In describing how it came about, Oda appears to have misled MPs about what happened, first saying she did not know who altered the CIDA recommendation and later admitting she ordered the altering of the document. That makes her contemptuous of Parliament, and for that, she must resign or be removed.
-Calgary Herald

WHICH IS to say: it is the government’s defense of her, more even than the minister’s misconduct, that is now the issue. Ministers in any government will screw up from time to time. Some will even lie. That is fallible humanity. But when they are caught, when the jig is up, when there are no longer any lies to be told, it is to be expected — it has always been expected — that consequences should follow. At the least, one could expect the government to acknowledge that what she did was wrong — or at the very least, to acknowledge that she did it.
-Andrew Coyne

I think Coyne sums it up best. There's no grey area here - Oda doctored the document and lied about it. That should get you kicked out of cabinet under any circumstances and it says a lot about Harper that he's sticking by her.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Poll Smoking

The Canadian Press' Joan Bryden penned a fascinating article over the weekend on the latest poll numbers.

The latest poll numbers that show the Tories on cusp of a majority? Or the ones before that showed the Tories "losing momentum"?

No, Bryden took a look at how valuable the cavalcade of horse race polls we're subject to actually are:

Pollsters advise voters to be wary of polls ahead of possible spring vote

OTTAWA - Canada's notoriously competitive pollsters have some surprisingly uniform advice about the parade of confusing and conflicting numbers they're about to toss at voters ahead of a possible spring election: Take political horse race polls with a small boulder of salt.

"Pay attention if you want to but, frankly, they don't really mean anything," sums up Andre Turcotte, a pollster and communications professsor at Carleton University.

He has even more pointed advice for news organizations that breathlessly report minor fluctuations in polling numbers: "You should really consider what is the basis for your addiction and maybe enter a ten-step program."

I'll admit that I'm as addicted as anyone out there. My reaction to e-mail poll updates from Nik Nanos is pavlovian. I look forward to Thursday, not because of Must-See-TV, but because of the latest Ekos numbers. But, hey, at least I recognize this isn't healthy...well, I'm at least 95% confident it isn't.

One of the reasons it may not be healthy is the quality of the data, something Bryden touches on in her article, and Pundits Guide explores in a bit more depth in her follow up post. But I think the real problem insn't the polls - rather, it's how they're being reported. Consider the following two leads...on the exact same fictitious poll (which, let's say, has the Tories down 2 and Liberals up 1):

Conservatives Miss the Net on Arena Funding

An exclusive Calgary Grit poll shows the gap between the Conservatives and Liberals narrowing, as Stephen Harper tries to cope with the fallout from his decision to not fund the new Quebec City arena. Harper's Conservative are down 3 points in Quebec, with the NDP the largest beneficiaries. Still, the decision does appear to be a popular one in Harper's home province of Alberta, where the Conservatives have opened up a 40 point lead.

No Major Shifts in Public Opinion

An exclusive Calgary Grit poll shows the Canadian political landscape relatively unchanged over the past month, with only minor shifts within the margin of error. This is not expected to have any impact on the timing of the next election since, after all, political parties aren't going to base their decision on a single media poll.

The above illustrates the most common problem with the way polls are covered in the press - the need to make something out of nothing. Outside of elections or exceptional circumstances like the coalition crisis, people just don't pay a lot of attention to politics. After all, Canadians are generally more interested in Justin Bieber than Bev Oda - and who can blame them?

Because of this, the political landscape isn't going to shift over the course of a week. When I post my "Poll Soup" updates every month or two, there's rarely more than a 1% or 2% swing. Sure, the numbers move when important things happen (like Harper playing the piano, or taking a longer-than-usual Christmas vacation) but with 80 to 100 new polls out every year, you need 80 to 100 stories. And there just aren't 80 to 100 stories.

So what happens when there is no story in the overall numbers? People will often focus in on the age, gender, or regional splits. But hell, even huge sample Ekos polls have a 10% margin of error in the maritimes and 12% on the prairies. And if we're talking about 6 regions and seven or eight polls released every month, you're going to get a few regional shifts outside the MOE just by chance (that's what the "19 times out of 20" disclaimer is all about).

Which brings up the next problem - sensational polls get the most air. We see this especially during election campaigns, when you get one or two polls that shock everyone. The problem is, while we tend to focus on the most extreme, those are likely the least accurate.

Think about it. Say the Tories are up 35-30 and four new polls come out. Just because of the laws of sampling and differences in question wording, we're going to get some variety. So if the polls come back 35-31, 34-29, 35-30, and 38-28, which one do you think is going to get the most attention?

On top of that, with 80 to 100 polls a year, you're going to get 4 or 5 that fall outside of MOE because of that one time out of twenty. Yet those are the ones that will get people talking.

The end result of this is politics being looked at the same way a manic hockey fan follows his favourite team. They lose 3-2 in a shoot-out and he's on talk radio wanting the coach canned and the goalie traded. The next night they win 5-4 and he cancels his June vacation so as not to miss any playoff games. In both horse race polls and hockey, a trend over time does mean something - but, even then, it's all fairly meaningless until the playoffs (or the election) starts.

In the case of the hockey fan, it's all harmless. But when you get a situation where the poll numbers begin driving the narrative, that's a problem. It takes away from important stories and anything that happens is looked at through the lens of the horse race. The exact same speech or event will be interpreted in two completely different ways if it comes from a leader who's up 5 or down 5 in the latest poll.

This isn't an attempt to downplay the latest round of bad polling numbers - like I said above, if a trend emerges, it shouldn't be ignored. And we've had three polls out this week with the CPC in a double digit lead - that's something, even if it turns out to be a shortly lived and we're back to the usual 6 or 7 point gap in a few weeks.

I'm not advocating we ban or ignore polls. We're better off with well informed voters and polls provide information. Plus, hey, it's a lot of fun.

But it's likely worth taking a hard look at how polls are reported.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bev Oda Should Not Resign

This is not a shocking story:

OTTAWA — International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda admitted Monday that she is not responsible for modifying a memo that had originally recommended funding for an aid group.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

And in BC...

With the BC Libs up in the polls and the NDP self-imploding as only the NDP can, the BC Liberal leadership is, once again, a prize worth having. And it shows. From all reports, the party's membership has swollen to 90,000 members - that's twice the number of eligible members the Ontario PCs had when Tim Hudak was crowned in 2009.

Now in fairness, the 90,000 includes a cat or two, but that's not really out of the ordinary for a leadership race.

What is out of the ordinary for a leadership race, is today's convention to decide the rules. Yes, one week after the membership cut-off and two weeks before the vote, the party will be deciding whether or not to weight the votes by riding. One way or the other, today's decision will have a huge impact on the race. After all, look at this list of membership numbers by riding at the start of the contest:

Kelowna-Mission: 2506
Maple Ridge-Mission: 1693
Westside-Kelowna: 1609
Cariboo-North: 1430
Delta North: 1352


Vancouver-Mount Pleasant: 56
Esquimalt-Royal Roads: 53
Kootenay West: 44
Port Coquitlam: 43
Vancouver-Hastings: 43

Obviously enough, with 50,000 new members, those numbers will change. But it's not unreasonable to assume the effective vote of some members (or some ridings, depending how you think about it) could increase by a factor of 5 or 10 based on this Saturday's decision. For the record, I do think they should weight all regions equally and, luckily enough, it appears most of the campaigns agree.

All of this makes the contest very difficult to project, but here are the rumoured membership sales for each campaign:

Clark: 20,000-25,000
Falcon: 17,500ish
De Jong: 10,000 to 12,000
Abbott: 8,000ish, maybe less

Now, the media often gets these numbers wrong. Who knows how much support these candidates have among existing members? Who knows what ridings these members fall in? Who knows how many of the above will actually vote?

But it certainly looks like it won't be decided on the first ballot, and it certainly looks like it's between Clark and Falcon. After all, this isn't a delegated convention where you can build momentum between ballots or sway your supporters with an endorsement. In other words, there's no way Abbott or De Jong will be able to "deliver" their votes to another candidate - it really comes down to what the voters themselves think of the front runners.

BC politics being BC politics, I'd expect nothing less than this level of insanity.

UPDATE: Good news - the weighted system is adopted by an overwhelming vote.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bonus TWIA - Polls!

Two new polls to report in Alberta.

First up comes the latest from Janet Brown, who has earned a solid reputation for projecting Alberta elections:

PC 40%
WAP 33%
ALP 19%
NDP 8%
AP 0.1%

I feel badly for Brown on this one, since this poll was in field the week before Stelmach resigned. A 900 sample survey isn't cheap, and with the oil hitting the fan right afterwards, the poll loses a lot of its value. But, hey, at least we know the PCs were doing fine, even with Ed at the helm.

Luckily, Environics was in field both before and after all the craziness. Their conclusion? It didn't change a heck of a lot. They didn't notice an immediate shift in support one way or the other.

PC 38%
WAP 26%
ALP 22%
NDP 10%

Numbers like this have a tendency to get spun as "bad news" for all parties involved, so let me play the optimist for a change. The PCs are comfortably in front, likely in majority territory. The Alliance are a solid second despite most Albertans knowing little about them or their charismatic leader. The Liberals are down, but if they can get their standard 25-30%, they'll make major seat gains due to the right wing vote split. The NDP are holding their ground, and could make inroads against a weak Liberal Party.


This Week in Alberta: A Quick Glance at the PC Leadership Race

With Stelmach's announcement that he will stay on as Premier until this fall, there's plenty of time for his would-be-successors to put together campaign teams and sign up Albertans. Still, the field is starting to take shape - here's a quick overview of the likely candidates:

The PCs have two declared candidates - Ted "The Man" Morton and Doug "Doug" Horner. Alison Redford has yet to declare but, like most reasonably competent Cabinet Ministers with name recognition, she is expected to run. Gene Zwozdesky is thinking about it, if only to force everyone in Alberta to learn how to spell and pronounce his name.

Dough Griffiths may not be well known, but he's young and has more original ideas than the rest of the PC caucus put together. He'd be a welcome addition to the contest.

Jonathan Denis is also young and ambitious, but has said it's not his time yet.

Dave Hancock could represent the left...but there doesn't seem to be much point in running when he has no chance of victory.

Those are the likeliest suspects from within the PC caucus but what about a star outsider? Well, I wouldn't count on it.

Jim Dinning has simultaneously ruled out and mused about another run. Given it takes the man 40 minutes to order a donut, I wouldn't expect a decision any time soon, but most PCs I know aren't expecting another run from Jim.

Or, for that mater, from the other Jim - after all, Prentice has money to make in the private sector and his ambitions likely lie federally. Dave Bronconnier still smells too much like a Liberal. Preston Manning would have made a great Premier had he run in 2006...but he turns 70 next year. I'm hoping Craig Chandler runs, but only because Chandler is a bottomless source of blog material.

One outsider who sounds like he might be giving it a go is Gary Mar - Alberta's current Washington ambassador, and a former Health Minister.

I wouldn't expect any federal Tories to jump - the Cabinet Ministers have too much to lose, and the backbenchers lack the profile to mount a credible challenge. If anyone does run, James Rajotte seems like the most likely candidate.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Mad Max Maverick Watch

With the exception of Bernier rising to the defence of Tony Clement on the Census, it has been a very mavericky year for the former Cabinet superstar. Although I disagree with the bulk of what he has said, it's nice to see someone in Ottawa interested in debating issues that are worth debating.

Issue: Bill 101
Bernier Position (Feb 2011): "We don’t need Bill 101 to protect the French language."
Conservative Position: "Taisez-vous!"

Issue: National Securities Regulator
Bernier Position (Jan 2011): "I personally believe that securities regulation is a provincial responsibility."
Conservative Position: Jim Flaherty has spent the better part of the past three years arguing for a national securities regulator.

Issue: Cuting transfer payments to the provinces
Bernier Position (Oct 2010): "Instead of sending money to the provinces, Ottawa would cut its taxes and let them use the fiscal room that has been vacated."
Conservative Position: When it comes to government, the bigger the better.

Issue: Federal government intervention into provincial areas of jurisdiction.
Bernier Position (Oct 2010): "The federal government today intervenes massively in provincial jurisdictions, and in particular in health and education, two areas where it has no constitutional legitimacy whatsoever. This is not what the Fathers of Confederation had intended."
Conservative Position: John A. was a Conservative. I think we know what he intended.

Issue: Sports arena funding
Bernier Position (Sept 2010): "We cannot continue in this way to pass on to our children the bills for all the projects that we cannot afford to pay ourselves. We cannot continue to distribute ever larger amounts of money to please everyone and buy social peace, while refusing to face the consequences. We cannot ask governments to manage our money in a responsible manner while at the same time demanding that they devote some more money to an irresponsible venture that will benefit us."
Conservative Position: Go Nords Go!

Issue: Climate change
Bernier Position (Feb 2010): "We can now see that it’s possible to be a ‘skeptic,’ or in any case to keep an open mind, on just about all the main aspects of warming theory. It would certainly be irresponsible to spend billions of dollars and impose exaggeratedly severe regulations to solve a problem whose gravity we’re still far from discerning."
Conservative Position: As Bernier suggests, doing nothing...but placing a nicer spin on it.

Issue: Government Spending
Bernier Position (Jan 2010): “And I’m not saying zero growth adjusted for inflation and population or GDP increase. Just zero growth."
Conservative Position: Spending up around 40% during Harper's time in power.


Saturday, February 05, 2011

Flying into Stephen Harper international airport

Even though most of the champagne and reflection flowed on the 5th anniversary of his 2006 election night win, it was five years ago tomorrow that Stephen Harper was sworn in as Prime Minister.

But today might be the more interesting milestone. Assuming he doesn't quit to go form his own rock band by the end of the day, Harper will pass Lester B. Pearson to become the 11th longest serving Prime Minister in Canadian history. I'm not sure Harper's legacy will ever be as great as Pearson's - after all, you don't get airports named after you for cutting the GST 2 points. But, still, it's worth noting.

In another 78 days, Harper will pass fellow Calgarian RB Bennett for 10th place on the all-time list. If he lasts another year, he'll move ahead of Dief to become the fourth longest serving conservative Prime Minister and the longest serving westerner (well, Etobicoke-born westerner).

Celebrating longevity without accomplishment is a bit hollow, but it's still a lot more than we expected out of him. Remember 6, 7, 8 years ago? It was impossible to say "Prime Minister Stephen Harper" without laughing.

And now? He's lasted longer than Mike Pearson. Not bad.

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Alberta Politics, or, "What the @$#! is going on in Alberta?"

Like an oil reserve, Alberta politics tends to lie dormant for thousands of years, only to gush to the surface without warning. And when it does, it's usually messy.

Like the last two weeks.

For those of you lucky enough to not follow Alberta politics, it must have all seemed rather perplexing. A caucus coup against a Premier coming off a landslide victory last election. The Premier and Finance Minister both resigning in the span of 48 hours...Only to be followed by the leader of the opposition less than a week later. Hell, it was perplexing to even Alberta's most rabid political junkies.

So, for those of you in other parts of the country, I do my best here to summarize last week's political geyser with this helpful FAQ.

Last time I checked Ralph Klein was Premier. Who's this new guy?

Ed Stelmach won the PC leadership on the same day and in the same way Stephane Dion won the LPC leadership. Ted Morton and Jim Dinning had spent all of 2006 hitting each other over the head, so Ed Stelmach took his 15% of vote and came up the middle as the compromise candidate. PC members were so sick of the frontrunners that they didn't worry much about Ed's vision (or lack thereof) or his ability to communicate with other human beings (or lack thereof).

After that, the Calgary media ripped him apart for a year, Dave Bronconnier went all Danny Williams on his ass, and voters humbled Ed in a by election.

Not that it mattered. Alberta being Alberta, and Ed being a Conservative, he won a staggering 72 of 83 seats, 10 more than Ralph Klein left him. Maybe seeing that a guy like Ed could be Premier made voters feel better about themselves. Maybe he won on the strength of the insomniac vote, thankful for the cure his speeches offered them. For whatever reason, Ed appealed to voters and Ed won. It's hard to argue with success.

Unless, of course, you're the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

So why do they want him out?

There are two competing theories. One is that the PCs are scared stiff of the Wildrose Alliance, a party with only 5% of the seats in the legislature but 80% of the media coverage in the province. Even though the Wildrose Alliance has never won a seat in a general election, Alberta has a history of new parties wiping out dynasties in the blink of an eye. A lot of PC MLAs now gaze longingly at the great right hope, Ted Morton, to ensure the dynasty lives on.

The other theory is that the PCs have been in power for so long they don't worry about the things most other parties worry about - like winning elections. Instead, it's all about internal power struggles. It's no secret the PC power brokers don't like Ed Stelmach. They've been waiting to drop him since he won and were the only people more disappointed with the last election results than Alberta Liberals. So when they saw an opening to defenestrate Ed, they didn't hesitate.

Regardless of the reason, Ed was pressured to quit. His Finance Minister and heir apparent, Ted Morton, said he'd quit if Stelmach made him deliver the budget. (I'm not sure if Morton really understood the responsibilities of being Finance Minister when he took the job)

Jean Chretien or Ralph Klein would have snarled, fired Morton, and fought on. Ed quit.

Woah, woah, easy there partner. Wildrose what? Who are these guys?

The Alberta Alliance was a protest party that won 1 seat in the 2004 election. They merged with the Wildrose Party (another protest party) before the 2008 election to avoid the vote split...and won 0 seats.

Then, in 2009, things changed. The PCs tabled Alberta's first deficit in 15 years. People began talking about the Wildrose Alliance. When Danielle Smith was named leader, they really started talking about the Wildrose Alliance.

Although a political rookie, Smith is smart, well spoken, and media savvy. Of course, it's hard for her not to impress when compared to the current crop of provincial party leaders - even the Oilers would look good lined up against a Bantam hockey team.

So the Alliance won the Calgary Glenmore by election. They showed they were different from the PCs by adding a PC cast-off and a pair of disgruntled PC back benchers. There may only be 4 Wildrose MLAs, but they have the 67-member PC caucus scared stiff.

In their current form, it's easiest to think of the Wildrose Alliance as an Alberta version of the ADQ - a charismatic leader in charge of an untested party with some very questionable policies. Luckily for Danielle Smith, the only policy the media seem interested in asking her about is her policy of "being awesome". She might be in trouble if they start asking about Health Care cuts.

A right wing vote split must be manna from heaven for the Liberals. Are they poised to form government?


I mean, running against a pair of far right wingers like Danielle Smith and Ted Morton - that's a political double rainbow if I ever saw one. It seems impossible to mess up a gift like that.


So, yeah, with everything coming up roses, why did their leader quit?

Basically, the same reason Ed did. People got spooked by lackluster poll results, and the leader couldn't control an unruly caucus.

And the Alberta Party, what's their deal?

The Alberta Party came into existence last year when progressives, worried that a right-wing vote split might cause them to stumble into power for the first time in 90 years, decided to found another party.

Alberta Party turn ons include "listening" and "Twitter", and their turn offs include "politics as usual" and "explaining what politics as usual actually means".

They are made up of a loose coalition of Albertans disillusioned with the province's major parties and disgruntled Liberals who feel "Do you support Alberta?" is an easier door knocking pitch than "So how about that NEP, eh?".

They're still in the embryonic stage but in Alberta we believe political life begins at conception or, at the very least, your first floor crossing. And they got their first last week - Dave Taylor, a former Liberal MLA, who had grown disenchanted with the Alberta Liberals' policy of not picking Dave Taylor as their leader.

They are very much a wild card at this point.

And what about the NDP? Where do they figure into the current political landscape?

Good question.

And the Greens?

They were desanctioned after the last election, so they're basically about as relevant now as the NDP.


That's what happens when you try to stick up for the environment in Alberta.

There is, however, a movement afoot to create a new Green Party, called Vision 2012. Because after all, the one thing missing in Alberta is a 4th opposition party to left of the PCs. At the rate we're going, there will be more parties than voters by the next election.

So what happens now?

Ted Morton will run for the PC leadership. Morton, who brought in Alberta's first deficit budget in a generation, is expected to position himself as the only candidate fiscally conservative enough to stop the Wildrose Alliance. Assuming he avoids the fate of every other front runner in every leadership contest fought in Canada and around the world over the past decade, he will win.

And when is the next election again? I assume that Alberta, being Canada's bastion of democratic reform, has fixed election dates, right?

Ha ha ha. Good one.

Expect an election roughly 60 days after the first poll of 2012 which shows the PCs more than 12 points up on the Wildrosers.

And who will win?

The smart money is on the PC dynasty surviving into its 40s, but for the first time since 1993 we may actually have to wait until the election before calling it. Hell, if we're lucky, the campaign might actually be worth watching.


Ed Stelmach enjoys a lighter moment at his farewell news conference

Danielle Smith not only walks on water, she runs on it!

Ted Morton is likely to be Alberta's next Premier. He's a University professor who thinks he's a cowboy.

David Swann is the most genuine and honest human being on the face of the earth. So, of course, he was doomed from the start.

This is NDP leader Brian Mason. You will never see or hear about him again as long as you live, so don't feel bad if you forget his name. Hell, it even happens to the Premier sometimes.

Reports are Dave Taylor will simply create "The Dave Taylor Party" should he not win the Alberta Party leadership.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Swann Song

There used to be a time when you could tune out Alberta politics for a decade and not miss much. Now, every day brings a new bombshell.

The latest comes from the Alberta Liberals, with David Swann resigning before even fighting his first election as leader. Although the news is surprising, it likely shouldn't be - since taking over, Swann has faced internal party disent and defections. With the ALP down in the polls and unable to gain traction in the press, the pressure built. Something had to give.

While the Liberals may fare better under a new leader, Swann's departure is still disheartening. After all, David Swann is exactly the type of person politics needs more of. A lifelong Albertan, Swann has spent his life trying to make the world a better place - he worked at a mission hospital in Africa for three years and has been a passionate advocate on issues like Darfur and the environment. It was the latter that drove him into politics in 2002, when the government fired him from his position as an Alberta Health Office for speaking out in favour of the Kyoto Accord.

I first met David Swann shortly after that. It was at a backyard Liberal barbecue, and we talked about his motivations for entering politics. Although soft spoken, Swann showed passion and clearly wanted to make a difference. In all my years in politics, I've never met anyone as genuine as Dr. Swann.

And I wasn't the only one who felt that way. I door knocked for him a few times in the 2004 election and was amazed by his ability to bring in supporters and volunteers from outside the party. They certainly weren't there for the campaign food, which was usually some variant of an organic humus-like substance. No, these people saw a candidate who cared about the issues they cared about, and wanted to help him make a difference. So did voters - he won the riding in a 3,000 vote landslide. As a Liberal in Calgary, that's no small miracle.

In 2008, Swann tossed his hat into the ring for the Alberta Liberal leadership. Once again, he did what David Swann does best - he got people who don't care to care. He was up against a slick sound byte machine by the name of Dave Taylor. Taylor had an exceptionally well run campaign and led in media coverage and membership sales. But people who signed up for David Swann truly respected the man and believed in him - they voted, and Swann won. Score one for the "little guy".

Sadly, from there things turned out the way they always seem to when people like David Swann become party leaders. The party turned on him. The media ignored him. Things fell apart. Although the situation is obviously different, it's hard not to draw parallels with Ed Stelmach. Both Ed and David are honest, genuine men, in politics for all the right reasons - yet pundits, partisans, and politicos throw those descriptions around as if they were tragic flaws making them unsuitable to hold office.

When good people fail in politics, you can't help feeling bad for them. But this wasn't even a case of good people failing. All Ed Stelmach did was win 8 times as many seats as the second place party in his one election. All David Swann did was win convincingly in every election he ever ran in. Then as leader, he eliminated the ALP debt which had hung around the party's neck like an albatross. I'll be the first to admit I didn't have high hopes for Swann in the next election - but surely a man who made a habit of proving critics wrong deserved a chance.

Yes, when good people fail in politics, you can't help feeling bad for them. But when good people do nothing but succeed and are still forced out of the game? You can't help feeling bad about politics.


Bocce Balls

And that, is the sound of thousands of Liberals simultaneously de-friending Rocco:

Ex-Liberal fundraiser Rocco Rossi expected to run for Ontario Tories

Rocco Rossi, former national director of the Liberal Party of Canada and recent candidate for the Toronto mayoralty, may be poised to declare he’s running for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, Queen’s Park sources say.

Sources said on Monday evening that Mr. Rossi is expected to stand for nomination in the north Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, which the Tories lost by the narrowest of margins in 2007.