Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 in Quotes

Well, I’m an absolute fan of lacy lingerie. I want to make that perfectly clear.”
-Michael Ignatieff

"I mean we have the ridiculous thing of a government saying how much confidence they have in Bev Oda and she sits there like she’s in some kind of a witness protection program."
-Bob Rae

We have debates in Parliament all the time. The Speaker rules, you win some, you lose some.”
-Stephen Harper, on the contempt of Parliament ruling

"This is not a hockey game. This is not a game here. This is democracy."
-Michael Ignatieff, on the above

"They all want to be in our bed, but no one wants to marry us."
-Gilles Duceppe

"I don't know why we'd need so many more prisons when the crooks seem so happy in the Senate."
-Jack Layton

"If you look across the country where the Conservatives have had strong representation, a lot of projects have taken place... But it's normal that you're going to focus on the areas with the people that do support you. That is part of political life."
-Larry Smith

"I'm afraid Ms. Neville has passed her expiry date."
-Shelly Glover

"Most of them are here."
Jack Layton, on his vacationing candidates

Opto Civitas. I choose civility. That’s the new me.”
-Pat Martin

"This is a fucking disgrace ... closure again. And on the budget! There’s not a democracy in the world that would tolerate this jackboot shit.”
-Pat Martin

"Folklore has it, that the Canadian beaver will bite off its own testicles when it is threatened and offer them up to its tormentors. I think that is a fitting metaphor for the way our Canadian government reacts to bullying on trade issues by carving off pieces of our nation and offering them over to the Americans."
-Guess who

Multiculturalism may be a Canadian value but it’s not a Quebec one. We haven’t signed the Constitution of Canada because it contains this notion of multiculturalism.”
-Louise Beaudoin, PQ critic for secularism

"That explains a lot of the challenges I have in my dating life.”
-Calgary Mayor Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, on the city's growing gender gap

"Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world."
-Jack Layton

Friday, December 23, 2011

Meet Mike Crawley

After hearing from Alexandra Mendes , Sheila Copps, and Ron Hartling, my tour of LPC Presidential candidates lands on Mike Crawley.

Who is Mike Crawley?

Mike is the former President of the Ontario wing of the Liberal Party, so Ontario Liberals are quite familiar with him. Others are most likely to know him through his op-ed in the Star this summer on the long-term decline of the Liberal Party.

1. Why did you join the Liberal Party?

I was always interested in politics from a young age. I loved that the Liberal Party always had the courage to push bold ideas, stand up for our rights and fight for a bigger, better Canada. I joined the Liberal Party in 1985, not long after a stinging defeat. I was quite young and simply looked up the Liberal Party of Canada in the phone book and got a membership form mailed to me. Becoming a member was a huge deal for me. Particularly given where the Party was at then, I really believed I could make a difference and be part of a big renewal.

2. In 20 words or less, describe the type of party president you would be.

I will be an agent of change creating a more outward looking, innovative and bold Party.

3. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to make the policy process more meaningful.

I would revamp our internal policy process to create a dynamic policy process that is going all the time and not tied to conventions. Policy proposals could originate at any time from riding associations, youth clubs or new ad hoc policy groups with a minimum of 25 members. The ad hoc policy groups would form around a particular concept and have 12 months to generate a policy proposal. Ideally they would have geographically and demographically diverse membership including some with subject matter expertise. All those working on policy resolution would have access to a group of volunteer policy advisers with expertise in various policy areas and caucus critics. Policy resolutions could be put forward for discussion online once prepared and the proponents can trigger a member vote whenever the resolution is ready (online or by automated phone system). The policy resolutions that attract most attention would be presented, discussed and debated at all our conventions and regional gatherings but all voting would take place online/by phone. All ‘live’ resolutions would be available online until a vote had concluded after which the resolutions will be ranked by the number of votes and the % of positive votes. Top ranked policy proposals would be presented to caucus. The Leader would need to inform the Party’s National Board in writing why any policy that received a threshold level of support (both % and actual votes relative to Party membership) is not included in the platform. Background materials would be made available online to assist members.

I would also reach about beyond the Party to create a forum for those with big public policy ideas to present them to us. A call would go out to academics, NGOs, think tanks, entrepreneurs, non-profits and anyone that share our core values and have a solid idea that that there is no better vehicle to advance your idea than the Liberal Party.

4. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to improve its fundraising.

We need to understand that fundraising is a product of real and meaningful engagement. It’s not a tactic in and of itself. As such, the party has to develop a culture of constant engagement with members and Canadians alike. The contact management and fundraising database should be merged into one. As we develop stronger, deeper relationships with Liberals and supporters, they will want to donate. There are no corporate donors anymore and the federal subsidy will soon be gone. Our only path to secure the resources we need is by constant, meaningful engagement.

5. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to engage members.

The Party website should regularly seek members’ point of view on issues, teleconference calls should solicit their views prior to new sessions of the House and members should be given a channel to submit question proposals for Question Period. This is just one example.

6. List one other key change the LPC needs to make.

I would reach about beyond the Party to create a forum for those with big public policy ideas to present them to us. A call would go out to academics, NGOs, think tanks, entrepreneurs, non-profits and anyone that share our core values and have a solid idea that that there is no better vehicle to advance your idea than the Liberal Party.

I would bring cohesion and accountability to the Party by getting all parts of the Party behind a single ‘campaign between the campaigns’ for the next three years. Based on input from across the Party, this plan will have clear targets and objective. The plan’s implementation would be the main work of the Board of Directors.

All levels of the Party have to be more outward looking. Riding associations (EDAs) would have a mandate to engage with community organizations as would commissions. Tools would be provided to facilitate this.

New members should receive an electronic welcome kit with 5 things they can do to promote the Party and 5 things they can do to get involved with the Party.

An organizer training program needs to be established to create a force of new organizers that can be deployed to key ridings in the next election.

For More Information: Website, Facebook, Twitter

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Person of the Year

As 2011 winds down, it's time to pick a Calgary Grit Person of the Year for the 8th consecutive year. The criteria is simple - someone who made an impact on the Canadian political scene in 2011.

While I usually try to think outside the box on these picks, this year's selection is about as obvious as they come. In effect, I think it's the first time I've been on the same page as the Canadian Press. But before we get there, a few runner-ups.

In any other year, provincial politics would have been the story, as political junkies in nearly every province got their fix. In Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, PEI and Newfoundland, incumbent governments were returned to power in a series of fall elections that ranged from "boring" to "painfully boring".

More exciting may have been the provinces who didn't go to the polls. In British Columbia, Christy Clark become Premier by taking the BC Liberal leadership race over Kevin Fallon 52% to 48% on the third ballot. She promptly called a referendum where voters "extinguished" the HST.

In Alberta, you needed a program to keep track of the floor crossings, new parties, and surprise resignations. When the dust settled, Alison Redford emerged as Premier.

In Quebec, François Legault founded a new party and surged to first in the polls on his bold promise of not being Jean Charest or Pauline Marois.

So yes, Redford, Clark, McGuinty...a case could be made for any of them as the person of the year. Just not this year.


There are few politicians who ever get the chance to go out on top. Sadly, Jack Layton did just that in 2011.

If we rewind back to the start of 2011, Ottawa was busy playing its favourite "will they or won't they" game of election speculation. Between Bev Oda's problem with "nots", the Conservative Party's problem with the rules of Parliament, and Bruce Carson's problem with escorts, the opposition parties smelled blood in the water. The Liberals had made it clear they were ready to vote down the government and Gilles Duceppe, knowing he was guaranteed at least 40 seats in the subsequent campaign, was set to force an election unless Stephen Harper gave him $5 billion for equalization, a new hockey arena, and daily piggyback rides around the House of Commons. Harper said he didn't want an "unnecessary election" but his eyes said "yes".

So it was all up to Jack. Layton had often mocked the Liberals for propping up the Harper government, only he himself tended to come down with a case of "making Parliament work" every time the Liberals found a backbone. Complicating the situation was hip surgery that left him needing a cane to walk.

Layton ended all the speculation 5 minutes after Jim Flaherty's budget speech, passing immediate judgment on the Harper government. We were off to the poll yet again, for what most figured to be a boring campaign with few surprises. The funny thing about surprises though, is that they tend to be unexpected, by definition.

So fast forward to April 12th, in a 70s-themed debate studio, when Jack Layton pulled off a tour de force. Barely able to stand without sweating a month earlier, Layton stood tall for two hours. Many of his lines were tacky - I rolled my eyes when he uttered "hash tag fail" and when he told Stephen Harper "you've changed, you used to care about the environment". But he connected with voters, both in terms of style and content, and left Michael Ignatieff reeling when he brought up the Liberal leader's less-than-exemplary attendance record. In 30 seconds, the great Michael Ignatieff experiment (and possibly the Liberal Party) was effectively over.

Layton was good the next night in Quebec, but he didn't need to be. He'd already made waves cheering on the Habs at local bars and everyone in Quebec was talking about his performance on tout le monde en parle. Layton soon overtook the Bloc in Quebec and, par conséquent, the Liberals. From there, all he had to do was surf the orange wave to Stornoway.

So by May 2nd, it was already obvious Jack Layton would be the newsmaker of the year. He had taken the NDP to record heights and done what Ed Broadbent and Tommy Douglas could not.

You all know the rest of the story - the tragedy and the tributes - since it dominated the headlines in August and September. Even beyond the grave, Layton left his mark, with the NDP making gains in most provincial elections. His departure also launched the NDP leadership race, and made the Liberal and Bloc races somewhat more meaningful.

Although Jack is gone, he'll continue to have a major impact on Canadian politics for years to come.

2010: Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

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Monday, December 19, 2011

2011 in Photos

The left wing media bias rears its ugly head.

Michael Ignatieff proves he's not an elitist.

Stephen Haper in 2006: "Meeting celebrities was the other guy's schtick". Since then, he's been rather "hot and cold" on that subject, one could say.

Cabinet Meeting at 24 Sussex.

How could anyone have know she would interupt the speech? It's not like she had pictures of herself and Michael Ignatieff on her Facebook wall...

The biggest threat to democracy - 14 year old girls.

Merv TweedRod Bruinooge, one of those Tim Hortons Tories, stumps for votes during a hotly contested speaker's election.

Sadly, there were no pictures of Justin Trudeau and Rob Ford dancing together.

Ed Stelmach and his wife share a lighter moment at his resignation press conference.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Meet Ron Hartling

After hearing from Alexandra Mendes and Sheila Copps last week, my tour of LPC Presidential candidates lands on Ron Hartling today.

Who is Ron Hartling?

Ron is the former riding president in Kingston and the Islands, one of the few bright spots for the Liberals on May 2nd.

Outside of politics, he's a former diplomat and business owner/entrepreneur.

1. Why did you join the Liberal Party?

After I left the foreign service and was free of its constraints of non-partisanship, I considered which party best reflected my top political concerns, including climate change, environmental degradation and social justice. That narrowed my choice to the Liberal and Green parties. I decided that the Liberal Party offered more scope to make a positive difference.

2. In 20 words or less, describe the type of party president you would be.

I’ll be a full-time, hands-on, proactive president urgently leading the deep cultural and organizational changes our Party needs for survival.

3. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to make the policy process more meaningful.

We should leverage the wealth of policy expertise in the Liberal grassroots. Our party has innumerable former public servants, academics and other experts who would jump at meaningful opportunities to contribute. I would recruit them into a virtual Liberal Research Bureau to support policy development by Caucus, commissions and riding associations.

4. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to improve its fundraising.

Improving our fundraising techniques, while absolutely necessary, will only take us so far. To truly compete with the Conservative money machine, we must give our members, donors and other supporter far more value than we have in the past. That means developing relationships all current and prospective donor based on a real understanding of the issues which most concern them and a demonstrated willingness to listen to what they say and act on what we hear. No more lip service.

5. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to engage members.

Encourage every riding association to identify and actively champion the federal-related issues that impinge on Liberal values and have traction in their respective communities. Doing so over a two-year period was not only key to building winning conditions in Kingston and the Islands but also reinforced our members’ pride in being Liberal and provided the meaningful volunteer opportunities necessary to engage them between elections and encourage others to join.

6. List one other key change the LPC needs to make.

Resolve our long-festering governance problems, especially those related to nomination contests and leadership succession, prior to choosing our next Leader. The problems and my proposed solutions are set out in my strategic plan for rebuilding, which is posted on my website.

For More Information: Website, Facebook, Twitter


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Most Canadians if they don’t show up for work they don’t get a promotion."

The above ad was from the NDP's positive hope-filled election campaign. In it, the NDP pointed to Ignatieff's attendance record and accused him of "not showing up for work".

Funny thing though. As pointed out by Jeff Jedras in October, and the Globe this morning, NDP MPs looking for a promotion to the job of opposition leader have been playing hooky quite a bit:

Five NDP leadership hopefuls are among the top 10 MPs with the worst attendance record, and two others were in the top 30 – a far cry from the party’s strong performance of consistent attendance in the previous Parliament.

Just outside the top 10 is Peggy Nash, who has missed 37 votes this fall. Nash, you'll recall, made Gerard Kennedy's attendance record her top issue during this spring's election, repeatedly saying things like: "I do believe it is important that when you elect your member of parliament your vote be respected in the MP voting in the House of Commons".

If the Parkdale High Park Liberal campaign is looking for 2015 pamphlet ideas, that quote might look good on the front, eh?


Tuesday, December 13, 2011


The Liberal Party's Million Conversations campaign to raise a million dollars has featured almost daily e-mails from current Liberal MPs, past Liberal greats, and Paul Martin. These letters have taken on an increasingly frantic tone, culminating in Jean Chretien's warning yesterday that Harper may re-open the abortion and Same Sex Marriage issues.

Obviously that's not going to happen, but it's not any more far fetched than Conservative Party fundraising e-mails ("The CBC will take away your gun"), so if it raises a few dollars, well, that's the way the game is played.

That said, I do wonder about today's letter from Alf Apps, which I've reposted here:

Dan --

We warned you about what Stephen Harper would do with a majority government, and we've finally seen the results.

I didn't believe it myself until I saw the
news stories today about Stephen Harper's latest act of deception. As shocking as it sounds, he has used an old photo in this year's Christmas Card, passing it off as something new.

I know Harper apologists at Sun TV will defend this move, but it is indefensible. I used to think only Liberals could display this type of laziness, but I now see that Harper can be just as lazy - no, dare I say, more lazy than Liberal elites.

Beyond the laziness is a more troubling issue. One of deception. One of lies.

I ask you this - why hasn't Stephen Harper shared a new picture on this year's card? What is he hiding? What doesn't he want you to know? This card is the clearest sign yet that he plans to ban abortion in Canada. Yes, you heard that right. Baning abortion. In Canada. He must be stopped.

When I first heard about this Million Conversations Campaign, I thought: "great, now we're finally getting serious about what it will take to fight the Conservatives".

I understand that we have already fundraised enough to start 925,885 conversations in 2012. That's good.

But our goal is a million and that means, with less than 5 hours left, you must decide if your values are worth fighting for. It's now or never.

Please donate $5 right now - that's just $1.25 after the tax credit - and we can reach a million.

You can also call 1-800-701-7789 (9am - 5pm, ET, Mon-Fri) to donate by phone.

Thank you.

Alfred Apps

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Les rapports de leur mort ont été grandement exagérées

Daniel Paillé, the man Stephen Harper trusted to investigate the Liberal Party, is the new leader of the Bloc Quebecois. However, the media attention has not been on Paillé, but on the anemic total of 14,000 who bothered to vote in the leadership contest.

It's certainly not a number to get excited about. After all, over 48,000 Bloquists voted in 1997, when Gilles Duceppe won on the second ballot.

Still, before we draft the Bloc obituaries, let's recall that the NDP juggernaut had under 6,000 Quebec members last time we checked. So it's far from certain that more Quebecers will vote for the next leader of the opposition than just voted for the new leader of the fourth place party.

And if memory serves me, neither the 2006 Liberal leadership race nor the 2004 CPC leadership race generated a ton of excitement in Quebec. In both contests, many ridings were won with 2 or 3 votes.

So yes, 14,000 voters is a pitoyable total for the Bloc. But even in their darkest hour, they may still be able to generate more interest than any of the three federalist parties. Let's not dismiss them as a spent force.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Value of Female Candidates

The NDP may not believe in using financial incentives to encourage environmentally conscious behaviour, but leadership candidate Paul Dewar has come up with a market solution that incentivizes political parties to run female candidates:

OTTAWA—New Democratic leadership candidate Paul Dewar wants to bring back the political subsidy the Conservative government axed after winning a majority this spring — this time with a feminist catch.


Dewar proposed that any party that nominated 50 per cent or more women candidates would receive the full $2-per-vote subsidy, parties nominating 40 to 49.9 per cent women candidates would receive $1.75 per vote and those who nominated between 30 and 39.9 per cent would receive $1.50 per vote.

Parties that did not manage to nominate 30 per cent women candidates — the threshold the United Nations set as the minimum benchmark for a critical mass of women in parliament — would receive no subsidy.

Many will either embrace or dismiss this idea outright, but it's likely fair to first look at its impact before passing judgment.

To begin with, every party would find a way to hit the 30% threshold - they'd be foolhardy not to. Using the last election as a case study, the Conservatives would stand to receive close to 9 million dollars a year had they run 25 more women. Quite simply, they'd find a way to hit that threshold, even if it meant paying for a few backbencher sex change operations.

Once a party hits the 30% mark, they'd get an extra 25 cents a vote for every additional 31 women they run. Again, basing our math on the last election, that values every additional female candidate at $188,000 for the Tories, $145,000 for the NDP, and $90,000 for the Liberals (over four years). That's a pretty strong incentive, and I have no doubt Dewar's plan would lead to more women running for office.

Of course, as with any incentive scheme, there are unintended consequences. To begin with, the easiest way for a party like the Liberals to cash in on that 90k a candidate would be to run nothing but women across Alberta and in other unwinnable ridings. Luckily for the Liberals, there are plenty of unwinnable ridings to choose from.

Other parties trying to cash in may not be quite so lucky. To reach these quotas, many parties (especially the Conservatives) would likely resort to appointing dozens of female candidates in unheld ridings. Sure, having more women in politics is an admirable goal, but is it worth overruling the will of local riding associations? And what about the lack of aboriginals, visible minorities, and youth in politics? This proposal does little for them.

I think there's some merit in an incentive structure that encourages women to participate in politics, but simply setting a threshold on the number of female candidates a party runs is the wrong way to go about it.

A more modest, but more effective, solution might be increasing the rebate female candidates get on election expenses. Right now, any candidate who gets 10% of the vote, gets 15% of their expenses paid back to them. Why not double or triple the refund for women (and other under represented groups)? That would remove some of the financial barriers women face, encouraging quality female candidates to seek the nomination in winnable ridings.

On the other side, Dewar's plan would lead to nothing more than a slew of women appointed in unwinnable ridings.

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Meet Sheila Copps

Having already profiled Alexandra Mendes, my tour of LPC presidential candidates turns next to Sheila Copps.

Who is Sheila Copps?

I suspect everyone going to the convention is familiar with Sheila Copps. If you're under 30, you probably remember her as the highest profile casualty of the Martin-Chretien wars, when she lost a nomination battle to Tony Valeri in 2004. If you're in your 30s or 40s, what stands out most is her time in government - most notably as Deputy PM. Older Liberals will remember her time as a feisty "rat pack" member on the opposition benches, or her run for Ontario Liberal leadership in '82.

1. Why did you join the Liberal Party?

I was asked to run as a candidate in a riding that had not been liberal since 1934. I resigned my job as a journalist and became a member because I believed, and still do, that the Liberal Party represents the best hope for an inclusive, diverse and fair Canada. I worked on my first election, sans membership, in the Trudeau '68 campaign.

2. In 20 words or less, describe the type of party president you would be.

Inclusive, democratic and energetic.

3. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to make the policy process more meaningful.

Create a formal relationship between the party and the campaign committee including a written annual parliamentary report, tabled by calendar year end, on the status of platform implementation, including leader and critic responses.

4. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to improve its fundraising.

Focus on small cap funding by recruiting new supporters. This involves targeting current issues. ie. Wheat Board campaign in the Prairies and opening a diverse dialogue ie. creation of a GLBTQ caucus.

5. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to engage members.

Assist ridings in outreach by guaranteeing guest speakers for up to four events annually IN EVERY RIDING IN THE COUNTRY. Party to provide plug 'n play media toolkit including backgrounder and press release. Party to organize all travel arrangements on a cost-shared basis for multiple riding speaker tours of preeminent Canadian Liberals including all former party leaders. Free up members to work in community on relevant issues. Grow interest first and then grow the membership.

6. List one other key change the LPC needs to make.

Open all nominations to fair and transparent competition. No appointments.

For More Information: Website, Facebook, Twitter

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Last week, I lamented that kind of dirty tactics we saw in Mount Royal are turning Canadians off politics (as did Bruce Anderson).

As luck would have it, the good folks at Samara released a report today looking at why politically disengaged Canadians are disengaged. It makes for a good read, on an important topic.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Meet Alexandra Mendès

Last week, I provided my initial impressions on the field of LPC presidential candidates. Today, I begin posting posting the candidates' responses to a questionnaire I sent out to each of them. Up first- Alexandra Mendès.

Who is Alexandra Mendès?

Mendès won Brossard-LaPrairie after a recount in 2008 - a rare pickup for the Liberals on what was seen to be a disastrous election night (how naive we all were back then...). Predictably, she was swept aside by the orange wave this May.

Mendès is of Portuguese decent, describes herself as "a fierce federalist", and worked for an NGO before entering politics.

1. Why did you join the Liberal Party?

I officially joined the Liberal Party in October 2001 when I became riding assistant to the Hon. Jacques Saada. From the moment I could vote, I’ve always voted Liberal.

However, while working for an NGO heavily subsidised by the Quebec government (from 1987 to 2001), I was not allowed to be a member of any political party, federally or provincially. I did some very discreet volunteering through the years, but I’ve only been able to “come out of the closet” since 2001.

2. In 20 words or less, describe the type of party president you would be.

A team player/worker; consensus-oriented; frugal; technologically daring; accountable to MEMBERS; ready to change and ready to honour the Liberal tradition!

(22 words...)

3. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to make the policy process more meaningful.

Ensure that policy proposals and/or resolutions adopted by Convention are given a true chance of being integrated into electoral platforms. Should they be deemed inappropriate by the National Executive and/or the Leadership, make it mandatory that a full explanation be given to members, BEFORE the platform is announced.

4. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to improve its fundraising.

Collect proper data. Micro-targeting (knowing) our voters would certainly be a very useful and cost-effective manner of ensuring that we ask for support from those more likely to welcome our requests.

5. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to engage members.

If there is one common thread to the comments I’ve heard from members since I started campaigning, it’s the generalised feeling that no one is paying attention to what they’re saying. One of the first things I’d like to do if I’m elected, is to review the many, many recommendations, reports and proposals our members have submitted to the Party in the past 5 years and prepare a summary of the elements therein that haven’t been addressed and/or otherwise resolved. It would be, for me, a good start to an action plan for the next 2 years.

6. List one other key change the LPC needs to make.

I believe very firmly that before we even begin to think about electoral platforms and leadership races and any other attempt at finding THE magical answer to our woes, we must urgently start the process of renewal by letting bygones be bygones.

No one, least of all Canadians, has benefited from the self-destroying culture of division, infighting and back-stabbing that has drained our energy and stifled our truly admirable spirit for the past ten years. We need the unity of purpose and discipline of discourse that will once again make us a Canadian movement!

For More Information: Website, Facebook, Twitter


Monday, December 05, 2011

Speed Dating with the Dippers

Sunday's NDP debate was a chance to get a first look at the field of candidates, for the 99.9% of Canadians who don't have the complete collection of Paul Dewar speeches on their Ipod.

With nine debaters on stage, it's impossible to get anything more than a sense of each candidate and what they stand for. This was the case with the Liberal Leadership debates in 2006. The Grits tried to add pizazz by setting up mini 3-person debates, but this led to channel changing moments whenever the moderator announced "we will now listen to Joe Volpe, Carolyn Bennett and Ken Dryden debate the environment". Click. The NDP copied this format, and the results were equally riveting.

In his opening statement, Brian Topp said "we won't win when we talk in platitudes", but followed this up by declaring "we fight for the Canada of our dreams". I don't fault Topp for that, because it's hard to eloquently describe the Canada of our dreams in 30 seconds (I know mine has free maple syrup for all!). It was equally silly to ask debaters to explain their economic platform in 15 seconds. Even New Democrats have more to say about the economy than that.

So it's better not to think of yesterday as a debate. Rather, it was more like speed dating for New Democrats - five minutes for each candidate to introduce themselves.

From the bits of the debate I saw, Thomas Mulcair made a strong impression - while I'm not sure he'll look like as promising a suitor once voters get to know him better, he was good enough yesterday to earn a second date. Niki Ashton and Martin Singh were impressive, but only in the same way Martha Hall Findlay was impressive in 2006. In other words, don't start printing those orange wedding invitations.

Nathan Cullen seemed to be enjoying himself the most on stage, but he's already tied the "merger" rope around his neck and that will overshadow anything he says the rest of the campaign. Sort of like the guy who lets it slip on the first date that he's into Scientology...or at least that he wants to set up a non-compete pact with the Scientologists.

Unfortunately, Romeo Saganash was sick, but a sick first date is rarely the start of a long relationship (with the obviously exception of Cory and Tapanga on Boy Meets World). Robert Chisholm's weak French was likely a deal breaker for a lot of Dippers.

None of the others really stood out, and attempts to paint the Topp-Dewar scruffle as the second coming of "do you think it is easy to make priorities" are laughable. If you already liked or didn't like Brian Topp, Peggy Nash, or Paul Dewar, nothing they said yesterday was going to change your mind. If you didn't know much about them, their steady performance and status as "contenders" would likely be enough to tempt most Dippers to Google them or Facebook stalk them for a bit.

In terms of an introduction, the debate served its purpose, but anyone expecting fireworks was setting themselves up for a letdown. Of course, there weren't going to be winners and losers. Of course, no one was going to start off the first leadership debate by going on the attack. Of course they were all going to agree on most policies, especially the policy of "we don't like Stephen Harper".


Peter Goldring Resigns

Edmonton East MP Peter Goldring charged with impaired driving: sources

EDMONTON - According to sources within the federal government, Edmonton East MP Peter Goldring has voluntarily resigned from caucus after being charged with impaired driving following a weekend fundraising event.

No word yet on whether or not Rahim Jaffer was in the car.


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Demand Better

Conservatives admit they’re behind false byelection phone calls in Liberal riding

OTTAWA — The Conservatives have confirmed they are behind a rash of phone calls to Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s Montreal-riding over the past couple of weeks in which constituents allegedly were told of Cotler’s resignation and a pending byelection.

This is completely indefensible, only the Conservatives are doing their best to defend it:

Every political party in the House identifies its voters in one way or another,” Conservative MP John Williamson said. “This is an important part of the political process.”

Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan added that rumours of Cotler’s pending resignation have been circulating since the Liberal was first elected in 1999. As a result, he said, saying there were rumours of a byelection was a perfectly legitimate thing to tell constituents.

Cotler has asked House Speaker Andrew Scheer to investigate the matter and determine whether his privileges as a member of Parliament have been breached by the calls.

Van Loan said if such a finding is made, it would have widespread ramifications for freedom of speech.

“To say that one cannot speculate on his future,” he said, “that that form of freedom of speech should forever be suppressed, is to me an overreach that is far too great.”

This is, of course, complete hogwash (and if I had Pat Martin's mouth, I'd use harsher language).

This is NOT an important part of the political process. Just because something is rumoured, it doesn't mean you can broadcast it to voters. I've heard my fair share of rumours about some of Mr. Williamson's colleagues, but never in a phone call from a rival party. I'd also add that if Cotler's "imminent" departure has been rumoured for 12 years, that's a pretty good sign it's unfounded.

The "free speech" argument is even more absurd. Would Van Loan be alright with Karl Rove's 2000 primary phone calls which asked South Carolina voters if they would be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if they knew he'd fathered an illegitimate black child? Is that freedom of speech?

There are dozens of articles published every year asking why voter turnout rates are declining and why young people are turned off politics. After hearing stories like this, I think the better question to ask is why anyone actually takes the time to care in the first place.

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Preliminary Thoughts on the LPC Presidential Race

Elections for Liberal Party President have tended to be mundane affairs in recent years. In 2008, Alf Apps was the only candidate - either because the powers-that-be made it known he would win, or because everyone else was too lazy to run. In 2006, the presidency was overshadowed by the excitement of the leadership race. Before that we were in power, so no one really cared who the party president was, perhaps explaining how Stephen LeDrew found himself holding that office.

But this year, there's a veritable buzz in Liberal circles about the contest. Maybe it's because Liberals have bought into the renewal talk. Maybe it's because Borys Wrzesnewskyj seems to be the only person interested in the party's leadership. Maybe it's because there's a diverse and high-profile field of candidates for President.

I had my first opportunity to seriously size up the contenders on Monday, at an Edward Blake Society event, recapped here, here, and here. I'll be posting candidate profiles in the coming weeks, including their answers to a short questionnaire I sent them - today I offer my preliminary run-down of the field.

Full disclosure: I have nothing to disclose, because I'm still genuinely undecided on who to support. I am, however, quite impressed with the entire field. While I've offered a few gentle critiques of each candidate, in each case their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses, which is why I haven't ruled anyone out at this point.

Sheila Copps: Sheila is loud, proud, and can still fire up a crowd. I'd likely prefer a "behind the scenes" president who will build the party and stay out of the limelight, but there is something to be said for a president who will rally the troops and energize the base.

Behind the flash, there's also substance. I share her desire to open the party, and she showed the strongest understanding at Monday's Q & A of what the party needs to do to reach out to new Canadians. All that said, her incessant talk of "letting" Bob Rae run for leader has injected leadership politics into a convention that should have stayed clear of the topic.

Copps is a polarizing figure, but it's a first-past-the-post vote, so you have to consider her the front runner at this point.

Mike Crawley: I generally share Crawley's view on the state of the Liberal "brand" and where the party needs to go; his Star op-ed on this topic was fantastic. The man is energetic, thoughtful, and well spoken.

While Crawley has the vision thing down, I'd be more impressed with a few unsexy nuts and bolts proposals to make the party more efficient than by speeches about what the party stands for.

Ron Hartling: Hartling, meanwhile, is all nuts and bolts. His website contains a detailed platform, full of flowcharts and graphs, and his speech Monday was all about the need for a plan.

His record as Kingston and the Islands riding president is impressive, but his message often sounds like "if all ridings did what we did in Kingston, we'd be in government", which ignores the millions of other factors that go into play during an election. Similarly, blaming Mike Crawley for the Liberals losing Ontario seats is an unfair attack Hartling should have avoided.

Alexandra Mendes: If the voting system favoured a consensus candidate, Mendes would probably win. There's nothing about her campaign that especially stands out, but she has a lot going for her - she's likable, has a good understanding of the challenges facing the party, and has experience as an MP, organizer, and in running non-political organizations.

Charles Ward: Charles is an Alberta Liberal, which gets him a few marks in my books. Beyond that, I know absolutely nothing about him.

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