Wednesday, November 9, 2016

History wasn't made, it was repeated...

Last night I sat down in front of the television hoping to see history being made. A few hours later I went to bed having watched history repeat itself.

Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States of America.

In and of itself that statement still seems ludicrous - like something from an episode of the Simpsons. However, it is the manner of his victory and the campaign that propelled him to it which is the issue.

This was no ordinary "vote for change." By and large we know what that looks and feels like. The tired government, perhaps too long in power. A restless electorate that is presented with something or someone that looks and sounds sufficiently different to suggest that the country itself may look different given time. Not hugely different, but enough so to feel that things have changed.

Donald Trump did not run that campaign.

This was a campaign that was run on fear and a longing for an America that simply does not exist anymore. This is a candidate that is now beholden to a movement which in its heart doesn't just resent the politics of old, but fears "the Other." A movement that is expecting its leader to act in a way that would consign decades of progress to the scrapheap.

The wall. The Muslim ban. The deportation orders. The appointment of a special prosecutor to bring "justice" to a political opponent. The removal of health care to millions of people.

This is a movement which openly and aggressively attacks journalism, distorts facts and celebrates misinformation, ignoring that informed engagement is the oxygen that sustains a healthy, functioning democracy.

And perhaps most troubling, this is a movement which at best turned a blind eye to racism and misogyny but in reality barely concealed its admiration for the actions and views of the man who stoked its fears, gave them a name (women, feminists, elites, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, etc.) and who now finds himself the President of all Americans.


At one point during this campaign my worry was not that Donald Trump would win, but that he was paving the way for someone less flawed to capitalize on the resentment he had discovered and cultivated. I imagined the 2020 election and a Republican candidate who would reap what Mr. Trump and the alt right had sown by presenting something less vulgar - though equally inclined - to the electorate and winning.

I was wrong. 

Wrong to think that enough people would see this man for what he is and say no. Wrong to think that a highly qualified opponent, albeit flawed herself, would present a suitable enough alternative to enough people to stop this from happening today in 2016.

Let's be clear about the flaws of Hillary Clinton. Her qualifications were widely acknowledged by friend and foe. However, her character was seen as flawed in a different and ultimately more damaging way than many people saw Donald Trump.

She was seen as a career politician, guarded and giving the impression of wanting to hide things. There was a consistent scent or hint of scandal about her campaign, even if it was not always based on fact. And the suggestion of something worrisome that you can't see is sometimes more powerful than flaws that are advertised so openly that people become desensitized to them. 

More to the point, she increasingly appeared to run as "not Donald Trump" at a time when the electorate was grasping for something and someone to believe in. 

Putting aside the emails and the concerns about the Clinton Foundation, she failed to learn the lesson that the primary battle with Bernie Sanders presented: people who feel left behind are looking for something in which to believe.

Her failure to heed that one lesson was the worst thing she could have done at the worst possible time. 


Over the past few months as the campaign ebbed and flowed there was a lot of talk about the future of the Republican party and whether it was well and truly broken. This morning that question is more appropriately asked about U.S. politics writ large.

The United States can no longer claim to be the shining city upon the hill.

In the place of that city stands a country whose politics is infused with anger and mistrust. What began as partisanship morphed into unreasoned "hyper partisanship" and continued to spiral towards what we see today.

Sadly, this is nothing new. We heard this story in the run-up to the Brexit vote. We see it being played out as the world struggles to respond to refugee crises and economic dislocation. There are lessons to learn, but we need people prepared to do so.

In Canada we have a Conservative Party that is looking to reimagine itself. What will that look like? When the candidates aspiring to lead that party look south will they see a situation to be avoided or an approach to be emulated?

One candidate - Kellie Leitch - is making identify politics a major part of her campaign. We also see this rearing its head in Quebec with a worrying degree of regularity.

Is there a danger of that inevitable lag between developments in U.S. politics and developments in Canada playing out? Could this happen here?

Yes, it could.


The greatest lesson from last night was the reminder that history repeats itself. And it does so most often when people feel lost, left behind, angry and scared. These feelings have a powerful effect on the human condition, and history tells us that when left unchecked they can take us some place dark and potentially tragic.

History repeated itself last night. Make no mistake - the winning candidate waged a successful campaign that was rooted in fear and tinged with racism, intolerance and the belief that might and aggression are things to be admired and used openly.

This is where things stand today, but where the U.S. goes next isn't about Donald Trump. It is about everyone else.

Liberal democracy must be seen as more than just holding elections and casting a vote. It doesn't happen every few years. It happens every day through engagement and holding elected officials to account.

Accepting this responsibility is the challenge now facing Americans. Heeding the lessons of this campaign is the challenge facing all of us.

Monday, October 19, 2015

It's Election Day...Go Vote!

Finally. October 19th. Election Day.

I will vote later today, and as I noted in yesterday's post I will be voting for the Liberals here in my riding of Ottawa-Centre. However, this is not another "why I am voting Liberal" blog post.

This is simply about voting. A right we have, but which unfortunately not enough of us exercise.

Today is an opportunity to reverse a trend which has seen over time fewer and fewer Canadians vote. An opportunity to show prospective candidates and elected officials that the voter is engaged; that she and he are paying attention.

Too often I hear people complain about government. Federal, provincial, municipal. It doesn't matter. I hear complaints about issues and how they are being addressed. Complaints about officials and how they act.

Well, elections are our opportunity to do something about it. Governments act differently when they know they are being watched. The more they are held to account, the more likely they are to pay attention to the voter.

Now don't take this as an endorsement of perpetual pandering for votes, or shopping for votes as Susan Delacourt so effectively described in her book of the same name. I have no desire to see a continuation of what we have today in which policies and positions are targeted at specific voters.

I want to see a government which lays out a vision and a plan which benefits the country. And then I want them to sell it on its merits. I want the government to work for my vote, not simply buy it.

That process starts with the voter. It starts with an engaged citizenship which holds its elected officials to account.

That process starts today. Get out and vote.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Choosing Change; Choosing the Liberals (part 2)

Tomorrow is election day. After all of the speeches, debates, ads, attacks, pivots, ups and downs, it will be time for Canadian voters to bring an end to the longest campaign in modern memory by casting their votes.

For a politics watcher like me, #elxn42 has been fascinating. Broad range of issues? Check. Compelling narratives? Check. A genuine three-horse for several weeks? Check.

And perhaps most importantly as we end the campaign we have a choice. A choice about the type of government we want. A choice in terms of both the role and the tone we expect of our government.

In part 1 of this post I laid out the choice for change as being driven by the "what" (the issues) and the "how" (the tone and approach to governing). Not surprisingly, I find myself on the side of change.

But who? In this campaign there is choice within the choice for change. At the beginning it appeared that the leader of the change movement was the #NDP and their leader Tom Mulcair. Today, on the eve of election day that position now appears to be firmly held by Justin Trudeau and the #LPC.

Now a simple answer to the "who" would be to vote for the change party which has the best chance of winning. This is the so-called strategic voting about which we have heard a great deal over the past several weeks. If change is what you want, then vote for the party most likely to unseat Stephen Harper and the #CPC.

I suspect that there a lot of people who are adopting this approach. After nearly 10 years in office this is a government - and in particular a Prime Minister - which has worn out its welcome with many, many voters.

But I can't vote that way. The issues matter too much to me. The role of government is an important question for me. I can't simply vote against someone; I need to vote for something.

When I cast my vote tomorrow it will be for the Liberal Party of Canada. Here are three reasons why.

First, the economy is more than just a balance sheet. While I have no interest in excessive deficits and unsustainable debt, I do not think government should be so dogmatic about the bottom line that it fails to invest in those things that help an economy grow and which actually make it sustainable.

Infrastructure is critical to our economic future, and Canada has an infrastructure deficit. Our ability to effectively and efficiently move people and products is constrained by this deficit.
  • Want to be a successful trading nation? You need the right infrastructure.
  • Want high quality of life for your citizens? You need the right infrastructure.
  • Want to protect the environment? You need the right infrastructure.
There is a real and important role for government to play in this space, and the Liberal Party is prepared to play this role and make these investments. These are investments which, if done properly, set Canada up for success.

Second, how the government uses the tax system matters. Everyone wants lower taxes, yes. But the current approach of boutique tax cuts does absolutely nothing except reward those who can already afford to spend. Similarly, the current system of tax credits for families is giving everyone with children money, versus focusing on those families that need it the most.

I would prefer to see the highest earners pay slightly more if the result is that the government is able to invest in lower earners - those in the middle class or trying to get there. This does absolutely nothing to help me as an individual, but I think Canada is better for it. This is where the Liberals are focused and this is why they will get my vote.

Third, tone matters.

The Liberal campaign has been positive and has tried to actually articulate a future that is more than just about getting rid of Stephen Harper. The tone of our politics needs to change and the Liberals have reflected this by running a campaign that has largely avoided negatives and fear-mongering.  

This is a campaign that speaks to what we can accomplish versus simply highlighting what we want to avoid. I need a campaign that challenges me to see a better future, and then shows me a plan as to how we might get there.

The plan may or may not work. It may need to be altered. But the point is that there is a recognition that things can change for the better. That's where good policy starts.

I am not a strategic voter.  I am not choosing the Liberals because they are leading, or because they offer the best chance of replacing the Conservatives.

I am choosing the Liberals because their vision for Canada reflects mine.


These last two posts have been more personal than my usual writing. I decided to write about what this election has meant to me as a voter, versus just a guy watching politics. When I write again it will likely be more apolitical and issues-focused. But for now it was important to just be me.

One person with one vote.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Choosing Change Part 1: It's About the What and the How

One week to go.

By this time next week, the campaigning will be over and the counting will only be a few hours away. Between now and then the party leaders will be making their final arguments, while their teams will be revving up their get out the vote operations.

Of course the broad narratives are already firmly in place. A vote for "stability in an uncertain world" versus a "vote for change and an end to more of the same." A vote for "you can't trust this guy" versus a vote for "we've had enough of this guy."

It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows this blog (anyone?) or my tweets (@Politicwatcher) that this Guy Watching Politics is on the side of change. However, it is not change for the sake of change that I am supporting. Nor is it simply "Anyone But Harper" that is driving my thoughts on #elxn42.

Issues and engagement were the main reasons why I started this blog, and they are the reason I decided to post again after some time away. There are real issues that need to be discussed if we want to move the yardsticks forward for this country and for our democracy.

The parties of change - the Liberals and the NDP - represent the best chance for issues to be openly discussed. Both have tabled platforms and positions which, for me, are more reflective of a world that is not binary; where issues cannot be boiled down to black versus white.

It doesn't matter if you are talking about the economy or the environment, social policy or industrial policy, deficits or surpluses. The world is far too nuanced and complex to simply frame policy decisions in these areas into simple "either ors".

Unfortunately the Harper government has consistently done just that.

Take discussion on taxes as an example. You are either for taxes or against them in their discourse. And with that is gone a more important discussion about how we use the tax system to build the society we want.

Want another example? Safeguarding the environment and growing the economy are seen as mutually exclusive. A binary choice which blindly ignores the fact that an issue like climate change is an economic issue as much as an environmental one.

This approach is depriving our country of real and thorough debate on what we need to do if we want to succeed in a complex, competitive and challenging world.


If issues and policy are the what, then the discourse of our politics is the how.

The how is a hugely important element of a well-functioning democracy. How we encourage debate. How we use Parliament. How we treat differences of opinions. How we demonstrate transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately a defining feature of the Harper government has been its "how".

The comportment of the government has been one in which Parliament is at best a burden to be borne, but more often a place to be circumvented. It is a how that characterizes those with differences of opinion as enemies, not just of the Conservative party but of Canada.

Think of the Duffy affair and what it showed us about the PMO. Recall the muzzling of scientists and consider what that means for the development of evidence-based policy. Reflect on omnibus legislation that is drafted to preclude debate. Look at how the government advertises and how it attacks.

Simply put, the "how" of the Harper government is a how that consistently opts to offer Canadians the worst of politics at the very time they need the best of government.

Both the Liberals and the NDP have tabled positions which are intended to improve the how in our democracy. Both appear far more committed to making the discourse of our politics more inclusive, open and positive.

Of course, there are no guarantees that either will fully adopt the changes they are proposing. History is full of parties which run on change and then govern on more of the same. In fact one need look no further than the 2006 Conservative campaign for such an example.

However, while there is no guarantee of an improvement from either the Liberals or the NDP there is an unequivocal guarantee of more of the same from a Conservative government whose "how" is hard-wired into their style of governing. It is unfortunately in their DNA and won't change.


It is the what and the how which makes me a supporter or change. I believe Canada needs an open, vigorous debate on many policy issues. And I believe that without change this is not going to happen to the extent it needs to, nor with a tone befitting a country that considers itself to be among the best in the world.

But opting for change is only step one. There is a choice within the choice for change, with two parties vying to be the face of change. In the second part of this post (later this week), I will focus on that choice and what it means to me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Getting Engaged

Every four years or so I get to see people change right before my eyes. I get to hear them say things I have never heard them say. Express views and levels of insight I never knew they had.

I am talking, of course, about the Winter Olympics.

You know the person. The one who suddenly becomes an expert in curling, explaining with new-found confidence what shot should be made. Or the one who can dissect a figure skating routine, identifying where points were won and lost.

The Olympics has that effect on a person. Pulling them towards something they otherwise would never devote the time to following. They cast aside their indifference, get caught up in the spectacle and develop expertise out of thin air. 

Over the past several weeks I have seen this same phenomenon play out in Canada's #elxn42, particularly when it comes to polls.

I see F5 keys being worn out on computers at work, as people refresh their screens in the hopes of getting the latest update to the CBC poll tracker. I overhear discussions about the national narrative, and how we really need to focus on what is happening at the regional level. I watch heated discussions about the use of land lines versus mobiles, about how the undecided are being distributed by this poller versus that one.

People are getting up early just to get the latest Nanos daily tracker results. Without missing a beat they can tell you that the EKOS tracker will come out at 4:00 pm. And then there are the seat God do people love the seat projections. 

And you know what? It's awesome. 

People are engaged in a way I did not see them being engaged in 2011, 2008 or 2006. People are talking about the polls, yes, but they are also talking about the issues. By and large they can articulate the narrative and position of the three main parties.

I tried to think about the reason. Availability of information is definitely part of the explanation. You can get election information and raw data from so many sources, so quickly. 

Twitter is also having an effect. If 2011 was Canada's first real Twitter election, the ensuing years have seen it grow into what often seems like the primary communications vehicle for parties, candidates, supporters and detractors.  If you are on-line you simply can't escape the chatter.

But if I had to pick one thing that is driving the current levels of engagement, I would vote for the emergence of a true change versus more of the same narrative. 

On the one side you have two parties casting themselves as agents of change, but who also have significant policy differences between them. There is a choice within the choice for change.

On the other side, you have a government casting themselves as stewards of stability and safety while at the same time trying to introduce a question of dangerous risks associated with their opponents.

And woven within all of this are so many issues. The economy, cultural accommodation, security, the environment, the role of government, trade. We have always had issues around which elections were framed, but I honestly can't recall a campaign with so many.

For both seasoned politics watchers and those who fall into the "winter olympics" category, this election has been fascinating to follow. Let's hope the next 10 days remain as compelling and that regardless of the outcome, the levels of engagement don't dip.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Fall Back Position

Last night at the Conservative Party Convention (#CPC13), the Prime Minister delivered his much anticipated speech to the party faithful. After all of the distraction, challenges and criticisms Mr. Harper has endured owing to the Senate scandal, this speech was his opportunity to get back on track.

So, how did he do?

The answer to that question depends very much on whether you are a Conservative partisan or, basically, anyone else.

What the faithful saw...

For those Conservatives attending or following from afar, the speech was important in two ways. The first, and perhaps most significant, was the energy the Prime Minister displayed.

I joked last night on Twitter that the staffer who suggested he have a Red Bull before going to the podium was due a raise or a Senate appointment. The point is that Mr. Harper was clearly energized and demonstrated an enthusiasm that has rarely been present during this crisis.

Energy matters, particularly when you are dealing with your base. The base is the group on whose energy you depend for donations and organization. They needed to see this side of Mr. Harper.

The second key element of the speech was its recitation of the government's accomplishments. Or more specifically accomplishments as defined by the base.

- Death of the wheat board and gun registry...check!
- CETA...check!
- Victims rights and a tough on crime agenda...check!
- Support for the troops...check!
- Not letting environmental policy impede energy policy...check!

With each reference the base was reminded both what this government has done, and what was at risk should anyone else assume the reigns of power.

What others saw...

Of course those of us who are not Conservatives saw the same things. Mr. Harper was fired up and the list of accomplishments was proudly proclaimed. Beyond that, my takeaways were the following:

- Thomas Mulcair probably has to wonder what an Opposition leader needs to do to get a mention. The man has been hammering Mr. Harper in QP with greater effect than anyone since 2006 and he gets nothing by way of a mention. All the focus was on Justin Trudeau.

- The Senate narrative is set and in it Mr. Harper is the solution, not the problem. Standing in his way are Liberal Senators and the Courts (if you could name two opponents more distasteful to the base, let me know).

But the main takeaway for me was the re-set that was attempted last night.

It is somewhat fitting that this weekend we will adjust our clocks and "fall back." More than anything, last night was an attempt to fall back and do what the Speech from the Throne (#SFT13) was supposed to do.

As I wrote here, #SFT13 was about red meat for a blue base. Unfortunately, subsequent events scuppered any chance of that speech accomplishing its objectives.

Cue last night at #CPC13. This was #SFT13 on Red Bull, delivered to the party faithful. There was nothing of substance or measure; rather it was highly targeted at those people on whom the party needs to keep in the fold, energized and donating.


Whether the government can successfully fall back is another matter, of course. Time is on their side in terms of an election, but it is clear that their brand has suffered across the country.

Job #1 right now is to shore up the base, and in that regard I think they can call #CPC13 a reasonable success. Job #2 is to convince enough of the rest of the country. Time will tell if they can spring forward.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Has the (Ottawa) Bubble Burst?

Something rare has happened in Canadian politics over the past eight or nine days, and the fact that it has happened could have significant implications for the Conservative government. If you listened carefully, you could hear it happening. It went *pop*.

The *pop* was the sound of the Ottawa bubble bursting as the rest of the country tuned in to what has been happening on the Hill.

It is an increasingly rare event that manages to build a bridge between the political media/politics watchers (those in the Ottawa bubble), and the broader public. Given that rarity, it is somewhat ironic that it was the Senate of all places that managed to burst the bubble.

Think about it. The part of the government that Canadians probably see as the least relevant has become the part of the government that has done more to engage Canadians on a political issue than any other in recent years.

More than prorogation, the long-form census, the gun registry, Afghanistan, Guerguis-Jaffer (and the busty hookers), F-35s, the Economic Action Plan, and a host of other issues....this issue has brought politics to Canadians and brought Canadians to politics.

Ironic point number 2: Mr. Harper appointed Mr. Duffy to the Senate to strengthen the government's ability to connect with the voter. I suppose he can say mission accomplished.

In reality though, the Senate is not the issue despite the fact that this is what the government would have you believe. As I wrote here, what is happening in the Senate is a symptom of a wider problem that relates to questions of transparency and accountability.

The evidence thus far suggests that the government:

- knew what was happening;
- made various efforts to hide it; and
- celebrated those efforts and attacked those who offered criticism.

Only when it was clear that things were about to get worse did the government act, but those actions have only served to reveal the inconsistencies in their positioning of the issue. And those inconsistencies raise some important questions:

1. Did the Prime Minister mislead Parliament? On numerous occasions inside and outside Parliament, he has said that Mr. Wright resigned (something publicly lamented by more than one MP and Cabinet Minister). Now Parliament is told Mr. Wright was fired. Both can't be true, so which one was not?

2. Mr. Harper has said Mr. Duffy must pay back the money. OK, but to who? Was the public purse reimbursed by the 90K from Mr. Wright, as we were told? If so, then I guess he has to pay back Mr. Wright (though it is odd that the Prime Minister would so publicly ask for money to be repaid to someone he has now thrown under a bus and ran over several times).

Or is he to pay back the party? Or is it possible that the expenses were not repaid, in which case why did the government say they were when the celebrated Mr. Duffy? Again, given the government's statements earlier this year something is not correct.

3. Who knew what in the PMO? And depending on the answer, why has only one person (Wright) paid a price (either through resignation or dismissal)?

4. What is the truth on the RBC loan line that was used by the government and Mr. Duffy? If it is not true, who developed the line and insisted on its use?


After #SFT13, with its focus on the base, I made the following comment:

Should the government find itself subject to death by a thousand cuts emanating from the Senate, particularly if there are links to the PMO, then all best intentions with respect to both the base and the broader electorate are out the window.

As the Liberals will tell you, erosion in support is difficult to stop once your brand has been subjected to a steady drip of scandal. Similarly, mould and decay are not easily painted over.

Two weeks ago we were not at this point. I think we are now, and with more and more Canadians paying attention the government should be worried.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Red Meat For a Blue Base

So, there it is.

A prorogation, summer of reflection and a fall re-set has brought us to today. To a Speech from the Throne (#SFT13) that in the end was akin to a wordy pamphlet that appears primarily aimed at the Conservative party base.

This is not surprising. Given the challenges the Harper government has faced, securing things in their own home should be the first priority. More particularly, the nature of the government's challenges - the Senate / Nigel Wright, the Auditor General's questions about defence spending, Robocalls and perceived election improprieties, sluggish job growth - run counter to the very brand the government purports to represent.

Job one, therefore, was to make nice and sort things out with the base.

How does one do that? First, by reciting all of the base-friendly accomplishments of the past (e.g. the end of the gun registry and Wheat Board). Second, by promising an agenda that is both populist (consumer-friendly, smaller government) and conservative (balanced budget legislation, victims rights).

With two years to go until an election, it is arguably a sensible strategy. Get back to your core first, and once they are re-energized and engaged turn towards those remaining slices of the electorate that can get you over the line.  Simple enough.

Now, anyone who tells you this will work is misleading you. Similarly, anyone who tells you it won't is also misleading you. With two years to go until we go back to the polls, anything can happen that either adds to or detracts from the Conservative narrative we heard today.

So what to watch for?

By-elections, as a start. Want to test how this narrative will play on the campaign trail, try a by-election.  With four coming up in the coming months we will see how the message lands with the voter, particularly in the two Conservative seats in play.

Something else to watch for is the degree to which the government will use the opposition's continued focus on scandal as an opportunity to show themselves as "in touch with Canadians" and their opponents as being "stuck in the Ottawa bubble".

This is a gamble, particularly as it is not actually within the government's abilities to independently deliver many of the consumer-friendly measures contained in the Speech. Failure to do so, while at the same time wearing a heavier and heavier mantle of scandal, could prove problematic.

Which leads to a final point. Should the government find itself subject to death by a thousand cuts emanating from the Senate, particularly if there are links to the PMO, then all best intentions with respect to both the base and the broader electorate are out the window.

As the Liberals will tell you, erosion in support is difficult to stop once your brand has been subjected to a steady drip of scandal. Similarly, mould and decay are not easily painted over.

The government is not at that point, yet. But they have cast their die with the narrative put in place today. How this plays out will make for some interesting politics watching.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Much ado about very little

So, at long last we had our Cabinet shuffle. Weeks of speculation culminated in today's series of Prime Ministerial tweets announcing the new appointees. It was all very exciting!

Actually, it wasn't. Not really.

Looking at the end product of this endless cycle of speculation actually left this politics watcher decidedly underwhelmed. The great recasting of the government actually turned out to be much ado about very little.

Certainly there was an infusion of new blood and a move towards greater gender diversity around the table. I suppose that on one level, it can be argued that those elements made the exercise meaningful.

And for some, perhaps, the novelty of the Prime Minister tweeting in 140 characters about the positions occupied by 39 characters was interesting.

But if the objective was to present a refocused government and sense that this was the team that would transition the government away from scandal and back towards governing, I am not sure it was much of a success.

The main players remained in Cabinet and in their current portfolios. The composition of the powerful Cabinet committees has not appreciably changed. And of course the boss is still the boss.

It's like walking into a refurbished restaurant, only to find that the same items are on the menu and the cook hasn't changed. Sure it looks a little different, but it remains all too familiar.

Time will tell if this shuffle gets the government any traction with the voting public, though it is worth noting that this is rarely the case...if ever.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Go Sens, Go? That's Not the Issue

Yes, yes. It has been a long time. Too long, actually, between posts. To those who read my posts (hopeful voice), I apologize...

That said, nothing like the week that was to rouse one from slumber and encourage a new post. In truth, last week seemed like some political version of "anything you can do I do better" - from the polls first in Labrador and then in British Colombia, to the Senate and then the Office of the Mayor of Toronto, and finally to the PMO. 

Plus we had an earthquake, just for good measure.

While there is so much on which one could comment, let's look at events in Ottawa and the furore developing over the Senate following expense improprieties and the government, ahem, response.

Rather than go into the well-reported details here, I wanted to focus on what this issue is and is not about. Let's start with the latter.

This is not about the Senate. 

While the issue began in the Senate and is focused on the conduct of members of the Senate, the most recent events have made this something beyond the Senate. Yet Canadians are being told the opposite.

The government lines are making every effort to define this as a Senate issue; lines which go so far as to suggest that this is exactly why Canada needs the Senate reform they have long championed (and they suggest would have advanced were it not for the Liberals and the NDP).

Now, had the issue been solely about improper expenses related to residency the government might have been on stronger ground. As well, had the government decided not to make Senator Duffy's "repayment" a partisan issue and hold him up as an example of all that is good, this might have stayed within the walls of a chamber to which so few pay attention.

But events did not play out this way.

So for those using this event as a justification for chanting "Go Sens, go", hold on a moment.  There is more here.


If it is not primarily about the Senate, what is it about? Some observations...

1. It may be about criminality. As Rob Walsh (former Law Clerk of the House of Commons) noted today, the actions of Duffy and Wright may have violated the Criminal Code provisions which relate to Members of Parliament (sec. 119). While it is not clear that this is the case, understanding whether it is is or is not demands more information, not less.  Which leads to observation #2...

2. It is about transparency. Information and transparency are like oxygen for a well-functioning democracy, and in this case they are sorely lacking. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. While it is a truism that all parties are strong advocates for transparency while in opposition and laggards while in government, the current government has taken that maxim to new levels.

If this was purely about Senate reform and the need for change, I suspect the government would be highly transparent. That they are not is telling, which leads to observation #3...

3. It is most definitely about attitude. It is about an aggressive attitude towards any opposition, towards any challenge and towards facts. It was the government's instinct to make a Senate issue a partisan one by trumpeting Senator Duffy's "repayment" that contributed to this mess. By choosing to elevate him, they took an Ottawa issue and made it a national one.

Put another way, by elevating Duffy they set themselves up and are now paying the price.

All governments - Conservative, Liberal, NDP, PQ, you name it - will have an element of "how much do we think we can get away with" in their conduct. There will be obfuscation, deflection and denial. A sense that they can ride it out.

Time in power feeds this sense, as does a fractured opposition (take today's QP as an example of an opposition that failed to really focus its questions and pen the government into the corner in which they were already standing).

But in the end, it is this attitude which ultimately brings down governments. And this is the point which should worry the government.

This issue and, more importantly, their handling of it has lead an increasing number of people - including elements of their base - to see them less as like the champions of change from 2006 and more like just another party. And when you are seen as just another party, the public will quickly realize that there is always someone else to which they can turn.
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