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.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Looking for a Liberal Leader

The race to become the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada is underway. On April 14th, 2013, party faithful will choose the leader they hope will take Canada's "once natural governing party, but now third party in the House" down the path of renewal - a path they hope can reposition the party for success.

While the field currently boasts a number of candidates, at this time it appears that the lion's share of the attention will be lavished on three: Justin Trudeau and Martha Hall Findlay, who have both launched their campaigns, and Marc Garneau who will do so this week.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will be writing about this campaign - the candidates and the issues. To start things off, I thought I would borrow page from Andrew Coyne and offer some unsolicited advice.


As Mr. Coyne pointed out in this excellent piece the party has an important choice to make. It can choose to swing for the fences by seeing themselves as viable candidates for power in the next election, or it can preach patience and look to first generate stability and then build from its position as the third party.

His recommendation - the patience route - is reasonable, as it takes into account the litany of challenges the party is facing. It also suggests that settling in as a third party can afford the Liberals the opportunity to develop more definition to their party - something that has been dwindling since 2006.

The argument is that freed from having to play it safe as one of the two contenders, the party can lay out more robust, thoughtful and perhaps controversial policy positions. This is what Reform and the NDP did. The question is whether the Liberals have the patience necessary to survive a longer spell on the sidelines.


Building on Mr. Coyne's arguments, I offer some additional points for the Liberals to consider...

Define Progressive...

A centrist party is by definition a difficult thing to define. Move away from this nomenclature and instead look to define what progressive means in the 21st century.

Progressive needs to be more than a new way of saying "left". The Liberals need to frame progressive as being about balance and collaboration.

A progressive brand should be one which defines what fiscal responsibility means in a modern society. It needs to acknowledge that sound finances and sustainable social programs are equally important to the country's future prosperity.

It should be a brand which breaks both the mindset that taxation is bad, and the mindset that suggests that controlling spending is draconian. Neither position is true, despite what the traditional right or left will tell you.

More than anything, defining progressive is an opportunity to illustrate how economic policy, health policy, environmental policy, education, trade and foreign policy are all inter-connected. Too often they are presented as independent of one another, or even mutually exclusive.

A progressive party should look to connect the dots between the multiple policy threads that make up governing and tell a story which brings the voter into the dialogue. A progressive party should foster engagement, not discourage it.

A tall order, yes. But an opportunity to fill a void which is missing in Ottawa right now.

Pay Heed to the Lessons of Romney, part one...

As Justin Trudeau is currently learning, what you have said in the past can and will be used against you - often and with scant regard for context. And the impact can be significant.  Just ask Mitt.

Quick question: Who won the Republican nomination campaign? Answer: Barack Obama.

That campaign forced Romney to adopt positions which would appeal to the conservatives of the Republican party, but which would not appeal to mainstream American voters.  The result is that while Romney fought to define himself for Republicans, he opened the door for the Obama campaign to define him for the rest of the country.

The definition they offered was something the Romney campaign never really recovered from. Even when he tried he simply reinforced a sense that he would say anything to anyone. When a candidate loses the voter's "does he understand me" test, he or she loses the election. 

The Liberal candidates need to be mindful of this fact as they debate the issues. I am not for a moment suggesting that any candidate adopt a bland, un-offensive approach which tries to please all. But each candidate needs to find their space or ground. 

Moving all over the map, as Romney did, will be damaging. Define your campaign and stick to your principles.

And finally, be mindful as to how you go after one another. Learn not just the lessons of Mitt, but also the lessons of Stephane. As candidates you will look to draw contrasts between one another. But don't adopt the hyperbole that can hamstring whomever the eventual winner will be.

Remember, the Conservatives are just waiting for you to do so. Tread carefully.

Pay Heed to the Lessons of Romney, part two...

Romney won his party's nomination because he was deemed electable. The Liberals need to avoid the "electable trap".

Falling into this trap means choosing someone because you think they can deliver the goods at the next opportunity. For the Liberals, this would be a long-shot. 

As Mr. Coyne points out, the hurdles the party faces are not insignificant. While the unpredictability of politics reminds one that anything can happen, the current facts suggest that on balance the Liberals need more than 2-3 years to be in a position to challenge for government.

With this in mind, the party needs to select a candidate for the long run. The next leader needs two elections and time to build. It has to be someone prepared to put in the time out of the spotlight as they work to re-build.

In the end it is a balance. You need someone ready to lead should fortune swing your way. But you need someone patient to wait and prepared to do the work necessary to build.

And for heaven's sake, Liberals. Don't ditch the leader if they don't win.


In less than five months, the Liberals will select a leader. Between now and then, however, the party and its faithful have some thinking to do.

What are the lessons of the past six years? What investments are needed to re-build the party? Are you prepared to make them?

Many thought that electoral defeat was just the normal "time in the penalty box"; that after a spell on the sidelines it would be their turn again. The thinking was that at some point enough voters would simply tire of the Harper government once they knew more about them, and presto(!) the Liberals would be back in government.

They were wrong. And that is why we stand here today at the beginning of this campaign.

The leadership campaign is probably the Liberals last, best shot at repositioning themselves in the eyes of voters. The stakes are hight. Let's see if they are up to the challenge.

I, for one, hope they are.
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