Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Year That Was...Part 1

Well, here we are fast approaching the end of 2009. What. A. Year. I'll start with a re-cap which I suspect will take a post or two to get through. The focus today is on setting the stage.

Let's go back to the end of 2008. If you recall, Canadians were presented with:

  • A Government which initially said the economy was fine
  • A Government which shortly thereafter said things were worse with the economy than they had been for many, many years
  • An Opposition which couldn't agree on anything
  • An Opposition which decided they agreed on enough that they could form a coalition
  • A Governor General sending everyone to the naughty chair for a time-out.

And that was just last fall!

Since then we have seen the government embrace the downturn and spend, spend, spend.

  • Billions for the automotive sector, in line with the measures taken in the U.S.
  • Expanded EI.
  • Infrastructure spending, including those ubiquitous "Canada's Economic Action Plan" signs (Wouldn't you love to have that contract?!?)
  • A record deficit on the horizon due to increased spending and falling tax revenues

Canadians wanted stimulus and the Opposition wanted stimulus, and this what the Government gave them. You can argue about how much has been spent and the like, but from a political perspective the Opposition and the public handed the Government the opportunity to use the public purse to paint themselves as being responsive, caring and prepared to act on the public's behalf.

At the same time, we have witnessed the steps and missteps of Mr. Ignatieff. As this blog has noted on a number of occasions, it was necessary for him to break out of the "support the government for fear of an election" rut the Liberals were in. However, to do so by declaring you wanted an election without defining why was rash and ill-advised. The plummeting support is indicative of this failure to properly define a Liberal alternative.

Staffing changes in the OLO acknowledge these missteps and over time they should be addressed. A team of experience will be needed to balance against unbridled enthusiasm - equal measures of reality and kool-aid should be served in order to steady the ship and plot a course. Of course, only time will tell how damaging Mr. Rossi's forthcoming departure will be.

All of this on its own would make excellent watching. In the spirit of stimulus, however, we are being treated to even more. Step forward Afghanistan and take a bow. This issue and the questions it is raising may accomplish what the Opposition couldn't do over 12 months - hurt the Government.

More on that to come...

'Tis the season...

Hi there, I'm back. Apologies for the lack of posts - it's a busy time of year. However, this time of year does provide a great opportunity to run through some of the highs and lows of the recent months.

So what's on my mind and likely to make the list?

  • Mr. Colvin and the case of the noble foreign service officer (Opposition version)
  • Mr. Colvin and the case of the not so competent foreign service officer (Conservative version)
  • Free falling - how I spent the fall by Michael Ignatieff
  • Copenhagen and the politics of hot air
  • Buddy, can you spare a dime - a record deficit in record time

Stay tuned for part 1 later this evening...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guess who's back, back again...

I'm back! I'm back! What did I miss??? Well...

  • a re-vamping of the Leader of the Opposition's office, courtesy of one new Chief of Staff named Peter Donolo;

  • a continuing 8-10 point lead for the Conservatives, including a growing gap between Harper and Igantieff on the "who's the best leader" front; and

  • an attack on the public servant who has raised concerns with respect to the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan.

While the first two bullets seem to be pretty much par for the course these days, the third offers more for us to think about.

When we talk about whistleblowers, remember that this is a government who - while in Opposition - embraced whistleblowers as the political equivalent of a "voice crying out in the wilderness." They were going to tell us how things really worked in Ottawa.

Not surprisingly, that was then and this is now.

Case #1:

A public servant has raised concerns about how prisoners were treated in Afghanistan. His concerns were shared via email with all senior officials who should know, and a number whom he felt should be kept in the loop.

He raised important questions and in manner which appears to be impartial and well-intentioned. In other words, he did his job.

Now, we don't know if his allegations can be substantiated. They be true, they may not. All to say, they need to be investigated. So this is what the government promised, right?

No. What the government did was devote its resources towards attacking the motives behind and arguments in support of his allegation.

Case #2

My favourite, the ongoing challenges faced by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page.

You see, Mr. Page and his office were set up by the Conservatives to monitor government budgetary information. Essentially the equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office in the U.S.

The Conservatives promised a fully independent and resourced office, but what we have instead is an office which is being forced to pass around a tin cup in the hopes it can have the $ to do its job.

Some $ has flowed his way, although it is a far cry from what he has sought. As well, the information he has requested has been provided in a less-than-ideal manner.

I raise these two cases because they point to a wider issue; namely the focus by governments on the "now" and the need to block and bridge around issues, rather than face and deal with them. Going forward...

  • Mr. Colvin's charges need to be investigated, not attacked.
  • Mr. Page needs the resources to do his job; and
  • Canadians need to hold their leaders to account, particularly today when billions of taxpayers dollars are being spent, the environment is being attacked and our population is changing.

These are the types of actions we expect of our governments. From the Conservative's perspective, they need to realize that their handling of these types of issues are contributing to their failure to register with urban Canadians.

Are they up to the challenge?

Raise your hand if you failed to post this week

Sadly,I have broken my self-imposed rule of a minimum 2 posts a week. Apologies. I will look to rectify things with a post this evening and more to follow over the next week.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Welcome to the job, Mr. Donolo...

Mr. Donolo officially starts his new job on Monday. He will come into that job faced with:
  • a 10 point gap between the Conservatives and the Liberals;
  • a Conservative government which has just picked up two more seats, including one in rural Quebec;
  • an NDP which, for now, continues to hold its own; and
  • a number of empty desks in the OLO following a number of recent departures.
Ok, so the last one might be less of a problem as it presents an opportunity to choose his own staff and make a clean break with downward spiral now known as Fall 2009. All in all though, for many this is the political equivalent of the labours of Hercules.

So what's a Chief of Staff to do?

  • Build a team - his own team. His office will live and die by their performance over the next 8-12 months. Choose people you know can do the job, not people you hope can do it. Enthusiasm cannot replace experience and expertise. Find the right mix between the two.

  • Get caucus on side. Ignatieff will not survive without them. If they feel their prospects would be better served by another leader, they will move there. Quickly. Build bridges and let them see you have a plan.

  • Define a Liberal government. To this day, it is not clear what an Ignatieff government would stand for, what they would represent. Yes, we have high-level platitudes but voters need more. Show yourselves to be a government in waiting. Not being Stephen Harper won't work anymore, nor will fear-mongering. Present a credible alternative.

  • Building on the point above, find your key messages and let the public see the leader delivering them.

All of this will take time the Liberals may not have. We will again be confronted by the prospects of an election this Spring (Budget 2010 being a possible trigger). That does not leave a lot of time for a Chief of Staff to do the things needed to steady the ship and plot a course.

Welcome to the job, Mr. Donolo...

Monday, November 9, 2009

3 down, 1 to go...By-Election Results

So, at just past 11:15 pm EST here is where we stand:

- Conservatives will pick up Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley
- The Bloc will hold Hochelaga
- The NDP will, it appears, hold New Westminster-Coquitlam

This leaves Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, where the Conservatives were holding a 700 or so vote lead. Should the results hold, this would be an important pick-up for the Tories.

It's in Mario Dumont's old territory and many will recall how ADQ voters were the Quebec voters that the Conservatives had tried to target over the last few elections. Mario is gone and the ADQ is done, but the Tories do appear to be resonating with these voters.

What's not clear is what these results tell us about the Liberals. They came third in all 4 ridings, but these were not ridings where they were expected to win. You can bet that this will be the spin coming your way.

So when we wake up tomorrow, what will we hear? To start, we will hear the Tories use the results to emphasize that Canadians do not agree with the policies and approach of Mr. Ignatieff. Expect to hear them emphasize him by name (versus Liberals as a party).

We will also hear talk of the NDP holding its own against the big boys in N.S and Quebec (finishing second twice), and winning in B.C. Cue Jack on t.v. Lots of Jack.

Will any of this make a difference as to how Canada is run today? Will policies change? No. But does this help set the stage for the next election? Yes. The government will come out of this very pleased with the results. The win in Quebec is great; the continued marginalization of the Liberals may be even better for Mr. Harper.

The results are...trickling in

So, the results are coming in and are - more or less - as expected.

  • Conservatives will re-take Bill Casey's riding in Nova Scotia. Mr. Casey, before becoming a GR rep for the Province of Nova Scotia several months ago, as an Independent. He had originally been elected as a Conservative but then decided to sit as an Independent over the failure of the government to honour the Atlantic Accord. This riding has a long, long history of being Tory, so things are back to normal.

  • Hochelaga stays with the Bloc. Raise your hand if you are surprised.

  • Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup is shaping up to be quite the contest. As I write this, Elections Canada has the Conservative ahead by 127 votes. This could be a long night. Oh, by the way, the Bloc has called in the police to investigate allegations of illegality.

  • In New Westminster--Coquitlam it's early days, but as of now the NDP are holding Dawn Black's former riding.

More to come...

Election Night...(sort of)

Later this evening we'll have the results of the 4 by-elections underway in Nova Scotia, Quebec and British Colombia. It will be interesting to see how the parties spin the results...

  • Are these by-elections a "referendum" on the government?
  • Are they a referendum on the Liberals and their recent form?
  • How will the HST debate factor into results?

Stay tuned...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Contagious Citizenship

What is the nature of citizenship? This is a question I found myself asking this weekend, but to be honest I am not sure why the question came into my head.

I think part of this question comes from the very public reaction to the H1N1 vaccination program underway. Over the past week we have had people across Canada find some way (local papers and radio, Twitter, blogs, interviews, etc.) to get their views known about the government's handling of the vaccination.

I am not going to get into a critique of the program- what I will say is that the people I dealt with in Ottawa were exceptionally good natured and helpful (despite what I am sure had been a full day of chaos and criticism).

What I do think is worth mentioning is how often it takes something which can affect people so personally and which is so non-discriminating to, for want of a better word, inflame public opinion.

You see, every day governments are taking decisions which affect our lives. Sometimes in big ways, and other times in smaller ways. Most often, we don't care or notice. Or, those who do care or notice have some vested interest in the outcome. Where is the average Canadian?

My personal view is that we take a very comfortable and passive approach to citizenship in Canada. For me, citizenship is meant to be active. We are supposed to be engaged and critical on the issues we elect our representatives to opine and decide upon. Too often, however, we sit back and remain uninformed and disengaged.

H1N1 is an example where large numbers of Canadians have views and opinions which they are making know. Why? They want to influence public decision-making. It's a horrible and challenging issue, but our reaction and engagement on it is what we need in Canada from a public policy perspective.

We need to be engaged on all of the issues which affect our lives. We like to point the finger for Canada's problems (or lack of solutions) at our politicians. Are we prepared to point the same finger at ourselves?


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A change will do you good....

Several weeks ago this blog and others commented that Mr. Ignatieff may need to make changes in his office. Politics Watcher wrote the following:

"If this requires staffing changes or an office re-org, do it. Show us you mean business by taking the tough decisions. The question people will otherwise ask is how can you run Canada is you can't manage your party."

Well, that was on October 1. The following was issued this evening:

So, Davey out and Donolo in. Others may be following Davey out the door they entered with him - time will tell. All to say, we will get more information tomorrow and over the coming days, but it appears that the party's troubles since that fateful day in Sudbury have brought matters to a head.

So what next? A few things for them to consider:

  • find 3-4 key messages and stick to them
  • define yourselves and what your government would look like and stand for - develop an agenda and sell it
  • stop counting on the country "not warming to Harper" - you need to be seen as more than the default

There will be no election until at least the Spring. That gives Mr. Donolo and co. a good 6 months to get the office of the Leader of the Opposition moving smoothly. This is not a lot of time, as one can expect that the Government may want to prompt an election before the Opposition can sort itself out.

Focus and discipline are needed right now if there is to be change in the polls. Will we see it? Let me know...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dollars and Sense

So according to the recent reports, those Canada's Economic Action Plan ads should include an asterisk or some fine print suggesting that little red ridings need not apply. If you go by these reports, those who vote Tory blue get to host one MP, several staffers and one...large...novelty..cheque. Those ridings which don't, get less. Or nothing.

The Opposition calls this Duplessis-style politics. It's seen by them as a throw-back to the days when politicians reminded voters what a vote really means. Let's just say things were a touch more transactional back then.

Others see this as less about old-style politics and more of, you know, just politics. Honestly, I don't know if it is funny or sad that some people have a "well duh?" reaction.

So which is it? For me, politics will always have an element of payback and reward. Where things cross the line is when people treat or are seen to be using the country's money for overtly partisan purposes.

So, since the well-staffed statistics department here at politicswatcher assures me we now have readers and comments, I put the questions out to you.

  • Is this the way things are in politics?
  • Is this the way things should be in politics?
  • Will any of this matter when it comes time to vote?

Tell me what you think...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

You get this, I get that. The division of powers...

The recent move by the federal government to seek the views of the Supreme Court on the whether the feds have the constitutional authority to establish a national securities regulator brought back memories.

Or were they nightmares? I am not sure, all I know is that the issue of the division of powers popped back into my consciousness.

You see, in another life I spent some time working on the unity file and the question of who has the power to do what was...sadly...a daily issue to consider. For those unfamiliar, a very brief overview.

The Constitution sets out the powers of the federal and the provincial governments. The intent at the time was to have a strong central government - the Fathers of Confederation had just witnessed what state power had led to in the U.S. and wanted to avoid that in Canada.

The juicy stuff (circa 1867) therefore went to the feds. The feds also got much more ability to tax and spend. The provinces' lot included things which meant less at that time, but which have grown in importance (and cost) since. Think health care and education.

So, in may instances one has the cash and the other the power.

Over the years some interesting (yes, I can be a geek) battles have been fought as to whether one is encroaching on the powers of the other. This has been amplified by two things.

First, the Constitution could not truly anticipate the world as it evolved so as new areas emerged it was not always clear who had responsibility (in fairness, the feds have the default but that is a world of grey).

Second, the Quebec issue. Understandably, no province has guarded its areas of responsibility quite like Quebec, regardless of which party was leading the province.

See, the feds have liked to initiate programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The provinces - often led by Quebec - have lobbied for the money to do their own thing.

Meech Lake was a notable effort to deal with this issue. Under the Accord, the federal government would allow a province to opt out of a federal program in an area of provincial jurisdiction with compensation if they introduced something comparable which met national standards.

What are national standards? Who knows. And that's why I brought this topic up tonight (along with a side conversation with one of my 3..count them 3 comment-providers on this site. Yes, we are growing here at politics.watcher!).

A federal system will naturally have a quilt-like approach to policy. At its best, this system can allow provinces to develop programs which fit the needs of their often unique populations.

If these work well, there is an opportunity for other provinces to follow suit and the result can be a national program.

The National Child Tax Benefit introduced by the Liberals in the late 1990s is an example. It was built off a Saskatchewan program. The Cullen-Couture agreement in Quebec dealing with immigration is another which has served as a model for other provinces.

Unfortunately, the other side of this coin is an inconsistent approach to the things people care most about. Things like, for example, health and education. At some point, the more centralist-minded person will ask why isn't there a national approach to health care in terms of coverage, service levels, etc. Why are children taught different things differently as you move through the country.

Since Meech, governments have tried things like tax point transfers to get the provinces greater financial autonomy. Success has been mixed.

For me, the watering down of a national standard is a greater concern than the potential over-stepping of a level of government's jurisdiction. A national securities regulator makes sense. A truly national approach to health care makes sense. At some point, we need to think of Canada as being more than the sum of its parts.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The $15 billion swing...

On Friday (of course on a Friday), the Department of Finance released Canada's Annual Financial Report for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Basically, how we did from April 1, 2008 through to March 31, 2009.

In case you were wondering, we did poorly.

At the beginning of the fiscal year, Canada had a budgetary surplus of $9.6 billion. 12 months later, we had a deficit of $5.8 billion. Yes, that's right. National finances suffered a $15.4 billion swing. In the wrong direction.

Now, I don't know about you but if I my household finances suffered a swing of similar proportions, there would be a heck of a conversation looming...

Being a Department of Finance document, there were lots of other statistics - the vast majority of which I won't bore you with (geeks go here:

Now, for those concerned about the national debt (i.e. 1 of the 2 people who have commented here), we are still sitting at a comfortable 29% debt-to-GDP ratio. This is one of the numbers I suspect will get bandied about as the government is challenged on the deficit.

It gets at the ability of a country to serve its debt, and by all measures Canada is in good shape (and for that matter in much better shape than other G7 countries). Expect the government to play this up.

But let's go back to our question of the deficit and more importantly how it can be eliminated. As noted in previous blogs, it is unlikely that economic growth will take care of things for the government. Most economists expect this deficit to grow over the next few years until it approaches the $50 billion level. If we believe this needs to be addressed, what's the solution?

I'll put some thoughts down:
  • As mentioned in earlier posts, increase the GST. It is consumption oriented and the previous cuts only favoured those who spend more on luxury items. Increase the tax and make sure to carve out those items which are not luxury (key foodstuffs, baby items, books - most of this is already done, but address any remaining items).

  • Continue to increase consumption taxes for cigarettes and alcohol.

  • Review federal assets, including foreign real estate holdings, to identify savings through divestiture.

Will any of this do the trick? Not any one item. The biggest bang will come from the GST, but I would worry about two things. First, the courage of any government to move on a tax increase. Second, the fact that for all of the spending cuts or revenue increases a government can get in place, there will be a long line of other financial asks waiting in the wings.

What I am trying to say is that the politician who tells you no tax increases is likely wrong. The politician who says no cuts to programs is also wrong. For Canada to get out of this hole the government (whoever is in charge) will need to raise taxes. They will need to cut spending (if only to make room for spending in new areas). It won't be fun, but it will be interesting...


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Comments! We have comments (...and the cheque is in the mail)

The Habs played (and lost) their home opener tonight. This sporting event has, sadly, occupied my attention this evening so there will not be much of a post tonight.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that we have our first posts on this blog. This may be small to many of you mega-bloggers out there, but for a fledgling blogger like me it is certainly welcome. Thanks!

Now, about those cheques...

Is this an issue we should care about? I am not sure I care so much about the cheques and photos. For me, it is the hypocrisy. Had this been the fall of 2005, we would have had these cheques featuring heavily in the "Stand Up for Canada" ads.

Yes, every government rallies against such things. And yes, once a party gets in their views seems to change. That's the game, right?

This mentality is reflected in recent discussions on Kevin Page. Following on last night's post, the same Conservatives who called for an independent Parliamentary Budget Officer are now essentially cutting the office off. There is so much evidence about how perspective changes once you are on the inside - so much so that we should not be surprised.

These are not, on their own, issues which sway large numbers of voters. But they are issues which we should note and consider as we look at the parties and the options they present to us.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wanted (or not?): One independent Parliamentary Budget Officer

As part of this discussion on deficits, I would welcome your views on the Parliamentary Budget Officer. We have one. He's cash-strapped. Some would argue it's because his message is not welcome. Others don't like his style.

Give me your views. Does need Canada need a fully independent Parliamentary Budget Officer? What role should this officer play?


Uh, we seem to have lost several billion dollars. Has anyone seen them?

Yes, we have a deficit. And yes, it's big and growing. So what should we do?

In answering, I think it is important to consider how we arrived at the current state of affairs. Without question the economic stimulus introduced though Budget 2009 (or Canada's Economic Action Plan if you prefer the marketing approach to government policy) accounts for a lot of the deficit.

But what else? Well, increased government spending pre-economic crisis ranks right up there. Over the past several years, under both Conservative and Liberal governments, federal expenditures have steadily risen.

For a time, this was ok as the economy and government revenues (through taxes) were growing more quickly. The GST alone was bringing in billions each year. Eliminate the deficit - sure! Need a Canada Foundation for Innovation? No problem! Pay down debt? Bingo!

Things were so good, in fact, that in 2006 the decision was made to reduce that cash cow of cash cows. The cuts the Conservatives made to the GST (in two phases) took billions out of the government's coffers.

Ok, fine. So what about spending? Did government adjust for this loss in revenue? In a word, no. Corporate and personal taxes were lowered, thereby reducing revenues further. And overall program spending rose (defence was a big leader), further chipping away at the remaining surplus.

The result was that Canada was close to or more likely in deficit this time last year. Pre-crisis. The ensuing stimulus measures, combined with a sharp reduction in government tax revenue as the economy faltered, then took things to the levels we see today.

I raise this because knowing how we got there should help us figure out how we get out. It's like when you lose your keys. The first thing someone says is, "Well, where did you last see them? Retrace your steps."

In our case, we have "lost" billions. Retracing our steps leads us, from my perspective, to this conclusion. Spending must be lowered and selected taxes must go up.

Ok, that was the easy part. Now for the challenge. What spending gets cut? What tax gets raised?

For me, returning the GST to pre-2006 levels - while not a political winner - may be the route to go. I would not be surprised if at some point the Liberals float this one to see how it plays.

On spending, the winding down of the stimulus measures will help. However, there are big ticket items out there including a new spending accord with the provinces on health care. You think saving GM and Chrysler were expensive, try health care on for size.

Then you have the Liberals, who having moved away from the green shift are now looking to invest heavily in a green economy. That can't be done on the cheap.

I raise this because for every expense that is cut, there are 5 new unfunded ideas lining up and needing money to get them going. That isn't to say they aren't good ideas or the right things to do. It's just that they are expensive and money will be tight.

This is the challenge facing anyone who wants to be PM and form a government. Still want the job, Mr. Ignatieff?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

And in this corner, coming in at tens of billions dollars, we have the deficit....

The deficit will be HUGE. I don't mean big when compared to recent years. I mean big when compared to some of those beasts we learned to despise in the mid- to late-90s. Put another way, we have not slipped into the red...we have plunged into it.

Over the next day or so, I want to talk about this change in our financial situation. Some points to consider:

  • How did this occur? Is it all because of the stimulus measures (i.e. Canada's Economic Action Plan), or did things like pre-crisis government spending and tax cuts contribute to this?
  • How bad is the situation?
  • How can we get out of it?

This last bullet is important to me. The plan to eliminate the deficit will ultimately reflect views on the role of government. For many economists, expecting pure economic growth (and resulting tax revenues) to put Canada back in the black is not reasonable. If they are right, it comes down to choices.

  • Should government spend less? If so, where?
  • Should government tax more? If so, where?

Our political leaders do not really want to discuss either option, for fear of attack and a drop in support. Why alienate voters now?

Well, this voter would prefer to know heading into an election what the plan is and we will get there.

What about you? Views, thoughts? Let me know...

Monday, October 12, 2009

The issues are coming! The issues are coming!

Well, Thanksgiving weekend is just about over. If you were like me, you probably ate more than you should and are now wondering whether you should be taking a walk. I opted instead to post on this blog. Sad. I know.

With Parliament now on a break week, we won't have our usual 5 days of Ottawa-based theatre. Oh how to fill that void...

For those of you who have followed this blog (or more likely wound up here by accident), you will have noted my ongoing concern with the lack of real discussion among our leaders about the issues Canada will face over the next few years. Sure, the issues get lip-service but really that is about all.

Maybe it's due to a lack of ideas or perhaps a fear of alienating the voters. Whatever the reason, Canada has some big challenges ahead which are not getting the airing they deserve.

Let's do something about that.

Over the next week or so, I am going to post my thoughts on those issues which I feel our political leaders should be focusing.

  1. How to address what is now a structural deficit?
  2. What will government do to help prepare Canada - and in particular young Canadians - for the economy of tomorrow?
  3. Demographics. We are becoming an older population. What will this mean for health care, employment and immigration?
  4. The environment.
To this list I would add the so-called democratic deficit. The answers to these questions will shape Canada for a long time to come. Yet we are asking theses questions at a time when Canadians are more and more distant from the political debate. Developing the right answers will require a change in the way we engage with our politicians and the way they engage with us.

So faithful (or accidental) readers, hold on and look out. The issues are coming, the issues are coming...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stop the downward spiral, I'm getting dizzy!

You know those times when things aren't going well? You know, when you remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day and that things will get better? More often than not, you're right and the next day is better.

Not so for the Liberals.

It is now getting to the point where it appears as if polls are being released to inflict maximum hurt and despair. Each new poll is worse than its predecessor.

Today it was EKOS ( and their poll is showing that the Liberals are leading...wait for where. Not in Ontario. Not in Atlantic Canada. They even be back in third spot in Quebec and BC.

Yes you say, but they are still strong in the cities where so many voters live. Uh, no. With the exception of Montreal, they are trailing the Conservatives in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa AND Toronto.

But wait, there's more! There is no demographic they are leading in. Not by gender. Not by age.

As we know, bad news tends to beget bad news. These things have a way of feeding off of one another such that before you know it a blip is a trend, and a trend becomes a fact.

Sadly, as discussed in numerous articles, blogs and news programmes so much of this is self-inflicted. For me a big one is the wasted opportunity to define the new leadership before deciding to move into election mode. Today, in what could have been week one of an election campaign, I have little sense as to what a Liberal government would look like.

Next week is break week. There will be soul-searching and reflection. But that needs to result in something more tangible than we can do better and we will. Otherwise the Liberals will run the risk of answering the question "how low can you go?"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

With enemies like these, who needs friends?

So here we are, two days to go before the Thanksgiving break week and what seems an eternity away from the heady swagger seen at that Sudbury caucus meeting. What next?

For now, it seems that everyone has settled into the new reality which, to be honest, resembles the old reality. Government governs, opposition voices discontent, government continues to maintain confidence of the House. It's the way things were before, right?

Yes and no.

Yes, the government has survived this latest scare (even if they would have relished an election) and continues to have the upper hand over its opponents. They have more money, appear better organized and are controlling the message. Kind of like the last couple of years.

However, there are differences and importantly, they are differences which favour the government. Three points to consider:

1. Outside of Quebec, the flirtation with the coalition has hurt the Liberal brand. The strength of their brand was something Liberals could count on even when things were not going well. By going down the coalition route they eroded that brand and have struggled to get it back.

2. The recent Liberal push for an election without defining a reason has left Canadians with the perception that Harper is more reasonable and in tune with their views. That is some mean feat given the challenges he has had in resonating with Canadians.

3. The Liberal troubles over the past few weeks have given the Conservatives the luxury of sitting back, watching events unfold and reaping the benefits. In the past, Canadians were put off when the government went on the offensive and lunged for the jugular with partisan fervor. Right now, Harper doesn't have to do anything so off-putting - the Liberals are doing it for him.

All of this favours the Harper government - something reflected in every poll we see, at the national level and the all-important provincial level. With the economy showing signs of improvement, an Olympic love-in on the horizon and a PM playing (literally) to the arts community, the dreaded majority word is popping up everywhere.

Unfortunately, all of this is occurring at the expense of a real debate about how we will eliminate the deficit, how we are preparing for the economy of tomorrow, and how we are going to prepare for a demographic shift which will affect everything from health care to employment, economic growth to immigration?

Big questions and few answers. But for the Harper government, no worries. The Liberals are doing his job and are making him look good. With enemies like these, who needs friends?


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Liberal Thanksgiving Mantra - I'm thankful there's no election...I'm thankful there's no election...

Recent polls have not been kind to the Liberals. But then, no one else has so why buck a trend.

The latest, conducted by the Strategic Counsel for the G&M and CTV, is particularly harsh.

Overall, the Conservatives are in majority-territory (41%) while the Liberals have slipped down to Dion circa 2008 territory (28%). More worrisome is the regional breakdown, and in particular Ontario where the Conservatives are sporting a - gulp - 16 point lead. Yes, that's not a typo and I didn't mean to write Alberta. That's. In. Ontario.

Oh yeah, and women - once a huge source of votes for the Liberals - are apparently not keen on Mr. Ignatieff right now.

I wrote recently about how the NDP decision to support the government was akin to an executioner's reprieve for the Liberals. Now was the opportunity to focus, develop and get on message, profile the team and make whatever hard decisions need to be made.

Are they heeding such sage advice? I am not sure. There are still rumblings in Quebec and organizational challenges stemming from the Coderre issue. Funding may also become an issue in the fourth quarter as the dust settles from September.

An effort was made today to profile the team through the creation of new critics posts within the caucus. However, this is soooooooooooo Ottawa. Find me someone...anyone outside of Ottawa with whom this would resonate. I dare you.

All to say, the next break week cannot come soon enough for the Official Opposition. So Liberals, as you gather 'round your turkey dinners be thankful for Jack. The man who saved you from yourselves.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

By-Elections - light beer for election junkies

As the Globe reported this morning, it looks like we will have to satisfy our election-watching cravings with four by-elections. It's like replacing a good session at the pub with a glass of light beer. At home.

Beggars (and bloggers) can't be choosers, I guess.

The by-elections - well at least two of them - could actually be reasonably interesting. Two are Bloc seats in Quebec and will remain so. Yawn.

The other two are in Nova Scotia and British Columbia. The former was held by Bill Casey - a former Conservative who ran last time around as an independent and has since retired from politics and is now serving as essentially Nova Scotia's GR guy in Ottawa. The latter has been held by the NDP since 2006, but is now vacant with the move of Dawn Black to provincial politics.

In both cases, two interesting things to watch.

1. How will the Liberals fare? In the Nova Scotia riding they finished fourth in 2008, while in BC they were a distant third. All to say that in good times, their prospects would not be high. And these are not good times. So they are not expecting a win, but their showing may demonstrate just how far they will have to climb if they are to seriously challenge in a general election.

2. Can the Conservatives turn recent events to their advantage and win one or both? The better bet is in Nova Scotia, as this has gone Conservative in every recent election save 1993 (PC blow out) and last time around (Conservative ran as an independent). BC will be trickier due to the debate over the harmonized sales tax, but results in 2008 were very close (fewer than 1500 votes separated the NDP and the Conservatives). In the end, both are winnable and the government's showing will help indicate whether a majority is becoming possible.

So come November crack open a beer and watch the results - provided there isn't a good hockey game on.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

So, there it is. The confidence motion is defeated (144-117, with Jack and co. abstaining...if you care) and the government survives. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on.

What happens next?

Well, more of the same he sadly said. Barring the unforeseen, the next domino is the budget, which could well be tabled in the midst of a recovery, post-Olympic love-in. That is several months away. Between now and then we are back with the same Parliament we have had with the same progress on the issues of today and tomorrow.

A lot of talk this evening and, I suspect, over the next several days about what happens next for the Liberals. Don Martin had some advice this morning and Chantal and co. on CBC's At Issue panel had some too.

If I were to single out one thing from all of this it would be the need for the Liberals to take this self-inflicted executioner's reprieve and use it to define themselves. Why should we vote for them? Start with answers to these questions:

  • Who is Michael Ignatieff. Surely he is more than an academic who lived outside of Canada for....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  • What are the 3-4 things that Canadians can expect from a Liberal government? It can't be "we're not them". So what is it and is it relevant to Canadians? Today's deficit and tomorrow's economy - what's the plan? Ditto for health care and the environment. Focus.

  • Show me your team. Get Canadians used to them. Strike that balance between controlling the message and providing profile for your team.

If this requires staffing changes or an office re-org, do it. Show us you mean business by taking the tough decisions. The question people will otherwise ask is how can you run Canada is you can't manage your party.

By the way, did anyone notice the lengthy, prominently placed "Canada's Economic Action Plan" commercials this evening during the first period of Hockey Night in Canada (eastern and western games)?

Please, do not taint my hockey with this sort of thing.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

And it's only Wednesday...

This has not been a good week for the Liberals. I am not even sure calling it a bad week does it justice. And it's only Wednesday.

A glance at various headlines this morning did not tell the story of a unified party on top of its game:

  • "Fate gifts Harper another 'Dion' as Ignatieff's blunders pile up"
  • "Ignatieff latest federal leader to lose his way in Quebec"
  • "War of egos in Quebec blows up in Ignatieff's face"
Meanwhile, over at Kady O'Malley's "Inside the Queensway" blog we are being treated to the "Imminent Liberal Meltdown Watch" (

No, these are not the headlines the Liberal brass envisioned for the fall session.

In fact, things are perceived to be so bad for the Official Opposition that we are seeing growing speculation about poison pills and the possibility the government would engineer its own defeat to get a chance to got to the polls and capitalize on their opponents missteps.

What's upsetting in all of this is the fact that the missteps and public squabbling are capturing the headlines when there is so much of importance to discuss, including:

  • Buy America;
  • The fragility of the economic recovery;
  • Rising unemployment; and
  • The fact that a post-recession Canadian economy may look quite different from the one we were used to.

These are all areas which should be considered and debated by our politicians. They are the sort of issues with which Canadians should see their leaders wrestling.

Like it or not, the world is a different place than it was this time last year. What is Canada going to do about it?

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Denis la Menace"

The question I am asking myself tonight is relatively straightforward. When Mr. Ignatieff stood up at his caucus retreat and said "no more" to the government, did he really expect things to unfold as they have?

Clearly the answer is no.

A few weeks ago I had suggested that however awkward the current situation was, the Liberals had nevertheless managed to break free from supporting the government. Long-term, that was an important win. At the same time, election fear had pushed the NDP to support the government allowing the Liberals oppose without consequence.

All good, right? Cue Denis Coderre.

I am not going to go through all of the background on this one but suffice to say Mr. Coderre has taken (in the grand scheme of things) a small story and made it into a big one. What was a Quebec riding issue is now being characterized as an indictment of Ignatieff's Toronto-based staff (Jane Taber has a nice piece on this in the on-line version of the G&M).

For Mr. Ignatieff, these are not happy days. The Liberals have some valid arguments to make against the "90% done" messages on the government's stimulus plan. They have tabled their confidence motion. Yet they now have to spend time and energy dealing with the Coderre fall-out and the impression it has left that things are not right at party HQ.

Tell me Mr. Harper isn't looking at Jack and saying "Why now, Jack? Why support me now?". Yes, things are looking rosy for the Conservatives.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Does Familiarity Breed Content or Contempt?

From those of us politics watchers stuck in the bubble that is Ottawa, the past few weeks have been great. Will we vote, won't we vote? Good coalition, bad coalition? Now, with break week about to end we ask ourselves "what's next?"

If the past few weeks are an indication, the answer is "who knows?" So I will instead ask a different question.

Stephen Harper was elected Prime Minister in 2006 and re-elected in 2008, both times with minority governments. Those elections were fought against Paul Martin (still struggling under the spectre of adscam) and Dion (still struggling under the spectre of, well, Dion). As a result, the Conservatives' support has grown from one election to the next and, according to many polls, is now approaching majority territory.

My question is why?

  • Is this growth in support a reflection of the leaders against which Harper has had to compete (and in particular Dion, as Martin was clearly hampered by the RCMP-income trust allegations in 2005-2006)?

  • Or is it a reflection of Canadians becoming more comfortable with Stephen Harper as PM?

While it is easy to point ones' finger at the former, there is a lot of truth in the latter. Wearing the badge of Reform, Harper (like his predecessors) was demonized. These attack ads were, to an extent, successful. There is enough polling data - particularly during elections - which suggests that Canadians are not 100% comfortable with the PM.

What I wonder about is whether current events have changed things. In the current environment of uncertainty, are Canadian voters getting increasingly comfortable with a PM who has cast himself as a "sure hand"? Does Harper's promise of stability resonate more with Canadians who are struggling, than Ignatieff's vision of a more international Canada?

Polling results suggest so. While the Conservatives party results are slightly stronger than their rivals, Harper's leadership results are far stronger than his rivals.

Breaking the perception of Harper as the better leader will be the Liberal's greatest challenge. Are they up for it?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mad Men (or the case of the disapearing PM)

This just in...apparently some 30 photos of the PM have disappeared from the government website explaining the progress of "Canada's Economic Action Plan". Theft? Computer hackers? Or concern that perhaps the line between government communications and political ads had been crossed...

It's an important question. Where does government advertising to inform Canadians end and partisan advertising begin? And of course, who is footing the bill? In this case it was you and I, as the ads/website in question were taxpayer funded.

The Canadian Press called the government on this one and, as the article attached notes, the site was quietly changed and stern denials issued that anything had occurred in the first place. He who controls the present, I guess...

For me, this is a dangerous space to be playing in. These initiatives are no different than the work being done by Service Canada and therefore should be branded "Government of Canada" versus "Harper Government". For some, that might sound like splitting hairs but there is an important distinction.

The "Government of Canada" does not have a slate of candidates and it does not seek election - it represents all Canadians without prejudice. It does not live and die through elections. Conversely, the "Harper Government" is a political animal whose survival depends on the continued support of Canadian voters and their elected representatives. Using taxpayers' money so flagrantly to build and maintain support is worrisome.

That's my two cents. Now, what would Don Draper say?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jack's Story and Iggy's Plan - A Typical Ottawa Monday

It's break week so there shouldn't be much to discuss, right? Wrong.

The day started with Jack Layton telling us "Why I'm Voting with Stephen Harper" ( I am quite certain that this was near the top of his "things you will never hear me say" list. Ouch.

If I am reading this right, his answer boils down to the following: something is better than nothing. That's fair. The government has offered something which, although a long way from what the NDP has sought, does represent a positive move from the NDP's perspective.

Honestly though, this is something the government was likely going to do anyway. What they didn't want was to be seen to be doing it as a result of a Liberal-driven panel.

I see it as a no-lose move for the government. Table the proposal, have it accepted and you look like you are committed to making things work. Table it, lose and you go to the polls in a far stronger position than any of your opponents. What will be interesting to see is whether Jack's support costs him some of his core.

Later in the day we had Mr. Ignatieff delivering his second policy speech in a week - this time focused on the economy. You will recall last week when I noted how Ignatieff needed to get more of his policies out in the open so that he could move away from being a puzzle. So how did he do?

The speech ( is similar to last week's piece on foreign policy - here's where the government has been poor, here's where we a Liberal government will focus.

There are some specifics, most notably the commitment to make fully independent the Parliamentary Budget Officer and to open the country's books up. The latter pledge is interesting in that it can be seen as an attempt to build some wiggle room into the platform.

See, any delays or discarded Liberal plans will be because the situation was revealed to be far worse than was reported by the government - shame on you government (cue righteous indignation). A tried and true approach.

In terms of a plan for reducing the deficit, we again see the focus on controlling government spending (in what areas? how?). However, this is complemented by a recognition that Canada will need strong economic growth to climb out of the hole.

Here Ignatieff tries to lay out, albeit at a high-level, how a Liberal government would stimulate economic growth. R&D investments, trade missions and a focus on both a knowledge-based and a green economy will feature prominently in the months ahead.

Importantly, we are starting to see hints at how the two main parties will contrast themselves against one another. Cut spending and taxes on one side; maintain tax levels and make targeted investments on the other. For me, this is the fun stuff as it gets at that important "role of government" question.

Hopefully we see more of this in the weeks to come...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What a week; time for a break...

They say a lot can change in a week, and that was certainly the case last week.

  • The week started with all opposition parties lining up to defeat the government, and a government warning voters about the evils of "the coalition".

  • The week ended with 2 of the 3 opposition parties supporting the government (although the Bloc has since indicated that will no longer support the government), and the Liberals pointing out that the government was now in a coalition.
So is it a Conservative-Socialist coalition? Not really. There are fundamental differences between what was envisioned by the opposition last fall and captured in a formal, written agreement, and what we have today which is essentially an agreement on a specific issue. This is how minority governments are supposed to work - we're just not used to seeing it.

Granted, it is odd to see the NDP lining up with the government. I would add that their argument that they will seek greater enhancements to EI through private member's bills is a touch laughable. Their supporters can't be pleased.

Previous posts have picked at the who won and who lost questions, but in reality only time will tell whether these events will have a significant impact on how Canadians vote next time around. Whether that is this year or next remains to be seen, although the betting money is on next Spring.

In the meantime, it's break week. Yes, after all that maneuvering Parliamentarians are in need of a break (note to my boss, I would like a similar such arrangement). MPs are back in their ridings where I am sure they will get an earful on recent events. If you see an MP, tell them what you think and let me know how it goes...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Fool(s) on the Hill

As you may have heard, last week remastered versions of the Beatles recordings were released. In honour of that release, I offer you the opening lines from "The Fool on the Hill":

Day after day,
Alone on a hill.
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still.
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool.
And he never gives an answer,

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down.
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning 'round.

Question: Prescient writers that they were, to which of the party leaders on our Hill were Lennon-McCartney referring?

It's been a long day. More to come tomorrow...

To blog or not to blog, that is the question

As you know, I started this blog to provide commentary around what appeared to be an imminent federal election. However, in the same way that bringing an umbrella to work is a sure fire way to ensure it doesn't rain, starting this blog appears to have the effect of dampening/killing the prospects of an election.

So what's a blogger to do?

  • Option 1 - stop blogging, and get back to life. Apparently things happen outside the bubble of Ottawa.

  • Option 2 - slip into denial and continue to blog as if the election was tomorrow.

  • Option 3 - continue to blog with a focus on politics and if an election comes jump all over it like a fat kid on a smartie.

Now I could start a poll on the site, but one reads it, I would more or less be relying on my own vote to make the decision. So if it's my choice, I will go with option 3. There's far too many interesting things going on here to give up now.

I'll be back later this evening with a wrap on where things stand up there with folks on the Hill.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Well, it was fun while it lasted...

So is that it then? Has election buzz given way to election fizzle? It certainly seems like it right now.

Over the past 24 hours we have seen the Bloc indicate they will support the ways and means bill before the House, and the NDP say they will support the government's EI changes through to enactment. These moves - particularly the NDP's - ensure that the government will live through the fall. As the Globe is noting this evening, it's "Harper's Reluctant Coalition".

When the dust settles on September, it will be interesting to see who is pleased and is who unhappy following the latest turn of events. A few questions to consider:
  • Will Ignatieff be that unhappy about not getting a chance to bring down the government this fall? Jack and Gilles may be supporting Harper, but they have helped the Liberals out of what could have been an awful mess of an election.

  • Will Harper really be happy to have avoided an election? As many have noted in recent days, he might well have welcomed an opportunity to be forced to go to the polls by the Liberals-Separatists-Socialists. If you close your eyes you can just see the ads and hear the talk radio chatter in that campaign scenario.

  • How happy are the NDP to be helping to prop up a government they have spent something like eternity vilifying? And what did they get for their support?

Readers (ok, I am not sure there are any but a blogger can dream...) will recall the following from my last post:

"At some point, the Liberals needed to break themselves free from supporting the government. While it may have been a necessary evil, it was damaging credibility, sapping party morale, and for many made them look weak.Mr. Ignatieff needed to make a break with the past and begin to set his own tone."

They swallowed hard, took a chance and have now broken free without paying a real cost. Polls may be worrisome right now, but in-between elections they mean less.

As Taber and Ibbitson commented this evening, they can stop looking like they are capitulating and start acting like a government-in-waiting. Time will tell if they can run with the reprieve they have been given.

Monday, September 14, 2009

When we look back on these days, will any of it matter?

One question we may want to start asking ourselves is what long-term damage a Conservative-NDP deal would do to the Liberals. Will they look like they weren't prepared to make Parliament work? That they sought an election without being clear as to why now?

Short-term, yes. The polling information is already starting to reveal this sort of view. Longer-term, I am not as sure. At some point, the Liberals needed to break themselves free from supporting the government. While it may have been a necessary evil, it was damaging credibility, sapping party morale, and for many made them look weak.

Mr. Ignatieff needed to make a break with the past and begin to set his own tone. In some respects he has done so. It is useful to remember exactly where the Liberals were 11 months ago. Funding was poor, organization was scattered and the party was getting no traction with the green shift. Today, regardless of the current perception, they are in far better shape.

If an election is delayed until next year, their actions over the past few weeks will mean little in a future campaign.

That's my two cents. Thoughts?

Canada, Canada, where art thou Canada? The Liberal Critique

This afternoon, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff addressed the Canadian Club of Ottawa and used the occasion to deliver a critique of the Tory government's approach to foreign policy.

Entitled "Canada's Place in a Changing World" (go to for the complete text), the speech was seen as an opportunity for Mr. Ignatieff to address one of the persistent criticisms leveled at him - a failure to articulate his vision for the country.

As speeches and critiques go, this was a well-crafted and well-delivered piece of work. Mr. Ignatieff's articulate assessment of how Canada's role in the world has been diminished over the past few years will resonate with many involved in foreign policy, aid, development and conflict resolution. Moreover, the more red Torys who have never been comfortable with Mr. Harper will have appreciated his nod to the Mulroney government's strong stance on apartheid.

His position is that Canada has a long history - through both Liberal and Conservative governments - of looking to lead in the world on a range of issues. For him, the traditional middle power and honest broker role that earned successive governments respect has waned under Mr. Harper's watch. Numerous examples are cited throughout the first part of the speech.

The second part of the speech begins to lay out his vision of a Liberal government's approach to foreign policy (expect the text from the speech to feature prominently in their platform). Fewer specifics here - "we will reach out" and the like - but a number of markers around what diplomacy would mean for the Liberals and the areas in which they will focus.

As I said, it was well-crafted and struck a nice balance by making an effort to remind Canadians of our successes , while at the same time attacking the government for its perceived failures. The question is does this matter to the ordinary voter?

As we are so often reminded, "all politics is local" with elections won and lost on domestic issues. Nixon may have likened domestic policy to be akin to worrying about "outhouses in Peoria", but local is what voters traditionally relate to. Will the question of who is invited to attend the G-8 be a ballot-box question? Likely not.

However, should similar pieces follow on issues that do resonate with the wider public including the economy, health care, the environment, and social policy then today's speech will simply be another piece in the Ignatieff puzzle.

See for me, right now he's a bit like a jigsaw puzzle but we don't have the picture on the box to know what the image - in this case a Liberal government - will look like. In the absence of the picture, we struggle to see how the few pieces that are thrown our way will fit together.

Mr. Ignatieff is doing the right thing by reminding us that we have a role to play in the international community. We now need to see similar focus, critique and alternatives presented on other issues. Only then will we have enough of a picture to make a clear choice.

But there has to be an election - I started a blog!

As posted earlier, the government has tabled their proposed changes to the EI program which may be enough to convince the NDP to support the government and prevent an election this fall.

There is good reason to believe the NDP will support:
  • Their poll numbers are poor (down from the last election);
  • They are not ready to go to the polls financially or in terms of a slate of candidates; and
  • Jack likes to make a deal.
Should an election fall by the wayside expect to see Jack on the air, in the householder, streetcorners...basically anywhere there is a chance of a camera or of being seen (he's like City TV for pete's sake, he's everywhere!). And expect him to be telling you how he's listened to Canadians and done what he can to make Parliament work.

Probably the bigger question right now is will he accept this olive branch as is or hold out for more. I suspect the former, as Jack knows the PM will be reluctant to do more and this will be as good as it gets.

For the Liberals, the question would then be whether all of this has done them lasting damage. More on that shortly - I have another post to go tonight.

This leaves one last question for this post and it's for the PM. Be honest Mr. Harper, is this gesture really about the unemployed or is it an opportunistic ploy to take a rookie blog out of the game. We demand the truth!

Conservative-Socialist Coalition Anyone?

The government tabled proposals today which would extend EI benefits - something long sought by the Opposition. The NDP are cautiously making nice, batting their eyelids at the PM and saying all the right things. Has the government done enough? Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dear Canada, you're not as rich as you think

Earlier today the Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, let us know that (a) we will be in deficit longer than expected and (b) that our deficits are going to be much higher than expected. Not to worry, as there is a plan (not shared) to get us out. That plan will apparently not involve cuts to individual transfers (OAP, for example) or higher taxes.

So what will it involve? That old favourite, cuts to government spending. Now government spending as been increasing for some time and there are big ticket bills yet to come (e.g. a new health care accord with the provinces). So what is left that hasn't been looked at through several years of various spending reviews? And what savings are truly out there without introducing cuts to services?

This is the sort of topic that I hope the other parties will pursue. In the same way they will be challenged (accused?) on tax increases, they should be challenging the government on where it wants to cut spending.

The size of the deficit presents an opportunity for parties to present their views on how to address it. As voters, we should take the time to consider these different plans as, like it or not, deficits will be with us for some time. This should be part of our public discourse over the foreseeable future. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The grass is always greener...

Well, tonight a major political leader came out and addressed friend, foe and the undecided about a major public policy issue. There was vision and substance (though not as much of the latter as many would like), and an effort to frame the debate and build support. Alas, this did not happen in Canada. It was Obama. Again.

As this blog is about Canadian politics and our upcoming election, I raise the Obama speech as an example of the type of discourse which is lacking in Canada. Increasingly it seems we are resorting to fear mongering ("vote Liberal and the crime bill will die, and your tax credit is gone!") or vagueness ("We can do better"), missing an opportunity to meaningfully engage Canadians on issues like innovation or democratic reform.

The debate in the U.S. is far from perfect and contains its own healthy doses of fear mongering and a lack of mutual respect. But it is a debate around issues, around the role of government and what citizens should and should not expect from the state.

As we head into our (annual) campaign season, here's hoping we can see a similar effort to frame issues and engage the public on the issues which mean the most to them.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Liberal Ads: Could they have done better?

This past weekend the Liberals released a series of pre-election ads (go to to have a look). The launch was accompanied by a message from National Director Rocco Rossi which described the ads as follows:

"This week, the Liberal Party will begin airing a series of powerful new television ads that highlight Michael Ignatieff’s vision for Canada. The message: we can do better."

I am still trying to make my mind up on these ads. As the Globe reported yesterday, the approach and tone differs between English and French. I have no issue with that - tailored marketing is normal practice.

I guess what I am struggling with is whether the ads - particularly the more general English ones - are going to help me or anyone else frame the all-important ballot-box question.
  • Have they told me why I am about to vote...again? No.
  • Are the ads "powerful", as Mr. Rossi wrote? Uhm, not so much.
  • Does any of that matter today, in a pre-writ period. Probably not.

There will be time for each party to frame and tell their story, define their value proposition, and make their case to Canadians - but not too much time. And I guess that's what troubles me about the ads.

The Liberals had time - time to give their leader visibility, tell his story and articulate his vision. I am not sure it was used well enough to allow these ads to be what they should be, which is a decisive jump out of the blocks. Time will tell.

Oh, and don't get me started on the tag line "We can do better"...


From poll to poll

The first of many polls we'll highlight here came out this morning. Conducted by The Strategic Counsel for CTV and the Globe and Mail, the poll puts the Conservatives up by 5 points over the Liberals (35-30). The NDP are at 14, the Greens at 9. In Quebec, the Bloc is up to 49 - it's highest score since the 2004 election. Here's the article:

Of course the poll does not take into account the ads recently released by the Liberals (more on those later this week).

Polls are funny things - part snapshot, part trend analysis. As more come out, including the daily tracking ones conducted by Nick Nanos and co., we'll discuss what to look for in a poll.


Monday, September 7, 2009

The first (past the) post...

Well, here we are on the verge of another federal election. Has it only been 11 months since the last one? I guess time flies when you', wait, that's not right. Who's been having fun since the last vote? C'mon, raise your hands.

What has happened since October 2008? Perhaps a short recap is in order:
  • Another minority government - not fun.
  • Major global economic crisis - not fun.
  • Laughable/mean-spirited economic and fiscal update - not fun.
  • Prospects of the coalition - funny, maybe. But not fun.
  • Governor General allows kids to take a time-out. Again, funny but also not fun.
  • Dion, gone; Iggy in. Fun for one, not so much for the other.
  • Having to introduce a budget that goes against every fibre of your political being - not fun.

You get the picture. And now, after a summer of absolutely nothing except bad weather we're told an election is on the way. Kids go back to school, grown-ups go back to vote. But what exactly are we voting on? Surely to God if we are going to spend $300 million on this we should have some sense as to what it's about.

Well, over the next 2 months, that's exactly what I want to explore on this blog. Who's who in the zoo? What are the leaders saying (and not saying)? How do the platforms measure up (Dear Conservatives, no glossy concert-style programmes this time, please. Let's get some discussion of the issues). Who won the debates? Who's wearing the blue sweater?

Importantly, all without spin. My comments will aim to be critical, but impartial. There will be no partisan ranting from me. That's where you come in...

Tell me (and the 2.4 other people likely to read this) what you think about a post, an issue, a leader, an ad, anything at all about this campaign. My blog, your forum. Deal? Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Fire away!

That's it for the first post. The House returns on September 14th, so we have a week of posturing and punditry ahead of us. Yippee!


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