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?

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