Friday, May 27, 2011

Canada's Conscience or a Government in Waiting?

The results of #elxn41 have given us a Conservative majority and left the NDP as the Official Opposition. A lot of the discourse of the past few weeks has been focused on what we can expect from the Conservatives, now that they have achieved their coveted majority.

But what of the NDP? In the immediate aftermath of the election, the focus - including here in the hallowed halls of A Guy Watching Politics - was on the inexperience of the NDP caucus and the pitfalls before them.

However, as the Liberals continue their retreat from our political consciousness for the time being, it is natural that our thoughts turn more deliberately towards the NDP. In doing so, it is timely to consider the role they will play as the Official Opposition.

With few exceptions (e.g. the Bloc after 1993), the Official Opposition is generally playing the role of "government in waiting." While the onus is on them to provide a credible alternative, in truth much of their time - particularly in a majority Parliament - is spent simply opposing and trying to catch the government out.

This reality contributes to the truism that oppositions don't win power, governments lose it. Opposition parties are more often than not elected because of the perceived failings of the government, or a simple desire for change.

So what of the NDP? Are they a government in waiting? The short answer is not yet.

I see them as being less like a traditional Liberal or Conservative opposition, and instead resembling something more like the Bloc or Reform after 1993. This characterization presents some interesting possibilities.

1. Putting aside the obvious differences in their national (dis)unity positions, the NDP and the Bloc are both socially progressive parties that see a role for government as an agent of change and being active in the lives of Canadians.

The Bloc knew it would never form a government, and therefore used its clout to try extract concessions from government that favoured Quebec. The NDP may come to a similar conclusion and opt to use its new found strength to do the same in the areas it has flagged as important - education, health, seniors, the environment. Their strong Quebec contingent in caucus could add further push towards a move in this direction.

In this scenario, the NDP would serve as a strong and from time to time compelling voice, but not as a government in waiting. A social conscience, if you will.

2. Another possibility for the NDP is to be a left of centre version of Reform. As long as the right was divided, Reform was never going to form the government. However, what they could do was influence. Reform understood that a sizeable percentage of Canadians favoured elements of their political agenda (or at the very least a conservative one), and were able to use this fact to influence government policy.

One could argue that the successful reduction of the deficit and the Clarity Act would not have been possible - or at least not as strongly accepted - without the presence of Reform. They helped legitimize actions taken by the government.

Reform also knew that time was on their side. Unlike the Bloc, Reform could see the potential for the bigger prize - government - in the future. Their support, while originally based in the West, was growing. At some point they knew that the right would unite and they would be well-placed when Canadians wanted change.

The question is can the NDP do the same? Will they be able to use the fact that a sizeable percentage of the electorate are less concerned about being tough on crime, and are more seized by issues like health, families and the environment to influence government policy? More importantly, will they be seen to be playing this role?

If they can, then they may start to take steps towards being seen as a government in waiting.


Obviously a key variable in all of this is the fate of the Liberals. How they fare under Mr. Rae and the leader they ultimately choose will help determine whether they can return, whether the NDP move centre and take their space, or whether a unite the left move is in the cards for Canada.

However looking at the cards on the table right now, the NDP has a choice.

They can become, for want of a better term, Canada's conscience - a party which knows it will never form a government and therefore devotes its time and energy towards pushing the government on the issues that matter most to them, extracting what they can along the way. Winning battles, but never the war.

Or, they can start the long journey towards becoming a government in waiting. Taking measured and well thought-out positions on the issues of the day. Looking to influence government policy, but also laying track to enhance their credibility and building trust among the electorate.

So readers, what will it be?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Watch this space

So, we have the composition of the House settled. We know the government, we know the Cabinet and we know that the 41st Parliament will start work shortly reviewing a budget we have more or less already seen. We also know that we should not expect another election until 2015.

But for all we know, there is still a lot to learn over the coming months and years. And for me, the biggest unknown is what happens to what has been most valuable piece of property in Canadian politics - the centre.

Politics watchers in this space.

The combination of a Conservative majority, an NDP opposition and the decimation of the Liberals and the Bloc has put the centre on the market.

For the first in a long time, the political centre - the space within which the majority of Canadians have historically felt the most comfortable - is truly up for grabs. And following the results of #elxn41, the battle for it is between the governing Conservatives and the opposition NDP.

For the NDP, capturing the centre would mean overtaking the Liberals as a true national alternative. For the Conservatives, it could mean taking another step towards becoming the 21st century version of the "natural governing party."

All to say, there is a lot at stake. So what should we be watching?

1. Whether the Conservatives move to the centre

Personally, I don't see this as being something deliberate within the government. I believe that Mr. Harper's views on the role of government are so entrenched that it is unlikely that he will move his party closer towards the centre and all that it means from a policy perspective.

I think on an issue-by-issue basis, he may consider subtle policy shifts which would continue the de-mystifcation of the Conservatives in the eyes of some voters. I just don't expect something more dramatic.

2. How the new NDP caucus performs

As noted in a previous posting, the newness of the NDP caucus has made them the de facto green party. There is not a lot of experience among their ranks.

What will they do with this new caucus? Will it be error-prone, or will they capture the energy that such significant change can produce to make a mark in Ottawa? Count on something in between. The key for the party will be to avoid wide-sale errors and gaffes.

The Liberals are not an alternative for at least an election, likely two. The performance of the NDP as the "government in waiting" is therefore critical. Demonstrate professionalism and competence and they could inch further towards the centre; demonstrate incompetence and a lack of judgement and they could be marginalized and leave the centre to the Conservatives.

3. What the NDP decides to be when they grow up

In an earlier posting I asked whether the NDP knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. While somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the question is still an important one. Do the NDP stay in their traditional space, or do they start to move into the more centrist-space once occupied by the Liberals.

If it is the former, the Conservatives will be pleased. Should the NDP decide to shore up their core and continue to focus on the more left of centre issues, they will cede the centre to the Conservatives. Put more bluntly, to the middle-of-the road voter, they will make the Conservatives look like the more reasonable, measured party.

If it is the latter, the NDP could further marginalize the Liberals by offering a more balanced and centrist alternative. In other words, they could cement their role as the alternative in Canada.

It is also interesting to note that the NDP actually have less power as the official opposition to a majority government, than they did as the fourth party in a minority Parliament. No longer a balance of power player, the NDP needs to find ways to influence government policy. This is what Reform did in the 1990s in areas like deficit reduction and the Clarity Act. The question now is whether the NDP can do the same.

Should they demonstrate more influence, they could de-mystify views about the NDP and make themselves appear more credible in the eyes of those voters who, faced with a Liberal collapse, went Conservative instead of NDP.

Yes, a combination of the Conservatives sticking their their game and the NDP tempering the Conservatives and offering more centrist and voter-friendly policy options could see the NDP start to challenge the Conservatives. This won't happen in four years, but over the next ten? It is possible.


My money is on the Conservatives hoping for two things: an NDP that regularly displays its inexperience; and an NDP that focuses on its core constituent issues, and stays more to the left. Why take the centre when it is ceded to you...

Of course, the advantage for all parties now is time. The fact that we have relative political stability for four years and are no longer being held hostage to the election around the corner means that parties have time to recalibrate, and focus on more of a long game. It should be fun to see what happens.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Role Call

There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about Stephen Harper's obsession with the Liberal Party of Canada; about his desire to see it marginalized. I think there is more to this notion than something purely adversarial.

While I agree that Mr. Harper exhibits an unhealthy obsession with his perceived enemies and strong tendency to tilt at windmills, I don't believe the destruction of the Liberals is his primary goal. From my perspective, his goal to re-cast the role of government in the eyes of Canadians.

He now has his chance.

Whether we like it or not, Canada is about the embark on a debate on the role of government. The combination of a Conservative majority and the fiscal health of the government has provided a unique platform for the Harper government to move forward on what has been the long-standing pre-occupation of the Prime Minister.

Never Let A Crisis Go To Waste

In a posting last year I wrote about how the steps the government took in 2009 at the height of the economic crisis and the ensuing fiscal challenge Canada faced would provide the Conservatives with an opportunity to get back to where they once belonged.


The deficit grew exponentially and the means/will of the government to re-establish equilibrium through the tax system was minimal. Tax increases were swiftly ruled off the table, and in fact cuts such as those to the GST had the effect of pushing the government into deficit before the economic crisis.

This left reductions in government spending as the principal means of balancing the budget. But such reductions are a delicate thing to manage when you have a minority government. Things have now changed.

There is Strength in Numbers

For all of his ideas, views and tactics, Mr. Harper never truly had the means to do what he has wanted to do. Yes, he has benefitted from a divided and weak opposition which has enabled him to reduce the GST and pass the corporate tax cuts. Consider this step one.

Thanks to the acquiescence of a weak opposition the government's ability to be activist is now more limited. It would take either a tax increase (e.g. to the GST) or a roll-back of corporate tax cuts to deliver to the government the surpluses it needs to be more active in the lives of Canadians without going into deficit.

Put another way, Mr. Harper has used tax cuts to tie his hands and those of anyone who follows him.

However, lowering taxes is one thing. The ability to reduce government spending is something altogether different. This brings us to today.

Unlike 2010, Mr. Harper now has the majority he needs (House and Senate) to get Parliamentary approval for his budgets. He is no longer dependent on the NDP, Liberals or the Bloc.

So where does that leave us?

1. The government has a deficit that the economy cannot simply grow out from.
2. The government has consciously and deliberately limited its own ability to use the tax system to raise funds.
3. The Conservatives now have comfortable majorities in the House and the Senate, with no federal election on the cards for four years.

Mr. Harper now has the means to get back to where he once belonged - to where he was when he was a Reform MP, and where he was as the President of the National Citizens' Coalition. Flowing from the points above, the only way the government can bring the books back into balance is to limit spending.

Transfers to Canadians are off the table, as are apparently transfers to provinces. What does this leave? Which government programs and activities are on the table now as possible candidates for cuts or elimination?

The Role of Government

I don't think Mr. Harper maintains a strict "wage war and sell stamps" view of the federal government. However, I don't think he is far from that view. My sense is that he is a strong believer in the division of powers, and as such favours actions which enable the provinces to be more active.

While I can understand the logic behind such a viewpoint, I struggle with the impact this could have on our sense of nation.

My personal view is that federal government has a unique and important role to play by thinking of the whole; by seeing Canada as the sum of its parts. The provinces are not burdened by this responsibility, and therefore will understandably act in their own interests.

However, the federal government needs to be more than just a side of the ledger in the division of powers; it is the Government of Canada and needs to act as such. When the current government considers its role and the role of government, my hope is that they move beyond an "us" and "them" mentality, and towards a role more rooted in partnership and co-operation.


Opportunity is a funny thing. To be truly realized, it requires not just an idea or notion, but also the means to act. Stephen Harper now has both in his possession. What will he do?

Will he be guided by ideology, or he will he be guided by a broader sense of Canada and how we work best when we leverage the sum of our parts?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blog Back-log

As many of you know, the Blogger service suffered some serious interruptions over the past couple of days. As a result I have not been able to post.

Expect a new posting from me tomorrow about the role of government and what changes we may start to see under a Conservative majority.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

Like it or not, the time has come for the Liberals to stare into what Elvis Costello called a "deep dark truthful mirror." The results of #elxn41 and the pending elimination of the public subsidy will have the combined effect of sending Canada's former natural governing party into the political wilderness for possibly a decade.

In other words, it's time to take a long, hard look at yourself.

It would be tempting to lay the blame for the current state of affairs on Conservative attack ads or on the performance of the last two leaders, Mr. Dion and Mr. Igantieff. One could also be tempted to point a finger towards the fall-out from the sponsorship scandal.

However, while some responsibility can certainly be directed towards these areas the deep, dark truth is that they are only a small part of a problem that began some time ago.

Take a closer look at the majorities of 1993, 1997 and 2000. What you see is a party that was already hemmed in, owing its power to Ontario, select urban centres outside Ontario, and reasonable support in Atlantic Canada.

The simple fact is that the Liberal Party of Canada ceased to have any meaningful Western presence (outside BC) in the 1980s. They have not held the majority of seats in Quebec since the 1984 Mulroney sweep. By the time Mr. Chretien came to power, all they had was Ontario, urban Canada (including pockets in Quebec) and the Atlantic.

What they did have going for them at that time was the split on the right, and a general sense of fatigue with the roller-coaster of the Mulroney government (free trade, the GST, Meech, Charlottetown). The result, three majorities. And in fairness, on many fronts they provided good government (deficit reduction, targeted investments in innovation, the clarity act, electoral financing reform).

But the majorities prevented the party from asking itself the hard questions. Power shielded the Liberals from confronting the truth that - depending on your perspective - they were in decline or under attack. And that time was inevitably going to run out.

Even when the right was united, there was a sense that under Mr. Martin the party would thrive. Then along came the sponsorship scandal, which over the course of two elections laid bare the degree to which the party was vulnerable.

Faced with a united right, further erosion in Quebec and a general concern about the perception of scandal, the Liberals were left with only one option - play defence. There was no place where the party could grow; no place where losses could be off-set. From that point on, it was only a matter of time.

Yet the party still seemed to believe the natural order would, in due course, return them to power. At some point, the thinking seemed to be, you eventually get out of the penalty box. What they did not count on was five years of Conservative minority government.

The threat of the election around the corner further hemmed the party in, depriving them of the time (even if there wasn't the willingness) to stare into that mirror. To start the process of renewal, both in terms of policy and in terms of organization.

Further compounding the problem was the failure to develop a robust fundraising mechanism. Even accounting for a degree of hindsight, it is bewildering to see how the party that brought in the changes to election financing was so unprepared for their impact. You can argue whether we should have a public subsidy (for the record, I favour it), but you can't argue in favour of making yourself so dependent on it.

So where do things stand?

- The Liberals have their lowest seat total, based in small enclaves in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario

- Funding is about to take a huge hit

- The party is suffering an existential crisis

- The Liberal organization often looks less national and more like a series of "interest fiefdoms", while riding associations have little power

- There is no leader

- Their principal opponent will get stronger, while their nearest challenger has a unique opportunity to further marginalize them

But what they do have is time. If there is one silver lining from this election, it is the time it has afforded the Liberals to stare into the deep dark truthful mirror. It is a time for earnest reflection, difficult conversations and brave decisions.

The political landscape has been re-drawn in Canada, but not in permanent marker - yet.

The steps the Liberals take over the next four years will determine whether they can redefine themselves for the 21st century and emerge once again as a power. If not, the 2011-2015 period may simply become the last phase of a process of erosion and marginalization that began many, many years ago.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I've fallen and I can't get up - #elxn41 and the Liberals

Prior to May 2, 2011, the Liberals had never finished anything other than first or second on election day. Today, they are facing the prospect of at least two terms in the wilderness - and that's the good news. Their next steps are, not to put too fine a point on it, crucial.

I won't get into a "what went wrong" analysis here. An excellent article was published today in the Toronto Star which provides an overview (as do both Jane Taber's and Michael Valpy's pieces in the Globe and Mail).

Having fallen so far, the question now is whether they can get up. In this third piece on each of the three mainstream parties, I offer some (unsolicited) advice to the Liberals.

1. Start with a blank piece of paper

Before going down the road of leadership, you need to develop a stronger sense about what you want to represent as a party. Despite having over two years to prepare, the Liberal narrative and vision for Canada never really seemed to take form.

The constant Conservative attacks on Mr. Ignatieff's leadership clearly had an impact. These attacks undermined Liberal efforts to shape a narrative. However, the Liberals must also take some of the blame.

Too often their focus was on what, rightly or wrongly, the public saw as the minor foibles of the government. They rightly understood that there was a reason the Conservatives were stuck in minority territory, but failed to tackle the more important issue as to why they could not capitalize.

Over the next few years, a lot of time and energy needs to be spent determining what it means to be Liberal. It is no longer sufficient to assume that you are the default party of choice, so take a blank piece of paper, look carefully at the results of 2006, 2008 and 2011, and start thinking. Look as well at the challenges you could avoid focusing on in 1993, 1997 and 2000. You won majorities, but were heavily dependant on Ontario, vote-splitting and urban centres. Be honest about your weakness and go from there.

2. Be the middle man

Building on the point above, we know that the Liberal platform tacked left in an attempt to attract NDP supporters. It turned out that while Canadians may have liked the message, they did not like the messenger. This reasoning would suggest that the Liberals simply find a leader who can carry the same message more effectively.

That would be a mistake.

By tacking left, the Liberals left the impression that the Conservatives were the only party occupying the centre/centre-rght. This partly explains why the NDP surge sent people to the Conservatives.

Looking ahead, the Liberals need to re-establish their brand as a centrist party in Canada. This means finding the balance between compassion and discipline; between willingness and prudence.

Being in the centre means you invest, rather than spend. It means you engage before deciding. It means demonstrating that you have convictions, but that you are prepared to listen such that your convictions can be informed.

This was the space that the Liberals used to occupy and it is the space to which they need to return. For the time being, it is unoccupied. That won't last, so move in quickly.

3. Cash is King

You are about to lose the public subsidy and, unlike 1993 when the Progressive Conservatives fell to two seats, there are now strict limits as to what you can raise from corporations. You need to develop a more robust fundraising mechanism.

Following up on points one and two above will be important in this regard. People like to know what they are buying, so put something compelling in the window. Invest in the technology, leverage social media, engage youth. Every dollar counts, so go after them.

4. Choose carefully

You will be choosing a new leader. Recognize that there is no such thing as a ready-to-go Prime Minister. Whomever you choose will need time and more than one election to have a realistic chance of winning. Give them that time.

When you choose, make sure you remember that you can't build a sustainable party around a leader; the leader must represent the vision of the party. If you don't know where you want to go, how can you pick the driver?

Mr. Dion was a compromise candidate. Mr. Ignatieff was seen as someone who could play a Trudeau-esque role (forgetting that Mr. Trudeau had long-held views on a range of issues and had been politically active for some time - something Mr. Ignatieff did now have on his cv).

Today, you need a standard-bearer for the Liberalism you want for 21st century Canada. You want someone who typifies what you want your party to represent.


You have to be down before you can get up. That's where the Liberals are today. Despite showing early promise in #elxn41, they fell badly from the debates onwards such that today there are many questioning their future in Canada.

I don't think they are dead. I think the inexperience of the NDP will create opportunities for them. But they have to be ready. They have to be ready with a vision, a leader which represents that vision, and who can effectively communicate it. And they have to be patient. There is a long road ahead for the Liberal Party of Canada, and it is going to take time to re-establish themselves in Canadian politics.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

OMFG. Now What? (from the diaries of Jack Layton)

Early in the morning on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 Jack Layton went to bed having celebrated becoming the presumptive Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition. A few hours later, I am tempted to think he woke up, looked at what had happened and for a second thought "OMFG. Now what?"

It's not just that the NDP increased their seat count to 102. Or that they relegated the Liberals to third party status. It's not even how they did it, with such strong results in Quebec - a province where they had previously only held one seat.

No, I think that to the extent there was an "OMFG, now what?" moment it occurred when he considered more fully the make-up of his new Official Opposition caucus - his "government in waiting."

As the shampoo commercial goes, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." Yes, the stakes are high for the NDP.

So, continuing on the posting of earlier this week I would like to provide some (again, unsolicited) advice to Mr. Layton.

1. Figure out what you want to be when you grow up - quickly

The NDP benefitted from the popularity of Jack Layton, a lack of confidence in the Liberals, the implosion of the Bloc, anti-HST sentiment in BC, and the continued support of its base. It did not obtain 102 seats because of a strong understanding and support for its platform or from the strength of the entire slate of candidates.

However, it now occupies the role of Official Opposition, and as such must decide pretty soon what it wants to be as a party; what it wants to be when it grows up. Is this a traditional New Democratic Party, as its platform and approach over the past few years suggests? If so, make that clear through the positions you take on the policies of the day.

Or do you want to be Canada's version of New Labour? Are you looking to ride a popular leader, and mix social democratic principles with a commitment to fiscal responsibility and a vision that fits within a 21st century economy?

Put another way, decide if you want to stay where you are or whether you want to move towards the centre.

When the dust settles, a large part of your new job is to present Canadians over the next four years with a credible alternative. The Liberals suffered from not defining themselves until the campaign, to some degree hoping that they could be the default option. It didn't work for them and it won't work for you. Be clear about who you are and what you represent.

2. Staff Well

You have 102 MPs, several of whom will form your shadow caucus and become your spokespersons on a broad range of issues. While you have the opportunity to draw on your experienced MPs for these roles, beyond them you have a lot of neophytes.

- Some who have never served in government - I don't count school councils.
- Some who have served and been served - but in campus bars.
- Some who had never voted before Monday - because they were too young.

With the lack of experience across a large swath of the NDP caucus, you would be tempted to call them the real "green party".

What they need is staff. They need to work with people who have been on the Hill, understand Parliament, understand the press gallery and how to communicate (and how not to). They will need guidance, someone to say no, someone to help them translate their idealism or indignity into a coherent policy option.

A strong staff provides discipline, order and can limit the errors that are replayed endlessly and which can prove fatal to an MP and his or her party. Staff well.

3. What to do about the Liberals

A large part of the upcoming Liberal discourse will focus on the party's relationship with the NDP. You will be drawn into this debate whether you like it or not, so you should start to consider what is your long game.

You can try to leverage your new platform and define yourself sufficiently in the eyes of Canadians such that the Liberals are increasingly marginalized. In other words, go for the kill. Don't lament the end of the public vote subsidy, develop a strong fund-raising mechanism of your own and pick up the pieces as the Liberals suffer.

Alternatively, acquire more (albeit damaged) centrist credibility by offering an olive branch to the Liberals to work together and develop a new alternative centrist option in Canada. Call it a merger, a partnership, whatever - just don't say coalition.

But don't wait too long to have your Peter McKay moment, if that is where you intend to go. If you do wait too long, the Conservatives will make it the defining issue of the next election and you will lose momentum and the ability to develop your own narrative.

4. Je me souviens

Quebec. Be careful how you play in this space. Don't make promises you can't keep or open doors which lead nowhere. You beat the Bloc soundly in this election, and that should be commended. However, how you handle Quebec issues over the next four years will be crucial. Do it well, and the possibilities of a real federalist, social democratic option are strengthened.

Do it poorly, make too many missteps, or demonstrate your lack of influence in Parliament and the PQ and the Bloc will both benefit.


Above all else, find the right mix between hyperbole and realism. Be honest, measured and informed. Use year one to establish credibility and make people say "wow, they were better than I thought." It will do you a world of good.

See, the NDP had a great result and reason to celebrate. But after every celebration comes the hangover. Today, the NDP has less power as the Official Opposition to a majority government than it did as the third party in a minority Parliament.

But, what they do have is an opportunity and a platform. How will they do?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Where do we go from here, Mr. Harper?

So, where do we go from here? I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that the political landscape in Canada has been altered significantly. As is the case with any big change, some people are worried, others are excited, and many are uncertain what it will mean.

I decided to use this blog post to provide the (unsolicited) advice I would give to the government Mr. Harper will now form. Why? Whether we like it or not we are now in this as a country for the next four years.

We need to shift our focus away from politics and towards government. We need to consider how Canada can win, and not how parties can be beaten.

This is a conversation we haven't had for five years. Yes, we have had discussion about the recession and how best to respond. But beyond that, the success or failure of parties has dominated our discourse when we should have invested in discussing Canada. This cycle needs to end now.

So with that in mind, I decided to use a few blog postings to provide my views and advice to our MPs, new and old. Today, I will start with Mr. Harper and the Conservatives.

1. Read the results honestly and respond in kind

Whether you agree with it or not, there remains a strong sense that your politics and policies over the past five years have been guided by instincts which at their heart have been partisan and adversarial. It would be wrong, therefore, to read a majority government as an endorsement of that approach, or even of the policies you have espoused.

There is enough in the results to suggest that many Canadians do not whole-heartedly endorse the Conservative platform or agenda. In Quebec there is a strong desire for change that did not include the Conservatives. In Ontario, vote-splitting and a concern among more centrist Liberals about the NDP fed your results.

This reality needs to be recognized and reflected in your approach to Parliament and to the views of others. We have moved beyond a focus on the base or the swing ridings - you are now a government for all Canadians. Show Canadians you recognize this as the privilege that it is.

2. You have what you want, but be mindful how you use it

We have spent too much time talking about the need for a majority to "get things done." To say this diminishes the role that collaboration and dialogue are intended to play in a democracy.

Power is used best when it is used with discretion, thoughtfulness and consideration. Put another way, just because you think you can do what you want doesn't mean you should. All majority governments make this mistake, but in truth yours will be watched more carefully that those in the past.

There is a reason it took three tries to get a majority. How you use the power it provides is therefore important.

Reach out. Seek opportunities to build a consensus; to get the views of others. Make these things your first instinct. Canadians did not provide a majority as an excuse for parties not to work together. Show us you recognize this point and the role you can play in helping to repair our politics.

3. You didn't run a national campaign, but you have to think about the nation

Part of your success in #elxn41 resulted from a five year campaign which focused on swing ridings, keeping your base energized, and attacking your opponents. While this helped you win, it came at the expense of a conversation about what Canada needs to succeed.

As a majority government, ask yourself whether Canada needs a tough on crime agenda to succeed in the 21st century. Where does this sit, relative to how we consider health care, or how we position Canadian companies for success in a world that has changed dramatically? To which issues should our energies be directed - the environment or issues like long-gun registries?

You have an opportunity to engage Canadians on a broader range of issues than the ones which have traditionally fuelled your approach to policy and government. This doesn't mean thinking big, but it does mean thinking more long-term, moving beyond what has too often been parochial.


I have written before about the distinction between politics and government. The challenges and opportunities we face demand the best of government, not the worst of politics. This does not have to mean active or expansive government; but it should mean engaged, open, collaborative and constructive government.

We need to move beyond the cycle of partisanship, short-sightedness and attack. The election around the corner has come and gone, and there is now a long road ahead. How we walk along it will have huge repercussions for Canada.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Quite. A. Night.

So there it is. Canadians have finally spoken and #elxn 41 has provided results which offer up a lot of food for thought. The headlines are simple:

- the strong, stable Conservative majority that Mr. Harper sought;
- the rise of the NDP as the official opposition;
- the decimation of the Liberals; and
- the virtual elimination of the Bloc in Quebec.

But like so much in this campaign, the headlines only tell part of the story.

I am going to take a night to consider the results further, but there are some initial observations I would make.

1. The Harper majority would have been less likely had the NDP surge not occurred. The degree of vote splitting, particularly in Ontario, was decisive. In many, many ridings it took Jack to give Stephen what he wanted as many centrist Liberals went Conservative, presumably out of concern about the NDP.

2. What will Mr. Harper do? Expect to see over the next few years a continued erosion or scaling back in the role government plays in our everyday lives. Through tax cuts and a strong nod to provincial responsibilities, the ability of the federal government to act decisively has already been changed - this trend will continue.

3. What happens when the NDP wake up tomorrow? In their "break out" years, Reform or the Bloc each had about 50 neophyte MPs elected. The NDP have elected a sizeable number more. Are they ready to oppose? The good news, I guess, is that they will have 4 years to learn. It will be a steep learning curve for a party that is now effectively in the role of "government in waiting."

4. And what of the Liberals? Their base is eroded and public subsidies are not long for this country. As a result, their ability to re-build will be limited. This puts all questions on the table. Can they reassert themselves as a centrist party or are we now seeing the starting point for a re-alignment of the left?

5. And finally, Quebec. The virtual elimination of the Bloc has the potential to be a watershed moment in the province and in Canada. Quebec remains effectively "out of the government."

So, some random thoughts as we look into tomorrow and beyond. I will be writing more, but would welcome other's observations and commentary.

Above and beyond what I have mentioned above, #elxn41 has served as an important reminder about engagement. The engagement we began to see in this campaign needs to be sustained, nurtured and grown. We owe it to ourselves to take the time now and invest in our democracy and the role we play as informed participants within it.
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