Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Get ready...

For tonight's fun!

A quick riff on a Tory plan

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. - Sun Tzu

What is dancing around inside the new PM's head these days? I dare not venture on the specifics, but I'd be willing to bet that the overall theme is not how to set up for the upcoming Parliament but rather how to win the next election.

With their main rivals in disarray at the top and separation likely on the backburner for the time being, the playing field really is theirs. I have suggested previously that one option for Harper is to come out of the blocks with a few bones for his right-wing social base before settling into the rhythm of governing. This is possible given that the opposition, specifically the Liberals, are unlikely to want a quick election before, say, next November to February.

This could be done relatively cheaply, in Parliamentary terms, by offering up a few free votes on social issues like gay marriage. Such free votes would not threaten a minority government and would likely lose, with the BQ, NDP, and likely large parts of the Liberal caucus voting against the move. Harper could then walk away saying "I tried", and move on.

That this might be a dangerous game to play come election time is obvious. Regardless of how effective and clean a government he runs after such a vote, when the writ is dropped the fear-mongering that the Liberals effectively used in 2004 and ineffectively in 2006 might well work.

I had written this off as a possiblity based on the possible dangers come the following election. However, in a conversation last night my buddy Dan said something to the effect that "a 50 or 60 seat NDP caucus might well be Stephen Harper's dream". And this line kept me up half the bloody night. Thanks, Dan.

The Liberal party is an odd amalgam of high-finance and social spending - banks and welfare; a blend that has solidified their position in the centre of the Canadian political spectrum. It is what has made them the "natural governing party of Canada" for lo these many years.

It is easy to make the mistake and think that this is the way that it has always been or always will be. Indeed, in order for the Conservatives to experience long-term electoral success, they are going to attempt to change this very political spectrum. They could do that in two ways. First, they could try to rebrand themselves into the centre and replace the Liberals. They did this in this past campaign and to some extent it worked. Like electoral Jedi mind tricks, childcare and GST cuts played on the middle-class Canadian voter. The second option is to simply try to cut the Liberal party in half along the monetary and social meridian that runs through its centre.

As I said, Plan A worked to some extent in the previous election campaign. However, I have to believe that, unlike the Liberal Party, the Conservatives have a plan for the country and the plan is not to steer a middle course. You might, like Paul Martin did during the campaign, call it an evil sinister scheme, or you might call it like it is - a vision of Canada that you might not share. (The Conservatives have been quite cagey about this scheme, but I think the election results indicate that Canadians believe they have a vision for the country and the Liberals and NDP did not. What it is, I don't know, and thinking about it gives me the willies, but that's just me.) In any case, I think that the idealogues in the Conservative Party are not going to steer a middle path for very long and that leaves Plan B - to tear apart the Liberal Party.

It often seems to be the case that, just like in the comic books, the things that make us strong also are our greatest weaknesses. So it is with the Liberals. I don't think that it will be a single vote or issue that suddenly rends party support, rather it could seep away in a change in environment within the party brought on by a series of divisive issues. Issues like gay marriage might well split party support and cleave off portions of it to the NDP, whereas tax cuts and other moves might pull some support from the other side into the Tory caucus.

Of course there is the "reality trap". If there is a genius to the Bush Administration (and I mean Administration, not Bush) it is their understanding that reality can be imposed. They have sliced up the country using wedge issues and a nation that really is quite liberal by modern political standards continually votes in right-wing nutbars. They have mobilized their country into a perpetual war footing by inflaming a single event. The reality trap appears when your imposed reality, say a useful, profitable, and on-going struggle with a now well-known battle tactic, runs into an immovable and real object, say a chaotic and despotic Mid-East country.

Like Bush's army in Iraq, the Harper Conservatives may find out that reality usually wins these battles, and the reality here is that Canada is a centrist fiscal, tax, and social policy. It will be interesting to see how much to the right the Conservatives will be able to pull the electorate before it snaps back.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Holy bowouts, Batman!

To say that I find this surprising is an understatement!

More later.

What does "risk-averse" mean?

Liberals and NDP: fight to the death?

The coming months are going to be critical ones for the New Democrats. The recent election speaks to an important change in the political dynamic of this country - the resurgence of the Right.

Since the shredding of the Progressive Conservative party in 1993, the right has been partitioned more or less on an east/west basis. The rise of the the Reform Party in the west and the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec guaranteed that what was once the Tory party could never again rise to power in this country. Since the Canadian public for whatever reason cannot countenance a NDP federal government, this meant that the Liberals were ceded power on a permanent basis. Naturally, this was not a stable situation.

For the rest of the nineties', the remnants of the Progressive Conservatives tried in vain to gain traction across the country. Save for a few stalwart Tory seats regained since '93, gains were few to none. So bad was the situation for the federal Progressive Conservatives that a 40-watt bulb like Bernard Lord was considered a leadership hopeful.

Meanwhile, the more socially and fiscally right-wing Reform party continued to consolidate its power base in the West. This pretty much guaranteed that any merger of the two parties was going be a merger in the same sense that a shark merges with a surfer. When the merge occurred in 2003, the selection of Stephen Harper as party leader was announcement enough as to who was on and who was under the surfboard.

The resulting Conservative party is now a much more direct threat to the liberal left of the country than either the Reform Party or your daddies' Tories of the eighties. Why? The Reform and Alliance parties were never a threat to the reigning Liberals. This meant that they were essentially free from having to govern the nation, and indeed free from having to look like they could govern the nation for nearly ten years. This period allowed them to flesh out their economic and social policies without having to seriously justify them to the voting public.

If the recent election campaign is any indication, the CPC spent the time well and the unprepared Liberals were trounced.

Where this leaves the federal New Democrats is the question that most interests me. They did reasonably well by historic standards this election, but I can't help but think that they expected better. I bet Jack is happy that Olivia won in Trinity-Spadina, but I'd bet he'd trade her seat for enough seats to be the Official Opposition. (Shh! Don't tell her I said that!)

That the federal NDP was unable to capitalize on the Liberal electoral malaise tells me that the Canadian voter is still unable to visualize a Prime Minister Layton, however much they might secretly have fantasized about a Prime Minister Broadbent. This problem might prove more than minor for the NDP in the coming months as the Liberals rebuild, because my bet is that the Liberals are going to rebuild on the back of the NDP and steal back at least what the NDP won from them this time around.

So what are the NDP to do? First, they will have to take a page out of the CPC manual and control public statements from the rank-and-file, albeit for a different reason. The Conservatives have done a remarkable job keeping a ball gag in the mouths of their more extreme elements - a feat that prevented a repeat of the last week of the 2004 election where they seemed to only get off their dicks to change feet.

The NDP will need to do this not to silence whackos, but to focus the public on the party's message. And what will be the party message? My recommendation would be that the party spend some money and time to develop counter-plans for every single policy the Conservatives bring forward. At every step of the way, be prepared to step in front of the camera and say "this is what we would do in this case..." and be specific. Note that I'm not saying they should automatically oppose everything the Conservatives put forward. If Harper proposes something useful, vote for it, but if it isn't perfect, and judging from the source it won't be, be prepared to say exactly what you like about it and what you would like to change.

The public does not vote for the NDP because the public does not know the NDP beyond some vague "they're lefty tree-hugger" image.
If the NDP does not take the opportunity presented to it by a weakened Liberal party, it will for the foreseeable future be merely the "socially conscious" arm of the Liberal party from which the Liberals can pull a few votes in close races. Why not turn things around right now and make the Liberals the "fiscal tight-ass" arm of the NDP?

Bad governance lost this election for the Liberals, but clarity won it for the Conservatives.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A question about the CPC day care proposal...

If I had my act together during the election campaign I would have started trying to dig up more details about the Conservative daycare proposal then. I actually missed the local candidates debate and later on when I managed to talk to the NDP candidate he didn't know any more about it than I do.

Knowing very little about the Canadian right-wing, except that for the most part I don't trust them, I am determined to dig into this a bit more. The idea of someone I don't trust giving me $1200 seems a little weird. You know - icky.
According to their policy document the child care dollars are in addition to existing benefits - the Canada Child Tax Benefit, National Child Benefit Supplement, and the child-care expense deduction.

Sounds grand, doesn't it? A little too grand, if you ask me, which you didn't, but that's the kind of guy I am. There is a string in here somewhere that I haven't found that I'm sure if you pull it... If anyone has some more information on what this might mean, feel free to share. I'm going to start prowling and will post whatever I find.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Far be it from me to advocate vandalism...

But their comes a time when a municipality becomes too obsessed with the bottom dollar.

I'm just saying, that's all.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

That's what I like about the maritimes...

They are always kidding around:

Seriously, where are these masochists that said Atlantic Canada? Probably in a glass office high above Barrington Street, I suspect.

Manley's out.

He says that he wants to have a hand in the rebuilding of the party but will not run for leader again. I wonder what he has in mind?

The article goes on to say that McKenna will likely inherit Martin's party machine. Do you think he really wants it? Where do you think ol' Scott Reid is going to fit into this. I would think in a line for an EI claim, but maybe it takes a little more than the gaffe of the campaign to get your ass handed to you by these guys.

It also makes some interesting comments about the timing of a possible leadership convention. They quote insiders as saying somewhere between November and February 2007. This gives them a few months to fill the coffers with new party memberships before the five month pre-convention cutoff. It also gives the Conservatives nearly a year to get their stuff together.

I wonder if there is going to be the same kind of membership foolishness as we saw in the last Liberal leadership convention. Oh yeah, McKenna's inheriting his party machinery, right...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

And they're off part two

Franks in.

And they're off!

Well the gun has officially gone on the Liberal leadership race. This is certainly going to be an interesting one, too; the winner has a chance to be the saviour of the Party. Although the election results were not as bad as many had predicted (okay, me, but I have an excuse - I was watching Allen Greg fellate Stephen Harper the last couple of weeks), the party comes out of the election badly bruised, broke, and facing real opposition for the first time in over a decade.

The war between Martin and Chretien has left the party without an heir-apparent in place. Previous leadership candidates either left of their own accord (John Manley) or were driven out by sore winner Paul Martin (Sheila Copps), so it is entirely possible that a dark horse could steal the laurels from likely front-runner Frank McKenna.

It's beyond doubt that McKenna is seriously considering the job, as he's been obviously building toward this very day for years. After leaving provincial politics in New Brunswick on his 10th anniversary as promised, he not-so-quietly returned to private life, working as a lawyer in always-glamourous Moncton and pulling down a few sweet part-time jobs including a post on the board of the Carlysle Group and as chairman of CanWest Global. From a purely financial standpoint alone he looks great - with his corporate connections he'll be able to fill the warchest up quicker than you can say "Trough time!"

His political history as a successful pro-business premier won't hurt either, though it remains to be seen if he can successfully make the transition to the national scene - I mean he's not even from Quebec! Also, by not going federal until now, assuming he does, he has managed to survive the Martin-Chretien Wars without taking sides and making any (known) enemies; thus he is enough of an outsider to come across as a breath of fresh air to the reeling party.

In preparation for this event, he shrewdly returned to public life a short time ago, agreeing to serve as Canadian Ambassador to the United States, a post in which he's raised a few eyebrows for making some rather more direct statements than Canadian ambassadors often make.

Which brings us to another reason why he might be considering a run for Liberal leadership - he very well could be looking for a new job. Stephen Harper's first order of business, aside from putting together a cabinet, will be to smooth the waters that have become decidely rough of late between the US and Canada; a good first step would be to re-evaluate McKenna's role as ambassador in favour of someone a bit less ambitious and a lot more loyal.

Other interesting potential candidates cited in the
G&M today are Scott Brison, Bob Rae, Brian Tobin, Michael Ignatieff, and Belinda Stronach, among others. I don't really consider anyone in this group to be a credible contender, though they provide some interesting scenarios. Bob Rae is a past NDP premier (of Ontario) might be able to recover the votes that fled the party to the NDP this time around. Brian Tobin is obviously interested, judging from his full-spin mode performance the other night on the CBC election coverage. However any credibility he has in Newfoundland and in his own mind might be all he has to rely on - Captain Canada predates Martin-Chretien and his ship has long ago sailed.

Scott Brison and Belinda Stronach, both having walked across the floor from the Conservatives would be interesting options and could open up some intriguing dynamics. Brison looked very Prime Ministerial in accepting his election nod the other night, though he could have done without chewing gum guy behind him during the speech he made on CBC. I don't think he has the machinery in place to make a successful bid yet, but he's young and he'll be around for a long time.

Stronach as leader would enrage the Conservatives so much in opposition that I think she might be able to cause some of the faux pas that Harper has managed to avoid throughout the last election campaign. It could prove entertaining if nothing else and be a definite boon to the opposition. I suspect that the rank-and-file Liberal (and a good portion of the electorate) probably view her with some suspicion after her grab for the leadership of the Conservatives two years ago and her subsequent walk across the floor into the front bench of the Liberal party. She could well prove to be fodder for the Conservatives in the long run, so I would count her out this time around.

Ignatieff is of course widely considered to be the annointed one. I seriously doubt he gave up his tenured position at Harvard to sit for a long time as the Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, so I'd be surprised if he didn't throw his hat in the ring.

It might be a bit soon for him though; I have to wonder if he has enough of the party behind him. However, his hand may be forced by Martin's quick departure, the party is likely to try to avoid another Martin-Chretien war and will firmly rally around whoever is selected. If that person can deliver an election victory, and I believe the next time around it will be theirs to lose, they might have the job for a good long time. He's nearly 60 now and I don't know if he wants to wait another five or eight years.

Unfortunately for him, his political inexperience will likely outweigh his formidable lobal powers and the Liberals will probably want to go with someone with some political experience over a lenghty written record. Do you think Ignatieff would be happy maybe as ambassador to Ukraine?

A Modest Proposal

To dash south of the border for a moment, August Pollack is conducting an interesting little test of the limits of Presidential power. I'm sure he doesn't expect responses from those in positions of power, but I'd be really interested if fools like Ann Coulter step in.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What's next?

What to make of yesterdays election results? To me it looks like the electorate wants a change in faces, but not a change in direction. It will be really interesting to see what the Conservatives make of this.

For at least a little while, I would expect no big budget announcements, no huge tax arguments, definitely no discussion of already-settled issues like same-sex marriage. Harper will have a bit of leeway for a few months at least to set up his cabinet and to try to carve out a minority government out of this mess and to lay out a little bit of his agenda as described in the campaign. I expect to see some relatively minor but public proposals like the GST cut and perhaps daycare.

For purely personal reasons I'm really interested in the latter; and I have very little faith that daycare spaces are going to be more available, more affordable, or better. But that's just me.

I don't have a real feel for Stephen Harper yet, what he's all about fiscally and socially. I have a gut feeling that he's not going to really push social conservatism hard; he's more interested in financial and economic reform (deform?). The current minority situation will, at the very least allow him to buy some time from the more strident social conservatives, however I'm sure some leaks will appear. The Conservatives did a remarkable job of keeping the loons out of the cameras this campaign, especially compared to the last election, but I don't think their luck can hold out forever.

If he manages to keep things together for a year or two I expect he will start to get more aggressive on his real agenda, so we'll see more of what he's about then. If all goes their way, they will certainly be looking at setting the table for another election in order to go for the real prize. Only a majority government is going to allow them the room to make the changes they want. To get to that point, the Conservatives are going to have to display skillful management of the opposition and put forward a vision that does not offend the moderate Canadian public too much.

Of course, too
much foolishness from the social right-wing can throw all of this in doubt - I'm sure that Jack Layton and whoever takes the helm of the Liberals are going to jump on the first moron to spout off on putting women back in the kitchen or gay marriage.

What's the best we can expect from this minority? I would love to see some beefed-up ethics controls, and maybe a totally independent ethics commissioner that reports to parliament and is not appointed by the PMO. The Conservatives rode the ethics issue so hard that it shouldn't be too hard to hold their feet to the fire on it - provided Opposition parties think it's important enough, that is. It would also be nice to see some of the appointment power of the PMO reduced as well, but I'm not holding my breath - they've been waiting for a long time and there are mouths to feed at the trough.

I know - I might as well wish for a pony while I'm at it. I have a sneaking feeling that the Conservatives were more interested in ethics as a campaign lever than as an actual platform.

The worst to expect is hard to say. The Conservatives could come out really hard, betting the Liberals aren't going to want to rock the boat until after they have a new leader settled in. If that person is Frank McKenna, that means there will have to be time for someone like Brian Murphy to be promised a future Senate appointment and a byelection be held. That might give them time to ram a few tough nuts through Parliament and make their conservative wing happy. I don't really expect this to happen, as it might make them harder to palate come election time.

Whatever the case, the NDP I fear do not have the power that they, and I, would like them to have. Jack got what he asked for - some erstwhile Liberal voters parked their votes with them for the time being, but I expect without stellar performances on the part of his members, that growth may be short-lived.

The Aftermath

I'm still digesting the results from yesterday's election and am not yet prepared to say much about it. The Liberals did much better than I expected they would - holding over 100 seats is pretty good for all the bad polling news leading up to election day. The polling methodology this time around is an interesting topic that I might pursue in the coming days.

My first thoughts are that it is going to be interesting to see how the Conservatives balance this minority Parliament. There is no easy (or likely) fit that gives them half the seats except with the BQ, and I have to think that partnering with the separatists would be political dynamite next election cycle, so that's probably out. They will likely have to simply play it issue by issue, which will result in a pretty moderate Conservative agenda getting passed. We'll see.

The Bloc did not fare as well as I'm sure they hoped, losing a handful of seats and quite a lot of the popular vote. I suspect that the coming year or two will show us how much of their support comes from hard-core separatists rather than disaffected federalists. If the Conservative re-birth is good for one thing, it is that it will calm the separatists for a while in Quebec and out west.

I note this morning that Paul Martin has fallen on his sword. It is probably the only way that the Liberals are going to be able to put the taint of the nineties corruption scandals behind them. An astute and honourable move on his part, though I expect that Jean Chretien is choking with laughter this morning.

One final note - the NDP did reasonably well this time around, increasing their popular vote and seat totals, though I'm not convinced that any of the gains are real. Protest votes against the Liberal party will fade away in time and 29 seats can become 19 quick enough - Jack had best be careful.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Eve

Today is the eve of something big in Canada.

Yes, election day has arrived and it appears that Paul Martin is about to reap from the poison seed Jean Chretien sowed for him after ten years of more or less perpetual backstabbing. Can't say I have a lot of sympathy for him, but there are fewer fates more humiliating, more public, than the one awaiting Mr. Martin, so to some extent my heart does go out to him. At the same time, to so openly and impatiently await the political passing of Chretien, to in fact, push (pusch?) for it so hard, shows unseemly ambition, except for maybe a Conservative.

After all, he had it all, didn't he? He was finance minister, a position often used to keep your enemies close I suspect, by Chretien, and by the gods he actually did well by it. To the joy of his backers in the business community a gargantuan federal deficit slipped away (or was diverted to the provinces and municipalities) under his management. Hell, even the voters seemed to accept the fact that the massive cuts to social programs were necessary to achieve this.

In any case, their party, their team, was voted in again and again. Granted, this was made much easier by the divided parliament the Liberals inherited, what with the Tories gutted to nothing at the hands of the newly-formed Reform and Bloc Quebecois parties tearing apart Tory support in the west and Quebec. It all made for a very smooth ride - he could play the financial heavy while Chretien and his tough-little-guy persona would take the heat.

And all the while, Paul stewed, knowing that he was still playing second fiddle to the guy that beat him in the leadership race, knowing that he had gotten as far as his dad did, but could get no further, and knowing that the only positive thing the party was accomplishing was the budget that was balanced at his hands. This must have been all the more galling after Chretien bobbled the 1995 Quebec referendum and nearly cost them everything.

After nine years of quiet (yeah, right!) backroom planning Martin left or was pushed from Cabinet in 2002, at which time open warfare with Chretien began. To fight as hard as he did to get to where he did makes his coming fall all the more tragic. All we need is a few deaths in Act V and it would be truly Shakespearean.

Ah yes, it is indeed a new beginning - a good time, all in all, I think. The conservatives are now united under a new banner, they have come through their dark time if you will, and I think that this is a good thing even though I disagree strongly with just about everything they stand for.

Yes, they are united, and so too should the Left be. It is time to shed the illusion that the Liberal party represents left-wing concerns, the responsible left, as they like to portray themselves. The Left, those that perhaps believe in a little more than (semi-)enlightened self-interest, have been ill-served by the Liberal Party of Canada. The Liberals deserve more than a beating at the polls - they deserve worse than they are getting today, I'm sure. A splintering of the Liberal Party into its right-wing fiscal element and left-wing social one would be a good thing, a very, very good thing - even at the expense of a majority Conservative government.

For too long we have defined our country by its relationship with the United States or by its role in the world. We have seen more of that during this past election campaign. These are not bad things, knowing how we fit into the world is important, but such knowledge is decidedly incomplete. It is time for a more thorough discussion of who and what we are, an open and frank one between the nation's conservative and liberal elements; both united and both unafraid.

The conservatives are on board. What about us?

The Outset

Hey hey! Welcome to Blevkog, my little experiment. I don't know what will come of this, largely because I'm not sure what I intend of it. I'll probably ramble a bit about odd things that I find interesting - sports, politics, whatever - just wanking semi-publicly, I guess. Read or don't read, it's all one. If you do read and find anything I write interesting or irritating, feel free to comment. We are nothing but our effects on other people and I'd love to learn a bit about what/who I am.