Sunday, September 30, 2007

What Would Jean (Chretien) Do, Part Two

Excellent article on things Liberal and leadership and historical and present day and what not in the Ottawa Citizen today.

BTW, I'm watching my DVD collection of The West Wing at the moment, which is always a good ideal when you supply of political idealism needs a boost, and I think there's one piece of advice that can be modified for the present situation: Let Dion be Dion.

Dion may be down but not out, political history suggests

Juliet O'Neill, CanWest News Service

Published: Sunday, September 30, 2007

OTTAWA -- There is no need to push the panic or eject buttons on Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, say two men who worked closely with former prime minister Jean Chretien during his difficult, if largely forgotten, time as Opposition leader in the early 1990s.

Peter Donolo and Eddie Goldenberg note that Chretien's decade in power was preceded by such a rough ride as Opposition leader that he lost his confidence.

He made some big gaffes. He was laughed at and criticized, second-guessed by colleagues and vilified in his home province of Quebec. Like Dion, his party lost a Montreal byelection in a riding that had been held by Liberals for more than 70 years.


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Coderre to Afghanistan

It's not often I'll say this, but good on Dennis Coderre. The Liberal defence critic is going to Afghanistan to see the situation for himself, even if the Conservative government seems to very much not want him to go:

The Montreal-area MP says he's made multiple requests with Defence Minister Peter MacKay's office but that they were systematically ignored or rejected. He said he first asked to go when Gordon O'Connor was defence minister but sometimes didn't get his calls returned.
You know, I'm not surprised at all about the hypocrisy of the Conservatives and their blogging army, who attack Liberals on the one hand for not visiting Afghanistan for themselves to see what's going on first hand, while at the same time they set up roadblocks to stop Liberals from going through official channels.

If this sounds at all familiar, it should. You'll recall the Cons also refused to let the Governor-General go visit the troops. Twice. Photo-ops by the PM and his minister though? No problemo, come on over.

So, good on Coderre for taking matters into his own hand and booking his own trip:
While visiting dignitaries generally use transportation supplied by the Department of National Defence, Mr. Coderre has made his own travel arrangements to Afghanistan and within the country.

He does not yet have permission from the Canadian government to visit the international base in Kandahar but says he's confident that he will be allowed to meet with the troops.

Will Harper and McKay deny the official opposition's defence critic the opportunity to meet with Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan? That will be very interesting to see. Hopefully, the Cons will rise above political partisanship for once. After all, Coderre is only following their advice, and going to see the situation for himself.

And Denis, I think you should go one step further. Bring Stephane Dion along. I think he should see the situation for himself as well, and then report back to Parliament. Maybe you guys can get a companion fare or something, and a double occupancy rate at the Kabul Hilton.

Coderre going is good; Dion going would be better.

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Grey's Anatomy thoughts

Because some things are more important than political shenanigans, dammit. Warning, if you haven't watched the season premiere yet, spoilers and what not no doubt follow.

*At least we get some mention of Burke's departure, so it's not like he's been given a one-way ticket to Mandyville. But no details, he just packed-up heartbroken in the middle of the night? At least Christina is showing some human emotion, if only when people aren't looking.

*George is back, and as an intern. He' been acting like a bit of a dick lately, it's was good to see him start to get his mojo back later in the episode.

*Meredeth continues to be annoying. I know she's the title character, but still, they should have let her drown last year. Could she at least be somewhat nice to her sister? And right back into the arms of Sheppard? McCome on! Even if she's an idiot he's not, she's a load of McCrazy Sheppard so back-up off that, and try dating someone not named Grey for awhile.

*Speaking of Greys, could Lexy turn out to be the only reasonably sane member of that family? Perhaps, since she is only half-Grey, but time will tell. I hope they don't make her crazy too. And please, keep her away from Sheppard.

*Could they have come-up with a lamer subplot for Izzy? I mean, after she saved the guy on the ferryboat last year with the drill it seemed like she might have finally grown a pair, but now she's operating on deer?

*And Izzy, George is married, get over it already! Stop being such a bitch and going after married guys. And George, you're married, tell her to back off. I feel bad for how everyone on the show seems to be treating Callie.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fall election or bust

I'm sorry, but Jason and Bryon Wilfert are wrong. Unless the speech from the throne includes something dramatically unexpected, like state-run day care institutions for all, then the Liberals are going to have to vote against it. And all our MPs had better be in their seats.

The Liberals are “never afraid of a fight” but should not pull the plug on the minority Conservative government to trigger a fall election, says Toronto-area MP Bryon Wilfert, a close confidant of Opposition leader Stephane Dion.

Wilfert proposes an unusual tactic of partial abstention by the Liberals if they have the deciding vote among the opposition parties on a confidence motion over the government’s Oct. 16 speech from the throne. “We could register our displeasure without bringing down the government,” he said.

I don't know if Wilfert, who was one of Dion's few original caucus supporters for the leadership, was freelancing here or if he was asked by higher-ups to float a trial balloon. I hope it's the former and not the latter, because I think this is a really bad idea.

It's time to fish or cut bait. The Liberals, at this point, can no longer afford to be seen as propping-up this Conservative government. Particularly if the NDP and BQ both vote no. We will be pilliored by our base and by the undecided/swing voters we need if we're going to gain seats.

It would be different if there were to be something substantial in the speech to support. But there's not going to be. Now, more than ever, Harper wants a fall election. If we vote for the speech only because we don't want an election now our credibility in the eyes of Canadians will be shot. It will be done.

The fact is, the Harper government no longer has a mandate, and to let it continue governing would be an abdication of our responsibility to Canadians. It's time for the Canadian people to have their say on where we go from here, and we can't be the ones to deny them that say.

And a partial abstention? Ludicrous. I don't care if the Cons have done it before. We're some 18 or 19 months into a rudderless Conservative government. The time for such tactical moves is early in a government, not this late in a minority mandate. Such a move would just confirm to all that we're weak, scared, in internal conflict, and willing to do or say anything to avoid going to the polls. Including abdicating our duties as official opposition to the BQ and the NDP. Who would, by the way, have a field day. Particularly Jack Layton. Get ready for round three of 'not a leader' ads, brought to you by the Cons AND the NDP.

A fall election isn't ideal obviously. And it won't be easy. However, we're backed into a corner, and we don't really have a choice. Also, it's the best thing for us. An election will force the party to stop this petty bullshit and come together, and I think with the exception of Quebec we are together and ready to go. We're in good shape in the polls, we have some good issues to hammer the Cons on, and we have some good growth potential across the country.

What we need is a strong push from the leader to rally around the standard, and a strong policy vision to articulate to Canadians, a different vision for the country, an alternative vision to the Harper lack thereof.

The fact is, there is going to be a fall election. The sooner we all accept that and get to work, the better.

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Friday, September 28, 2007


No, not what would Jesus do. Although that’s always a good question to consider. But no, if I were Stephane Dion at the moment I’d be asking myself, What Would Jean Chretien do? Kick some ass, that’s what the little guy from Shawinigan would do.

There were so many things I could have blogged about this morning. Like Mulroney saying Harper reminds him of Reagan (there’s a campaign ad right there), or interesting doings on the provincial front.

Instead, I’m pretty well forced to blog on the pandemonium that seems to have erupted in federal Liberal circles, which has exploded across the blogshpere over the past 24 hours. To do otherwise, as both a Liberal blogger and a long-time Dion supporter, would be just plain silly.

I won’t outline all the background of recent events, if you’re reading a political blog I’m sure you’re more than well aware. If not, Campbell Clark’s piece in the Globe outlines things well enough.

Where to start. On the Jamie Caroll incident, it seems plainly evident that one of these sides here is lying. As Campbell reports, you have two groups offering completely different accounts of the same meeting. Clearly, one of them isn’t being truthful.

I don’t know where the truth lies. But this isn’t about what Jamie did or didn’t say. More concerning to me is the fact that, whether they’re truthful or not, members of the LPC’s management committee went straight to the media with their remarks. This wasn’t some big public meeting, this was a group of 10 or so very senior party executives and strategists, and instead of taking their concerns to the leader they go straight to the media. That is unacceptable behaviour, whether the incident occurred or not, and makes their motivations highly questionable.

Also deeply concerning to me is this revelation from yesterday:

And a candidate who was set to run for the party called The Canadian Press without any prompting - saying he was asked to do so by a well-known Liberal - and announced he was no longer interested.

So “a senior Liberal” called this guy up, gave him a media call list, and told him to go publicly bash the party and the leader. When you take this, the Carroll thing, Garneau, it is impossible not to see a pattern of organization emerging. It’s too much to be coincidental. And it’s all coming from Quebec.

I don’t think this is related to leadership rivalries, I want to make that perfectly clear. But I do believe it is increasingly clear that the people that run the Quebec wing of the LPC want Dion out. Call me a conspiracy theorist, I don’t care, that’s my read and I think it’s increasingly obvious. It’s no secret that the Quebec wing has never liked Dion for a long list of reasons. It’s the old soft nationalist versus strong federalist thing.

This thing has reached a crisis point. Dion and his senior leadership team have handled things very poorly, and now the knives are coming out. This is coming to a boiling point and if he’s going to stay, if he’s going to hang-on, then he needs to start fighting, and he needs to do it today.

He needs to come out and crack the whip, and he needs to lay down the law. There’s one leader, it’s him, at you get on board or you shut the frick up. Articulate a vision, a policy direction, a plan for the election that you can dammed well now guarantee will be happening this fall, but also take change and get tough. Enough is enough.

Because without an immediate strong response, it’s all over. Dion was elected as leader of the LPC by members across all of Canada, and I don’t think this is being driven by the grassroots. It’s a narrow group of people with their own agenda, although in senior positions of power within the party, driving this thing. But the rest of the party, like me, is watching and we’re worried as hell. And if this isn’t stamped-out fast, it will spread.

I hear rumours Dion will be having a press conference today. It’s also, ironically, his 52nd birthday. He’d better give the performance of his life.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The political evolution of Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper 1.0, speaking in January 2006 during the last election campaign:

"I'm not sure there's such thing as a true Conservative majority in the sense of a Liberal majority," Mr. Harper said after a number of public opinion polls placed his party within striking distance of a majority government.

"We will have checks on us and limits on our ability to operate that a Liberal government would not face."

"The reality is that we will have, for some time to come, a Liberal Senate, a Liberal civil service, at least at the senior levels where they've been appointed by the Liberals, and courts that have been appointed by the Liberals," he said. "These are obviously checks on the power of a Conservative government. That's why I say ... there is certainly no absolute power for a Conservative government and no real, true majority."
And Stephen Harper 2.0, speculating Tuesday about the next election:
"With the current political alignment - I'm probably not supposed to say this, my election strategists won't like it - but with the current political alignment, I think the possibility of minority government at any election, including one in the near future, would loom very high," Mr. Harper said.
Same message (don’t worry, be happy, I won't burn down the house), same goal behind the remarks (feel comfortable electing a Conservative majority), but much better execution a year and a half later. He’s learning.

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Two Tory scandals that aren't going away

There are many reasons why, pronouncements to the contrary, Stephen Harper is likely eager to have Canadians trek to the polls this fall. Beyond the obvious motivations, there are also two lingering scandals that’d he’d rather not have erupt before the campaign.

*The first is a real ticking time bomb, and it’s the Conservative election advertising “in-and-out” scandal. It may have slipped out of the headlines but this situation is still developing, and is far from over.

Conservative uber strategist Tom Flanaghan, who is to Harper as Karl Rove is to Bush, is flogging a book and so has been all over the media, saying lots of interesting things. Today, he talked about the alleged ad laundering scheme:

Tom Flanagan says it was only a shortage of money in 2004 that kept the Tories from employing the "in-and-out" money transactions that were used by the party in the 2006 election and are now under investigation by the federal elections commissioner.
He adds:
"It looked to me as if this is in conformity with legislation, but I don't claim to be an expert on it."
No, Tom, you’re not an expert. You know who are experts on election legislation? Elections Canada. The guys your party have taken to court for refusing to sign-off on your little scheme.

This line from the same article was also of note:
Three of the candidates have told the Citizen they believed the payments to the party were for national advertising, and one former candidate has said his campaign was compelled by party headquarters to join in.

So, while Conservative apologists continue to maintain these ads were local and all is above board, three of the candidates have admitted the obvious: these were national ads. Which blows the Conservative defence right out of the water. The fact national campaign was pressuring ridings to participate in this scheme is also troubling.

Speaking of candidates, the LPC has released a list of the 66 Conservative candidates they allege were potentially involved in the ad scheme. There are 17 elected MPs on the list (and five cabinet members), namely:
Dick Harris, Ron Cannan, Jim Abbott, Stockwell Day, Colin Mayes, Jay Hill, David Anderson, Patricia Davidson, Maxime Bernier, Sylvie Boucher, Daniel Petit, Steven Blaney, Jacques Gourde, Luc Harvey, Jose Verner, Christian Paradis and Lawrence Cannon.

Quite a few on the list are from Quebec. Wouldn’t help Harper’s promised Quebec breakthrough to have this scandal explode between now and a spring election, now would it?

*The other lingering issue the Cons have been able to sidestep without Parliament sitting, and would likely be able to keep on the backburner if the throne speech triggers an election, is the suppression of information by DND relating to Afghan detainees.

If you haven’t been following, the government’s mishandling of the Afghan detainee was one of the final nails in the defence minister Gordon O’Connor, now put out of his misery in the revenue portfolio, where he may never be seen again.

Likely looking to save the government, and DND, further embarrassment CDS Gen. Rick Hillier decided all detainee information would henceforth be classified for highly dubious “national security reasons” denying the public’s right to know. Not one Conservative elected official has yet come forward to support or condone what would appear to be a decision outside of Hillier’s purview. O’Connor dodged it until he was put to pasture, I’ve not heard a peep on it from McKay.

I was reminded of this issue again the other day reading this story:
Canada is still unable to account for at least 50 prisoners it captured and handed over to Afghan authorities, keeping alive concerns that some detainees could have been subject to torture.

This issue isn’t going away. The Liberals were out on front on this when it broke, and the NDP threatened to recall the defence committee over it, although they didn’t follow through on that threat.

If parliament were to resume this fall however and not be quickly dissolved for an election, I have no doubt the freedom of information issue will be the subject of heated hearings by the defence committee, which would no doubt call Hillier, O’Connor, Ward Elcock (since shuffled out of DND) to get an explanation into this mess, and figure-out just whom was running the show at DND. It would be an unhealthy media spectacle to say the least.

Two reasons why, no matter what he says in public, Harper may more than be happier to go to the polls this fall.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thoughts provincial and federal, international and animated

An increasingly busy work schedule has prevented me from blogging as much as I’d like, so just a few quick thoughts on matters provincial and federal to share.

*The centerpiece of John Tory’s election campaign, focusing not on the Conservative brand but rather The John Tory Team™, has been that Leadership Matters. That theme hammered in on every lawnsign, every nasty attack ad, and every speech Tory gives.

What does it say about Tory’s leadership skills, then, when he can’t even lead his own caucus during an election campaign?

Opposition to Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory's contentious policy on faith-based schools hit close to home yesterday when the first member of his caucus broke ranks by announcing he would vote against it.
How long before the ‘John Tory is Not a Leader’ ads are posted to YouTube, I wonder?

*Speaking of YouTube, the folks at ToryTube have another video posted. Somehow they’ve gotten a hold of a copy of John Tory’s diary. OMG, when I watched it I was ROTFL.

*On a more serious note, the issues page on the Working Families Coalition Web site is worth checking-out. It’s a forum for people to discuss issues of interest in the election campaign. They also have some interesting tv spots.

*New poll numbers out today from SES show the provincial race relatively unchanged. The Liberals maintain a strong lead, 41 to 33. Tory has gained popularity to tie McGuinty for Best Premier and six in 10 said they don’t know who won the debate or that no one won.

Interesting, though, was the gender gap, which SES calls a significant hurdles for the Conservatives. The ladies aren’t keen on the Tory Cons. Among women its Liberals 42%, PC 28, NDP 23, Greens 7.

*Moving onto federal matters, I plan to write more in depth on this when I have the time but I’m increasingly of the view that the Liberals, barring something shocking being in it, will have to vote against the Throne Speech. The fall isn’t perfect but it’s looking better than spring, and I don’t think we can be seen backing-down and keeping this government in power any longer. But more on that later.

As for throne speech ultimatums go though, the BQ isn’t the first to the table here. The LPC put its demands on the table two weeks ago:

  1. Immediately inform NATO that Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan will end in 2009
  2. Table the Clean Air and Climate Change Act in the next Parliamentary session
  3. Put forward a "real" economic plan
  4. Put forward a credible plan to address poverty

*I don’t know, this seems like a natural progression for the Giuliani campaign, given their strategy to date:
A spokeswoman for Rudy Giuliani says it is unfortunate that a supporter throwing a party that aims to raise $9.11 per person for the Republican's presidential campaign is asking for that amount.
*The fall tv season is beginning, tres fun. The Simpsons premier was good, I liked the continuity from the movie in the opening credits. And seeing Colbert have a cameo was fun. But The Simpsons was overshadowed by the one-hour Family Guy premiere parodying Star Wars. One of the most hilarious things I’ve seen in years. Particularly the Robot Chicken thing at the end.

*Lastly, has anyone noticed Firefox crashing a lot more lately, probably since they pushed the last update? It’s starting to really piss me off. I’d hate to go back to IE, but I may have no choice…

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Discussing MMP

A friend from university is living in Europe these days (lucky guy) but is still an Ontarian and is getting ready to vote in the upcoming election. He's been trying to read-up on MMP, and he asked me a question the other day that I thought was interesting, and it was one I hadn't heard before so I thought I'd share it:

What happens if one of these (list) guys votes against the party due to his concience? Are they kicked out of caucus then they have no party to vote with and no constituency to represent?

It's an interesting question. With no constituency to represent and no party to be a part of they'd essentially be a free agent. Obviously, if they're now not in any party (assuming they don't join another caucus) if they wanted to get re-elected it would have to be as a constituency MPP, so they'd have to chose a riding (if they hadn't already) to unofficially represent and start working the grassroots.

Something else occurs to me though. Would a list MPP be more beholden to their party, more apt to tow the party line, in order to stay high on the party list next time, perhaps feeling they couldn't get elected directly, without the list's help?

Food for thought. I'm still trying to wrap my head around MMP but I'll need to do it soon, as I'll be down in Las Vegas for a work trip on E-Day. I'll see if I can find out what odds they're offering on the referendum...

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Harper and women: What would Mulroney say?

Much has been written about the record of the Harper Conservatives on women's issues, from the Status of Women cuts all the way to a cabinet shuffle that lowered the clout of women in Harper's inner circle. The latest developments have been covered by Impolitical, Unrepentant Old Hippie and Garth Turner.

On a related note, I'm reading Brian Mulroney's 50 pound autobiography at the moment. Look for a review some time around 2010, because this thing is crazy long. But I bring it up because, in light of current events, I found this passage from the guy Conservatives are now rallying behind to be interesting:

On election night in 1984, I made the following pledge to the women of Canada: “From now on, the advancement of women's rights will be one of the major concerns of the Government of Canada. Injustices that women have suffered – belatedly recognized as such by many of us – will no longer be tolerated in this country, and our government will attempt to remedy the most glaring of problems and will vigorously address the difficulties that remain.”

I spent the next nine years delivering on that pledge, by appointing more female ministers, deputy ministers, senators, and judges than any other prime minister up to that time. I also initiated anti-stalking legislation, and implemented many other measures to support women.
I guess Mulroney must have fixed everything, given the record of Harper's government on these issues. Indeed, based on their actions it would seem Canada's New Government believes Mulroney went too far on women's issues, and they need to dial it back a bit.

It's yet another reminder of why the Conservatives dropped the Progressive moniker. Must be one of the few times the Harper Cons decided for truth in advertising.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Live blogging the Ontario leaders debate

6:30pm: Time to live blog the Ontario leaders debate. Because making quick, snarky and sarcastic comments is easier than doing in depth analysis. I've got a plate of pizza bagels, a rum and coke (because it worked so well last time). So, let's go.

6:32pm: Steve Pakin is back as host, I liked him during the federal debate. Instead of opening statements they're doing videos? I like change, but not change for change sake. Seems too commercially. McGuinty's video tackles head-on the broken promise on taxes and the health premium, explains and apologizes. I like it, defuse it up front, and take responsibility too. The NDP's ad is a positive message, and I like it. I wonder though, those workers that said Howard was the only one that helped them with their plant closed, how exactly did he help? Tory, surprise surprise, is once again harshly negative. Criminals set free by Dalton McGuinty's catch and release justice program? This is U.S. Republican-style smeers. I'm not sure if Tory's negativism is because he's desperate, or if it's just because he doesn't have anything positive to say at all. I'd ask if maybe he's a jerk, but everyone that has met him from all parties seems to think he's a good guy personally

6:35pm: A question on Tory's faith-based education plan. Unity, inclusiveness and equality doesn't mean a balkanization of the school system John, that doesn't make sense.

6:38pm: Howard does seem off, maybe he is under the weather.

6:39pm: Dalton and John go at it over public education and faith-based private schools; Hampton has to push his way in, we'd forgotten about him for a minute. He's right though, we should focus on improving the public system. I think Dalton agrees with that too (and has been), but Tory's plan is such a loser how can he resist taking shots.

6:43pm: Second question is on education too. Dalton keeps brining up the Harris record, which is good, He isn't mentioning Harris' name though, which is bad. Howard acknowledges McGuinty has raised funding, but says most of it has gone to “government pet projects.” But he doesn't say where. He says he'll fix the funding formula. But he doesn't say how. Tory doesn't say how he'll do it either, nor explain how he'll fix things while taking $500 million out of the system to add the faith-based schools.

: Question on transit, first to Howard. He promises to upload 50 per cent of transit costs to the province, I like that but that's a huge dollar amount, how could you pay for it? He also seems to want to kill the York subway expansion, the students won't like that. Tory wants more long-term, stable funding, I can agree with that. It's not just capital funds that's needed, it is stable operating funds like he said. Dalton keeps talking about public transit plans. That's great, and very needed. But what about operating funds? All the capital spending in the world is no good if you don't have the funds to operate that snazzy equipment. The situation right now with the TTC illustrates that. The gax tax is good though. But we need more operating funds Dalton.

6:56pm: Question to Tory on downloading to municipalities, with a shot at Conservative offloading. Tory says McGuinty is continuing the trend of not doing anything...whose trend John? Your party's trend. Opps. Dalton says picking-up from the mess Tory's friends left isn't easy, but they're working on it. Howard says not only is that not happening, things are worse. He's going to upload even more stuff, I wonder if anyone is keeping a tab on the cost of all this. In the Q&A, Tory gives a shout-out to the rural towns, then returns to a running theme of McGuinty leaving everything until the end of his mandate. Would love to do everything at once and magically, says Dalton, but you stuck us with a huge deficit. You can blame your predecessor for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, says Tory, but no more. Has he told Steve Harper that? Why haven't I heard the name Mike Harris yet? Dalton doesn't like Howard's comments, but he needs to watch the muttering while someone else is speaking.

: Broken promises, a voter video asks about recall legislation. We have in it B.C., it doesn't work. Dalton says he opposes it, we have recalls: elections. And apologizes again for the health premium thing. John Tory says everyone knew Ernie Eves was full of shit when the Cons said they'd balanced the budget, so why'd he believe him. Smirk. Tory doesn't say if he'd support recall or not, but says shouldn't be needed if people were nice. If only were so, John. Dalton says John has been calling him names, be tougher Dalton. Howard gangs-up on him too on broken promises, McGuinty outlines the progress he has made. Tory looks comfortable, but a bit smug. It's a fine line between confident and smarmy. McGuinty says Tory promises your cake and eating it too, that's what the last guy said too. Last guy. Say it: Mike Harris!

Question to Howard on the economy and manufacturing jobs, with a reference to the last NDP government's poor economic record. Howard seems stunned, he ignores the NDP record and instead discusses his plan. Tory says the health care tax killed manufacturing jobs? And says next to nothing concrete, Hampton was more specific on his plans. Dalton says it's not all bad. Talks about an auto industry strategy that is saving and creating jobs, a plan the Cons opposed. 1300 jobs a week lost under NDP, 1800 jobs gained under Liberals. Tory seems unwilling to defend the Conservative record. Unsurprising, this is the John Tory Team, not the Conservative Party.

7:16 pm:
A question for Daddy Warbucks, John Tory, on fighting poverty. It seems he used to hang-out in disadvantaged neighborhoods all the time while running Rogers. And hey, he mentions the name of his party, emphasis on the Progressive. McGuinty outlines his accomplishments, plan and tosses in the word progressive too with a little smile for John. Howard wants to raise the minimum wage to $10/hour, I agree. He takes a shot at the MPP pay raise, that's lame. Tory commends McGuinty on the Child Tax Benefit. He said something positive. Stop the presses! Then he goes back to the health care tax, Dalton corrects him: low income families are exempt. Then we veer away from poverty into health care. Tory doesn't buy it, Dalton comes back with Tory's push for bringing private health care into the public system Interestingly, Howard helps John and brings it back to attacking McGuinty on the health tax.

Question for Dalton on crime, it's going down but still a concern for people, feel too many repeat offenders on the streets. McGuinty has funded police, courts, strategy on gangs, and programs to address root causes, and opportunities for youth. Howard wants more funding for outreach/root causes, and attacks Conservative cuts to those programs. Tory says it's gang warfare in the streets and it's McGuinty's fault. He hasn't “fixed” the justice system, but Tory magically will, whatever that entails. Dalton says Ontario crime rates are actually lowest in Canada, but still more to do, and says he wants Harper to ban handguns, and wants Tory's support in that. And wants to do it in Ontario. Tory says they're banned already, says need more enforcement at the border. Call up Harper for that John. God, his crime messaging is really so ridiculous. Willie Horton much?

We need a commercial so I can refresh my beverage.

: Question for Howard on university tuition, should be an easy pitch for a Dipper, and he likes the question. He want a rollback of tuition to 2003 levels and a freeze, among other things, including public investment. I hope he doesn't pull a Rae and get elected, to pay for all his promises (nice as they are) the deficit will be huge. Tory wants more grants, and to look at ancillary fees. Grants aren't the answer if tuition keeps increasing, he's right on fee creep though. Dalton is going to infuse $6 billion. Said no government ever froze tuition for two years like he did – I believe B.C. did under Harcourt actually.

: Question on nuclear for Tory, he says we need them and goes after Dalton for not closing coal plants like he said he would. He liked solar power too he says. McGuinty says the Cons nearly killed the hydro system, says nuclear is needed but downplays it to talk about renewable energy. Howard doesn't like nuclear, wants more efficiency, loans to retrofit homes and buy efficient appliances. That's good Howard, but it's not going to go far enough to address the supply issue. Dalton says Tory is making stuff up, smirk. He wonders how Howard would eliminate half of the system's supply without things collapsing, it's not realistic and its right. I wonder too. Howard points to California.

Question for Dalton, what are you doing with our health premium money? He says it's half of our program spending, but we're doing a lot, and lists is. He's obviously memorized a lot of statistics ad is throwing them at us, I wonder if its a bit too much. Howard wants long-term care and home care for seniors, that's good. Tory asks if we're better off today on health care than when Dalton came into government? I think so, but no one has “fixed” health care, and I haven't heard much concrete from Tory. John brings up the slush fund – during a discussion on health care. And jabbers about a secret phone number or something. Seems an odd place to jam that in. Why no talk here of Tory's private care musings? Howard brings it up, and tries to link McGuinty to it too. John Tory doesn't trust doctors on wait times. Dammed statistics! I'm not clear on what Dalton's saying Tory is taking $3 billion out of the system is about.

7:49pm: Question for Howard, is Ontario still great? There's some good stuff, is the answer, but he'd rather talk about why it sucks. So would Tory, and lists a bunch of ways that he thinks we suck. The answer: leadership, of course, and lots of negative advertising. Dalton says Tory won't fight for Ontario with the feds and the provinces, but he will. Got money from Martin for immigrant settlement. Ontario must assert itself. Howard is pack to the minimum wage, and the MPP pay raise. Dalton decides to address the raise issue and explains the process. Says the NDP's minimum wage plan is too fast. Tory is trying to say leader as many times as possible. I went back and rewound the PVR: four times in less than 20 seconds. McGuinty hits Tory again on private clinics and faith-based schools. Tory firmly commits to private health care with your health card.

7:56pm: Howard's closing statement, quick shot at McGuinty and Tory before moving to what he'd do, with specifics, I like that. Six commitments you can count on. I don't like the third-person referral though.

7:57pm: Dalton thanks the other two leaders, classy, and focuses on the progrress he has made and his plan moving forward. We've come a loing way. I like it.

7:58pm: John says it's a clear choice. Says why he's there, but no specifics on what he'd do. Leadership, blah blah. Doesn't say anything specific, but at least it's positive.

8:00pm: Pakin signs off, says hopefully you found it useful. I have my doubts.

Final thoughts: No knock-out punches that I could see. Tory continued with his harsh negativity, at least in debates that's expected. Howard seemed fine, I liked some of his policies but there's no way he could ever pay for everything he'd like to do. Dalton did well for being attacked on both sides all night. He tried to strike a line between humility and pride in the record. I thought he was a bit too stat heavy at times. And I'm shocked, shocked, that I don't recall him saying the name Mike Haris. He talked about “the conservative record” enough, why not say Harris? It was so striking it had to be a strategic decision.

Anyway, not an overly exciting hour and a half, but these things rarely are. At least no one made any stupid-ass promises like a constitutional amendment never to use the notwithstanding clause.

Time for me to rustle-up some dinner. Live blogging complete.

8:18pm: Except for a brief update because something just occured to me: no one ever mentioned MMP, or the referendum. I mean, really, a question on recall legislation but nothing on the very real referendum on electoral reform? What up with that? I could see Dalton and John, not bringing it up, but why not Howard? And why not Steve Pakin?

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I'll answer Hamid Karzai

According to the Montreal Gazette, the opposition owes Afghan president Hamid Karzai an answer:

So what do the Liberals, the Bloc and the New Democrats have to say to Karzai and the millions of Afghans, desperate for peace, who elected him? "We don't care"?

First of all, bite me Gazette. You should be ashamed of yourselves for framing the question in such a simplistic and douchebaggy way.

Secondly, of course we care. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t have gone over in the first place and stayed for so long. But you, and Harper, and Karzai are setting-up a false premise here, designed to use guilt to manipulate your desired result. And shame on you for that.

Just because Canada will potentially leave when its mandate expires in 2009 doesn’t mean NATO will leave. No one is talking about abandoning Afghanistan, you shouldn’t imply that’s the case.

is a small country with a small military, and it’s stretched thin. We don’t have the manpower and the resources to support an indefinite deployment in Afghanistan. By 2009 we’ll have done our share. It will be time for another of the NATO countries to step-up and do its share of the heavy-lifting.

That’s why the Liberals are pushing for a quick vote to settle the question: so this isn’t left to the last minute, so NATO can find another country to step-in in 2009, so the Afghans are not abandoned. Given that the vote is likely to be in favour of ending the mission, by delaying it Harper is giving NATO less time to find a replacement. You might ask instead, Gazette, if Harper really cares about Afghanistan?

Don’t guilt Canada, Mr. Karzai. You should direct your attentions to those members of the NATO alliance that haven’t had thousands of troops in your country for years, that haven’t been losing so many of their sons and daughters to help your country.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall election? I'm not so sure

The latest conventional wisdom is that there will absolutely, positively be a fall election, triggered by the Cons. Now, granted conventional wisdom has a horrible track record of forecasting these things, and the laws of averages hold they need to get it right at some time. Still, I'm not totally buying it.

The argument for Harper trying to force a fall election draws largely on the result in the three Quebec by-elections. It would infer that the Cons will sweep the Liberals (and the BQ) out of Quebec, that the Liberal losses will sow division in the LPC that will spread nationwide, and that Dion's leadership has been weakened to the point the Cons will make gains across the country. And they also might want to go before nasty little time bombs like the ConAdScam scandal explode.

I'm not buying it though. Before this week, I saw Harper likely planning a spring election based on the budget, and I wondered, although it wouldn't be ideal, if it wouldn't have been better for the Liberals to try to pull the plug in the fall, rather than let Harper have an goodie-filled budget election. While naturally I'd now like to see the Libs have a little more time, from the Con perspective all that has changed is three Quebec by-elections, and I don't think that outweighs the negatives for the Cons against a fall vote.

Harper is a smart guy. I've already covered the Liberal problems yesterday; but he arranged this narrative by calling just the three Quebec votes, and not the others in B.C. and Ontario. While he probably didn't think it would work out as well as it did, I still think he's smart enough not to buy into his own media narrative of Liberal doom and gloom. Because he knows the fundamentals are a bit different.

Nearly every poll for the last six months or so has shown the Cons and Liberals neck in neck. Yes, the Liberals have been steady at around 30 per cent. They haven't been able to build support, the other side is they've found their basement, that 30 per cent is a pretty solid base. But while Canadians haven't warmed to us, they've cooled to the Conservatives. They're down off their peak numbers, and at or below their result in the last election. They're in trouble in Atlantic Canada (and maybe Saskatchewan) because of equalization, and in Ontario the last SES poll had the Liberals opening their lead and Dion passing Harper in popularity. So, the fundamentals don't fit the narrative.

So, the question is, in a fall election where is Harper going to make his gains? The only real avenue with some visibility at the moment is Quebec, probably at BQ expense. The regional polls have showed the Libs and Cons polling pretty closely in Quebec, break it down though and you'll probably see Lib support concentrated in Montreal, with the BQ and Cons fighting it out in the rural areas.

I don't see the potential Conservative gains in Quebec though bringing them to majority levels. Indeed, they'll need a few of those seats to offset potential loses in Atlantic Canada to the Liberals, in Saskatchewan to the NDP (and maybe the Libs), and B.C. to the NDP and Libs. And Ontario? I haven't looked riding by riding, but it's hard to see many Conservative pick-ups at the moment.

So, at the moment, with a fall election the best case scenario for Harper would be a strengthened minority. The question becomes, is Harper willing to pull the trigger on that basis, and build towards a majority in another two years, or does he want to wait for majority visibility? If it's the former, he may try to go this fall. I'm betting the latter though. He may hope the Liberals can't get their act together, some negative momentum builds, and with a spring budget he may have his majority shot.

Because remember, the Cons are crap in the polls too, and governing parties traditionally dip a few points over the campaign. A fall vote would be a be a huge gamble, and Harper doesn't strike me as a gambling man.

If I were Harper though, I'd bluster and thump like I wanted a fall election, and dare the opposition to bring me down. Would any of the parties take them up on it though?

I don't think the BQ would. As a few have pointed-out, they were the big losers this week. They stand to lose a good chunk of their seats to the Conservatives. I don't see them keen on a fall vote. The NDP? The big winners in Outremont, but while they hope for a Quebec breakthrough I think the upper ranks are a little more realistic. And the last SES poll numbers had the NDP at just 13 points, the lowest they'd been in some time. They could use some time. And the Liberals? With the work we have to do we're not keen on a fall vote either.

So, even if Harper really wanted a fall election, he can't do it without opposition help, and I don't see any of the parties playing ball at this point. He'll huff and he'll puff, and that'll be it.

However, should the Liberals vote against the speech from the throne and risk a fall vote anyway? I'll tackle that question in another post.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moving forward

Before I return to blogging about how crazy evil the Harper Conservatives are, the Ontario election and other topic (I’d like to do more television-related blogging this season) let me offer some well intentioned advice to the LPC powers that be.

*What’s our message? What do we stand for? You know, I’m a Liberal and I have no clue. I mean, we’re for us being in power and the Cons not being in power, I’m clear on that. But we need a little more. I wrote just after the last election we needed to do policy/philosophy before we did leadership. We did leadership first instead. Now, let’s do the other thing.

*To that end, what about policy? I remember something about Rae and Hall-Findlay going coast-to-coast to consult on policy. Did they finish? Did they come-up with anything?

*With the throne speech dropping next month, and all the drama that will be surrounding it, it’s time to get serious about policy. We should write our own throne speech, Bind it up all nice, and release it when the Conservatives do theirs. Try not to leak it beforehand, keep it away from the mole. But lay-out the Liberal vision for Canada, what we’d do if we were in government. Not a response to the speech from the throne, that will come too, but our own SFTT. Maybe hold a rally the day after the Con SPTT and have Dion deliver the speech.

*Speaking of Dion, he needs to get his hands dirty and take off the gloves. Why isn’t he taking-on Harper on the Con-ad scandal? Or being more forceful in calling BS on a lot of the crap the Cons are spewing. Where’s the Dion I remember from the separatist fights? I get the sense he’s holding back, trying to stay reserved. Don’t hold back anymore. But also, don’t use lame talking points like ‘President Harper.’ We elected you for your smarts; use them to make Harper look dumb.

*Does Dion have a Jean Pelletier, someone with the experience and knowledge to tell him when he’s wrong and with the power and moxy to keep the team in line? I’m thinking no, and he needs to find one tout de suite.

*The LPC needs to reclaim the centre-left. I’ve been arguing this for some time. We had to put a lot on hold to get the budget balanced. Mission accomplished, now let’s get back to our traditional home. Let’s talk about a real plan for fighting child poverty. This was a big part of Dion’s leadership campaign, why haven’t I heard about it since? Let’s talk about rural economic development. Let’s talk about the skills shortage. Whatever happened to childcare? Let’s talk about early childhood learning, and come-up with a real child care plan that addresses the needs of both working parents AND stay at home parents.

*What happened to the Liberal dream team? I saw most of them on the stage in Outremont. But let’s leverage their strength more. Let’s get Michael and Gerard and Martha out there on the hustings. And Bob too, once he’s recovered. Let’s use these guys.

*Very quickly, assuming Bob’s health allows and he’s doing well, I’d like to see Dion hold a press conference, flanked by our candidates for all the other vacant seats: Bob, Martha, Joyce Murray and the others. He should challenge Harper to immediately set the date for the remaining by-elections. The message: we’re not scared. The fight is not over. Bring it on. I’d like the messaging of such a move.

*The nomination process was slowed over the summer. Speed it back up quickly. Fall election or no, get candidates in place in all 307 (yes, I know) ridings so they can start working now. We’ll need the time for local organization, and there’s no time to waste.

*Finally, here’s an idea. Every time an anonymous ‘senior Liberal mouths off to the media, every MP and senior party staffer needs to put a twonie in a jar. When the jar is full, it gets donated to the Conservatives. Kind of like a swear jar for politicians. Might be worth a try.

The media-fueled furor over Outremont will die down in due course. They’re a fickle bunch, the press corps. These recommendations I’d have made irregardless of last night. Things aren’t as doom and gloom as some would have us believe. But we also have serious work to do, serious work that hasn’t been getting done. Let’s get started.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

The night before the morning after; a rum-fueled partisan analysis

It's just after 10:00 pm on Monday night as I type this, Eastern Standard Time. The great journalist, Mike Duffy, has called Outremont for the NDP. With 70 polls reporting its Muclair 43 per cent, Coulon 35.5 per cent. Oh, the humanity!

I'm getting sleepy. I really need to go to bed, but I'm afraid. Will I ever wake-up again? Will the Earth still be turning the morning after this apocalyptic result? Maybe I should go to church instead. I mean, I've never been religious, but at times like this!

OK, I'm sorry. That's enough of the sarcasm. Serious times call for serious analysis. Not necessarily sober analysis though (I'm not the Senate after all), so I'm going to go make a rum and coke. I'm going to need it for this one. Excuse me a moment....

I'm back, double rum and coke in hand. Thanks for your patience. Luckily I hit the duty free on the way back from San Francisco last week. Bacardi Lemon, good stuff, and only US$17. It's like $30 at the LCBO.

Alright, analysis time. A warning to all the trolls, whether you're Conservative trolls or Conservative trolls pretending to be lifelong Liberals: while I will give my honest opinion, you may feel free to just skip reading and scroll down to the “post a comment” link to call me a Dion/Liberal apologist. I won't mind. Not while I have my rum and coke. Although unfortunately, I'm almost out of Coke. Lots of rum still though.

OK, so 90 polls reporting now and its Muclair 48, Coulin 29. Mon dieu, tabernac and assorted other French profanities I can't spell! I mean, I figured the NDP would probably take it but I figured it'd be close. This is freaking insane.

Now, I had a number of I feel very valid counterarguments ready to go to explain a tight Liberal loss/NDP win. For example, this is a seat that Jean Lapierre (darling of the soft nationalist, anti-Dion (anti in the sense of polar opposite philosophy wise) movement) narrowly held onto last election. Also, Muclair is a wildly popular former Liberal cabinet minister,so he's not just another candidate, and is going to swing a lot of votes on his personal popularity alone.

All very good arguments in a tight race. But 49/29 now? Tougher case to make. Where's that rum and coke...

As has been said elsewhere, it can't be spun. It's bad for the Liberal Party. So is the result in the other two ridings. It can't be spun, but can it be explained?

I'm just a humble uninformed blogger watching this trainwreck from suburban Toronto, but allow me to wildly speculate without basis, as that's what blogging is all about after all, is it not?

So, as I've already said you've got a riding a nationalist Liberal narrowly kept in 2006. Add in a popular former cab min as the NDP candidate.

With vacant seats also in Ontario and B.C. (Saskatchewan wasn't quite officially vacant yet) too, Harper calls just the three Quebec by-elections because he knows Dion is iffy in Quebec, and without a strong BC/ONT result to counterbalance a bad Quebec showing the optics are double-plus bad. Great strategy by Harper, btw. Harper sent the word out to his people: we want an NDP win, so don't campaign too hard. Indeed, look at the Con result in Outremont: 8.3 per cent. In the other two ridings, they had 36.2 in SHB and won with an astounding 59.7 in Roberval. But just 8 in Outremont? Clearly, either the Cons ran a unilingual Albertan or they phoned this one in to boost the NDP.

Finally, a look a comparison of these results to the 2006 results show the Liberal vote largely held, the shift was a massive one from the BQ, whose vote collapsed to 10 per cent, and went to the NDP. That's the margin of difference. I'd attribute that shift partially to Muclair's personal popularity, and part of a desire of the separatists, who I'll freely admit hate Dion for making them look stupid over the years, to embarrass Dion and seeing the NDP as the best positioned to win here.

Now, none of that should be considered excuses for the Liberal result. Just an explanation. Sure, we may not have lost much of our vote, but we sure didn't build it either, and we need to start building our vote to win. For that, the fault is ours.

The Quebec landscape

Before getting to that though, let me switch my uninformed and baseless speculation to the Quebec big picture. But first, let me mute Mike Duffy because even with a double rum and coke I can't stand that guy.

Ahh, that's better. Now then, Quebec at large. Speaking as a unilingual anglophone from B.C. living in Toronto, here's my view of Quebec. The days of Liberal sweeps of Quebec are over. The BQ, while hobbled, is never going to go away. The Conservatives are back again too, and they're not going to go away. Time will tell if Muclair has coattails – I have my doubts, unless Jack can recruit the rest of Jean Charest's cabinet --- but time will tell. But for many years, the Liberals were the default federalist option. That's not the case anymore, and it's not likely to be again. So, Liberals need to redefine their expectations in Quebec, and their strategy.

Speaking incredibly simplistically, I've always seen Quebec as divided into perhaps three groups: the staunch federalists, the staunch nationalists/separatists, and the soft nationalists. The BQ naturally has the separatists. The Liberals traditionally had the staunch federalists. And both sides would fight for the mushy soft nationalists. These are voters that, while not separatists, want more power for Quebec and wouldn't be above using the separatist threat to get it.

I'd argue this latter group, or at least the later strategy, has generally prevailed in the PLQ over the years. It's an approach Chretien shunned, part of the reason why the PLQ kept him out of the referendum campaign till the very end.

Fast-forward to the Martin Prime Ministership. He brings in a new Quebec team and a new approach, let's call it the Lapierre approach. They say we've got the federalist vote locked-up, let's go after that soft nationalist vote now. It doesn't work, although you can rightly attribute some blame to sponsorship. But in taking the soft nationalist strategy they start to bleed their federalist base away. Incidentally, this is the point in 2004 where they recall Dion from the backbenches to rally the federalist base.

Anyway, fast-forward to today. There's a third player in the Quebec scene, the Conservatives, and they're fighting the BQ on its home turf for those soft nationalist votes. And clearly having some success, after all, not all of these people are separtists, many are just nationalists that want more power for Quebec, that fits in well with Harper's weak federalism view of Canadian government, and the nation thing helped too.

The debate within the Liberal Party, as it has been for many years, is do we now join the Cons in fighting the BQ on that soft nationalist ground? That's the approach I'd say is favoured by the LPC(Q), and indeed by many of the Quebec delegation that was in Montreal. It's an approach that is the opposite of the one Dion has espoused throughout his career though, which was why most of the Quebec delegates that weren't with Dion at the start didn't go to him in the final ballot.

I've always argued that we should take the strong federalist strategy, because with the BQ and the Cons fighting for that soft nationalist vote we could have the federalist vote to ourselves, and if I'm casting a male lead for the Captain Canada role it's hard to do better for Dion.

After tonight though, I'm not sure if either approach is the way to go. Perhaps this thinking is out of date. What do modern Quebecers want from their federal government? What can the Liberal Party deliver that, and this is key here, is also palatable to the rest of Canada? I think this is a soul searching exercise that the LPC needs to do in Quebec, and I think Dion needs to lead it. And I think Dion and the LPC(Q) need to find some way of getting on the same page. Develop a new strategy, and get behind it.

The shorter term

I'm running low on coke zero, does rum mix with lemonade? Well, it is lemon-flavoured rum, so maybe. Let's find out. In the absence of kool-aid (which, I know Con trolls, would be so apropos) it'll have to do. Excuse me a moment.

I'm back and mmm, damm, I can report lemon rum mixes beautifully with lemonade. I now have the strength to carry-on.

Alright then, so as I says saying before you can explain what happened tonight but it's hard to view it as anything but a train wreck. A post morteum needs to be done immediately to determine just what the heck happened. Having already covered-off the strategy, the logistics need to be looked at pretty closely.

If reports like Justin's are accurate, and I have no reason to doubt that it's not, then this is a serious problem. There's lots of blame to go around here, from the campaign on the ground to the provincial organization to the leader himself. Some hard questions need to be asked, and houses need to be cleaned. All the factors working against the Liberals here aside, this sounds like it was an amateur effort, and for a modern (and historically relatively successful) political party that's just not acceptable.

Of course, there will be those that will call for Dion's head. Most of them will be Conservatives, Conservatives pretending to be Liberals, and a few Liberals hiding behind the veil of anonymity speaking to Jane Taber. They'll be in a minority however.

Dion does need to shoulder his share of the blame here though, along with the provincial organization. Make no mistake though, he's not going anywhere. I think even the minority know that. What needs to happen, as I said earlier, as the leader needs to reach-out to that Quebec organization, find some kind of common ground, and come out unified on a new Quebec strategy. That's a tough needle to thread though: while his federalism is why they dislike him in Quebec, it's also part of why we like him in the rest of Canada, or would if we'd remind him. So we need to balance that.


While we clearly have work to do in Quebec, in the rest of Canada we're in a competitive position. Work to do, but good position. A fall election call by Harper, undoubtedly more likely after tonight, would still be a gamble. We have so many issues the Cons are vulnerable on. So it's not all doom and gloom for the LPC, although the negative press and stalled momentum that will result from tonight can't be underestimated.

But what this by-election, and certainly this last week from hell with fake e-mails and anonymous-source filled news stories, has served to make abundantly clear is that the LPC is not as united as many of us had thought, or at least hoped, that it was. When the going got tough the fingers got pointing, and the conspiracy theories began to flow.

These things have a danger of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. I think on the ground, we're united. I think the caucus is united. But I think many of the organizers in all camps haven't totally put down their swords. I think some of the people that supported other candidates need to realize Dion is going to lead us into the next election and get on board, and I think some of the Dion people need to stop seeing conspirators behind every bush, give them the benefit of the doubt, and stop saying incredibly stupid crap to the media.

And I seem to have petered out here, after an hour and a half and some 2000+ words, without a natural conclusion. So, I'll end with some profanity. Fellow Liberals of all stripes and persuasions: smarten the fuck-up. We have a heckuva lotta work to do, and it begins tomorrow.

And seriously, try the lemon rum and lemonade. Delish. I leave this post to the trolls, and go to watch Jimmy Kimmel. And BTW, great for Jeremy Piven last night at the Emmys, and Katherine Hiegl.

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I actually agree with Tom Flanagan on something!

This must surely a sign of the apocalypse. Excuse me while I go to the window to check for flying monkeys and blood falling from the sky like rain...ok, we're still clear at the moment.

The Conservative Karl Rove is exactly right in his analysis here though:

Tom Flanagan has a message New Democrats won't want to hear. In a candid new book called Harper's Team, the top Conservative strategist reveals that Jack Layton and company were the key to bringing Stephen Harper - not exactly a Dipper kind of guy - to power.

The Layton decision to attack Paul Martin's Liberals and lay off the Tories in the 2006 campaign was what paved the way, concludes the Calgary academic, a Harper confidant. "No matter how well designed our campaign had been, it would have been hard for us to win if the NDP had not held up its end."

This is what Liberals, though less eloquently, have been saying since the last election. So, a certain degree of vindication there, I suppose.

Now, before the flamers come-out in force, let me make clear that I’m not making excuses for the Liberal result last election, nor do I blame the NDP for their strategy.

The Liberals’ loss was the LPC’s own fault; heck, they even lost my vote last election after the military ad. From sponsorship to the income trust investigation to a weak, weak campaign and a host of other factors, the LPC was its own worst enemy in 2005/06.

And I don’t fault the NDP for their strategy; it was very smart. And it paid dividends for them with a substantial increase in seat count. In their shoes, I’d have done the very same thing.

So, I don’t blame the NDP for the Liberal result, let me make that clear. But it has been my strategic analysis, shared now it would seem by Tom Flanagan, that the NDP strategy helped put Harper in power. I don’t see how, from a pure numbers perspective, that can be denied. By focusing its attacks on the Liberals, the NDP was able to divide the left vote enough for a Harper minority. The numbers simply bare that out.

Do I expect the NDP to change their strategy? Not to any large degree. The article says they’ve softened their attacks on the Liberals since Dion took over, I’d take issue with that claim.

I think there may be a point where NDP supporters start to question if focusing more on the Liberals than the Conservatives, esp. now that they’re in government, with the result of prolonging the Con government, is really the way to go. So, there may be some risk of a backlash at some point. But that really depends on how successful the NDP is at influencing Con legislation, and that will have to be key to their messaging next campaign.

But there’s one big reason why the NDP is unlikely to change their strategy: it works. They increased their seat count. They’re not going to gain Conservative votes, but they can gain Liberal votes. So, even though it increases the likelihood of a Conservative government, why dump a winning strategy? There’s also the fact Layton and many Dippers dream of supplanting the Liberals as the major centre-left party, but that’s another story.

At the end of the day though, while Flanagan confirms the hypothesis of many Liberals, when it comes to placing blame, both for the last election result, and the future left-vote splitting that will come from the NDP’s continued attack the Liberals first strategy, the blame lies solely on our shoulders.

There’s not going to be a unite the left movement like we saw on the right. There’s nothing we can do about the NDP’s strategy. It is up to the Liberal Party to provide a solid alternative, to appeal to centre-left voters, and to provide them with a reason to vote for us. We need to earn their votes.

If we do, they’ll vote for us and we’ll challenge the Conservatives to form government. And if we don’t earn their votes, and the Cons win again, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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Speaking of referendum education...

Elections Ontario has launched some new online elements to its advertising campaign around the referendum, including this nifty little widget. I understand it's possible to post it to your sidebar, but I can't get it to work for me for some reason. You can also post it to Facebook and other social networking sites.

They've also launched a YouTube channel where a number of amusing referendum commercials have been posted:

Full details on the publicity campaign are available here, and the main Web site is here.

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Confused by Elections Ontario

I'm completely confused as to why we won't know the results of the MMP referendum until Oct. 11, if not later, almost a full day after the close of voting in the Oct. 10 provincial election.

Here's the explanation from Elections Ontario:

That's due to the vastness of Ontario with its 29,712 polling stations in 107 ridings, an extension of voting hours to 9 p.m. from 8 p.m. – and the higher threshold for passage of the vote.

They go on:
Complicating matters is the election and referendum ballots will be cast in the same boxes and must be separated for tallying.

"We have 29,712 polls so until we have 29,712 results, we just don't go to bed," said Hollins, noting election results should be known by midnight Oct. 10 because those ballots will be counted first.

Doesn't make sense to me. The only thing that sounds slightly plausible is that polls don't close until 9 pm, but even that's a stretch. The vastness of the polling stations doesn't matter because each poll is staffed by the same number of people that can do the count, and I fail to see how the threshold needed to pass could impact the speed with which ballots are counted. And time to separate the referendum ballots from the electoral ballots? Doesn't take that long.

In May 2005, B.C. held its election on electoral reform in conjunction with a provincial election, and I worked for Elections B.C. as a DRO. As an aside, when we handed people their two ballots, one for their MLA and one for the referendum, I'd say almost half had no idea what the referendum was about, and the level of spoiled ballots ended-up being high. Education will be an issue in Ontario as well, I think. In B.C., that lack of education made the difference.

Anyway, despite having both ballots going into one (very stuffed) ballot box we were able to have our count done and results released for both referendum and MLA that night. Indeed, I'd say it took my poll clerk and I just over an hour, although some of the other polls at our station were slower.

Separating the ballots wasn't a problem: one was black and one was red, and the black (MLA) one was a fair bit longer too. So we dumped the box, stacked the electoral ones and put the referendum ones back in the box. We did our MLA count, did the paperwork, filed the ballots in their envelops and then did the referendum count. Took 20 minutes, tops. Yes, No or spoiled. Fill out paperwork, into their envelopes, bam, done. Count sheet goes to the returning officer and the unofficial results are made public on the Web site.

That night, British Columbians knew the unofficial result of the referendum, namely, that while it got more than 50 per cent (it got 57 per cent) of the vote it failed to reach the 60 per cent threshold needed for ratification. They'll try again in 2009. Now, naturally it took takes for the official results but that's normal for all elections. They're not usually certified for weeks.

So, given that the mechanics of the system seem to be the same in Ontario, I fail to see why we can't have unofficial results on e-night. Reading the article it seems they might be planing to not do the referendum count at the polls, but rather ship the ballots back to HQ for the counting. That seems an odd choice, one that causes unnecessary delay.

If B.C. can do it, I'd like to think Ontario can too.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

I left my heart in San Francisco...

...or so it seemed when I read the news once I got back from the left coast last week about the TTC's fare hikes.

I took transit, called MUNI, a few times while in San Francisco to get around the city and the fare was pretty reasonable. Indeed, compared to the TTC it was crazy cheap. Cash fare is US$1.50, and that's good for 90 minutes in any direction unlike the TTC, where transfers are one-way. I checked their Web site, and a monthly pass can be had for US$45.

Then I get back to Toronto, and I read this:

In November, 15 cents will be added to the cost of tickets and tokens, bringing the price to $2.25.

Riders will also pay much more – $109, up from $99.75 – for the Metropass, which was exempted from last year's fare increase. TTC chair Adam Giambrone resisted a recommendation from staff to increase it to $111. The $2.75 cash fare will remain the same.
I already find TTC fares incredibly high, and now they're jacking them up even higher? I've only been here a little over two years and this is at least the second, if not the third, fare hike in that time. I'm a regular transit user, I buy a Metropass each month, and now that's going to cost me $109? That's inane! The break-even point on tokens vs. Metropass is already too high.

And what do I get for that $109? I get to squeeze onto an overcrowded bus that comes far too infrequently. My bus in the morning doubles as a school bus, which means if I try to catch it between 8:05am and 8:40am, if I'm lucky enough to get on board (they often fly by full) I'm hanging onto a railing for dear life. So I either get to work very early, or late. It's the same in the peak going home, and yet frequency is still extremely low.

The idea with public transit, and the public subsidization thereof, is supposed to be to get people out of their cars and onto transit, to reduce gridlock and reduce emissions. When you have an overburdened system though, for which you keep jacking-up fares to crazy levels, you make it very hard for people to want to leave their cars.

Now, I'm sure this all has to do with the ongoing Mayor Miller vs. The World battle at city hall, and us poor plebes are just caught in the middle. Although, the fact the TTC chair says even if the mayor gets his tax hikes these fare increases are here to stay hurts that case a tad. Still, clearly the city, province and the feds need to put more money into the system. They're asking riders to pay too great a share.

By the way, this serves to expose the uselessness of the Harper government's tax credit on transit passes. That's not what the system needs, and it's of absolutely no help. What it needs is more base funding to lower fares and increase capacity, which will encourage people to ditch their cars.

And finally, they increased Metropass and token/ticket prices, but they left cash fares unchanged. Why? Why punish your most loyal customers, the ones that give you a steady revenue stream each month? Is it because you know they're less likely/less able to stop taking the TTC because of the increase than the casual, cash fare customer?

Probably. It's basically the TTC giving the finger to its most loyal customers. They may not lose many current customers, but people thinking of switching to transit will be thinking twice. More cars on the road, more gridlock, more emissions.

I should have stayed in San Francisco.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

My prediction for Monday night

The battle Monday night will be a tight one, and at this point it's really too close to call. While this is just one battle in the larger war, a lot of importance is being placed on the outcome, and the results will not be able to be ignored.

All week, the teams have been gearing-up for Monday night. Studying their opponents. Plotting their strategy. Calling in reinforcements to bring their teams up to full strength, to find that missing piece of the puzzle. On Monday night, it will be all hands on deck.

Frankly, I think the pressure being placed on some of the leaders here this early in their careers is unfair. No one, however, said this business was fair.

OK, enough stalling, who do I think will win?

As I said, it could go either way, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Philadelphia Eagles will defeat the Washington Redskins in Monday Night Football.

The Eagles have home field advantage, and Eagles QB Donovan McNabb is 9-4 with 2,616 passing yards and 21 touchdowns agasint the Redskins, and is 4-1 in his last five games against Washington.

Let me say this though: the talk I hear already calling for the head of Eagles coach Andy Reid if his team loses Monday are premature, and silly.

Yes, with a loss Reid's Eagles will be 0-2 but the season is young, and hes coming-up against a hot team in the Red Skins. To write the Eagles off two games into the season, with all the talent they have on their roster, would be foolhardy in my opinion.

We'll see what happens Monday but I hope that, whatever happens, on Tuesday morning Eagles fans will unite behind their team.

Go Eagles, tous ensemble!

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A few weekend Ontario polls

It's the weekend but the Ontario election campaign seems to be starting to heat-up.

Watching television on Friday I was teated to a barrage of political advertising. A few positive ads from the Liberals with Dalton McGuinty talking issues, and a raft of Conservative ads (actually, the same ad again and again I think) with the sound of breaking glass detailing Liberal broken promises, and blaming McGuinty for every crime committed in the past four years. And the kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby too possibly.

So, I still don't know what John Tory stands for, besides Liberals bad, free booze in casinos, and creationism if necessary, but not necessarily creationism. Really though, while I think the Cons are crossing the line somewhat on the crime front in this ad, their radio ads and their earned media, this tv ad isn't bad. The breaking glass sound serves to draw attention to the TV while cooking dinner, much like the horn honk in the federal Con ads last election.

I wonder though, while the Tory Conservatives continue their campaign to drive down McGuinty's favourables and the Liberal numbers, which is certainly something they have to do, at what point do they start working to define Tory, and what he's all about. Right now, they seem to be positioning him as simply “Not Dalton.” While they keep trying to give people reasons not to vote Liberal, at some point are they going to try to give people reasons to vote Conservative?


Anyway, a couple of polls hit my inbox this weekend I thought I'd pass along, take from them what you will.

Religious schools

The first is from our friends at SES, who surveyed 501 respondents in Ontario via telephone between August 24th and August 26th on Tory's proposal to bring faith-based schools into the public system. It should be noted Tory's creationism gaffe occurred Sept. 5, and thus wouldn't have been a factor in these numbers.

The survey found Ontarians divided on the proposal with 50 per cent opposed/somewhat opposed and 43 per cent in support/somewhat support. SES noted the intensity of those opposed was greater than the intensity of those supportive, which I'd conjecture means those opposed are more likely to base their vote on the issue. After the creationism gaffe, not good news for Tory.

Here's the exact question they asked, and the results:

Question: As you may know the Ontario PC Party has proposed bringing faith based schools into the public school system. Faith based schools which choose to participate in this program would receive direct funding from the provincial government on the condition they incorporate the Ontario Common Curriculum, participate in Ontario's standardized testing program and ensure teachers maintain proper credentials. Do you support, somewhat support somewhat oppose or oppose bringing faith based schools into the public system?

Support/Oppose (N=501, MOE ± 4.4%, 19 times out of 20)

Support 28%
Somewhat support 15%
Somewhat oppose 10%
Oppose 40%

Unsure 8%

Issues and the horse race

The second poll is from Ipsos Reid and looks at both the ballot box issues and the horse race numbers, including regional breakdowns. The poll surveyed 800 Ontarioins by telephone between Sept. 4 and Sept. 13, which means any impact of the creationism gaffe should be visible here.


Let's look at the ballot box issues first, the issue respondents said is or could motivate their vote:
...four in ten (43%) identify education/faith-based school funding of the top three issues (for nearly one quarter (23%) of Ontarians it’s the number one motivator), followed by healthcare (41%) as one of the top three campaign issues for them, with Taxes (19%) and the environment (18%) in a dead heat for the third issue (all issues identified were unaided, open-ended responses, allowing up to three with the primary identified separately)

That the top issue is religious education is interesting, particularly when considered with SES's point about the intensity of those opposed to this issue being greater. Tory has made this an issue, if he hadn't it wouldn't be on the radar screen, and yet the issue seems to be working against him. One has to question his strategic decision here to go big on faith based education, creationism gaffe or not.

The number two issue, but only narrowly back from top spot, is health care. This is an issue the Liberals feel well positioned on with the progress they've made in recent years, and it's one McGuinty and Co. have been campaigning on, as well as strongly on education this past week.

The fact taxes are so far back at 19 per cent has to be troubling for Tory. If he'd spent more time on taxes and less on religious schools it would be higher, and I'd have to wager the Liberals are more vulnerable on taxes than they are on religious schools/education. A change in emphasis might be in order for the Cons to raise the importance of this issue higher. They've been hitting hard on criminal justice this week but it's only at seven per cent and another of their issues, integrity/trust, is at just six per cent.

Horse race

On to the horse race numbers. Ipsos characterizes the numbers as stagnant, which would seem to indicate the creationism incident didn't hurt (or help) Tory's numbers. Indeed, the numbers among decided voters stayed pretty much the same from the last Ipsos poll:

Liberals: 40 per cent (-1)
Conservatives: 37 per cent (+1)
NDP: 16 per cent (-1)
Greens: 6 per cent (-)
Undecideds: 6 per cent or 9 per cent (they say both in different places)

In chart form:

Looking regionally it's very tight as well, although there have been some shifts. In the GTA it's Liberals 40 (-2), Cons 38 (+2), NDP 15 (-1) but within the 416 proper there was some interesting movement. The Libs still lead with 39 per cent but that's down 5 over the week, while the Cons gained 6 to move to 33 per cent. The NDP dropped 2, to 21 per cent. In the 905 its Cons 42, Libs 40 and NDP 10.

Moving outside the GTA the Libs have a slim lead. It's Libs 40, Cons 36 and NDP 17, little changed from last week.

Seat projections

Finally, though perhaps most interestingly, Ipsos has also done seat projections based on an aggregate of recent polls. Not to besmirch the good folks at Ipsos, but I find these exercises to be a bit of voodoo science, so take it with a grain of salt.

They're projecting however a slim Liberal majority (54 seats needed). Here's how:

Liberals: 56 seats (42 solid, 14 leaning)
Conservatives: 39 seats (28 solid, 11 leaning)
NDP: 12 seats (9 solid and three leaning)

Open this pdf and they break down their projections riding by riding but again, as I said, huge grain of salt, and even Ipsos says expect big changes here by E-Day.

I found this note from Ipsos interesting:
A majority (51%) of Ontarians believe that it is ‘time for another provincial political party to take over’, however four in ten (40%) believe that ‘McGuinty has done a good job and deserves to be re-elected’—instructive given that a mirrored 40% of the vote would likely yield, as noted above, a slim re-elected Liberal majority government.
If I were an MMP supporter (I'm undecided at the moment) I'd seize on those numbers.


Speaking of MMP, odd that SES and Ipsos both didn't mention the referendum. BigCityLib has an Angus Reid poll (pdf) that does. While Scott points-out it's an online poll (which are frought with issues) the results aren't good for MMP supporters:
The poll also asked Ontarians to voice their views on the referendum on electoral reform, which will take place on the same day as the legislative ballot. A third of respondents (33%) would keep the existing first-past-the-post electoral system, while 26 per cent would switch to the alternative mixed-member-proportional system. Three per cent of respondents would not participate on this plebiscite, and 38 per cent remain undecided.

Since the pro-side needs to get to 60 per cent or the status quo remains, as BCL points out if there numbers are accurate that's a long hill to climb.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

The Globe lays down the smack

Following-up my post last night on Janke’s laughable attempt to divert attention from his party’s shady election ad scandal, the Globe reports this morning that the Conservative caucus tried, and failed, to make hay with the same phony allegations against Stephane Dion in a committee haring yesterday:

The Conservatives also launched damage-control tactics by "revealing" complicated transactions employed by Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion in the 2004 election that, upon examination, turned out to be typical transfers to pay for election-campaign lawn signs and reimburse debt.

I love how the Globe put quotes around the word revealing. It’s like the print equivalent of air quotes. And who says it’s hard to convey sarcasm in print? It’s dripping off that paragraph. As the Globe reports, even a cursory examination of the Conservative “allegations” easily proved them to be without merit:
In fact, Elections Canada filings show that the transfer was one of two that the party made in the same month to pay back $44,719.17 it owed Mr. Dion's riding association - a debt reported publicly six months earlier.
So, that Conservative-initiated diversionary sideshow dealt with, what were the Conservatives really up to yesterday?
The Conservatives successfully staved off attempts yesterday to launch a Commons probe into allegations that the party circumvented national election spending limits in last year's election by funnelling $1.2-million through local candidates.

Tory MPs used procedural tactics to delay a vote on opening a probe - after engineering similar delays in three hearings this week. That means that the probe cannot be launched before Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogues Parliament this weekend, ending the current session of the Commons and delaying the return of MPs until a new session is opened Oct. 16.

Yes, they turned to their trusty old how to stonewall committee meetings handbook to stop Parliament from investigating their shady doings. Wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude they have something to hide, wouldn’t it?

Stonewalling investigations. Another example of accountability, Conservative style?

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Janke is, once again, completely wrong

We've already seen that the Conservative Party leadership doesn't understand how to read election laws. Even the ones they wrote. Heck, they’ve already been caught violating election law at least once now. So it's no surprise that Conservative bloggers can’t understand the law either. Or just care not too.

If you haven’t been paying attention, the Conservatives have been caught red-handed – again. Elections Canada, whose commissioner was put forward to Parliament for approval by Stephen Harper by the way, has called foul on an alleged Conservative scheme to violate national advertising limits and enrich Conservative riding associations with taxpayer money they’re not legally entitled too.

In essence, the Conservative campaign hit its ad spending limit, so it used uncompetitive Conservative campaigns that hadn’t hit their spending limit to launder advertising money, transferring money into the ridings and invoicing them the exact same amount for the purchase of television advertising that Elections Canada has deemed as purely national in scope. The Cons also tried to claim this spending as a local expense to increase their taxpayer refund; Elections Canada called foul and the Cons are now suing them in court.

It’s appears to be a pretty egregious and transparent attempt to circumvent election law, and funnel tax dollars into Conservative campaigns. Numerous Conservative officials at the riding level have come forward to allege this was exactly what it looks like: a laundering scheme to circumvent spending limits, with a reward of taxpayer dollars to ridings that played along. It stinks, and it’s only a matter of time before it blows-up.

So, while the Con trolls have been running around pretending there’s nothing to see here, they’ve also been trying to find some way of diverting attention from the story. Salvo one was veil gate, which is also an attempt by Harper to discredit the Elections Canada head he himself picked after chasing-out the last one, Jean-Pierre Kingsley. He can’t discredit the guy he picked as a Liberal appointee, so he’s trying to discredit him in other ways so, when the ad scandal hits bigger, Elections Canada will be viewed as less credible. It’s transparent, and it’s pathetic.

Salvo two appears to be this muddled and confused attempt at diversion from Conservative super-sleuth Steve Janke.

If I had a dollar for every time Janke did a big investigative post professing some big Liberal wrongdoing, only to have to apologize in a day or two for being completely wrong, well, I may not be rich, but I could certainly go out for a very nice lunch. Perhaps a nice steak at The Keg, with a glass of cabernet. Domestic though, not imported.

Janke (we’ll assume he’s cooked this up on his own) has been pouring over Elections Canada returns, specifically for Stephane Dion’s 2004 election campaign in St. Laurent-Cartierville, and he thinks he’s found something damming.

He points to $12,200 transferred from Dion’s riding association to his campaign, which was immediately transferred back to the association for the purchase of advertising material, other than tv/radio, and then transferred on to LPC(Q). He posts screenshots of all this to make it look fancy. Then, interestingly without claiming any rules were broken, he calls it scandalous, I guess hoping a few screenshots will some how make it so.

But let’s look at what Janke has “uncovered”. First, a transfer from the riding association to the Dion campaign of $12,200. Nothing untoward there, its common practice for the riding to transfer money to the local campaign before/at the start of the election. Inevitably this is the proceeds of fundraising activities carried-out by the party since the last election to support the next campaign. That’s what riding associations do.

Next, Janke shows the same amount is transferred back to the riding association (and on to LPC(Q)) to purchase advertising. As Janke notes, this wasn’t tv/radio advertising, but was entered in the ‘other’ column. This likely means, and indeed the figure noted bares this out, that it was to pay for the riding services package bought by all riding associations from the national party. This is for lawn signs, brochures, technical support (a voter tracking database) and the like. A purely local expense.

Why was the exact amount transferred to the campaign from the riding that was needed to pay for the riding services package? Maybe that’s all the campaign needed at the time. The riding services package is a major expense and is often incurred before the campaign has its own fundraising underway, so perhaps the campaign asked the riding to pay for that through its fundraised funds.

Janke also notes a transfer by the LPC(Q) to the riding association of $12,200 as proof of further shady happenings. What he doesn’t mention, although its partially visible in his screenshot, is a second transfer a few weeks later of $32, 549.17, for a total transfer from LPC(Q) to the riding of $44, 749.17.

Why the transfer? Well, here’s something Janke missed in his super sleuthing. On the associations January 1, 2004 statement of assets and liabilities, it lists the following:

Yes, a $44k debt owed to the riding association. So, allow me to speculate the likely scenario here, based on all the facts. Prior to the 2004 campaign the LPC(Q) owes the riding association $44k and change, likely for local fundraisers. Prior to the campaign finance reform legislation, it was practice for fundraising expenses to be cycled through the party for tax receipt purposes.

With the election campaign coming-up the LPC(Q) transfers the money the riding association is owed for its fund raising to the riding in two installments: $32k plus $12k magically equals the $44k debt repaid.

The first $12k to pay for the riding services package, which went right back to the party as that’s who its bought from, the other $32k the rest of the debt owed. Ok, there is a $5 difference for some reason. Where’s the missing $5, maybe that’s the scandal!

As for it being listed in the discount column, when an item is gifted or transfered it's considered a non-monetary transfer. It still needs to be accounted for though, and counts against the riding spending limit, so its accounted for in the discount column. Likely scenario: the riding association chose to gift the riding services package to the campaign.

This all really doesn’t matter though, as Janke is blowing smoke. As I’ve shown these are perfectly benign and legitimate transactions, and is nothing at all like the money laundering scheme that the Conservatives have admitted they orchestrated.

For example, this wasn’t to purchase national advertising and circumvent spending limits, like the Conservatives did. This was to buy lawn signs and other materials for use in the riding, a purely local expense. And, as the riding services package was listed as a non-monetary expense that means it wasn’t even claimed by the campaign as a refundable expense. And the money transferred to the association was money it was owed for its own fundraising activities, not funds to launder and pay for national advertising.

So, let’s review this scoop here, shall we? Dion’s riding association transfers fundraising proceeds to the Dion campaign, which Dion uses to buy the riding services package (local advertising materials, lawn signs) from the party. What’s the scandal here, pray tell? Elections Canada signed-off and approved these returns years ago.

On the other hand, the Conservatives orchestrated a scheme in some 70ish ridings to, and they admit this, bypass national spending caps and improperly enrich riding associations with taxpayer dollars. Elections Canada recognized this as not allowable, and the matter is now before the courts.

Apples and oranges. Despite all Janke’s charts and graphs, nothing but an attempt to blow smoke. And a failed one at that. I'm sure the apology will come any day now.

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