Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Speaking of CTV and Dion...

...and Robert Hurst and what not, I thought I'd pass along this article from The Canadian Journalism Project that passed through my inbox this morning. While it misses a number of relevant points in my view, it does offer some more insights into CTV's side of the whole drama. Incidentally, the whole affair has generated quite the debate in journalism circles.

Behind the scenes at CTV: the Dion interview

Here’s the scenario: You are in charge of a television newsroom near the end of a tough, close election campaign. Your six o’clock host heads downtown for a late-afternoon, live-to-tape interview with one of the major party leaders. You’re a bit concerned about whether he’ll be back in time for the 5 pm newsbreak, but otherwise it’s a straightforward shoot.

Tape rolls, and said leader – whose first language is not your program’s – finds the first question confusing and asks to start again. As the two cameras keep rolling the host agrees, but then it happens again. This time, the leader’s aide jumps in, trying to help. A third time, the guest starts to laugh. The fourth take is fine.

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Centre, with left frosting and right sprinkles?

Much talk of late and, well, for some time, over where the Liberal Party should situate itself on the vaunted political spectrum. Have we gone to far left? Too far right? Do we need to go back to the centre? Do we need to fight the Conservatives for the centre? Is the battle with the NDP on the left?

Frankly, I think all this talk about centre, left and right is better suited to hockey. It also leaves us playing defense with the goalie pulled. Hockey analogies aside, I think this political spectrum positioning game is missing the point. And Canadians don't really think in these terms anyways.

The question we, as Liberals, should be asking ourselves is not do we need to be centre or left, but what do we stand for? What does being a Liberal mean? What are Liberal values?

We’ve become, or rather, had become, so good at the strategic game, at morphing to suit political changing winds, that we’ve lost touch with just what the heck we’re all about in the first place.

I’ve been a Liberal off and on, mostly on, for nearly 15 years, joining when I was a high school student back in Courtenay, BC. Hardly a Liberal hot bed, so I didn’t join because it was the thing to do. I had the political bug, I was concerned about issues, and I wanted to get involved. I looked at all the parties, and joined the one that best reflected my values. And that party was the Liberals.

I believed, and I still do, that we need to help those that need help, both at home and abroad. I believe having strong social programs and a strong publicly-funded health care system, supported by fair and progressive taxes, are wise investments that pay for themselves. I believe in sound financial management and balanced budgets. I believe Canada can be a voice and a force for good in this world.

Once we decide again what we, as Liberals, believe in, the policy will flow from there. And we’ll need to translate that policy into what it means for the everyday lives of Canadians. We’ll end up on the political spectrum wherever we end up.

We need to start with the abstract exercise though, and redefine Liberalism once more. We need to find out what we believe in again.

Because politics isn’t like selling soap, and Canadians can tell when your heart isn’t in it.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Carbon tax? Sounds good, some political party should really propose one

Because if you can’t laugh at all these media stories talking about how a carbon shift is needed and is a pretty good idea that have been coming in droves since AFTER election day, then all you can do is cry salty, bitter tears of salty bitterness.

*Don't believe in climate change? You still need a carbon tax
*Debate over energy plans 'exaggerated'; Little difference between carbon tax, cap-and-trade programs: report
*Canadians may appear cold to the carbon tax - until you rephrase the question
*Some kind of carbon levy needed: economist
*Range of policies needed on climate change, study says
*Dion took a good green idea down with him
*Campaign misinformation has set back climate change debate
*Climate change fight 'an economic generator'
*Reluctant environmentalists; Why a carbon tax is coming, whether Canadians like it or not
*Green Shift had merits
*Dion took a great idea down with him

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Great advice for Stephen Harper

Dear Stephen Harper,

I don’t know who this Rebecca Walberg is, but I think you should most definitely take her excellent, well-reasoned advice. Please, Stephen. It’s really great advice.


Every other political party

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Change...that's wassup

Its been eight long years since the boys said wassup to each other. Even with the effects of a down economy and imminent change in the White House, the boys are still able to come together and say...

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Liberals up one in Quebec, and Dosanjh is back in

Good news for the Liberal Party on the election recount front today on both ends of the country.

We've gained one seat in Quebec that was originally in the Bloc column, with a judicial recount today awarding the suburban Montreal riding of Brossard-La Prairie to the Liberals:

Liberal candidate Alexandra Mendes has unseated Bloc Québécois incumbent Marcel Lussier in the riding of Brossard- La Prairie, according to a recount conducted by a Quebec Superior Court judge.

Mendes defeated Lussier by 69 votes, boosting the Liberals' national seat count to 77 and dropping the Bloc's to 49.

Lussier, an engineer and environmental specialist who has held the riding since 2006, originally thought he had won the riding by 102 votes in the Oct. 14 election.

And on the left coast, although a judicial recount lowered his margin of victory to a bare 22 votes, Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh has been upheld as the winner in Vancouver South.

Ujjal Dosanjh, the federal Liberal incumbent, said Friday he was humbled by a recount victory in his Vancouver South riding that gave him a win by only 22 votes instead of the 33-vote margin on election night.

We're not out of the woods yet in BC. Liberal Keith Martin in Esquimalt-Juan De Fuca is facing a judicial recount on Monday. Election night numbers gave him a 68-vote margin over Conservative Troy De Souza.

In other recounts still outstanding, Kitchener-Waterloo (where the Conservatives upset Liberal Andrew Telegdi) will go Wednesday, and a recont in Brampton-West, which Liberal Andrew Kania took by 223 votes, has yet to be scheduled. Earlier, a Conservative victory was upheld in PEI.

I've got my fingers crossed for Keith Martin, but very relieved for Ujjal Dosanjh. He's a good man, and we'll need his experience and his energy for the rebuilding exercise facing the Liberal Party in British Columbia and across Canada.

And the tightness of his race should be a wake-up call. This was thought by most to be one of the safer Liberal ridings in the province. That it was so close -- 22 votes! -- underscores the rebuilding job we face as a party, and the challenge ahead of us. It also underscores the inroads the Conservative Party has made with its strategy to woo ethnic voters, a strategy the Liberals have yet to effectivly counter.

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Proposals for Liberal Party reform

Over the last little while in my post-election blogs I've been talking about the need to reform the Liberal Party and empower the grass roots. That's all well in theory, I'd now like to move further along by outlining some specific ideas I'd like to put forward. I hope to spark a wider discussion, and if a degree of consensus begins to build around some of these ideas, or others, we can explore taking them to the next step.

I see two broad areas of needed reform: policy and philosophy (who are we and what do we stand for), and party structure and procedure. I'll begin today with the latter.

Some of these ideas can be implemented by party executive and leadership, its a matter of gaining their support or electing people that support these ideas at the convention (and not just as leader, but all executive positions). Others will require constitutional amendment. At this point, to get a constitutional amendment to the next convention it would need the support of the executive of a provincial or territory association (PTA), such as the LPC(O) or LPC(BC). If we can develop a consensus around some ideas for constitutional reform, the next step would be lobbying a PTA to bring it to convention.

On to the ideas:

*We need to have a wider range of fundraising events. We shouldn't do away with the $500/plate dinners, but we need more $25/head BBQs and other similar, lower ticket events that are more accessible to the party at large. Such smaller events are as important as party-building exercises as they are as fundraisers. All the caucus needs to make a commitment to fan-out across the country and assist on this.

*Bring back, or revitalize, the twinning program. This program saw every Liberal MP assigned an unheld riding (they'll need to double-up now). The MP worked with the local Liberal riding association, providing them resources and support, advice, and served as their contact-person to the caucus. If the MP is involved, this is a very valuable program to spur activity in unheld ridings. The caucus should reinstitute this program and every MP should make it a priority.

*If we really want to empower and revitalize unheld and rural riding associations, and motivate low-hope ridings to push hard between and during elections, the LPC should give them a cut of the per-vote taxpayer subsidy. As the subsidy goes up the more votes each riding gets, giving the riding association a cut would be giving them a direct incentive to get out every vote they can. It would also give them the resources to build and develop the association between elections, and give the next candidate a head-start in the fundraising department.

*Membership forms should not be tightly controlled. In the past, access to forms has been tightly controlled so the incumbent power-brokers wouldn't have their positions threatened, and to guard against instant-Liberal takeovers. The first one shouldn't be a concern, and there's a better solution to the second I'll get to shortly. There should be one, low membership fee accross the country, cost recovery only to cover processing by the PTA.

*We should lengthen the time period required for membership to be eligible to vote in leadership and nomination contests. I would favour as long as six months. This would ensure long-time party members have a greater say, and a greater influence, in these contests than people that will disappear after the vote.

*We need to reduce the structure of the LPC executive apparatus and the party staff. We can't afford the overhead any longer, and its questionable whether we're getting good value for the investment. A leaner organization will also be be for agile and able to respond more quickly to developing events.

*We need to reform the nomination process. The appointment power of the leader must be sharply curtailed; the leader should simply have a veto that is only used in extreme circumstances. Only if no acceptable nominations have come forward and the writ has dropped should appointment be considered.

The nomination and greenlight process needs to be more structured. Nominations for all ridings should open on the same date. There should be a deadline for nomination submissions to the “Greenlight committee” which vets nominations. There should be a deadline for the committee to release its decisions, and they should be made public. And those decisions should be appealable, within a specific time frame.

Also, sitting MPs should not have their nominations protected. They should have to earn their nominations like everyone else.

*We need to move to a weighted one-member, one-vote system for future leadership races. Every riding is assigned the same X number of votes, to ensure rural and urban ridings are as important and have the same say. Each riding member votes, and their votes determine how the riding's votes are allocated. Every other party uses some form of OMOV. It's a much fairer system, and much more inexpensive, than delegated leadership conventions, which can cost as much as $2000 per person to attend. And the results better reflect the will of the wider membership.

If we do continue with delegated leadership conventions, we should sharply reduce the number of ex-officios that get automatic delegate status.

I'd also like to encourage you to check-out the proposals for party reform developed by Jason Morris at Gauntlet.ca, there's some good ideas there too that should be carried forward.

These are just a few proposals I feel would make good progress towards reforming the LPC into a more grassroots empowered party. I welcome your suggestions, comments and improvements, and your own proposals for reform.

It's not enough to just talk about reform though. Once we develop some blogdom consensus, lets commit to bringing these ideas forward into the world at large.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Election Post-Mortem, Part Four: The Liberal Party

Liberal Party

Was this a good campaign for the Liberals? One look at the results would say clearly not. Was it a well executed campaign? Not really, but it also wasn't as badly executed as some might think. Many of the seeds that led to the poor showing on e-day were planted well before the writ was ever dropped. And it was those seeds that, in the end, largely sealed our fate.

I’ll admit now that I was wrong when I initially dismissed the Conservative Party’s “not a leader” ad campaign to brand Stéphane Dion. The ads seemed childish and unduly negative to me; I didn’t think they would be effective. But they were. They planted an image of Dion in the minds of Canadians that we didn’t have the financial ability to effectively counter. That perception, once cemented in the public mindset, couldn’t be changed in the short timeframe of a five-week campaign, no matter how effectively we campaigned. We came close to getting past it, but again late developments served to underscore that preset narrative.

Along a similar track, the other major challenge in this campaign was, sadly, the Green Shift. It was absolutely the right policy, I stand by that. But it’s not enough to have the right policy. You have to be able to communicate it, and to sell it. As much as I’d hoped we could, we couldn’t. The messaging was muddled and confused, and the benefits weren’t clearly distilled into soundbite form so Canadians could understand. Moreover, just as on the leadership issue, we lacked the resources to counter the Conservative ad campaign to negatively brand it as a tax on everything.

What I kept hearing on the ground was that I would vote Liberal except for two things: Green Shift, and Dion not a leader. Both relate directly back to the financial resources of the Conservatives, and our inability to effectively counter. The importance of the pre-writ financial disadvantage can’t be understated. There are larger, deeper issues that absolutely contributed to our vote decline, but these two issues were crucial.

Once the campaign was underway, I didn’t think we ran a particularly bad campaign. It just wasn’t a particularly good one either. We can at least say that it was relatively error-free ball. There weren’t the major gaffes that plagued the Conservatives in the early going. We did lose a few candidates, but they were dispatched swiftly and without lingering impact.

My largest beef with out campaign is that we didn’t communicate effectively with the Canadian public. We had a lot of good policies on a wide range of issues; from post secondary education to immigration reform to, of course, the environment. But it’s not enough to just have good policies, you need to be able to communicate them, to distill them down to what it means for Joe the Plumber’s Canadian cousin. You can’t hit them with numbers and percentages and grand visions, you need to make it simple. The Green Shift will save you X. People don’t have the time to wade through policy documents, and the media aren’t interested in analyzing them (they should be, but that’s another story). This is something the Conservatives, with inferior policies, did far better.

We were also slow to move off our message track to respond to breaking news and developments. Frankly, the decision to start de-emphasizing the Green Shift was the right one. What was wrong was to a) say we were de-emphasizing it, and b) change our minds the next day. We also weren’t successful at trying to put it in an economic context.

When we did, finally, begin focusing on the economy our numbers began to rebound. If you think the e-day results were bad, if the election has been held mid-campaign it would have been closer to 93 Campbell than 84 Turner. In the wake of the US downturn and Conservative inaction and lack of empathy, we were able to capitalize on a strong debate performance by Dion and good economic messaging to begin moving up in the polls and get back in the game.

Our advertising also improved as the campaign went on. We waited too long to go negative, in my view. Week two and we were still trying to sell the Green Shift in our ads. We were too far down in the polls for such a strategy to be effective. And then when we did go negative, the ads were only half effective. They were great as a negative piece but there was no conversion, no why vote for us. We shook the votes lose, but lose they stayed. Or they went Green. We did finally correct that with the inclusion of positive backends to the ads with the “always there for you” tagline, and these combo ads I thought were well done and effective.

With a good message and good messaging a minority was moving back inside the realm of possibility, but then the wheels fell off. I don’t want to overstate the impact of the ATV/Duffy saga, but in my view it served to reinforce the Dion/Not a leader Conservative messaging that we were beginning to overcome. Like the culture cuts were a small thing that reminded Quebecers why they don’t like Stephen Harper, the interview outtakes reminded Canadians they weren’t sure about this Dion guy.

In the last week, Conservatives were able to right the ship and, over turkey, Canadians made a decision. I really don’t like Harper or his policies, the Liberals have better plans, but I just don’t think Dion is the leader that can steer us through tough times, seemed to be their conclusion, and most of Canada swung Conservative.

Looking back, the leader does clearly need to accept a good portion of the responsibility for the campaign result. The language was an issue, although it was improving and progress was significant. I can’t blame him for the accent, he was making the effort, but I heard about it from too many voters to dismiss the impact. More importantly though, he seemed too set in his ways and unwilling to listen to the advice of those more experienced in the retail side of politics. He stuck to the Green Shift for too long. We spent far too much of the campaign putting out policy. And we waited far too long to go on the attack, a shift he seemed to resist to the end. Once we did go on the attack the polls began to move, but it was too late.

To lay all the blame on the leader though would be short-sighted and self-defeating. Our vote share has been declining since 2000 because of much deeper issues in the Liberal Party. We no longer know what we stand for, or for whom, and until we figure it out Canadians won’t know either.

If you examine the riding vote totals we won a lot of tight races, but we lost a great deal of tight races too. And the tight races shouldn’t have been that tight. This speaks to a failure to get out our vote. And that problem has two prongs: motivating our voters, and motivating our volunteers.

Voter turnout was down once again in this election. And many of those that stayed home were Liberals. They didn’t like the other parties, but they weren’t motivated enough to come out and mark an X for us either. We need to address that.

We also didn’t have the volunteers on the ground to run an effective Get Out the Vote operation. We couldn’t motivate our grassroots to spend the day volunteering to work polls and phone ID’d voters to the level the Conservatives and NDP did, or to assist in the Voter ID effort pre-writ. We need to examine why our Liberal grassroots has been sitting on the sidelines, and find a way to re-energize them and get them back involved.

As a post-script, I think it needs to be said the non-aggression pact with the Greens was a strategic mistake. There was nothing in it for us. We elevated Elizabeth May and the Greens, and as a result they pulled votes we could have competed for.

Lessons: If we’re taking lessons from this campaign, they should be this: build an effective fundraising machine to be able to counter Conservative branding, develop policy from the ground-up that all Liberals can rally behind, re-define our brand and what it means to be Liberal and to vote Liberal, give people a reason to come out and vote Liberal, and re-energize the grassroots so they’ll get involved again. Leave these issues unresolved and a new leader won’t make a lick of difference.

Leadership issues: Dion has already announced his resignation, so it’s moot. I hope the issues identified though will be part of the debate in the upcoming leadership race, and that Dion uses his time left in the job to take a crack at them.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We need more need-based student assistance

I’d like to take a break for a moment from topics campaign, leadership and other to comment briefly on a pet area of mine: post secondary education.

I came across this article from today’s Globe on a recent Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation study of financial assistance programs that makes some interesting observations:

Financial aid from all levels of government hit a record $7.1-billion in 2007, but only 61 cents of every dollar of that total was targeted to students based on need, compared with 80 cents 10 years ago, says a study to be released today by the Canadian Millennium ScholarshipFoundation.

The increasing use of universal programs such as tax credits and postgraduation rebates by governments is driving the change, the study finds, causing a growing share of aid to go to those who can already afford higher education.

"We have no evidence that these programs are going to lead to the kinds of results we often talk about when we look at student support - better access, more affordability and persistence [staying in school]. "We have no evidence that a tax credit can do that," said Joseph Berger,
one of the authors of the report.

The article does note that students received a record $4.1 billion in needs-based aid in 06-07. But the increased proportion going to those that don’t need it is troubling in two ways. First, helping low income students should be the focus. Two, by giving more assistance to those that can already afford tuition, you’re making it easier for universities to raise tuition even further, which only makes it harder for low income students.

I think its great overall student aid funding has been increasing. Frankly, though, I’d be fine with a lower overall figure if more of it went to those that really need it. It’s tempting for governments to just go the tax-credit route and make it universal – they get more credit with more voters. But it does nothing to promote access, which should be the goal of any student aid initiative.

I was actually pretty impressed with the Liberal education platform this election, particularly the emphasis on needs-based scholarships and de-emphasizing the parental income test in the student loan program. It was much improved over the 2006 Liberal education plank, which I found lacking.

Just in case any of the parties in this parliament decide to try to work together on policy in the next little while, I’d like to encourage them to take a look at re-jigging student aid. You can work within the existing fiscal framework, just move the priorities around a little.

Incidentally, my own student loan just moved down from five to four digits, which both pleases and depresses me at the same time.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Election Post-Mortem, Part Three: The Conservative Party

The Conservatives

When it comes to the outcome of an election campaign there's success, and then there's success. It all depends on your definition of success. And it depends on your goals.Certainly there's lots of room to put different spins on these results for the Conservatives. I will say this though: from a campaign execution perspective, this wasn't a great campaign for them.

You certainly can't say this campaign was a failure for the Conservatives, that would be silly. They're still in government, that's the more important measure of success, trumping all others. And they increased their seat count, giving them momentum, and increased moral clout to claim a mandate, if not the ability to push it through. And they have an opposition in disarray, which will help them on the mandate front.

Still, they didn't get the majority they'd hoped for, usually private hopes but sometimes public as well. One could argue that failing to get a majority alone makes this campaign a failure for the Conservatives. After all, look at all they had going for them: the longest minority government (I think) we've had in Canada, they implemented the bulk of their policy agenda, they used the levers of government and billions of taxpayer dollars to woo selected voter groups, they used a substantial financial advantage to weaken the Liberal leader to the extent the party had its worst electoral showing in recent history, and the ballot box question was their, if you will, money issue: the economy. All that, and no majority. If they couldn't get one now, one could rightly wonder if they ever will. After all, at some point the Liberals are going to get their act together. I hope.

The more Machiavellian among us though would reach a different conclusion: a strengthened minority may have been just what the Conservatives had been hoping for. Oh, sure, they'd have learned to live with a majority, I'm sure. But a minority, and the Liberal fondness for knifing the leader, means no time for their main opposition to renew and fundraise in the midst of a leadership campaign, nor time for the new leader to find their feet before the next campaign, meaning an even weaker main opposition while oppose the Conservatives in the next election. Looking at the long game, this is a pretty good result after all.

But enough of the results, what of the campaign? In 2005/06, I thought the Conservatives ran a slick, well-orchestrated and choreographed campaign that won the public over. This time, while the plan was there I thought the execution was off, and only the incumbency advantage, Liberal weakness, and the economic crisis prevented this thing from being a much tighter race.
Much of the groundwork was layed by the Conservatives before the campaign with the Not A Leader ad campaign. Going into the campaign, having made leadership a major issue the plan was contrast Harper's leadership with Dion's, remind Canadians things are pretty good and if it ain't broke why risk an unneeded fix, and release targeted and tested policyettes to support the narrative and build support amongst key demographics.

There was no over-arching vision, no grand plan for Canada. We Liberals talked about it being a crucial election, about reconciling the economy and the environment as the issue of the 21st century. The Conservatives talked about steady management. It comes down to our differing views of the role of government. From a campaign perspective neither is wrong, and for the Conservatives it was a particularly good incumbent strategy.

For all our big-spending policy initiatives, the Conservatives got just as much media bang with their much smaller ticket items. More importantly, I think they resonated more strongly with the demographics they needed to reach. Giving EI parental benefits to the self-employed, for example, really resonated with women, as did the stuff around truth in labeling. While we fired cluster bombs the Conservatives launched guided missiles. They also communicated them to the target far more effectively, their messaging, backdrops and tour were all very effective.

Also impressive in my view was the inroads the Conservatives made into Canada's ethnic communities. There were several notable missteps – they very badly bungled the Komagata Maru apology – but by and large, Jason Kenney's work paid dividends. Just in ridings I observed, Conservative efforts to woo the Chinese and Jewish communities paid off. There were a lot of very tight races in urban centres, many of which swung Conservative, and the importance of the Conservatives' ethnic vote initiatives can't be understated in those results.

Much like the NDP wasn't impacted by gaffes very much, neither were the Conservatives. The first week of the Conservative campaign was filled with war room gaffes, and much to the chagrin of at least myself to be sure, there was zero impact on their popular support. It was interesting. The evolution of the role of gaffes is probably a meaty enough topic for another post.

Where they seemed to get into trouble, in my view, was when the defining narrative became the economy. It's ironic, because this should be their issue (and they did manage to reclaim it in the end), and they recognized this by insisting the debate format be modified to lengthen the economic debate.

They got their wish, but the problem is they showed-up with nothing to say on the issue. They kept running their front runner, stay the course, steady leadership campaign, but having raised the importance of the issue in people's minds, just saying trust-us wasn't good enough anymore. The opposing parties ganged-up on Harper in the debates, and Dion's five-point action plan looked all the better in the absence of anything tangible from Harper. Which is why he came out guns-firing to attack it at the start of the English debate.

And here, as it has so often in the past, the Harper love for heated rhetoric got the better of him. Comments that the other leaders were hoping for a recession reminded people Harper can be petty and mean underneath the sweater. His advice about stock buying opportunities painted him as aloof and out of touch. Liberal numbers began to rise.

However, the Conservatives were able to right the ship. They cobbled together a platform. They dialed back some of the insensitivity. And they stepped-up their attacks and negative ads on Dion to ensure there was no credible alternative on the economic file. With a little help from CTV and Duffy to reinforce the opinion of Dion in the public eye they had seeded earlier, the damage was reversed.

Except, of course, in Quebec, although they did recover their 06 levels. It was in Quebec, where the culture cuts and the youth crime proposals became major issues. Here all the good work the Conservatives had done in Quebec was undone by two relatively minor missteps. Much like the Liberals couldn't harden gains on the economy when things like the CTV thing re-enforced perceptions of Dion in the public, it didn't take much for Quebec to be reminded of what they disliked and distrusted about the Harper Conservatives. They reversed the culture cuts(far too late) but it was too late; once the narrative is set it's very hard to overturn.

How the culture cuts weren't flagged by a Quebec minister or by someone in their Quebec caucus, I don't know. Perhaps its Harper controlling mentality, but a little consultation could have won them their majority.

In the end, I think the Conservatives ran a solid campaign that made a few mistakes but recovered from them, communicated effectively, set the narrative for much of the campaign, had a few challenges but also got some lucky breaks, and the incumbent bump. And that's how you win an election campaign. A little better execution, ie. more tangible economic initiatives earlier, and a better ear for Quebec, and they'd have gotten a majority.

A weak opposition, and a boatload of pre-election spending to define the opposition helped too. When issues did begin to break our way, having to overcome the negative images made it that much more difficult to gain support, and solidify it.

I just wonder though if, in closing, they've hit a ceiling of support. With all they had going for them it should have been a majority for them. If the Liberals are able to right their ship, the holy grail moves ever further out of reach. While counting on more Liberal disarray wouldn't be a bad bet, I wouldn't bet my electoral strategy on it.

Leadership issues: None. Three elections and two minorities for a Liberal leader and the knifes would be out. But while I think it would be natural for some Conservatives to be asking themselves if Harper really is the man that can take them those final steps to Valhalla, his grip on the party is too firm to allow such thoughts to even be thunk.

Tomorrow: Part Four: The Liberal Party

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Monday, October 20, 2008

A sad, but inevitable day, merci Stéphane

I've transitioned back into the ever exciting world of IT journalism, but I did take time out this afternoon to watch Stéphane Dion's press conference. A sad day, inevitable after last Tuesday's results, but still a sad day.

On the day after the last election, as Liberals began to look forward, I wrote a blog post entitled Why not Stéphane Dion. And a few months later, having taken the measure of the assorted leadership candidates, I decided Dion was still my choice for leader. And a few months later, after a roller coaster of a convention, to the surprise of many, including myself, the leader he was. That chilly night he won the leadership in Montreal, when I made it back to the Travelodge still on an emotional high (and after a few glasses of wine, red of course), I wrote about the night and reflected on why I had decided to support Dion back in May:

This decision wasn’t about winnability for me. If I wanted to pick the winning horse I’d have gone for Ignatieff. I wasn’t concerned about who had the best chance of winning, and Stephane wasn’t given much of a chance at all. But I wanted to stand behind a candidate that I believed in, a candidate that I could be proud of. Someone I could respect, could honestly defend, and someone I could respect myself for supporting. Someone I wouldn’t have to apologize for, or make excuses for. That someone was Stephane.

Looking back now, I can honestly say that on these criteria, Stéphane Dion has never let me down. Stéphane was a good man that deserved a better fate, but life isn't fair, and neither is politics. But he can leave with his head held high, never having compromised his principles or his values, and that's not a bad thing to be able to say. In fact, it's pretty rare indeed.

No man is prefect; we all have our faults. Stéphane was unable to get past the language issue, although there was marked improvement. His stubbornness was also a challenge, he was too often unwilling to take the advice of those more experienced on the retail side of politics. The charisma was not in excess. And he was unable to pull this party together, although I doubt a thousand horses could have accomplished that mean feat.

Still, the Dion leadership was a noble experiment, if a failed one: can an honest, sincere man succeed in politics?

Perhaps this wasn't a true test of the question, for he had the decks stacked against him from the start: no money to counter a Conservative smear campaign, a caucus and party leadership that supported other candidates., and his own challenges to overcome already mentioned.

Still, as I begin to look ahead to the next round of the seemingly never ending Liberal leadership fracas, I find myself pondering the matter again: should we just go for the most electable, the most charismatic, other factors be dammed? I hesitate to say so, and yet I hesitate to dismiss the question. But that's for another day.

I'm glad that Stéphane is staying on until the convention, and I'm glad that today he identified some of the real issues of import to the Liberal Party and pledged to use the rest of his tenure to work on them. It would have been easy for him to just walk away, given all the grief he has been taking from the anonymous senior losers. But we have serious work ahead, and we need all hands on deck. That he is staying to help and work speaks to his honour and his commitment to the party, and reminds me of why I supported him in the first place.

While I obviously wish things had ended differently, looking back I have never regretted for one moment my decision in May of 2006 to support Stéphane Dion, and that hasn't changed today.

He is a great Liberal, and a great Canadian, and he has made me proud to be both.

Merci Stéphane, et bonne chance.

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Good comments from Leblanc and Trudeau

With the election over, I’ve again returned to my sanity-saving habit of not watching shows such as Politics, Question Period and particularly Mike Duffy Live. I may still skim the transcripts though, and I liked these comments from Sunday’s Question Period by Liberal MPs Justin Trudeau and Dominic Leblanc.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU (Newly Elected Liberal in Papineau): I think a lot of people are jumping on the idea that we need to change leadership and that would suddenly fix everything. I think there's a lot of things broken within the Liberal party, there's a lot of rebuilding we have to do on party unity, on learning how to fundraise properly, on reaching out to our grass-roots and rebuilding an organization, and Mr. Dion is having a weekend of reflection right now to see whether he wants to be part of it, or how he wants to be part of it, and I'm all for leaving a man of integrity and honour and intelligence to decide what's best for him without pressuring him one way or another. I think the party's challenges are larger and more important than just leadership, and that's what we need to be focused on.

TRUDEAU: I think as far as ad scam and sponsorship, that's been completely put to the side. The challenge now is to rebuild the brand, rebuild ourselves into a competitive force on the ground as well, reach out to the values of Quebeckers that are so much more Liberal in so many ways than they are anything else, and strengthen the party from the ground up. That really needs to be the focus that we bring.

DOMINIC LEBLANC (Newly Elected Liberal in Beausejour): Well, Jane, it's probably a number of factors that were at play. There's no doubt that Mr. Harper's very negative campaign around the notion of the green shift, around the notion of taxing pollution and reducing income taxes created some havoc in terms of our ability to put forward what I thought was a positive message. It's not one factor. It's not just leadership. I agree with what Justin said, Jane. If the Liberal party is going to turn the page and look forward, there's no magic answer. We have to find a way to excite people about politics, to excite young people about politics, that they can make a difference, so it's a rebuilding exercise that doesn't start with just changing the siding on the house. We've got to go back to the basement and look at a number of factors, and that's what Mr. Dion is doing this weekend, and I think we should give him the time and the respect that he deserves to make that decision tomorrow.

LEBLANC: Jane, there's no simple answer. What I will tell you is that Liberals across the country, I think, are fed up, the Liberals I'm talking to, with us shooting at ourselves. We don't have enough ammunition to be firing on ourselves. If we want to behave like winners and act like winners we have to stop this sort of anonymous source or people questioning the leader every time something doesn't happen. It looks very amateur. Mr. Dion has deserved and earned the respect to make his decision. I will support whatever decision he announces tomorrow, and I think Liberals should do that. It's very premature to sort of do a
postmortem on the leadership. Let Mr. Dion have his say tomorrow. He's earned that. And I think the Liberal party then has to show more maturity than perhaps we have had in the last number of weeks.

And a reminder once again of why I dislike these shows, as gossip columnist Jane Taber keeps pressing them on Dion:
LEBLANC: I'm not going to discuss that today. Mr. Dion doesn't deserve that, and Liberals are tired of that kind of discussion until it's appropriate.

TABER: I'm not tired of it though…
Well as long as you’re entertained Jane, that’s clearly what’s important here.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Election Post-Mortem, Part Two: The NDP


Theirs is a hard campaign for me to cast judgment on. There are many arguments to call it a great success, and arguments to call it a failure as well. So I’ll break it down into the good and the bad.

The good

They knew exactly who they were speaking to and what their message was, and Jack Layton was a master of delivering that message and sticking to his script with ruthless message discipline. Theirs wasn’t a muffled message at all. They would stand up for regular people: Harper wouldn’t, and Dion didn’t. Layton hammered this home effectively and persuasively.

They also reacted to changing events with ease and skill, using the story of the day, such as market meltdowns, as a jumping-point to insert their own narrative (kitchen table, regular folks, jobs) into the media story, ensuring more coverage than another stump speech would have gotten. Another example is promising government funding when the Montreal Formula 1 race was canceled. A small thing, and frankly a bit if cynical opportunism in my mind, but a good example of the kind of inexpensive, bite-sized pollicyettes that have served the Conservatives well and play well in target groups. And in got them in the news.

The NDP articulated politically-attractive policies and communicated them well, resonating with their target voters. With the exception of the chalkboard/Dion cartoon ad, I thought their ads were aggressive, to the point, well articulated and effective, and very visible on the airwaves.
They were rewarded for their efforts with increases (small, but still increases) in seat count and popular vote share, and at least the appearance of momentum.

The bad

I have to confess to not being a fan of Jack Layton’s style. I guess you could call him the anti-Dion (which is both good and bad I suppose), he oozes politician but for me he lacks sincerity and comes off gimmicky. I frankly found his performance in the English debates embarrassing, I thought he was overly aggressive to the point of being rude and flip. Obviously not everyone shares this view, he received generally good reviews for his debate performance and consistently high marks for leadership, but for what it’s worth that’s my take.

I also must confess a degree of frustration that legitimate questions weren’t raised about his leadership qualities. He lost four candidates in this race, and it should have been five. What’s more, he stood by each of them until public pressure forced them to quit. How did these people get past vetting? And how did Layton not fire any of them, particularly Jullian West who exposed himself to teenage girls and asked them to “paint him”, instead defending them until they quit? To me that speaks to a massive failure of leadership, and yet Layton skated through it unscathed. Impressive in a tactical sense, depressing in a moral sense. Perhaps it speaks to an apathy of the public to these kinds of political attacks, they’ve just come to expect this of all politicians.

On to more substantive policy issues. As I said, the NDP was successful at crafting politically attractive policies targeted at key voter groups and selling them with skill. Despite being politically attractive though, they were largely bad ideas that, if ever implemented, would be economically disastrous. Just scrap the softwood lumber deal with no new deal in place? Renegotiate NAFTA with the likely US election winners want concessions FROM Canada? Raise corporate taxes going into a recession? Policies that sound great on the surface, but with critical thought raise serious questions.

Lastly, on the bad front, the NDP borrowed heavily to spend the maximum in this campaign, including a heavy ad buy. Despite this, and despite a weak Liberal campaign with a vulnerable opposition record and a leader they ridicule as hideously weak, they still managed just a handful more seats and a small vote increase. And no ground gained in Quebec. Far from the Broadbent-like results they'd hoped for. Will they ever get a chance like this again?

The Verdict

I suspect most NDPers will declare victory and move on, satisfied with another incremental improvement, and the chance to take a larger opposition role in parliament with the Liberals likely to be in leadership disarray for six months. And Layton did run one of the best, if not the best, campaigns of this election. For that, they deserve full credit, and it's hard not to call it a victory. But with a new notations.

If they do seriously hope to form government some day though, or at least, as an interim step, be the official opposition, while they declare victory in public they'd be wise to do some serious introspection in private.

While reading post-election media coverage, I was struck by this passage:

Said Gerry Scott, the NDP manager for the campaign in B.C.: "I think a lot of the less-than-firm-Liberals chose the Conservatives over us . . . Lord knows why."

I think its rather telling that Gerry doesn't know the answer to that. I don't think it's exactly a mystery. Until the NDP finds the answer to that, they won't be able to take the next step forward.

Leadership issues: I don't think Jack Layton needs to worry about challengers for his job. He performed solidly in this campaign, and can claim small victories. However, with some other contenders in caucus now like Tom Muclair, Layton may be under more pressure than before to start delivering results. They won't be satisfied with incremental progress forever, not after he has raised expectations higher.

Tomorrow: Part Three: The Conservative Party

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Election Post-Mortem, Part One: The Greens and the BQ

The Green Party

It's hard not to call this a successful campaign for the Green Party, at least on the surface. Granted, they didn't elect an MP, and they lost their kinda-sorta MP in Blair Wilson. But there were a lot of other victories for the Greens in this election.

They earned 6.8 per cent of the vote, up 2.3 per cent. They'll get a larger taxpayer subsidy. Elizabeth May participated in the televised leaders debates. They ran their first television ads. The Greens have arrived on the national political scene as a serious player, a fringe party no longer.

On the downside, they failed to elect an MP, despite their best-funded campaign ever, despite May's profile and performance in the debates, despite the Liberal non-aggression pact.

Moreover, I think the Greens have some soul-searching to do. The strategic voting yes, strategic voting no tap dance of May down the stretch was comical. And it seemed to speak to serious schisms within the party, with some candidates saying knock it off we want to win, and two candidates actually dropping-out to support Liberals.

The Greens need to ask themselves what want to be: are they a serious political party that stands for a range of policy options and wants to elect MPs to advance them, or do they want to merely fight the good fight, speak to those issues, and then allow or encourage their vote to melt away to more mainstream contenders?

Because I don't see how you can do both. And if the Greens are going to consolidate their gains and continue their growth, at some point they'll need to start acting like an actual political party that actually wants to elect people. For the Greens, strategic voting doesn't make sense. There's no riding where you can make the strategic argument to vote Green, and there never will be if they keep sending those mixed signals.

If your primary consideration is stopping Conservatives, join the party with the best chance of doing so. If you're concerned about vote-splitting on the left, then enter talks with the other parties about cooperation, or electoral reform. But if you're going to run candidates, you need to support all of them, not just some.

Leadership issues: I think Elizabeth May is offside with much of her party on these issues. Many of those that shared her views took the logical step of joining other parties and advancing the Green cause from within them. Many of those left stayed Green for a reason. If she's to stay as leader, they need to work these things out.

The Bloc Quebecois

This party has been written off more times than I can count. They were supposed to fade away after Dion and Chretien’s post-referendum initiatives and a Jean Charest provincial government contributed to a waning of support for sovereignty, but them sponsorship gave them a reprieve.

This election a surging Conservative Party was poised to decimate them, having spent two years and billions of dollars wooing Quebec nationalists, but two small missteps on culture and youth crime and a misread of the Quebecois gave the BQ new life. They also seemed to benefit more from the NDP's aggressive Quebec attack ads than the NDP did.

Much was made of a surging BQ in this election that would decimate the Conservatives in Quebec. That didn't materialize. The Quebec picture ended-up much the same as it was before the election, and actually down one seat from their 2006 result. However, the recovery of BQ support was enough to deny the Conservatives the majority the rest of the country voted them.

So once again a new lease on life for the BQ, but they still face questions about their continued reason for existence, and unless they can define themselves one wonders if Harper won't get it right in Quebec next time, and finally wipe them out. And praying for divine intervention once again doesn't seem like much of a strategy.

Since the BQ doesn't talk about sovereignty much anymore anyway, perhaps there is room for a Quebec-only nationalist party on the political scene. Reform was successful as a Western party, it was their desire to expand into Ontario (and challenge for government) that led to their struggles. How the BQ carry themselves in this parliament will be a test for them.

It seems to me though they're fighting over one (large) piece of the Quebec vote with the Conservatives and now the NDP, who both court that nationalist vote. The Conservatives can deliver things the BQ never will be able to. Unless they carve out a role of some sort, it's hard to see their future, particularly if the Liberals ever get their act together in Quebec.

Leadership issues: I can't see Gilles Duceppe being under pressure from within, but then I don't know that party. But it seems to me if he wants to keep the job, it's his. I just wonder how long he'll want it. What is there left for him to accomplish? At times, it just seems like he's going through the motions.

Tomorrow: Part Two: The NDP

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Tom Axworthy: Only re-energized crew can bail out sinking Liberal ship

Tom Axworthy makes some very good points in a Toronto Star column today, that should be carefully considered by all those who think a new leader is all that's needed to right the Liberal ship:

In their preoccupation with leadership, media and party insiders are missing the real issue. The primary challenge for the Liberal party is that its cause is no longer compelling enough to persuade Canadians to give up their leisure time to join its ranks.

Party renewal, therefore, is not some romantic notion pursued by idealists. Renewal demands hard-headed realism that requires a Liberal party overhaul; rebuilding itself brick by brick, riding-by-riding so it is once again competitive on the ground.


Good local campaigns can influence 4 per cent to 5 per cent of the vote; the addition of 100 volunteers shifts votes; signs shift votes and local campaign spending shifts votes. In the 2000 election, for example, Liberal candidates spent only 72 per cent of their allowed local limit. On average, candidates could have spent $19,000 more. If every Liberal candidate had spent to their legal limit, the Liberal vote could have increased by 5 per cent. And since public subsidies give the parties $1.75 per vote, unharvested votes cost the Liberal party millions.

Further, early data show that only three percentage points determined the winners in 25 ridings across the country last Tuesday. In southwestern Ontario, for example, five ridings were separated by 1 per cent. Four of these were won by the Conservative party and, had the Liberal party won them instead, Stephen Harper would be even less satisfied and Stéphane Dion less worried about the results of Canada's 40th election.

Tom's suggestion?

A reformed policy process should begin with a thinkers conference, preferably in Kingston, to remind Liberals of Lester Pearson's great initiative in 1960; every riding should debate the directions suggested and then there should be a great party rally or mass Internet vote to decide on priorities.

More than a leadership convention, the Liberal party needs a period of self-examination. The good ship Liberal is taking on water and needs to energize her volunteer crew to bail her out.
I agree. At the polls in the riding I worked Tuesday, the amount of manpower the Conservatives and NDP were able to bring out was substantial, and impressive. The Liberals are out there, but we're not giving them a reason to get involved.

We need to start asking ourselves not who our leader should be, but what our party should be. What should the Liberal Party stand for? If you're a party member now, why did you join the Liberals, and not the NDP or the Conservatives or the Greens?

More on that in a future post.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Better Know a Media Source

Today’s inaugural edition of Better Know a Media Source comes from an article in today’s edition of the National Post – The Fighting Post! – and an article on “research” that shows hey hey, ho ho, Stépane Dion has got to go:

'It's over' for dion, research suggests
Step down sooner rather than later: focus groups
James Cowan, National Post Published: Friday, October 17, 2008
Stephane Dion may be taking time to mull his political future, but Canadians have already said goodbye to the Liberal leader, according to new research.
Ensight Canada, a consulting firm, will today release the results of focus groups it conducted on Wednesday night, less than 24 hours after the polls closed.

Actually, if you read the article it becomes clear the focus groups didn’t find that “it’s over” or that Dion should “step down sooner rather than later.” Indeed, read the piece and you learn the groups didn’t really talk about Dion at all. Which is a problem in and of itself, but not the spin being put on the findings by the Post. And by our “researchers” from the company that did the focus group testing. A company I’d never heard of called Ensight Canada, described by the Post as “a consulting firm.”

I have heard of the two Ensight principals the article quotes though: Jamie Watt and Robin Sears. The article simply identifies them as principals with Ensight. Are they professional independent researchers, you ask? Well, let’s get to know them better, shall we?

Jamie Watt has deep Conservative links. A key backroom player in the Mike Harris “Common Sense Revolution” in Ontario, he chaired Jim Flaherty’s campaign for the Ontario Conservative leadership and then co-managed the PC’s provincial campaign in 2003 for Ernie Eves.

Robin Sears was a national director of the NDP and was a regular NDP pundit, but is better known now as the lead spokesperson and apologist for former Conservative Brian Mulroney during the (still unresolved) Schreiber business.

That background seems to add a new dimension to their commentary and “research” I think.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stéphane should stay

According to media reports, Stéphane Dion is about to announce he’s stepping down from the leadership. The party says not today, anyway. Whether the reports are accurate or not, I’m sure at the very least he’s thinking about it.

Certainly the pundits, editorial writers and the media establishment all want him out. They have their own motivations; I’m more concerned about what’s best for the Liberal Party than ensuring the media doesn’t have their agreed-upon narrative upset.

And what’s best for the Liberal Party is not the departure of Stéphane Dion as its leader.

Three weeks ago, I might have felt differently. But a new Dion began to emerge on the campaign trail. A fiester Dion. An angrier Dion. A more understandable Dion. He began, albeit too late, to connect, and he turned things around from what could have been a result closer to Campbell 93 than Turner 84. There are a lot of factors behind our 08 showing I still intend to explore in another post, but last week I decided that, in my mind at least, Stéphane has earned the right to stay around.

Perhaps I’m blinded by my early loyalty to Dion. Perhaps I stubbornly refuse to believe that an honest, genuine, sincere and smart man can’t succeed in our political system. I don’t know.

If that’s the case, allow me to take a more pragmatic look at the situation. Is the Liberal Party best-served by Dion’s depature? I don’t think it is.

Consider this. Dion has taken the worst the Conservatives and NDP could dish out, a campaign of smears and lies, and an unprecedented pre-writ ad campaign of demonization. And yet, battered and bloodied, he’s still standing.

He began to find his footing as a campaigner late in the campaign. Give him a year in opposition, drill hard on the English (which has improved markedly), launch a party renewal process and hold a badly needed policy convention to get fresh ideas percolating the whole party can rally behind. Learn how to fundraise and replenish the party coffers. And spend the year visiting every church basement from Prince Rupert to Port aux Basques, rebuilding the party from the bottom-up.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper needs to govern through an economic crisis that will likely see the country plunge into deficit if it hasn’t already, forcing him to make difficult and unpopular decisions.

A year from now, under that scenario, I like our chances going into that election with Stéphane Dion as our leader.

But what if he resigns? Then the May convention in Vancouver becomes a leadership convention. We’ll sink deeper into debt with the leadership candidates drawing all the fundraising. No party renewal. No policy convention. For at least six months, Harper will have free reign in parliament. We’ll abstain on everything. The NDP will call us names. The usual suspects will run. We’ll lament how none are (Pierre) Trudeauesque. We’ll pick the one that seems the most winnable, having learned our lesson there. The Conservatives will launch a huge ad campaign to demonize them. We’ll go into an election we can’t afford (maybe we can share a train with Liz May) having put lipstick on a pig, and we’ll be lucky to emerge with the support levels we have now. And we’ll be utterly broke. It's the Flanagan dream scenario.

The problems with the Liberal Party go much deeper than the leader. Anyone who thinks we can just slap a new coat of paint on the big red machine and ride back to the promised land is on crack.

Punting the leader now, or allowing him to leave, will fix nothing and indeed will only hurt the party in the long run. It’s time for everyone to take a deep breath, relax a moment, and then consider what the real issues are with the Liberal Party.

That’s another post in and of itself, but for starters I’d like to see One Member One Vote, a slimmed-down party structure, open nominations (incumbents not protected), restrictions on the power to appoint candidates, and a lengthier membership requirement to vote for nominations and leadership.

As I said though, that’s another post.

Right now though, there is a chorus of voices calling for Dion to go. As he mulls his future, allow me to strike a differing note: please stay, Stéphane. The fight isn’t over yet, and you’ve got a lot of good people on your side.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taking stock

After scarfing down some chicken fingers I’m off to the airport to catch a flight back to Toronto, and my regular life. I plan to arrive very early at YVR, mix a few strong rum and cokes in the Maple Leaf Lounge and pour over the newspapers to look more closely at just what happened.

I’ll save big picture prognostications for another post; I’ve not had a chance yet to look to closely at the election results. I spent some 15 hours yesterday scrutineering at a polling station in Burnaby, 12 hours of voting and then three hours for the ballots to be counted (and some math issues resolved). By the time I emerged from the communications black-out, of course, it was all over.

One last note on scrutineering, though. If ever you need your faith in democracy restored, spend some time volunteering to scrutineer a poll for a political party, or to work a poll for Elections Canada. These are regular people taking time out of their lives to ensure Canadians can vote, and vote fairly. There’s no partisan rancor there. I had great talks during the day with my Conservative colleague, and my NDP colleague gave me a ride back to the office after we were done. With all the nastiness in the blog world at times, it’s nice to know in the real world, it’s just regular people with differently deeply-held views about what’s best for Canada.

Obviously, this wasn’t the result we were hoping for. A few weeks ago it was looking very bleak (much bleaker) in BC, but post-debate we saw a strong surge in Liberal support in the province. It was fluid though, and the question was would that support hold. It didn’t; I think many people made a decision at the ballot box and, this time, it didn’t break our way. That happens.

We’re still sending five great Liberal MPs from BC to Ottawa. I will never again doubt Hedy Fry, she’s a machine. Ujjal Dosanjh gave us a scare, but he’s a good man. And Joyce Murray, another squeaker, with Sukh Dhaliwal and Keith Martin back too. I really feel for good people like Don Bell in North Vancouver, and I really thought Briony Penn was going to take it in Saanich-Gulf Islands. And I especially feel for Bill Cunningham, he’s a good man and would have made a great MP, for Burnaby and for Canada. I spent the last week in Burnaby-Douglas and they had a great team that ran a great campaign.

Overall, I’m actually really proud of the regional campaign that we ran in British Columbia. About a week before the election call, out of the blue, I got an offer to come out and join the campaign. Surprisingly my employers agreed to let me leave for five weeks, and I got to come out and work with a great group of people from whom I learned a lot.

It was a long haul of 12-hour days, 7 days a week, a dedicated group of Liberals from all different backgrounds fighting hard. We did a lot of great research, pushed-out a lot of communications products, defined the media narrative in BC for much of the campaign, put on some of the best leader’s tour stops in the country, and ran a very active auxiliary tour. And we put out some great Made in BC policy too. It was a roller coaster of emotions, from feeling great with early Harper gaffes and NDP candidate losses to being deeply concerned as we hit out low-point in the polls, then rising again post-debate when Dion caught his second wind and the polls seemed to turn out way.

It was a great experience, and even if we didn’t get the result we’d hoped for I take pride in knowing that we left it all on the floor, and I can’t think of anything we would have done differently. I sincerely thank those responsible for bringing me out, and everyone I had a chance to work with.

My chicken fingers are done, so I’ll just end with this. I don’t know what the future may hold for we Liberals. But as long as Stephane Dion wants to be our leader, I’ve got his back. More soon.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Strange doings in Saanich-Gulf Islands

Strange doings this weekend in Saaninch-Gulf Islands tonight. The 11 pm Global Vancouver news reports that people in Saanich-Gulf Islands have been getting automated phone calls urging them to vote for NDP candidate Julian West.

The thing is, West isn't running. His name is still on the ballot, but he dropped out of the race after news re-emerged about him exposing himself to a group of teenage girls 12 years ago. The NDP isn't campaigning in the riding. Both West, and the NDP, say they're not responsible for the calls.

According to Global, Caller ID and *69 indicates the calls are coming from a number belonging to the local NDP riding president. But the NDP riding president says he has nothing to do with the calls.

In this riding, the progressive vote has been uniting behind Liberal candidate Briony Penn, who has been picking-up NDP votes (with West out of the race) and is poised to defeat Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn. Both Lunn and Penn claim to have to knowledge of the calls.

Local police are said to be investigating the calls. I can only wonder who would benefit from ensuring the NDP vote doesn't go Liberal in this riding?

UPDATE: The Times Colonist now has a piece online:

A number of residents in the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding received recorded telephone messages Monday, urging them to vote for NDP candidate Julian West - who left the race after controversy over a public-nudity incident 12 years ago.

Irene Wright, executive member of the NDP's federal riding association for Saanich-Gulf Islands, said Monday night night people started phoning her around 5 p.m. to say they had received an automated call encouraging them to vote for West in Tuesday's election.

A woman's voice in the recording said the call was endorsed by Bill Graham, president of the NDP Saanich-Gulf Islands riding association, and from the "Progressive Voters Association of Saanich-Gulf Islands."

By using caller identification information, the call's origin appeared to be the fax number at Graham's address.

"It's not coming from our fax machine," said Graham. "Somebody is fraudulently using our name and our fax number to send out a misleading message."

Graham said he has checked with the federal and provincial NDP campaign offices, who told him that they have not contracted any automated calls to be put out in the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding.

A vote for West would be considered a spoiled ballot.

It is possible to "spoof" phone networks into displaying false caller ID numbers using a number of methods, including computers and other external hardware.

Complaints have been filed with Saanich police, the RCMP and Elections Canada.

A Telus spokesperson did not return calls for comment last night.

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Now it's all up to the voters

I'm just back from the last rally of this election campaign, with Stephane Dion and a few hundred Liberals at an airport hotel in Richmond. It was one of Dion's best speeches of the campaign to date that I've seen, and the crowd was described by the CBC as "large" and "rowdy".

We're ending this campaign on a high, gaining momentum and ground in the polls. We're still back though, and as I mentioned earlier the result could be anything from a Conservative majority to a Liberal minority.

The result will largely be up to progressive voters. The fact is, the next government will be formed by either the Conservatives or the Liberals. The question every progressive voter needs to ask themselves is, which do they prefer?

Three Nobel Prize-winning environmentalists stated their support for a Liberal government over the weekend. Elizabeth May is also encouraging progressive voters to carefully consider their choices, and she had endorsed Stephane Dion as the best choice for Prime Minister.

If we unite behind the Liberals, we can defeat Stephen Harper and elect a Liberal minority government that, with the help of the other progressive parties in parliament, can make real progress reversing the damage of the Conservatives and start making real progress for Canadians: protecting our economy, investing in child care and early learning, and steer our economy through troubled times while ensuring average Canadian families are protected.

That's why hope for tomorrow. That we put country before party and send Stephen Harper packing.

I'll be spending all day Tuesday working scrutineering a poll (seven, actually, I'm told) in Burnaby-Douglas, so I'll be offline until after what I hope will be a raucous victory party Tuesday night. No matter whom you support, make sure that you get out and vote tomorrow, and good luck to one and all.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Harper: Dion must get a mandate for the good of the economy

The Liberals have been picking-up some big endorsements, but this one if my favourite (from CP):

Say what?

NORTH VANCOUVER _ Chalk it up to campaign exhaustion.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be relieved this campaign is drawing to a close after some recent verbal mix ups.

In his final event Harper appeared to refer to one of his candidates as a communist.

He then suggested Stephane Dion was his running mate.

``That is why we and Mr. Dion must get a mandate for the good of the country,'' he told a crowd in North Vancouver on Monday.

No one in the crowd seemed to notice, many even cheered and clapped after the statement.
My favourite bit is that no one in the crowd noticed, and they even cheered. I agree, Dion must get a mandate for the good of the economy. I wonder though, which Conservative candidate is the communist? Hope someone has video...

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A few predictions

The polls are incredibly fluid at the moment, and by all indications no one is particularly firm in their voting convictions. I like the trend for the Liberals the last week and a bit, but we may have run out of time. Tomorrow evening, we'll know. Anything from a slim Conservative majority to a Liberal minority is still possible.

I still think a Liberal minority is possible, but it wouldn't be the safe bet at this point. I think we're in good shape in the Maratimes, we'll gain in Quebec, and we'll be fine in BC. I think this election will come down to Ontario, where things seem very much in flux.

I won't make an overall prediction. Since I've been out in BC for this campaign though, I will make a few predictions for this province, namely a few ridings where I think there will be upsets here.

Saanich-Gulf Islands: This riding will go to Briony Penn and the Liberals. With the withdrawal of the NDP candidate, the progressive vote is uniting behind Penn. The NDP MLA for the riding is endorsing Penn and urging NDPers to vote Liberal, and she has recieved the endorsement of key environmental organizations to defeat an MP that's very bad for the environment in Gary Lunn.

Vancouver Island North: It's a toss-up, but I'm going to predict a victory for Conservative John Duncan over the NDP incumbent, Catherine Bell. It will be very, very tight though.

Fleetwood-Port Kells: Liberal candidate Brenda Locke very nearly defeated Conservative MP Nina Grewal in 2005. She's been gaining support and this time, I think she will.

Burnaby-Douglas: Another very tight riding in 2005, with NDP MP Bill Siksay barely hanging-on over Liberal Bill Cunningham. I've been volunteering in this riding this week and things are looking very good for the Liberals, so I'm going to predict the upset and call it for Cunningham.

Kamploops-Thompson-Cariboo: I'm hearing about growing NDP strength in the BC Interior. They already hold BC Southern Interior, so a pick-up in the region isn't outside the realm. It's an upset, but I'm going to predict a victory for the NDP's Michael Crawford in this riding.

Overall, I'm going to predict 9-11 Liberal seats in BC. Nine would equal the 2005 showing, before the depature of David Emerson and Blair Wilson. We've surged here over the last week and a bit, but things are still very fluid. It's been one crazy election.

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The Conservatives' $1 billion softwood sellout boondoggle

Before British Columbians (and Ontarioins and Quebecers for that matter) go to the polls, they should remember that the Conservatives sent $1 billion of our money to the United States in a softwood lumber sellout that has failed to bring anything resembling certainty to the industry. They should remember how it slammed the US market shut for the very type of value-added manufacturers we need MORE of. And they should know just where that $1 billion in illegally collected duties went:

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Lorne Mayencourt in his own words

Meet Lorne Mayencourt, the latest Conservative to challenge Hedy Fry in Vancouver-Centre. He's both for and against carbon taxes, he's both for and against safe injection sites, and here he goes nutty at an all-candidates meeting, even swearing at some of the constituents he hopes to represent:

And from the Mayencourt archives, on Insite:

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The Conservative mask is slipping

The polls open in less than 24 hours, but despite running a bubble campaign that has seen at least 119 Conservative candidate muzzlings and a Prime Minister in Stephen Harper that is no longer deigning to answer questions from members of the media, the true face of the Conservative agenda is beginning to show.

For example, there's Dean Del Mastro, the Conservative candidate for Peterborough, who in this video tells a pro-abortion rally on Parliament Hill. Del Mastro assures the crowd that the abortion "issues matters and is not going away" and that the abortion "laws will change in this country." (h/t) No matter what Harper says (when he is willing to actually speak to people) his caucus clearly has other ideas on abortion:

Then there's Peter Kent, the former Conservative TeleVision (CTV) anchor running again as a star Conservative candidate in Thornhill. In a recent debate, Kent called for more private clinics in Canada, a dangerous move towards a two-tier health care system for Canada where there's one system for the rich (who can afford to follow Stephen Harper's stock tips) and another for the rest of us. Once again, Harper's flimsy promises are overridden by his own caucus:

A Conservative candidate's suggestion that a private clinic be used as a model for health delivery across Canada prompted opposition charges that Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to expand for-profit health care outside the public system.

Peter Kent made the comment during a recent campaign debate in Toronto's Thornhill riding.

Besides letting their ultra-conservative mask slip, the Conservatives are also staying classy on the campaign trail. Like Luc Harvey, the Quebec Conservative MP that showed up at a BQ campaign event to shout at and heckle Gilles Duceppe. Remember when Preston Manning wanted to restore decorum to Ottawa? I do.
A Conservative MP crashed a Bloc Québécois campaign event in Quebec City today, haranguing Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe who was shaking hands and meeting voters at a local market.

Conservative candidate Luc Harvey narrowly won by 231 votes in the riding of Louis-Hébert in 2006, and is fighting for his political life in the face of polls that predict a Bloc victory in his riding in Tuesday's election.

As Mr. Duceppe talked to farmers and clients at the Marché Public de Sainte-Foy, Mr. Harvey walked up from behind and asked Mr. Duceppe to say what he has accomplished since his election in 1990.

“Tell us about your record,” Mr. Harvey shouted.
There's also Axel Kuhn, the Conservative candidate in Etobicoke-Centre, who distributed a flyer attacking Liberal incumbent Borys Wrzesnewskyj that contained out and out lies, attacking him for not attending committees he's not even a member of, or that don't even exist.
What does it take for an Ontario Superior Judge to leave his Thanksgiving dinner to grant an emergency injunction? Ask Axel Kuhn, the Conservative candidate in Etobicoke Centre, whose latest electoral advertising effort seems to cross the line into actual defamation, according to Justice G. R. Strathy, who earlier today took the rare step of barring Kuhn’s campaign from distributing campaign literature targeting his Liberal rival, incumbent MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj.

And then there's Stephen Harper himself, who delayed his campaign schedule last week and held his first impromptu press conference to attack Stephane Dion for being unable to answer a poorly-worded question in his second language.

I don't buy their smokescreen that he couldn't answer the question because "he has no plan" for the economy. He has been talking about his plan for weeks before Harper even introduced his platform. The plan was expanded with the "30-day plan, unveiled in the French-language debate, a plan Harper attacked as a sign Dion was "panicking" on the economy.

How, prey tell, could Dion be panicking by releasing a plan when he doesn't even have a plan? The Conservative talking points are tripping over themselves. They make no sense. Their presser was about insinuating that because Dion's English isn't perfect (it's better then that CTV interviewer's though), he's not fit to lead our country. I even heard a Conservative radio ad the other day that used the line "can you imagine him representing us on the world stage?" Real nice. I'm sure this message will go over real well with all the Canadians for whom English is their second language.

It's a good thing for Conservatives that Canadians are more understanding of Harper's difficulties with French:

We're also more understanding of Stephen Harper's problems with English. Unless we're really voting on February 14th:

And unless he really gave us $300,000 in tax breaks (I'm still waiting for my cheque, by the way Steve):

This has been one of the most mean-spirited campaigns I've seen in years run by the Conservatives, and one that has been based almost entirely on lies. They lie about our climate change plan, they like about our massive tax cuts, they say we'll cut the child care subsidy when we'll really increase it, they say we'll raise the GST when we said no such thing and that indeed we will not, they put out attack fliers filled with lies that Ontario Superior Court judges have to interrupt their turkey dinners to issue injunctions against. They display no empathy for ordinary Canadians worried about their jobs and their savings and offer no plan for the economy besides buying bargain stocks. Their candidates refuse to attend all-candidates meetings or talk to the media, and their "leader" even turtles for the last days of the campaign, afraid he might go off script and say something he actually believes.

Do we really want more of this?

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bravo to a principled (now former) Conservative

The Liberal team in Fleetwood-Port Kells, where Brenda Locke nearly unseated Conservative Nina Grewal in the last election (the margin was 828 votes) and may well do so on Tuesday, gained some new supporters this week, including a former vice-president of Grewal's riding association.

Gurtej Gill, a former director of the Conservative Party constituency association, said in an interview yesterday he was disillusioned with the party and incumbent Conservative Nina Grewal, who is running for re-election. He said the party was not inclusive and the leadership was not accessible. He decided to support Liberal Brenda Locke.
Gill, a co-ordinator of a job-mentoring service for new immigrants, also indicated that a major reason for him deciding to leave the Conservatives and support the Liberals was the decision of the Harper Conservatives to attack Stephane Dion as unfit to lead the country because he sometimes has difficulty with his second language.
A Conservative riding vice-president from British Columbia has announced he's leaving the Tories and throwing his support behind the Liberals because of comments made by Stephen Harper about Liberal leader Stéphane Dion on Thursday night. Gurtej Gill was vice-president of the Fleetwood-Port Kells riding, where Conservative Nina Grewal is the MP. Mr. Gill announced yesterday that he has left the Conservative party and will be supporting Liberal candidate Brenda Locke. Among the reasons he cited for leaving was "the disrespectful treatment of Mr. Dion."
Bravo Mr. Gill, and thank-you. Welcome to the team.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dear Craig Oliver

Dear Craig Oliver,

In a Web column the other day, you wrote the following:

However, let's accept Mr. Dion at his word -- that the problem was a difficulty he has with comprehension as a result of some hearing issue. It is a painful thing to say but is he then fit for the highest office in the land if he cannot follow a detailed conversation in English in which great decisions may have to be made?
I'm not sure if anyone has answered your question yet Craig, but the answer is yes, he absolutely is fit for the highest office in the land, even if his English as a second language skills are less than perfect, and even if he has “some hearing issue” as you so sensitively put it.

Just what, Mr. Oliver, are you suggesting could occur if someone with less than perfect English skills, or an aversion to really really bad grammar, becomes Prime Minister? Are you worried that he might mistake “The Russians are invited” for “The Russians are invaded” and he’ll accidentally nuke Moscow or something? Because if that’s the case, you’ll be relieved to know Canada doesn’t posses nuclear weapons. Even if we did have nukes though, here’s how that one would play out:

Aide: Prime Minister Dion, the Russians are invited to Canada.
PM: The Russians are invading Canada? Zut alors! Mon dieux! Are you serious?
Aide: Invading? No, no sir. They’re invited. You know, for a state dinner.
PM: Oh, ok, phew. That’s great. Make sure you get that Alberta vodka I like.

See, no biggie.

Or are you worried that he’ll be presiding over a cabinet meeting and we’ll accidentally sell Vancouver Island to the Americans or invade Iraq because of some unfortunate language issue? Really Craig, exactly how could less than perfect English impact “great decisions” he would have to make as Prime Minister? I assure you, while I too have some grammar issues now and again, my English is pretty dammed good and I have no idea what the heck you’re talking about.

What I’m getting from your column is that unless you have pitch-perfect English (Oxford accent optional, I trust?) you can’t hope to aspire to the highest office in our land (next to the GG). This would, by default, seem to disqualify anyone for whom English is not their first language. Sorry Quebec, and every multi-cultural community across the land. I suppose we just got lucky with Jean Chretien, Pierre Trudeau, Louis St. Laurent. I’ll give you Wilfrid Laurier, total disaster that guy. How we managed to get the Naval Bill through given his trouble with subordinate clauses, I have no idea.

Maybe you’re right though, Mr. Oliver. Perhaps Canadians are unwilling to accept a man that is honest, sincere, humble and smart as the leader of their country if he has trouble with different tenses in his second language. I hope not though, because I don’t like the sound of that kind of Canada.

Perhaps we’ve had different life experiences. I live in Scarborough, a place where minorities are actually the majority. And I actually I think you’re selling Canada short, because your Canada doesn’t seem to be the Canada that I know. The Canada I know is a nation that takes pride in its multicultural dynamic, that welcomes immigrants from around the world, many of them from non-English speaking countries, and that welcomes everyone to make a contribution to public life. Is it really fair to tell a Canadian whose first language is Greek, or Spanish, or Chinese or Hindi, that sure, you can enter public life, but we’ll only let you rise so far?

Perhaps that wasn’t the message you were trying to get across with your column, Mr. Oliver. If that’s the case, I’d be perfectly willing to let you try to write it again. I promise not to hold the first one against you.



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