Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stephen Harper sat on a wall. Stephen Harper had a great fall.

Remember when the Stephen Harper Conservatives had a reputation for being shrewd and savvy master political strategists and technicians? Well, what a difference a few days can make. Now Harper is on the verge of losing government, and he has no one to blame but himself, and his own supposed political acumen.

Harper backed-down today on taking away the right of public sector unions to strike, and he agreed to move the next budget up by a few weeks. This followed his two-stage backdown on ending public funding of political parties. All minor concessions that don't go far enough to placate an opposition that clearly has had enough.

But the Conservative coup de grace today was to be their much hyped proof that the NDP and the BQ have been in cahoots to bring down the government preceding the economic update.

This smoking gun, a recording of a private NDP caucus conference call, was naturally leaked to CTV's Bob Fife, who with breathless enthusiasm gleefully and dutifully recited the Conservative talking points. Funny thing happened though when the Harper PMO released the recordings to all the media, and everyone could read the transcripts themselves, minus the spin: the smoking gun turned out to be nothing of the sort.

What the tapes revealed was that Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe had talked about cooperating to get things done in Parliament, about common ground, and how they could work together. Kind of what parties in parliament, particularly opposition parties, are supposed to do. Exactly like Harper did with Layton and Duceppe when they were in opposition. Heck, they even wrote a joint letter to the Governor General asking her to give them a crack at forming government should the Paul Martin government fall.

With NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulclair having demolished the Conservative spin during his press conference, he raised the issue of just what the heck the Conservatives were doing covertly listening-in on private NDP caucus conference calls. Mulclair says the NDP is consulting legal counsel on the matter to see if there may be legal recourse.

Criminal or not (I have my doubts), at the very least it's pretty sleazy and unethical, and will repulse Canadians, costing the Conservatives even more in public opinion. All that, and the call only revealed that the NDP and the BQ talked strategy just like they did with the Conservatives.

What this all shows is that the Harper Conservatives are increasingly desperate. They've overplayed their hand and they know it. They're losing the battle for public opinion. They attempted to play games during an economic crisis, and they've shown an utter unwillingness to provide the economic relief Canadians are demanding. They're tone deaf to the concerns of working Canadians, and to their desire to see their representatives work together. They're willing to do anything to defect and distract from their own incompetence.

The fact that they're considering proroguing Parliament until the new year to avoid defeat, to avoid accountability, confirms just how scared and desperate Harper has become. How ridiculous would that be, to end this sitting after one week? To bring back Parliament in the new year with ANOTHER throne speech? It would be an admission that Harper has lost the confidence of the HoC, and is too much of a coward to face the people's representatives. Any public support left would evaporate for a government that would have demonstrated just how morally and ethically bankrupt it had become.

Whether he wants to admit it or not, Stephen Harper's days in 24 Sussex are numbered.

And all Stephen Harper's horses, and all Stephen Harper's men, couldn't put Stephen Harper's government together again.

(NDP Deputy Leader Thomas Mulclair's press conference this afternoon)

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Michael in the media on Sunday

Michael Ignatieff on CBC News Sunday:

Michael Ignatieff on CTV's Question Period:

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CP: Tories relent on public sector strike ban

First they backed down on the election financing. Now, the public sector strike ban. Still waiting on stimulus. Moving the budget up to January 27th isn't good enough. Still, it's increasingly clear Harper is running scared.

Tories relent on public sector strike ban (URGENT-Fiscal-Update)
Source: The Canadian Press - Broadcast wire
Nov 30, 2008 12:40


OTTAWA - The Conservative government scrapped a second element of its economic update and advanced the federal budget date in a frantic bid to save itself from being toppled.

The brisk backpedalling continued Sunday with the government relenting on a plan to ban public service strikes.

That came mere minutes after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty moved up what was expected to be a February or March budget to Jan. 27.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government was clearly taking the extraordinary threat of its demise seriously.

The prime minister, his cabinet and senior officials have been scrambling all weekend to derail opposition negotiations to supplant the Conservatives with a Liberal-NDP coalition supported by the Bloc Quebecois.

The crisis was sparked by the minority government's recent fall economic update.

(The Canadian Press)

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

I hear Stornaway is a nicer house anyway

News this afternoon that the Conservatives are backing-down on that whole party financing thing. Well, actually, they started backing down on it on Friday when they reversed themselves and said it won't be a confidence vote and will be separate from the fiscal update. Of course, they said then it was never going to be a confidence vote, despite Jim Flaherty saying the opposite hours earlier. Now, I wonder if they'll pretend they never even proposed axing the subsidy in the first place. These guys are positively Orwellian some much of the time.

After 24 hours of peering into a yawning political abyss, the Harper government stepped back from the brink Saturday, dropping a plan to kill public subsidies for political parties.

“When it comes to the funding and subsidies that political parties get, we just don't think it's worth getting into an election on that issue,'' Transport Minister John Baird said in an interview. “We won't be proceeding.''

Actually Jim, you mean you don't think it's worth seeing the Conservatives lose power to a Liberal/NDP coalition government over. Which is fine, because the reason you're going to lose power has nothing to do with party financing. It has to do with the total lack of stimulus for the Canadian economy, or help for Canadian families and businesses struggling in this economic climate.

But back to the political party financing stuff. Jim, Stephen, you're fooling no one. Of course you're backing down on this now. You screwed up. You overplayed your hand. By adding this measure into an economic update that also lacked stimulus and took away the right to strike from public sector unions, you gave the opposition more principled reasons to stand against you. Yeah, we don't want these changes to financing. But toppling the government on such an issue of pure self-interest would be disastrous.

Which is why you actually help the opposition by removing this issue form the table. Because we still stand united against you for the principled reasons, such as the stimulus, and you can't say it's about the financing because you've removed that from the table.

But we also know you're attempting to spring a little trap on us here. Because we know full well you'll bring this issue back at a future date, as a stand-alone issue, when there's no political cover for the opposition parties. This is merely a tactical retreat.

No doubt your next step will be to walk back the no-strike stuff, and to offer some comprise on stimulus. Combined with a well-organized and well-funded (in part with public funding ironically) public relations blitz over the next week, you hope this will be enough to force the opposition to back down, for you to hold onto government, and to live to fight, and bring this back, another day.

If there is a compromise reached over the next week (which must include real stimulus now and the removal of the no-strike provisions), I think the opposition parties should and must secure a finalization of the political financing question. Now is the time to settle this. Personally, I'd be fine with ending public financing if it comes with a much higher limit on individual donations (say, $10,000) and possibly limited corporate and union donations. That would be fair to all, and if the Conservatives aren't lying (ha) when they say it's about taxpayer restraint and not politics, they should be fine with that. After all, it was Stephen Harper as head of the NCC who once said limiting spending is limiting free speech.

Frankly, though, I think the train has left the station. The Harper Conservatives have shown themselves unfit to govern by demonstrating a total ignorance of the challenges facing the Canadian economy, an unwillingness to act, and by attempting to use an economic crisis as cover to punish his political enemies.

With the fracturing of the Canadian political landscape, the era of majority governments is over for the foreseeable future. Somehow, the Conservatives didn't get the message. They got a minority of the seats, not a mandate. Canadians wanted Harper to work with the other parties. Instead, he decided to play political games.

We're not used to coalitions here, but in Europe and elsewhere in the world they are the norm, and they can work. In a minority era they can, and perhaps should, become the new norm. Stephen had his chance and he blew it. Canadians expect some maturity and some cooperation from their parliamentary representatives.

I think it's time to see what a progressive coalition can do for Canada. Led by Prime Minister Stephane Dion.

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Video: Opposition MPs discuss coalition

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Whose spin, and why?

I found this one graph in Don Martin's column interesting:

That’s why Stephen Harper has to wear this political mess himself. He personally ordered the incendiary paragraph inserted into Thursday’s fiscal update, ignored warnings from his own MPs who felt it was a lousy idea and clearly under-estimated his opponents’ resolve to defend their cash at any political price.

Not so much the fact Harper ordered this personally, although that is interesting. But what I find more interesting is that someone, undoubtedly high-ranking or well connected within the PMO, Finance, or the CPC, leaked this. Someone leaked information with the intent of pinning the blame for this situation, which may result in the Conservatives losing government, directly on Stephen Harper's shoulders.

I think that's a very interesting development.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

CP: Conservatives back down on controversial party funding changes

And just as I'm posting the entry below, this news crosses the wire. While it will take some of the piss and vinegar out of the opposition, it won't be enough. The Conservatives still need to address a) the public sector strike ban, and b) speed up stimulus.

Conservatives back down on controversial party funding changes
Source: The Canadian Press - Broadcast wire
Nov 28, 2008 11:17

OTTAWA - The Conservative government says an incendiary plan to strip political parties of their public financing won't be included in a confidence vote on the fall fiscal update.

Government sources say only tax measures will be part of the ways and means motion that parliamentarians will vote upon on Monday.

It's a sharp reversal for the minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

When the fiscal update was delivered on Thursday, government officials and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty expressly stated the party financing measures would be considered matters of confidence.

But with the Liberals and New Democrats in deep discussions about a potential coalition government should the Tories be defeated, the Conservatives are pulling back.

The party financing measures would effectively gut the opposition parties, who are far more dependent on public subsidies than is the Conservative party.

(The Canadian Press)

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Ed and Jean and coalitions, oh my!

May we live in interesting times. There are certainly interesting times for political junkies, what with talks of coalition governments and negotiations amongst the opposition parties. And with news of Jean Chretien and Ed Broadbent getting involved – interesting times indeed.

There are too many scenarios to speculate on. Let me just, for the record, say this. My ideal scenario would involve Stephane Dion serving as PM in a Liberal/NDP coalition, governing with the support of the BQ from outside the formal coalition. The Liberal leadership race would continue as scheduled, and then the new leader would see if they could continue the coalition, or whether we’d go to election. Dion would still be leaving in May, so I don’t see what issues the NDP or BQ would have with his essentially being a lame-duck caretaker PM, and for our caucus it would be a neutral choice that would allow the leadership process to continue fairly.

Beyond saying that would be my preference, irregardless of its feasibility for various reasons, I don’t care to speculate any further on hypothetical scenarios at this point.

I will say, however, that no matter how fun this speculation is I suspect it may well end up being moot. I firmly believe that Harper will back down here. It’s a bluff, it’s been called. He doesn’t want to leave 24 Sussex.

Harper can put the election financing stuff in a separate, non-confidence matter that he can ridicule the opposition for being self-serving for supporting. He can remove the no-strike poison pill and speed-up some stimulus (maybe toss in some specific stimulus for Quebec to entice the BQ).

If he does all that he’d probably get some opposition support. At the very least, the opposition would find it difficult to publicly justify bringing down the government and forming a coalition if Harper shows genuine willingness to compromise, and address opposition concerns. After all, they did just get a strengthened minority from the electorate.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. It will be a busy weekend for many, I suspect.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Michael Ignatieff: I've got ice-water in my veins on this one

A selection of quotes from Michael Ignatieff in a series of media interviews this afternoon/evening, following the release of the Conservative Party's economic update today. I like the energy, and the fire.


“One step at a time. But I will tell you that I've got ice-water in my veins on this one. I'm utterly unintimidated and undeterred by this stuff and the caucus is in the same mood . . . . (Harper) has misread the mood if he thinks that the Liberal caucus is going to cave on this matter. No way. No way.''
Media scrum outside the House of Commons chamber:
“We need to discuss the -- the government wants parliamentarians to be responsible about responding to this crisis to make sacrifices. We're prepared to consider all kinds of sacrifices. We understand the seriousness of the crisis but the measures they've introduced don't address the nature of the crisis. There is nothing in the auto sector. There is nothing on forestry. There is no stimulus I could go on. They've got to come back and give us something that addresses the crisis seriously and unites parliamentarians instead of dividing them.”

“Pay bargaining. Collective bargaining. Pay equity. Right to strike. All this stuff. Boom! New finance rules for political parties. This is not the way to govern on the edge of Niagara Falls. That's what we're saying. So go back and think about it again.”

“No one wants to play political chicken. I am thinking of the workers in the forestry sector, in the automobile sector. What they are crying out for is a government that doesn't play games with this, comes back to us and says, how can we make this work. And if they do that they'll have a very receptive and co-operative liberal party.”

“I can't assure you of anything. I will tell you about what i know about the mood of this party. We are tired of sitting down. Is that clear? Thank you."

On Mike Duffy Live:
“There's a deficit, although they're trying to hide it. There's an attack on pay equity, though they deny it. There's an attack on collective bargaining. And there's a crude partisan swipe at other political parties. And at a time when canadians want parliamentarians to work together, find common solutions, come together, it is the worse possible signal. And we can't support this, Mike.”

“At a time when Canadians are looking for us to work together, you don't divide. You seek to unite. The prime minister is playing divisive politics. He's gambling that we'll back down. We just think this does not help workers. It does not help people who are struggling with their pensions. We think this is just not good enough. There is no stimulus package there. There is nothing for the auto sector. There is nothing for forestry. And there are consistent -- there's a strain of partisan attack that we think is utterly unacceptable in a document like this which should be drawing us together. We can't support it.”

“We think they are actually concealing a deficit. They've got these ridiculous asset sales where they've already added in the money they're going to get from asset sales that haven't occurred. It's flimflamery, mike, and it won't wash. The most serious issue is there is no plan to get us out of what i think will prove to be a serious recession. They are underestimating the severity of the recession we're going into. They're making overoptimistic estimations of our economic situation and it comes back to a basic issue of confidence and trust. We can't trust this government to tell canadians the truth about the state of the economy or what they plan to do about it. And so the prime minister and mr. Flaherty have to go back, have a nice weekend together, have a chat and a think and come back to us with something that this parliament can work with."

“In our view, the stimulus that they put into the economy in '08 wasn't sufficient. We're going into a recession. The numbers are getting worse and worse by the day. Corporate tax revenue is plummeting. Our sense is that they're whistling past the grave yard here. They're not aware of what is about to happen to the Canadian economy. They can't tell Canadians the truth about it and therefore they can't plan adequately. We think the stimulus needs to be put in place now. If you compare what they're doing in Great Britain, this week, the British government put in a massive injection of stimulus. The Chinese government did so two or three weeks ago. I don't know what this government is waiting for. We want action. We want it now. And if we don't get it, the recession will be deeper, harder, and tougher for Canadians than it needs to be. And our job as an opposition is to stay that -- is to say that, stand up for Canadians and fight for them and we will.”

“In a word, no more sitting on our hands. You got me absolutely right, Mike.”

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No right to strike for civil service?

Ho-boy, hey didn't pre-leak this one did they?

From CP coverage of the Conservative economic update:

In two controversial moves, the Tories plan to suspend the right of public servants to strike for two years, and kill the taxpayer subsidy for political parties.

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More evidence the Conservative softwood sellout was a really bad deal

This is another story that won’t get much attention today, but really should:

Now a new study, obtained by The Globe and Mail, concludes the softwood lumber agreement has undermined the Canadian industry it was supposed to help.

Since the deal was signed in October of 2006, struggling B.C. forest companies have paid more than half a billion dollars in export taxes under the deal.

"The added taxes came at the worst possible time. With lumber prices plummeting due to a rapidly deteriorating U.S. housing market, B.C. forest companies were awash in red ink," wrote forestry analyst Ben Parfitt for the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives. "The result was numerous mill closures in B.C."

The amount paid in export taxes to date is still outweighed by the roughly $2.5-billion that B.C. forest companies received in cash when the deal was settled.

And what’s more, the “deal” makes it impossible for the sort of government aid that will eventually be extended to the auto sector to be offered to BC’s beleaguered forest industry without triggering another trade war.

This boondoggle just keeps getting better and better.

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Piss off the Conservatives and donate to the Liberals

Maybe this ending public party financing thing is a Machiavellian plot to destroy the Liberal Party. Maybe it’s a Machiavellian plot to distract attention from the fact the Conservatives (the highest spending government in Canadian history) have needlessly spent us into deficit. Maybe it’s a Machiavellian plot to distract attention from the fact the Conservatives will today announce no meaningful economic stimulus package, despite the cries from the provinces, business, economists, and, well, everyone, to act now.

Myself, I think it’s a combination of all of the above.

Things will play out how they play out. There is one thing we can do ourselves though. And that’s send Stephen Harper a message by making a donation to the Liberal Party today. Doesn’t need to be a lot, every little bit helps. But lets all donate a little something today to send a message to the Conservatives.

Or, better yet, join the Victory Fund. The minimum is just $10/month, with half going to to the party and half to the riding association of your choice.

As I’m already a Victory Fund member, I just made a $25 donation to the Liberal Party. I encourage you to do the same this afternoon. And after you make your donation, you can make a post in this Facebook event page to add to the total. And you can join this Facebook group to support the public financing of political parties.

Wouldn't it be great, when the next quarter donation information is released, to see a surge of donations by Liberals from across Canada on the day Harper and Flaherty made this announcement?

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Hey, look over there!

It's a busy morning at the office so I don't have time to go on at length about the Conservatives' supposed plans to end all public funding to political parties as part of today's fiscal update.

For now, I'll just say this. I was watching the CTV National News last night. Top two stories, the horrible violence and attacks in Mumbai. Third story? The economic update, with the report dominated by the plan to cut party financing, quotes from all sides, crafty, this is war, yada yada.

And buried at the end of that report on the update? Mentioned in passing so briefly you might have missed it? Oh, yeah, Jim Flaherty is expected to announce in the update that we're in deficit, and next year it'll be a big deficit.

Make of that what you will.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh CUSA, how I've missed thee so

While it has been unfortunate to see the name of my alma matter, Carleton University, suffering so these last few days, the whole Shinerama-gate affair has reminded me of my salad days (do people still say salad days?) as a youthful reporter at the Charlatan covering the proceedings of the Carleton University Student’s Association (CUSA), and particularly the marathon council meetings that would often stretch many hours into the night.

While I've covered the IT sector exclusively for some time, I’ve had the opportunity at times to cover politics at nearly every level of government. I’ve covered Parliament Hill, Ottawa City Hall, and very briefly dabbled in provincial politics in BC and Ontario, and I can tell you no where did the participants take things more seriously, and no where were they more slaves to form and procedure, then at CUSA council.

Are you on the speaker’s list?

Adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order was strict, and sacrosanct. Do we have quorum? Is that a friendly amendment? No, this vote is on the amendment to the amendment. I’d like to amend that, let’s start a new speakers list for the amendment to the amendment to the amendment. I challenge the chair! Is that motion debatable? We’re not at debate yet, I want to speak to my motion. I call the question! Can we have a debate on the calling of the question? New speakers list! So, are we voting on calling the question or on the question? Let’s just vote to close the speakers list. No, call the question! Let’s debate it for 30 minutes.

It was many an evening I spent sitting against the windows in Baker’s Lounge listening to such debate, and dutifully taking notes for I’m sure terribly exciting Charlatan coverage. I remember with amusement when there was a push to get people to, instead of clapping their hands to agree with something, hold both hands up in the air, palm open and wave them around. Maybe 2/3s of councilors were onboard, the other third and I thought it was pretty stupid, and would clap louder in unsilent protest.

Anyway, point being I can well imagine how this debate went. I can’t find which of the umpteen news stories on this affair had it, but in one of them CUSA’s president said that the controversial and inaccurate stuff about cystic fibrosis was in the preamble, and that most people didn’t agree with that, they just felt they should rotate charities. And alas, the Whereas can’t be amended, once on the table and at debate stage the motion can’t be withdrawn, and if defeated the matter couldn’t be reconsidered in the future.

That just about sums up the CUSA council adherence to form and procedure in a nutshell, so to speak, and it led to a story that has made Carleton a national embarrassment. Well, you see, we didn’t want to look totally stupid and insensitive, but Robert’s Rules say…

In procedure lies the way

However, it appears that today CUSA has changed its mind (h/t Liberal Bag):

Carleton University Students’ Association President Brittany Smyth has indicated that CUSA council will revisit the motion to change the orientation program charity from Shinerama.

“It has become clear that there is not an appetite at Carleton to change from Shinerama,”said Ms. Smyth “The responsible thing to do is to reverse the decision.”

How can they do that, you say? Well, if procedure be the path to damnation, it can also lead to salvation.

At the next meeting of council, a motion to revisit the previous motion can be moved. Of course, as any good procedure wonk will know, a motion to revisit a previous decision will require a 2/3s vote of those present. Pass that motion, after due debate (or are motions to reopen not debatable? Let's debate that!), and then you can introduce a second motion to reverse the other one. Which will need, of course, to be debated and voted upon. Ain’t procedure fun? I’m pegging the over/under at three hours, all in. I’ll bet the over.

Of course, this all pre-supposes the motion to reconsider recieves the required 2/3s majority...

Taking the sheen off Shinerama

I’m actually a tad disappointed in the apparent reversal today. Don’t get me wrong, this whole thing has been a farce. But my issue is with the Whereas, with the mischaracterization of Cystic Fibrosis as a disease that only impacts white men, and with the idea that Carleton students shouldn’t support it because it’s a disease that isn’t “inclusive” enough. It’s embarrassing.

I have no problem, however, with the concept of rotating the charities that the students support each year with their orientation week fundraising activities. While I think the idea of looking for more diverse diseases, if there is such a thing, is the very definition of stupidity, the idea of rotating causes is fine.

Support CF or AIDS or breast cancer, it really doesn’t matter to me. Maybe it would be best though to stick with the CF status quo. I can just imagine the marathon meeting where they debate for hours which disease is most worthy, and why.

I’m just glad I don’t have to cover it.

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An election now would be ridiculous

Unfortunately my PC's TV tuner is no longer able to pull in CPAC. I think it’s my cheap dollar store coaxial cables. I need to get to Radio Shack. But before the cable failed, I was able to get this exchange from last week between the NDP’s Olivia Chow and Liberal leader Stephane Dion.

I thought this was a pretty good comeback by Dion, illustrating the utter ridiculousness of the NDP rhetoric here. It’s been a topic online of late, and even CTV agreed with me here. And, I tell, you, CTV and I don’t often agree on anything. For example, I would never put Seamus O’Regan on TV, particularly in the morning when I'm trying to eat breakfast.

From last weekend’s Question Period (which is slightly more palatable in transcript form):

JANE TABER: Let's get right to our jeer for today. Craig and I decided that NDP leader Jack Layton should be jeered for the fact that he just left the throne speech and said let's bring down the government without even reading the thing.

CRAIG OLIVER: The day the government came to work and the House of Commons met, he said let's defeat them.

TABER: Yeah, after an election campaign. It's totally ridiculous, and I think he's lost a lot of credibility with Canadians as a result of that.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m annoyed with the Liberal strategy here. I’d have liked to have seen us say ‘we’re the official opposition, we’re voting no’ and leave it up to the BQ and/or the NDP to keep the government alive for a change. Because I guarantee neither of them want an election either, and if they had to make the decision, they’d support the government to avoid one. It’s tactics, sure, but perception does count for something and we’ve been losing the perception battle for far too long and ceding ground like this doesn’t help.

That said, someone had to support the government here, and if it wasn’t going to be the Liberals it would have been the BQ or the NDP. So, by virtue of the Liberals’ strategic decision here, the NDP had some leeway to, as it did all last parliament, have its cake and eat it too.

Such is life. But by dialing up the righteous rhetoric to ridiculous levels, as Taber said Jack and Olivia lost a lot of credibility. There was room to enjoy their tactical victory, to as usual play the righteous innocent without consequences, but by going over the line with their indignation it served to expose the hypocrisy of the NDP position to all.

Particularly given that we’re weeks from the last election, and it was the first week of Parliament. Saying this Throne Speech is bad, that it doesn’t deserve support, that’s fair.

But mocking the Liberals for supporting it, and seeming to push them not to? That begins to raise some questions for the NDP.

If you’re not supporting it, and the BQ is not supporting it, and you don’t want the Liberals to support it, wouldn’t that mean an election? Or if the Liberals voted no as you say you'd like, would you change your minds and support it to avoid an election? If no, why do you, Jack and Olivia, think we need to spend $300 million on another election just a few weeks after the last one?

Unless you can provide some reasonable answers for those questions, then ridiculous is the word indeed. Perhaps next confidence vote, Liberal caucus, we should give them a chance to step-up to the plate.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Tom Flanagan is dreaming of a neo-con Christmas

The holiday season is rapidly approaching, and with a tightening economy putting a clamp on government spending, Tom Flanagan has visions of CBC privatization and selling off the post office dancing in his head. Because the neo-con symbol for economic crisis is opportunity.

“I'm hopeful there will be some ideologically-driven, neo-conservative cuts to government,'' political scientist Tom Flanagan, a former chief of staff to Harper, said in an interview.

“I think that's always been sort of the long-term plan, the way that Stephen was going about it of first depriving the government of surpluses through cutting taxes . . . You get rid of the surpluses and then it makes it easier to make some expenditure reductions.''
Part of the very long-term plan, to be sure. Slash the GST to curb government revenue, constraining the ability of any successors to implement new programs? Check. Become the biggest spending government in Canadian history in a failed attempt to buy a majority? Check. Eliminate the contingency reserve to make a deficit inevitable, given your super-high spending and fiscal-capacity constraining? Check.

Now we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop: the ideologically-driven, neo-con style spending cuts to government programs. It’s the part of the Harper agenda we’ve always been mocked for calling his hidden agenda. I guess it’s not hidden anymore, if Flanagan is admitting it’s “always been sort of the long-term plan.”

As for specifics on the newly unhidden agenda. Well, here’s what Flanagan, who for the uninformed is to Harper as Karl Rove is to George W. Bush, is hoping for:
“I think there's certainly room for some incremental cuts to useless programs.''

The government has already used the economic crisis to put off plans for a national portrait gallery, citing the need for fiscal restraint in uncertain times.

From Flanagan's perspective, the government would do well to scupper a host of grants, contracts and business subsidies and to pare a lot of what he considers wasteful spending on cultural and aboriginal programs.

Flanagan said a five-per-cent cut to the CBC's $1-billion budget might be in line, much as the previous Liberal government imposed reductions during the last era of restraint in the mid-1990s.

Flanagan wishes Harper would go even farther and slap a for sale sign on the public broadcaster _ but doubts anything so radical is on the agenda.

“Not with a minority government,'' Flanagan said.

“It would require legislation. I can't imagine the other parties approving legislation to privatize the CBC, much as I would support at least selling off parts of it, or the Post Office.''
Still, right-wing hopes for a neo-con Christmas spring eternal.

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Ixnay ethay Ovietsay

From the department of unhelpful comparisons, via an AP story on Afghanistan troop reinforcements:

The planned reinforcements will bring the international force to roughly the same level as the contingent the Soviets deployed to Afghanistan in the 1980s, in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the U.S.-backed fundamentalist rebellion there.

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Thursday's QP analysis: Dion and Harper

I’d like to try to begin using more video in my blogging. Not video blogging, I’m far from sold on the appeal of that, but rather the use of video to supplement my written words.

In that spirit, with the new parliament I’d like to try a daily question period-related feature. I’ll pick an exchange or two that highlighted the day’s question period, post the video, and provide a little analysis. Just Monday thru Thursday though probably, Friday question period are usually pretty lame.

So I begin with last Thursday’s question period, the first QP of the new Parliament and the first since the last elections, just over one month ago. As you’ll see in the open series of questions between Stéphane Dion and Stephen Harper, the topic was, naturally, the economy:

I’ll generally be scoring these things from a communications perspective, and so in this case I’ve got to give them both high marks and call it a draw. Both leaders did what they needed to do in this exchange, and came off well.

Dion focused on the clear issue of the day and rightly pointed-out the Conservatives own responsibility for Canada moving into deficit: their own high spending budget choices, their elimination of the contingency reserve. In QP, for the questioner, the answer is less important than asking the right question, and by focusing on the top of the mind issue and linking responsibility for it to Conservative decisions, he asked the right question.

Harper, I felt, scored well by largely avoiding the temptation to hurl partisan arrows and, while not giving an answer that would satisfy the questioner (that’s not what QP is about), he stuck to a largely fact-based response. By answering in a calm and reasoned way, noting we’re the only G7 country that’s technically still in surplus, that the government will do everything necessary to help Canadians in the downturn, he did what he had to do in this exchange: appear calm, in control, a competent manager and, above all, appear Prime Ministerial.

So, mission accomplished for both sides in this exchange.

On a more partisan note, I did want to touch briefly on Harper’s crack (his one little slip here) about re-fighting the last election. Maybe not a slip, it’s a decent line, but if I could inject a little logic here for a moment (usually a mistake in QP analysis) while I’d normally agree with Stephen here, I think the fact he’s reversing himself on directly relevant decrees he made in the election just weeks ago makes this more than a little relevant to bring up today.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Stephen Harper and deficits

Stephen Harper has come a long way on deficits in less than two months.

October 7, 2008:

He also ruled out running a deficit during any years of a Conservative mandate, a day after appearing to soften his stance on emergency spending.

"I think I was asked one question whether I would run a deficit and I said no. That's my answer," he told reporters after his speech.
November 22, 2008:

“...budgetary deficits are essential.”

In the second article, Harper goes on to tout his credentials as an economist. One wonders what kind of economist would, a month and a half after declaring no deficits and touting good buying opportunities on the markets, would compare this economic crisis to the Great Depression:
"The financial crisis has become an economic crisis, and the world is entering an economic period unlike, and potentially as dangerous, as anything we have faced since 1929," Harper said in an address.

Not a very good economist, I think. Or maybe just one who was running for re-election at the time.

Still, lots of bargains on the markets these days.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Stéphane Dion's throne speech response

Stéphane Dion's response to the Conservative speech from the throne on November 20, 2008 (in two parts).

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Gerard Kennedy's question period debut

From Thursday's question period in the House of Commons, Parkdale-High Park MP and Liberal industry critic Gerard Kennedy asks his first questions, with response from finance minister Jim Flaherty.

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Scanning the headlines: Quebec, Bob and deficits

*I don’t claim to understand Quebec politics, but I find developments such as this concerning:

A Parti Québécois government would introduce a newer, tougher Bill 101 to replace the 31-year-old Charter of the French Language.

PQ leader Pauline Marois said yesterday the existing language law has "too many holes," and she wants to update it to ensure all consumer services are available in French.

The requirement that businesses operate in French would be extended to companies with one to 50 employees, with tax incentives to help businesses francisize.

Now, businesses in Quebec with less than 50 employees are exempted from the francization requirements of Bill 101.

So if I’m a one person business, an independent contractor, I’d have to do business in French?
Or if I have a small family business, say just me and my hypothetical wife and kids, we’d all need to know French? Bringing the law down to businesses that small seems extreme, and likely pandering to their base nationalist vote.

But it gets worse:
The new law would also seek to ensure the quality of French spoken in Quebec, said former language minister Louise Beaudoin, who is trying to make a political comeback as the PQ candidate in Montreal's Rosemont riding.

Beaudoin said newcomers to Quebec would be expected to learn French, and after three years in the province, the government would only communicate with them in French.

So you have a person that, for whatever reason, has tried and is unable to fully understand French for whatever reason. A PQ government would still just solely communicate with them in a language they can’t understand? That’s disturbing, and anti-democratic.

*The headline says it all, really: “Deficit in '09? Blame Tories, watchdog says”. And here’s the money quote from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, who, I hasten to add, was appointed under a Conservative government.
"The weak fiscal performance to date is largely attributable to previous policy decisions as opposed to weakened economic conditions," Page wrote in his report to MPs on the government's economic and fiscal position.

Page concluded Ottawa could run a deficit as high as $13.8 billion next year. Deficits could remain higher than $11 billion each year through to 2013, adding nearly $50 billion to Canada's debt over the next five years.

In a column in the National Post today, former Liberal finance minister Ralph Goodle has a good column on this:
Not long ago, as Canadians were about to vote in the federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was emphatic about his Conservative government not running a budgetary deficit.

Now, barely a month later, he wants us to believe that he's being driven toward unavoidable red ink by sudden international circumstances beyond his control.

*Bob Rae’s formal campaign launch yesterday is naturally getting lots of press this morning. The National Post’s editorial raises some interesting points, including questioning his “having managed through a deficit before is a qualification” spin on his Ontario premiership. I wanted to share this passage though the Post ran, quoting an interview Bob did in 2006. I found it interesting:
"I concluded after my time in office that it was very, very tough to convince a whole section of the party that the market was a great thing and it was something to be celebrated and it was not something to run away from, and that we had to recognize that the world had changed all around us and globalization was here to stay. I find that resistance to those ideas is still pretty strong in the NDP when you actually look at it. I mean the resistance to any tax cuts ... the way in which they look at business with a sort of skeptical eye all the time, the assumption that business is bad and government is good and private is bad and public is good. That still lies pretty deep in a lot of sections of the NDP, and I frankly just decided that I wasn't going to spend my life inside trying to fight that -- that I was really fundamentally going to be happier in another political party."

Indeed, Bob was right. The NDP still doesn’t get it today.

Don Martin also had an interesting take, I thought, on what he called Bob’s chutzpah. But as I like to say, go big or go home.

*Lastly, the Globe editorializes this morning on Bob’s launch, and the leadership race. I feel they completely miss the boat by talking just about Rae and Michael Ignatieff, and writing a passage such as this:
It is a good thing for the Liberals that the choice between these two candidates will help them articulate the choice they face between "uniting the left" and recovering control of
the centre.

And then finally at the end, almost as a throw-away, they mention Dominic LeBlanc:
Mr. Rae and Mr. Ignatieff, for all the contrasts between them, also have much in common, almost uncannily so, in age, family background and education. Fortunately, Dominic LeBlanc's candidacy provides valuable regional and generational variety.

I’m supporting Michael as I’ve already outlined, because I feel he is the right, best choice to lead our party today and challenge Harper.

But the media would be foolish to write-off Dominic. I can assure you that he is a very serious contender. He is attracting quality organizers and support across the country, many friends of mine whose judgment, and abilities, I respect.

Dominic will be a force in this campaign; the media would be advised not to, as they did in 2006, get tunnel-vision focusing on the Michael and Bob show.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dysfynctional if politically necesary, but not necesarily disfunctional

The 'paragraph of the day' award goes to the Ottawa Citizen, for this graph in today's editorial:

Whether this Parliament is dysfunctional or not depends on many factors, not the least of which is how long it will be before Stephen Harper decides it is in his political interest to declare it dysfunctional.

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Bob and the Bloggers

This afternoon I participated in a conference call with Liberal bloggers and Bob Rae, who announced his candidacy for the Liberal leadership this morning.

It was a well-attended call, and I commend Bob and his campaign for including bloggers that are either supportive, neutral and those that, like myself, are supporting other candidates.

For just over 30 minutes Bob took questions from those on the call on a wide-range of topics, from Afghanistan and the Green Shift to party reform and his economic record. It was a good call, and he handled all the questions thrown at him with ease. A number of accounts have been posted already (which I'll link to below) and I'll generally leave it to others to post on their questions and I'll just post on mine, and a few other points that stood-out for me.

Economic myth-making

On the issue of his economic record , and particularly this poll that indicated he ranked as Canadian's last choice amongst the current Liberal leadership candidates on the economy, Bob said he would counter his perception by being very direct about it.

“I'm going to talk about my experiences, not just in government but in a whole range of things, and talk about how that's all relates to where we are today and where we need to be. I think there's an incredible amount of myth making and mythology about what happened and what didn't happen. I just think we've got a job to do, to talk to people about what happened, and also to talk to people about a bunch of other things that happened, and how we have to move forward as a country."

"Now, I don't intend to spend the rest of the campaign talking about what happened in 1992. I'm just going to say look, we di
d some things right, we did some things wrong, and I doubt there's a politician or a premier in the country who wouldn't have to say that if they're being honest. And I think a lot of it is being hugely and totally exaggerated in a very propagandistic way. And certainly I'll fight back, because I refuse to let myself be defined by what various other interests might say about that time.”

We've certainly seen in media coverage the past few days, and today, that Bob intends to flip this issue on it's head, and use his record governing Ontario through recession to make the case his experience makes him the candidate best able to govern Canada through this recession.

That's certainly a bold strategy, and a valiant attempt to turn one of his potential biggest weaknesses, his record as Ontario premier, into a strength. The downside, of course, is that by putting his record on the table in support of his candidacy, it makes a critical examination of that record fair game. For example, while I agree there has been a certain degree of myth-making that has come to surround his tenure in Ontario, it's not myth to say the provincial debt doubled under his tenure, that university tuition increased 42 per cent from 1990 to 1994, or that during his tenure Ontario lost 350,000 jobs. If he's going to put his record on his table, then talking about that record needs to be fair game.

So, Bob putting his economic record on the table himself and using it to bolster his credentials, and opening that record therefore to more scrutiny and criticism, is a gutsy strategy indeed. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Party Reform

Bob spoke in support of a 308-riding strategy, emphasizing we don't just need a new leader and a new coat of paint, which is absolutely right.

With my question I pitched Bob on one of my pet ideas for party reform and grassroots engagement that I've blogged about in the past. The political parties get a per vote subsidy from elections Canada, currently its about $1.90. Currently, the Liberals split it between the LPC and the provincial wings (LPCO, LPCBC, etc.). I'd like to see riding associations cut in for a per centage share of the subsidy.

It's about motivating and energizing "no-hope" rural ridings, like the one I came up through in BC. In these ridings its tough to get people motivated knowing there's no way in hell we'll ever elect a Liberal. But, if the riding had a direct fiscal stake in the result (a fixed % cut of the per vote subsidy, which naturally goes up the more people vote Liberal in the riding) then you're giving them a direct motivation to push harder to get out more votes.

There are thousands of votes we could get in rural ridings across Canada (either Liberals staying home or soft NDP, Green or Cons), and while it's not enough to flip the riding, every vote does also mean more money for LPC central. So, in effect, any $ central loses by cutting in the ridings for, say, 10% or 20% of the subsidy, would likely be made up by the fact the pie would be made larger by the greater riding-level effort. So it would likely be revenue neutral for LPC, if not a profit.

And besides motivating no-hope ridings, the money would also enable ridings to do more organizing and outreach between campaigns, which will mean better results next election, snowballing each time, until some of these no-hopes may eventually come into play.

So it's not so much about fund raising, really, but about grassroots engagement.

Anyway, I outlined the idea to Bob, and asked him if he'd be supportive of such a proposal. I'm pleased to say he answered:
“I'm strongly in favour of that.”

I was pleasantly surprised to hear Bob come directly out in support of the idea. I intend to keep pushing the idea, and I hope he'll take it and run with it too.

When I met Dominic LeBlanc a few weeks ago I pitched the idea to him as well. He didn't commit but he was intrigued, particularly about the idea of incentivizing rural ridngs. I noticed that, at the LPCO debates last weekend, he picked-up on the idea if pushing harder in rural riding meaning more moves meaning more per vote funding for the party. So, I hope Dominic will come all the way around on this.

I haven't had a chance to make the case to Michael Ignatieff yet, but when I do I shall report back on his thoughts, whatever they may be. But I'm buoyed by Bob's support and Dominic's interest, as I think such an idea could be a real game-changer for rural Liberal ridings.

On with the conference call though. I also asked Bob about ideas for engaging and enabling rural riding associations. He went on to answer at length:
“I hadn't intended to get into some of the details around some of the things I want to talk about around party reform, but I think we need a completly new, fresh approach to party financing. I think the riding associations need to be given a stake in the success the party has in getting strong votes out.”

“I think we have to broaden the base of the membership substantially. I argued this morning we should not be charging for memberships. I think it's unnecessary – if it's any kind of barrier to people joining, we should get rid of it. I think the key is to go from saying are you a member, ok are you going to become a volunteer, ok are you going to be a contributor. I think we really need to look hard at the best social marketing and other techniques we can find to get people to be interested in joining up, then seeing what the benefits of membership are, and then once they see the benefits of membership they'll participate in other ways, in terms of volunteering and financially.”

“We absolutely must have a 308-seat strategy. It can only be successful if the riding associations are successful. We can't have successful national campaigns without stronger riding associations. I think we need to do a thorough look at what the finances of the party are, from the point of view of local riding associations.”

“As someone who has seen other parties at work obviously, my sense is the Liberal Party as got a bit too many layers, and the party suffers from what I call titleitis. It's got too many people who are looking for titles, and titleits is not a sign of organizational house. It's a sign of people looking for position rather than looking to have a broad-based, flatter organization with much higher levels of participation and much greater attention being paid to the finances of the local parties.”

I agree with nearly everything Bob said here, particularly about titleitis and too many layers of party structure. I disagree though on free memberships. I think membership needs to be more easily obtainable, and I think the price should be low, cost recovery only. Frankly, the LPC needs the cost recovery. But I really don't think $10 is a barrier to entry, and something free is perceived as being without value. That may be the perception of a Liberal membership today anyway, but that's a perception we also need to change.


Near the end as time was getting tight, someone asked Bob if he supported one member, one vote. He answered unequivocally in the affirmative.

I didn't get a chance to clarify, and I'm hoping his campaign can clarify this for me (I'd be happy to update with said clarification), if Bob meant pure OMOV or weighted OMOV. The difference is not trivial.

With pure OMOV, a large riding association in an urban centre such as, say, Scarborough, would overwhelm and drown a small riding association such as, say, Vancouver Island North. This would give disproportionate power to large urban ridings in Toronto, and it's why I don't support pure OMOV.

I do, however, fiercely support weighted OMOV, which would see each riding association granted the same number of leadership votes, with those votes apportioned based on the votes of its members, whether it be 100 or 1000 members. In this way, urban and rural ridigns are equal, and must be equally wooed by leadership contenders.

So, whether Bob supported pure or weighted OMOV will determine whether I am pleased or concerned about his answer here.


There were a number of other questions and answers, but I'll leave it to the other bloggers to report on their own questions. For myself, I found it a worthwhile and interesting call. I found Bob as well-spoken and articulate as always, and I appreciated his frank and honest answers and that he didn't duck a one.

I still feel Michael is the best choice for leader, but I left the call with a better understanding of where Bob is coming from and where he would take the party, and found common ground with him on a number of issues. I look forward to the campaign and the debate ahead, and our party's future wherever it may take us.

For more on the call, visit Calgary Grit, Scott Tribe, Danielle Takacs, Liberal Arts and Minds, Impolitical, Saskboy and James Bowie.

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It was 18 years ago today...

This seems like an apropos day for Bob Rae to officially launch his campaign for the Liberal leadership. It's one day after the Conservative throne speech, and it was exactly 18 years ago today, November 20, 1990, that Bob had his own first throne speech as the NDP Premier of Ontario,as the province tried to come to grips with a worsening recession.

Also making news that day back in 1990? Margaret Thatcher was fighting a caucus revolt, talks aimed at ending the Cold War had a successful end in Paris, and Mikhail Gorbachev wanted UN talks on a brewing problem in the Persian Gulf, namely Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Let's take a stroll down memory lane...

Toronto Star - November 21 1990 -- NDP Throne Speech

Get your own at Scribd or explore others:

Globe Mail - November 21 1990 -- NDP Throne Speech
Get your own at Scribd or explore others:

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On the Green Shift

From CanWest:

(Bob) Rae said the Green Shift was pursued without applying common sense, good judgment or the daily experience of ordinary people. "Politics is not about philosophy or theory," he said in an interview with Canwest News Service.

Was the Green Shift sold badly, and was the timing bad? Yes. But it was the right policy. The people have rejected it, and we need to listen to them. But the intention was pure and noble. To address the issue of the 21st Century: Reconciling the economy with the environment. Stephane Dion's heart was absolutely in the right place, and I'm proud of him for that.

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How things change

Remember in January, when Stephane Dion suggested maybe NATO should work with Pakistan to bring some stability to its border region as part of our desire to bring peace to Afghanistan?

The Conservative government, Stephen Harper and the Blogging Tories went ballistic, saying Dion had gone crazy and was proposing Canada invade a nuclear state. Madness! Was the verdict from the right.

I wonder how they’ll react to this?

NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan fired 20 artillery rounds at insurgents inside Pakistan after coordinating with Islamabad, officials said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, five Afghan troops were killed in a clash with insurgents in the west.

The military alliance said it fired the rounds after insurgents attacked its troops in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province with rockets from across the border on Sunday.

"The artillery fire caused a secondary explosion at the rocket launch site, which indicates additional munitions in the location," the NATO statement said.

The Pakistani military confirmed the two sides coordinated in an attack on insurgents in Pakistan but provided no other details.

I trust Harper and Peter McKay will quickly issue a statement condemning NATO, no? Or maybe they could just apologize to Dion.

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Cauchon favours OMOV?

In an article today about former Liberal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon’s decision not to seek the Liberal leadership, he makes the following comments that would seem to indicate his support for moving to a one member, one vote (OMOV) system for the Liberal leadership:

Cauchon commended the party's national executive for devising ``fair and equitable'' rules for the leadership process "as it exists today.''

But he said the process of choosing delegates to elect a leader at a convention, which favours those with organizational prowess, is "antiquated.'' He argued that the process needs to be changed so that it gives "as many Liberals as possible a voice in choosing their leader.''

"As a Quebecer who has bled Liberal red since the age of 16, I believe we need more Liberals everywhere across the country. No place should be left behind in our rebuilding process,'' Cauchon said.

Even though he’s not running, I hope Martin will still be active in advocacy of the sort of party reform he argues well for here.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

A Message from Martha

An e-mail from Martha Hall Findlay. I sent her and a few of the other former leadership candidates $25 towards their leadership debts last week. If you'd like to help them out too you can click here, scroll down to "Former Leadership Candidate Donations" and select the candidate/s of your choice. Every little bit helps:

Dear friends and supporters,

As many of you now know, I will not be a candidate in the upcoming campaign for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. It was a hard decision, and I have been humbled by the support and encouragement so many have shown. I thank you all.

In early 2006 when I announced I would run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, most people thought I was, to say the least, idealistic. I wasn't yet an MP, and very few people knew me or what I stood for. But that "Big Red Bus" campaign made a difference. And although I initially balked at being labeled "a woman" in the race, I became immensely proud of what my being there meant to so many girls and women who now feel inspired to step up and participate.

The encouragement to run again this time has been extraordinary, but the circumstances have changed. I am now the MP for Willowdale and that must be my first priority. But I also had to look seriously at my chances of winning. One of the unfortunate realities of politics is the importance of money. I still have debt from the 2006 campaign, largely because last year we focused all our effort and resources on what became a long (and expensive) 5-month by-election in Willowdale, followed closely by the recent general election.

It was clear that I could not start a new leadership campaign without first having repaid the debt from the last one.

I am writing now to ask for your help, and the help of everyone who told me how much it meant to them that I participated in the 2006 leadership.

$10, $20, $50 --- any donation is greatly appreciated. If you can contribute more, remember that because of the tax credit, a $400 donation will cost only $100.

Click here to make a credit card contribution. Contributions by cheque, payable to "LPC for the Martha Hall Findlay Campaign", can be sent to PO Box 69522, 5845 Yonge St., Willowdale, ON, M2M 4K3.

This is also a team effort. Please forward this appeal to friends and colleagues, let them know that you’ve contributed, and that it would mean something to you if they contributed also. Even small donations, multiplied, can make a big difference.

In the meantime, I look forward to working hard to represent the people of Willowdale, to being strong in the House of Commons, to raising the level of respect and civility in our political discourse, and, of course, to continuing what we started in 2006 --- real renewal. Revitalization of the Liberal Party from the grassroots. Encouraging others to participate. Bringing back a sense of pride, optimism and purpose, not just for Liberals but for ALL Canadians, in ALL parts of this country of immense opportunity and promise. We can do it, together.

Thank you to everyone for your encouragement and support.

Martha Hall Findlay

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Michael and Dominic support 308-riding strategy

I think Dan had a pretty complete summary of yesterday’s informal Liberal leadership forum in Mississauga with Michael Ignatieff and Dominic LeBlanc, so I’ll just add a few things that stood-out from my notes.

In an early question on party reform, Michael made the point that too many Liberals didn’t come out in the last election, and that we need to get them back. When they’re back, he said, we’ll be back. He also called for a 308-riding strategy. We can’t give up on any riding any longer. We need to get the organizers out of Ottawa and send them into Northern Ontario, that’s one of the reasons the NDP made gains there. The leader needs to be closer to the ridings and meet regularly with riding presidents to hear from them what’s happening in the communities. Dominic also endorsed the call for a 308-riding strategy, and made the point votes gained in ridings we may not have a good shot at winning still mean more funds for the party via the vote subsidy, so it’s a good investment to make.

Both candidates spoke about breaking-down the silos between the caucus, the leader’s office and campaign staff. Neither were keen on lowering the voting age to 16. Michael said he wasn’t ready at 16; Dominic noted if the voting age was 16 provincially, Quebec would have separated. Both said they would insist MPs attend meetings like the LPC(O) executive meetings.

An interesting question was on how we allowed the Conservatives to define Stephane Dion with negative ads. Both candidates agreed that, in retrospect, not firing ads back was a mistake. They were asked how they’d respond to the likely attacks against them.

In Michael’s case, absence from Canada. Michael responded passionately, saying the Conservatives like to imply that living abroad for a time is somehow un-Canadian, but “Stephen Harper doesn’t get to decide whose a good Canadian. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved abroad, but I’m Canadian through and through.” He added a million Canadians are living abroad at any time, and we can’t let the Conservatives say people are second or third class Canadians.

In Dominic’s case, inexperience/lack of exposure. Dominic said we need to fight fire with fire. We allowed Stephane to be unfairly defined. We have no choice, we need to spend the money. “You never cede the battlefield.” He added people would know him much better after this race.

On Afghanistan, there was a little more light between their positions here (Michael supported the first extension while Dominic didn’t, both voted for the compromise to 2011), but both agreed 2011 is the firm end date. In a later foreign policy question, I thought Michael made a good point. If, as Liberals, we support sending our military on peace keeping missions to other parts of the world in the future, we have to acknowledge that we’re going to need to invest in our military to ensure they have the equipment and training they need, which will take money.

On another party reform question, Michael said we’ve got to stop trading on our past glory. We talked constantly about how we slew the deficit, but Canadians what to hear about the future, not the past. We’ve lost the last three elections (he’s counting the PM minority as a loss) and we’re not the natural governing party anymore, we need to realize that. He quoted Bonnie Crombie as saying she’s tired of always having to go into the past to explain why she’s proud to be a Liberal. We need to be proud for out future, he said. Ordinary Canadians are concerned about their jobs, the economy, their pensions, and “we’ve got to stand up for these people, and god dammit we’ve got to fight for these people.”

Let me inject a little editorial comment here for a moment. While we shouldn’t trade on past-glory alone, the face is we have a strong history and a strong brand that is an asset. In the first of those losses Michael mentioned (2004) we pretended that proud past didn’t exist. That was a mistake. It’s a fine balance, but I’m proud of our Liberal legacy, from slewing the deficit to the flag to medicare, and much more. We shoud definitely not lose touch with that past while we look to the future.

Back to the forum, and a question on the environment. Michael said he was very proud of the leadership Stephane brought to the environmental file, a statement I was glad to see drew strong, sustained applause. The voters have spoken though, he said, and our challenge is to mind a way to keep our commitment to environmental sustainability at our core while packaging it in a way that is electorally sustainable and retail saleable. We’ve got to listen to Canadians that want to be green, but have legitimate concerns about their businesses and livelihoods.

On NAFTA and Barrack Obama’s musings about reopening it, Michael said that Canada is an energy superpower. We’re not used to thinking about ourselves like that, but we are an energy power that exports more oil to the US than Saudi Arabia. “Without us, they don’t roll.” We need to use that power, he said. “If they want to reopen NAFTA watch out, it’s going to be a very different negotiation.”

Both candidates agreed the security and prosperity partnership process needs to be more public and transparent, and both stood firmly opposed to bulk water exports.

There were a few other questions, but my notes are a little messy. All in all, a very enlightening and amicable discussion with both Michael and Dominic coming off very well.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Much ado about a little, and an opportunity missed

I'm just back from Mississauga, where all and sundry now know there was an informal townhall debate between two of the three leadership candidates. Inside that room it was a very positive experience. I saw two candidates field dozens of questions from loyal and active Liberals from across the province of Ontario, that gave up their weekend to drive to Mississauga at their own expense to talk about how we volunteers can get our party back on track. Outside that room, it's a different story.

Inside the room, there was no acrimony. As Michael Ignatieff and Dominic Leblanc took took questions on a wide range of topic – reaching out to rural Canadians, fundraising, a 308 riding strategy, the environment, Afghanistan, Israel – they both displayed a level of mutual respect for one another that I hope sets an example for how this race should be conducted. There wasn't one negative thing said about any Liberal inside that room. Outside the room, it was a different story.

Inside the room, there was an empty chair next to Michael and Dominic. One of the first questions asked from the floor was the obvious one: Where's Bob Rae? The president of the LPC(O), Mike Crawley, took that one.

As Mike explained it, this wasn't an official leadership debate or event. Those will come. Indeed, we don't even have any official candidates yet. I was happy to get the chance to sign both Michael and Dominic's nomination papers last night. More candidates may still run. About three weeks ago, said Crawley, the party decided, since this large group of Liberals was gathering, why not invite the declared leadership candidates to participate in an informal townhall with the attendees. The ground rules set by the party were that, as is the case for all LPC(O) executive meetings, the media would not be invited into the room. Three weeks ago, said Crawley, all three current candidates agreed to attend, under those ground rules. If all three candidates were to later come to the party and ask to change those ground rules they'd consider the request but, said Crawley, all three candidates did not. So, it went ahead under the format originally agreed to by all.

That was the official explanation. Myself, personally, I see merit to both sides. I wouldn't have minded seeing the media in there, I'd have been fine with that. But I also enjoyed the more low-key, informal, intimate nature of the event. With the media present, there would have been a tendency to mug for the cameras, to try to score the soundbite.

While I have sympathy for both positions, what I don't have sympathy for is Bob Rae's decision to take this internal disagreement to the media. This could have been negotiated and potentially resolved within the family, without giving the Conservative war room clips for their next round of attack ads. And don't doubt for a second they weren't recording every soundbite.

After I got up this morning and wrote my earlier blog entry I went down to the pub to grab lunch, and then headed over to the hall where the forum was to be held, and was greeted by a swarm of media. They had a story now, and it was their favourite story: Liberal infighting.

Apparently Michael had scrummed while I enjoyed my Angus burger with provolone and bacon, but I caught Dominic's scrum, and he made some excellent points about how this kind of snipping is exactly what we don't need. He also said that, while he wouldn't have minded letting in the media, he wasn't going to “take his marbles and go home” either.

Then I was surprised to see Bob Rae walking down the hall. Great, I thought. He's had a change of heart and, having made his point (in an unfortunately public way), he was going to take part in the debate, and share his thoughts with the Liberals that have gathered from across the province.

Nope, he made it clear right away he was still boycotting the debate. Apparently, he flew all the way down from Ottawa just so he could have a press conference outside the hall and bash Ignatieff. He hadn't come to talk to Ontario Liberals, he had just come to talk to the media.

I was surprised, frankly. I thought it would have been a much better decision for him to attend, even if under protest. This was a room of grassroots Liberal organizers from accoss Ontario, and most of them are undecided and are looking to learn more about the candidates. This leadership won't be won in the media, it will be won on the ground with the help of people like those in that room that work tirelessly and thanklessly on behalf of the Liberal cause in their communities. Snubbing them doesn't seen like good strategy to me, but then I'm just a humble blogger.

As I headed back to Scarborough, my main thought was that it's a shame that the story tomorrow won't be the mutual respect and frank debate on the issues facing the Liberal Party and facing Canada that we saw inside that room. Instead, it will be round 58 of Liberals attacking Liberals.

I hope the example that Michael and Dominic set this weekend inside that room will be the norm, and not the example we saw set outside it. Because, right now, the only people smiling are Stephen Harper and the Conservative war room. Bob got himself on TV by making a tempest out of a tea pot, but the Liberal cause is weakened today.

I'll have more on the actual debate tomorrow. In the mean time, my friend James Curran was live-blogging from the debate, and he has much of the debates up at his place.

And here's a few pictures from today. These are from the scrums where the lighting was good. I have a few from the debate I'll post tomorrow, but it was a little dark in the hall.

ELSEWHERE: Warren has thoughts, Kady has an interesting theory about the CPC war room and bloggers's role, Wells weighs-in, and much more here.

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Well that didn’t last long, did it?

I haven’t done the math yet, but it’s safe to say the supposed leadership détente between Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff didn’t last long, with Bob’s unfortunate decision to go running to the media to smear and unfairly attack his fellow leadership contender.

I came out to Mississauga Saturday afternoon to attend the leadership hospitality suites in the evening, and then the leadership forum this afternoon. As I attended Michael Ignatieff’s and Dominic LeBlanc’s parties and got a chance to meet them both, I found myself wondering where Bob Rae was. Then, when I dragged myself out of bed this morning (had a few glasses of wine last night) and got online, I found out.

This is all rather ridiculous, frankly, given that no one is an actual formal leadership candidate yet at this stage. The debate this afternoon is an informal one, organized as part of the LPCO executive meetings. Which isn’t some elitist gathering by the way as some have claimed, any Liberal can attend. And the debate itself is open to any party member for just $20, or $10 for Victory fund members. That’s how I’m getting in.

Executive meetings such as this have never been open to the media. That has always been the rule, agreed to by all. My understanding is that, last minute, Bob Rae wanted to change the rule to open the forum to the media. Dominic LeBlanc was fine either way, Michael Ignatieff preferred to keep it more informal and stick with the original rules, as laid down by the LPCO and agreed to originally by all.

And rather than work this out within the party and see if a compromise couldn’t be found, Bob Rae seems to have decided to boycott the entire weekend (I hear he was in the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa last night schmoozing Young Liberals) and go running to the media to break his pledge for a clean campaign and attack Michael.

As a Liberal who feels it is the internal snipping and bickering that has been the death of this party, I find Bob’s decision as more of that annoying crap that has been holding us down for too long. The initial pledge to keep this a clean race was the right one, and it’s a shame Bob has decided to be the first to break it by airing internal dirty laundry in public. And it’s a shame he won’t be here today to meet Ontario Liberals, as I was looking forward to seeing him debate.

We do have two candidates in Mississauga today though that actually do want to meet with Ontario Liberals and discuss the future of the Liberal Party with the grassroots, and I look forward to hearing Michael and Dominic’s thoughts.

And I’ll have full blog coverage on the debates later tonight.

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