Monday, November 17, 2008

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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14 comments:

Mike said...

Jeff: Good coverage thanks. The part that caught me most by surprise and I noticed this in Curran's coverage too was their answers to vote 16. I personally support that and I see the other two don't and that's fine. But it seems they both explained it in terms of "16 year olds aren't ready to vote". But they're voting in this leadership race (as are 14 and 15 year olds) and that's just as important of decision as voting in a general election in my view. So that rationale doesn't fly in my view.

What's your take on that issue?

Olaf said...

Jeff,

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.

Did Stephen Harper ever accuse Iggy of being un-Canadian? Or anything close to this? Has he even commented on Ignatieff living out of the country, to your knowledge? Either I missed this or Iggy's just being a politician.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Olaf, I was going long already with the post so I didn't include all I could have, but let me add a little context to that section, going from memory.

Michael, in response to the question, talked about how the Harper Conservatives like to define who are real, ordinary Canadians. If you like classical music or go to the opera, they say you're not a real Canadian, was one example. He listed a few more, then talked about his time abroad, how many Canadians have or do life abroad at times, and how many Canadians came from abroad to settle here. He ended, basically, by saying we can't let the Cons create second and third-class Canadians (I'd bring up the Con comments when Canadians were being evacuated from Lebanon here), and Harper doesn't get to decide whose a good Canadian.

Anyway, that said, did Stephen Harper ever actually say in these exact words Michael is un-Canadian? I don't think so. But his surrogates have. His party spokespeople, his MPs, his bloggers and fellow travellers, have been peddling that line of attack for two years. And if you think it wouldn't be the focal point of negative ads on day one of a potential Ignatieff leadership (which was the point of the question) then you're crazy. and I know you're not crazy.

mike, I saw your comment at Jim's, and I do see the contradiction.

There certainly is an element of self-interest there: lower the voting age to 16, the NDP and Green vote will skyrocket...along with the Marijuana Party, no doubt. And no one would propose raising the voting age for party conventions, a) if would never pass because youth are too big a voting block, and b) you need the youth vote to win leadership. So, the contradiction will remain.

I'm not opposed to a lowered voting age in principle, but given the already anemic lever of youth voting at age 18, I remain to be convinced it would particularly increase turnout.

I haven't been convinced yet, and I got the impression Michael and Dominic felt similarly.

Mike said...

Olaf: In defense of Michael, I seem to recall Harper making a snide comment in the House once of "unlike the member opposite I have lived and paid taxes in this country all my life" (in response to a question from Michael). I'm sure if you trolled through Hansard you would find it, so yes Harper has made the implication before.

Olaf said...

Jeff,

Thanks for the context, much obliged.

But his surrogates have. His party spokespeople, his MPs, his bloggers and fellow travellers, have been peddling that line of attack for two years.

So, if I recall, did his Liberal leadership rivals (and their fellow travellers). Are they desirous of turning those who have lived abroad into second-class citizens, as well? Or does this line of attack just apply to Harper? :)

Olaf said...

Mike,

I seem to remember that as well. However, its a massive leap from pointing out (accurately) that someone hasn't lived in Canada in for a long time, and suggesting that they are an unCanadian second-class citizen.

Anyways, it's just run of the mill political posturing, I don't know why I bother complaining anymore.

Michael said...

Immigrants by definition have not lived here all their lives. Is Michael Ignatieff less Canadian than an immigrant with citizenship?
Is an immigrant not really Canadian? Can an immigrant be Prime Minister?

Olaf said...

Mike,

Immigrants by definition have not lived here all their lives. Is Michael Ignatieff less Canadian than an immigrant with citizenship?
Is an immigrant not really Canadian? Can an immigrant be Prime Minister?


But Harper didn't say it to an immigrant, he said it to Iggy, so it's fine. It's like if you make fun of a Chinese persons accent, you're a racist, but if you make fun of a Scottish accent, you're hilarious!

Michael said...

It's small minded, provincial, and telling. The US has elected a man with a Kenyan father, an upbringing in Indonesia, and oh, he's black, too. He's an intellectual.

Wouldn't it be a horrible paradox if the Liberal party itself, let alone Canada at large, finds itself more provincial and narrow than the majority of the United States?

If so, Barack Obama should do a pirouette on his first state visit here. We'd deserve the insult.

Demosthenes said...

It seems unlikely that the line of attack against Ignatieff would be "he's been out of Canada." That doesn't really help either the pro-American Harper or the more cosmopolitan Layton.

The impression I get is that there will be several overlapping fields of fire:

-from the Conservatives, you'll see pulling the "elitist" play out of the Rove playbook and working it really, really hard, claiming that "Count Ignatieff" is out of touch with the concerns of average Canadians. They've already done it, no reason they wouldn't do it some more;

-from the NDP, you'll see them castigate him for his advocacy of Iraq and defences of torture—-"I'm personally against it but it's a really hard issue because torturers think it's really useful and I trust their opinions" won't cut it in heavy traffic--and paint him as a bigger apologist for Republican adventurism than Harper;

-and the Greens will take all this "the Green Shift was a mistake, to heck with the environment" stuff and absolutely FEED it to them by painting themselves as "Liberals but with a fresh minty smell.

The point of all this is to force the Liberals to respond; if the Liberals respond by "shifting to the center" (read: right) the Tories will cast them as unprincipled, and the NDP will just say "two right wing parties, doesn't matter, vote for us as we're the only progressive choice."

THOSE are the lines of attack that should be addressed, not some nonsense about travel.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Agreed. However, within rank-and-file Liberal ranks, guess which one always seems to pop up first?

A BCer in Toronto said...

Are they desirous of turning those who have lived abroad into second-class citizens, as well?

I suspect their angst is limited to one Canadian in particular, although I hear that objection far less than I did two years ago (and they usually frame it a little nicer), and I don't think they'll be taking out attack ads.

the Greens will take all this "the Green Shift was a mistake, to heck with the environment"

To say they said "to heck with the environment" would be an unfair characterization of both Michael and Dominic's comments. They both agreed the environment must be central, but we must listen to what Canadians told us, and find a way to develop sound environmental policy that will be politically saleable that Canadians will accept.

burlivespipe said...

"Anyways, it's just run of the mill political posturing, I don't know why I bother complaining anymore."

Hey, get it straight Olaf, it's chess-master political posturing, so sit down, drink your 2-cent cheaper coffee and enjoy the highest spending antics of 'conservativism in action.' You can do that or hit the road running, like a lawyer.