Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A picture to caption, and possibly my most favourite video ever

The events of the last weekend with the G20 deserve serious blogging, and I do hope to find the time to do that serious writing soon. Right now, I'm weighed-down doing serious day job writing. In the interim though, I do want to share two things.

One is this photo from the G8 in Huntsville of Stephen Harper and British PM David Cameron, which I think is richly in need of captioning because the look on Harper's face is just priceless. My contribution is below, feel free to leave your's in the comments.

Cameron: Steve - can I call you Steve? - Steve, let me tell you why post-election coalitions are excellent ideas...

And the second is what may possibly be my favourite Youtube video ever:

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Monday, June 28, 2010

I don't know what this HST is, but I know it's bad

Interesting HST-related survey results from Ipsos Reid this morning out of British Columbia. Well, not interesting in that everyone hates it. That's no surprise. What's interesting is that, while they hate it, they also don't seem to know anything about it.


The top line numbers are no surprise. Some 78 per cent of BCers are opposed to the HST, 65 per cent of them strongly and 13 per cent of them somewhat. Some 80 per cent think the HST will have a negative impact on them personally and 85 per cent on the province in general. 62 per cent think it will be negative for small business. 40 per cent think it will be negative for big business. 55 per cent think it will be bad for the provincial economy. 59 per cent think it will put some small business owners out of business.

So, pretty much everyone thinks the HST will be bad for, well, everyone.

Here's what I found interesting, though. While British Columbians seem to feel strongly the HST is bad, they also don't seem to know anything about it, what is covered and what is not, and just how it will actually impact them.
Of a list of 10 exempt items, very few residents (6-35%) were able to correctly identify them. For example, only one-third correctly identified the exemption for basic groceries (35%), about the same number are aware that residential rent (32%), children’s items such as clothing, footwear and diapers (31%) and prescription drugs (25%) will be exempt from HST. At the bottom end, only 17% are aware of child care service exemptions, 8% for legal aid as well as books, and only 6% for music lessons.
Despite these numbers, 62 per cent said they had a good understanding of the benefits of the HST, and 75 per cent said they had a good understanding of the drawbacks. And while they think they know about the HST even though they don't, they also blame the government and the media for not communicating better about the HST. So it's a little all over the place.

I definitely agree the BC government has done a poor job communicating the nuts and bolts of the HST, and the media certainly has no interest in substantive policy-analysis. These numbers are also evidence that the deliberate misinformation and distortion campaign of the BC NDP/Bill Vander Zalm petition drive combo is working. Confuse the people and make them angry. That's their strategy, and it's clearly working.

(For those of you in Ontatrio, the provincial government has a list of specific items and how their tax treatment will change (or not), and they’ve also put out information on how it will impact people, and impact businesses.)

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Queen Elizabeth II, Canucks fan

With Queen Elizabeth II arriving in Halifax today to kick-off a royal visit to Canada, I thought I'd share some pictures I took during her 2002 visit to Canada. That trip included a stop in Vancouver, where I was living at the time, and came the fall after Canada's double Olympic gold-medal hockey win in Salt Lake City.


The highlight of her West-coast visit was a pre-season hockey game at GM Place between the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks, which I attended. The Queen and Prince Phillip were escorted to centre ice for the ceremonial puck drop by Wayne Gretzky, Ed Jovanovski and Cassie Campbell.

After the puck-drop, ably won by Canucks captain Markus Naslund, the royal party headed up to a special royal box to watch the game. While she was only scheduled to stay for the first period, the Queen enjoyed the game so much she stayed into the second period, and when she got to the Hotel Vancouver, reportedly asked if she could watch the rest of the game on television.



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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Early Fake Lake reviews, photos

After weeks of build-up about the Harper Conservatives; $57,000 fake lake inside a conference centre at the CNE in Toronto, it's unlikely the reality can live up to the hype. Or can it? With G20 weekend upon the Big Smoke and media beginning to set-up at the conference centre, early reviews and, yes, real pictures of the fake lake, are beginning to emerge.

First off the mark was a crack investigative team from the National Post, which eluded $1 billion worth of security in a secret mission to infiltrate Fake Lake and smuggle out photographic evidence. Here's the goods:

The CBC got in a little closer, and even managed to try-out the Muskoka chairs (apparently they're not fake chairs) and snap this picture:



Gee, $57,000 really doesn't get you much these days, does it? I'm sure it will look better though after some time at the fake lake open bar, where the beer and wine will be anything but fake.

Here's some early reviews from those who have gotten up close and personal with the fake lake.

We seen the vaunted G20 Fake Lake, and the thing stinks.

The $57,000 pool and $2 million set up to give journalists a true feel of Muskoka is built and ready to go for this weekend but our interlopers said it looks more like there was a small flood on the floor of the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place.

“It’s really pathetic,” said one staffer. “It’s almost like a wading pool for kids — and not a very good one.”
The National Post:
“Our bosses went to go see it,” said an RCMP officer sitting nearby. Said another: “I wonder if they’ll import any mosquitoes?” And a third: “What a waste of money.”

And then there it was: the majestic fake lake, or most of it, since an amicable though vigilant young security person denied the Post a full, unfettered frontal preview.

“You guys aren’t supposed to be in here,” she said. “You aren’t even supposed to get close enough to smell the chlorine.”
And the CBC:
Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty...figures the display is sure to inspire foreign visitors to travel to the Muskoka area.

"If you're sitting here, how can you not want to go there?" he said.

If that was meant as sarcasm from the good Mayor, I say bravo. Sitting in front of a six-inch chlorinated kiddie pool in a cavernous convention centre would make me me want to get the heck out of there and head for cottage country too. Sadly, I think he was being serious.

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HST Powerplay: Bill Vander Zalm vs. Carole James?

I don't mean to keep writing on the HST -- not when there's Chinese spies to identify, and early reviews of the fake lake to discuss -- but Vaughn Palmer has some interesting news about the anti-HST fight in B.C. this morning that should be shared with you.


The bulk of his piece today is about how the anti-HST forces, led by Vander Zalm, have apparently taken embattled BC Premier Gordon Campbell off their target list for a recall initiative. Could be because they couldn't pull it off in Point Grey, with it's combination of transient students and well-off yuppies, or it could be because they think Gordo will give up the leadership soon enough anyways, so why waste the effort.

Speaking of giving-up the leadership, what's interesting is the battle for control of the anti-HST crusade that may be brewing between the ex-Socred Vander Zalm (who ideologically certaintly has more in common with the conservative BC Libs than the NDP) and the BC NDP, led by Carole James.

While James has been content to let the Zalm take the lead during the referendum petition drive, as the campaign shifts into a recall strategy targeting government MLAs in a bid to pressure the government to pass legislation to kill the HST rather than hold a referendum, cracks are forming. Palmer reports while Vander Zalm favours a drip-drip strategy to pressure Campbell to act without topping the government, James and the NDP want wide-spread recall to topple the government and put themselves into power.

Reports Palmer:
I've heard predictions from New Democrats that they will recall the Liberals in numbers sufficient to deprive the government of its majority in the legislature, and force an immediate election, clearing the way for an NDP government by this time next year.

Some say that they will also move Vander Zalm aside and take control of the anti-HST movement, once the current petition campaign is over.
This is interesting, and such cracks were inevitable. He doesn't like the HST, but an old Socred war-horse like Vander Zalm sure doesn't want to help usher-in an NDP government either. And for the NDP, it's less about the HST than it is about unseating Campbell and claiming power. While their interests coincided for a time, they're beginning to diverge.

What will be interesting to see is if James can so easily push Vander Zalm aside and take control of the anti-HST crusade. Even if the Zalm were to agree to go quietly, I have my doubts. The success of the movement in BC has been, in part, because it hasn't been closely aligned to one party. There isn't much love out there for the BC NDP either, or for James. They're polling well now because the public is pissed with Campbell, and James is the default choice. For many, it's about pressuring the government to kill the HST, not changing the government.

I can see why the NDP might be in a hurry. With fixed election dates, the next election in BC isn't scheduled until May 2013. There's a risk the HST anger could have subsided by then, particularly if Campbell resigns in favour of a new leader that can turn the page on this. If they want to capitalize on this, wide-scale recall (the BC Libs have a 5-member cushion) to overturn the government may be their best bet. The risk, though, is the air coming out of the HST balloon if people are faced with the prospect of an NDP government.

P.S. Congratulations to the Nova Scotia Liberals for their decisive wins in two by-elections last night. They managed to pull off the win even without Jack Layton campaigning against the Nova Scotia NDP government's decision to raise the province's HST to the highest level in Canada. I'm sure Jack will bring his anti-HST campaign to Nova Scotia real soon, though, and not just Ontario and BC.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Caption this photo of Stephen Harper

The Stephen Harper PMO is very concerned about controlling the message, and controlling the image. His psychic stylist travels everywhere with him, and a flood of carefully-staged photos of the PM are regularly dispatched to the press.

I'm guessing this photo, however, wasn't approved by the PMO. (Actually, it was shot by Chris Wattie of Reuters).

Do what you can with those bags under my eyes. I was up all night not writing a book on hockey.

What's your caption for this photo? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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Ontario numbers that will make Gordon Campbell cry

I was writing yesterday about the politics of the debate around the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Well, interesting to see some polling numbers for Ontario drop this morning for Ipsos Reid. Here they are:


Ontario Liberal Party: 37 per cent
Progressive Conservatives: 32 per cent
Ontario NDP: 20 per cent
Greens: 11 per cent

Clearly it's going to take more than just HST anger to unseat the McGuinty Liberals. The Conservatives' "it's bad but we won't scrap it" position isn't credible, and the NDP will need more than anti-HST rhetoric to convince Ontarians it can govern. I'd like to think these numbers are a sign people accept and respect the need for governments to make hard choices, and that may be part of it, but I also don't think they're enamored with their alternatives.

Meanwhile, on the left coast Gordon Campbell must be looking at the Ontario numbers and sobbing softly in a dark corner of the legislature. An Angus Reid poll from earlier this month paints a bleak picture for the BC Liberals:

BC NDP: 46 per cent
BC Liberals: 26 per cent
Greens: 14 per cent
BC Conservatives: 8 per cent

And while the NDP is poised for victory currently, it should be noted this is a continuation of the see-saw nature of BC politics. Were there a credible third-party, a centrist alternative, polling shows it would win the next election. And BC has semi-workable (more workable than I thought, actually) recall and referendum legislation.

As I hinted at yesterday, and others mentioned in the comments, there are substantial differences between Ontario and B.C. I think Ontario is more steady-she-goes by nature, while B.C. is more populist rough and tumble. The HST was also rolled-out much differently in B.C., with Campbell having denied plans to harmonize during the last election and then announcing plans days after the vote.

It's the perceived dishonesty that gives the anti-HST campaign momentum in BC, as well as years of building fatigue with the Campbell government. I still think it's good policy, and that the referendum attempt to overturn it is a mistake, but I understand the anger. I just think the place to express it is the ballot (and I'm sure they'll express it there too). But a referendum to overturn good policy because you're mad at the government is a bad idea, and will be bad for the province in the long run.

Back to Ontario though, on the topic of getting the word out, McGuinty has turned to the inter-webs with this video to help do that:


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Monday, June 21, 2010

The HST affair showcases all that’s wrong with politics today

If you’re looking for a case-study for all that’s wrong with modern politics in this country, one issue that is a microcosm of all the practices, methods and tends contributing to the degradation of political debate in Canada, then you can’t do any better than the “debate” around the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).


At the federal level, you’ve got the Conservatives who have sent billions of dollars to Ontario and B.C. to sweeten the deal encouraging them to harmonize, while their backbenchers insist no, that’s a provincial thing, nothing to do with us, we think it sucks. You’ve got the Liberals who pushed harmonization in government and don’t want to piss-off their cousins in Ontario but, at the same time, would dearly love to capitalize on the populist anti-HST feeling, result: a muddied position that pleases few. Luckily the NDP aren’t troubled by ideological consistency, the party that never met a tax it didn’t like will oppose this one in Ontario and B.C. for pure politics, while ignoring that the Nova Scotia NDP government just jacked-up their HST to the highest level in Canada. And the BQ say we’re cool with the HST, just as long as you give a few billion to Quebec because they made changes to their tax system that aren’t really the same but, hey, give us money.

Then there’s the provincial level. In Ontario, you’ve got the McGuinty Liberals only seeming to start to get serious about selling this thing to the public and counter-acting some of the hysteria out there. You’ve got Tim Hudak’s Conservatives breaking with their federal cousins to oppose the HST, even though they can’t seem to articulate why it’s bad policy and won’t even promise to repeal it if elected. And then there’s the Ontario NDP, blind in their opposition and happy to distort and misinform.

Out in BC, Gordon Campbell’s Conservaliberals are facing more public outcry because they seemed to rule out harmonization during the last election, then announced they were harmonizing mere days after the ballots were cast. They thought they could ride-out the storm but are now waking-up to some serious trouble. Former Socred Bill Vander Zalm, of all people, who left the premiership in disgrace, is leading a popular revolt against the tax, with the support of the BC NDP (strange bedfellows) that could lead to a referendum to repeal the HST there. But Vander Zalm and the BC NDP (unlike their Ontario cousins, they could actually form government so they need to face a few more serious questions) don’t seem willing to address how this would happen: how would you revert the tax system back, and how about the billion dollars in harmonization funding the feds will want back. Which hospitals will you close to find that money? They just want you angry, they don't want you thinking.

Instead of a debate of facts around the HST, we’ve been treated to mass hysteria. It’s like the ugly baby with no parents. The federal government doesn’t want it. Ontario has been low-key about selling it; B.C. even more so. And the opposition parties have all been more interested in stoking populist fervor to paint this as a tax hike instead of opposing on policy grounds, and proposing reforms or alternatives, or just what they'd do differently. Or even how they'd repeal it, and what that would mean.

Myself, I think the timing was bad (and in BC, it was handled stupidly) but sales tax harmonization is good policy. It’s more efficient, and will save government and business money. Value-added taxes are just more efficient than taxes on production, or on income. Some items will cost more for consumers in the short-term, but it will net-out in the long-run as savings are passed on, investments are made and new jobs are created. This has been the case in every other jurisdiction in Canada where the HST has been implemented. I think there is room for tinkering and adjustment, but overall it’s good policy that should be supported.

There’s plenty of room to debate that, I just wish the debate would be on the facts and on the policy, not on hysteria. To that end, I found this list from the Ontario government on specific items and how their tax treatment will change (or not) to be interesting. They’ve also put out information on how it will impact people, and impact businesses.

We've all been ill-served by all our politicians in this affair. Partly, it's our own fault. I think most people that sit down and consider it objectively will support harmonization. But, knowing most of us can't be bothered or just don't have the time, we're pandered to with sound bites and simplistic arguments that don't do this debate justice. Unless we demand better, we can only blame ourselves for the result.

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Will Fox News North protect whistle-blowers?

Former Sun Media reporter and Parliament Hill veteran Elizabeth Thompson, who was laid-off last week from Quebecor's Hill Bureau (along with Christina Spencer and Peter Zimonjic) raises an interesting point in The Hill Times today, and points to some of the inherent conflicts in having a news organization run by the Prime Minister's former communications director:

"At least I can stop wondering what would happen the first time the PMO called my bosses because they didn't like a story or what I would do if Kory asked me for the name of a confidential source or a whistleblower," she said.
This is a very serious question. If a Sun/QMI reporter writes or airs a story critical of the Harper government, based on a leak or whistle-blower either from within the Conservative government or the civil service, just how will this be handled by the editors, and by Kory Teneycke? Will the PMO pressure Teneycke and QMI to disclose their sources? Will Teneycke pressure his staff to name names?

These are some of the inherent conflicts this new venture is going to have to deal with because of Teneycke's involvement, and were I a serious journalist at QMI I'd want some strong assurances around process, and Chinese walls. This doesn't necessarily have to be a problem if Teneycke makes clear up-front that editorial is editorial, he'll leave those decisions to his editors, and he doesn't want to know about sources. There are stories though when legal and management need to be involved, and it would be hard to cut him out entirely.

And even with those assurances, there are two other problems here. One Thompson identified: what happens when I do stories that piss off the PMO? The inherent risk there is of self-censorship to avoid consequences, real or imagined. The other is if people will be less likely to go to QMI with scoops or inside information, fearful they won't be protected. That makes it harder for their journalists to do their job, and do it well.

These problems aren't unsurmountable. And as I've said, I support any organization that wants to invest in journalism in this country. But only as long as they let journalists be journalists. And I'm sure people like David Akin would have gotten some assurances before signing on. But it will be interesting to see how Sun TV handles these conflicts, and how they do will be a significant factor in their success or failure.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Stephen Harper's ego is writing checks our bodies can't cash

I missed what I hear was a very successful Liberal policy forum in Toronto with Michael Ignatieff on Sunday, as I was on my way to Washington, DC to cover a conference for work. Well, in National Harbor actually, but it doesn't start until Tuesday morning so I have two days to explore the city. First time here, and it's awesome for a politics and history junkie. It's crazy hot here (over 40 with the humidity), but on day one I already saw the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the White House, and I toured the Air and Space Museum. Top of the list for Monday is the Newseum, and some more of the monuments around the mall. I'd also like to get out to Arlington Cemetery, weather and time-permitting.


Back in Canada though, there are also political events transpiring. Coinciding with the Toronto policy event (apparently to be followed by a significant policy speech by Ignatieff in Toronto on Tuesday) the Liberals also released a G8/G20 fake-lake related radio ad blasting the Conservative mismanagement of this billion-dollar boondoggle. Take a look:




I was reminded of my all-time favourite show as I walked around DC yesterday, The West Wing. Particularly some of Josh Lyman's best lines. Sadly, I couldn't find any Republican Senators to tell to stick their legislative agendas up their asses.

You know who isn't Josh Lyman? Stephen Harper spokesthingy Dimitri Soudas (who is still on the lam, hiding from a baliff trying to serve him a warrant). The Conservatives let Soudas pop put of hiding to deliver the Sunday response to the Liberal radio spot. And it was laughable spin worse than when Sam Seaborn got schooled by Ainsley Hayes on Capitol Beat.

The Liberal ads say:
“Harper’s fake lake is part of his $1-billion boondoggle, Canada’s most expensive photo-op at a time of massive debt and out-of-control deficits,” the radio and television ads say. “So when you head to the lake this summer, remember you’re paying for Harper’s trip, too. An ego trip Canada can’t afford.”
"The ad's premise is that the average Canadian can afford to spend weekends at the lake. An understandable assumption, no doubt, by someone who vacations outside Canada and owns a summer villa in the south of France," said Mr. Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas.

"What Mr. Ignatieff fails to appreciate is that the vast majority of Canadians do not own recreational property. This is just another gaffe that shows he is grossly out of touch with the lives of ordinary Canadians."
Which just reminds us, Dimitri, that it is your government, although the vast majority of Canadians do not own recreational property, that spent $57,000 of our tax dollars to build a FAKE LAKE to show off to international journalists for three days, as part of a $2 million pavillion showcasing other fake parts of Canadian life.

So Dimitri, riddle me this: by your own logic, why is your government spending $57,000 showcasing an out of touch, elitist vision of Canadian life to the international media? Isn't that just another gaffe that shows the Conservatives are grossly out of touch? Instead of an elitist fake lake with elitist Muskoka chairs, shouldn't you have built a fake Tim Horton's, with fake Iced Cappuccino Supremes or something?

Because fake Tim Horton's is where the real fake Canadians go.

P.S. Something about the ego trip/can't afford line in the Liberal ad reminds me of that scene early in Top Gun when the air boss lays into Maverick, telling him his ego's writing cheques his body can't cash, and that he risks ending-up flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog crap out of Hong Kong. I can't find that video though, so instead here's a trailer that re-cuts Top Gun as a gay love story:


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Sunday, June 13, 2010

It's time for the party saints to step into the light

The leader of the Liberal Party is against a merger with the NDP. So is every MP who has spoken on or off the record about it, including those seen as the most likely heirs apparent. Every party executive I've heard from is opposed. The leader of the NDP, the party we'd supposedly merge with, is firmly against it, along with every one of their MPs that has spoken on or off the record about it. The media pundits think it's ridiculous (usually a cause for closer consideration, to be honest). And as for the grassroots, if you want to believe polling, most Liberals are opposed, most NDPers are opposed, and so are most Canadians. Which echoes the bulk of the conversations I've had.


Still, though, it's the story that refuses to die. Because there do appear to be at least a few people that think a merger is a good idea (outside the Langevin Block, that is): a handful of so-called (it's unclear by who) party saints. On these reports, the fragile flame is kept alive against all else, instead of engulfing Harper's G20 billion dollar boondoggle, or, just for fun, actual policy shortcomings.

Who are these saints? The most often reported names are Jean Chretien on the Liberal side, and Ed Broadbent and Roy Romanow. Today, Romanow went public with some comments on the matter. To date, Broadbent and Chretien have not.

Now, I think a merger is a terrible idea. For one, it won't work. You'll lose Liberal votes on the right to the Conservatives and NDP votes on the left to a more socialist alternative, leaving you no further ahead (and maybe even a little more behind). The math doesn't work. It's also unnecessarily. While our situation is poor, it has been worse in the recent past. With hard work, we can turn it around. This merger talk, however, is only making that much more difficult, making Liberal weakness the issue at a time when we have good narratives against the Conservatives. Absolutely, consider a coalition post-election if the math makes sense. But a merger? Madness.

That's just the opinion of this humble blogger, of course. Others will, and do, have other opinions. And the ability to discuss and debate those opinions freely and openly, in the light of day, should be what our party is about.

I'm a big fan of Jean Chretien. I don't look back at his time in office with rose-coloured glasses, but he was a fighter and a passionate defender of Canada who did a lot of great things for this country, and did it with style. He was a great Prime Minister, and he is a great Canadian.

If Mr. Chretien is the Liberal saint here, if he does believe a merger with the NDP is needed, justified and a good idea, if he is indeed, against the wishes of the current leadership, working with NDP saints to advance this idea, then he owes to his fellow Liberals, and I think to Canadians, to come into the light and tell us why he feels as he does.

This should not, and can not, be a back-room process, negotiated by self-appointed party elders and then presented to the party memberships, and the leadership for that matter, with a flourish. This is my Liberal Party too, and we all deserve better then that. This isn't something for the back rooms and it's not something for saints, no matter how well intentioned. It's for the people. You can't expect it to succeed any other way.

So please, Mr. Chretien. If the reports linking you to this process are false, please repudiate them. And if they're accurate, then please share your reasoning with us. Maybe you'll convince me. Maybe you won't. We'll never know unless you try.

Because saints don't belong in the dark. And I think the little guy from Shawinigan would agree.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Some thoughts on “Fox News North”

I did an interview last night with Rob Breakenridge of Calgary’s AM770 on Quebecor/Sun Media’s new “Fox News North” television network, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject here as well.

You know, if having a national news network run by Stephen Harper’s former communications director means I never have to ever listen to another Conservative drag out the tired canard of the so-called “Liberal media” then I think this whole Fox News North thing might just be worth it. Frankly, I thought they’d give up that sad persecution complex when they sent Mike Duffy to patronage heaven to become the most partisan shill the Senate has seen in years, but I underestimated their lack of bashfulness at making ridiculous arguments that fly in the face of all logic (my mistake, really).

But seriously, say what you will about Quebecor and Sun Media, but they’re businesspeople and they're not dumb. Launching a new news network requires a significant investment in infrastructure, resources and talent and I’m sure they’ve done their homework. They must have done the research and come to the conclusion there’s a sound business case here.

I’ll admit, I’m sceptical though. This would be the third national news network for Canada (sorry ROBTV, you don’t count) after CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet. I think all those networks have changed their names, but I don’t really watch them often enough to keep up. The CBC couldn’t afford chairs for awhile, I do remember that. Peter Mansbridge isn’t getting any younger, guys.

We’re not the United States though, which is able to (barely, I think) support CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Canada has a fraction of the population and the advertising revenue to support three networks and there are only so many Alpacas to be farmed, and only so many times Patrick can take out life insurance.

I also don’t believe we’re as conservative a country as the U.S., so I wonder how much of an audience this network will hold once the novelty wears off. And, frankly, setting out to design a network with a particular bias seems silly to me. I have to wonder, just how interesting would it be?

If you like having your worldview constantly reinforced, if you never want your opinions or assumptions to be challenged, then conservatives may enjoy such a network. Fox South certainly has an audience; it’s an undeniable business success. But for me, I certainly can’t speak for all Liberals, but I’d find it boring never being challenged in my beliefs. I like a little intellectual stimulation; it’s good for the soul, and for my beliefs. And I don’t think echo chambers make for particularly compelling television either.

I also reject the premise this network seems founded on, that a liberal media bias permeates the rest of the press. I’ve been a journalist for over 10 years now (not covering politics obviously, but the IT industry) and I can say with some authority the only thing most journalists are biased towards is a good story. Bad for Liberals, Conservatives, Natural Law, they don’t care if it will get the ratings.

I get pissed off at the media all the time for alleged conservative bias. Often the same media my conservative friends complain about being liberally biased. Which either means those media outlets are just giving it to all as deserved and we're both wrong, or they're just really, really crappy and we're both right.

But as a journalist, I’m perhaps not as hostile to this new network as some of my progressive brethren may be. The media is hurting in this country; the profession of journalism is hurting. So if Quebecor wants to invest millions of dollars to hire journalists and build a new media organization, I view that as a positive. Jobs for journalist = good.

I think designing it with a bias is silly, but whatever happens on the op/ed side of the network, if they keep hiring respected professionals like David Akin on the journalism side of the house – and give them the freedom to do what they do well -- then I’m confident some real journalism will be happening there, and we do need more real journalism in Canada. I think that opinion/news wall will be the thing to watch going forward though.

So I say welcome our new Conservative television overlords. And at the end of the day, in the best of conservative theory and dogma, the market will decide the value of Fox News North. Either it will prove a viable business model, or it won’t, so I say let the market decide. And unlike Conrad Black, I don’t think Pierre Karl Péladeau is a fan of losing money for ideological reasons. If there’s no market, this new network will become Keith Olbermanized pretty quickly.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Why the Liberals should support ending the per-vote subsidy

A report in La Presse confirms the Conservative government’s (oft-stated) intention to end the per-vote subsidy to political parties. This frightens many Liberal nervous nellies. I think this is an opportunity for the Liberal Party to make a bold move, however. The Liberals should support ending the subsidy, but with one significant addition: raise the limit on personal donations to $5000.


I would like to see the Liberals reframe this debate and seize the agenda by proposing its own political financing legislation: end the per vote subsidy but raise the limit on personal donations from $1100 back up to $5000. Union and corporate donations would remain forbidden.

On the per-vote subsidy, ending it wouldn’t be the calamity for the Liberals many think it would be. At least, it wouldn’t be as mad for us as it would be for others.

The party that would be most hurt by losing the subsidy would be the Bloc Quebecois. The BQ relies on the subsidy for nearly all of their budget, and since they only need to campaign in Quebec, it allows them to run a very strong campaign with barely any fundraising.

The next party that would be most hurt by ending the subsidy would be the NDP. They’ve dramatically escalated their election and between-election spending since the creation of the subsidy, spending at levels they never had before, thanks to the per vote subsidy. Ending it would require a major scaling-back of their budget, and the size of the campaign they could run.

Now, I won’t say the Liberals wouldn’t be hurt. Losing the subsidy would be a blow, without a doubt. Significant adjustments would have to be made (and getting a little leaner wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing). But the fact is we are less reliant on the subsidy than the other opposition parties, and we have been getting (very slowly) better at fundraising.

I am, though, proposing one major change to be coupled with ending the subsidy: raising the personal donation limit to $5000, where it was before the Conservatives and the NDP conspired a few years ago to lower it down to its current level (around $1100), primarily to try to handicap the Liberals.

I think we can make a strong case for restoring it for a number of reasons.

One, public financing was brought in when Jean Chretien’s government ended union and corporate donations, the argument being if you’re going to remove that fundraising capacity from the parties you should give them an alternative, and a small public fee to end the corporate and union influence in politics is a small price to pay. The same holds true here. If you’re going to remove the public subsidy, you should give parties the capacity to be able to replace that funding. That’s an argument of fairness I think will resonate with the public.

Two, why should the government be able to restrict my ability as a private citizen to support the political party of my choice. While I do support reasonable limits (and I think $5000 is reasonable) there are many people who believe money is speech, speech should be unlimited, and the government has no right to abridge the people’s right to speak. One of those people is Stephen Harper. As head of the National Citizens coalition, he argued stridently for the right of third-party pressure groups to spend anything they want, free of election spending limits. He even took it to the Supreme Court in Harper v. Canada. We should ask Harper, if money is speech, why does he believe in free speech for lobby groups but not for individuals?

Ending the subsidy coupled with raising the donation limit would be a win-win for the Liberals. We would regain our fundraising capacity and emerge stronger than before, and able to capitalize on the impact it would have on the other opposition parties, particularly the BQ in Quebec, where under Stephane Dion we actually gained seats in the last election.

Even more than that though, it would be a bold proposal that would reframe the party financing debate and force the Conservatives onto the defensive for a change. The opportunity is there, if we’re bold enough to seize it.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Exclusive: Secret merger talks between Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins

In the wake of last night’s heartbreaking overtime loss in the Stanley Cup finals to the Chicago Blackhawks, which again leaves the once dominant Philadelphia Flyers outside looking in at the ultimate prize in hockey, I have learned that serious people from both the Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins have been having secret discussions about a merger.

I can report that the team would be called the Pennsylvania Flying Penguins. It would split its home schedule between the two cities and combine rosters, with the surplus being traded or exiled to the American Hockey League. But by retaining the best of both teams, it’s believed they’ll finally be able to get back into hockey power.

It’s unclear if the merger initiative has the backing or even the knowledge of team leadership. Flyers captain Mike Richards called reports of merger talks absolute rubbish, while Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was equally dismissive, also cracking that the Flyers already have a de facto coalition with the Blackhawks anyways, and if the Penguins had been in the finals they wouldn’t have rolled-over to Chicago in six games.

Despite their denials, I spoke with Flyers president Bobby Clarke last night and I took detailed notes on our conversation. He told me there is a lot of interest in a merger from the Penguins, and there have been discussions at a high level between team saints, whom he described as Mario Lemiux and Kevin Stevens, with Bill Barber leading talks for the Flyers.

Apparently the Penguins were really pushing this, but the Flyers side has told them they’ll need to renounce socialism and embrace the market economy as pre-requisites to any merger agreement. The Penguins would also need to accept Mike Richards as their captain, despite Sidney Crosby consistently scoring higher approval and popularity ratings.

Personally, I think the Flyers should just suck it up. They didn’t lose that badly, they have a good, solid core of players that now have extensive playoff experience. A few roster additions, get rid of a little deadweight, train hard in the off season and they’ll compete for the big prize again. Just work hard, and they’ll be fine. No need to look for quick fixes.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Shocking news: Taxpayer-funded fake lakes don't poll well

If you thought $1 billion seemed like a lot to spend on security for a three day conference, and that fake lakes probably won't go over with Mike from Canmore, well, you now have polling to confirm the readily obvious:

Echoing the criticism from opposition MPs about the ballooning costs of hosting the summits, more than two-thirds of Canadians said playing host to world leaders is a waste of money, according to an Ipsos Reid online poll conducted for Canada.com.

"Canadians look at this and say it's not worth the disruption. It's not worth the money. It's not even worth the prestige," said John Wright of Ipsos Reid.
For some reason the Province doesn't give any numbers, but I have a few from Ipsos. They report 68 per sent say the "money spent to host G-20 a 'Waste'" while just 32 per cent say "It's worth it." And on another issue, 75 per cent of Canadians want the federal government to cover the costs of non-insurable damage to businesses and residents caused by protesters.

When you don't know whether to laugh or cry, sometimes it's better to laugh. Or sing (thanks to Jennifer):

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Merger talks, leadership politics and the same old Liberal bullshit

The CBC has a breathless report tonight on top-secret merger talks between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party. They're talking platform. Leadership race. They even have a new name picked out: The Liberal Democrats. Cute.


I call bullshit.
Senior insiders with the federal Liberals and New Democrats have been holding secret talks about the possibility of merging their parties to form a new entity to take on the Conservatives, CBC News has learned.

Many Liberal insiders confirmed that discussions between the two parties are not just focused on forming a coalition after an election or co-operation before one, but the creation of a new party.

The new party would possibly be named the Liberal Democrats and there has been tentative talk about what a shared platform would look like and an understanding that a race would be required to choose a new leader.
Just who are these "senior insiders" having these "secret talks?" Unknown. The two "insiders" quoted won't name names. Neither will I, at the moment. I think, though, that you don't need to be a strategic genius to connect the dots.

I highly doubt these secret talks have the blessing of the leader of the Liberal Party. (Aaron Wherry's sources dismiss the report. So do Paul Wells'. And mine, for that matter.) Look at the pretty dammed clear statement Michael Ignatieff made on Sunday: no pre-election coalition or cooperation, and for dammed sure no merger. Yes, only, to post-election cooperation. And I think he had to be dragged into making that statement. Are we really to believe he has authorized secret talks on merging at the same time? Come on.

Maybe some people in the party do believe a merger is the way to go. But I believe they're a minority, and I don't believe the people driving these stories are among them. They're taking advantage of them to advance their own agenda, not the party's. Because this has nothing to do with uniting the left or doing what needs to be done to defeat Stephen Harper's Conservatives, and everything to do with leadership politics and the personal ambitions of a few.

They're impatient. Ignatieff isn't getting it done. They think they know someone who can. They think they can. Maybe clocks are ticking. Young stars are coming up in the ranks, and if certain people don't get their shot now, before the young stars are ready, their window will close.

This is just a smokescreen, a means to an end: make Michael Ignatieff's leadership position untenable to clear the way for someone else. The latest Messiah to return the Liberal Party to the promised land. Because that, supposedly, is all it will ever take to restore the natural world order.

Sure, we'll tank the next election. But then, new leader! Valhalla! Small price to pay!

I've had it. I've had enough. I've had it with the petty games and the back-stabbing and the power-plays. We've been running on this same dammed hamster wheel of bullshit since the 1980s, so you think we'd get a freaking clue at some point. But I'm sure they're convinced no, I thought it was wrong when Chretien's people did it to Turner, or Martin's people to Chretien, or everyone's people to Stephane Dion, but me, ME, no I'm on the side of the angels! I'm the righteous one!

No. You're not. You're really not. You're just an asshole.

We have a leader. His name is Michael Ignatieff. And unlike some people, I stay loyal to our leader, whether he was my guy or not. And let's face facts. Had we finished a proper leadership race Ignatieff would have won it handily. Yes, he hasn't performed well. Frankly, he has disappointed me too. He has made mistakes. But he's showing signs of learning, of making the right decisions on where we need to go, and how we need to get there. But make no mistake: it's going to be a long road. And no leader can get us there alone.

The only way we're going to get there isn't through the Hail-Mary quick fix of a merger, or those that hope to exploit such talk because they think they, somehow, can do better, or just think it's their turn. We've been looking for easy answers for years now. THERE ARE NONE. If someone says there are, they're lying to you.

What it's going to take is long, hard work. What it's going to take is everyone on board, on the team, rowing in the same direction. And if you don't have the patience to do the hard work, or if you think your personal ambition is more important than the team, then I don't have time for you, because you are part of the problem.

Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

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The G20 boondoggle files: I shop at Crappy Tire and save Tony Clement $206,700

The Sun’s Greg Weston, who brought us news of the rapidly fluctuating in price Fake Lake ($2 million, $57,000, $500,000 but a bargain at any price) brings us news of more foolish Conservative over-spending and boondogglery:

For instance, taxpayers are shelling out $207,000 for 15 of what have to be the world's most expensive solar lights to illuminate the pathways at Deerhurst Resort, where the eight leaders are staying for one night.

While it is hard to believe this five-star resort had no path lights of its own, the federal contract assures us "this signature environmental project will contribute to the overall greening of the G8 summit."

And when the leaders have left the next day, the contractors have to dismantle the six-metre lights, and reinstall them somewhere in the nearby town of Huntsville.

Yes, that’s right; we’re paying $207,000 for solar lights to guide the way of the world leaders for one night. I know Stephen Harper’s Conservatives (pretend to) love Tim Horton’s but they don’t seem to share the same love for another Canadian institution: Canadian Tire.

Because as anyone who watches Canadian TV knows (Harper prefers American news), because they’ve seen all the incessant commercials, Noma Moon Rays will get the job done at a fraction of the price.

While the Nomas are good, since price is clearly no consideration here I’ll recommend the top of the line option from Westinghouse. A six-pack of high-out LED pagoda lights is just $99 at Canadian Tire.

Landslide Tony Clement needs 15 lights for Huntsville, so we’ll pick-up three of the six packs, which will run us $300 plus tax (hey, at least they beat they HST increase). That will leave us three lights to illuminate the shiny-new taxpayer-funded G8 toilet, about 20 kilometers down the road.

So that’s a grand-total savings for the government of $206,700. Why, that’s almost enough to may for one minute of G8/G20 security.

And did I mention you’ll also get Canadian Tire money?

You’re welcome, Tony.

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The Conservative $2 million fake lake comedy round-up

I could go on a rant about how the Conservative government building a $2 million fake lake inside the G20 media centre is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars, particularly for a government that claims a reputation for fiscal prudence while running-up the biggest deficits in Canadian history. But it would be too easy. And besides, unless you’re a member of the Harper cabinet legally obligated to half-heartedly defend this stupidity, you agree with me already. Even Harper mentor and former Conservative campaign manager Tom Flanagan, asked to defend fakelake last night on Power and Politics, said flat-out “I can’t” and asked for the next question.

Therefore, I’m going to choose to see the fakelake as half full and look at this latest Conservative boondoggle as $2 million in economic stimulus for Canada’s comedians. Think of it as an Canada’s comedy action plan. In that spirit, I’ve scoured the interwebs and Twitter for the best in fakelake-related humour. Some is mine, some I’ll attribute, some I’ll shamelessly copy from others because they didn’t use digital locks.

  • (Jeff Jedras) Oh, so it's a $2 million reflecting pool? I take it back, that's entirely different. Apologies.
  • (From a friend in BC) I hope they start calling this scandal WaterG8
  • (Jeff Jedras) Will half-baked #fakelake take the cake and be Harper's WaterG8? I don't wanna hate, but that’d be great
  • (Jeff Jedras) Wanted: vendor to supply mosquitoes, black flies for g20 media centre. Contract value $1.5 million. Ask for Tony.
  • (JeffJedras) If we're modelling #g20 media centre after boat show, will there be #bustyhookers beside new boats in the #fakelake?
  • (JeffJedras) "Siegfried, I know we wanted to go to Turkey for vacation this year. But I just saw this #fakelake on TV, so how about Canada?"
  • (OttGuy) #G20 to feature less bank tax talk, more talk about fixing Greece's wild spending. I suspect a fake Atlantis idea from Flaherty.
  • (OttGuy) Harper rejects calls for more funding for arid poverty stricken Africa. "What do they expect us to do for them, build them a #fakelake?"
  • (OttGuy) Truly Canadian sounds will be piped into #fakelake for international journalists. Loons, wolves and audio of all of John Baird's hissy fits.
  • OttGuy) They wanted to build dykes around #fakelake but the #CPC were concerned this might offend some of their base.
  • (PMOHarper)If I had 2 million dollars (If I had 2 million dollars) I'd buy me a lake (but not a real lake, that's cruel)
  • (PMO Harper) It's not a #fakelake, it's a reflecting pool. Muskoka is world renowned for its reflecting pools.
  • (ChrisInKW)It's a much-needed shot in the arm for the #fakelake industry... er...
  • (confute) I hope Peter MacKay's #fakedog isn't allowed in the #fakelake
  • (ThePMSaidSo) You might be mocking the #fakelake now, but when I send out that water-skiing squirrel, you'll all be thanking Big Steve.
  • (Lucers) I assume there is some kind of tax credit for first time homeowners who want to have a #fakelake put in?
  • (unknown) If they're going to spend $2 billion on an artificial lake, the least they can do is pony up a few bucks more for a Splash Zone
  • (Uranowski) Stephen Harper announces $1 Billion Fake Glacier plan to combat Global Warming.
  • (unknown) just because we have so many real lakes doesn't mean we can't be leaders in the artificial waterbody industry
  • (unknown) this will be a showcase 4 the Canadian #fakelake industry, who knows what business will be drummed up from this event
  • (greg_elmer) zut! let's be proper Canadians please. #fauxlac #fakelake
Also, be sure to listen to CBC's audio of a scrum with Peter Kent, where the Conservative minister tried to defend the fake lake. My favourite part? When a reporter is heard to say "oh, come on!"

And check out the Message Event Proposal the Conservatives filed for the G8/G20. Looks like they're right on track!

CANADA's BACK!

Also look at the great media that Canada's Rapidly Aging Government is getting for us in the foreign press:

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Re-frame the question: Who will make Parliament work?

Interesting watching the fall-out of Ignatieff's clarification on coalitions, and the predictable Conservative response of fear mongering and doomsday prophecies.


In the latest return-fire from unnamed Iggy spokesthingy, I see the seeds of a promising way to turn the narrative on this and reframe it on better ground:
The Ignatieff official says that their plan – “repeated many times” – is to form a Liberal government.
“So there you go. We’ll run to form a Liberal government. And we will work with everybody – Conservatives included – to make Parliament a place where respectful and meaningful debates happen, not the disgraceful Bairdesque circus Conservatives seem to love so much.”
I like where this is going. We need to pivot back to prorogation and the Conservative abuse of Parliament, an issue the Conservatives took a serious hit on.

We're about making Parliament work, and the Conservatives aren't. Unlike the Conservatives, you can trust the Liberals to respect the will of Canadians and to work with members of all parties in the best interests of Canadians. The Conservatives have shown they're unwilling to respect the democratic will of Canadians -- they've locked the doors of Parliament twice to avoid the accountability of the people's representatives -- and believe Parliament is just a nuisance to be swept aside at a whim. We believe differently. That's why we need to elect a strong Liberal government. Because you can count on us to respect you votes and be ready to work with anyone -- even the Conservatives -- for the betterment of Canada.

Something like that. But shorter. Flip the issue around and re-frame it.

Since I slagged him the other day, I'll say Scott Reid had it right on Power and Politics tonight. We need to stop being so dammed frightened of Conservative talking points, or what they'll say in their scary ads. Man-up, get on the offence and take it to them for a change.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Ignatieff clarifies Liberal position on coalitions

I was very pleased to wake-up this morning and find two things. One: it's not raining so I can hopefully go watch some Maple Leafs baseball this afternoon at Christie Pits. And two: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has brought some much needed clarity to the Liberal position on coalitions. Indeed, the position he outlines in this CP article today seems exactly what I've been asking for:

Michael Ignatieff says coalition governments are "perfectly legitimate" and he'd be prepared to lead one if that's the hand Canadian voters deal him in the next election.
..
"Co-operation between parties to produce political and electoral stability is not illegitimate. It's never been illegitimate, it's part of our system,'' he said, noting that coalitions have been formed in parliamentary democracies around the globe.

"But the right way to do it is to run your flag up, (opposing parties) run their flag up, you fight like crazy, you put your choices clearly to the Canadian people, they make their choices and then you play the cards that voters deal you.''

Ignatieff insisted he still believes the Liberals can win the next election. But should no party win a majority and the numbers make it feasible for a Liberal-led coalition to provide ``progressive, stable, compassionate, good government,'' Ignatieff said he'd ``make it work for Canadians.''

"I can make all kinds of electoral arrangements work and people should have confidence that I can. I'm a unifier, I'm not a divider.''
I think Ignatieff has it exactly right here, and it's as I've been arguing for some time now. Don't get bogged down in pre-election coalition speculation. Run hard to win in all 308 ridings. But don't rule out a post-election coalition or other arrangement. If we don't make the point now that it's a legitimate possibility then it won't be on the table down the road, and we're limiting our options. And he was absolutely correct to rule-out any sort of merger or pre-election arrangement, and also signal working with the BQ wasn't in the cards.

Now that Ignatieff has finally brought clarity to the official Liberal position, the question is where do we go from here? Where does this issue go from here? That will be interesting to see. My advice to Ignatieff would be, now that he's make his position clear, whenever asked just reference back to it and move on. "My position on this issue is clear. We'll play the hand Canadians deal us, and in the mean time we're working hard to earn their trust." Then talk about policy, and why we deserve a strong hand.

Of course, the Conservatives won't want to let it end at that. They see a coalition as the best shot right now at costing them power after the next election. That's why they're hell-bent on de-legitimizing it as an option, despite meeting recently with coalition leaders from England and Israel, the latter of which leads a "coalition of losers" by Stephen Harper's definition. There's no need for us to let the Conservatives shift the narrative though, no matter how much they'd rather scare-monger on coalitions instead of answering for their billion-dollar G20 boondoggle. Deprive it of oxygen by shifting the conversation to issues negative to the Conservatives, or to issues of policy positive for us.

While we can predict the Conservative go-forward, what will be more interesting is to see what comes from within the Liberal camp. For a great many Liberals, myself included, Ignatieff's interview was exactly what we were looking for and we're happy to move on. For some others, I suspect it won't be. Some legitimately believe other options -- be they merger or pre-election cooperation -- are necessary. I think they're a minority, but I respect their views. I think that's a debate that can happen amongst the grassroots, nothing wrong with that. Clearly though, it's not on the table officially.

For another group, I suspect it has been less about mergers or coalitions and more about taking advantage of the issue and current party and leader weakness for leadership positioning. For that group, I have no time. They're continuing the cycle of stupidity, they're hurting the party, and deluding themselves into thinking the ends justify the means when really it's just about personal interests. We have a leader, everyone gets at least one election, and they should get on board or get the hell out of the way. You're part of the problem, or you're part of the solution. Your choice.

There's work to be done, and we need everyone on board.

Other takes:

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Jack Layton and Darrel Dexter extended caption contest

NDP leader Jack Layton shares a laugh today with Nova Scotia's NDP Premier, Darrell Dexter today at the Nova Scotia NDP's annual convention. Now here's a photo that needs a caption. My extended contribution is below, feel free to leave yours in the comments...


Darrell: Jack, I know that you've been in a righteous lather over the HST in BC and Ontario. You're not going to give me a hard time for jacking-up the HST by two points, are you?

Jack: Of course not, Darrell, you're my boy! You're my boy! We'll just ignore the fact that Nova Scotia now has both an NDP government AND the highest HST in Canada, and hope no one notices our hypocrisy.

Darrell: Awesome, you da man, Jack! Say, by the way, are you going to let your caucus vote to kill the gun registry or what?

Jack: Gotta go my man. Solidarity!

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Pass the popcorn, Scott Reid is tilting at coalition windmills

Scott Reid – yes, that Scott Reid – is working himself up into a righteous lather on the op/ed pages of the Globe and Mail today on the coalition issue. Thing is, I’m not entirely clear just who he’s in such a dander about, because he goes off the rails in his very first sentence:

Inexact language and a shocking lack of constitution are lending momentum to the dangerously flawed idea of a formal coalition between the Liberals and NDP prior to the next election campaign.

And who, exactly is proposing a “formal coalition” happen “prior” to the next election? I would love to meet these straw men that Scott spends the next 800-odd words arguing against with such energy because, frankly, I’m not aware of many Liberals, certainly of any prominence or with any vigor, who are arguing for a pre-election coalition at all. A merger, pre-election coalition, joint candidates, none of that is seriously on the table.

Instead of picking an extreme to build-up and then argue against, Scott would have done better to address what the vast majority of the people, certainly on the Liberal side, currently raising the coalition issue are actually talking about: the possibility of a post-election coalition.

Speaking for myself, and indeed I think many other Liberals, all we’re asking is that a post-election coalition between the Liberals and the NDP remain on the table, if the math warrants it. That’s it. I agree with all of Scott’s reasons why pre-election coalitions and/or mergers are bad ideas, so he can save his typing. My issue is that the current Liberal leadership is explicitly ruling-out the possibility of a post-election coalition. That, by and large, is what this debate is about. Not preemptively limiting our options.

Rather than tilting at windmills, I’d rather Scott tackle the real issue.

I do agree with Scott on this, though:

There is an obvious and superior alternative: Do better. Improve the effort, sharpen the message and bring the fight. In the weeks and months to come, the ambition of the Liberal Party should be to defeat Stephen Harper.

That is true, but let me put a slightly different spin on it than Scott. The simple fact is there's a reason why there's suddenly all this coalition talk: we're weak. We're floundering in the polls, our leader is unpopular, we're not resonating with the public. People from the centre and left are desperate to be rid of Stephen Harper but they don't see how that can realistically happen right now, and they certainly don't see how we can do it solo. So they're grasping at a coalition as a means to the end.

The way to end coalition talk is to make it unnecessary. If the Liberal Party was seen as a viable alternative government that could legitimately defeat the Conservatives, if we were competitive with them in the polls and the chance of governing on our own wasn't seen as a Vegas long-shot, then these conversations wouldn't be happening.

If I saw some light at the end of the tunnel, or at least had the confidence we had a strategy that could get us there, I’d be happy to buckle-down as Scott suggests. But I don’t. Our party has suffered a steady erosion in support for over a decade that we haven’t yet come to grips yet, and Scott had a front-row seat.

It’s time for new ideas. Not tilting at windmills. You want to stop this coalition talk? The answer is simple: stop sucking.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

The flotilla, elusive peace, and the Israeli quagmire

I still have two more days’ worth of travel blogs to write and post from my trip to Israel last month, after which I’d planned to write a broader thoughts and lessons-learned piece. With the flotilla incident and related events this week though it seems prudent to move that last piece up, and so I’ve been pondering the incident and the wider picture thru the week.

Before traveling to the region my belief was that it’s a highly complicated situation with no easy answers, and that belief was certainly affirmed by the time I spent there. If there were easy answers, they’d have been thought of already. But there aren’t. And I think that, unless there’s some out of the box thinking or something happens to radically alter the current dynamics, nothing will change any time soon. Certainly not for the better, anyways.

My exposure to the Palestinian side was obviously very limited. We did speak to Israeli Arabs and a Palestinian journalist, and we did visit the West Bank, although Ramallah was a no-go, and obviously Gaza was off limits. So I won’t claim any great insight or perspective on their view – what I did learn was second-hand.

On the Israeli side though, I was struck by the near unanimity of the necessity and inevitability of a two-state solution. And I found a less prevalent but growing belief that Israel needs to get the heck out of Gaza. Many I spoke to felt strongly that allowing the status-quo to continue – blockade, occupation, poverty and suffering – besides being unacceptable on humanitarian grounds, will only weaken and hurt Israel. It likes to claim a certain moral authority as the only democratic government in the region, and it likes to boast of the Israeli Arabs in the Knesset, in the Supreme Court. But at the same time, democratic states don’t abide the suffering in Gaza, and by allowing it, no matter the reason, Israel fritters away that moral high ground.

I think a large percentage of Israelis would be happy to bring the troops home, open the borders, and leave the Palestinians to their own devices tomorrow – if it meant peace. The problem, though, is they’re quite certain it won’t. The reason for the blockade, the security wall/fence, the closed borders, is because Palestinian territory is being used as a base to launch terror attacks on Israel. Rockets are routinely fired into Israel from Gaza, including this week, smuggled in from Iran and elsewhere. Weapons are routinely smuggled in, and used to attack Israel. That’s why the blockade, and that’s why, even if they wanted to, they couldn’t just leave tomorrow. They just wouldn’t be safe.

The flotilla incident this week is like a microcosm of this entire conflict. However well-intentioned the activists were, and however in the minority those that thought it was a good idea to attack the Israeli soldiers with knifes and pipes were, this was all about sparking a confrontation and creating a conflict. If it was just about delivering aid, they’d have gone to an Israeli or Egyptian port. Make no mistake, they wanted the confrontation.

I think both sides acted stupidly. The activists had to know full well they’d likely face a military response. And Israel had to know rappelling troops armed with paintball guns down one-by-onto a ship of potential belligerents was stupid. It was a high-risk, low-reward play particularly knowing that, if anything goes wrong, you’ll take the brunt of negative public opinion. That’s just the way it is for Israel. They needed to find a better way of stopping those ships.

I’m not sure what the better ways might be though and that, like with the wider Israeli/Palestinian quagmire, is the problem. It’s not as easy as just ending the blockade, as the UN Secretary-General has called for. Yes, it’s a human rights issue. The right to live without rockets raining down on your home is a human rights issue too, but ending the blockade is just addressing the legitimate concerns of one side. And that’s not a viable solution at all.

As long as people keep searching for easy answers, and seeing the region in black and white, we’ll get nowhere. All that will happen is Israel will be increasingly isolated and disengaged, and will take a harder line. If peace is the goal, if two peoples living side-by-side in peace is the goal, this isn’t the way to go. Something needs to change.

Whether it’s on flotillas and the blockade or the wider issues, I think it’s incumbent on the international community to offer Israelis and Palestinians another choice. We need to change the dynamic. Before the next flotilla approaches Gaza looking to spark a confrontation, we need to give them both another choice. Another way. It almost seems to call for a peacekeeping scenario with 3rd-party border inspections, but I’m not sure you could find a party (the UN, NATO) that both sides would accept.

Long-term, there does seem to be hope in the West Bank, particularly compared to Hamas-controlled Gaza. It’s a long-term process but increasing economic prosperity, the thinking is, will lead to a lessening of tensions and allow for a lasting, just peace. Maybe H&M will indeed bring them together. It’s a hopeful thought. Certainly, poverty breeds desperation and anger, while prosperity breeds contentment.

But if that’s true, it only makes the Gaza situation all the more dangerous, as the blockade is just breeding more anger and resentment, worsening the security threat and feeding back on itself in a self-perpetuating cycle of violence and despair.

Canada, and much of the international community, has cut-off direct aid to Gaza since the election of the Hamas government. It’s easy to say that’s the principled move to make, but given that it has only worsened the situation on the ground and driven the public more toward Hamas, is this really a policy that will achieve our desired ends? I cheekily asked one of our diplomats if we can seriously try to run foreign policy on principle – unsurprisingly, he didn’t directly answer. As I’ve said though something, clearly, has to give, because the status-quo isn’t working for anyone.

As I said at the outset, I don’t know what the answers are. But I do know that it’s not easy, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

Note: Disagree with my take as violently as you’d like in the comments but do keep it clean and on the issues. Personal attacks won’t make it out of moderation.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

John Baird, buffoonery, and journalism

John Baird made a fool of himself and threw a temper-tantrum in a House of Commons committee today. CBC has the audio, you should give it a listen.


This evening, Maclean's honoured Baird as Parliamentarian of the Year. I hope their journalists at least wept a little.

Speaking of journalism, here's how Don Newman -- he was a journalist -- dealt with buffoons like John Baird:



Balanced journalism isn't letting one side spout its bullshit, and then letting the other side spout its bullshit, and patting yourself on the back for being so balanced. Journalism means when someone spouts bullshit, you say no, that's bullshit, so please don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining.

We seem to have forgotten that.

Instead of our media calling bullshit, they're now giving awards to the worst offenders.

But hey, Maclean's dead-tree redesign does look pretty though.

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You say you want a coalition...but do we need to hear the plan?

Much controversy and debate within and without the Liberal Party lately about coalitions with the NDP and/of the Green Party. And unfortunately, according to media reports (so take it with a grain of salt), it may be breaking-out along leadership lines. I don’t put too much stock in that.

There does, however, appear to be two emerging schools of thought. One that wants lots of debate and discussion to start happening now at the party grassroots, favoring options ranging from a post-election coalition to a pre-election coalition to, for a minority, an outright merger. And, on the other side, those that say coalition never ever, we promise.

Like a good Liberal, I suppose, I think the proper course lays somewhere in the middle. Coalition if necessary, but not necessarily coalition.

First, I don’t think an outright merger makes any sense. “Uniting the left” is nice in theory, but the practice would be very different. The merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance wasn’t as much “uniting the right” in the broad sense as it was re-uniting the party that was broken apart when the Reform Party tore a big chunk out of the old PCs. And even then, you saw many of the more progressive Conservative, both voters and MPs such as Scott Brison, come to the Liberals. It wasn’t a 1+1=2 scenario at all. A Liberal/NDP merger would be even more inefficient, as they really are very different parties with no common history. I think you’d see bleeding on the Liberal right to the Conservatives, and on the NDP left to possibly a splinter, more ideologically pure “Real NDP” party, so just how much of the two parties’ former support would be retained is debatable. It would be more like 1+1=1.5.

Second, I don’t think we (as an official party) should be spending much time pre-election discussing coalition scenarios. I think we should run candidates in every riding, and we should be running to win. As I’ve said before, the more we talk coalition before an election, the more Liberal votes bleed to the NDP. Both parties want to position themselves as the stop-Harper alternative, and while that’s a well we’ve gone to too many times with diminishing returns, we can’t afford to cede that ground entirely.

Third, the current OLO line, which seems to be flatly ruling-out a coalition, is a mistake. I understand the rationale – I outlined in above – but it’s still a tactical mistake. We may find ourselves post-election in a situation where a coalition arrangement would be advantageous. But the ONLY way it would be feasible is with public support and credibility. And if you’d just said coalition never during the campaign, that credibility is hard to achieve. Ruling it out now – particularly for the increasingly fleeting dream of a big solo election victory – is unnecessarily limiting your options in advance. I'd also add there's a reason the Conservatives want us to rule it out -- they see a coalition as the best chance of them losing power. Let's not play into their hands.

As I’ve said before, I think our line should be simple, and it’s really not that far from what either side are calling for. We should simply say: “We’re running to win in all 308 ridings and are asking Canadians to elect a Liberal government. Post-election we’ll look carefully at what the Canadian people have said, and move forward in the best interests of the country.” Period. Repeat ad-nasaeum. Run to win, rule nothing out. Don’t get drawn into coalition speculation, just pivot to our plans and platforms (assuming we have one by them), but don’t rule anything out.

Finally, on the possibility of a coalition post-election, those of us that aren’t party spokespeople are free to speculate, and so I will. I think much, obviously, will depend on the results.

First, I think the party with the most seats is in the driver’s seat and gets the first crack at either governing solo or seeking an arrangement. So if the Conservatives again get a minority, they get first shot. But if they fail or are brought down in the House within a short period of time (let’s say less than one year, and only if it’s with good reason) then I think the Governor-General should seek options within the House before dropping the writ.

Second, a coalition may not necessarily be necessary.

Let’s say the Liberals win the largest minority of seats. I think their negotiating power, and their actions, would depend on the size of that minority. If it’s a large one, they could (and should) just govern solo, seeking support in the House on a case-by-case basis. As long as they govern responsibly, in the public interest, and treat the House with respect, that’s entirely feasible.

With a smaller minority, a formal coalition may still not be necessary. A governing arrangement could be worked out, where support is secured for a defined period of time in exchange for a serious of legislative promises. Think the Pearson minorities of the 1960s.

With a small minority, the NDP’s bargaining position becomes stronger and the likelihood of a formal coalition, with shared cabinet and the like, becomes stronger. Which way of the three it goes will depend on the bargaining power of each of the parties, based on their post-election seat counts.

Third, no coalition agreement can include the Bloc Quebecois. As a sovereigntist party their presence, even at arms-length, is toxic and will make obtaining the public support and credibility crucial to any possible coalition impossible. While desirable, it’s not necessary for the LPC+NDP number to equal a majority for any coalition or arrangement to work. Even with a minority, it’s perfectly acceptable and feasible to govern seeking majority support on the House on a case-by-case basis, as the government does now.

Anyway, while it’s all academic now, ruling anything out in advance is just silly. And for those Liberals who shudder at the thought of cooperation, I say this: we wouldn’t even be having this conversation were we not so low in the polls and public support. So rather than trying to rule these scenarios out, the better course of action is working to make them unnecessary in the first place by strengthening our position.

Until that happens though, the debate will continue.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Introducing the MGS: Minute of G8/G20 Security

Forget using dollars as the unit of measurement for how much the Conservative government is spending, or cutting from its substantial deficit. That's living in the past, man. Or woman. The new unit of measurement should be the MGS, or Minute of G8/G20 security.


It's simple. Well, not really, but it's not too complicated. The G20 conference will last three days, and the Conservatives are spending $1 billion on security (nearly five times what they originally budgeted).

That's $333,333,333 and change per day.

$13,888,888 per hour.

Or, $231,481 per minute.

Therefore, 1MGS (one minute of G8/G20 security) is equivalent to $231,484 in Canadian currency. To find the MGS, divide the dollar amount by $231,484.

I think it's only appropriate that, going forward, any time the Conservatives announce spending cuts or shiny new spending programs for supposed policy priorities, the value be reported in MGS.

For example, today the Conservatives announced legislation that will take away old age pension benefits from federal prisoners incarcerated for a term of two or more years. The much ballyhooed move by the tough on crime Conservatives will save the taxpayers 8.6MGS annually. If the provinces step in, it would rise to 43MGS.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives seem unwilling, following the release of an Oliphant Inquiry report that was as scathing on Brian Mulroney as the very narrow mandate that Stephen Harper wrote allowed him to be, to demand that Mulroney be forced to pay back the 9MGS for the libels settlement he should have gotten, along with the 6.9MGS in legal fees. Plus interest. That's at least 16 minutes of G20 security that the government could recoup right there!

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