Friday, November 30, 2007

A year later: Liberal leaders old and new struggle to stand for what they say

The eve of the first anniversary of their leadership contest finds Liberal leaders old and new in the news.

1) Remember when Paul Martin said he was dedicating the rest of his life to aboriginal issues? Looks like he got side-tracked. Either that, or he figures the solution to the wrenching poverty worsened by 13 years of budget cuts followed by “the biggest tax cuts in Canadian history” is to give First Nations a cut rate on green fees.

2) Then there’s Dion. Despite being the least symbolic of change among the front pack, this time last year he was a shiny new hero declaring “The most exciting race in the history of our party is over. Let's get ready for the election!”

And how’s that coming along? Today, Liberals are so spectacularly unready for the election that they have become Stephen Harper’s most dependable ally, rendering hollow all of their criticisms of the government.

As a result, Liberals are damning their leader for his desperate strategy of propping up Harper by abstaining – on a throne speech that killed Kyoto in Canada, a budget and even for support for manufacturing jobs!

Replete with resignations, missteps, defeats, backroom deals, internecine warfare, defections, flip-flops, abstentions, and repudiations, it’s been a rough first year for Dion. If Liberals have their way, it may be his last.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Harper’s mentor takes a beating from Australia’s Jack Layton

It’s no secret that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are admirers of John Howard’s right-wing Government in Australia. Harper and Howard even invited one another to address their respective parliaments in the last two years.

But there’s been more going on than just protocol and pleasantries. Conservative strategists have been enthusiastic students of Howard’s style and strategies. In his book about the Conservative victory in 2006, Paul Wells describes how one of Harper’s leading strategists poured over the Australian campaign:

“[Patrick] Muttart’s last election precedent was the one least known to Canadian voters and, perhaps, most useful as a model for the Conservatives: the 1996 victory of Australia’s conservative leaning coalition under John Howard, over Paul Keating’s Labour Party.”

Given that, New Democrats can be forgiven for delighting in the walloping that the Howard government has taken from the NDP’s sister Labor Party in today’s election down under.

In substance, Jack Layton and Labor’s Kevin Rudd have more than the Harper-Howard axis in common. Both are principled pragmatists, who “get” the market but not uncritically. Witness Rudd’s attack on WorkChoices and Layton’s push for a $10 standard minimum wage. Both have also been relentless and credible campaigners on climate change and the environment.

The mind reels to consider the lessons a sullen Harper and the gang must be jotting in their notebooks watching Howard’s debacle unfold and their mentor losing his own seat.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Layton is Best-Rated Opposition Leader in Canada

Jack Layton is the best-rated opposition leader in Canada, according to pollster Angus Reid today.

Over a third of Canadians think that Layton has what it takes to be prime minister -- 11 percent more than Liberal leader Stephane Dion.

(Clearly in a charitable mood, Reid asked about the seat-less Liberal spokesperson who runs the Green Party and found that only 14 percent wouldn't be apoplectic at the thought of her inside 24 Sussex).

Also interesting is the inverse figure. Angus Reid found that when Canadians were asked who they wouldn’t want to see running the country, Layton had the lowest disapproval, while a whopping 61 percent disagreed with the statement that Dion would make a good prime minister.

So when Liberals run the next campaign parroting their tired line that “Only one of two party leaders can be Prime Minister” they may be surprised when Canadians agree and choose Jack Layton over Stephen Harper.

Monday, November 19, 2007

NDP building momentum to fight Harper, while Liberal MPs look after their own jobs

A tale of two opposition parties:

The Effective Opposition: In Saskatchewan, where Harper took almost every seat in 2006, the NDP is aggressively building an organization to take him on, which could include former cabinet ministers Lon Borgerson, and Graham Addley.

One of Layton’s top advisors also dropped the tempting hint that Jack is "likely to reach out to" former NDP premier Lorne Calvert as well.

The Artificial Opposition: The Dion Liberals are so scared of what voters might do to them that they are continuing to roll over to keep Harper in office -- this time choosing to betray workers and communities in the beleaguered forestry and manufacturing sectors.

How much longer will Canadians tolerate Liberal MPs implementing Harper’s agenda for him?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Liberals tainted by Schreiber cash

A stunning revelation came in question period today showing that when it comes to the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, the Liberals are as dirty, if not dirtier than the Conservatives.

First off, Liberal MP Sue Barnes suggested that political contributions may be influcing the investigation:

Sue Barnes (London West, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, Canadians deserve to have all the facts with regard to the Schreiber affair. If anyone involved in the Schreiber file has made contributions to the Prime Minister's 2002 leadership campaign, Canadians deserve to know, but the Prime Minister never revealed all his donors.

Will the Prime Minister guarantee that the public inquiry will examine all donations made by Mr. Schreiber to the Conservative Party, its predecessor parties, and all of the numerous leadership campaigns of those parties?

A fair question – albeit, it turns out, a hypocritical one. Because moments later the NDP’s ethics critic Pat Martin revealed the latest Liberal hypocrisy: the Liberal Party has taken thousands of dollars in contributions from Schreiber:

Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP): Mr. Speaker, if it is likely that Karlheinz Schreiber was greasing the wheels of commerce by lining the pockets of Tories, is it not just as likely he was greasing some Liberal wheels as well?

Why else would Marc Lalonde join Elmer MacKay in putting up a million dollars in bail for Karlheinz Schreiber? Why did Schreiber's Bear Head Industries donate $10,000 to the Liberals in 1993?

Sure enough, the Liberals took a sizable contribution from Bear Head Industries - of which Schreiber was the lone director - before starting their investigation of Mulroney.

It is entirely valid to ask whether Schreiber’s possible contributions to the Conservatives bias their investigation into the matter. But it is now crucial to know whether Schreiber’s actual contributions to the Liberal Party influenced their botched 1995 investigation which led to the increasingly suspect $2 million payout to Mulroney.

Seems Liberals will have to answer that question at the inquiry as well.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Dion supporters "running out of excuses"

If you are Stephen Harper, you must wake every morning grateful for two things: Peter MacKay’s keen sense of opportunism and Stephane Dion.

Consider just the latest: When Harper signaled he would be ending Canadian involvement in Kyoto and giving $14 billion in tax cuts to banks and oil companies, Dion not only ordered his MPs to roll over, he threatened to punish any MP who wanted to oppose Harper.

In his latest column, Montreal radio host Tommy Schnurmacher describes the mood of Liberals in Dion’s hometown:

“Even Dion’s fans within the party — and they are few and far between — are at a loss for what to do or what to say. They are running out of excuses. Whenever they talk about their leader, they avert their eyes or shift from one foot to another. They know they made a whopping mistake . . . One Liberal hack, still recovering from Thomas Mulcair’s victory in Outremont, says that he is concerned that the NDP might become the Official Opposition.”

Hate to break it to Schnurmacher’s Liberal source, but by every measure except Stornaway, the NDP is already the official opposition in Ottawa.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

NDP scores victory: Senate abolition takes a leap forward

Liberal MPs should take note, this is what effective opposition looks like.

Despite what Stephane Dion might tell Liberal MPs, opposition parties are supposed get their ideas on the agenda, not roll over and have the government get its way like Liberals have of late

The unelected, unaccountable Senate is at best a money wasting anachronism, and at worst a national and international embarrassment for Canada.

Its abolition is a longstanding policy of the NDP, going back to the origins of the party in the CCF. Frustrated by the slow pace of his reforms, Harper appears to have wisely decided that it's an idea whose day has come.

Lately to distract from their absent opposition to Harper, Liberal MPs have derided the NDP as being “holier than thou,” the implication being that NDP principles are just as optional as Liberal ones.

But the NDP position on the Senate is an example of how the NDP has stood steadfast on its principles, despite the sometimes personal cost of doing so.

Over the years, Liberal and Conservative prime ministers have dangled the temptation of a patronage-for-life Senate gig in front of NDP MPs and provincial politicians. All would have been qualified for the job. And all would have had greater security, income, pensions and perks had they taken it. But every New Democrat remained loyal to their party and principles and turned it down flat.

Courageously sticking to principle has come at great cost: leaving public life for potential obscurity, and even resulting in the NDP having to distance itself from a respected aboriginal activist and educator who today sits as an unrecognized New Democrat in the Senate.

It shows how hollow the Liberals’ mockery really is.

The real question is to the 94 remaining Liberal MPs: will they finally join the rest of us in the 21st Century and support abolishing the Senate, or are they just too wedded to the $80 million patronage pork-house?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

NDP’s effective opposition to fight Harper with biggest campaign ever

Jack Layton’s NDP are showing growing momentum in the fight against Harper.

Layton’s decisive leadership has made his party the most effective opposition to Harper – extracting concessions from the government, just like they did from the Martin minority government, while offering principled opposition to Harper. Reporter Rob Russo provided some evidence of the NDP’s increased stature, from the parliamentary press gallery’s perspective on CBC’s “Politics” on Friday:

“We have a much more vigorous NDP this last week -- the last couple of weeks actually. They did some very smart things the week before this one in terms of bargaining with the government on some speedy passage of legislation the government wanted through. They said ‘sure we'll do that if you give us the $100 million on social spending that was supposed to be spent a couple of budgets ago’ and they won that. And they're showing that they can be effective in opposition and you heard it over and over again this week: ‘These guys rolled over. We're going to be scoring points for you’.”

Secondly, the party reported yet another successful third quarter of fundraising. In line with this, Layton announced this weekend that the NDP plans to fight Harper with its biggest campaign ever – up to the maximum that parties can spend in an election. So, for the first time in history, the NDP will be matching Harper dollar for dollar, leaflet for leaflet, and ad for ad.

This announcement came as the NDP is in Winnipeg meeting with officials from Gary Doer’s very popular third term government.

The message of all this is tough to miss: both inside and outside the Commons, the NDP is out to become Stephen Harper’s greatest threat.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

You blew it, Flaherty

Earlier this week, Harper’s finance minister Jim Flaherty announced over $14.1 billion in tax cuts to big corporations.

Punctuated by seemingly involuntary spasms of giddiness, Flaherty boasted that he was cutting corproate taxes “deeper and much faster than ever contemplated before”. The result would be a “substantial shot of adrenalin for all Canadian businesses.”

“Hallelujah!” cried the usual Bay Street suspects.

Then, along comes Chrysler today to spoil all the fun by announcing thousands of layoffs in Ontario (not to mention jobs now under threat at their Canadian suppliers). What part of “substantial shot of adrenalin” didn’t Chrysler understand?

But that's what Chrysler's announcement shows: Flaherty’s obsession with “deeper and much faster” business tax cuts is all ideology, and zero practicality.

Instead of choosing broad-based tax cuts for corporations, which helps the profitable banks and oil sector, while doing nothing for companies that are actually hurting like our manufacturing sector, Flaherty could have stolen Jack Layton’s green car strategy to help the auto sector retool for greener cars and give consumers an incentive in the form of a GST cut to buy a more efficient car. Good business. Good ecology.

PS: Don’t tell Stephane Dion that though. After all, the corproate tax cuts were his idea.