Sunday, October 26, 2008

The curse of Bob Rae has been lifted

A second read of Paul Wells’ election post-mortem singles out this detail of interest: all but re-elected in his institutionally-Liberal Toronto Centre riding, the mission of Today’s Bob Rae was to travel the country, presumably on the Liberal central campaign’s dime “to swing some NDP votes back to the Liberals.”

It would be both fair and exceedingly polite to describe Mr. Rae’s mission as a failure. Rather than depressing NDP numbers, the effect of Rae’s campaigning as a Liberal - or perhaps just his not having been a New Democrat - for the first federal election since his disastrous term as Ontario premier, revitalized his former party.

Born of the 2004 election, but carried faithfully ever since, Liberals from the party leadership all the way down to phone canvassers are wedded to the notion that voters who support Jack Layton are doing so solely out of some misplaced dissatisfaction with the Liberals. Like an angered lover, these voters can be wooed back with flowers, and a capable suitor promising to change.

But the NDP-held ridings Rae visited like Halifax all stayed comfortably with Jack Layton. And of the seats he visited in the Liberal desert of the west, like Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar and Burnaby-Douglas, Rae’s mission was to deny the NDP seats the seats it was targeting by handing them to the Conservatives, a perverse feat he accomplished in Saskatoon.

But where the Liberal strategy failed most interestingly is in Ontario.

New Democrats have been on a long climb back from the wreckage the party was left in after Rae’s four years as premier. It was impossible to be a New Democrat in Ontario without being admonished of the Rae government. More than Grant Devine Tories in Saskatchewan, or Glen Clark in BC, or Sponsorship Liberals in Quebec, Bob Rae weighed on the party like lead.

But after dogging the federal party through an incredible five federal elections in the province of Ontario, the hangover from Bob Rae finally broke in this election. Jack Layton’s NDP not only won as many Ontario seats as Ed Broadbent, he surpassed the 1984 highwater mark of 14 by winning more Ontario NDP MPs than ever before: 17 in total.

Futher evidence of the full-recovery of the New Democrats in Ontario are the results in Northern Ontario. If it could be said that any part of the province retained a nostalgia for the Rae years it was here. Yet the Layton New Democrats all but swept the region, keeping Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins and adding long-held Liberal seats like Sudbury, Algoma and the two Thunder Bay ridings.

Among the problems with the Liberals’ anti-NDP strategy were these two: first the false presumption that people who were in Jack Layton’s column were “dying to vote Liberal” and second that New Democrat supporters would be open to an opportunistic appeal from an opportunistic politician whose “curse” had dogged their party for over a decade.

Meanwhile, outside of the GTA, the Liberals won only two Ontario seats. The “curse,” it would appear, has found a new host.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Where was this editorial months ago?

… because now this just seems ironic.

“In the campaign's final days, Ms. May shamelessly shilled for the Liberals, pleading with voters to cast ballots for Mr. Dion's party if that would stop the Conservatives from being re-elected. She turned her party into a false front for a competitor, in other words. It was a disgraceful move, one that made fools of all those (such as this editorial board) who argued she should be admitted to the televised debates.”

The Red-Green deal was dirty politics from the word go. Everyone who called it that was right and everyone who said otherwise was either naive or in on it.

Credit goes to these valiant soldiers: Ed Broadbent who from the beginning called it the kind of politics that is as “old as the hills;” Green partisan David Chernushenko who predicted May would turn the party into a Liberal cheerleading squad; Paul Wells, who astutely called May “Dion’s auxiliary backup party leader”; and New Democrats who responded to May’s pleading to be put in the debates by saying “the Liberals already have one leader in the debates.”

This is not to say that all, or even many Greens were in on this. Watching Claude Genest, the deputy leader of the Green Party here, you can see how May and Dion’s endgame maneuvering left a lot of niave Greens flat-footed.

What’s lamentable is how much uncritical time and oxygen was given by the mainstream media to build May up as a independent political player given how obvious her strategic voting scheme was.

The Red-Green deal did not “squeeze” the New Democrats, as it was intended. And it did not even deliver voters to the Liberals. After months of scheming to fatten up the Green Party the Dion Liberals were still too weak and tired to catch it and eat it themselves. The Red-Green deal backfired because once Liberal supporters left their former affiliation, they didn’t want to go back, no matter how much Dion and May begged them to.

This may not be the last we ever hear of “strategic voting,” but it should be.

Political parties owe it to their supporters, candidates, donors and adherents to fight to be heard and to win as many votes as they can based on what they stand for – not for what another party stands for. That’s what Jack Layton and the New Democrats did in this campaign, and Canadians rewarded them for it with near historic support.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Your choice in this election (in 19 seconds)

Still wondering what your choice in this election is all about?

Jack Layton sums it up in a neat 19 seconds ...

On Tuesday vote for a leader you actually believe in, not for one you can only suffer by holding your nose.

Friday, October 10, 2008

May’s strategic voting ploy backfires

So civil war has broken out within the Green Party over Elizabeth May’s attempt to turn her party into an official branch plant of supporters for the Dion Liberals in the final days of the 2008 election.

In the Globe, David Chernushenko, Green Party stalwart and second place finisher to May in the 2006 leadership race has blasted May for telling potential Green voters to vote Liberal instead.

Every candidate deserves to be fairly considered for a vote, and I don't believe in strategic voting and I don't believe that any Green candidate, volunteer or donor should be sold out," Mr. Chernushenko said in a phone interview yesterday.

Asked if that is what he believes Ms. May has done, his answer was yes.

"If you are encouraging people to run and then telling the voter to go, however they feel, and not vote for your party, then, that's not full support for your candidate is it?" he asked.

Chernushenko is absolutely right. Every person who decides to support a party, give money to it, and run as candidates, deserve a leader of that party who fights for every vote and every seat. That’s how our system works.

What May has chosen to do by meeting with Liberal strategists and boosting the Liberal Party is in a word dishonest to voters and to those who joined the Green Party in good faith. In the long run, it breeds precisely the kind of cynicism Greens said they wanted to change.

The good news is, she has been caught out on it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do-over Dion cracks on television

Unless you have done it yourself – living five weeks on planes, busses and in hotels; being under constant exposure to a pack of 10 to 25 journalists who document your every move; having your every utterance scrutinized; and watching usually in bewilderment as good days turn bad – you can’t really understand what it’s like to run for prime minister.

It’s among the toughest jobs in order to earn Canada’s top job.

What makes it even tougher in 2008 is that the number one issue is the economy. Every one has an immediate stake in what happens next with the markets, interest rates, taxation and jobs – and they all want the politician in front of them to have the answers.

For Stephane Dion today on Halifax CTV, not having the answers on the number one issue wasn't entirely the problem … the problem was that he didn't have the question – not once, but three times ...

After weeks of repeating ad nauseum the same Liberal talking points about having a “plan to have a plan”, is it for real that Dion didn’t get the question put to him twice by the reporter and once by his own staff?

Who knows? But you can be sure of this: the only job tougher than running to be prime minister is being the prime minister.

Stephane Dion is just not the change we need.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Peter MacKay frets loss to NDP’s Lorefice

The last week is always the real test of a campaign. All-candidates debates are ancient history, the last piece of literature is out the door, and canvassing is ramping down so that the only real question left is whether or not you have the marks so that if everything goes right, you can win.

In Central Nova, Peter MacKay’s campaign manager has asked himself that question and answered “No. No we don’t” which is why he put out a panicked letter to mobilize supporters – which has now landed in the hands of the media.

The defence minister’s manager writes:

“Despite the national attention, it is my firm conviction (and has been since the Liberals chose not to run a candidate), that the Green Party and Elizabeth may pose no serious threat to Peter. The threat comes from the NDP…”

New Democrat Louise Lorefice is poised to be a giant killer and MacKay knows it.

If this surprises some, including the Ottawa/Toronto media, it shouldn’t. There is the entire layer of provincial politics at play in this riding. The Nova Scotia NDP have a very real stake in ensuring that Central Nova doesn’t stay Conservative. They have a real stake in ensuring that MacKay can’t be a factor in the next provincial election.

In Nova Scotia, the NDP are the official opposition in a minority government. Darrell Dexter, the popular NDP leader is expected to be premier following the next election. But in order to do this, he needs to win in rural ridings like those inside MacKay’s federal seat. That’s why they are putting resources into the fight.

The NDP have a better shot at Central Nova. All they need is less than 40% of the now homeless Liberal vote to come to Lorefice and MacKay will be back to crouching in pasture cuddling his neighbour’s dog full-time! At best, the ill-conceived deal to have Liberals not run against May in Central Nova was only worth only 26% of the vote (coincidentally about the same that May eked out in the London North Centre by-election).

That’s why Dexter’s phone-canvassers and organizers are on the ground to ensure the win and why MacKay’s campaign manager is looking a bit ashen today.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Dion paradox: Attacking Layton by defending Harper on the economy

As the 2008 election nears its final week, Jack Layton is in uncharted territory for New Democrats: gaining support from a strong showing in the debate; holding huge energetic rallies targeted at ridings New Democrats think they can win; watching Harper’s party and leadership numbers slip below their 2006 levels; and tied with the Dion Liberals in popular support.

It’s that last point that has Liberals fretting and increasing their attacks on Layton from ridings like Churchill that Liberals are now fighting to save.

What’s most baffling are the barbs being thrown by Dion at Layton. When Layton talks about Dion, he points to the Liberal record of having kept Harper in power by abstaining on confidence votes for most of the last year. If Dion had had the courage of his convictions, Harper would have been gone long ago, along with his agenda for immigration, the economy and the environment. The differentiation is obvious: Layton is different from Harper because he would oppose him, unlike Dion.

For his part, Dion’s attacks on Layton are to say Layton’s pledge to eliminate Harper’s planned $50 billion in corporate tax cuts is a “job killer”. The differentiation is far less clear: Dion would oppose Layton’s attempt to reverse Harper’s economic policies -- thereby opposing Harper, how?.

If Dion is trying to appeal to the cente-left who like Layton’s strong leadership for the “kitchen table,” he needs a wedge. Inexplicably, the one he has chosen is to rush to the defence of Harper’s corporate tax cuts, thereby demonstrating he’s no different than the PM.