Friday, November 28, 2008

Serious times call for serious people

The coming days will forever cast the Conservatives’ November 2008 Economic and Fiscal Update as either the worst political miscalculation in Canadian politics in thirty years, or a forgettable contretemps.

The events unfolding right now recommend the former. By media accounts so far, Jack Layton moved with lightning speed yesterday reaching out to emissaries like Ed Broadbent to start the process of building what may be a historic change in government.

However, if the latter turns out to be the case, it will almost surely be because Stephen Harper summons his vaunted skills as a political chess player to once more deke-out his opponents. Yet one of the premier admirers of those skills is presently gob-smacked that the Economic Statement exposed Harper as politically rudderless:

Paul Wells' indictment is brutal:

“So, drawing his inspiration from Jo Moore, the Downing Street spin doctor who thought 9/11 would be a “very good day” to get some embarrassing news releases out, Harper decided an economic crisis would be an excellent cover to use for a little political kneecapping. What could be more clever? That’ll show them he’s a serious guy.

So the real outrage of yesterday’s economic “update” is not that it seeks to impose on most parliamentarians a change to funding rules that most of them would never ordinarily accept; it’s that it accomplishes nothing else. It’s that in the most dangerous economic times Canada has faced in 20 years if not far longer, this prime minister can’t wipe the smirk off his face and grow up a little."

It may be too late for Harper and his backroom chums to stash their toys and start behaving like the sober managers of a G8 economy.

Even if the Conservative brain-trust finally decode that they underestimated the importance of a real and dramatic stimulus to save jobs, and that this was no time for juvenile and petty changes to $27 million worth of political funding, it will almost certainly be too late.

The opposition parties, like a slumbering bear have woken in anger and are now aware of the shiny potential of the moment in front of them. What comes next for Layton and the other opposition MPs will be daunting, but they will have already shown more maturity in the face of a serious economic challenge than any of Harper’s playmates.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In defence of $85 million a year wasted

Anyone still resisting the now conventional view that the Liberal Party is without even a tangential relationship with the Canadian political zeitgeist, witness Exhibit A.

At a time when disengagement with our political institutions is at an all time low;
When Canadians are worried about their own job security;
And when a whiff of excess in public spending lights up talk radio call lines and exhausts gallons of ink in opinion pages …

This is the time Canada’s Natural Groveling Party has decided to waste precious bandwidth on the spectacular hope that Canadians could be convinced to see this undemocratic, unelected, unaccountable blot as something other than what it is.

In what other-worldy Tim Hortons can Canadians be heard resolving a problem by declaring “I’m going to call my Senator!” When was the last time anyone “friended” a Senator on Facebook? When has anyone other than Liberal and Tory political hacks seen the Senate as something other than an $85 million-a-year drain on the public purse and snoring-punctuated white-noise in our country’s debates?

It doesn’t happen. But Liberal MPs with no sense of where to go next are convinced that Canadians are crying out to hear more from the 57 Liberal Senators who collect $130,400 while sitting on corporate boards and charging private clients for more hours than there are in a day.

If this website is any indication, today's Liberal Party has figured out what it stands for:

Oh, and isn’t it uncanny how much the Liberal Senate site resembles this, far more credible Senate tribute site?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oh, did you need that stimulus now?

It’s clearer now than ever that Jack Layton was entirely right not to support Harper's throne speech over the Conservatives asleep-at-the-switch response to the economic downturn.

The old adage about the mechanic’s car being in the worst state of repair rings true when you look at how poorly the federal government is meeting the challenge of reassuring markets and stimulating the economy with economist Stephen Harper at the helm.
Exactly. Where is the sense of urgency?

In the US, hundreds of billions have been announced in bail outs and stimulus – with another $600 billion today. The Labour government in the UK announced $39 billion in measures yesterday. Yet in Canada, the finance minister wakes from his mid afternoon nap to tell a business audience that they shouldn’t expect a dime in stimulus in Thursday’s economic statement!

As though to demonstrate that he may have retained something he read in the Report on Business that morning, Flaherty adds that he might be open to taking the bold step of moving the federal budget a few days earlier in the spring … you know, if things get bad. Because a 40 percent drop in stock market and predictions of unemployment at 7.5 percent aren’t signs of “bad” at all.

The question is where precisely is the presumed economic credibility of the Harper Conservatives right now? It’s no where to be seen. Heck, the Tories can’t even see where consumers are getting gouged. (see the fourth last paragraph in Wheery’s blog here)

Layton and the New Democrats appear the only ones in Ottawa who get the urgency for a plan to get us to the other side of this mess.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The periodic table of parliamentarians

So this is pretty neat.

Tip of the hat to you, Flash animators at Canadian Press.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tone deaf

More than the responses of the chief economists, or the central bankers, or even those of the heads of governments, the interesting thing to watch in this economic crisis has been the responses of the other political players.

In the face of almost unprecedented economic uncertainty, collapsing credit markets, deepening job loses, and calls for government intervention of a magnitude to make even Keynes blush, the high dudgeon of political gamesmanship is passé. The name-calling, smear jobs, and histrionics played out for the camera that have been the currency of politics-as-usual appear as decadent as a diamond-encrusted chihuahua collar in this economic climate.

For opposition politicians and backbenchers, politics is now all about tone – the artful marking of differentiation in a way befitting the reality that Canadians are losing their jobs, retirement savings, investments and homes.

In the US, they’ve figured this out. Republicans - also humbled by this month’s drubbing at the polls – have mostly embraced the new tone, talking about helping the president-elect chart a course for recovery.

Here in Canada, Jack Layton got the tone just right. In interviews yesterday the New Democrat leader said he’s ready to take a cooperative approach with all parties to work on the economy, and urged the Prime Minister to put aside his “my way or the highway” tack of the past: "That's what we've heard for the last couple of years. I don't think Canadians liked it very much. I don't think it's what we need in a time of economic crisis."

Then there are the Liberals. In the earliest stages of their latest leadership race, they have already shown they are deaf to the new tone of politics. Both Michael Ignatieff and Today’s Bob Rae turned their first debate into an opportunity to snipe at each other over how debates should even be held. A party trying to understand why so few Canadians are listening to them can’t even be civil about how they will talk to one another.

Ordinary people worried about their pay cheques and their homes won’t have to strain much over the din of self-absorbed leadership contestants to know that the Liberal Party is still more concerned about their own problems than anyone else’s.

Monday, November 10, 2008


On the very same day its former president warns that the Liberal Party is virtually irrelevant to the majority of Canadians, the Liberal Party sets the price of entry to its leadership contest at an unbelievable $90,000.

Eighty percent higher than it was for the contest that elected Stephane Dion two years ago, the price to get a word in edgewise in the decades old grudge match between Michael Ignatieff and Today's Bob Rae is what your financial advisor might call "dangerously overvalued."

Which brings us back to Stephen LeDrew's point. The affect of the 80% increase is to keep the Hedy Frys and Martha Hall Findlays -- or even people who, God forbid, aren't one of the 77 remaining Liberal MPs -- off the stage.

Despite having called more leadership contests in the past four years than the Conservatives, Bloc and New Democrats combined, the Liberal Party is still struggling to renew itself for 2008. In terms of its fundraising, its membership and its policies, the Liberal machine is still humming the Macarena and fretting that its Tamagotchi may have died overnight.

Guaranteeing that the coming Liberal leadership race is a do-over of debates begun 40 years ago on the campus of the University of Toronto between two head-strong self-aggrandizers is sure to help the party through the relevance problem LeDrew has identified.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

McGuinty Liberals credit only Layton’s NDP to help Ontario

Ontario it is said, is the one region of the country that dare not speak its name to the federal government. The symbolic cornerstone of the country and for so long the locus of wealth and population, Ontario has rarely if ever been credible as an aggrieved party in Confederation.

But things are different today. Ontario’s weakening manufacturing sector has dubiously dragged the province into “have not” status under equalization.

So Dwight Duncan is looking for allies. Ontario’s troubles should be on the agenda in Ottawa, he says. Yet he’s not finding help from the governing Conservatives with 51 Ontario MPs, or even the Liberals with 38 MPs, almost exclusively in the GTA.

No, Ontario’s Liberal finance minister credits only Jack Layton’s New Democrats for standing up for Ontario’s manufacturing sector:

"I see a federal Parliament that's ignoring Ontario. I see a federal Parliament that has not addressed the real scenario here in Ontario. I see a federal government that does not get the most important industry."

Praising federal NDP Leader Jack Layton for "having the guts to stand up and tell it like it is," Duncan added he expects more from Liberal and Tory MPs.

Even before the election, Layton has shown leadership on the manufacturing crisis. A New Democratic government would be taking action right now by investing in green technology and infrastructure and helping the transition of the auto sector. Yet the governing Conservatives and official opposition Liberals are invisible on this crisis in the estimation of the Ontario Liberal government.

It’s surely among the reasons the province rewarded Layton with the largest Ontario caucus in the party’s history.