Thursday, April 30, 2009

How far will Ignatieff take the Liberals into Harper's camp?

Maybe it was because his 2006 leadership bid was so mired in blunders the point was lost.

Maybe it’s because short circuiting the most recent leadership race avoided any further scrutiny.

Or maybe it’s because following the 2008 disaster, federal Liberals are just happy to have someone else lead them – and it hardly matters who.

But hidden beneath his rhetoric, Michael Ignatieff has already moved his party as close to the Conservaitve Party as any leader has in two decades.

That’s the point Bob Hepburn makes in his column in today’s Toronto Star.

"Since January, when he was anointed interim leader by the party's backroom boys and its sitting MPs and senators, Ignatieff has moved quickly to erase much of the left-leaning social agenda pursued by his predecessors, Stéphane Dion and Paul Martin.

He killed any idea of a coalition with the New Democrats, which Dion backed. He isolated Liberal MPs clearly identified with the left wing of the party, notably Justin Trudeau and Gerard Kennedy. He ditched Dion's "Green Shift" carbon tax plan.

To win support in western Canada, he has championed the development of Alberta's oil sands, which worries environmentalists concerned with massive pollution associated with the projects.

And he is aligned almost perfectly with Harper in agreeing to end Canada's military role in Afghanistan in 2011, in their visions of Quebec and free trade, and in their unqualified support of Israel.

… In fact, since Ignatieff became leader, the Liberals have yet to vote against the Conservatives on any issue of significance other than a tepid effort by some Tory MPs to kill off the long-gun registry."

Hepburn’s is a good point. If either Harper or Ignatieff had been in the Prime Minister’s office in March 2003, Canadian troops would have been fighting in Iraq. How unsettling is that to Chretien Liberals?

As they gather in Vancouver, do Liberals really know what they are doing? Do they actually think Canadians will want to replace one right wing prime minister with another?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The imaginary "crisis" of the New Democrats

Satire, they say, is best when it contains a little bit of truth.

Knowing this, it’s easy to conclude that Chantal Hebert’s column is not satire. Because her second in a series in the Toronto Star on the thesis “the NDP is down in the polls and Layton needs to go” is completely without a morsel of truth.

Her column is built on the fact-vacant allegation that "Current polls do suggest that [New Democrats are] facing diminishing returns in the next election."


Presuming that polls DO matter to decisions parties make this far in advance of an election, the fact that the NDP is polling at or near the margin of error of the 2008 election in the middle of a love-in for Michael Ignatieff is no small feat.

Even in Hebert’s home province, the NDP is today holding the 12 percent it got in Quebec six months ago – effectively disproving her claim that “Outremont’s Thomas Mulcair might not even have a seat in parliament after the next election.”

But even if you took Hebert’s wild argument at face value: do you dump a popular leader who brought the NDP from 13 seats to its second highest result in history on the basis of a poll? That’s ridiculous. If polls were all that mattered, we would be marking the 100th day of President Hillary Clinton’s administration today.

Hebert mentions NDP strategist Brian Topp, yet she studiously avoids two points he made in a recent Globe and Mail discussion, 1) New Democrats don’t have the culture of “playing leadership politics” the same as the old line parties and 2) Layton’s leadership is on par with past NDP leaders:

The federal NDP doesn't play leadership politics the way the Liberals and Tories do. We debate things, including the leadership, but don't generally divide into suicidal factions over leadership issues.

Second thing worth saying: Jack Layton has only been federal leader for six years. In that brief time he has taken our caucus from 13 to 37 members, added 1.5 million votes to our column, and has been working very effectively in Parliament in the best traditions of his predecessors. It's true that he didn't get to the Cabinet table (this time) - but he did force a Conservative government to do a 180-degree turn on its what-me-worry policy towards the economic crisis, and to adopt stimulus measures it fundamentally rejected only weeks before. Not bad for the first few weeks of a new Parliament.

The most cynical bit in all of this is that the column doesn't provide anyone, anywhere calling for a change of leadership except for “comments” to a previous column from people she describes as “some New Democrats”.

But only a few weeks ago, Peter Stoffer, among the most independent-minded MPs in the NDP caucus, and one who has not always seen eye-to-eye with Layton gave an unequivocal endorsement of his leader and flatly refuted claims of any displeasure in the grassroots:

"To say that we're looking for a new leader is simply false, I haven't heard that on the ground, I haven't heard that in our caucus, I haven't heard that even privately from people who speak to me on a regular basis. I haven't heard that at all. So it's simply not on."

In sum, the “NDP is down in the polls and Layton needs to go” thesis is the stuff of a Red Bull-fueled imagination. Almost no one is discussing leadership change in party that just achieved its second best result in history. What is out there is an erroneous assumption that there's “panic” based on polls that are not a great deal different from the historic result of the last election.

So what is this really about? Without being out right cynical, who really knows?

But like the klutz who shoves you from behind and then points to the fellow next to him, the only thing that columns like this are trying to do is create a problem where none actually exists.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Factdown!: Poll shows Iggy popped

The Liberal Party message box on offer right now is that Michael Ignatieff and the Canadian people are enjoying an exciting, fireworksy new romance that’s certain to bloom into an embarrassingly steamy make-out session at the ballot box.

The corollary of this message is that the new Liberal leader’s limitless popularity is hurting the New Democratic Party and forcing them into a state of panic. The media, bored of economic stories and anxious to return to covering horseracing are happy to parrot the tired Liberal lines.

The only thing lacking in this twaddle is any actual ounce of reality.

By way of illustration, the Harris Decima poll that came out this week demonstrates two facts that fly in the face of the Liberal message:

1) Support for the Ignatieff Liberals has been on a steady DOWNWARD trend since late March; and
2) Support for Jack Layton's New Democrats has been GROWING since the middle of last month.

As for the corollary that a new Liberal leader foretells of an inevitable end of days for New Democrats, let's review, shall we ...

... The Paul Martin juggernaut was poised to win 290 seats – wiping the NDP clean off the electoral map in the process. Actual result: NDP growth / Liberal decline.

... Stephane Dion was going to consume all the political oxygen on the left, deny Jack Layton his well earned credibility on the environment and reduce the party to a rump. Actual result: NDP growth / worst Liberal result in history.

... Now there’s Ignatieff.

For most Canadians – after five leaders of the Liberal Party in six years - this whole melodrama is getting a bit predictable.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Bloc Quebecois’ desperate tweet for help.

Gilles Duceppe is just fresh out of ideas.

Moments ago, the Bloc Quebecois leader Twitter'ed to shrug: « En préparation pour la période de questions en Chambre cet après-midi. Vous avez des suggestions? »

That’s right. The Bloc leader, with 48 MPs, and a research office worth $1.6 million in staff salaries, in the midst of a recession, with 350,000 unemployed in Quebec, can’t come up with a single idea of his own.

Even Bloc MPs are now having trouble hiding that they just haven't a clue what they are supposed to be doing in Ottawa.

Good timing, Paul Crête.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

True Ignatieff Love: By the numbers

Anyone contemplating rushing out to buy Michael Ignatieff’s book in hope of finding exciting, new-ish policy ideas from the new-ish Liberal leader is bound to be disappointed.

You might think a man wanting to be thought of as a prime minister-in-waiting would use his new book to promote his vision for the country he only returned to three years ago. You might think the halted Liberal leadership contest would require that. But aside from a few mentions of interprovincial trade and an east-west power grid, Ignatieff‘s book offers nothing on the scale of Jack Layton’s 2006 book Speaking out Louder -- which some considered excessively policy prescriptive.

Those who have bothered to sift through Professor Ignatieff's latest tome have offered this snap shot to give a real sense of what the 211 pages of True Patriot Love are really all about:

Total mentions of …

Issues facing Canadians
Jobs = 0
Pensions = 0
Canada Pension Plan = 1
Employment = 0
Employment insurance = 0
Climate change = 0
Environment = 0

Recent History of the Liberal Party
Bob Rae = 0
Jean Chretien = 0
Paul Martin = 0
Stéphane Dion = 0
Sponsorship = 0
Carbon tax = 0

Ignatieff and his family
The Grants (George Monro, William Lawson, etc.) = 284
His wife “Zsuzsanna” = 4
His brother “Andrew” (whose estranged relationship with Ignatieff was excruciatingly documented by Michael Valpy) = 1
Personal pronoun “I” = 164

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Democrats get all MPs' voting records on line

Anyone who has ever tried to navigate the incomprehensible procedural kaleidoscope that is the House of Commons Journals to find out how your MP, or a party voted on an issue in the House has a reason to thank the New Democrats and their house leader Libby Davies.

As Alexander Panetta reports here:

“MP Libby Davies sent House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken a letter bemoaning the lack of transparency in Parliament.

She noted that Americans could, for instance, see that Barack Obama missed 37.4 per cent of votes in the U.S. Senate, and voted in line with the Democrats 96.7 per cent of the time.

"Each of us finds signs of growing voter disengagement – like declining turnout in elections – worrisome," Davies wrote to Milliken in March 2008.

"And each of us desire to find ways of opening the House and its deliberations to greater public interest and knowledge. . . Compiling and presenting these records on the public Internet site is a rather modest, yet at the same time critically important, step in modernizing the relationship between Canadians and their members of Parliament."

Commons technical staff began working on the design, and the chamber's board of internal economy agreed at a meeting last month to launch the feature.

Starting next week, the website will also include a search engine that allows people to see how MPs have voted since October 2004.”

Even internet rights guru Michael Geist is celebrating Davies' and the NDP's accomplishment too.

Now, you can already hear murmurs from the cynics saying “MPs always vote the party line anyway”. But is that even true? Maybe. Maybe not. We kinda rely on the media and other political parties to tell us, don’t we?

The point is this: unlike in the US, it’s been almost impossible for citizens - and citizen journalists - to figure out which MPs have voting for, or against what issues for ourselves. Until now, that is.

Sometimes the most practical advancements in accountability don’t look like this -- they look more like this.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ignatieff concedes next election to the Conservatives ... again.

With 1,279 days until polls close in the next federal election, the BaDH Decision Desk can already predict that the Ignatieff Liberals will not form a majority or minority government.

The analytical and empirical basis for how such an early prediction can be made is right here.

It will be recalled that the Liberals had their worst showing in history in the 2008 election in part because of a leader who failed to connect with ordinary people, but more so because of an ill-defined plan to raise taxes that met with hostility at doorsteps across the land. A plan concocted by none other than Michael Ignatieff.

So it’s absolutely baffling to see the seeds of a repeat performance being sewn by the exact same man who saddled Liberals with the unpopular carbon tax from under which they are still trying to escape.

Right now, Harper and the gang are desperate to do two things: first: define Ignatieff as haughty intellectual with zero practical government experience and second: talk about anything other than how the economy is worsening under their watch.

Staggeringly, Ignatieff’s incomprehensible slip-up hands them a way to do both. Wait for the Conservatives' gigantic war chest to start being funneled into an unending stream of ads about how the Ignatieff Liberals will raise personal taxes – perhaps with a carbon tax, perhaps with an increase in the GST hike, or perhaps with a 2000% income tax increase! (only Iggy knows for sure!?)

That history appears to be repeating itself will give Liberal supporters more cause for considering dropping Professor Ignatieff’s first year Canadian politics course and going to a more reliable opposition with Jack Layton.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Liberals' naked partisanship backfires

The Nova Scotia election hasn't even been called and already the third-place Liberals are scrambling to fire a campaign worker and apologize to a New Democrat candidate over this.

They say the most painful campaign injuries are always the self-inflicted ones.

Not sure what they say about campaign injuries before the campaign even starts though.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A good strategy if the ballot question in 2012 is "Who likes Brian Mulroney more?"

So Michael Ignatieff thinks the way to hurt Stephen Harper is to blow kisses at a Conservative politician who left office with an approval rating of 21 percent and who is currently the subject of a commission of inquiry into his business dealings.

And people say 30 years out of the country has hurt Professor Ignatieff's connection with the Canadian zeitgeist.

Tisk, tisk.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lawrence Martin asks "where are the New Democrat voices in our media"?

No party ever thinks they get a fair shake from the media and New Democrats are certainly no exception.

Today, the New Democratic Party runs a very popular government in Manitoba. It stands a good shot of returning to power in British Columbia in May and is poised to make history as government in Nova Scotia in the next election.

The people of Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Yukon have all elected NDP governments in the past 19 years. And in the last federal election, 2.5 million Canadians voted for their New Democratic Party candidate sending the second largest NDP caucus to Parliament Hill.

So, the question gets asked, why is it that "there are fewer left-side media voices in the country than probably ever?"

Except this time, the questioner isn't a hardened New Democrat voter, academic or even MP, but Lawrence Martin, columnist in the wait for it … mainstream Globe and Mail. He goes on to say:

"The Toronto Star has the odd left-wing columnist but is predominantly Liberal. The CBC has a leftish reputation, but try finding anyone among its top TV commentators who trumpets NDP values. Rex Murphy leans right, Andrew Coyne is predominantly conservative, Allan Gregg has been anchored in the Tory party for decades and, among Chantal Hébert's many colours, pink is not prominent."

Martin’s prescription: there needs to be more NDP voices in the national media:

"To change the voting culture, you have to change the media culture. Without a bigger voice in the fourth estate, the left's chances of making a breakthrough are minimal. The Reform/Alliance party eventually hit pay dirt, becoming the dominant force on the conservative side, because big media promoted its religion.

The NDP has a good public relations team and a media-conscious leader. But even with prevailing economic orthodoxies shamefaced, New Democrats can't break the journalistic ritual that sees Liberals and Conservatives with a stranglehold on coverage. Until they do, until they alter the media perspective, until their supporters gain ownership of media properties - as happened on the right with Fox News and CanWest Global - not much will change."

When a leading voice in the Ottawa press gallery is noticing this as a problem, you can be sure that it is.

So, a proposal to our embattled Canadian media empires: speak to a young, erudite and growing audience that doesn't have anyone speaking directly to them right now. Instead of going pearshaped, go orange instead.