Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Natural Governing Parties

This post isn't about Canada, believe it or not. I watch the ongoing bloodshed in the middle east with dismay. As someone who thinks of himself as pro-peace rather than pro-one side in this conflict, any escalation of violence is a definite step backward. The question I think that bears asking is how did we get here? The answer I've come to is that the natural governing parties in both countries have collapsed. In Israel that would be Labour, in the Palestinian Territories that would be Fatah. In both cases, these parties had great electoral success in the past and have recently been overwhelmed by more more adversarial parties.

Let's start with Fatah. The demise of Fatah which began in earnest with the death of Arafat and continued with the election of Hamas in parliamentary elections signaled the end of an era in Palestinian politics. Fatah had become an ineffective, corrupt organization which was out of touch with the people it claimed to represent. Hamas, whether helped or hindered by their violent foreign policy, did a much better job creating a functioning political party, providing social services to the Palestinian people and actually bothered to run a campaign in the election. No surprise, Hamas won. Unfortunately, the Presidential system meant that a Hamas Prime Minister had to some how share power with President Abbas of Fatah. This was never going to be easy. It soon became impossible. The loose connection of kinship and common cause which had united the Gaza Strip and the West Bank snapped in a bloody civil war. Since then, Fatah from its base of control in the West Bank has attempted to negotiate or at least start negotiations on behalf of all Palestinians. Hamas and the resident of the Gaza Strip have been left to stew by the world, starting, if we are to be fair, with their own President in Ramallah. Fatah's failure to understand that they were no longer the voice of the people in the occupied territories in large part led to the crisis we have today. Hamas cast out by the world, has been less willing, if that's possible, to restrain their more violent tendencies. What role Israel and the world in general had in precipitating that crisis can and should be debated. The picture remains of a desperate party clinging to power no longer has with disastrous consequences.

In Israel, the fall of Labour over the last decade also influenced the crisis we have today. The failure of the Camp David process at the end of the Clinton administration was the last nail in the coffin of the Labour Party. The country is simply no longer the communitarian nation of its founding. Labour has not come to grips with this and the political sands have shifted under their unmoving feet. Ariel Sharon's split with Likud and formation of Kadima near the end of his Prime Ministership has not marginalized Likud as may have been expected. Instead right-wing Likud appears to be the principle opposition to a centrist Kadima in the upcoming Israeli elections. Labour found their many of their pro-peace policies taken by Kadima and has suffered under the leadership of Ehud Barak to find any contrast with its governing partners to the right. Kadima having elected a woman with limited national security credentials for a country where almost everyone's served in the army, now must prove to Israelis that it has what it takes to deal with Hamas. Every rocket which lands on Israeli soil impugns the withdrawal startegy which was started by Prime Minister Sharon and continued by PM Olmert. While the scandals surrounding the outgoing Prime Minister may have more to do with any Likud victory in upcoming elections than anything else, Kadima certainly needs something reinforce its national security credibility with the Israeli people with Sharon's instant credibility gone with his stroke. The familiar hand of Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud, may provide Israelis more comfort in these uncertain times if Kadima does not change its public image. The pretense for the military action, and it is little more than a pretense, is the rockets being fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The reality on the ground is that rocket attacks have posed an intermittent threat to Israelis for years. This does not make the threat less deadly, however, it does beg the questions why now and why on this scale? A smaller scale retaliatory strike would have made just as much strategic sense if not more. I simply cannot believe that if Ms. Livni's opposition was on the left and not the right, from Labour and not Likud, that the Kadima government would have taken this action. Labour's fall from dominance is in my view intrinsically linked to this conflict. Thus with the old actors weakened, new actors are trying their hands with deadly results.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lessons From 2008 Part 4: Europe

How is Europe a lesson? Well, okay I couldn't think of a folksy trite phrase to sum up the year across the pond but really what happens in Europe isn't staying in Europe these days so here's a quick recap. Things are going wrong and fast.

7. Europe: Yappa's got a nice piece here on the impending doom and gloom. Here's the deal (and by deal I mean massive oversimplification). While the economic collapse seemed to start on Wall Street and the United States housing market, the dirty little secret is that good old left leaning inteventionist Europe bought this subprime stuff hook, line and sinker. This is particularly true in the UK where Europe's problems began. British banks started failing along with Bear Stearns back in March. Simultaneously, the seriously overheated British housing market froze on the spot. Now, in and of itself this is bad news for the global economy. For Iceland, this meant that all the money Icelandic banks had been raking in trading asset backed credit paper (ABCP) all of a sudden disappeared. The Icelandic economy basically went off a cliff. One down. Ireland's economy hit the skids hard as well, as the Celtic tiger was declawed by the subprime mess.

In Eastern Europe the crisis hit hard as well. In particular, booming Latvia was hit hard. The IMF has now bailed out the Baltic republic. Yes, Virginia, the IMF bailed out a member of the European Union. There was a time not long ago when Latvia was being talked about as one of the next countries to join the European Monetary Union (also known as the Eurozone). Now... not so much. If Latvian banks fail expect ripples to spread through the other Baltic republics as well as much of Scandanavia (where the Swedish and Danish crowns have already been hit hard). Hungary too has imploded and also received IMF help. Make that two EU members on the IMF dole. Ukraine (not EU) is also facing tough times as the heirs of the Orange Revolution prepare to tear each other apart in elections and the Russians once again threaten to turn off the gas. The less said about former Western darling Georgia (site of the Rose Revolution), the better. The only good news right now is that the oil prices that were threatening to choke off cheap air travel between and Eastern Europe and Western Europe have fallen, allowing all those Eastern Europeans doing work in the UK and Ireland to keep their jobs in the West and homes in the East.

Politically, well... the Lisbon Treaty died when the Irish government was forced to actually consult the people. Damn voters always get in the way of democratic progress! Seriously, the EU is about as democratic as the Liberal Party of Canada. Sure, the measures are there, but they'd rather not use them. Oh and then there's Belgium. The good news: the Belgians found a Prime Minister in March after nine months of separatist related wrangling. The bad news: he didn't last the year. Every time someone says we should do more to weaken the federal government in order to appease Quebec separatists, take a long hard look at Belgium. It will soon be the Republic of Flanders and the Kingdom of Wallonia if current trends continue.

So what's the lesson. I guess it's this. Everytime a leftwing politician tells you they do such and such better in Europe, smile and thank the powers that be that you live in Canada.

Friday, December 26, 2008

World Junior Day

Good win by Canada today to open the annual World Junior's. A dominating 8-1 (should have been 8-2) win over the Czech Republic. The tourney pretty much went to seed today with the US, Russia and Sweden all posting victories. While Canada was impressive in winning so easily over a usually decent Czech team, Russia has to be concerned winning only 4-1 over Latvia. Russia usually overwhelms with firepower. A 4-1 victory over a far weaker Latvian team has to disappointing. The American and Swedish score lines were more to form. US pounding Germany 8-2 and Sweden getting past the pesky Finns 3-1.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lessons From 2008 Part 3: Keep 'em Laughing

Onward with my rules from the political year past.

8. Keep 'Em Laughing: Sometimes a little levity is more useful than the most vicious attack ad. Just ask Sarah Palin. Sure, her fortunes were floundering after a couple of bad interviews but it was Tina Fey's imitations of the Alaska Governor that drove the point home. Fey, often by doing direct quotes from the Governor, got Americans to understand just how absurd her candidacy really was. John McCain had his own run-ins with late night comedy. Most notably his snubbing of David Letterman when he "suspended his campaign" in September. Unfortunately, the plane to Washington turned into an interview with Katie Couric down the street. McCain's campaign suspension died with his no-show on the Late Show.

In Canada, Rick Mercer did not provide any death blows as he delivered to Stockwell Day all those years ago. However, one could argue that Stephane Dion's youtube style response to Stephen Harper's national message was its own kind of humour.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Europe Still Has An Identity Crisis

Riots in Sweden's third largest city, Malmö. Having lived just outside of Malmö for almost a year, I can't say I'm surprised by this. In the course of my education in Lund, I had the opportunity to hear a presentation on immigrant integration from a city planner in Malmö. She talked about the need to find away to integrate the immigrant population with the rest of the city. Rosengård, where these riots are taking place, is a great example of why governments can't do everything. It was built as a kind of state-of-the-art public housing and quickly turned into an immigrant ghetto. The city of Malmö did interesting studies on people's daily travels and found that people living in Rosengård rarely left that part of the city, with the possible exception of going to and from work. The chance for meaningful interactions with native Swedes is remote. This kind of isolation can only spell trouble. It doesn't justify the criminal behaviour. However, I don't see these kinds of riots ending in Europe until Europeans reconcile themselves to immigration in a real way. Sweden has been rightly lauded as having one of the most progressive systems for new immigrants who live in the country. However, this has not translated into integrated immigrant communities. This goes to the very core of European nationalist identity politics and it may take a couple of generations before these kinds of riots are a thing of the past.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lessons from 2008 Part 2: Know Thyself

I continue with my year in review with the lesson learned hardest by the Liberal Party of Canada and the GOP down south.

Run On Who You Are: The Grits forgot themselves in a few ways this year. First, the party forgot its base. The Liberals sealed their electoral fate when they failed to vote down changes to the Immigration Act despised by many new Canadians. This inaction on a core issue of strength for the Liberal Party signaled the beginning of the end for Stephane Dion. The rest was completed by the launch of The Green Shift weeks later. Liberals forgot that we are a party of incrementalism and pragmatism. I cannot name the Liberal leader last elected on radical policy shifts. While the Red Book was a sharp departure from Conservative policies of the day, it represented in its opposition to the GST and free trade a return to old principles. While Chretien pragmatically backed away from these promises, the Red Book, like successful Liberal platforms of years past promised a steady hand and good government that would work for Canadians best interests. Often in words not more expansive than that. Stephane Dion's great miscalculation in The Green Shift was that the Liberal Party is a small-c conservative party, at least on the campaign trail. Few of the major policies brought in by the party have been platform items (repatriation of the Constitution being an obvious exception). Particularly in the most recent era of Liberal government, Liberals succeded by being the party Canadians trusted not to screw up the country; in other words keep things pretty much on the same course. It may be boring, but it works. The Liberals forgot that boring is beautiful in 2008. They lost as a result.

To a lesser extent, the Republican party forgot itself in 2008. First, they nominated John McCain. McCain is not a modern Republican. He just isn't. He never was the guy who was going to excite the all-important Republican base. The Republican party since Reagan's election in 1980 has been a party of national defense and national morality. McCain fulfilled the defense criterion, he failed to get the Moral Majority. McCain never spoke the language of evangelicals and he has put his party in perilous danger of losing them as a voting block. Now, I don't criticize McCain for not being a radical social conservative, I criticize Republican Party for failing to recognize the key to their successes. All credit should go to Barack Obama for his campaign, but this election was I think less satisfying for some on the left because Obama didn't defeat the GOP of 1994 or 2004 but a withered shell of its former self. I don't know that the Republicans could nominated a better candidate, but they never had a chance with John McCain. Much as Democrats need to talk about the economy to win, Republicans need to talk about social issues.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rep by Pop to Come to Ontario?

Harper appears to have backed down on yet another issue. Originally Harper's plans for redistribution would have seen Alberta and BC get equal representation to Quebec while Ontario got the shaft. Now there appears to be a thaw, and Ontario will get 21 more seats according to McGuinty. Aside from the very un-conservative idea of expanding government in a time of so-called belt tightening in other departments, this is a long time coming. It would mean the elimination of 170,000 person ridings like Brampton West. So, you ask, how would this break down within the province? Well, that depends. Northern Ontario currently has 10 seats but even under the new formula would only really need nine. However, there will be significant upset in Northern Ontario if they get the redistribution shaft so there may yet be maneouvring on that count. Here's my calculations based on rep by pop (current seat totals in brackets):

Cottage Country (basically Parry Sound to Peterborough): 11 (9)
Eastern Ontario (not National Capital Region): 8 (7)
905 (limited to Durham, Halton, Peel and York (southern) regions: 29 (20.5)
Northern Ontario: 9 (10)
NCR: 8 (7)
Southcentral (Hamilton to Niagara): 15 (12)
Southwest: 21 (17)
Toronto: 26 (22.5)

The half riding in the current total for Toronto and the 905 is Pickering-Scarborough East which would be an obvious target redistribution. Clearly, the big winner is the 905. However, Liberals should be extremely worried about the prospect of 7 additional seats south and west of the GTA. That part of the country has become increasingly infertile land for the party in the last couple of elections. Toronto is likely to be the biggest headache for the mapmakers. The tendency has been to separate the old boroughs of Etobicoke and Scarborough from the rest of the city. Maintaining this tradition could prove difficult. The natural rivers and ravines which dot the city also provide challenges for the mapmakers.

Side Note: This will also provide the basis for an expansion of the Ontario Legislature. As the Tories under Harris bound electoral districts outside of Northern Ontario to Elections Canada boundaries. The City of Toronto could also see a redistribution as council seats and school board seats are, for the most part, based on federal riding boundaries.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lessons from 2008: Part 1: Know The Rules

As the political news goes mostly underground this time of year, I figure it's not too early to start on my 2008 recap. As was the case last year, I will do it in the form of ten things we should have learned this year. Starting with number 10.

10. Know the Rules of the Game: This one comes to us from the American primaries for the most part. Particularly, the once overwhelming favourites from New York, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. Start with Rudy. Giuliani ran perhaps the stupidest campaign in American history. Why was it so stupid? He lost without ever really competing. And not in the Fred Thompson "I can't be bothered to campaign" way of not really competing. Giuliani thought he could wait out the traditional early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Problem is, that while Iowa and New Hampshire do not send an overwhelming number of delegates to the Republican National Convention every four years, they do dictate the rest of the race. Giuliani went from front runner to invisible when he refused to engage in retail politics in the snows of Davenport and Concord. Giuliani had lost so much momentum by the time the race he had chosen as his launching pad came around, he got beaten badly in the winner take all Florida primary. Not only is Florida not a traditional early primary state, the sunshine state had been penalized by both the GOP and the Democrats for moving up their primary dates. This meant that the far more fascinating Democratic race was not in Florida at all, while the GOP competed half-heartedly for half delegates. Rudy lost because of a strategic blunder before he could lose for being an essentially liberal Republican with questionable personal issues.

Hillary lost in equally stupid fashion. While the histories of the primaries seem to focus on Iowa, New Hampshire, Super Tuesday, March 4th and Pennsylvania, Hillary lost the race outside of these key dates. Yes, she finished third in Iowa which ended any talk of a Clinton corronation, but she won New Hampshire and earned a draw on Super Tuesday. It was between Super Tuesday and March 4th that she lost the Democratic nomination. See, Hillary's advisers failed to read the rules and believed that the Democrats allocated delegates based on a winner-take-all system. Of course, Dems use PR which made her victory in California on Super Tuesday little more than symbolism. Symbolism was not enough to get Obama out of the race, and as the race continued, Obama, who was prepared for a long fight, won 11 straight contests, opening an insurmountable lead in the contest. Hillary's fire walls of Ohio and Texas merely served to postpone the inevitable as she lurched from desperate "3 am" tactics in Ohio to desperate "kitchen sink" tactics in Pennsylvania. In reality, she lost the Democratic primary in Virginia and Louisiana and Washington state and the eight other races that Obama won by huge margins. Obama understood that a big win in Idaho on Super Tuesday could overwhelm a narrower Clinton victory in New Jersey the same night. Clinton didn't understand the rules and she lost.

On this side of the border, the criticism can be levelled at the Green Party of Canada. The Greens still don't seem to get how to win seats in a First Past the Post system. Outside of some positive results in a band in Ontario stretching from the Muskokas to Lake Huron, and the Liberal gift in Nova Scotia, the Greens really didn't compete for seats in most of the country. Will they get more money from the per vote subsidy as long it survives? Sure. Will it ever translate into seats? Not without a change in philosophy. A fight everywhere philosophy makes sense for established parties, it doesn't for a fringe party looking for credibility. Oh, and who's brilliant idea were the 4am campaign rallies? If the Greens bothered to follow the rules and acted like most small parties have in Canada, they would have seats in the Canadian parliament. The potential is clearly there in rural Ontario for a breakthrough, but it may involve sacrificing a couple of fifth place Quebec candidates.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Crisis! Crisis! Crisis!... oh nevermind

Word today that as has been expected since Harper prorogued parliament, the Liberals will find enough to like in the budget to not vote it down. I suppose only Michael Ignatieff could have engineered this compromise. I mean, otherwise there would be no justification in short circuiting the leadership process. Isn't it remarkable how things turn out so well for Mr. Ignatieff. It's like he planned it all along. Tous Ensemble and all that jazz.

Cost Savings - Tory Edition

Anyone else find it strange that things that don't fit the government's given ideology are the first to go in this time of belt tightening. First we had the deficit inducing millions that they wanted to take away from their political opponents. Also, on that chopping block, the whole messy system associated with allowing women to grieve when they are underpaid. Now, we get a scientist cut from an environmental meeting. This is starting to constitute a pattern. I know, why don't we cut the Supreme Court? Harper's hated those evil liberal judges for years. I think Harper is taking the whole crisis/opportunity cliche a little far.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ways For Harper to Avoid Looking Like A Partisan Hypocrite

This may be difficult. After all, Harper does have a long track record of looking like a partisan hypocrite. However, I have two suggestions for him on senate appointments:
  1. Ask the Premiers. I realize that the majority of the premiers don't really care for Stephen Harper. However, it would avoid having the appearance of cronyism and would allow a premier that wanted to hold a Senate election, say Saskatchewan's Brad Wall, to do just that. Harper would retain the right to veto any reccomendation as he retains the constitutional power to appoint all senators. This is basically what Harper said he would do in 2006 and there's no reason to deviate from his plans. However, if he doesn't want to give Danny Williams and Dalton McGuinty a say in the Senate, he does have another more sinister venue.
  2. Appoint Liberals and/or NDPers. Stephen Harper sits twelve seats short of a majority government. He has eighteen senate appointments. This could be a great time to reduce the size of his opposition. This has the insidious beauty of allowing Harper to look non-partisan while seizing the majority he's always wanted. For instance, do you think the Liberals could hold Wascana without Ralph Goodale? Yukon without Larry Bagnell? The answer is definitely maybe. Harper would get a mini-election in battleground ridings to try to get to 155. Or conversely he could just drag the puck on the by-elections for the maximum amount of time, at which point he may be willing to go a general election. So the senate would be stacked against him, it wouldn't matter if he could just keep sending bills back to the senate ad nauseam. Appointing MP's to the senate would have the added benefit of having them be "elected". If he were to name Bagnell to the Yukon vacancy, Bagnell would be representing the same jurisdiction he represents today. I realize this would be a major gamble with the definite risk of people seeing through the bipartisan cover of this tactic. I personally hope he doesn't do it because it would be the best shot he'd have getting a majority and that prospect scares me to no end.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Senate

Well, it must be the holidays or some other political silly season, we're talking about the Canadian Senate. There are three schools of thought on the senate as far as I can tell. The first, like Mr. Harper was until about a week ago, believe the senate needs desperate reform. The second, like Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, believe it is a waste of time and should be abolished. The third and by far the largest group does its very best to not think about the Senate gets upset when it is brought up in any context and then promptly thinks of England and moves on. Is it unbelievably cynical for a man who claimed he wouldn't appoint senators to appoint 18 of them (that makes 19 appointed and one "elected" appointment by Harper by my count), absolutely? Is it cronyism? Kind of, but every Prime Minister in history has done it given the chance. Does the Liberal Party have a position on the senate? Not that I've heard expressed by any federal politician. I assume Czar Michael the Grit (I swear, I'm trying to get over it... Tous Ensemble and all that jazz) has a position on the Senate, I've just never heard it. I don't expect that or any other constitutional issue (yes Mr. Prime Minister, it is a constitutional issue) will be a subject of discussion in the next election. It's still the economy stupid. Whether there are 87 or 105 senators, the economy is still in recession. That's what Canadians care about.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Moving On

I am not someone who is easily dissuaded of his convictions. I do not bend readily with the political wind. Yesterday's events do not change one iota my opinion of Mr. Ignatieff or Mr. Rae. It is true that the man I thought was best suited to lead my party backed Mr. Ignatieff and encouraged his supporters to do the same. It is also true that the man I supported two years ago today backed Mr. Rae and made a similar case for his candidate. While I respect Dominic LeBlanc and Gerard Kennedy immensely and generally trust their judgment, I do not feel that their endorsements today make either of our two remaining leadership candidates more palatable. Politics, at this level, is not a personal business for me. Who supports a given candidate has never been my determining factor. I do not hold a personal grudge against either man. Nor do I believe that either of them do not earnestly think that what they are trying to do what is in the best interest of this party and our beloved country. I simply cannot, in good faith, support either man to lead the Liberal Party of Canada. I have explained the roots of my antipathy in previous posts. I suggest you look through the archives if you want my thoughts at the beginning of this race. My feelings towards the two men have not changed.

Mr. Rae remains a man in my estimation who is trying to atone for past sins. The Prime Ministership should not be a vessel of personal redemption. I am sorry that Bob Rae was not more successful as Premier of Ontario. I am sorry that he chose to abandon the Liberal Party for the NDP all those years ago. However, no amount of action on his part today will obliterate those mistakes in his own mind, or more consequentially, in the minds of the voters. While I respect Mr. Rae's decision to keep this as a competitive and contested leadership, I simply cannot see a path to victory that would not do further damage to the Liberal Party. At this point, Mr. Rae has to hope for Ignatieff to make an error so agregious as to offend his supporters or that he lose an election as interim leader so badly that the Prime Minister receives a majority mandate. Both of these paths would further cripple the Liberal Party of Canada and I cannot support a candidate whose hopes rest on outcomes so disastrous to my party.

Mr. Ignatieff continues to show himself parodoxically politically deft and deaf. It is clear, in spite of the protestations of his supporters, that the abbreviation of this leadership race is Mr. Ignatieff or his lieutenants doing. There was and is no valid reason why the party couldn't have chosen a neutral interim leader, provided support for Mr. Harper on confidence matters from now until early May and at that point make a decision as to whether or not to inflict upon Canadians the indignity of a fourth election in five years. While Mr. Harper was reckless and arrogant in his so-called fiscal update, it was equally reckless and arrogant for M. Dion to presume that Mr. Harper's mistakes justified the overturning of an election result barely fully settled in some ridings. Mr. Ignatieff' has been somewhere between obtuse and invisible during this affair. First he pledged his support for the coalition while quietly questioning its underlying strategy. Now, he has taken a "wait and see" approach, which while not unjustified, does seem a stark contrast to the rhetoric Mr. Ignatieff endorsed mere days ago. Mr. Ignatieff has used this engineered crisis, irrespective of its engineer, to justify his ascension to leadership without the due process of a leadership race. I would have given Mr. Ignatieff good odds of winning that race had it been run to its proper conclusion. Now, he is a lock to win a further tarnished crown. In the midst of World War II, Democrats and Republicans in the United Staate held normal political conventions in order to choose their leadership for the elections. Democrats after much acrimony selected Harry Truman to be their Vice Presidential nominee 1944. Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey for President the same year. The crisis that the country faced did not curtail the democratic process. Our commitment to democracy is not tested when times are good and it is easy to allow for the slow gears of our system to turn; it is tested in times of crisis, times like these for the Liberal Party of Canada. We are dangerously close to failing that test. Mr. Ignatieff, by his inaction in his role as the frontrunner in this race if nothing else, bears an especial blame for that failure.

If, as is expected, the national caucus of the Liberal Party of Canada reccomends Michael Ignatieff for the position of interim leader on Wednesday, it will send a clear message to the Liberal party rank and file. A message louder and clearer than any words uttered Mr. Ignatieff or his surrogates. The message will be "This is our party, not yours." The members of the Liberal Party of Canada are not another consultative body available to its leaders. The membership is the Liberal Party. Mr. Ignatieff may believe that like a long-time occupying army gaining the trust of the native people, his leadership may eventually be welcomed by those that oppose him now. He is wrong. I do not intend to prove him wrong myself, but nothing in the history of the Liberal Party leads me to believe that people will forget this insult.

I will continue to support the Liberal Party of Canada. I joined the party in the run-up to the 2004 election not because I particularly liked the leader but because I believed that the party as a whole was best suited to govern this country in good times or bad. I worked tirelessly in the last election for the party under M. Dion not because I agreed with the central plank of his platform or because I believed him to be anything more than a competent manager but because I still believed in the essential pragmatism and common sense of the party. So moving forward, I can only hope that Mr. Ignatieff (or on the off-chance Mr. Rae) proves me wrong. Regardless, I will work for the election of a Liberal government because I believe in the promise of this party and its membership. I still believe the people of Toronto-Danforth deserve better than an absentee MP who has more respect for conspiracy theorists than employers. I still believe that Canada deserves better than a Prime Minister who does not believe in the federal government both because it is a government and because it is federal. In sum, I may not be inspired by my leader but I still have faith in the membership of the Liberal Party of Canada and I still support the party that they constitute. Therefore, I can do nothing else but wish Mr. Ignatieff luck and work dilligently for his success.

My membership in this party expires December 31st and, to be honest, there were times in the last 48 hours where I considered letting it lapse. For about 15 of those hours the only words I could say on the matter were "coup" and "P.U.M.A." I have calmed down enough to realize that no matter the errors, this is still my party. I watched with great sadness and profound gratitude the repatriation ceremony for Cpl. Mark McLaren, Pte. Demetrios Diplaros and Warrant Officer Robert Wilson. The men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces are heroes. That cannot be overstated. Watching the ceremony with its stark contrast of military discipline and formality and raw unfetered human emotion is profoundly moving no matter what your political philosophy. It is moments like these that remind me that for all the pettiness, for all the inanity, politics is more than a game. It is a matter, in many cases, of life and death. It is too important to simply back away from when something you don't like takes place. Thus, I will continue to contribute to our political process because I believe it is the duty of each and everyone of us as citizens of this great country. I wrote this post as much for myself as for anyone else and if it seems melodramatic or condescending, I apologize. I needed to vent and figured this was as good a forum as any.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Could Someone Please Read the LPC Constitution?

There is talk about moving up the date of the leadership vote and scrapping the convention format in favour of some sort of full membership vote. I won't get into the argument of whether or not this is a good idea. It doesn't matter. It's unconstitutional. Let's start with the idea of changing the process. According to section 56 (1) of the LPC constitution:

"The Leader is elected at a National Leadership Convention with the delegates to that convention being elected in proportion to the popular direct vote received by each leadership contestant..."

If you wanted to change that, you would have AMEND the constitution. To do that according to section 76 (1) of the LPC Constitution:

"The Constitution may be amended... by a Special Resolution of the members of the party at a convention."

There is some talk of the riding association presidents being able to change this. I don't see how. While it is true that the the Council of Presidents has the power to interpret the constitution, that power is limited as prescribed in Section 77 (2) (a) to interpret the constitution in such a way that:

"is consistent with this Constitution over an interpretation that conflicts with this Constitution"

Clearly, removing the whole delegated part of the Leadership process would be an interpretation which conflicts with the Constitution. We are a party of rules. Delegates voted in Montreal as to whether or not to change the rules regarding leadership. That amendment failed, albeit narrowly. There is no body outside of a convention with the power in the Liberal Party to change the leadership rules. Not the caucus, not the executive council, not the council of presidents.

In terms of acceleration, there is little that can be done. The Delegate Selection Meetings have to be held no less than 34 days before the convention and proper notice must be given to all members of the DSM's prior to their taking place, pushing the date a few weeks further out. This means that there is little to no way to move the convention up to before a budget vote. This does not even take into account the membership cut-off date which is prescribed as 41 days before the DSM. Realistically, because of membership renewals and single year members that join for leadership races that date has to be in the same year as the convention i.e. 2009. Theoretically, January 1 but more likely something like the fifteenth of January would be the earliest the membership cut-off could be. With a membership cut-off date of January 15th instead of early February, the race could be moved up to the beginning of April. However, the logistical challenge of booking a venue a month earlier would negate any political gains from the expedience. If we want to change the constitution in the future so that a leadership race could be rushed in a crisis someone should propose a constitutional amendment to be voted on in Vancouver.

He's Got To Screw Up Soon...

But not on this one. President-Elect Obama is reportedly (and that tends to mean intentionally leaked) tapping Fmr. Gen. Eric Shinseki to head up the VA. You may remember Shinseki telling Congress in the run-up to the Iraq war that a successful occupation would require more troops, more time and more money than the Bush administration was letting on. Shinseki retired from the army soon after. Obama's plans for the VA (like most of his plans) are ambitious. He wants to give Iraq and Afghan War vets the same treatment as World War II vets. He campaigned on fixing military hospitals and providing better assistance to soldiers and their families upon leaving the forces. Shinseki is unlikely to downplay the problems that face the VA; that is exactly what Obama will need if he is going to extract funding from a bankrupt (almost literally) Congress. The base will love seeing the guy who stood up to Bush in office. The right won't be able to a former army chief of staff in the job. While there are questions surrounding his picks at Treasury (Bailout), Justice (Clinton pardons) and State (Billary redux?), Obama's cabinet is shaping up to be a tour de force. There are no weak links in this chain.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Weekend Reading

I've been hearing from a lot of Liberals that they don't know enough about Dominic LeBlanc. Fair enough. Hopefully some of those questions will be answered by his upcoming campaign and website launches. Until then, Maclean's has done a nice little bio piece on him. It may not be long on policy proposals, but it does give you some insight into the substance of the man.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Harper, Jean Set Canada Back 175 Years

The Prime Minister and the Governor General may have done irreparable damage to Canadian democracy. This may seem like hyperbole but it is the reality. By proroguing parliament the PM and the GG have said that Canada no longer believes in responsible government. Responsible government means that the executive is accountable to the legislature. By suspending parliament, the Prime Minister has circumvented the right of parliament to express its non-confidence in the government.

Too often we forget that this principle of responsible government is not something we have always had in this country. 171 years ago, people took up arms in what was then called Upper and Lower Canada now known as Ontario and Quebec to fight for responsible government. While the rebellions were put down (almost comically so in Ontario), the response of the British government was to grant their wish for responsible government. We have held that principle to be sacrosanct in this country since that bloody winter. It guided Baldwin and Lafontaine, it guided Macdonald and Cartier, in short, it built this country. Today, the Prime Minister and the Governor General have said that the principle of responsible government is no longer important in this country. For a man who once called himself a Reformer, he has insulted the legacy of William Lyon Mackenzie and the original Reform Party. For shame.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Saxby Chambliss and Tea Leaves

Senator Saxby Chambliss won easily in the run-off election yesterday in Georgia. Nate Silver, among others, views this as an ominous warning about the 2010 mid-term elections. I don't see it that way. Let's look at what happened yesterday and what's going to happen two years from now. First yesterday's run-off. Start by taking a look at this page from CNN. If you flip back and forth from Nov. 4 result to the run-off election, you'll notice that the county map didn't change all that much. What that indicates is that Martin's collapse comes primarily from lack of turnout a predictable result. Let's look at this race objectively. Chambliss had a whole host of advantages:
  1. He is the incumbent. There are few countries where the incumbency means more than it does in the United States. Martin was always climbing uphill on this one.
  2. Georgia is a red state. While I wouldn't be surprised if Obama puts Georgia in his early crosshairs in 2012, the state still voted for McCain in 2008. Martin got almost the same number of votes as Obama did on Nov. 4. (both were around 46%). Chambliss had McCain's support split off by a third party candidate putting him...
  3. Chambliss was just a few votes shy of 50% the first time around. This was not a reversal of election day or even a dramatic change in fortunes. Chambliss would have won the race on election day in many states. This isn't like Minnesota where the difference may end up being just a couple hundred votes.
  4. The Republican base was energized, the Democrats were not. The Republican base was spurred on by the threat of fillibuster-proof senate. The Democrats rely in Georgia, as they do in many southern states, on the turnout of the African-American community to boost their fortunes. With Barack Obama on the ballot Nov. 4th the Democrats had an easy sell among African-Americans. All across the US African-Americans voted in record numbers this time around. They weren't going to do that for Jim Martin, particularly when Obama wasn't campaigning on Martin's behalf.
So, what can we take out of this for 2010? That in states where a Republican incumbent is running for re-election in a red state where Barack Obama does not show up to support the Democrat, the Republicans may have an easy time of it. I don't think those are the races on the top of the target list for either party. I would expect Obama to be on the stump in 2010. That should energize the base for the Democrats. Two of the most competitive races will be Republican held seats in now blue Florida and New Hampshire. However, if the Republicans are going to make noise in 2010 they are going to have to knock off Democratic incumbents. That is not going to be an easy task. Chambliss victory provides no guidelines for knocking off an incumbent Democratic senator, something I believe the GOP hasn't done since 2004. Only if the GOP goal is to stem their losses is the Chambliss victory at all noteworthy.

Side Note: Do not credit Sarah Palin with this one either. I heard the normally astute David Gergen making this comment yesterday. Yes, she drew some crowds and media attention for Chambliss. However, crowds, like lawn signs, don't vote. Remember Obama's massive crowd under the arch in St. Louis? He lost the state of Missouri on election night.

A Plague O'Both Your Houses

Okay, so I've switched from Yeats to Shakespeare, this stuff is better than fiction. We've got honest to goodness polling data on this thing at last. With the normal caveats about a poll taken outside of a writ, here's it is. I think my title is the best way to describe the voters on this. Either that or voters don't care and this is just a repeat of the election results. I think the first option is more likely. What does this mean going forward? Well, good news and bad news for both sides.

For the coalition, the good news is that people aren't preparing torches. They aren't about to carry Stephen Harper back into 24 Sussex on their shoulders either. The bad news is that there is no real anger demonstrable in this poll about the whole lack of an economic plan. This may be that while there is a slow down in the country we are not in the crisis that most of the world is facing yet. "Yet" is the operative word, Tories. For the Tories the good news is that people aren't calling for Harper's heads. On the other hand they aren't all that upset about the "evil separatist supported coalition".

Where do we go from here? Well, if Harper dares to prorogue parliament (still a major risk for him and the country in my view), he will take this as a signal to continue the media assault begun today. For the opposition, if they can take down Harper now, avoid an election, and form government, the people may not punish them for it eighteen months hence. I think this should take some of the inside Queensway panic out of this crisis. Then again, it probably won't. The parties have a vested interest in making this as big as possible now. The Tories need this to be big in order to justify the highly undemocratic move of proroguing parliament in order to avoid a confidence vote. The Coalition needing this to be big in order to justify unseating a government six weeks after an election. As is usually the case in politics, there are no angels here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Coalition Coalesced

We are definitely witnessing history here. A couple quick comments on this afternoon's coalition signing etc.

First and foremost, I love that it has a degree of permanence to it. I wrote earlier that I feared the public's wrath on this one. I think if we have a government that lasts anywhere from 18-30 months, the majority of which under a Prime Minister not named Stephane Dion, the coalition partners may get away with it electorally. The thinking seems to be that if the government can outlast the economic downturn (or at least the worst of it), it can then frame itself as having saved the Canadian economy from the incompetent Tories. That is a viable strategy if the economy turns around that quickly. I wouldn't better the farm on the economy though.

If Stephen Harper prorogues parliament he's finished. He may be finished if he doesn't but he would be signing his own death certificate if he prorogues. Let's be clear, Harper's won because he has been seen as a tough and prudent manager. Running away from the opposition would make him look weak and ineffectual. He would need a miracle to win an election if he pulled that stunt.


There are two new leadership questions to consider in the run-up to the vote on December 8th. The first is who will lead the new coalition if and when it takes office? The second is whether or not Stephen Harper can retain control of the Conservative Party. Each in turn.

Traditionally in coalition governments, the leader of the party with the most seats becomes the leader of the coalition and therefore the government. This is true in European states when they choose governments by coalition and one would assume that this would be true here. So the question of leadership in the coalition is really a question of leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. Stephane Dion is the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. According to the
LPC constitution there are five ways a leader ceases to be a leader:
  1. The leader resigns
  2. The leader fails a leadership review
  3. The leader dies
  4. The leader is no longer recognized by the GG as leader to due to incapacity (not clear on the circumstances; maybe leader's in a coma or something)
  5. Leader is found by the national executive to not meet the minimum requirements for leadership (e.g. not a member of the party or qualified to hold office).
That's it. The only way anyone other than Stephane Dion becomes leader of the Liberal Party before the leadership convention is if Dion resigns. I doubt that would happen. The caucus does not have the power to unelect M. Dion. Thus, I think the speculation surrounding this question is fairly idle. If M. Dion were to resign, an interim leader would be chosen but that would almost certainly not be Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Rae or Mr. LeBlanc. Whoever takes over is likely to be a historical footnote anyway with the Prime Minister people remember being the guy who takes over after the leadership convention.

On to the second question: does Harper survive at the CPC? I really don't know. I obviously don't have insider knowledge of the CPC. I don't know whether the membership blames Harper for this mess or thinks that "those damn Liberals screwed them again." I can't believe there won't be questions. Apparently there are already draft movements afoot for various cabinet members. Some of these movements seem legitimate feeler campaigns (Prentice) some of them are a little far-fetched (Baird). I have a hard time seeing Stephen Harper in opposition for two and a half years. I don't think he can be righteously indignant for that long. The plan seems to be to make this government last so long that a) the economy turns around and b) people forget they voted for the Tories in 2008. That would limit Harper's ability to copy the King model and win a majority after being turfed by a minority parliament.
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