Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Fall Election is Unlikely

There has been a great deal of time and effort spent talking about what the Liberals are going to do with the Throne Speech. Are they going to vote against it and trigger an election while they are in their weakened position? Are they going to do something else to prevent the government from falling, thus making themselves look weaker?

Both questions are irrelevent because the Bloc will probaby prop up the government in October. The reason is simple. By most accounts Stephen Harper is going to put something in the Throne Speech about limiting the spending powers of the Federal Government in areas of provincial responsibility.

There is no way the Bloc will vote against such an idea. Nationalists in Quebec have been demanding that for years and a Party that purports to have the interests of the Nationalists in mind will not take any actions to deny it to them. If it did it would be handing the Conservatives a very convenient bat with which to beat the Bloc in any election that immediately followed.

In short, voting against limiting Federals spending powers in Quebec is a short-cut to political oblivion for the Bloc so they will find a way to support a Throne Speech that contains any announcements of such limits.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Case for Stephane Dion

My two previous posts were about the need for Liberals to continue to support Stephane Dion because to do otherwise is to invite a certain thumping in the next general election and the possibility that they would not recover enough to win the one after that. Revolting against Stephane Dion now raises the spectre of Stephen Harper being PM for as long as Jean Chretien was PM. If any Liberal thinks that is a good prospect I would say that you have just not been paying attention.

However, there are more positive reasons why Liberals should support Stephane Dion and that is because for a brand new leader, of a political party that is still trying to wash away the stains of the Sponsorship Scandal and the Chretien/Martin schism, he has done reasonably well.

If you need a demonstration of that you just need to look at the Harris-Decima poll from yesterday. I have lost count of the number of polls that have indicated the Liberals and the Conservatives have been tied in public support for the last 6 months or so. That is a major accomplishment for an Opposition Party at this stage in an election cycle with a leader who is still working to put his stamp on the Party. This is a great contrast to how Opposition Parties have fared, in similar circumstances, in the past as I will demonstrate later.

I would argue that one of the contributing factors to this reasonably happy state of affairs is Mr. Dion's leadership. True, Mr. Harper has certainly contributed to it as well but the current state of support for the two big parties cannot be placed just on one party or one leader.

Going back over the last 10 months Mr. Dion has made some shrewd moves that have wrong footed the Conservatives on a number of issues that are of great importance to Canadians and placed the Liberal Party on the right side of those issues.

It is Mr. Dion who put the environment and climate change on the radar screen of Canadians. His use of the green scarves at the convention and his use of his honeymoon after his election to push the Government on this issue planted the seed with Canadians and the unusually mild January that followed caused that issue to become the most important one for Canadians. A situation that is still true. That caused the Conservatives to scramble to neutralize the issue and it lead to the fall of a Cabinet Minister. And you just have to see that the environment and climate change is still the most important issue to Canadians to see that the Conservatives have failed to neutralize it as an issue, which means Canadians still do not believe the Conservatives have done enough on this file.

Part of the reason for the Conservative ad campaign against Mr. Dion was because they bungled this file so badly and Mr. Dion was showing that he was a real threat to the Conservatives because of his credibility on the issue. Indeed, the Conservative ad campaign and the reason why they launched it could have been lifted directly from Karl Rove's playbook.

It still boggles my mind that many Liberals not only buy into the Conservative line that Stephane Dion is not a leader but some actually embrace it . All I can say is that if you are one of those Liberals you are not very bright. But I digress.

With regard to Afghanistan, it was Stephane Dion that brokered the Liberal proposal that Canadian troops be withdrawn from combat by the 2009 deadline with the possibility of their continued presence in Afghanistan in another role. That proposal predates polls that show that is the preferred option of Canadians and it certainly predates the Conservatives making rumblings about "changing the configuration" of the mission.

It was Stephane Dion that lead the charge against the government regarding the Afghan detainee issue and he did not back off when Stephen Harper accused him of being a "Taliban lover". The Liberals relentless pressure on this issue lead to yet another loss of a Conservative cabinet minister and the Conservatives are still feeling its fallout months after.

The Liberals under Stephane Dion have identified the economy as a potential soft spot for the Conservatives. They are correct. The climbing dollar, the hollowing out of Central Canadian industry, job losses in Ontario and Quebec and the looming recession in the US are causing dark clouds to appear on the economic horizon. By getting out in front of this issue now the Liberals will be in a very good position to offer an alternative to a government that has all but ignored the plight of the Central Canadian economy.

As I stated earlier in my post all of these factors have contributed to the Conservatives and the Liberals being tied in popular support for months. To show how significant this situation is you just have to remember that the Liberals under Mr. Chretien were about a dozen points behind Mr. Mulroney 10 months after his election as Liberal leader. Then there is Stephen Harper who was a whopping 20 points behind the Liberals 10 months after his election as Conservative Party leader. As well, it should be remembered that Mr. Harper was 8 points behind Mr. Martin at the beginning of the last election so for the Liberals to be where they are now in popular support in relation to the government is very good news.

It is very true that Mr. Dion must improve both as a leader and he must improve the Liberal organization but it is also very true that the Liberal Party under his leadership has been in more than just striking distance of winning the next election for most of his short tenure as leader of the Liberal Party.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

So, what now?

The Liberals lost the by-election in Outrement (Oh the horror, THE HORROR!) so what do they do now?

If Liberals were smart they would do a calm assessment of what happened in Outrement. They would suppress the desire the cast blame and instead seek to find what errors were made so that they could avoid them the next time.

If Liberals were really smart they would put the loss in perspective and minmize any damage the loss will cause. One truism of life is people will often make a bad situation much worse by overreacting to it.

If Liberals were smart they would use this setback to rally around the Party leadership and to firm up their resolve to refocus their efforts on the real opponent of the Liberal Party, namely the Conservative government.

If Liberals were really smart they would realize that it has only been 10 months since Stephane Dion won the Liberal leadership. Any open revolt against him, whether it lead to his ouster or not, would destroy any chance of the Liberals winning the next election and it would hamstring the Party for the following one, which will probably be in 2012. By then the ages of the erstwhile front runners to replace Mr. Dion (Iggy and Rae) would be an issue.

If Liberals were smart they would realize that the Conservative government has demonstrated that, despite 20 months of constant campaigning, using honourable and underhanded methods, they have been utterly incapable of consistently lifting their level of support above the minority government level.

If Liberals were really smart they would realize that they hold the future of the Conservative government in their hands. It is their actions over the next few months that will determine whether the Conservative government goes down to defeat or whether they achieve their much coveted majority. In other words, the Conservatives need help from the Liberals to achieve their electoral ends and it is up to Liberals to deny them that help.

If Liberals were smart they would realize that all things in politics are temporary. Nothing stays the same and one bad week will not make or break a Party's fortune, unless that Party's reaction causes the bad week to become a bad month, a bad quarter and/or a bad year.

If Liberals were really smart they would remember that as late as Christmas 2005, the Conservative Party was polling in the mid-teens in Quebec and most pundits had written them off in that province. They would also remember that in three straight elections those very same pundits did not give Jean Chretien much of a chance in his home province and really smart Liberals should be able to figure out how those elections turned out.

Now the big question is, how many smart and really smart Liberals are out there?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Will the Liberals hand Stephen Harper a majority?

On the existing evidence I would say the answer is yes.

The reason is simple. They are not united. That has become increasingly apparent as the fallout of the Outrement by-election unfolds. The fissures in the party are becoming wider and more obvious and in all likelihood it will just get worse.

In all honesty I believe the reason for this is there are a significant number of Liberals out there with their heads so far up their asses they could give themselves root canals. (Assuming they knew how to do so in the first place.)

Liberals of all people should realize the price of disunity. It was the disunity on the right that made the Chretien era a virtual golden age for Liberal fortunes. If it was not for that disunity the Chretien era probably would have ended in 2000.

Then there are those supporters of the losing leadership candidates from last December. It has become increasingly obvious that many of them have not been able to accept the result.

Some of these folks have a hard time with it because they truly believe that their guy would do a better job. My advice to you is to get over it, you lost. That is how it is sometimes. Then there are those who supported their candidate because they thought they would get a nice back-room job with the Party along with influence when it won the next election. Dream on. If Stephane Dion is replaced just a short time after he won the leadership the Liberals have no hope of winning the next general election as whatever credibility they have will be in tatters. So you folks are looking forward to at least 5 years before the Liberals will even have A CHANCE of winning an election, and such a victory will certainly not be guaranteed. My guess is many of you who are in this group are not interested in putting your careers on hold for that length of time or longer.

Then there is the meme that Stephane Dion is not a leader. I would remind everybody that it was the Conservatives who first made this assertion and the media took up the call. Such was bad enough as it started to stick with those Canadians that do not live and breath politics on a daily basis. However, the Conservative advertizements that started that whole ball rolling were supposed to be a prelude to an election. When that election did not come to pass the damage should have faded. Unfortunately, Liberals began to buy that line as well. Say what you will about Conservatives they would not be caught dead buying into a line about them put forward by the Liberals.

The irony in all of this is the Conservatives are vulnerable.
  • They have not connected with the Canadian public in any meaningful way.
  • They are on the wrong side of the issues with regard to Afghanistan and the environment.
  • They have virtually ignored the hollowing out of Central Canadian industry, with its resulting job losses. (That is around 180 seats right there folks.)
  • They have broken some high profile election promises.
  • They put 20 seats in play, 12 Conservative seats in Saskatchewan and 8 in the Maritimes, with their breaking of the Atlantic Accords.
  • They have had some high profile run-ins with Elections Canada about highly suspect election spending practices.

In short, when the next election rolls around Canadians may be seriously looking at alternatives to the Conservatives. Unfortunately, a disjointed Liberal Party will not be a viable alternative for most and they will probably go for the Party that looks united and coherent.

Or to put it another way, regardless of their unease with the Conservatives Canadians will not vote for an alternative that is disjointed, incoherent and disunited. They will hold their nose, vote for the Party that seems to have its shit together and hope for the best.

You know if it were not for the fact Stephen Harper would be PM of a majority government I would have no problem with the Liberals wondering the political wilderness for the next half decade or so. There is nothing like spending long periods of time in the opposition for getting rid of the dead wood and hangers on in a political party. What is usually left over are those folks who are dedicated to the Party and its ideals.

Unfortunately, I do not think Canada can afford a Harper majority government so the Liberals are going to have to get their act together very quickly if Canadians hope to avoid such a fate.

And I will openly state right now that if the Liberals do not get past their navel gazing very soon they will not be able to count on my vote during the next election.