Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hillier and Harper are both wrong

Yesterday I blogged about the "contradiction" between what General Hillier said regarding the length of the Afghan mission and what is the government line on its length. Of course, it was just politics as usual.

However, I believe that both of their lines are wrong. My guess is Canada will return home from Afghanistan before 2011, mainly because the NATO mission will end before then.

The reason is the Americans and the Iraqi insurgency.

It is widely expected that the new President of the United States will begin pulling troops out of Iraq very soon after being sworn into the White House. Everybody but George Bush knows that the Americans have lost the war in Iraq and they are going to want to cut their losses.

The fallout from that event is going to shape what happens in Afghanistan.

First, there is American public opinion. It is very likely that Americans will not be in any mood to continue fighting any kind of war in that region of the world for the foreseeable future so pressure will begin to mount on the new President to remove all American troops from Middle East and South Asian hotspots. That opinion will only be hardened by the other big event that will follow the US withdrawel from Iraq, the movement of Iraqi insurgents to Afghanistan.

There is a significant segment of the Iraqi insurgency that does not give a damn about Iraq. All it cares about is fighting the Americans and the other western militaries occupying Muslim countries. Once the American leave Iraq, these "soldiers of Islam" will move towards Afganistan to do there what they did in Iraq. Such a move will be facilitated by Iran, which will probably be looking for ways to punish the US for bombing them.

Once these battle hardened insurgents get to Afghanistan the war there will degenerate into the same situation we are currently seeing in Iraq. The American people will not tolerate any more casualties so if the Americans did not already remove their troops from Afghanistan soon after they removed them from Iraq, pressure would grow on the President to do so.

The War on Terror is a Bush war and the new President will not be as committed to it.

Once the US begins to remove its troops from Afghanistan, NATO will not be too far behind. My guess is the NATO withdrawal will begin late in 2009 and be completed by mid-2010.

Incidentally, President Karzai knows this, which is why he has begun talking to the Taliban. He knows what happens to Afghan leaders who are installed and supported by foreign troops after those foreign troops finally leave Afghanistan. He want to escape the same fate.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

General Hillier sent Mr. Harper a message this week

One does not attain the highest ranked position in any Western armed forces without having highly honed political instincts and the ability to play the political game on a high level.

So, it is highly unlikely that General Hillier made statements that contradict the government line by mistake. He did it deliberately and with intent.

General Hillier is correct that he is on the same page as Mr. Harper in the sense that both men want to extend the miliary presence in Afghanistan into the foreseeable future. So, General Hillier was telling the truth during his exercise in damage control after he returned from Afghanistan.

So why did he contradict the government line and what message was he trying to convey?

He did it because he wants the government to make a decision on the fate of the Afghan mission sooner rather than later. He understands the political need for Mr. Harper to be ambiguous but those needs are interfering with his own needs and goals and he wants Mr. Harper to know it.

General Hillier has both long-term and short-term goals. He would like to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan for the next decade or so because it will guarantee his element of the Canadian Forces will continue to receive the lion's share of scarce military resources. Make no mistake there is still alot of sometimes bitter conflict between the Army, Navy and Airforce on how to divide the budgetary pie and a land war in Asia virtually guarantees the Army will come out on top in such conflicts. So if General Hillier can secure a long-term commitment to Afghanistan from Mr. Harper he will have the legacy of making the Army the supreme element of the CF for years to come.

In the short term the end of the current mission in Afghanistan is coming to a close. General Hillier is smart enough to know that the nature of the mission is going to change. So there is an ever pressing need for the ladies and gentlemen... Oh who am I kidding? There is an ever pressing need for the men who plan and implement the missions to learn what the new parameters of the mission will be. The longer the lead time in receiving this information the better the planning and the more likely the success of the mission.

General Hillier was playing the age old game of politics this week with his surprise visit to Afghanistan and his statements that contradicted the government line. He did it to send a clear message to Mr. Harper that he needs a decision on the nature of the mission very soon and to send Mr. Harper his ideas of what the nature of the mission should be when the decision is finally taken.

The really intriguing thing about all of this was the way he decided to send the message. General Hillier has a direct line to the Minister of Defence, who has the responsibility to listen to the Chief of Defence Staff and forward any concerns he might have to the Prime Minister. In short, there are channels General Hillier can follow to get his point across. The fact he felt the need to take the risk of stepping outside of those channels speaks volumes.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I am going to keep flogging that Dion blog horse

This is why. Thanks "WDIK" Grit.

When I worked for the Liberals on Parliament Hill, Mr. Dion was taking on Lucien Bouchard and the separatists after the 1995 Referendum. He was doing it by doing just what he did in La Presse. Writing great articles that appealed both to the logic and to the hearts of Quebecers.

It was well known on The Hill that he wrote his own material. He did not have an assistant do it for him and if he needed to write a version of an article in both languages, he did it himself.

The man can write and write well and the Liberals should let him do so on a more casual medium, such as a blog.

In most of the country the Liberal "Brand" is still held in high regard. The problem is the Conservatives, with the assistance of some of its cheerleaders in the media, have successfully defined Mr. Dion as not being a leader. Of course that is not true but that is irrelevent at this time. There will be very few opportunities for him to counter that meme and waiting until an election to do so will be too late.

A 36 day campaign is not enough time to change things around, particularly when most accounts say the Conservatives will be running a campaign focusing on leadership. It is a strategy that makes for great sound bites and pithy quotes and it will be much easier to report than Liberal policy ideas. So, the Liberals have to begin countering that meme now. If they neutralize it before a campaign, or at least make progress in doing so, their strategy of focusing on the team approach and on policy will have a better chance of being effective.

Unfortunately, the opportunities for countering that meme are few and far between. The Liberals cannot count on major newspapers in the country to publish everything Mr. Dion wants to publish all of the time.

That is why I am promoting the idea of Mr. Dion establishing a blog. It will give him an opportunity to put his ideas out there without having to depend on the MSM to do it. Of course, he cannot produce blog entries like the article in La Presse. It take too much time and effort but he does not have to either. A blog where he posts short and concise entries, on issues facing Canadians, 3 or 4 times a week would be more than enough.

As I have stated before, the Liberals are going to have to think outside of the box to improve their fortunes and one way of doing so is to find ways for Mr. Dion to exploit his strength of being able to write well more often.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

So, where is the Stephane Dion blog?

I am not quite ready to let the idea of Mr. Dion creating a blog go just yet.

Jeff over at BCer in Toronto wrote this
post a few days ago where he states that Mr. Dion is best in small groups or one-on-one. Jeff then laments that it was too bad that Mr. Dion cannot knock on the doors of the 30 million Canadians. A blog may be a way for Mr. Dion to make that personal connection.

Imagine if he would have written a blog on the night of the Quebec by-elections, which he could have titled "Well, that sucks", where he wrote a candid, honest and personal assessment of the night's events. Do you not think it might have blunted the following media spin a little bit?

Of course, the Conservatives and the media would pounce upon such a blog and ridicule it, at least at the beginning. However, as I said in my previous post Liberals should ignore anything Conservatives say about the actions of the Liberal Party and Mr. Dion on spec. The Conservatives do not have interests of the Liberal Party at heart so there is no use listening to their opinions about it. And it is even worse if you not only listen to those opinions but you actually buy into them as many Liberals have been doing over the last few months.

As for the media they have not had anything good to say about the Liberals for months either so we might just as well accept that and find a way to go around them. A case in point is their spin of the Throne Speech. They began to spin the idea that Mr. Dion allowing the the Throne Speech to pass would be a sign of weakness weeks before the Speech was even delivered. So when he did just that it just allowed them to reinforced that narrative.

Now the question is if Mr. Dion would have stuck his "principles" and voted against the Speech would the media have waxed eloquently about Mr. Dion's courage, determination and integrity in the face of long odds? Of course not, they would have ridiculed him, labeling him a panic stricken, desperate bonehead for triggering an election he could not win.

In short Mr. Dion cannot win in the current media environment. So starve the bastards. As I stated yesterday Mr. Harper has treated them like something he found in a litter box and they are falling over themselves to gain his approval. So Mr. Dion should do something similar only he should approach if from a different direction. A personal blog would be a great way for Mr. Dion to show Canadians what kind of man he is while showing the media that he will not be pushed around by their BS.

And any publicity from the media, whether good or bad, would generate curiosity about the blog and might even create a little bit of a buzz about it.

Of course there are risks and VW points some of them out in a comment on my previous post. However, I do not see these as obstacles to creating a blog. I see them more as challenges that need to be overcome.

Garth Turner has demonstrated the power of a blog and he is just one Member of Parliament. Just imagine the potential impact of a blog written by a Party Leader, especially if he is the first Party Leader to do it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Let Mr. Dion loose!!

Over at Red Tory's place I made a comment that Mr. Dion should create his own blog. It was just an off the cuff remark but the more I think about it the more I think it is a good idea.

I will not re-create that comment. If you want to see it just follow the link to RT's place. I make the suggestion at around comment number 50.

Anyway, I believe that the Liberals and Mr. Dion have nothing else to lose in the current political climate. They have reached rock bottom and they have nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately, they are not going to do that any time soon unless they begin to think outside of the box.

It does not take a rocket scientist doing brain surgery to realize that the MSM has written off both the Liberals and Mr. Dion. So they should take a page out of Mr. Harper's book and ignore them until they come around. Mr. Harper has frozen the MSM out and they have kissed his ass for it, so maybe the Liberals should do the same thing.

However, they should do it differently. Instead of trying to keep everything a secret they should be much more candid with Canadians but they should bypass the MSM while doing it.

The internet is still a very under-utilized medium for political messaging. This would be a great opportunity for reaching Canadians directly with the message the Liberals want to propogate without the filter of the MSM.

My idea is it would be a blog, not just another venue for releasing Liberal Party media releases. Allow Mr. Dion to speak candidly about what is going on in the Liberal Party and the Country. Or for that matter if he wants to comment on how the Ottawa Senators are doing then go for it. As well, it must be his blog not some site for his speech writer to write on. Mr. Dion must author all of the blogs. He has proven over and over again that he is a great communicator in writing and I believe if he is given this venue for communicating with Canadians they will see just what kind of a man he is and what kind of a leader he can be. Of course, he would have to be careful but he has to be that anyway.

The blog would not be an alternative to the other ways of communicating with Canadians, such as speeches and such but I believe it would compliment those other methods and it may even cause people to pay closer attention to them.

So, I am going to make a suggestion and take it any way you like. I would encourage any Liberal to lobby the party to allow Mr. Dion loose in the blogsphere. In particular I would ask Jason Cherniak and any other Liberal in the blogsphere who has the ear of Mr. Dion and his people to pass this suggestion along to him.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Will we see a change in the media narrative soon?

As we all know the media has been pretty relentless with the current narrative that the Liberals are in trouble and that Mr. Dion is a weak leader. Yet despite this we continue to see polls that show the Conservatives are mired in the low to mid-30 range with the Liberals either tied with them or rarely more than a half-a-dozen points behind. The latest poll and some pretty good analysis of it can be found here.

So when are the media going to begin asking why the Conservatives cannot sustain a rise in support, particularly when they are up against a political opponent that is apparently a dead party walking?

I would argue that the MSM will eventually have to change the narrative in order to maintain its own credibility. You can only say that a party consistently maintaining a support level below what they acheived in the last election, and only a few points ahead of an apparently moribund opposition, as being in a good political position, for so long, before someone begins to ask them some embarrassing questions.

There have been a few voices out there who have begun to wonder about this situation but they are still few and far between. Are they voices in the wilderness or are they the vanguard to change?

If they are the vanguard, the Conservatives are in deep trouble. The narrative that Paul Martin could not open up a substantial lead on Mr. Harper in 2005 was one contributing factor to the Liberal loss in 2006. Stay tuned.

On a somewhat related note it was revealed that the Conservatives were building a brand new "Shoe Box Media Centre" with the intention of further controlling the government's message, even to the point of having the media use footage shot by operatives of the PMO.

What was interesting is as a story broke that indicated that the government wanted to make the media just a propaganda arm of the government that media still lavished praise on that very same government when it used Parliamentary protocol to arrange to have its election platform read by the Governor General.

When is the media in the country going to grow a pair?

Update: I guess when the media narrative does not fit the facts you can always change the facts. A good example of that is here. You have to wonder about a poll that is so out of whack with every other one do you not? Then you just have to see that the poll was commissioned by the very same news chain that is one of the biggest cheerleaders for the Conservatives and the news chain that almost single handedly created the Canadian Alliance to understand.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Stephen Harper's Challenge

With election fever in the air, at least until next week when all of those pesky confidence motions are out of the way and Stephen Harper has been denied an election he desperately wants, for a second time in less than a year, I thought I would comment on some of the challenges he faces in the next election.

He will be fighting the election as the government: This may seem like a small thing but I believe that it is the most important challenge he will face. Being the governing party during an election sucks because everybody is out to knock you off of the mountain. Although, Jack Layton can be counted on to give him an easy ride I believe.

An opposition party has the freedom to do nothing but attack because they do not need to defend a record. Look at Stephen Harper during the last election. Many of his more explosive statements from the past surfaced during that election but they did not go anywhere because he was the leader of the opposition. No one really cared because they were focused on the actual record of the government. As the leader of the governing party he will be very busy defending his flanks from attacks from four different party leaders and in all likelihood his counterattacks will not be as effective as they were when he was the leader of the opposition.

In addition, I wonder how he is going to react to these attacks? Mr. Harper is famous for being thinned skin when he or his policies are criticized, tending to become petty and personal. Will he be able to keep himself under control during 36 days of constant and relentless attacks from his political rivals?

The Bloc Quebecois: Watching Mr. Harper it is quite obvious that he is trying to rebuild the old Mulroney coalition of Alberta, Quebec nationalists and Rural Ontario. The problem is the Bloc. The Bloc will be going after the same voters that the Conservatives will be in Quebec. In addition news of the Bloc's imminent demise is highly overstated. One thing about the last two polls that was missed was a resurgence of the Bloc in Quebec. Both showed the Liberals down but both also showed the Bloc with close to double digit leads over the Conservatives. Of the 75 seats in Quebec around 40 of them are dominated by separatists and Quebec Nationalists. If the current numbers hold in Quebec the Conservatives will be lucky to hang on to the seats they have and would probably only have a chance at picking up another 5 to 10 seats. Not enough to replace all of the seats he will probably lose in the Maritimes and Saskatchewan.

There is an opportunity for the Liberals in this dynamic. The other 35 seats in Quebec are dominated by Federalists or have very large federalist populations. If the Conservatives stick to the strategy of pursuing the nationalist vote they will be ceding much of that federalist vote to the Liberals. Sorry NDP supporters, Quebecers might vote for the NDP during by-elections but they vote for a party that at least has a chance to form the government during general elections. There is a possibility that the Conservatives and the Bloc could split the nationalist vote in many of these 35 ridings giving the Liberals an opportunity to secure the federalist vote and come up the middle.

Governments always lose support after their first election: That phenomenon was just demonstrated in the Ontario election. The McGuinty Liberals share of the popular vote in the election just past was two points lower than the 2003 election. Of course, it did not matter in this case because the Ontario Liberals were at a high enough level of popular support they could afford to lose a couple of points. Mr. Harper cannot.

It is extremely rare for a governing party to consistently grow its support beyond what it achieved in its first election. It may impress some people enough to vote for them but it usually pisses a larger number of people off in the process. So although the Conservatives are flirting with majority territory at the present time there will be inevitable erosion of that support over the course of an election campaign as the challenges of point number one above take their toll.

The Canadian electorate is in a bad mood: I have the feeling the electorate is not too impressed with any politician right now. In fact they are downright miffed at them. Such a situation tends to put the governing party at the disadvantage because, well, they are the governing party. One advantage of being the government is you get to take credit for when things go well but one disadvantage is you cannot escape blame for all of the real or perceived errors, slights, injustices, etc. that some of the electorate may feel is being visited upon them, no matter how much that government tries to shift that blame elsewhere.

Recent events would seem to suggest that the Conservatives would have the advantage if an election were held in the very near future. However, it would, by no means, be a cakewalk and there is a real danger that that advantage could evaporate in an eye blink if they are unable to overcome the challenges I have outlined in this post.

In a day or two I will create a similar post outlining what I find will be the challenges facing Stephane Dion. Yes, some of them will be obvious but others not so much.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

There is no sure thing in politics

You know to be a political pundit is one hell of a gig. You get to throw your opinion out there, usually without any real facts to back it up and when you are proven wrong by events you can be certain that no one will remember what you said a few weeks ago. Throw in the fact that most of them make good six figure salaries and all I can say is where do I sign up?

This train of thought has come about because I have been seeing alot of the pundits already calling the next election a sure win for the Conservatives. They really should know better. There really is no sure thing in politics.

My favourate example this week was put forward by James Travers of The Star in a couple of columns. (Sorry no link. I have still not figured out how to insert them into the text of my posts.) In two columns he states that there is a disconnect between Stephen Harper's Conservatives and Canadians on two issues that he states will be ballot box questions if an election is held this fall - Afghanistan and the Environment. He then goes on to argue that despite this the Conservatives will probably win an easy victory and maybe even a majority government.

Huh? Is he really arguing that a government that is on the wrong side of two issues that will be ballot questions will have an easy time of winning an election?

Part of his argument of course is the troubles that Mr. Dion is having. To which I ask, how can someone be so cynical that he would believe Canadians would care more about the internal machinations of a political party over issues like the Afghan mission and climate change? Is he really implying Canadians will care less about these issues in the next election than the settlement Jamie Carroll will finally receive?

He must have a really low opinion of the Canadians electorate.

As well, he is assuming that the Liberals will not get their act together for an election and that Mr. Dion will not perform well during that election. One or both are possibilities but to draw conclusions on unproven possibilities is just silly.

The last two elections were predictable. It was pretty obvious that the Liberals would probably scrape out a victory in 2004 and lose the next one, although there was still a question of by how much.

This election is going to be extremely unpredictable. Despite what the pundits say the Conservatives' disadvantages are just as heavy as their advantages and the same is true for the Liberals. Mr. Harper will be in the position of fighting this campaign as the government which has different requirements and is a different dynamic to fighting a campaign as an opposition party. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to 5-6 weeks of criticisms of his government's record from three different perspectives. ( I have another post running around in my head which will expand on this idea. Stay tuned.)

If we have an election this fall it is going to be one of the most interesting ones we have seen in a couple of decades and I would not even hazard a guess on how it is going to turn out.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Why I won't support MMP: Governments should not be chosen by backroom negotiations

"If I wanted Jack Layton to be part of the government I would have voted for him."

I am certain if the last Federal Election would have been fought using the MMP electoral system that statement would have been uttered by many Canadians a few weeks after the election results rolled in.

The greatest argument that proponents of MMP make is such a system would eliminate the result of a party that wins less than a majority of the popular vote from receiving the majority of seats in the Legislature. Part of that argument is "the majority of the electorate rejected the governing party so why is it allowed to govern with a majority?" What they seem to forget, or at least they hope others will forget is larger majorities of the electorate reject the parties that lose an election. So my question is, why should they have any say in government at all?

During the last federal election the NDP received about 20% of the popular vote. That means around 80% of the electorate rejected the NDP as an option to form the government. It is probably not a stretch to believe that a sizable number of those voters did so because they did not want Mr. Layton or the NDP anywhere near the levers of power. Yet with an MMP system those desires would be ignored as the various parties engaged in horsetrading to secure enough votes in The House to win a confidence motion.

For me one of the weaknesses of MMP is the need for the winner of an election to enter into negotiations with the losers of the election to find a coalition partner, because with MMP coalitions would become the norm. Of course all of those negotiations would be behind closed doors. So in the end the voters will not know what their government will look like after they have cast their vote.

So imagine you are a Conservative supporter who supported them because you liked their economic policies. Further imagine your reaction if you were to wake up a few weeks after the election to the banner headline on the front page of the Globe and Mail: "Jack Layton to be named Finance Minister". Although my personal nighmare would have been the headline: "Gilles Duceppe to be named National Unity Minister".

An interesting feature of most MMP systems is if the winner of an election cannot cobble together a working coalition the second place winner is given a chance.

So again, imagine the last Federal election. The Conservatives are unable to convince the NDP to join them and after a set period the Governor General says to Stephen Harper: "You have had your shot and failed so now I am going to give Paul Martin a chance." Of course during that time period both the Liberals and the Conservatives would have been wooing Jack Layton with all sorts of goodies to convince him to join their coalition.

So it is conceivable with the MMP system that the loser of an election can still form the government. Even in the case were polls were showing that over 60% of the electorate desired a change in government. Yep, that certainly is a more democratic system.

Proponents of MMP argue that the FPTP system results in those votes that did not go to the eventual winner of a riding being wasted. MMP will not fix that problem. If I voted for one party because it put forward a set of policies I agreed with and that party would have to change those policies to convince another party to join a coalition my vote is just a wasted. If I would have wanted the policies and the programme of the "junior partner" in a coalition to be enacted I would have voted for that party.

The greatest strength of MMP, according to its proponents, is actually its greatest weakness. Instead of voters choosing their government they are only choosing the sides that will eventually move to the back rooms to hammer out a government that will not look anything like what the electorate voted for. MMP will actually take the decision on who governs Canada or Ontario out of the hands of voters and put it into the hands of the unelected, often unaccountable political operatives that are employed by all political parties.

That is not enhancing democracy.

Why I won't support MMP: Political Glaciation

There is no democratic electoral system that is "more" or "less" democratic that any other. First-past-the-post, some form of Proporational Representation or even the American Electoral College are all democratic systems with their strengths and weaknesses. You can argue at length about those but no conclusions can be made about which one is democratically superior. All of them are designed to allow citizens to choose who they want to govern and all of them are effective at getting that job done.

Proponents of MMP like to point to Germany and New Zealand as prime examples of that kind of electoral system. They are certainly good examples of both and they are both great examples of one of the greatest weaknesses of MMP, namely, lack of action on fundemental issues facing their countries.

In Germany the politics stays the same and only the personalities change. The Christian Democrats, with their Bavarian allies, and the Socialist Party are the same parties now as they were 20 years ago. Certainly their leaders have changed but there policy ideas and their political programmes are the same now as they were in the '80s. When one of them loses an election this does not change, only the leader of the party changes. The reason for this is both parties know that they just need to bide their time until a very small portion of the German electorate gets tired of the government and then they will be in power again.

The result of this is much needed reforms to the German economy are not getting done and that has been the case for over a decade. As well, there is no sign that this situation will change in the foreseeable future.

New Zealand only recently switched to an MMP system. The reason for the switch was a long standing government that brought in extremely painful economic reforms about 20 years ago. These reforms were made possible by a government that won successive elections using the FPTP system. After that government was finally defeated the country switched to MMP so that this could never be done again. The people of New Zealand chose this system because they wanted to prevent future governments from putting them through the same gut wrenching change again.

Contrast that to the FPTP system. This system forces political parties to renew themselves on a regular basis because they know that they cannot just wait for a small portion of the electorate to grow tired of the government.

We have seen that more times than I can count at both the Federal and Provincial level. Those parties that make the effort to renew themselves, come up with new ideas on how to deal with the issues that matter to Canadians are successful. Those that do not are not. That is the reason why the Liberals and the Conservatives have been the dominant federal parties in this country for so long and why the NDP can never get out of third party status. The NDP is the same party today as it was under Ed Broadbent. The only thing that has changed is its leaders.

As an aside, that is the reason why I believe the NDP will eventually be usurped as the third party by the Greens. The Greens have shown more willingness to adapt its policies and programmes to the desires of Canadians and it is only a matter of time before the overtake the NDP. After that, who knows.

You can see the results. Many of the programmes that we have come to take for granted in this country would not have come to pass with an MMP system.

Countries and provinces change and the people of those political entities need to be able to choose governments that are willing and able to deal with that change. The FPTP electoral system is more effective at allowing them to do so.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Have you ever had that feeling of deja vu?

Looking at the recent troubles of Stephane Dion I cannot help but think I have been here before.

I really do not need to go into all of the problems as they have been well discussed.

What strikes me are the similarities of his situation with that of Stephen Harper after he won the leadership of the Conservative Party. At the time, the takeover of the PCPC by the CA created all sorts of problems. New announcements by prominent Progressive Conservatives that they were leaving the new Conservative Party were rampant and it all culminated in Scott Brison switching sides to the Liberals.

The pundits at the time had written off Mr. Harper. The Conservatives were moribund in Quebec, Mr. Harper was seen as an uncharismatic policy wonk who could not connect with voters, the Party was having difficulty raising money and Mr. Harper was having great difficulties organizing the Party. The pundits all believed that Mr. Harper would be crushed by the Big Red Machine and that the end of his political career was just an election away. Sound familiar?

Of course there are differences. Stephen Harper was saved by the Sponsorship Scandal which was a three year cancer that ate away at the Liberals and their support. I doubt that the Liberals can expect such a gift from the Conservatives.

However, there are other very important differences that need to be kept in mind. During Mr. Harper's time of troubles the Conservatives were sitting in the low 20s in the polls while the Liberals were in the mid to high 40s. As well, this was the period when Paul Martin could still do no wrong. He was the golden boy of politics, respected, LIKED, and popular in every part of the country. (Indeed, there was even talk that the Liberals would actually pick up seats in Alberta.) Can the same be said of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives?

As well, during this period the Conservatives were sitting at single digits in Quebec and they had absolutely no organization there. The Liberals on the other hand have a base in Quebec and they do have an organization even if it is in some disarray at the moment.

Yet despite those realities Stephen Harper was a few badly timed comments, from some of his candidates, away from winning the 2004 election and he won the 2006 election.

Compared to Mr. Harper, Mr Dion is in great shape. I do not know when the next election will be but as things stand now the Liberals do have a realistic shot at winning it.