Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Quebec Election, the day after

Jean Charest has proven that a politician can win and lose at the same time. He won the most seats but it was a near run thing including in his own riding and he took a hammering from the electorate. The only thing that saved his bacon was Mario Dumont. If he had not done so well we would be looking at a PQ government today and possibly a majority. Make no mistake, this was not an endorsement of Mr. Charest, his government, or federalism. The result is that Mr. Charest has been mortally wounded. If he sticks around the Liberals lose the next time, which will probably be within a year to 18 months.

Mario Dumont won but I do not envy him his next task. His near victory last night will attract alot of media glare onto him and his party, including the seperatist press who are not happy he usurped the PQ. Expect them to make his life Hell for the next few months. In addition, he has to take a bunch of political neophytes and mold them into a viable government in waiting within a year. That is difficult at the best of times but it will be even more difficult because his caucus and his party have their share of wingnuts who the media will just love to focus on.

The PQ lost but they were not destroyed. Writing their political epitaph is a little premature. Seperatism is not dead in Quebec and as long as that is the case the PQ will always be a force to be reckoned with.

As far as the implications of last night for the federal scene everything has been thrown for a loop.

Mr. Harper's Quebec strategy suffered a major failure last night. Despite all that he did for Mr. Charest over the last year, from the nation vote to the recent budget the PLQ could only muster one-third of the vote and the Quebec National Assembly is now dominated by parties whose devotion to Canada is conditional to non-existent.

In addition, Mr. Harper's actions this past year, culminating with a budget that could have been written by Mr. Charest, has inextricably linked Mr. Harper and Mr. Charest inside and outside Quebec. That is not good news for Mr. Harper because Mr. Charest has become a millstone around his neck. He is going to have a difficult time severing that link and it will probably cost him.

As well, several commentators have argued that Mr. Dumont's rise is great for Mr. Harper because they are a natural fit ideologically. It is true but Mr. Harper better be careful. Mr. Dumont stood shoulder to shoulder with Parizeau and Bouchard during the last referendum and he has never repudiated his desire for Quebec separation. He has just "softened" it a bit and renamed it "autonomy" which if you look closely looks alot like Rene Leveques' idea of sovereignty association. In addition, Mr. Dumont's brand of conservatism has a nasty streak to it. During this election he played to the fears of pur laine francophones who believe the Frenchness of Quebec is being eroded by immigrants, particularly those of colour.

Those two factors hold a trap for Mr. Harper in the broader Canadian context if he gets too close to Mr. Dumont.

In short, Mr. Harper does not have anybody in Quebec it can turn to for support in the next election. Mr. Harper will be running away from Mr. Charest as fast as he can and he will have to keep his distance from Mr. Dumont so as not to alienate voters in the rest of Canada who may not like him consorting with a known seperatist and a possible bigot.

I am not certain about the implications of last nights events for the Bloc. Last night separatists and soft nationalists decided to support an alternative to the PQ. Fortunately for the Bloc no such alternative exists at the federal level. Unfortunately for the Bloc, Mr. Harper has taken some of the wind out of their sales with regard to the Bloc's constant whines about Quebec being the victim of the federal government and federalism. Without them, the Bloc may not be able to come up with an election platform that resonates with Quebecers.

The Liberals come out of last night's election relatively unscathed. Mr. Dion has no ties with either Mr. Charest or Mr. Dumont. That means he will not have to deal with any of the baggage that comes with them. It also means he will not have anybody to turn to for support in the province either but I would argue that being a native son would mitigate the negative effects of that somewhat.

As well, there is a very good chance that the Quebec part of the next federal election will not feature yet another tired debate about separation, a fiscal imbalance, or Quebec's place in Canada. Quebecers indicated last night that they do not want to talk about the first topic and Mr. Harper has taken the other two off the table for the foreseeable future. So the topics of conversation during the next election could very well be the same in Quebec as the rest of the country, namely, the competing policies from the various parties regarding the environment, crime, Afghanistan, social policy, health and child care. In that situation the Liberals are at least on a level playing field with the Conservatives and I would argue that they might even have an advantage in key areas of the country, including Quebec.

Last night was a bad night for federalism and it could change the dynamic of the upcoming federal election is a way no one thought possible a month ago.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The budget will not pass

Because it is not meant to.

This budget is an election budget and nothing more. The Conservatives have no intention of ever implementing it. They only want to run on the promises contained in it.

Stephen Harper wants an election. That is obvious and he wants it because he knows that now is the best opportunity for him to achieve his much coveted majority. If he is forced to wait until the fall or beyond he knows that his chances of winning the next election is in doubt let alone winning a majority government.

So his government produced the budget with the idea of triggering an election. He wanted the opposition to defeat it so that he could say to Canadians: "See all of these goodies that we were going to give you. Well the opposition parties just took them away so give us a majority government so that we can give them all back."

Of course, if Canadians fell for that they would find the new budget of his new government missing alot of what is in this document.

Unfortunately for Mr. Harper, the Bloc threw a monkey-wrench into his plans although it is only temporary. It is still very likely that an election will be triggered at some point this spring although Mr. Harper may find he no longer completely controls the circumstances of its triggering.

I believe this will play out in one of two ways.

1. Jean Charest wins the Quebec election. If that happens Mr. Harper will present a poison pill in the House of Commons, probably in the form of one of his more draconian crime bills and he will make any vote on it a matter of confidence. Such a bill will be completely unacceptable to the opposition parties and they will be hard pressed to accept it. If they do not then we are on our way. If they do he will continue to present poison pills until he gets the result he wants. Mr. Harper will of course blame the opposition for the election, he will blame them for taking away all of the goodies contained in the budget and he will claim yet again that the opposition is "soft on crime".

2. Andre Boisclair wins the Quebec election. If that happens the Bloc will want to take advantage of the PQ honeymoon and Mr. Duceppe will suddenly decide that the budget is not such a great deal for Quebec after all. So sometime in April when a vote on the budget comes up the Bloc will withdraw its support for it and we will again be off. Mr. Harper will still claim the opposition took away all of the goodies in the budget and campaign on that.

Either way this budget is nothing more that a bunch of promises that are meant to be used during an election campaign and Stephen Harper will be trying his damnest to make certain it is used for that purpose.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What is your vote worth?

Since Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Harper were buying votes yesterday I started to think what would my price be to sell my vote to them.

After careful consideration and thought I have decided it is:

A yearly all expenses paid family winter vacation to the warm destination of the family's choice (or its cash equivalent) for all families that have a blogger that quotes Plato in the blogger name.

So folks what would your vote be worth? What price would you extract from Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Harper to sell them your vote?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Reality is a bitch isn't it?

Liberals were feeling pretty good for awhile there weren't they?

From September to the beginning of February they did not have to do anything and they still saw their fortunes rise. They got used to it and thought it would carry through to the next election. Now they have a bad two weeks and suddenly many of them are wondering what went wrong.

Well, the short answer is nothing. Ignore the media hype, ignore the polls, ignore the pundits and the chattering classes who say the Liberals are in trouble. This is merely the Liberal Party coming back down to earth.

Have the Conservatives done anything really right to deserve the good fortune they have enjoyed for the past couple of weeks? No. However, they have not done anything really wrong in the last few weeks either, so in that situation the the advantage goes to them as they are the sitting government and one of the axioms of politics is the incumbent has the advantage in between elections unless they make a series of big mistakes.

Is there anything the Liberals can do to reverse their fortunes? Not yet. But I would not worry too much. No one is really paying attention to politics right now so whatever anybody says about the relative fortunes of any political party now is blowing smoke.

I have heard plenty of advice from the Liberal blogsphere about reversing their fortunes. My favourite is they should stop talking about the environment and move on to something else. That does beg the question though of who it going to listen? It is the lot in life of an opposition party that you will generally be ignored in between elections.

Mr. Dion announced a very reasonable income trust proposal. Did it go anywhere?
Mr. Dion announced a new Liberal policy on the Afghan mission. Did anybody pay attention?
The Liberals proposed some very reasonable amendments to those now infamous Anti-terror provisions. Do you know of anybody outside of the political blogsphere who knows what they were?

So if your target audience (the electorate) will generally ignore what you have to say why would you begin to make all sorts of policy announcements and policy proposals? The only people that will listen to you is your opponent and then only to come up with counterarguments to throw out during an election campaign when the electorate begins to listen.

The opposition best places itself by picking a theme and hammering away at it. Even though it does not pay dividends at the time it does cause the theme to stick in the minds of the electorate come election time. It is then that the opposition party should change tack and build on what they established. The Liberals will be proposing the three piller approach in the coming election but in order for that to be really effective they have to establish one of them in the minds of Canadians and keep it there. They appear to have succeeded.

I would point to the Liberals' chief opponent as an example. Mr. Harper hammered the accountability and scandal theme for months. After awhile people were tuning him out and it appeared that he was barking up the wrong tree as it appeared everybody else had moved on.
Then we had the election of 2006 and he changed tack completely. Although accountability was still part of his election theme it was not the only part. He made it part of a whole and it worked because he had established accountability as a key issue in the last election.

Despite the efforts of Mr. Harper et. al. their environmental bonafides have not been deeply established amongst the electorate. If it is a key issue in the coming election it will be a weakness for them and a point of strength for the Liberals. So when the Liberals build upon that strength by integrating it into a more complete whole it will put them in a good position to win the election.