Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stephen Harper and the stench of political death

There is a rather noxious odor coming from 24 Sussux and it is not the smell of the mould that is to be removed during the renovations.

Stephen Harper is looking more and more like a government leader who knows that his days in that position are numbered. It is apparent in the way he is carrying himself and in his actions. Indeed, the similarities between him and Paul Martin after the Brault revelations during the Gomery Inquiry hearings is striking.

After those revelations everybody in this town knew that Mr. Martin would never win another election.

The November economic statement was the beginning of the transformation from political strongman to political has been and the Senate appointments will be what cements Mr. Harper's fate. For the second time in less than a month I heard my co-workers talking about politics today, specifically the Senate appointments, and like a few weeks ago their statements were not at all positive towards Mr. Harper. Mr. Harper, Mr. Manning and other Reformers, God bless them, were very successful in denigrating the Senate in the eyes of Canadians so the stacking of the Senate by one of them, with party bagmen and party hacks, is going to have a much greater impact on public opinion than if a Liberal would have done it. All of the other acts of hypocracy by this government were largely ignored but this last one is going to stick.

Again, like Mr. Martin, I believe Mr. Harper will enjoy a temporary reprieve from the Headman's axe in January but it will be short-lived. The idea of a coalition does not sit well with Canadians and that fact is causing an artificial boost in support for the Conservatives. However, once the "threat" of a coalition disappears at the end of January Conservative Party numbers will catch up to the sudden low standing Stephen Harper enjoys with Canadians. Then, sometime in the spring or summer the Big Three automakers are going to announce massive layoffs AFTER accepting billions in government handouts and that will mark the beginning of the final death spiral of support for the Conservatives. Incidently, those layoffs are going to happen no matter what. The structural problems with the Big Three cannot be solved with tax payers money. It will only be solved by major restructuring and that means lost jobs in the thousands.

Stephen Harper is beyond political redemption. My guess is we will no longer by talking about him during the holiday season of 2009. His own party will either turf him or Canadians will turf him, probably in the Fall of 2009.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Stephen Harper handed the Liberal Party a great gift on Thursday morning. He did something that cannot be spun as being a good idea and he did it for the most cynical of political motives. The Liberals could have taken advantage of that fact by spending the last four days pounding Stephen Harper for that action. When Stephen Harper's actions were still fresh in the minds of Canadians they could have used those actions to cement in the minds of Canadians that when Stephen Harper was faced with his VERY FIRST REAL CHALLENGE as Prime Minister he ran away like a craven coward. They could have highlighted his words from the last election campaign that governing does not allow for "do overs". They could have pounded on the fact that decision and the actions leading up to it undermines both our democracy and our national unity. They could have pounded him on the original reason why we had a political crisis to begin with, the do nothing economic statement, pointing out how wrong it was by tying it in with the latest unemployment numbers.

They could have said this with one voice. Every Liberal who spoke to the media, whether in print, on the radio, or on television could have spoken of nothing but those points. They could have hammered home this message.

Did the Liberals do this?

Of course not. When their chief opponent and the party they hope to replace as the government gave them a once in a lifetime opportunity to really hurt them the Liberals reverted to snapping and snarling AT ONE ANOTHER like a bunch of curs fighting over a pile of offal. (Which is what the Liberal Party is quickly becoming.)

I am certain that Stephen Harper, coming off of the most difficult week of his political life, was very pleased with the Liberals this past weekend. He and the Conservatives were probably scambling on Friday to come up with a strategy and a message to counter any Liberal attempt to take advantage of Thursday morning and I am certain they were very relieved when Liberals began talking about their own leadership as opposed to Stephen Harper's.

I am now more convinced as ever that the only way the Liberals are ever going to get their game back is to hit rock bottom and spend a great deal of time in the political wilderness. A wilderness where they will not even have a sniff at power for at least four years. That is the only way to get rid of the hangers on and political hacks that have infested the party. These folks only hang around because they expect favours from the party when it achieves power so if the party has no chance of doing that any time soon they will desert the party, leaving the true believers in Liberal values behind to rebuild the party.

As for Mr. Dion I have a piece of advice. You took a great deal of abuse from seperatists on behalf of the Liberal Party and the Party paid you back by heaping even more abuse on you since you won the leadership of it. So Mr. Dion my advice to you is to resign both your position and your seat immediately. You do not owe the Liberal Party anything at this point. Return to your life and write a book about your experiences and if you choose to name names with regard to your recent job as Liberal leader I would not blame you. Not that you would because you have too much class for that. Certainly more class than those who would replace you.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Liberals have forgotten the KISS principle

The Liberal message last week after the announcement of the coalition:

Canadians do not vote for a Prime Minister. They vote for an individual Member of Parliament. Those Members of Parliament make up the House of Commons and for a Prime Minister to govern he must have the confidence of that House of Commons. Stephen Harper only won a minority government so the opposition, which is the majority in The House and represents 62% of those who voted in the election a few weeks ago, can take over after they vote non-confidence in the government on December 8.

The Conservative message last week after the announcement of the coalition:

We won the election, we earned the right to govern, and the losers are just making a power grab with the help of those evil seperatists.

Which argument won? Exactly.

It does not matter that the Conservative message is wrong. It does matter that it is a simple message, easy to deliver and it acknowledges the fact that Canadians are too lazy or too uninterested to really get the truth about most issues and the fact that even if they were interested the MSM in this country don't do facts.

Conservatives on both sides of the 49th parallel have perfected this, which is why they have been so successful in this decade. The Liberals have been terrible at this and the Democrats were until Obama came along. He at least understands that you need to remember the KISS principle.

As soon at the coalition was announced they should have changed the channel and went with a very simple argument. Pounding the Conservatives on the economy and their lack of help in the economic statement, while throwing a line to the Conservatives that included a simple explanation of what the coalition would do differently would have been a great idea.

What bothers me the most about all of this is the Liberals have shown no signs of changing. They are still trying to explain the niceties and nuances of our Parliamentary democracy to Canadians while blaming Stephane Dion for the current mess. As I stated yesterday he does share some of the responsibility for this situation but he is not the only one. As well, none of his erstwhile replacements have shown that they would be an improvement on this score. Bob Rae is still trying to sell the coalition. Michael Ignatieff just seems to be in a fog. I watched him yesterday on Newman's show and I was just left shaking my head. Thankfully, no one but political junkies watch that show so he did not make any real difference with that performance.

Liberals are going to have to come to grips with the fact that replacing Stephane Dion, whether it is now or in May, is not going to solve this problem. They are going to have to learn how to boil down their ideas into simple, believeable and punchy arguments. They are going to have to learn how to fudge the truth. They are going to have to acknowledge the fact that the days of trying to explain anything to an uninterested electorate are gone, to be replaced with the need to dumb down your arguments, and adjust their communications strategies accordingly.

Friday, December 05, 2008

What is the coalition to do now?

The coalition train has left the station. It was always a long shot that it would take over government and now even that long shot is done. So, what they should do is take up Mr. Harper's offer of consultation on the economy with the proviso that they include the Bloc and they should do this Monday morning.

Their argument should be that even if the Conservatives put forward a budget on January 26, with all sorts of stimulus, it would still need to be debated in The House, making the likely passing of it in February or later. They could argue that the government and the opposition could hammer out a deal before that so that when it is introduced there could be a minimum of debate and it could be passed much quicker. They could further argue that such an action is warranted by just pointing to the latest job numbers released today. Finally, they could argue that although they do not agree with the ideology of the Bloc, the Bloc does represent around 4 million Canadians and those Canadians need a voice at the table, to discuss the economic situation and what to do about it, as much as every other Canadian.

This would have the benefit of wrong-footing Mr. Harper. If anybody really believes his offer of consultations yesterday was genuine I have a bridge between Vancouver and Tokyo to sell you. Such an offer would put him into a tight spot because he would either have to agree, which will make his head explode, or disagree and appear to be uncooperative, undermining his argument. As well, it would short curcuit the upcoming PR campaign of the Conservatives. They can hardly attack the coalition if they are negotiating an economic stimulus package with them.

Of course, the Conservatives and the media will depict this as a climbdown by the coalition but as my last post points out they are going to find a way to depict the coalition in a way the best benefits the Conservatives anyway. So, the coalition might as well do something unexpected. It would wrong foot both the Conservatives and the media.

On a related topic I would like to mention that I am very disappointed with the PR strategy of the coalition. The only strategy they had was to release their agreement at a joint press conference one whole week before the confidence motion and nothing else. They did not seem prepared for the counter strategy, except to keep claiming that what they were proposing is legal and democratic within our system. Call me cynical but most Canadians are too stupid or too lazy to know the inner workings of our system. The Conservatives played to a simple concept. "We won the election and the coalitions is trying to steal it". The message resonated and I can guarantee that when they continue saying that for the next two months it will continue to do so. The coalition's counter: "What we are doing is legal and democratic". That argument went over like a lead balloon. Say what you will about them but the political right in this country and in the US have perfected the strategy of appealing to the "guts" of voters while the left seem to be stuck trying to appeal to their "heads". The election of George Bush, the two election victories by the Conservatives and the reaction of Canadians to the coalition idea should convince Liberals in this country to change their focus somewhat.

Of course, many are blaming Stephane Dion for this failure and he certainly shares some of the responsibility. However, it should be noted that the polls are telling us that Canadians have pretty well rejected the idea of a coalition. Very little is mentioned of the individuals in the coalition. So, I believe it is grossly unfair to only blame Stephane Dion for this failure. There are three political parties involved in this deal with their political strategy teams. There are three Liberal leadership contenders with their teams. Could not one person on those six teams foresee that the coalition PR strategy would be inadequate? Have they not been paying attention to how effective the Conservatives are in leveling attacks and producing a strategy to counter it as soon as the Conservatives unleashed theirs? Judging by the results the answer is no.

The coalition failure was a result of the coalition failing to develop a strategy beyond last Monday. That was a collective failure and not just that of one man.

Is the media pro-Conservative?

Stephen Harper did something unprecedented yesterday that has grave ramifications for our democracy so I decided to take a look at all of the media reports on it today to see what they said.

By and large I was not impressed. Although much was generally negative I found the criticism very muted. In fact, my home town newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen, did not even feature the fact Mr. Harper shut down Parliament to prevent his government's defeat. Instead it feature the Ipsos poll. I was aghast. The leader of the government ran away from Parliament to avoid being defeated and they put a poll on their front page under a banner headline about the poll.

As well, I noticed that all of the news organizations paid an inordinate amount of time talking about Liberal disunity. Again, the leader of the government opened up the possibility of future leaders governing without the confidence of The House for up to a year and they are talking about the Liberal Party. Unbelievable.

Where is the outrage over what Mr. Harper did? Why are they not howling from the rooftops?

I can guarantee that if Paul Martin would have done this in 2005 we would never have heard the end of it. They would have kept it on the frontpages for weeks. I can also guarantee that today will be the last day we hear about this. Oh certainly, there will be a few more stories buried in the back pages for a few more days and then that will be it.

When I see this combined with the remarkably lopsided coverage of the last election I can only conclude that the media is indeed pro-Conservative. It took me awhile to get here. I have always disliked the media because I have always believed that they are lazy, unimaginative, self-righteous and they have the herd instinct of the African Wildebeast. However, I always rejected the notion that they were biased.

That view has changed.

The only question for me is if this is permanent or just the swinging of the pendulum. I do remember how the media pretty much destroyed Stockwell Day during the 2000 election so I know the Liberals have not always been the victim of this. So we will have to wait and see but for now the media is definitely pro-Conservative.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The coalition missed an opportunity

I really wonder what would have happened today if the coalition would have done this yesterday.

The coalition idea should never have been an end in itself. It should have been a means to an end. If the Governor General would have been presented with a Prime Minister asking for the shutdown of Parliament when there was a proposal on the table she might not have granted his request.

At the very least, if she would have the media might have had to report that Stephen Harper asked for the shutdown of Parliament even though the coalition had thrown him a lifeline.

This should be a lesson to all of the opposition. If you present your coalition as a way to show cooperation in Parliament you should try to get the cooperation of the government as well as the other opposition parties. That way you look genuine and it is much more difficult for the government and their many, many, many friends in the media to depict you as "power hungry" bastards working with the seperatists.

Thank you Madame Jean

The decision by the Governor General this afternoon is certainly a blow to those Liberals who were drunk on the possibility of the Liberals taking power from the Conservatives as part of a coalition.

However, Madame Jean has done them and all Liberals a favour, even if that does not appear to be the case right now.

Mr. Harper made a gross political miscalculation by putting no less than three poison pills into the most recent economic update. When the opposition unexpectantly said "Up yours" and pushed back hard Mr. Harper found himself in fatal trouble. He has spent the last week trying to squirm out of that trouble using all sorts of underhanded tactics, including insulting a large number of Quebecers. All of this was unscripted and we all know what happens to the fortunes the Harper Party when it goes off scipt. All of that was great news for the Liberals but the mother lode was Mr. Harper seeking and receiving the shutdown of Parliament.

Mr. Harper ran away.

He faced defeat and instead of taking it like a man he did something absolutely unprecedented to avoid it. This past week culminating in that act has done to the Harper Party what Adscam did to Paul Martin's Liberals. In fact I have been treated to a whole week of people talking about the events of this week around the "water cooler" and on the bus. That has not happened since Adscam broke in 2004. As well, nothing of what people are saying is positive towards Mr. Harper.

Mr. Harper now finds himself completely discredited leading a discredited party at the beginning of a recession. This is particularly true in Quebec where Conservative numbers are probably heading towards single digits and will probably stay there if the much anticipated ad attack on the coalition comes to pass in the coming weeks. By golly, Liberals should be dancing in the street at that prospect.

The added bonus is Mr. Harper my be able to hang on to the leadership of the Conservatives. He has retained the Prime Minister's chair which means that he has all of the power to punish anybody in his caucus who tries to organize against him. I cannot think of one cabinet minister in his cabinet that has the integrity to give up their cabinet post and all of its perks to take on Mr. Harper. However, if he does get booted out who will take his place? He is a one man government. No one else has the same stature as he does or even the same name recognition and those who do might have it for the wrong reasons. Peter MacKay (roll eyes), Stock Day (giggle), Maxime Bernier (LOL). Jim Prentice is named as the most competent minister but most people could not pick him out of a line up. He does not enjoy the stature necessary to bring the Conservatives back as a credible party in the small amount of time between now and the next election.

Contrast that with the Liberals. Both Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Rae are well known compared to any of the "big guns" in the Conservative Party.

Some have stated they are concerned about the upcoming PR blitz. Unlike the one they had for Mr. Dion this next one is going to be done from a position of weakness. It will also be defensive in nature. As well, I would imagine Canadians would really appreciate a recently discredited political party showering them with political ads during the holiday season. I am certain it will go over very well. All that being said, the Liberals should be preparing themselves to walk away from the coalition idea. It was a long shot to begin with, but its credible threat served its purpose. Now it is time to change gears. The Liberals should keep the pressure on and be prepared to pounce when the Conservatives deliver a budget that has all of the measures in the coalition agreement but they should not try to form another coalition again, unless Mr. Harper is stupid enough to put another poison pill into the January budget.

The Harper Party is going to be at the mercy of the opposition. Gone are the days of confidence motions for anything but money bills. After running away from a confidence vote they were likely to lose any shred of credibility they have left will evaporate if they try to make other measures matters of confidence.

The Conservative Party find themselves with their credibility in tatters, being lead by leader that is now a huge liability, but he will never admit that, at the beginning of a recession that would probably cause major problems for governments in much better shape. The attack on Quebecers will cost them support on Quebec and the recession will cost them support in the big cities and in the suburbs. Today could mark the day when the Liberals begin their march back to majority government.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Is this a political crisis, constitutional crisis or a national unity crisis?

Judging by the increasingly strident and shrill arguments from the Conservatives they would seem to believe the latter. Some of them are saying that the coalition as it stands would cause a huge jump in western seperatism while others are howling at the idea of the coalition governing with the support of *gasp* the Bloc Quebecois.

Of course it is all BS.

In the west there has never been much of a seperatist movement. There are certainly a number of wingnuts who have a talent for getting themselves noticed but when westerners are asked about whether they wish to go their own way the percentage that say yes are always in the single digits, even in Alberta the "hotbed" of western alienation. Of course, that does not stop politicians, usually Conservative politicians, from talking up the "threat". Some might argue that the method of the ouster of the Conservatives (if it comes to pass) may cause an upsurge in seperatist sentiment. That is a dubious argument at the best of times and downright silly in the current economic climate. If the Alberta economy were still booming and oil prices were still around $150/barrel we might see an uptick in support but it would not be enough to even touch the support for sovereignty in Quebec when it is at its lowest ebb. With oil prices at around $50/barrel and a severe credit crisis most westerners, including Albertans, will have the same concerns that every Canadian has right now. What is going to happen to my job? My house? My kids' education? I would make a substantial wager that even amongst the Conservative "base" there are those that agree that the economy needs stimulating, although they would prefer the Conservatives to do it instead of the coalition.

In Quebec there is no appetite for seperation or even sovereignty association at the moment. The PQ is running a distant second behind Jean Charest and Gilles Duceppe owes the positive results in the most recent general election, in part, to Mr. Harper and his ill considered attacks on the arts. If Mr. Harper would not have made that big miscalculation he would probably not have to be worrying about any non-confidence motions on Monday.

As has been pointed out the idea of having a say in how the country is governed seems to appeal to Quebecers. The polls say so and so does the generally positive coverage the coalition is receiving from the french language newspapers in Quebec. Would it not be interesting if Quebecers became used to that and decided they wanted more?

I think that is one of the possible side effects of this whole affair. Quebecers stopped caring about the governance of Canada 15 years ago and had not been showing any signs of warming to the idea any time soon.

This coalition could change all of that. If it does, the Conservatives are really going to rue the day they went so over the top attacking the Bloc and the people who voted for it. The reason being is if Quebecers decide that they want to re-engage in governing the country many will turn to national parties to achieve that goal. The actions of the Conservatives in the last couple of days could very well cause those Quebecers to turn to the other national parties, particularly the Liberals.

So, the actions of Mr. Harper today could be sowing the seeds of the eventual political defeat of his successor sometime in the future.

Is that what they mean by karma?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The coalition needs to change the channel

Stephen Harper is finished. He in not a lame duck he is a dead duck. In all likelihood he will lose his job as leader of the Conservative Party before Stephane Dion steps down as leader of the Liberal Party. (And if anybody would have made such a prediction a few short weeks ago I would have suggested they seek professional help)

What that means is the coalition can throw him a lifeline in the coming days with very little risk. And the coalition will need to do that.

As expected the MSM has come out hard against the coalition and they are parroting Conservative talking points. These will resonate with Canadians. I have seen alot of Liberal and Progressive bloggers making all sorts of statements about how what the coalition is doing is legal and within the rules of the Canadian democracy. Well, that and a loonie will buy you a cup of coffee. Most Canadians do not know about the niceties and the nuances of the Westminster parliamentary system. They will not spend alot of time over the next little while to learn about them and their main source of information, if they were interested, is the MSM and they are not inclined to inform them anyway.

As a result, we will see a significant number of Canadians who believe the coalition is not legitimate and that it is just a power grab. Under such conditions the coalition would not last long and would probably do harm to the country. Not to mention the harm it could do to the Liberal Party.

So, the coalition needs to change the topic of conversation away from the "power grab" meme and the best way to do that is to throw Mr. Harper a lifeline.

Some time tomorrow the coalition should issue a joint statement to Mr. Harper, copying the media, that they are willing to talk to Mr. Harper about finding a solution to the current political crisis. They should state that such talks will involve implementing some of the policies outlined in the coalition agreement document. As well, they should state that if no agreement is in place by December 8, they will go ahead and vote down Mr. Harper's government and ask the Governor General to give the coalition the opportunity to win the confidence of The House.

The explanation that the coalition should give Canadians is they want to make this Parliament work. That they will do whatever they can to make it work but that it is up to Mr. Harper to meet them part of the way. Further they can state the disruption of a protracted political crisis in not in Canada's interest at this time so they are willing to take steps to resolve it. Again, providing Mr. Harper is willing to meet them part of the way.

This would have the advantage of pulling the teeth out of the "power grab" meme. It would demonstrate that the coalition is serious about removing the Conservative government but only if that government is unwilling to work with them. And most importantly it would put the ball firmly back into Mr. Harper's court, which is where the coalition should want it to be. Keep the pressure on him. He will either have to give in and the idea of giving into the hated Liberals in general and Stephane Dion in particular will virtually guarantee Mr. Harper's removal from the head of that party. Or, he will be defiant and the coalition can then claim that Mr. Harper was unwilling to work with them despite being offered the opportunity by them. Or he can try to end this session of Parliament, which will really look bad after being offered an olive branch.

There is still a long time to go before that non-confidence motion and we all know that a few days is a life time in politics. If the coalition wants to keep the initiative they had better be prepared for the possibility of not taking power if it will advance the greater cause of providing assistance to Canadians in tough economic times and removing Mr. Harper from the Canadian political scene.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Well, I guess it is done

The Canadian Parliament seems to be on an unalterable course towards and Liberal/NDP coalition government. With the signing of the accord, in public, today neither one of those two parties can now back out or give in to Mr. Harper. Even the Bloc, who has not joined the coalition, has decided to make peace with the Liberals for at least a year and a half. I figured that the last refuge for Mr. Harper would have been to call Mr. Duceppe and say "Name your price" for although the Bloc might be aligned with the Liberals and NDP in social matters they are more closely aligned with the Conservatives in matters of the role of the Federal government in the affairs of the provinces. Mr. Duceppe appeared to cut off that avenue of escape for Mr. Harper today by signing this accord. He would look really conniving if he betrayed Mr. Dion and Mr. Layton just days after signing an agreement with them.

I still have my reservations about this whole coalition government idea and I have outlined my reasons in my two previous posts. However, that does not matter any more because events have moved past the point of no return, at least from the standpoint of the Liberals and the NDP.

Although, I believe Liberals better be prepared for savage attacks by the Conservatives and their apologists in the MSM. They are going to savage the idea of a coalition, the Liberals, and lastly the GG until the vote on non-confidence. Then they had better be prepared for even worse attacks if they actually take power. The BS from Mr. Ivison yesterday was just the beginning.

The coalition deal itself seems to be a good one and a fair one so we can probably expect the parties to adhere to their agreements. Although, I have doubts that this coalition will last until 2011. I think the Bloc has it right, 18 months if we are lucky.

Good on Mr. Dion for sticking with his plan to resign in May. I dare say that such a man of integrity will make one hell of a caretaker PM.

Of course, this is still not a done deal. Stephen Harper may still be able to pull a rabbit out of his butt and save himself and his government and I am looking forward to seeing him squirm for the remainder of the week.

Your move Mr. Harper.