Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ugh, not another Mike Harris

Mike Harris made me a Liberal. I have always been a liberal but it was Mike Harris who made me become a partisan for the Party. Before Mike Harris I voted for whoever I thought would do the best job regardless of political affiliation.

However, when I saw him importing the ideology of Newt Gingrich and his merry band of wingnuts into Canada I knew I did not have that luxury anymore. His idea of blaming the poor for the last recession and punishing them for it just grated against all that I thought was right. Nobody chooses to be poor and they are a symtom of economic problems not the cause. So, I looked for and found a political party that generally matched my view on the role of governments in society and began working for them. Needless to say that was the Liberals. (Although, the LPC's treatment of Mr. Dion has caused me to reconsider that at the federal level.)

So, when I saw that Tim Hudak won the leadership of the Ontario PCP I shuddered and thought not again.

Certainly, everybody believes that Mr. Hudak has little chance in the next election but they said the same thing about Mr. Harris.

He was leading a third place party that had an ideology that went against the progressive instincts of the majority of Ontario voters. I like many others believed that Ontario voters would not buy his blame the poor philosophy nor would they fall for the promise of deep tax cuts while maintaining government services.

My was I and everybody else wrong. The recession of the 90s changed the progressive nature of Ontario voters and the electorate was ripe for the lie of low taxes and gold plated government services.

We now find ourselves in another recession. Ontario is being particularly hard hit so we are setting up the 1995 scenario again for 2011. This time however the PCPO is in second place and the Ontario electorate has demonstrated a few times since 1995 that they are not nearly as progressive as they were beforehand. As well, we have seen on more than one occasion in more than one jurisdiction that the electorate is willing to buy the lie about low taxes and good government service, Ontarians demonstrating it at least three times since 1995. Finally, Dalton McGuinty will be seeking his third mandate and fighting his fourth election. That is difficult when times are good so I can only imagine how difficult it will be in the aftermath of one of the worst recessions Ontario has ever experienced.

I would urge Ontario Liberals to not underestimate Mr. Hudak or overestimate the progressive nature and political awareness of the Ontario electorate. They are going to have to find another argument than he is a Mike Harris "clone". That argument will not work. We have former Harrisites in the Federal cabinet, put their by the voters of Ontario, twice. Mike Harris will never be forgiven by Liberal and NDP partisans for what he did to Ontario but that attitude is not shared by Ontario voters at large so you had better come up with a counter to Mr. Hudak that does not involve vilifying Mike Harris.

You have two years, I suggest you get started.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

End of session polls

We have had a few come out since the end of the Parliamentary session, with the latest being the Nanos offering this morning. The Liberal blogsphere has been abuzz about the estimates and many have speculated on the reasons why the Liberals seem to have fallen off a bit.

My advice to them is not to worry. The estimates are what they are. Trying to explain movements of less than 2-3% is what the MSM does and always very badly. Leave it to them.

What I would point out is the Liberals have lead and are now tied (still leading according to Nanos) the campaigning, errr I mean, the governing party for over 6 months. That is very unusual. Even during the worst revelations of the Gomery Inquiry the Conservatives could only gain small leads that lasted less than two weeks.

As well, I believe the most telling result of the last few polls was the one that stated that Stephen Harper has become a weakness for his party instead of a strength. That is very bad news for them. By design, Stephen Harper has made himself and the Conservative Party synonymous and he has been very successful doing so. It will be very difficult to now separate them going forward so even if the Conservatives try to take the spotlight off of Stephen Harper it will have minimal effect and whatever effect it does have will be neutalized once a campaign begins and Stephen Harper again becomes front and centre.

Canada's political history is full of examples of leaders who were considered strong and popular, who had a big reversal in that opinion and dragged their party down. It happened to Trudeau, Mulroney, Martin, Harris, just to name a few. We could be seeing the beginnings of the same thing for Stephen Harper.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thank you Mr. Dion

For the second time in six month Mr. Harper was forced to deal with the Liberal Party in order to save his government. For the second time in six months Michael Ignatieff was front and centre on the Canadian political stage and he was able to show Canadians that an alternative is available whenever they finally grow tired of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

That is a pretty good outcome considering 8 months ago the Liberals were coming off one of their worst electoral defeats in its history.

Most of what has transpired over the last six months can be attributed to the steady hand Mr. Ignatieff has had on the Liberal bridle. However, all Liberals should thank Stephane Dion because it was his actions in November that put the Liberals onto the path they are currently traversing.

Think back to November 2008. Stephane Dion had just come through two years of hell which culminated in a humiliating defeat. His party had swept him aside, telling him they did not want him any more, but asking him to stay on as interim leader until they chose someone they wanted. Interim leaders by their very nature are supposed to be care takers. They are not to rock the boat, particularly in a minority Parliament nor allow themselves to be noticed too much. That last thing an interim leader is supposed to do is take action that will trigger an election or make themselves more noticeable than their future replacements.

So, when Stephen Harper tabled the November economic update I bet he believed that Mr. Dion would live by the interim leader rule and not make too much noise about it.

He did not and my did things change after that.

Just imagine if he had just let it go. The Conservatives would have been forced to recant some of that statement because it was all fantasy but they would have done it on their time with their apologists in the media mitigating some of the negative fallout amongst Canadians and the Liberal leadership race mitigating the rest. The Liberal leadership race would have continued, in all likelihood being a short, divisive race that would have left deep wounds in the Liberal Party after the May convention. There would have been no effective opposition to focus Canadians on the gross incompetence of this government over the last 6 months. In short, this weeks meetings between Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff would not have occured because the Liberals would not be in a position of strength relative to the Conservatives as they are now.

Instead, Mr. Dion broke the interim leader rule and stood up to Mr. Harper. We all know what happened then. Stephane Dion force Stephen Harper to prorogue Parliament just weeks after opening a new session, causing him to burn up every last bit of political capital he might have gained with his election victory and he force him to conduct a scorched earth strategy against the coalition that took a slow decline in Conservative fortunes in Quebec and turned it into a leap off of a cliff.

Finally, by design or by accident Mr. Dion allowed himself to become the lightning rod for the coalition so when Mr. Harper's strategy to exploit Canadians' ignorance of their own political system began to succeed he just resigned his post as leader, allowing Michael Ignatieff to take over without the prospect of the coalition hanging over his head.

The trend that has seen the Liberals being the favourate to win a summer election if it would have happened began in November when Stephane Dion stood up to Stephen Harper even when it went against the norm for interim leaders. For that Liberals should be truly grateful.

Incidently, it should be noted that Stephane Dion's actions to oppose Mr. Harper's economic update was the first and only time he had the full support of this party and caucus. With that support he knocked Stephen Harper and the Conservatives on their collective asses, from which, they have yet to recover. Kind of makes me wonder how things might have turned out if he would have had that kind of support from the beginning instead of having his own party undermine him at every opportunity.

It might have still been a disaster but then again maybe not. I guess we will never know.

Well, that was predictable

Why did I do it? Why did I bother checking to see the media reaction to the deal made yesterday by Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Harper?

As I stated yesterday I knew what there reaction would be but I still took a look. Silly me.

As I predicted much of our MSM claimed that Mr. Ignatieff caved and was weak for not forcing an election. Of course, less than 48 hours ago that same MSM was shouting that Canadians did not want an election. The loudest of which were the members who support the Conservatives. They knew that an election this summer would have led to a Liberal victory as did most of the rest of the chattering class. So their concern about a summer election was not about saving Canadians from the trouble but to allow the Conservatives to hang on for a few more months.

The level of dishonesty of our MSM is breathtaking. I used to believe that they were just lazy but more and more I believe they just do not have any scruples.

As well, they do not even try to hide it which shows an amazing level of cynism and contempt for the intelligence of Canadians. Do they think Canadians would have forgotten what they said less than two days ago? Judging by what I read today I guess the answer is yes.

One story that has been percolating for months, if not years, has been the decline of the MSM as the main news source for people. All of them are losing audience with the resulting fall in advertizing revenue. Tell me you yahoos have you ever thought that there may be a co-relation between your obvious contempt for your audience and your problems maintaining your audiences and advertizing dollars? Maybe the journalist don't see it but you would think the suits in the front offices would.

Then again, maybe the stupidity of our MSM has its roots in the abject stupidity of those running the MSM organizations.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

So, Ignatieff is playing a long game

With the deal today between Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Harper we will find ourselves having an election free summer.

Reactions to the deal will be largely predictable.

Conservatives and their apologists in the media will claim Mr. Ignatieff caved, that he is weak for not triggering an election. Of course, they will hope that Canadians will not see the hypocracy and inconsistancy in that message and the fact that about 24 hours ago those same folks were shouting the message from the rooftops that Canadians did not want an election. I am not worried about them. It is not Conservatives that the Liberals have to win over and the media, in general, does not do consistant.

I suspect the NDP will claim that deal proves that the Liberals and the Conservatives are just two sides of the same coin so they are the only alternative to them. As well, they, along with the Bloc, will claim that they are the only real opposition in the House. As to their first argument, the NDP has been saying the Liberals and the Conservatives are the same since the creation of the NDP. It is an argument that falls on deaf ears and it will continue to do so. The second argument is one that is easy to make when your actions do not carry consequences for Canadians. And that is the reality because the NDP have never even had a sniff at national power and the Bloc does not care about it.

Many Liberals will be disappointed and criticize Mr. Ignatieff for this deal. They will argue that:
  • the Conservatives are down in the polls, and they have had a bad few weeks so now is the time to strike,
  • the economy will improve in the next few months and the Conservatives will be able to claim credit for that, and
  • Canadians want to get rid of this government.

To the first point, they have an argument up to a point. However, I would point out that the Liberals have seen their fortunes improve for the first time since 2004. That is five years where the Liberal fortunes were in the dumps. It has been about 5 months that the Liberals have enjoyed their good fortune. In other words, the dynamic we have seen in the last few months is still very fragile. As a result, triggering an election this week would have been fraught with risks. Allowing the current political dynamic to deepen and to broaden over the next few months will reduce that risk and even if the Liberals could have overcome those risks they would have probably only won a minority government.

As to the second point, economic recoveries are very uneven with the little guy usually being the last to see the benefits. I would remind folks that the recovery from the last recession in the 1990's was 18 months old when Kim Campbell was crushed by Jean Chretien. As well, we were on the cusp of the longest and steepest economic expansion in the post-war period when Bob Rae lost his government to Mike Harris. As I stated a couple of posts ago, it is the period immediately after the recession when governments really begin feeling the wrath of voters. During the recession everybody has a sense of being in it together. Businesses are hurting along with ordinary citizens. However, once the recession ends the stock markets climb along with business profits but the ordinary workers are still feeling the pinch of high unemployment and eroding wages and purchasing power. That causes resentment which usually manifests itself as anger against the sitting government. (Incidentally, Dalton McGuinty should be very worried about that dynamic, particularly if the PCPO elects a credible leader.)

Since we have not yet hit that stage in the recession cycle we have not yet seen the floor of Conservative support. As the recession and immediate post recession period unfolds over the next 6-12 months we should see Conservative support erode even more.

To the final point, it is usually very bad for a political party to project their desires on the voters at large. They really appreciate that. It is true that Canadians seem to be turning their backs on this government. It is certainly true of Quebec but we are only seeing the tentative beginnings of such a trend in Ontario and it has not even begun in the West. Given the nature of this government and the short to medium-turn economic outlook it is probably only a matter of time before we see this trend solidfy to the point where there will be nothing the Conservatives can do to prevent a Liberal government and they might not even be able to prevent a big Liberal win.

Of course, politics being politics anything can happen and there is a risk that waiting will actually harm the Liberals. However, Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberal brain trust have decided that on balance, the risk/benefit ratio associated with an election this summer is less favourable than the risk/benefit ratio of waiting a few more months.

I really cannot fault their thinking.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Oh Iggy, you sly dog

Iggy, it is people like you and those around you that made me give up being a "backroom" operative in the '90s.

When you put the Conservative government on "probation" in January and demanded a "report card" by June on their economic performance I felt it was just a good strategy for getting around supporting the budget. Support the budget with conditions, prevent an election and get your name in the media as someone thoughtful enough to Canadians to prevent an election just three months after the last one.

However, today I saw the real strategic brilliance of you and those around you. When you made the demand for the "report card" you knew that Stephen Harper would completely violate the spirit of what you were asking. You knew your man and he did exactly what you expected of him with that vague piece of fluff he peddled during that "town hall". When he did you brought forward the next part of the strategy your people hatched up over the Christmas break last year and asked for specifics. And we all know that this government abhors specifics, particularly when those specifics have the potential to hurt them.

Even if the Conservatives were operating from a position of strength this strategy would put them on the defensive and it would raise your profile going into the summer. However, with their weakness this strategy is even better. If forces them to comply and lose support or not and be largely blamed for causing an election. After all, the questions and demands you made are probably considered quite reasonable to most of those Canadians that do not live and breath politics. As well, you delivered this part of the strategy very well. I thought the offer to extend the session of Parliament a nice touch. The idea of our Parliamentarians delaying their summer break to work for them would appeal to many Canadian, particularly if they believe you are working on the issues you outlined today.

As an added bonus the NDP and the Bloc must be having kittens right about now. Both stand to lose big if the election were held this summer so they want to avoid one like the plague.

Jack Layton growled like a toothless hound today (predictably so) but I imagine the NDP brain trust is crapping their pants because they are left with a very stark choice. Stick to their guns, and hope you and Mr. Harper come to an agreement, and risk going into an election where they will lose many of their seats in Ontario, or do a climb down on Friday, making themselves look silly and weak. As the week goes on the NDP will be more and more on the spot and it will be fun to watch how Mr. Layton and his people react to that.

You see, their national poll numbers are not much lower than they were during the last election. However, their numbers in Ontario have fallen off a cliff. So their national numbers are increasingly made up by all of those voters in the West, who voted Conservative last time, switching to the NDP. Unfortunately, past patterns have shown that they cannot eat into the Conservative vote enough to actually capture many seats in the West but they can eat into the Conservative vote in a few pockets in Manitoba and Saskatchewan that would allow the Liberals the come up the middle to take those seats.

So, you and I both know that they desperately want you or the Bloc to support the government.

Speaking of the Bloc, they must be in a similar position. The last time the Liberals were considered by Quebecers to be the only federalist option in Quebec they reduced the Bloc to historic lows in the House. That was 2000, and the Liberals actually began that election with a double digit deficit in popular support not the statistical tie you enjoy.

Of course, you could not have known that the political chips would fall where they have fallen when you conceived this strategy over last Christmas but that does not take away from the brilliance of it now.

Well done Iggy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Go now or wait?

The latest information from Nanos seems to indicate that waiting would not do any harm to the Liberals and might actually assist them by allowing time for the negative impressions of Mr. Harper and the Conservatives to solidify.

And they will solidify. People being people, once someone or something generates negative feelings it is damned difficult to reverse those feelings no matter what they do. Just ask Stephane Dion.

The ideal conditions for the Liberals would be where no matter what the Conservatives did they could not win the next election. In other words, a situation where Canadians have grown so tired of the Conservative government they will turf it out regardless of what it promised and what it said about the Opposition.

So the question becomes, are we there yet?

My sense is not quite but getting closer.

I really do not have an opinion on election timing. I am just throwing out possibilities for everybody to discuss. I believe we reached the tipping point last Fall when Mr. Harper prorogued Parliament to save his political hide with the result that the Liberals are most likely to win the next election no matter when it occurs.

As well, none of the other parties wants an election so if Mr. Ignatieff announced he was not going to support the Conservatives latest infomercial, errr, economic report card I am certain Mr. Harper and Jack Layton would make some kind of a deal to prevent an election. The Bloc would not as the Conservatives are too unpopular in Quebec so the Bloc would not want to tie themselves to Conservatives right now.

So I still believe that we will have to wait until at least the Fall.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The other parties wish they were in the Liberals' position

Do the Liberals force an election in the Summer or wait until the Fall?

Those who say summer point to the recession and the current troubles with the Conservatives and say strike while the iron is hot. Do not let the Conservatives have the summer to recover, perhaps along with an economic recovery they say.

There is some merit to this argument. The Liberals have been rising slowly but steadily since November. The Conservatives on the otherhand have become unglued and have proven once again that when they go off script they are hopeless. You would think at least one of the Conservative Party elite would be able to think on their feet.

We are beginning to see some positive trends developing for the Liberals. They have virtually solidified their status as the Federalist option in Quebec while the Conservatives are fighting with the NDP and the Greens to stay out of the basement. Now we are seeing what could be the beginning of Ontario trending Liberals and by a wide margin. Under these conditions the Liberals would probably win a minority government.

Others say the Liberals should wait. They should take more time to fill their coffers, to prepare for the next election and to allow the current trends to grow and solidify even more. They say Canadians do not want to have an election over the summer.

There is some merit in those arguments as well, although the Liberals would not be punished for triggering an election. Stephen Harper triggered one over the Christmas holidays and it did not cost him and he called one despite breaking his own law and it did not cost him. Simply put, if an election is called people will come out to vote.

You cannot disagree with their arguments about fundraising and election readiness. By most accounts both are much better than in the past but those improvement are still new so a little more time to maximize their impact would not be a bad thing.

As well, in all likelyhood the current trends will continue. Recessions are government killers. You just need to see what happened to previous government that governed during recessions to see that. Many believe that signs of recovery will help the Conservatives. I doubt it. Recessions have a life cycle. Part of that lifecycle is the immediate recovery period after the recession. At that point economic growth increases, albeit not by much, the stock markets begin to perk up and businesses begin to show profits but those on Main Street do not share the recovery. Indeed, it is during these periods that governments suffer the most because voters can see the contrast between businesses, the wealthy and themselves and their resentment of the situation becomes more pronounced leading to a more negative reactions to the government. (Whom all but the most ardent free marketer expects to prevent such inequality in the economic recovery and who are usually helpless to meet that expectation). If you do not believe me you only need to look at the experiences of Bob Rae, Brian Mulroney and George Bush Senior. All of their governments had the misfortune to govern and to fight elections during this period and we all know how that worked out.

So, the need for an immediate election is not urgent. Indeed, there is a very good chance that waiting a few more months will solidify the current trends so that the Liberals could win even bigger than they might this summer.

So, Michael Ignatieff has a very happy choice. Both carry risk but both could very well see him as the next PM of Canada regardless of which one he chooses.

I am curious to see which one he chooses.