Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No election this Fall

As expected Mr. Harper did not put any poison pills into his economic statement on Monday so I would expect the government to last at least until Spring. With the EI legislation still working its way through The House Jack Layton still has his excuse to support the government during the vote on the Liberal confidence motion.

This is the ideal situation for the Liberals. Although it was apparent that they were ready for an election their best outcome is to wait but not be blamed for the delay. Despite the likely defeat of the confidence motion they will have established themselves as the Opposition party in the House and they will have displayed strength and resolve. This will probably not overly impress the general public and the defeat of the confidence motion will have the media saying it is a crushing defeat but this motion will further energize Liberals for the Winter in preparation for a Spring vote. Hell, it might even convince many of those 800,000 some odd Liberal supporters who stayed home in 2008 to come out next time, which would have a significant impact on the final outcome.

Incidently, congratulations for the Liberals for sticking to their guns despite a concerted effort by the Conservatives and the media to force them to change their minds. The media in particular tried their best by publishing polls and telling us all that we did not want an election. Their final salvo was found in the G&M today and Bob Fife yesterday buy taking a little incident in Quebec and trying to conflate that into disunity within the Liberal Party. The Globe had about three articles, an editorial and a column by Mr. Simpson today on the Liberal Party's perceived troubles. Kind of excessive if you ask me but I guess that is what you call a full court press. Mr. Fife was funny last night though. His voice and body language demonstrated to me that he did not believe a word of what he was peddling about Liberal disunity. It was fun to watch.

Stephen Harper got what he wanted. He desperately wanted to avoid an election this Fall because he knows that it is an even bet that he would lose it and even if he were to win it he would probably only win another minority. I am pretty certain that after three kicks at the can, ending in minority governments every time, his own party would force him out. Or at least try, with him fighting it tooth and nail, which would be a great thing to see. He has bought himself the Winter with which to come up with a way to rehabilitate himself and his party. That probably involves waiting for the end of the Olympics followed by a budget then an election. It will likely fail. Him and his government are past their best before date and they will only become older and moldier as the cold winter months progress. The small rise in fortunes that they have enjoyed in the last couple of weeks will fade a little bit, as the threat of an election fades, and we will again settle into a pattern that should be very familiar to political observers and bloggers.

The NDP got what it wanted but at a price. They have avoided an election but at the cost of some of their credibility. In the long run it will not harm them but they are destined to lose support and seats as people grow tired of the Conservatives and gravitate back to the only party Canadians believe can govern competently, the Liberals. Jack Layton will be like Mr. Harper, looking to rehabilitate himself and his party but he will have as much success in that as Mr. Harper will in his efforts.

The Bloc is just trying to stay above the fray and they are succeeding. They will probably just spend the winter doing what they usually do.

All-in-all, everybody got what they wanted, for now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Will Stephen Harper engineer his own defeat?

There has been some speculation on Liblogs and in some of the media that Mr. Harper may engineer his own defeat this Fall, likely by placing a poison pill within some kind of confidence motion.

I find this unlikely.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are not lying when they say they do not want an election this Fall. There are several reasons for this.

Such issues as the partisan ads and partisan stimulus spending are issues that resonate with Canadians. Even if they are the recipients of such largesse most Canadians do not like governments using tax payers money for partisan purposes. As these issues are recent they would still be topical during a Fall election. The same will not be true in the Spring.

Their chief opponent is not the pushover it once was. The inter-writ ads with Mr. Ignatieff demonstrate that they have money to burn so they will be able to spend money during the next election dollar-for-dollar with the Conservatives. Analyses of the last election show that the Conservatives actually lost votes in 2006 compared to 2004 but the Liberals lost more because almost 1 million former supporters stayed home last fall. Now the Liberals seem to have a renewed purpose along with a leader who seems to have his stuff together so the Conservatives cannot count on Liberal supporters staying home on the next election day. I am not certain the same can be said of Conservative supporters. As I have stated before Stephen Harper seems to be spending a great deal of time throwing red meat to his base. A strange course of action at this stage of the game unless he fears that his support amongst his base may not be as solid as he would like. They would never vote Liberal or NDP of course, but they could just stay home as many Liberals did in 2006.

Then there is the NDP. They are not ready for an election and it is in Stephen Harper's interests to have a healthy and competitive NDP to pull votes away from the Liberals. As it stands now they will not do that.

This combined with the probable return of Liberal supporters to the polling booth puts between 40-50 Conservative seats in play plus another 20 NDP seats. This is not to say all of these seats will fall to the Liberals but the potential is there.

Now add a poison pill to the mix. By their very nature they are designed to piss off one or more parties opposing the government. So by extension, they will also piss off their supporters and depending on the poison pill it could alienate enough of the broader electorate to cost enough votes to cost another half-dozen seats. When governments engineer their own defeat they prefer to do it on something that is positive for them, such as good news budget. That will not happen until the Spring, which is when I expect the next window for an election will be.

Many people have pointed out the recent uptick on the polls for the Conservatives. However, it should be noted that they only returned to where they were in the last election. As well, this only came after almost 9 months where they were either trailing the Liberals or tied with them. For an engineered defeat to work he would need to see his party polling above the 40% range for a sustained period of time. Only then could he have a reasonable chance of surviving the inevitable decline in support that happens to all sitting government during election campaigns.

I do not believe we will see an election this Fall. The NDP does not want one so they will find an excuse to support the government. The Conservatives do not want one either so I do not believe they will try to goad the NDP into supporting the Liberals and the Bloc in any confidence motion.

Then again, Stephen Harper has demonstrated a political tin ear at crucial times on more than one occasion so he could decide to roll the dice anyway.

We will have to wait and see.

Filling the quiver

For the second time on two days the Liberals have made a major announcement regarding some questionable actions by the Conservatives regarding stimulus spending and government advertizing.

Being the Opposition Party these announcements will be largely ignored at this time. However, what the Liberals are doing is setting up their attack lines for the next election when people will be paying attention.

This is actually a positive sign for those of us who want to see the back of the Harper government. What we have been seeing in the last few weeks is exactly what Opposition Parties are supposed to do.

Of course, they also have to offer alternatives to what the government is doing and we are also seeing the beginnings of that.

It would appear the Liberal Party is finally getting its shit together.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

President Obama is not able to vote for the Conservatives

There has been some buzz on the Liberal blogsphere about Mr. Harper's decision to skip President Obama's speech at the UN to come home and do a photo-op at Tim Hortons.

Of course, those very same Liberals have been claiming that this just further indicates that Mr. Harper is not a world leader. To which I state, Mr. Harper does not care. His only concern since he won power a few years ago is to amass more power and Barack Obama will not help him do that.

Mr. Harper is constantly campaigning and since he knows that Barack Obama is unable to vote for him he came home to where those votes are. In his judgement he does not believe he will be hurt by not staying in New York to listen to the President.

He is probably right with regard to his base. It is well known that they
  • do not like the UN and what it stands for,
  • do not like President Obama and what he stands for. Certainly, they like their guy to be with him so that some of his popularity will rub off on him but they do not like him,
  • do not really care about foreign policy except for how it can further their short-term political advantage, and
  • certainly do not care about the environment, global warming or climate change.

So his base very much appreciated his actions today but the broader Canadian public may not.

Which brings me to a question I have asked before. Why is Stephen Harper spending so much time trying to shore up his base? One thing public polls do not ask of respondents is if they would vote on election day. However, that is routinely asked by party pollsters when they identify a supporter of the party that sponsored the poll. Perhaps, those polls are not saying what the Conservatives want to hear.

A second reason why Stephen Harper might have skipped the speech was for a little tit for tat. Last week President Obama snubbed Mr. Harper by not meeting him at the door of the White House. Of course, the media, the PMO and others blew it off but Mr. Harper is the leader of the United States' leading trading partner and oldest friend. To leave greeting Mr. Harper, upon his arrival, to a relatively low level protocal officer is a snub and Mr. Harper felt it was just that. You just have to look at his facial expression and body language when the was greeted at the White House door to see he was disappointed. For a man as image conscious as he is that snub probably caused a slow burn.

That event was the first indication that there is tension in that relationship. It is well known that Mr. Harper tried to derail the President's run at that office early in the primaries and I am certain that has not been forgotten by the President or his staff. They both hide it very well at joint news conferences of course but that is just diplomacy. President Obama could find Stephen Harper in bed with his wife and he would still have nothing but nice things to say about him in front of the media.

The actions by Mr. Harper today is quite telling on two fronts. It further demonstrates that the Conservatives feel the need to shore up their base at the risk of alienating the 70%+ Canadians who would not automatically vote for the Conservatives. As well, it might indicate that behind all of the nice words being stated publically that these two men really do not like each other.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mr. Ignatieff's well spent summer

Well, I guess we now know what Mr. Ignatieff did with his summer. We know our MSM had a little fun with their "Where's Iggy" game but now we have confirmation that they were full of crap, as expected.

When he was not meeting with Canadians at small events across the country he was planning the extrication of the Liberal Party from Stephen Harper's confidence game. And doing a little fundraising along the way.

He implemented a new strategy in Sudbury and he has been driving the Canadian political bus ever since.

He has both the NDP and the Conservatives playing his tune and it is driving them and their supporters bananas. As well, he has surprised the MSM and they are not happy about it.

The troubles of the NDP are well documented. They are now the Party that is expected to prevent an election the media says no one wants but in order to do so they have to support a party and a leader they state they cannot trust.

The Conservatives are terrified of going into an election campaign this Fall. They realize it is one they have a very good chance of losing so they are hoping to delay it to the Spring so that they can come up with something, anything to rehabilitate their political position. Of course, they will not find it by then because it is permanently gone. If anything their political position in the Spring will be much worse than it is now.

The media is cranky. They have been pushing the Liberals-are-hopeless meme for years and now that they are showing that they are wrong they are pissed off. The media does not like to be shown to be the fool. Their reaction has been predictable, claiming Canadians do not want an election although it should be noted they did not publish polls indicating that until they pushed that meme for a few days first.

For their part the Liberals are ignoring the polls that predictably show them losing support, knowing that the underlying trend is pointing to a Liberal government and this erosion is the result of the Conservatives trying desperately to hang on and the media helping them because of their anger at being made to look foolish.

My only worry is the Liberals may be pushing too hard. I still say they would be better served to let the Fall go without an election, putting forward their non-confidence motion but allowing the NDP the slimmest of outs to prevent the government's fall. Nothing has changed my belief that the political dynamic in this country will lead to the inevitable defeat of the Conservatives and if the Liberals allow that dynamic to deepen and take on a life of its own that defeat could be a big one.

Regardless however, no matter what happens this Fall it has been a long time since I have seen the Liberals in this kind of control.

Michael Ignatieff had a very productive summer.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Listen to Mr. Harper, not the polls

I have argued on this blog over the last couple of weeks that Stephen Harper is afraid of an election and he is afraid because he is reasonably certain that he will lose one when it happens, regardless of what the polls say. In fact, I have argued that the polling should be making him more bullish about an election and he has been acting the exact opposite.

That point was again demonstrated by that "secret" video that came out last night. When I viewed it my jaw hit the ground. I could not believe that a sitting Prime Minister (thinking of Stephen Harper holding that job still makes me queasy) would make such as speech, to party faithful or otherwise.

In order for Mr. Harper to win an election, let alone a majority government, he needs to appeal beyond his base to women, minority groups, people living in cities and Quebec. Last night he managed to bad mouth most of these groups in one speech. He gave the Liberals ready made advertizement material that they can use to hammer home the message to these groups that he really does not like them. Considering the Conservative base is really only about 30% of the electorate, concentrated mostly in the West, it is not good politics to alienate groups outside of your base.

A rule in politics is a sitting government never, ever, ever, ever acknowledges that their chief opponent can beat them. They do not say it specifically, they do not infer it, imply it, surmise it or speculate about it. It shows weakness and you avoid doing it at any cost. In last night's video he broke this rule with both his words and the tone of the speech. It shows that he is very afraid and that is often the kiss of death in politics.

Then there is the question of why he made such a speech to begin with. Yes, it was in front of party faithful in a closed door meeting. But he should know that given his position every word he utters outside of the confines of 24 Sussux and the Langevin Block will be recorded and eventually disseminated to the broader public. So, he was taking a great risk in making these statements in "public". Why would he make these statements? Perhaps because he is not as afraid of Michael Ignatieff as much as he is afraid of his own base. He has run a decidedly unconservative government and many in his base are not happy about it. If just a few percentage points of them stay home during an election day he loses government.

So for those Conservative bloggers who have stated that this was a planned leak I would suggest you pray that you are very wrong. If the PMO really decided that they needed to leak such an imflammatory speech, one that will only appeal to their base, then you can be certain that things are going much worse for the Conservatives than the polls are telling us. They are seeing things that the public newspapers and their polling companies have not detected or are not bothering to report.

Then again, the most likely scenario is Stephen Harper thought he was amongst friends and fellow travellers so he could "let his hair down", which surely demonstrates the chess master had better take some more lessons.

As well, if this was not a planned leak then Conservatives had better be very worried because this was a room filled with his base. If one of them cannot be trusted to not leak a damaging video to the media that would seem to show the level of displeasure they have with Mr. Harper, which again reinforces the idea that he felt compelled to give such a speech to the party faithful despite the risks involved.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are not posturing. They are afraid of an election and they are increasingly showing signs that they do not expect to win it when it occurs. That speaks much more loudly than the polls we have been seeing from our MSM for the past few days.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Wait until the Spring

I am not one of those who believe the Liberals would necessarily benefit from a Fall election.

The key reason is there is no groundswell out there to "kick the bums out". Although we are seeing the beginnings of such a groundswell it has not hit the critical mass necessary to guarantee a loss by the Harper government. In such a situation Mr. Harper could eke out another win, particularly against a chief opponent who will be fighting his first national campaign.

The Liberals can afford to wait and allow that groundswell to flourish, and it will flourish. The Harper government has gone past that line where they will be able to do something to rehabilitate their party and their government. The longer they stay in power the more inevitable their defeat becomes and the greater the potential of that defeat being a crushing one.

None of this means that Mr. Ignatieff should change his mind. I imagine that Mr. Ignatieff made his statements because the Liberal Party is ready for an election, regardless of when it takes place. They have no reason to fear one as I would say it is a little better than even money that the Liberals would win an election this Fall. By all means maintain the hard line, make the other parties react to that hard line and let the chips fall where they may. However, at the same time Liberals should hope that Mr. Harper will become desperate enough to do something that would save his government in the short term but set him up for a much bigger defeat in the medium term.

The pieces for a Liberal victory are falling into place but the puzzle is not yet complete. The Liberals should hope the Conservative government survives the Fall, allowing that groundswell to hit critical mass over the Winter and then hope for an election in the Spring. By that time the conditions will be set for a virtually guaranteed Liberal victory and maybe even a big Liberal victory.

It is a tear in the space-time continuum Captain.

Watching the desperate machinations of Mr. Harper and his party in trying to prevent an election I am struck by the similarities between now and the Fall of 2005.

In 2005 the Liberal government was on its last legs. Everybody knew they would lose the next election, including themselves, the only question was by how much. That made them desperate and they looked it.

One of the tactics they used to attempt to stave off their inevitable defeat was to point out all of the great programs that would be killed by an election. They trotted out all sorts of different and popular programs that had yet to be implemented or approved by Parliament and they claimed they would all turn to dust in an election. It was remarkable and in many cases it was untrue.

At the time the Conservatives just claimed that they would honour the more popular committments and then plowed on to defeat the government anyway. They did not suffer any electoral consequences of their decision.

Now we find ourselves in the same position four years later with only the position of the parties involved being changed. You would think the Conservatives would come up with a better line than the one they ignored with impunity four years ago. It really is not effective.

Of course, there are some differences. The media seems to be more willing to carry the Harper government's water than they were with the Martin government. In 2005 the media dismissed the Martin government arguments for the desperate ploys that they were. This time the media seems more willing to buy what Mr. Harper is peddling. Another notable difference is there is not as much of groundswell to "kick the bums out" as there was in 2005. However, another big difference is the Conservatives were about 6 points back of the Liberals at this point in 2005 and except for a week long period of time immediately after the release of the Gomery Report they stayed their right up until the writ was dropped. In 2009 the Liberals are tied, so they are starting from a much better position than the Conservatives in 2005.

Mr. Harper is now the new Mr. Martin. A desperate man who knows that his political career is coming to an end and is trying everything in his power to prevent that from happening. Mr. Martin had limits. We know that Mr. Harper does not. I wonder what he will do when he is finally backed into a corner.

Make a deal with the socialists and the seperatist? Prorogue Parliament? Cancel the sitting of the Fall session of the House?

Time to wait and see.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

And now you are thinking: "I hope that's Sheppards Pie in my knickers."

The fear is palpable.

Mr. Ignatieff has created, with one speech, a new dynamic in Canadian politics.

The Conservatives, who were already showing a great deal of fear, are now terrified. So much so they are considering doing a deal with the NDP.

Yes, yes, yes, I know that Jason Kenney and some other Conservative officials have made statements that they would not make any deals with the NDP. That is just a ploy. It is to reassure the base that they will not give away the farm to stay in power and it is to try to convince the NDP to keep their demands "reasonable" but make no mistake if Mr. Harper believes his government will fall he will do anything to prevent it. November should prove that to everybody.

The NDP for their part have suddenly found a new desire to "make Parliament work". Of course, when it was the Liberals trying to do that they called it surrender. Now they are contemplating it and claiming it is not the same thing. My God how the NDP has fallen since the days of Ed Broadbent. The hypocracy is breathtaking. However, make no mistake, their new found desire is all the result of the increased pucker factor for them going into the new session. Gone is their safety net. Now their decisions will have consequences.

Even Gilles Duceppe has made a play for the government's hand. Of course, his demands are hopelessly unreasonable but we all know how negotiations work. You start off with unreasonable demands and then negotiate something more reasonable.

The only question is which one them will wind up being the eventual winner in the government handout sweepstakes.

As for the Liberals, they have been in the driver's seat for months and they have finally decided to take the wheel from the rest. I would caution those Liberals crowing about the new strategy and how it will lead to an inevitable election victory this fall. Things change in politics and if they change too much for the worst between now and October 1 the Liberals may be forced to find a way to finesse this new hardline. And make no mistake, this announcement has just put a great big target on their backs for all of their opponents to shoot at. Expect all three other parties in Parliament as well as much of the media to be taking pot shots at that target for the next month.

The next few weeks should be interesting.