Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nice Spin, Globe and Mail

So the Globe and Mail published an article yesterday stating that the introduction of the enabling legislation for the HST was bad news for the Liberals. I really liked their argument. They essentially stated that if they voted for the measure they would lose support in Ontario and BC and if they voted against the measure they would lose support in Ontario and BC.

What crap!! As I have stated on this blog before the enabling legislation has a greater potential to hurt the Conservatives than it does the Liberals.

So far, the Conservatives have managed to fly under the radar on the HST in both provinces. It should be remembered that it was Jim Flaherty that proposed the idea to both provinces. It should be remembered that it was Jim Flaherty's department that negotiated the HST deal with both provincies. It should be remembered that it is Jim Flaherty that will have to table the legislation. It should be remembered that because this bill deals with taxes it will be a confidence motion. Therefore, the Conservatives are going to have to fight for this bill just to survive as the government.

Suddenly, the Conservative government's role in the HST will be highlighted.

Yet somehow this is very bad news for the Liberals.

Of course, the spin the Globe and Mail published is quoted directly from the Conservative talking points. It is SOPs for the Conservatives that when they are going to do something that can potentially harm them politically they try to deflect blame to someone else, with the Liberals being a favourate target.

I have no real problem with the Conservatives trying to give this porker a whole makeover but I have a real problem with the Globe and Mail publishing a story about the HST enabling legislation that just puts forward the Conservative Party position with barely a hint of independent analysis.

My already low regard for the Globe and Mail went even lower yesterday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Will progressives ever learn?

Steve commented on a Decima poll the other day regarding opinions of the Gun Registry. I will not add much to his analysis of the poll.

However, that poll did start me thinking about why we would see this kind of result.

Leaving aside my distrust of polls sponsored by the media there is still a question of why we would see these kinds of estimates. It is a given with most progressives that gun control is a popular concept in this country. I am certain many are asking how can Canadians show such ambivalence towards a tool central to controlling guns in this country?

I think the simple answer is the political right in North America have developed a winning strategy for changing the societies that our fathers and grandfathers created in the 40 years after the Second World War. It is not just gun control. We are seeing it with other issues, such as health care, the environment, crime and taxes. It still boggles my mind that the political right on this continent has managed to convince the middle class that it is in their best interests to shift the tax burden from the wealthy and big business to the middle class. It defies all that I learned in economics about people making decisions in their best economic interests.

All of this is a neat trick since their arguments are so often wrong. In most cases progressives have the facts on their side but we are still watching the slow but steady erosion of the just society. So how do they do it? They are motivated, organized and well financed. They are masters of agitprop. They have no scruples. If it will achieve their goals they will lie through their teeth or instill fear. They just care about making their arguments sound plausible. The truth is secondary.

Little set backs, such as losing the American presidency will not deter them. It has been quite remarkable to see how people who were defeated and discredited last November still managed to put President Obama's health reforms on the brink and even though they did not kill them they still managed to water them down a great deal.

Progressives on the other hand seem to be none of these things. In addition they seem to be complacent, seeming to believe that since they have the facts on their side everything will work out for the better. Of course, when that proves to be a false assumption they are left scambling. The gun registry is a case in point. Progressives are going to be trying to prevent its abolition but they are late into the current round. The right has stolen a march on them.

It is time for progressives to change.

The first change is a change in attitude. This is not a game. This is a fight to maintain a just society as opposed to the goal of the other side to create a society that is only just for a chosen few and the other side is playing for keeps. So stop trying to play fair and play to win. I know many progressives recoil in horror at the idea of using agitprop to advance their agenda but if your goal is to maintain that just society then you are going to have to get your hands dirty. If you cannot do that then watch helplessly as that society drifts away. Bottom line, propaganda works. It has been doing so since our species learned how to talk and it really took off when it learned how to read and write. Use it and if you think doing so is somehow beneath you then I would respectfully suggest that you get over yourself.

The second change is be more proactive instead of reactive. Start setting the agenda and the frames for the arguments and stop ceding that advantage to the right. That means progressives are going to have to be as motivated, organized and well financed as the right. The dozens of progressive organizations out there fighting for different causes are going to have to unite into a progressive network and pool their resources and talent.

This should be happening now and these groups should support each other regardless of the cause, whether it be health care, taxes, or legalized drugs.

Third, keep going when you achieve a victory. Do not stop, do not think it is permanent and do not become complacent.

Fourth, come up with better arguments when confronting the right. The right are masters at coming up with the simple and punchy arguments for their positions. They realize that their audiences, whether they be their fellow citizens or legislators, are harried, time crunched people who want their information in nice neat packages that can be displayed on the screens of their mobile phones. The progressive response is usually long boring dissertations full of facts and figures that has their audiences' eyes glazing over before they finish the first paragraph.

Fifth, develop "think tanks" like the Fraser Institute. I cannot think of a single progressive think tank that takes the same approach to issues as Fraser. Certainly their work is intellectually suspect but they do not care. Their goal is not to advance academic arguments but to provide an academic veneer to the positions of the right. To give their positions the appearance of respectability.

The development of a just society was the goal of our fathers and grandfathers and although we had not achieved it we were heading in the right direction. That direction has since changed and we are actually moving farther away from it. It does not need to be that way. Progressives on this continent can still keep us moving towards that society but they are going to have to change their approach to achieving it if they want to succeed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stay positive my friends

I have recently been criticized by some other Liberal bloggers because they claim that I refuse to see the reality of the current situation of the Liberal Party and that my attitude is part of the problems that they are having. Although he was too polite to say it in so many words one blogger even implied that I may be deluded.

I have been called much worse and I take none of the criticisms personally.

However, I would like to explain my seeming indifference to the current situation the Liberals find themselves in and even my optimism as we look into the future.

First, everything in politics is transitory. It is ever changing and that is particularly true in between elections. So I never become too upset or too happy about what is happening during that period. Indeed, that holds true during elections. I wait until election night before I become either one.

I remember at the beginning of February 2004, every pundit in the country was stating that Paul Martin would sweep the country. There were even hints that he could take more than two seats in Alberta and sweep the Bloc out of Quebec. By the end of that Februrary every pundit in the country was questioning whether Paul Martin would be able to hang on to government.

Or a more recent example. At the beginning of June of this year many Liberals were saying Michael Ignatieff should force an election. The Liberals were leading the Conservatives and had been doing so for about six months so the time was right to strike. Of course, by the time the most probable election date rolled around that lead had evaporated.

The nature of politics is such that getting upset or ecstatic about what is happening in the moment is counter-productive and probably not good for your health. In addition, any political party that makes major decisions based on what is happening in the here and now generally does not enjoy long-term success.

That is why I generally put less importance on the the here and now of politics, preferring to look beyond it. It is too easy to get lost in the forest when you are looking at the trees.

Second, we will never know what Canadians will care about. The pundits try to tell us differently and they may even try to get Canadians to care about their pet projects and pet peeves but when all is said an done Canadians will choose for themselves. This also means that you can never really understand why one party will be in or out of favour at any given time. Therefore, giving a political party some advice to take this action or that based on what is happening now is a useless gesture and could actually do more harm than good.

Third, we do not have all of the information necessary to give good advice. We as bloggers and citizens have to rely on the media for our information. As has been pointed out many times before our media cares more about advancing a narrative than giving us any real information. I often find bloggers giving the Liberal Party all sorts of advice based on this incomplete information and I am left shaking my head, particularly since the Party and its paid operatives have access to information sources we could only dream about. Then there are those bloggers who give advice to the Party based on information and analysis by media types who are well known to be hostile to the Liberals.

The final point is completely political. That is, it is usually a bad idea to acknowledge to the world that things are tough for your Party. Certainly things could be going badly but that does not mean you need to admit that publicly. Many argue that admitting a problem is the first step towards solving it and that is true but admitting it publicly usually just complicates matters. That is why there are all sorts of organizations and programs that allow people to admit their problems anonymously. As much as we like to believe honesty is the best policy being honest at the wrong time or to the wrong people tends to make matters worse.

As well, the most successful political organizations are the ones that can exude a quiet self-confidence regardless of the situation. The most successful politicians in recent history have all had it. Reagan, Harris, Clinton, Thatcher, Chretien, Obama. I would even say that Stephen Harper has that trait. Those who did not have it tended to enjoy less or no success. Bush Sr, Dion, Joe Clark, McGuinty during his first go around, Eves, John Major, John Kerry and McCain. Remarkably Paul Martin had it as Finance Minister but lost it when he became PM.

This trait often manifests itself in the ability to spit in the eye of your political opponent even as you find yourself being politically wounded. Chretien was a master of it. There were some tough times during his administration but by all outward appearances he and his administration never showed their effects and often he would just become more defiant when things did go wrong.

Of course, there is always a danger that quiet self-confidence can morph into arrogance and hubris leading to a great fall. Mulroney and Harris come to mind and it does look like Stephen Harper may be straying into that danger zone. We will have to see how far he goes. Incidentally, the really successful ones are the ones who can strike a balance between self-confidence and humility. Chretien was a master at it as was Bill Clinton. Both probably would have won another election if they had stood for it.

I have seen the beginnings of a quiet self-confidence in the current Liberal leadership and it is the first time I have seen such in the Liberal leadership for half-a-decade. The Sudbury Declaration was a great example of such. Since that time the Party has gone on to ignore the minutae of daily politics and it seems to be pursuing a plan despite it. You can read my previous posts to see what I mean. That is good news and one of the reasons why I am optimistic for the future. They have not been perfect at it. I was steaming when I saw the statement by Mr. Ignatieff after the by-elections. They were by-elections that you had no chance of winning so he should have just ignored their results and let everybody else have their nice little circle jerk over them. Fortunately, his statements were ignored so no harm was done.

Politics is a funny business where you can be on top of the world one day and in the depths of despair the next, but only if you let it happen. I choose not to. I am well aware of the current political situation but I have seen politics from within a party apparatus and without so I know that the situation can change at any time and I also know that there is alot more going on behind the curtain than we as ordinary voters ever see.

I will go on being optimistic about the chances of finally getting rid of this government so feel free to call be deluded if you wish.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some observations from the weekend

I had reserve duty last weekend. As usual I stay on Base Trenton and drive out to our ops area in Prince Edward County. To do so I have to cross a railroad overpass on the western edge of the City of Belleville. This riding is held by a Conservative.

On Saturday morning I noticed one of the "Economic Action Plan" signs with vague references to bridge improvements next to that overpass. However, there was no sign of any kind of construction activity. No equipment, no construction warning signs, not even a worn out orange cone.

I found this odd. That sign was not there a month ago when I had my last reserve duty. So it is very recent. I began to wonder who begins a major construction job in November? The answer is no one. The freeze/thaw cycle plays havoc when you are pouring concrete so in all likelihood not much or even no work would be done on this bridge this year. Instead the work would be done next spring, probably beginning in earnest in May.

That had me thinking that the Federal government's fiscal year ends on March 31. No work will probably begin on this bridge until May. So, is the money slated for this bridge improvement really going to be used? Has the money already been transferred knowing that it would not be used during this fiscal year?

I am really looking forward to the Auditor General examining this whole Economic Action Plan. The sooner she does it the better.

Anyway, Saturday morning I arrive at our Ops area, with my fellow reservists, to discover that a vital piece of equipment for our work is in pieces and unservicable. Apparently, an engineer took it apart on Friday and went home before putting it back together again. We called that engineer to come and fix our equipment so we had to wait until he did so.

In classic military fashion, having no work to do until the thing was fixed, we all sat down, drank coffee, ate Timbits and talked. It took awhile to fix the equipment so it was a long conversation covering many topics. Included amongst those topics was the giant novelty cheques fiasco and I swear I did not bring it up. I will save you the details but I will let one of my fellow reservists speak for the consensus of the group when he stated; "It really does not bother me that the Conservatives put their logo on these government cheques but it pisses me off that they seem to think Canadians would be too stupid to notice. I cannot support people who think I am stupid."

One of my fellow reservists is an air traffic controller in Montreal. He controls the upper level airspace. He is one of those people who prevents your airplane from hitting another while you enjoy your delicious airline meal and the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

At breakfast on Sunday he mentioned that he had been talking to the plane carrying the Royal Couple last week. The conversation ventured to how he has talked to the airplanes carrying Stephen Harper on several occasions. He knows this because the plane carrying him always has the call sign of CanForce One. (How original)

So he stated; "Yep, I have told the pilots of the planes carrying Steve what to do."

To which another sitting at the table stated; "Then maybe you should tell him to go and slap the douchebag sitting in the back."

There was much chuckling and nods of agreement from those around the table.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

There is only one irrefutable implication of the by-elections

The political make up of the House of Commons has not been significantly changed.

The Conservatives still need the support of another party to maintain the confidence of The House.

The Opposition still needs to unite to defeat the government.

The rest of the theories, analyses and prognostications that we have heard following these by-elections is speculation, conjecture and spin, much of it very self serving, and all of it of little value.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Keep your eye on the puck!!

The Conservatives have had a terrible month. It began with accusations of using stimulus funds for partisan purposes and using taxpayers funds for partisan advertizing. The partisan use of stimulus funds was backed up by independent observers. More recently, it has become increasingly apparent that the Conservatives have FUBARed the roll-out of the H1N1 vaccine. Again, independent observers, including the Auditer General, have backed up that assertion and the intervention of the AG even puts paid to any accusations of the Opposition politicising this issue.

Considering all of this would it be smarter of Liberals to keep hammering away at the government on these issues or to self-immolate themselves ONCE AGAIN over some silly issue, like for example, Liberal Members voting to support a Bill to scrap the gun registry?

It would appear for some Liberals that they would prefer the latter.

The reaction from some Liberals has been quite over the top. Accusations of violating Liberal principles, claiming that those who voted with the Conservatives last night are not "real" Liberals and taking pot shots at the party leadership for letting it happen.

Talk about misplaced priorities and an overreaction. Those Liberals need to take a pill for many reasons.

1) It's a freaking private members bill. The lowest of the low of bills in Parliament. It took months to go from first reading to last night's vote and it will take months more to complete the parliamentary process, probably dying on the order paper in the Spring when we have an election.

2) It was second reading. There is alot of time left to modify this bill in committee.

3) This could be an opportunity for the Liberals to exploit a law and order issue that the Conservatives consistantly find themselves on the wrong side, provided the Liberals play it right. The Conservatives used a back door method to make this attempt and they whipped the vote, including forcing a Member to vote despite H1N1 concerns. That gives the Liberals a golden opportunity to again make gun control an issue. There is a reason why the Conservatives chose this method. They know they are vulnerable on this issue so the Liberals should be exploiting that vulnerability. Incidentally, Mr. Ignatieff looked like he was trying to do just that last night but it was lost in the cacophony of recriminations from some Liberals. If Liberals really want to save the Registry make it uncomfortable for the Conservatives to continuing to back this bill. That is going to take a disciplined communications strategy, involving independent observers and experts over the next few weeks and months. Degenerating into recriminations and accusation is probably the best way to embolden the Conservatives to continue on their present course and speed up the Registry's demise.

4) To claim that someone who disagrees with you is not a real or good Liberal is hubris of the highest order. Such assertions indicate that you believe you are the only ones with the right answers. That is the hallmark of an ideologue and an extremist. It is not something I have come to expect from Liberals.

Many Liberals proudly claim that the Party is a big tent party. Well, if that is what you want the Liberal Party to be then you better be prepared to tolerate those who disagree with you.

5) In politics expediency sometimes trumps principle. That is just the way it is. If you cannot accept that fact then I would suggest you find another interest besides politics. You will live longer.

I find it kind of funny that many of the same Liberals who ridiculed the NDP for taking the expedient route of supporting the government are now complaining about expediency within their own party. Many of those Liberals gave NDP supporters the advice that they should just acknowledge that the NDP is like any other political party. I would suggest that they take their own advice.

As well, do not assume that the Liberals who voted with the Conservatives made their decisions because of expediency. The creation of the Register was controversial amongst Liberals from the beginning because not all Liberals agreed with its creation. Some of these Members might have made this decision because they thought it was the right thing to do.

Again, if you believe their principles are somehow inferior to your own I would suggest that is the height hubris as well. It is that kind of hubris that eventually leads to the fall of governments. It is disconcerting that we are seeing it among some Liberals before the Liberals have won anything.

6) The days of the Registry were numbered as soon as the Conservatives won government. The fact it has survived this long is quite amazing and a testement to the fact it is supported by the majority of Canadians. To make certain that it continues to survive until the Liberals win an election Liberals are going to have to be smart about opposing the government on it and they are going to have to avoid complacancy.

If Liberals really want to save the Registry they are going to have to win an election, full stop. That is the only way to secure it. So Liberals have to stop handing their opponents the gift of disunity over what the Party says or does. It is the right thing to do politically and it is the right thing to do for a party that claims to tolerate different viewpoints and ideas.