Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Four questions per day?

Word out of the Conservative campaign is Stephen Harper is now only going to answer four questions per day.  At any other time I would find such a report as lacking credibility.  However, Stephen Harper has a history of running away form situations when he finds it getting too hot, from not answering journalists' questions to proroguing Parliament.

In one of my previous posts I asked how the media would play this election.  I stated that they would side with the campaign they believed had the greatest chance of winning.  As I said, the corporate bosses of the MSM will want to be on the good side of the victor.

I am certain that the journalists on the Conservative Leader's campaign tour are not too enamoured with these new restrictions on them.  I am also certain that some of them will see this a blood on the water.  However, I believe they will bide their time for another few days.  If the Conservative campaign continues to stumble and if polls begin to show the Liberals closing the gap then we may see the media turn against the Conservatives, possibly with gusto.

This really turning into an interesting election.

Monday, March 28, 2011

First Impressions

Some initial impressions of the party leaders after three days of the election.

Michael Ignatieff is looking like Jean Chretien in the sense that he seems to be enjoying himself.  I am not saying he has the political smarts of Mr. Chretien or anything but one thing I noticed about Mr. Chretien during his three campaigns is he always seemed to be having fun regardless of the daily vagaries of them.  The same seems to be true of Mr. Ignatieff.  He looks like he is having fun.

Stephen Harper does not look like he is having fun.  He has always been a gloomy individual having to work really hard to appear cheerful and friendly.  So far he has not been totally successful in that goal and on top of that he is channelling Paul Martin.  The Liberals have a "hidden agenda"?  Canadians have been there and done that.

Jack Layton has surprised me so far.  For the first time in longer than I can remember he has actually made the Conservatives a target of his campaign as opposed to the Liberals.  It seemed during the 2008 campaign Mr. Layton talked more about the Liberals than the Conservatives.  The past three days have been much different.  I am certain as things go forward he will change his focus but it is refreshing to see the NDP focus on the governing party for a change.

Gilles Duceppe also surprised me with his focus on Stephen Harper.  Mind you the Bloc has a better chance of taking away the few Conservative seats in Quebec than the Liberal seats.  As well, since the Conservatives tend to target the same voters as the Bloc they are a bigger threat to the Bloc than the Liberals right now. 

Lizzy May has been invisible which is not surprising considering the environment is not front and centre in this campaign.  She will not be included in the debates this time and there will not be a backlash to that fact either.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How will this election play in the media?

The Main Stream Media (MSM) in this country is not objective or balanced. That is a journalism school fallacy. This is particularly true of political reporters.

In a few cases it is because of ideology, with the Sun and the National Post being the best examples. In most cases though the media chooses the side they believe will win.

The reason is simple, money. Ownership of our MSM is pretty much concentrated in three large corporations. Those corporations want access to government (taxpayer) funds and the best way to do that is not to piss off the party that is governing or looks like it is about to become the governing party.

We saw this throughout the Liberal years. With the exception of the Sun and the National Post the MSM largely ignored or downplayed some of the more outrageous actions of the Chretien government, focusing on the positive instead. At the same time they nitpicked the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance relentlessly. This reached its peak during the 2000 election when they hounded Stockwell Day for even the most minor gaffe. Certainly he provided them with alot of content but I have always believed that the media was extremely unfair to him and the Canadian Alliance in 2000.

We saw this again in 2004 but when Stephen Harper reduced the Liberals to a minority things began to change in the MSM. They were still hard on the Conservatives but they were not as easy on the Liberals as they had been just a few years before.

Since 2006, we have seen the same thing with only the players changing. The Conservatives have enjoyed a rather easy time of it compared to the Liberals.

So which way will the media jump in this election?

That will all depend on how the election goes. I think the corporate bosses in the media will hedge their bets this time because this election is a crap shoot for both the Liberals and the Conservatives. They will want to be able to point to whoever wins that they treated them fairly during the election so they deserve a place at the public trough.

The Liberals will not enjoy an easy time of it as demonstrated by the hounding about the coalition the day before the writ was dropped but neither are they going to be nitpicked about every little thing happening in the Liberal campaign. (Remember the MSM reaction to the trouble with the campaign plane the last time?) However, the Conservatives will not receive the easy treatment they received during the 2008 election either, as demonstrated by the fact the media actually asked Mr. Harper about his coalition letter of 2004.

Both Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff are going to have to work hard to impress the MSM this time and it will be interesting to see how each one of them handles that reality.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"We categorically rule out a coalition or formal arrangement with the Bloc Quebecois."

That is the key point in the Liberal Party media release from this morning.

I would guess that most people opposed to a coalition, who are not Conservative partisans, are opposed to it because of the idea that the a seperatist party might gain some power in our Federal Government.

Remove that worry and the idea of a coalition is no longer so objectionable, except of course to Conservative partisans.

Now all the Liberals have to do is take the above statement and place it beside the letter Mr. Harper wrote to the GG in 2004 and the statements made by Mr. Duceppe today regarding the process that lead to that letter.

Not only would the Liberals neutralize the coalition issue as a threat in this election they would turn it back on Stephen Harper, making him look like the hypocrit that he is on this whole issue.

On a related note, did Stephen Harper and the Conservatives really believe that their machinations of 2004 would not be brought back into the light when they began trying to scare Canadians about the "evil coalition" again?

Stephen Harper is not a political genius

It is with great amusement that I read many media commentators claiming that Stephen Harper is poised to win a majority government because he is a seasoned campaigner while Mr. Ignatieff is a rookie.

How they have such short memories.

In the last two elections the Conservatives were given remarkable electoral gifts. The first was Adscam the second was a political opponent who did not have his whole party behind him and wound up having to deal with the perception that he was proposing a new tax just as a recession was starting.

In both of these cases Stephen Harper had majority governments virtually handed to him but he still managed to blow it.

I could just imagine what Jean Chretien would have done with either of these electoral gifts. Actually I do not need to imagine. Just look at what he did in 2000.

So why would anybody believe it will be different this time?

One of the other advantages that the Conservatives had the last couple of times was they did not have to defend their record over much. Things were not all great on that front in 2008 but they could deflect any flak by pointing to the Green Shift. This time around their government fell because they were found in Contempt of Parliament and they are facing all sorts of little scandals, which on their own would not be that bad, but when taken together could be trouble.

Now Mr. Ignatieff just sucked the air out of the one issue that they could have used to deflect attention away from those scandals.

In short, this election might not be as easy for Mr. Harper and the Conservatives as the last two.

The last two times the Liberals gave the Conservatives great electoral gifts and they failed to take advantage. There are only so many times that the Liberals will do the Conservatives this favour. Will they do it again this time? That remains to be seen but if they do not I wonder how Mr. Harper the political genius will react.

The secret to a good nights sleep

Do not live and die by the polls.

Watch and listen to the leaders of the parties instead. They will tell you how this thing is going much better than Nanos, EKOS, Ipsos, etc. ever will.

Oh yes, I am going to go out on a limb right now and make a prediction on how this election will end.

It will end when all of the polling booths across the country close during the evening of May 2 and the ballots are counted.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More like 2004

Warren Kinsella seems to believe that the upcoming election will be like the 1984 election. I think he has missed it by 20 years.

The beginning of this election is more like the election of 2004.

For that election the sitting government began the it under a cloud of scandal but the scandal, that eventually became Adscam, was still not fully explored, since Justice Gomery had barely begun his work. So there was a suspicion that things were not quite right with the ethical conduct of the government but it had not yet hit that critical mass that caused the sitting government to suffer for it at the polls. Although it did suffer for it at the only poll that really mattered. (More on that in a minute)

The sitting PM had a huge lead over his chief opponent in every leadership score there was. Actually the lead was embarrassingly large. So much so the media had pretty much written off his chief opponent and expected the government to be returned with a majority despite the scandals.

Hell, there was even a poll published by a government friendly newspaper just days before the writ was dropped and the banner front page headline in that paper was "Liberals heading for majority: poll". The story then went on to explain that the governing party was in majority terrritory with almost a 20 point lead.

The economy was booming and the governing party wanted to focus on that while downplaying the brewing scandal.

The governing party spent a great deal of time and money demonizing their chief opponent.

Sound familiar?

Of course, we all know how that election turned out. The governing party was reduced to a minority government and its main opponent set itself up for a victory just 18 months later.

This does not seem to bode well for the Liberals this time because if the same thing happens this time as it did in 2004 they lose.

However, there are some big differences that need to be explored.

First and foremost, the governing party had a majority government heading into the 2004 election. It could afford to lose a bunch of seats and still retain power. The margin for error for the current government is much smaller.

Second, Paul Martin was actually liked by most Canadians. They knew he was partly responsible for the good times that we were enjoying at that time. As well, he was on the right side of many issues that mattered to Canadians such as health care and child care. The current government leader is not liked and the governments priorities seem to be out of step with the electorate.

Third, the government of PMPM and of PMJC before him enjoyed majority support and double digit leads over their cheif opponent, in poll after poll, from every polling company, for years prior to that election. That remained true right up to when the writ was dropped. With the exception of the past 6 weeks the current government has been mired in minority government territory and has bounced back and forth between small leads to statistical ties with their chief opponents for the past 24 months. And if you go back to the time between the 2004 election and the 2006 election you see a similar pattern.

The parallels between this coming election and the one that we enjoyed in 2004 are quite striking. However, there are several key differences that will have an impact on how things unfold going forward so I am certain that his election will eventually turn out like the 2011 election instead of the 2004 or 1984 elections.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It's a coalition, run for you lives!!

If the Liberals want to put this issue to bed they need to take a page out of Stephen Harper's book.

At the beginning of the 2005/2006 campaign Stephen Harper neutralized the SSM issue by stating what he would do about it during his very first campaign stop. Everybody thought he was nuts but it allowed him to put the issue behind him early and focus on getting the Conservative message out there.

Michael Ignatieff should do the same thing. On his very first campaign stop, when the inevitable questions about a coalition comes up he should anwser them in three parts.

Part one, make the following statement:

"The Liberal Party is running to win this election. When we win the election and if Canadians entrust us with only enough seats to form a minority government the Liberal team and I will work with any Member of Parliament who wants to work with us towards building a better Canada for all Canadians."

Part two, when the inevitable follow-up questions about what happens if the Liberals lose but the Conservatives only win a minority government are asked make the following statement.

"We expect to win but if the Conservative Party wins the most seats in a minority Parliament they will have the first opportunity to form a government. That is just how our system works. It will then be the responsibility of Stephen Harper to to work with the other Parties in the House to gain the confidence of the new Parliament and to continue governing.

Part three, if follow-up questions about what the Liberals would do if the Conservatives failed to gain the confidence of the House are asked Mr. Ignatieff should ask, with a wry smile:

"You really do not believe that Stephen Harper would not do whatever it takes to hang on to power do you?"

Stick to this message and repeat it everytime these questions are asked. It would not be too long before they stop asking these questions.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Handicapping the election

With an election campaign seeming to be inevitable maybe its time to take a look at the main combattants in it.

Conservatives: The Conservatives are entering this campaign mired in scandal. True it is not a big, headline grabbing scandal like Adscam but it is a bunch of smaller ones that inconveniently for them fit nicely into a rather negative narrative about their government and its ethical compass. Scandals kill governments and distract parties during elections campaigns so I am certain that there is a fair amount of unease going into this campaign with these scandals still developing.

As well, the Conservatives are on the wrong side of several key issues. Corporate tax cuts, F-35s and prisons are not on the list of priorities for Canadians so the Conservatives could have some difficulty trying to sell these to the electorate.

Then there is Stephen Harper. Even his friends would say he is not really liked or a likeable man. That fact is probably the key reason why he has been unable to achieve the majority government him and his party so crave. This fact has not changed and he is now going into his fourth election as leader of the Conservative Party. If this election becomes a referendum on Stephen Harper the Conservatives could be in tough.

All that being said the Conservatives have almost double the number of seats as their next closest and chief opponent. That is a hell of an advantage to begin with going into a campaign. There will have to be a massive swing in seats for the Conservatives to lose government and it would probably take the Conservatives having the wheels really coming off of their campaign to have that happen.

I see the Conservatives in the same position that Paul Martin was in before the 2004 election. In seems likely that the Conservatives will be returned with a much smaller minority facing a much stronger Liberal Party.

Liberals: It would appear the Liberal Party is stronger than it has been since Mr. Chretien left the scene. There is a certain swagger in their step on the eve of this election and I believe that the reason for that is they know the Conservatives are very vulnerable on a number of fronts.

The wildcard in this election will be Mr. Ignatieff. He is a journalist and author making him a natural communicator. He is not very well known outside of the political classes so he has an opportunity to use those skills to define himself to Canadians. Unlike Mr. Harper he is a likeable fellow and if Canadians begin to like him the Conservatives are in real trouble. As well, if he can use his communications skill to forcefully push the Liberal message they could enjoy some success. Of course, that message better be a coherent one that resonates with Canadians or all of his communcations skill will be for naught. That is my biggest complaint about the last three Liberal campaign. They had no direction, no theme, they just threw seemingly random policy proposals out there hoping some of them would stick.

The Liberals have a rather tough hill to climb and they would have to run the perfect campaign to reach the summit so I am not really expecting them to do so this time around. If they run a decent campaign they should be able to pick up quite a few seats, perhaps even reaching the century mark again, and setting themselves up to retake government, probably in 2014.

NDP: The fate of the NDP will rest with the desire amongst progressives to finally be rid of the Harper government. If that feeling is strong many progressives will turn to the only party that has any chance of defeating the Conservatives, namely the Liberals. If that happens the NDP suffers. If that feeling is not strong the NDP will probably not take as big of a hit.

However, the NDP probably did hit its high water mark during the 2008 campaign so it can probably expect to lose some seats this time around.

Watch out for Jack Layton. He is battling health issues and that could effect his ability to campaign and there is no predicting how it might effect the internal party politics of the NDP.

The Bloc: They seem to be the most comfortable of the four big parties. However, I would not take anything for granted when it comes to Quebec voters.

Greens: Sorry Green Party supporters, with the environment no longer so prominent in the minds of Canadians the Green Party will be hard pressed to make any big inroads during this election. Like the NDP, if progressives decide they have had enough of Mr. Harper and go to the only party that can push him out the Greens will suffer.

They will again fail to win a seat in Parliament.

There you have it. Take these opinions as you like. I know myself that I will come back to his post later this spring and either say to myself that I am a freaking genius or ask whether I am willing to share what I have been smoking because it would appear it was really good shit.

Conservatives feeling the heat?

After my disgust over the attacks on Mr. Ignatieff's father abated somewhat I had to ask myself why the Conservative War Room would have taken such a direction.

Surely they really cannot believe it was a good idea. I do not know of anybody who would appreciate it if someone were to attack their dead father or grandfather, particularly if it were for personal gain. So why would they believe that such an attack would resonate with Canadians when it was directed at their chief political opponent?

If they would have done that in the heat of an election campaign I could imagine that it could have become the Harper Conservative's "reptilian kitten eater moment". In short they blundered and badly.

That is the type of blunder political parties make when they begin to feel the pressure of an election campaign that is slipping away from them. We have seen it before, Kim Campbell, Ernie Eves, and Paul Martin, just within the last 20 years.

If the attack was the result of the above it would speak volumes about the state of mind of the Conservatives going into a campaign. After all, if they make such blunders before an election campaign begins just imagine the potential for equally serious blunders if things begin to go awry during an actual campaign.

Stephen Harper won the last two elections because he imposed iron discipline on his party and its apparatus. Then again he was not really challenged during those elections so it was rather easy to do so. If Mr. Ignatieff turns out to be a greater challenge it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that discipline

It is going to be an interesting election campaign I think.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Will he or won't he?

Considering the ethical troubles the Conservatives have found themselves in during the past few weeks.

Considering Stephen Harper is a control freak whose head would explode if he was forced to fight an election he did not call.

Considering the fact that Stephen Harper has a tendency to hide from accountability whenever the media or the Opposition managed to corner him on the issue.

Will Stephen Harper prorogue Parliament for a third time to avoid all of the above?

What do you think?