2015 Federal Election

Ready

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Federal Election | 3 Comments

notready

Three years ago, there were very real questions being asked about whether or not the Liberal Party would still exist after the next federal election. The party was in a death spiral, having fallen to just 35 seats in the previous election.

I was still blogging regularly at the time – this was long before I went to work for the party, and I still hadn’t even decided if I would actually vote for Trudeau in the leadership race (after all, Takachmentum and Mernermania was spreading across the land!). I summed up my reaction to Trudeau’s leadership launch with a blog post titled “Ready or Not”:

During this time, I suspect most Liberals secretly viewed Justin as “the next one” – that hot shot prospect you pin your hopes on. Like all prospects, the potential was there, but so was the risk he could bust and turn into the next Alexandre Daigle.

No one wanted to rush him to the majors this soon, and I’m sure Justin himself would have rather waited – but we’re in a situation where there may not be a Liberal Party for Justin Trudeau to lead in 10 years, so the time is now. Ready or not, here he comes.

The end result of this is a leadership race where no one really knows what to expect from the frontrunner. Yes, everybody has confidently written about how he’s destined to be the Liberal saviour or to go down in flames, but Justin is still very much an unknown so it’s all just speculation. A charity boxing match is not a gateway to the man’s soul. Just because he hasn’t been to outer space, it doesn’t mean he lacks substance or vision.

Justin Trudeau is a giant blob of untested potential who Liberals have been pinning their hopes on for many years. Yesterday, he finally got his call to the majors.

I never imagined we’d spend the next three years debating that very “ready or not” question.

Even Trudeau’s harshest critics who cringe at the thought of him moving back into 24 Sussex will concede he had a good campaign. And part of the reason for that is because of his harshest critics. They made “ready to lead” the ballot question. Then, like Wile E. Coyote, set a series of traps that horribly backfired – a 78 day campaign and 5 debates, including one on foreign policy. This gave voters plenty of opportunities to look at Trudeau, and every time they did, the guy looked and sounded ready.

And that’s because he is.

Despite the accusation that he has had everything in his life handed to him, Trudeau has constantly been under-estimated, and has constantly exceeded expectations. We saw it when he won an open nomination to enter politics, when he wrestled a seat away from the Bloc in 2008, and when he survived the orange wave in 2011. We even saw it in the silly boxing match.

Having seen the man close up for the past 18 months, I can say that the reason he has constantly exceeded expectations is hard work and determination. Those characteristics are going to make him a very good Prime Minister.

The West is in

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Federal Election | 5 Comments

When I first started blogging over ten years ago, I wasn’t sure a night like tonight would ever come to pass. But, ladies and gentlemen, I present your first TWO Calgary Liberal MPs in over 40 years:

kent hehr

darshan kang

And a very honourable mention to Matt Grant in Calgary Confederation, who ran one of the best campaigns in the country, but fell oh so short.

Calgary Grits

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Federal Election | Leave a comment

For Calgary Liberals who have had doors slammed in their faces, who have been the punchline of countless political jokes, who have worked hard for great candidates only to see them in single digits on election night. For all of you, yesterday was truly gratifying.

Seeing the Liberal Party leader make TWO stops in Alberta the last day of an election campaign is unprecedented. Seeing him cheered by thousands at both stops is mind-blowing. I won’t prejudge the electorate, but regardless of how election night turns out, after a grueling 78 days, nothing warms my heart more than these images.

calgary3

calgary1

calgary2

The First Debate

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Federal Election | 2 Comments

Looks ready to me.

Almost Blue

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Federal Election, Federal Politics | 18 Comments

Harper, Mulcair

These days, it must feel good to be Thomas Mulcair. The polls show he has a chance to become Canada’s first NDP Prime Minister, and the entire country has been engulfed in an orange afterglow since the Alberta election. But as Uncle Ben once said, with great polling comes great scrutiny.

Indeed, one of the downsides of surging four months before election day is that leaves a lot of time for journalists and voters to put everything you’ve ever said or done under the microscope, and study it at the atomic level.

So when you make the type of verbal slip-up we all make from time to time, people are a lot more likely to notice.

And when you’re one day re-affirming your opposition to the Clarity Act, and the next promising a round of constitutional negotiations, people notice.

And now this:

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair was in discussions in 2007 to join the Conservative party as a senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, discussions that several sources, including former senior Harper staffers, say was the first step in securing Mulcair to run as a Conservative candidate in 2008.

The negotiations between the Conservative government and the man who is today leader of the left-leaning official Opposition allegedly broke down over money: Mulcair wanted nearly double what Harper’s office offered, two sources tell Maclean’s.

Contacted today for comment, Mulcair says conversations about an advisory role with the government did occur, but talks broke down, not over money, but over the Conservatives’ environmental policies.

This has been talked about for some time, so it’s not a bombshell. It’s also not overly surprising if you think about it.

For most politicians, their greatest strength can be turned into a weakness. Stephen Harper is strong, but many call him authoritarian. Justin Trudeau is fresh, but the flip side of the coin is inexperience. Mulcair likes to portray himself as a politician with experience who knows how the game is played – but that also means he knows how the game is played. It’s only natural that a political pro like Mulcair would try to squeeze taxpayer dollars for partisan purposes, or would consider his options before jumping to federal politics.

Many will dismiss theses as allegations from the Conservative side of the negotiations, but the problem for Mulcair is that even his own side of the story will seem rather unseemly to many New Democrats. It’s all very good to say talks broke down over the environment, but I suspect most NDP voters have more than one stumbling block with the Harper government. Mulcair says he talked to at least three separate individuals about joining Harper’s team between 2006 and 2007. Most New Democrats, if asked to become an adviser to Stephen Harper, would laugh rather than set up a series of meetings to discuss terms.

The whole ordeal reminds me of the old joke:

Churchill: “Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?”
Socialite: “My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course… “
Churchill: “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?”
Socialite: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!”
Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”

Whether the talks broke off due to money or a single issue is mostly irrelevant in this case. The fact that Mulcair was negotiating establishes what kind of man he is.

Will any Calgary Grits be going to Ottawa in 2015?

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Federal Election, Alberta Politics, Federal Politics | 31 Comments
Nenshi made history in 2010. His Chief of Staff might do the same in 2015.

Nenshi made history in 2010. His Chief of Staff might do the same in 2015.

We’ve all heard the jokes.

When Calgary was hit with flooding in 2005, the Calgary Herald ran a delicious cartoon showing a giant ark being loaded up at the Stampede grounds, and Noah lamenting that, despite his instructions to rescue 2 of each kind, he couldn’t find a second Liberal.

It’s been 46 years since the Liberals won a seat in Calgary, meaning local grits are 0 for their last 83. However, loss number 83 in that streak – Harvey Locke’s near miss in the 2012 Calgary Centre by-election – has given Liberals hope. Obviously, a lot of that is because of Justin Trudeau.

Given the frequent burning of Pierre Trudeau effigies on Nose Hill, it’s easy to forget the last Liberal victory in Calgary came during the original round of Trudeaumania. And, while Trudeaumania II has been tempered by memories of the NEP, Justin has been doing everything right, making frequent trips to Alberta, and earning praise by getting dirty and doing real work rather than cheap photo ops after last year’s devastating floods. More importantly, he has come out in favour of the Keystone Pipeline, positioning himself as the most pro-oilpatch friendly leader in his party’s history.

trudeau work

So, while the odds are still long, talking about a Liberal win in Calgary has moved from the Fantasy genre to Science Fiction – far fetched, but possible without breaking any of our universe’s physical laws.

Not surprisingly, Calgary Centre is seen as the primary target. Locke came within just over 1,000 votes in the by-election, and there’s been speculation of Naheed Nenshi’s chief of staff, Chima Nkemdirim, running in 2015. That speculation is likely to grow following the announcement of Nkemdirim as a guest speaker at the upcoming LPC convention.

The new riding boundaries should also work in the Liberals’ favour. Lopped off of Centre is the affluent western part of the riding where the CPC earned 65% of the vote last election, replaced with a chunk of polls where they were held to 43%. Taken together, the Conservatives picked up 55% of the vote in the new Calgary Centre in 2011. Those type of numbers shouldn’t make Harper sweat, but recent polls have the Conservatives down by an average of 15 points across Alberta, opening up the very real possibility of an upset if the “anybody but” vote coalesces behind a single progressive candidate. Nkemdirim certainly gives the Liberals a good chance to rally the “Nenshi coalition” under one banner.

So expect to read a lot about Calgary Centre next year. However, equally deserving of attention is Calgary Confederation. On paper, Confederation is actually the most vulnerable of the new Calgary ridings – in 2011, the Tory vote in the polls that now make up the riding was 52%, lower than in the new Centre. Indeed, Confederation is a gift from the boundaries commission gods to Liberals in Calgary (perhaps given out of pity). Confederation brings together the provincial riding of Calgary Mountainview, dominated by Liberal David Swann, with the University of Calgary campus – still a breeding ground for lefties, despite the best efforts of professors Flanagan, Morton, and the rest of the Calgary School. Throw in the fact that there is no incumbent Conservative MP, and the riding looks ripe for the taking.

matt grantThe likely Liberal candidate in Confederation is 30-year old lawyer Matt Grant, a former EA to Liberal MLAs Craig Cheffins and Kent Hehr, and the son-in-law of former Mayor Al Duerr. None of that screams “star candidate”, but I got to know Matt quite well during our young Liberals days, and he’s one of the hardest working Liberals I’ve met. From what I’ve seen over the years, the biggest progressive success stories in Alberta are usually born out of candidates going door to door until their knuckles bleed, rather than holding out hope on big names. Mix that in with one of the most impressive and tech-savvy campaign teams ever assembled in Calgary, and you’ve got all the ingredients for an upset.

I use the term upset, because the Tories are still very much the favourites in Centre and Confederation (or Skyview for that matter, another riding opposition parties should not ignore). Even if the Conservative vote falls to the 40% range in these ridings, it would take a concerted effort to wrestle these seats away, and the left has a frustrating record of splitting the few progressive votes which exist in Alberta. Look no further than Joan Crockett winning the Calgary Centre by-election with 37% of the vote.

However, at the very least, the Conservatives will need to spend time and resources fighting for seats in their own backyard. And maybe, just maybe, sometime next year Calgary will send a Liberal MP to Ottawa for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Liberals: The Next Generation

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Federal Election, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 5 Comments

The Liberal Party is old.

I’m not talking about its history, but about the faces it puts before Canadians. The average age of Liberal MPs in Ottawa is 56, with Scott Andrews their youngest at 37. The second youngest is some kid named Justin, but at 41, even he’s old enough to remember most of Pierre Trudeau’s time as Prime Minister.

We all know the bizarre circumstances that led to the election of the “NDP 90210″ caucus in Quebec two years ago, but even the crusty old Conservative Party makes the Liberals look like your father’s party. Tory MPs are, on average, 3 years younger than their grit counterparts, they have 19 MPs under 40, and the last time they ran a leader older than his (or her!) Liberal counterpart was in 1974.

Part of this is no doubt because it’s harder to get fresh blood into the House of Commons when you’re shedding 30 seats every election. But the last time the Liberals gained seats, in 2000, of the 24 new MPs they elected, only Andy Savoy and Dominic Leblanc were under 40.

Obviously, the ascension of Trudeau changes everything. He boxes, he dances, he’s done pot. And, unlike recent Liberal leaders, he’s attracting an impressive collection of young candidates.

Cherniak on politics

Cherniak on politics

I recently interviewed two youngish Liberal candidates eyeing nominations – former blogging superstar Jason Cherniak (34) and former future Prime Minister Amy Robichaud (26) – and both cited Trudeau’s leadership as one of the reasons they decided to make the plunge. “I believe Justin Trudeau appeals to a new generation of Canadians,” says Cherniak. “Because of him, they are more likely to consider themselves as potential politicians”.

Why Open Nominations Matter

While that’s certainly true, it’s not like young Liberals haven’t been interested in running for office before. Back during my university days, in 2005, I came within one floor crossing of being the Liberal candidate in Calgary Southeast. The difference today is that there are actually winnable seats for young candidates to look at. With 30 new ridings and few incumbents left, the party finds itself in a “forest fire” scenario, where the devastation of the 2011 election has burned open space for new trees to take root. Moreover, the few incumbents left will be forced to fight in open nominations, something Robichaud calls “an important first step in attracting new liberals and new ideas” to the party.

The aforementioned duo are running in the fertile Liberal-red soil of the GTA, and both stand an excellent chance of winning their nominations. Cherniak has established himself as a successful lawyer, and has endorsements from former MP Byron Wilfert, MPP Helena Jaczek, and the former Mayor of Aurora. Robichaud has also secured the endorsement of her riding’s past MP, Michelle Simson, who praises her as having “intelligence, integrity and spirit”.

Amy Robichaud

Amy Robichaud

The “Youth Stigma”

Those endorsements speak to a cultural shift within the party, but younger candidates must fight against the stigmas of youth, during both nominations and general elections. “Age is often equated with immaturity and inexperience,” says Robichaud. “While I’m confident in the experience, knowledge, and dedication that I bring, politics is so often an arena where you only get a first impression.” Cherniak agrees, and adds that experience can sometimes “lead to inertia or bias, and stand in the way of good ideas”. Given the level of maturity and amount of stagnation we’ve seen from experienced politicians at all three levels of government in recent years, it’s hard to disagree.

One of the rare success stories the current group of young candidates can look to is former MP Navdeep Bains, who won a hotly contested Liberal nomination prior to the 2004 election, at the age of 27. I talked to Bains about his experiences, and he felt that while the community was largely supportive, there was a sense of “reluctance” by many in the party about him, due to his age. Then, as now, he feels the only way to overcome this is by winning people over via “hard work and convictions”.

Those are two things this next generation of Liberal candidates have in plentiful supply. Cherniak talks about reaching out to “Canadians who are losing faith in the system”, while Robichaud’s campaign has been all about going into the community and engaging constituents.


A Final Note of Caution

While Bains sees the value in having younger voices in Ottawa, he offers advice to prospective candidates. “There may be a romantic notion about being a member of parliament, but with a young family, there can be large demands,” he cautions. “As a father, having kids drastically changed my outlook; It became much more challenging to travel and do the job, to find the right balance.”

Wise words. Even Justin Trudeau hemmed and hawed about running for leadership, due to the demands of raising a young family. I think most Liberals, even those who had doubts about him, are glad he did. And just as Trudeau has breathed new life into an old party, the Liberal Party stands to benefit immensely from a rush of younger candidates in 2015.

The 2015 Tory Playbook

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Federal Election, Federal Politics | 8 Comments
Step 1: Inherit igloo in good order Step 2: Break roof Step 3: Create compelling narrative about how you fixed igloo

Step 1: Inherit igloo in working order
Step 2: Break roof
Step 3: Write compelling narrative about how you fixed igloo

We got a good reminder today of why it would be foolish to write off the Conservatives in 2015:

Conservatives’ new surplus forecast: $3.7-billion for election year

Ottawa’s fall economic update shows the government is counting on a surplus of at least $3.7-billion in 2015-16, the year of the next federal election.

A mix of spending cuts, public sector wage control and the sale of government assets are behind the latest government numbers, which show a better bottom line than the $800-million 2015-16 surplus forecast in the March budget. There are also several conservative assumptions in the numbers, meaning the surplus could easily come in higher than currently planned.

You’ll remember the 2011 election featured a swarm of promises by the Conservatives that would only come into being once the budget got back in black. As ridiculous as the “4-year IOU” was at the time, it now looks more and more like Flaherty’s pre-election budget will be one of the most voter-friendly in Canada’s history. Income splitting! An adult fitness tax credit! Double your TFSA space!

Which means the spring and summer of 2015 will feature a barrage of commercials (courtesy of the Government of Canada and taxpayers everywhere) touting these new initiatives, while Conservative Cabinet Ministers fan across the country to remind us it would not have been possible without Stephen Harper’s strong and steady leadership during this turbulent period. And, oh yeah, it could all be for naught if we take a risk on that pothead.

I would argue the narrative that Harper successfully guided Canada through the recession is mostly fiction – he inherited a surplus, became the largest spending Prime Minister in Canada’s history, and recent cuts make up only a very small percentage of the expected surplus. But fiction is what sells (Harper himself will realize this once the minuscule royalty cheques from his hockey book start trickling in). And fiction or not, the story Flaherty read today will be a lot more relevant to voters in 2015 than whatever happened with a few senators all the way back in 2013.

What’s interesting is that this story is largely cribbed from the Jean Chretien’s 2000 election playbook. Yes, the Liberals were dealing with scandals, voters were tiring of them, and the “succession question” loomed over everything. But Paul Martin’s budget and economic update offered what he dubbed in his usual understated manner as “the largest tax cuts in Canadian history”. The Liberals ran on their economic record, all the while painting Stockwell Day as a lightweight who wasn’t ready for prime time. The result was a crushing majority. Sound familiar?

Every election is unique, and voters have been known to turf leaders who led them through dark periods. Just look at Churchill after World War 2. But as bad a year as he’s had, Harper is quietly laying the groundwork for what figures to be a compelling election narrative in 2015.

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