Featured Posts

Politicians in Cowboy Hats

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics, Featured Posts, Humour, Politicians in Cowboy Hats | 2 Comments

For a brief history of Stampede fashion, you can read the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013 round-ups – or “100 Years of Bad Photo-Ops

This week’s pilgrimage of politicians to the Stampede was met with less fanfare than some years gone by. This wasn’t the first rodeo for any of the party leaders, and ever since the leather vest incident, wardrobes are vetted by dozens of staffers and stylists. So there were few surprises and few opportunities to ridicule.

And, let’s be honest, everyone was there for the Shat.

Shatner montage

Which kind of makes me sad Jack Layton isn’t around anymore. Mulcair? He’s supposed to be in town this weekend (if Harper lets him), but I see him as more of a Picard than a Kirk fan. Or maybe Riker – post beard.

Layton trekkie

That left the spotlight squarely on Justin Trudeau, flanked by local Liberal candidates who are trying to go where no Calgary Liberals have gone before (at least in the last 40 years) – to Ottawa.

Trudeau with Calgary Skyview candidate Darshan Kang and Calgary Confederation candidate Matt Grant

Trudeau with Calgary Skyview candidate Darshan Kang and Calgary Confederation candidate Matt Grant

Fresh off a victory of sorts in Fort McMurray – the heart of the oilsands – there are high hopes for a Calgary breakthrough. Ironically, it may be a Trudeau who finally puts the ghost of the NEP to bed in Alberta.

In the gold old days, Calgary children were raised that a Trudeau was to be kicked in the shins, not high fived. Times have changed.

In the good old days, Calgary children were raised that a Trudeau was to be kicked in the shins, not high fived. Times have changed.

In a rare show of civility, Harper shakes Xavier Trudeau's hand, before turning to crowd and reminding them Trudeau is trying to push pot on their children.

In a rare show of civility, Harper shakes Xavier Trudeau’s hand, before turning to the crowd and reminding them Xavier’s dad is trying to push pot on their children.

Harper interviews candidates to fill the senate vacancies.

Harper interviews candidates to fill senate vacancies.

With what now seems like a yearly tradition – an Alberta PC leadership race – in full swing, I’ve taken the opportunity to rank the would-be-Premiers by their Stampede wardrobes. After all, the PC constitution forbids them from talking about policy, so what else are Albertans going to base their decision on?

Finishing third, and the winner of “worst dressed” this year, is Tom Lukaszuk. I recognize he spends 30 minutes on his hair every morning, but surely he could have donned a cowboy hat just this once? All I’m asking for is the bare minimum effort.


In second, Ric McIver gives it the bare minimum effort, wearing jeans and at least carrying a hat around.


Like the leadership race itself, there was never any doubt about who would win this fashion round-up. Jim Prentice has been a Stampede All-Star over the years – he rides a horse, throws a breakfast, and makes a wide range of outfits work.


And, finally, there is Naheed Nenshi, who this week passed the Calgary Tower as the city’s most photographed landmark.


10 Years of Blogging

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 8 Comments
Happy Trails

Happy Trails

Back when I first sat down to rant about politics on May 15th 2004, I never expected I’d still be doing this over 3,000 posts later. The blog has outlasted 3 Liberal leaders, been through 4 federal elections, and documented my involvement on a handful of losing leadership campaigns. During that time, Bart Ramson turned into Dan Arnold, I moved to Edmonton, finished school, and became a “Toronto Grit”. Shortly thereafter, Naheed Nenshi became mayor of Calgary and Rob Ford became mayor of Toronto. Go figure.

Nenshi and Ford have provided me with bountiful amounts of blogging material, but they have not been alone. There was the Michael Ignatieff experiment, on which so much virtual ink was spilled. There was the coalition crisis, which gripped the nation. There was the rise of the Wildrose Party, which led to the rarest of things – an exciting Alberta election. There was the orange wave. And, through it all, there was still time to poke fun at Politicians in Cowboy hatsand leather vests.

Another source for much blog content has been Justin Trudeau, but he is also the reason content has been, and will continue to be, scarce here. I’ve recently started working for the Liberal Party which, needless to say, limits what I’m able to write about. And really, what’s the point of blogging if I don’t have Rob Anders to kick around anymore.

You may still find the occasional retrospective or Pierre Poilievre rant, but this site will be taking a breather from deeper political analysis, at least until after the next election.

So a big thank you to everyone for reading over the years. I’ve always been in awe of the high caliber of discussion in the comments section of this site, and have appreciated the e-mails. As vain as it is to count clicks, the fact that I knew people were reading certainly motivated me to keep at it for a decade. So, to everyone, thank you.

I leave you with a list of 10 of my favourite posts from over the years. These aren’t necessarily the most viewed or the best posts – just 10 that I had a lot of fun writing.

1. Follow the Leader: I only include this post as a humbling reminder about how unpredictable politics can be, and how wrong I’ve been on many occasions. Just one year before Paul Martin’s resignation I provided odds on 13 possible Liberal leadership contenders without listing Stephane Dion, Bob Rae, or Gerard Kennedy. I do mention Michael Ignatieff, but only in what may have been the most awesomely off-the-mark sentence in the history of this blog – and I quote – “This week, we saw Peter C. Newman toot Michael Ignatieff’s name which is interesting because that’s about as serious a suggestion as Justin Trudeau”. Heh.

2. Greatest Prime Minister: In a March Madness style contest, blog readers voted for Wilfrid Laurier as Canada’s Greatest Prime Minister. This begat a series of other contests including “Best Premier”, “Best Prime Minister We Never Had”, “Biggest Election”, and, coming this summer, “Best Minister of Natural Resources”.

3. The Race for Stornoway: 2006 was really the heyday for political blogging. From the “Draft Paul Hellyer” movement, to candidate interviews, to the blogging room at the convention itself, blogging was as close to “cool” as it would ever be.

4. A Beginner’s Guide to Alberta Politics: For some reason, I seemed to blog a lot more about Alberta politics after I left Alberta.

5. Christmas LettersElizabeth May, Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff, Stephen Harper. People, myself included, take politics way too seriously sometimes. So it’s good to have some fun with it.

PS. Ed Broadbent.

6. Leadership Power Rankings (here, here, and here). The wonderful thing about politics is how unpredictable, complicated, and human it is. That’s why I love the challenge of trying to quantify it.

7. Moments of Decade: Hopefully I’m blogging again by 2020, because this is an exercise I’d dearly love to repeat. Readers nominated and voted on the top political moments of the decade, with the Alliance-PC merger topping the list. It wasn’t as exciting as the coalition crisis or the Belinda Stronach Chuck Cadman confidence vote insanity, but it set the stage for the rise of Stephen Harper.

8. On October 6th vote for proper scaling of the Y-Axis. Vote Liberal. Tim Hudak math burn!

9. What’s the Matter with Calgary? Having lived in both Calgary and Toronto, I’ve always been absolutely fascinated by the Nenshi-Ford dichotomy. Elected a week apart, these men are opposites with so much in common, who both shattered their cities’ stereotypes. When I first moved to Toronto, a lot of lefties would shake their head and “tsk tsk” when I said I was from Calgary. Not any more.

10. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Census (But Were Afraid to Ask): I’ve never been of the opinion that Stephen Harper is a monster who has destroyed Canada beyond recognition. Even on issues where we disagree – the gun registry, climate change, Quebec as a nation – I understand where he’s coming from. However, of everything Harper has done, his decision to scrap the long form census remains the thing that boils my blood. Here was the party who sends Happy Hanukkah cards to swing voters calling the census too “intrusive”. It wasn’t an assault on the welfare state or big government, it was an assault on reason. It showed that Harper offered nothing more than government by truthiness.

And that, is why I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next bit to help defeat him.

Persons of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Calgary Municipal Politics, Featured Posts, Person of the Year, Toronto Municipal Politics | Comments Off on Persons of the Year

Every December, I like to name a “Person of the Year” – the individual who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past year. The only rules are that the PM is too obvious a choice, and that lame picks (“You!”) are strictly verboten. The Person of the Year doesn’t need to be someone who used the force for the powers of good, or someone I like – just someone who made a difference. So, yeah, crack smoking mayors and disgraced senators are certainly eligible. Below is a list of recent choices:

2012: Allison Redford
2011: Jack Layton
2010: Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

2013 was not a banner year for Canadian politics. There were some positives, including an overdue free trade deal with the EU, and an overdue debate on Prime Ministerial influence. But for every good news story there was Rob Anders being Rob Anders, Dean Del Mastro and Peter Penashue breaking election laws, and Paul Calandra turning Question Period into a joke.

However all stories, good and bad, were overshadowed by a year-long senate scandal (with a little Robocon thrown in for seasoning). This certainly leaves Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy as candidates for “person of the year”, but I’m less convinced than some about the long-term damage this controversy will inflict on Harper.

As is often the case in the midst of majority mandates in Ottawa, the was more action at the provincial level – but it was equally depressing. In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne’s win was inspiring, but she spent the year answering questions about the gas plant cancelation. Christy Clark pulled off a small miracle in BC, but the moral of that story was that going negative works. The most repugnant development of the year was Pauline Marois’ Values Charter which took direct aim at minorities. More troubling than the Charter is that Marois sees it as a path to re-election.

However it was municipal politicians than rose to the top of the cesspool than was Canadian politics in 2013. London Mayor Joe Fontana is going to trial on fraud charges. Somehow, both Montreal and Laval saw their interim mayors resign, both appointed after corruption scandals destroyed their predecessors. And the mayor of Huntingdon Quebec told a radio station he enjoyed killing cats. You can’t make this stuff up.

Of course, one man became the face of controversy, not just in Canada – but around the world. That doesn’t neccesarily make him the person of the year. While many Torontonians will disagree, Toronto is just a city, and it’s not like Ford’s Prime Ministerial ambitions were ever going to materialize, scandal or not. But people spent so much time talking about “Toronto’s crack smoking mayor” this year that it would be foolish to assume the entire fiasco won’t have some impact, however subtle, on the way voters look at politicians.

So, yes, Rob Ford is once again my Person of the Year, as the politician who came to represent all that is wrong with Canadian politics. However, after being visited by the ghost of elections past last night, I’ve realized there is still some good in the world, so Ford will only share the title:

2013 Persons of the Year: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi

ford nenshi

Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi will always be linked. They were elected within a week of each other, both running as anti-establishment outsiders against more polished, but overly cautious opponents. Yes, the kinds of people who voted for them may have been different, but a vote for Nenshi or a vote for Ford was a vote for change regardless of whether you were a commuter from Etobicoke or a student in downtown Calgary.

What made their elections so remarkable was that it looked like they had been body switched as some sort of Canadian Freaky Friday rip-off. Here were the liberal elites in Toronto voting for a foul mouthed football coach with a DUI who had been kicked out of a Leafs game for unruly behaviour. Meanwhile, the redneck yokels in Calgary were going with the Harvard-educated Muslim professor, who blogged about urban sprawl in his spare time. Never have two politicians been so similar and yet so different.

Since then, the caricatures have only grown more pronounced. There’s no need to recap Ford’s hijinx here, because I know you’ve had more than enough Rob Ford news to eat this year – he has been the subject of daily Daily Show coverage, viral parodies, and an entire gag gift industry. The man is now so well known in the US that he is not just the joke on late night talk shows, but the punch line. He tackles councillors, calls reporter pedophiles, and gives children the finger. And that’s just a typical Tuesday.

While not as infamous, Nenshi has built a reputation of his own. He is a Twitter sensation, has his face glued on “superman” posters, makes it onto Ontarians’ Christmas lists, and, somehow, was named the sexiest Calgarian. His leadership in the wake of the Alberta floods was textbook, at one point staying awake for 43 hours in a row, prompting a #nap4nenshi campaign. Even in the midst of the turmoil, Nenshi landed zingers, most memorably invoking Darwin’s Law as he warned Calgarians not to raft on the crested Bow river. When Toronto was hit with a flash flood a few weeks later, it’s no wonder Torontonians asked if they could borrow Nenshi.

Indeed, one of the most remarkable side-effects of the Ford and Nenshi phenomena is a genuine sense of “Calgary envy” in downtown Toronto. No longer can Torontonians look down on Calgary as an uncouth conservative outpost. If they do, Calgarians have the ultimate comeback – the equivalent of pointing out the Leafs’ 46-year Stanley Cup drought to win hockey arguments.

In fairness, both Nenshi and Ford can point to legislative victories and defeats. Nenshi has had trouble moving much of his agenda through City Council, and raised taxes by as much as 30%, depending how you do the math. While he was handily re-elected this fall, many of the developer-friendly councillors he anti-endorsed will be joining him at City Hall.

But image is everything in politics and, in 2013, Nenshi was the angel of Canadian politics and Ford was the demon. For that, they once again share the title of Persons of the Year.

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.

Margin of Error

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Featured Posts, Polls | 2 Comments

They were up late counting the votes in Brandon-Souris Monday night. That, despite the fact that the final poll of the campaign showed the Liberals with a commanding 29-point lead. In the end, the Liberal vote was 16 points lower and the Tory vote was 14 points higher. It would have been a shocking result, if Forum’s reputation wasn’t such that pundits were already chuckling about that poll long before the results rolled in.

Before continuing on, I think it’s important to recognize just how far these numbers missed the mark. Some have talked about the “19 times in 20″ disclaimer at the end of every margin of error, writing this off as (yet another) 1 in 20 rogue poll. I won’t turn this into a statistics seminar, but bell curves are such that most misses should be close misses. This weather website predicts that the average high in Brandon ranges from -15 to +13 ºC nine days out of ten in November – but that doesn’t mean there was a 1 in 10 chance scrutineers would be pulling out the Bermuda shorts on election day. That tenth day is usually going to be fairly close to the range.


The reality is, based on Forum’s quoted margin of error and sample size, they were off by around 6 standard deviations. And based on sampling theory, the odds of that happening in a poll from a truly random sample are non-existent. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 million to 1. (So more likely than the Liberals winning Macleod, but still very unlikely)

forum last night

OK, no more math. But I hope I’ve made the point that this isn’t the sort of thing that can happen by chance.

Forum President Lorne Bozinoff has his own theories:

He speculated that the difference between the final Brandon poll and the actual by-election outcome may have been that the Conservatives had a better “get out the vote” ground game than the Liberals. As well, he said some constituents who were angry about the perception of a fixed Tory nomination may have found they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote Liberal once they got into the ballot box.

I absolutely agree the ground game matters. However, you won’t find anyone in politics that believes the difference between the best ground game and no ground game at all is more than 5 or 6 points. Both parties were pumping resources and volunteers into Brandon, so every door got knocked – GotV may very well have been the reason the Tories won, but it doesn’t explain a 15-point swing. If it made that kind of difference, there’s no way the NDP would have swept Quebec last election.

I can somewhat buy last second switches playing a big role in the recent Alberta and BC elections, but it shouldn’t have been an issue in Brandon – especially when Forum showed Liberal support trending up. If that was what happened, then Bozinoff is basically saying that opinion polling is worthless. Because if the electorate is actually going to swing 15 points in under 24 hours, that means a poll showing the Tories at 30% on election day means they’ll finish anywhere from Kim Campbell territory (15%), right up to a majority government of historic proportions (45%).

Instead, what we’re dealing with appears to be flawed methodology. Bozinoff has admitted that some respondents may have been called for 3 consecutive polls, and that likely wouldn’t have happened unless the response rate was in the neighbourhood of 1% (typical for robo-polls, when you don’t do callbacks). Heck, Sunday being the Grey Cup, it may have been even lower. Sampling methodology only works if you assume survey respondents are similar to the public at large – otherwise, these polls are no more accurate than the “self selecting” click polls you see on websites, asking what you think of Miley Cyrus’ antics.

The obvious solution is more regulation on the polling industry, in terms of standards and disclosure. In the absence of that, it’s up to the media to show restraint when reporting what are clearly flawed robo-polls. Yes, they’re free. Yes, they make for an interesting “news” story – and bad polls make for an especially interesting “news” story because they run counter to the common wisdom.

Polls provide information, and information is a valuable tool. However, passing off faulty information as accurate, and giving it what is clearly not a “real” margin of error is dangerous. These freebie polls have shown themselves to be no more useful than “word on the street” anecdotes, and they should not be given any more credibility than that.

Please note – part of this issue, as noted by John Wright, is a lack of disclosure. So, in the interests of full disclosure, I should remind readers that I work at a polling company, albeit one where “robocalls” are considered a four letter word.

Is the big blue machine slowing down?

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Ads, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 4 Comments

Stephen Harper has faced many a scandal before, and has weathered each one. In the lead up to the 2011 election, it seemed like something new popped up each day – there was Bev Oda’s orange juice and trouble with “nots”, Bruce Carson’s fraud charges and escorts, Jason Kenney’s use of government resources to target “very ethnic” voters, “in and out”, and a historic contempt of parliament vote.

The end result was a majority government.

So it’s premature to say what impact, if any, the Mike Duffy Senate brouhaha will have on Harper’s re-election hopes.

While scandals befalling the Harper government aren’t new, the one thing we’ve never had reason to doubt was the Conservative Party ground game. They’ve raised more money than the Liberals and NDP combined every year since taking power and had 40,000 more donors than either opposition party in 2012. Their outreach into ethnic communities has become legendary, and there’s very good reason to believe the reason they regularly out-perform their poll numbers on Election Day is because of a superior get out the vote apparatus. If you go to Liberal conventions, the policy workshops are full of Liberals trashing everything the Conservative Party stands for, and the party renewal workshops are full of Liberals demanding their party copy every single aspect of the Conservative Party ground game.

So even when the poll numbers look bleak, there has always been a sense Harper can bounce back, and that the Big Blue Machine will microtarget and GOTV him an extra 4 or 5 points.

So this…this was unexpected:

Conservative campaign database fiasco costs party millions

The Conservative Party of Canada has scrapped a multi-million dollar database paid for by money raised through supporter contributions.

At least $7 million and perhaps as much as $9 million was used to pay for a database the Conservative Party was developing to track its supporters and donors.

The party is now reverting to its old system, the Constituent Information Management System or CIMS. That program is being rolled back out to MPs and riding associations over the next few months, starting with the four ridings facing November by-elections, according to a memo sent by the party’s acting executive director.

This story will soon be forgotten, but I suspect its impact on the next election will be far greater than anything Mike Duffy said last week. To begin with, the $7 million dollar price tag effectively snuffs out a year’s worth of fundraising advantage for the Conservatives. Seven million may not go as far as it used to, but it still pays for a lot of attack ads during Hockey Night in Canada.

Still, it’s not like their war chest can’t withstand the hit. The larger concern for the Conservatives is what kind of impact this might have on future fundraising efforts.

The first principle of political fundraising is that you convince the donor their donation will go towards a cause they believe it, be it an issue, getting a candidate elected, or stopping “the Ottawa media elite“. The donor expects their donation will help make a difference, no matter how small. They certainly don’t want it swallowed up by what Conservatives themselves are calling a “$7 million dollar boondoggle“.

It’s true this wasn’t a case of money being embezzled. It wasn’t spent on junkets or $12 orange juice. It may even have been a wise investment that simply didn’t pan out. But anyone thinking about donating $20 to stop those gun hating Liberals must now wonder if their donation will be put to good use. Moreover, the timing of this leak means gossip about the failure of C-Vote will dominate the hospitality suites at this weekend’s Conservative Party convention.

This failure also shatters the myth that the Conservative ground game is miles ahead of the competition. Even if they recover financially, they’re back where they were two years ago in terms of voter tracking, giving the competition time to catch up.

Not surprisingly, the Conservative Party has denied this “boondoggle” is quite as bad as the CBC report makes it out to be. Even if that’s true, this still must be considered a set back, and yet another sign that the vaunted Conservative machine is not running as smoothly as it once did.

As PunditsGuide noted back in January, what was a $7 million gap between the Conservatives and the cumulative Liberal/NDP fundraising totals in 2010 narrowed to under $2 million last year. The number of Conservative donors also shrunk, during a period where the Liberals increased their donor base by 37%, and the NDP by 91%. The CPC is still ahead, and their fundraising efforts have been strong so far in 2013 – but the gap is narrowing.

That means less money for television ads, though the failure of this spring’s “Justin Trudeau is too sexy to be PM” campaign further casts doubts on how effectively funds are being spent. Perhaps that ad campaign did plant seeds of doubt about Trudeau that won’t germinate for a year or two, but has been far less immediate or devastating that “Just Visiting” or “Not a Leader”.

These setbacks aren’t nearly as riveting as a Mike Duffy press conference, but they represent far more ominous signs that the Tories are in for a rough ride in 2015.

Oh my God – they shuffled Kenney! Those Bastards!

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 12 Comments
New Title, Same Job

New Title, Same Job

The much-hyped Cabinet shuffle was about what you’d expect: retiring Ministers swept aside, talented backbenchers and Pierre Poilievre promoted, and a few big names swapping portfolios to give them a fresh start.

The opposition will argue this is very much the same government as before, and they’re right – but that’s the point. Voters elected a Stephen Harper government two years ago and they’re going to get a Stephen Harper government until the man retires or is defeated. Most Canadians didn’t know who the Minister of Justice was before the shuffle, so no one is going to change their vote because of who popped out of the cars in front of Rideau Hall this morning.

So it’s likely not worth analyzing the implications of this shuffle any longer than you’d analyze the science of Sharknado. Anything more than a few minutes, and you’re really just over thinking things.

So with those few minutes we have, here are five things that caught my eye today:

1. As mentioned, this Cabinet shuffle won’t change the government’s direction. So Leona Aglukkaq replacing Peter Kent as Minister of the Environment isn’t a sign Harper is serious about reducing emissions. It does, however, mean he wants to put a softer face on the portfolio. Moving from Health to Environment can’t be considered a promotion, but giving Aglukkaq the more controversial portfolio is likely a sign Harper appreciated her “under-the-radar” performance in Health.

2. Rona Ambrose is an interesting choice to replace Aglukkaq in Health, because Ambrose has been largely invisible since stumbling in the Environment portfolio back in 2006. This is very much a case of Harper giving Ambrose a second chance to prove herself. Ditto for Lisa Raitt, who seems to have bounced back nicely after a disastrous first year in Cabinet at Natural Resources.

3. Ambrose and Raitt were both rising stars who veered off course, but it’s still full steam ahead for James Moore. With his promotion to Industry, Moore will now justifiably be near the top of any list of would-be Harper successors. Comment vont les cours de français, James?

4. Pierre Poilievre winds up as the Minister of Democratic Reform, no doubt as part of a clever ploy to humanize Harper by showing the man has a wicked sense of humour. It’s an odd portfolio choice, but no one should be surprised by the promotion. Pollievre has been the Conservative Party’s Sean Avery – the instigator whose job it is to play dirty and get under the opposition’s skin. By rewarding Pollievre, other MPs who are asked to play a similar role now know there’s a reward waiting for whoever takes over the title of “Most Hated Backbencher”.

5. Not only did the shuffle prove Harper is funny, by tweeting the results he showed he was hip. And the tweet that dropped the most jaws was, without a doubt, Jason Kenney’s move from Immigration to Employment and Social Development. Kenney has proven to be a capable minister, so it’s hardly surprising that he was promoted, but many felt he’s been so effective at building support for the Conservatives among ethnic communities that he’d fall victim to his own success.

However, what many appear to have missed is this:
kenney tweet
The key are those “ongoing responsibilities for multiculturalism”, which suggests Kenney will continue his political outreach to immigrant communities. Chris Alexander might be taking on the portfolio, but I expect when it comes to the political side of things, he will still be very much Kenney’s assistant (conveniently located in the GTA 905).

Which brings us back to the original point of this post. There may be some new faces and new titles, but don’t expect today’s shuffle to change the government’s direction or the way it operates.

Politicians in Cowboy Hats: Come Hell or High Water

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Featured Posts, Humour, Politicians in Cowboy Hats | 7 Comments

For a brief history of Stampede fashion, you can read the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 round-ups – or last year’s “100 Years of Bad Photo-Ops

Flood waters cannot stop the Stampede and flood waters cannot stop politicians from the annual ritual of self humiliation known as the cowboy hat photo-op. Indeed, if there’s one photo op even more irresistible than the Stampede, it’s a post-disaster zone tour.

The Flood Aftermath

Stephen Harper was the first on the scene, playing dress-up in a Canadian Forces flight jacket, complete with pilot wings. Harper defended his wardrobe choice by saying he was honouring the military – I tend to think a better way to honour them would have been allowing Afghanistan troops to keep their danger pay.

Stephen Harper, Naheed Nenshi, Alison Reford

Next up would be Thomas Mulcair, sporting the official Stampede “hell or high water” t-shirt – four words that in southern Alberta usually follow “I’m never voting NDP come…”.

Mulcair stampede

Justin Trudeau put on his coveralls, got his hands dirty, and made history becoming the first aspiring Prime Minister to ever sport a backwards baseball cap:

trudeau work

While I have no doubts the Tory war room was dreaming up attack ads to use this picture in, at least Justin didn’t ruin a perfectly good pair of jeans:

harper relief 2 - wish he'd worn coveralls

Stampede Round-Up

But we were told come hell or high water the show must go on, so it was time for the politicians to pick up a cowboy hat and flip some pancakes. Alberta Premier Alison Redford proved to be a bit over eager on this front, sending her pancake into orbit, in what I can only assume was an attempt to out-flip Danielle Smith.

redford flips pancake

Although Chris Hadfield was the Stampede grand marshal this year, it appears that Justin Trudeau once again managed to overshadow an astronaut. Because everywhere you looked this weekend, there was Justin. At one point yesterday the Calgary Herald had three separate Trudeau stories on their website – this likely isn’t the first time that’s ever happened, but I suspect it’s the first time none of the stories involved effigies.

trudeau stampede headlines

Mercifully, Justin decided to forego cargo shorts in favour of jeans and belt buckle. It remains to be seen if he’s a big thinker, but the “XL” tag on his hat at least shows he’s got a big head.

trudeau stampede

And here’s Justin – again – with Calgary’s mayor and international Twitter superstar Naheed Nenshi. I’m not sure I agree with the FastForward survey which named Nenshi the “sexiest Calgarian“, but he’s certainly the most huggable.

trudeau nenshi hug

Also Pictured

Devinder Shory, Joe Oliver, Michelle Rempel, and Danielle Smith. (Thanks to MC for the photo)

Devinder Shory, Joe Oliver, Michelle Rempel, and Danielle Smith. (Thanks to MC for the tip on this one)

If recent scandals take down Alison Redford, she will at least have a fruitful career as a children's entertainer.

If recent scandals take down Alison Redford, she will at least have a fruitful career as a children’s entertainer.

Kidding aside, Redford actually gets my vote for "Best Dressed" this year. Not only did she cycle through a series of outfits, she is the first politician I've seen pull off a "Stampede skirt".

Kidding aside, Redford actually gets my vote for “Best Dressed” this year. Not only did she cycle through a series of outfits, she is the first politician I’ve seen pull off a “Stampede skirt”.

There were no disasters this year, but Jean Charest take home the "Worst Dressed" honours - it's a nice hat, but he looks completely out of place in the suit jacket.

There were no disasters this year, but Jean Charest take home the “Worst Dressed” honours – it’s a nice hat, but he looks completely out of place in the suit jacket.

Trudeau’s Win by the Numbers

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Fun with Numb3rs | 15 Comments

trudeau-family15nw5Over the past year, there have been thousands of articles written about Justin Trudeau, his father, and his leadership campaign. Since it hasn’t been a big secret he was going to come out on top, we’ve also seen thousands of articles about what his win means.

So rather than rehash what has already been written, allow me to provide the cold hard numbers behind his victory.


That’s more than voted in the most recent NDP (65,108) or Conservative (97,397) leadership races – indeed, it might very well be the most Canadians to ever vote directly for the leader in a federal leadership race. I say “federal”, because, despite what was claimed earlier today, the 2006 Alberta PC leadership race drew 144,289 votes.

Either way, I wouldn’t read too much into this. Both the BC and Alberta Liberals had high turnout leadership races in 2011, and it doesn’t appear to have translated to general public support. But at the very least, Justin Trudeau now has a lot of semi-engaged Liberals to draw from for donations and volunteers.


It’s difficult to compare this total to delegated conventions – especially delegated conventions from the good old days. But, for fun, Trudeau’s first ballot support ranks behind Martin (94%), is comparable to Pearson (78%), and is decidedly ahead of St. Laurent (69%), Chretien (57%), Turner (46%), King (36%), the other Trudeau (32%), and Dion (18%). Trudeau performed slightly better than Stephen Harper, who received 69% of the votes and 56% of the points (after they were weighted by riding) in 2004.


Trudeau’s crushing triumph certainly makes it look inevitable in hindsight. Maybe it was, but we’ve seen “can’t miss” candidates miss before.

If you look at the Intrade stock for a Trudeau victory, it ranged from 75% to 91%, showing that at least some people were willing to bet against him. Back in December, I asked readers of this blog to offer their predictions on the race, and while every entry except one had Trudeau winning, he was only given an average score of 41% on the first ballot. Remember, these are people who follow politics closely.

Even a few days ago, my poll of readers predicted an average first ballot figure of 65%, and only one-in-ten thought he’d crack 80%.

Of course, the support was always there, even if we didn’t all see it. But speaking as someone who was convinced to vote for Trudeau based on his performance during this race, I think the candidate and the campaign deserve a certain amount of credit for the magnitude of his victory.


Here are my final Power Rankings, with each metric converted to a percentage:

Total $ Donors Endorsement Media Facebook Twitter Power Rank
Justin Trudeau 63% 68% 90% 77% 84% 91% 78% (+3)
Joyce Murray 13% 16% 8% 7% 2% 3% 9% (–)
Martha Hall Findlay 11% 9% 1% 7% 10% 4% 6% (-1)
Martin Cauchon 9% 2% 1% 4% 3% 1% 4% (–)
Karen McCrimmon 2% 2% 0% 3% 0% 0% 1.7% (–)
Deborah Coyne 2% 3% 0% 2% 1% 1% 1.5% (-1)

Even though these power rankings weren’t intended to predict first ballot support, they came within 2 percentage points for every candidate:

Power Rank Actual
Justin Trudeau 78% 80%
Joyce Murray 9% 10%
Martha Hall Findlay 6% 6%
Martin Cauchon 4% 3%
Deborah Coyne 1% 1%
Karen McCrimmon 2% 1%

I’m sure some of that is luck, but this is definitely an exercise I plan to continue on future leadership races.

How I’m Voting

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 13 Comments

montreal debate

Unlike past leadership contests where I’ve been fighting on the front lines for my candidate, I’ve watched the federal race largely as a spectator. Being away from a campaign offers a different vantage point, and I’ve enjoyed blogging my opinions candidly, as I slowly made up my mind who to support.

With voting now open (this is your cue hackers!), it’s time to take stock of the race…or “jog”, or “victory march”, or whatever you want to call it.

I wouldn’t consider this post an endorsement – as Allan Rock, Sheila Copps, John Manley, Gerard Kennedy (twice), and Dominic Leblanc will tell you, the Calgary Grit leadership endorsement is generally the kiss of death. So by all means, vote for who you think would make the best candidate – this post merely reflects my thought process for coming to a decision.

The Long Shots

This leadership race is being decided by ranked ballot, so I’m sure a few Liberals will toss a symbolic first choice vote to Karen McCrimmon or Deborah Coyne. Both have conceded they cannot win, but both have demonstrated they would make excellent MPs.

McCrimmon has been this race’s version of 2006 Martha Hall Findlay – that spunky underdog who shows she belongs. She is the least refined of the candidates, but that gives her a genuineness that often gets polished out of politicians. Yes, she lacks political experience, but she has an impressive CV, as the first woman to command a Canadian Forces air force squadron. She’s exactly the type of person we need in the Liberal Party and the type of politician we need more of in Ottawa.

When Deborah Coyne floated the idea of running for LPC leader last spring, I felt that, although she couldn’t win, her presence would bring a lot to the race. Indeed, it has. She has shown herself to be one of the sharpest policy minds in the Liberal Party, and has not been afraid to challenge the other candidates – but always in a respectful manner. She has not looked at all out of place on the debate stage, and has demonstrated retail political skills far more impressive than what you would expect from a “policy wonk”.

Good Candidates – Just Not My Cup of Tea

There are four candidates with MP experience who are presumably in it to win it. Of the four, Martin Cauchon has dissapointed me the most – but only because I had high hopes for him. Had he ran for leader in 2006 or 2009, I would have been very tempted to support him. The man is well spoken, experienced, and a shrewd political mind.

However, I’ve had great difficulty understanding the raison d’etre of the Martin Cauchon candidacy this time around. While his Cabinet experience is an asset, his entire campaign has had a “back to the 90s” feel to it, hyping the Liberal record and playing the same tired songs we’ve heard before – Kelowna, Kyoto, gun registry, Iraq. He has relied on the type uber-partisan rhetoric that turns me off, pepering his speeches with phrases like “Conservatives don’t like immigration“.

Make no mistake, Martin Cauchon is a good Liberal and a talented politician, but the overall message of his campaign just never resonated with me. I really think it’s a case of Cauchon coming late to the race, and not having time to find his feet. After all, he was scrambling for signatures just hours before the deadline.

Joyce Murray has run a very strong campaign and has sounded confident in the debates. I was quite moved by the story she told at the Showcase of growing up in South Africa during apartheid then being exposed to multiculturalism in full colour at Expo ’67.

But regardless what you think of Joyce, it’s impossible to separate the candidate from the plan. While I don’t think it’s treasonous to talk co-operation, and I might even be willing to try a strategic strike during a by-election, the NDP has closed the door to this so it’s really a bridge to nowhere. More importantly, the Liberal Party needs to give voters a reason to vote for it, other than “defeat Stephen Harper”. A pact with the NDP would only add noise to any positive message we try to broadcast during the campaign.

In fairness to Murray, she has given Liberals plenty of other reasons to vote for her – a carbon tax, legalized pot, and a focus on the environment. These are all things I agree with, but, in the end, I have my doubts about her ability to win. Still, she deserves credit for putting big ideas on the table, and adding spice to an otherwise dull leadership contest.

trudeau findlay
My Top 2

I mentioned earlier that Martha Hall Findlay was the “spunky underdog” in 2006. This time around she has shown she is ready to be a national party leader. She is strong, confident, and knows her stuff. Her communication skills have improved dramatically, and she has been able to explain herself well in a range of settings – shouting over the noise to supporters in a pub, in sit-down interviews, in debates, and on the big stage. I know many in the party establishment are not fans, but the Liberal Party could use a strong female leader willing to shake things up.

For me, her strongest moment this campaign came during the second leaders debate when, in two minutes, she provided a history and explanation of the supply management system, rebutted 6 common arguments for the status quo, and gave an impassioned plea for change. She showed substance and a willingness to take on sacred dairy cows, all the while making one of the most boring subjects possible relevant to the daily lives of average Canadians. She is someone you can imagine as Prime Minister without giggling.

And then, there’s Justin.

His name has been bandied about as a leadership candidate to varying degrees of seriousness for over a decade. Every single time it’s been floated, Liberals I’ve talked to have either proclaimed him to be our Messiah (he was born on December 25th), or dismissed him as our very own Sarah Palin. I’ve always fallen in the middle.

I recognize Justin has tremendous talents and potential, but the things that have drawn a lot of Liberals to him – his name and his inevitability – are both turn-offs for me. While I have a Pierre Trudeau picture hanging in my apartment, we’re not going to get to 24 Sussex on a wave of nostalgia. And as someone who has never voted for a winning leadership candidate, I’ve always been drawn to the underdog.

In all honesty, I would have liked to see a bit more policy from Justin this race, if only to innoculate himself against the “airhead” attack adds, but it’s completely unfair to say he lacks substance. He stuck his neck out on the Nexen takeover. He has called for open nominations in all ridings next election, as part of a well thought out democratic reform package. He’s pro-pot, is against co-operation, supports supply management, and thinks the gun registry was a failure.

I don’t neccesarily agree with all those positions, but he has struck a chord with me on the Quebec question. There’s a huge temptation to carve off those NDP nationalist seats, but Trudeau has instead adopted the, uhh, Trudeau approach to federalism. He has been clear in his support for the Clarity Act. He has said “non” to another round of constitutional debates. You’ll recall he spoke out strongly against the “Nation” resolution in 2006.

In the final leadership debate, in Montreal no less, he tossed away his closing statement to expand upon his vision for Canada – of a Canada where Quebecers’ voices and values are heard, rather than a Canada that tries to “buy them off”. It’s a vision of the country I agree with, and it’s one that can be used to differentiate the Liberals from the NDP next election.

Of course, it’s a vision I also share with Deborah Coyne and a host of other Liberals, so let’s stop dancing around on policy and cut to the one issue Liberals care about more than all others – winning. The Liberal Party is in third place, and there’s a very real chance we could get squeezed out of existence if we don’t make gains in 2015. Faced with this landscape, the fact that I may not like Justin’s position on supply management becomes rather insignificant.

Even Trudeau’s harshest detractors will acknowledge he has rock star appeal, and is blessed with more potential than any Canadian politician to come along over the last decade. Their concerns are, quite fairly, that he’ll be branded as a lightweight, or that he’ll gaffe himself out of contention. And while there were a few awkward moments in the Fall, Trudeau has exceeded expectations. Not only has he avoided stumbles and debated policy with the best of them, there have been flashes of brilliance. The moment that turned me squarely towards Justin came at the end of the Mississauga debate, when Martha Hall Findlay went in for the kill, asking the frontrunner how he can possibly speak about “the middle class” given his upbringing. Trudeau’s rebutal mixed reason and passion, drawing on his experiences as an MP in Papineau. I’m sure Harper and Mulcair won’t be so clumsy, but if they are, Trudeau has shown he can deliver the much talked about and rarely seen “knock-out punch”.

The man has a rare ability to connect with Canadians and inspire. His message of “hope and hard work” is exactly what the Liberal Party should be offering to a disengaged electorate, and I have confidence the team around him will continue to help him grow as a politician in the coming years.

So Trudeau has earned my vote. However, I won’t call it an endorsement, simply because the dreaded Calgary Grit endorsement is the only thing that could possibly derail him at this point.

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