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Coronation

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts | 25 Comments
I look forward to the debates during Prince Charles' coronation.

I look forward to the debates during Prince Charles’ coronation.

The media reaction to Marc Garneau’s exit from the Liberal leadership race has not been kind. The party is “not a happy place“, the race is a “fiasco“, this is the “worst-case scenario“, is the Liberal Party serious?”. I haven’t checked out SunNews’ take, but I’d imagine they aren’t overly ebullient either.

None of this should be surprising. The media treats politics like a sporting event, and it’s hard to write a compelling story about the Dream Team rolling over Kazakhstan by 40 points. This has led to the return of the dreaded “c” word – coronation (I’ve even been guilty of using it in a few posts). With a Trudeau victory now innevitable, the term is being flung around derisively, with many drawing parallels to Ignatieff’s ascension in 2009.

However, that’s a completely unfair characterization of the race, and comparisons to the Ignatieff coronation are laughable. Just a month into that contest, the National Executive named Ignatieff leader, denying party members a say in the process and effectively forcing Leblanc and Rae to drop out. There were no debates and the final ballot had just a single name on it.

This time, we’ve been treated to one of the most open leadership races in the history of Canadian politics. There were few restrictions to enter, and 9 candidates declared, giving Liberals uneasy about the frontrunner plenty of choices. Unlike past leaderships which have been decided by a select group of delegates and party elites at convention, this contest has been open to any Canadian who supports the Liberal Party. No backroom deals to deliver delegates, no rules restricting membership forms. Hell, you don’t even have to pay $10 to participate.

Anyone who wanted to run could run, anyone who wanted to vote could vote, and Liberals got a chance to see the candidates in a range of settings. Voters have had 6 months to scrutinize Justin, and they’ve reached their verdict. Even if the convention becomes a mere formality, much like those that follow US primaries, that doesn’t mean other candidates weren’t given a chance.

Now, it’s perfectly fair to say the Liberal Party is making the wrong choice. That they’ve been swept up in nostalgia and blinded by wavy hair. I can understand how many are frustrated at the lack of concrete policies coming from the frontrunner.

But when you run a fair and open leadership race with 9 candidates and one guy wins overwhelmingly, it’s not a coronation. It’s an election where the vast majority of voters came to the same conclusion.

Liberal Speed Dating Helps Voters Make Their Choice

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts | 52 Comments

Trudeau Findlay
While the sit-down interview format of the last “debate” served as a nice introduction, the timid questions served up by Harvey Locke didn’t give us any sense of how the candidates would perform in the heat of an election campaign.

Saturday, we were treated to a series of short two-way and three-way debates, with many of the questions asked by the candidates themselves. Yes, a few of the exchanges were so pleasant you’d think you were watching Liberal speed dating – as Karen McCrimmon playfully remarked at one point, “another opportunity for radical agreement“. But there were also difficult, substantive questions. Regardless of where Deborah Coyne ranks on your leadership ballot, she proved herself to be a fantastic moderator. Going head-to-head with Justin Trudeau, who dwarfs her both literally and figuratively, she held her ground asking him where he stood on granting Quebec special powers for immigration. After Marc Garneau dodged her question about the need for a national referendum on electoral reform, Coyne forcefully pressed him for an answer.

The more confrontational nature of the debate led to flubbed answers, awkward moments, and even a few boos. Joyce Murray and George Takach had a gawky exchange where Murray derisively referred to Takach as a “Bay Street Lawyer” with “experience off-shoring jobs to China”, prompting Takach to shoot back by belittling her work planting trees. When Takach tossed out another jab later in the debate, solidifying himself as the “anti-tree” candidate, he was met with smattered boos. Given the race isn’t going to come down to a Takach-Murray final ballot, this melee likely didn’t do either of them any favours.

Not every segment contained political oration that moved and inspired, but as a genuinely undecided Liberal member, this is exactly what I was looking for in a debate. By putting candidates’ feet to the fire, it became clear who could handle the heat of an election campaign and who would be deep fried by Harper and Mulcair during a federal election debate.

So we learned that Deborah Coyne knows her shit, Joyce Murray has a lot of bold ideas, Marc Garneau can be affable, and Martha Hall Findlay is confident. But the candidate who really impressed was Justin Trudeau.

No one has ever denied Justin’s talent and potential, but the ballot question of the entire race has been whether or not he’s ready for the big leagues.

Admittedly, debating Harper and Mulcair is an entirely different thing than debating David Bertschi and Karen McCrimmon, but Trudeau held his ground. After a shaky first exchange with Marc Garneau on his qualifications for the job, Trudeau bounced back in a big way. He answered Deb Coyne’s immigration question by showing he knew the issues, mixing reason and passion into his response. Responding to criticism he lacks substance, he sprinkled in policy nuggets on eliminating boutique tax credits and giving the federal government a larger role in education. No, there were no specifics, much to the chagrin of some of us, but it was meatier than the usual “help the middle class” platitudes.

Which brings us to the defining moment of the debate. In one of the final exchanges, Martha Hall Findlay moved in to attack Trudeau over the “middle class” focus of his campaign. Her point was a valid one – that we should aspire to be a classless society, and that a focus on the middle class leaves the less fortunate behind. However, Findlay turned her critique into an aggressive jab at Trudeau’s upbringing, telling him he couldn’t understand middle class issues, sine he wasn’t a member of it. Prefacing a call for a class-free society with a class-based attack was classless, and the crowd responded with another round of boos.

Trudeau seized the moment, responding with an eloquent and emotional rebuttal, pointing to his experiences as an MP in Papineau. It was a clip that would have led off every newscast had it occurred during a federal leaders debate.

There are still many questions about whether or not Justin is up for the job, but he answered a few of them Saturday.

The Case For Kennedy

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2013 OLP Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Ontario Politics | 3 Comments


This weekend, Liberals from across Ontario will gather at Maple Leaf Gardens for what is likely to be one of the last grand old leadership conventions in Canada. Having 2,000 delegates decide who governs a province of 13 million doesn’t scream “grassroots”, but it makes for one heck of a show. There will be signs, there will be noise makers, there will be t-shirts, there will carefully orchestrated spontaneous outpourings of enthusiasm.

Rumours will fly, candidates will lead their delegates across the floor, and the TV cameras will scramble to find a heartbroken teenager in tears. Whether or not you have a horse in this race, if you like politics, Saturday is going to be Must See TV.

I’ll be attending the convention as a Gerard Kennedy delegate, and I suspect the grind of the campaign and lure of the hospitality suites will leave me with little time to blog. The OLP has been gracious enough to accredit bloggers, so expect Scott Tribe and others at Progressive Bloggers to be posting frequent updates as the voting progresses Saturday…and Sunday, if we see a repeat of 1996 when a leader wasn’t crowned until 4:30 am.

Up until that moment, delegates will be doing everything they can to persuade each other to vote for their candidate of choice. So for any delegates scanning blogs on their train ride into town, let me re-iterate why I’m supporting Gerard Kennedy and why I encourage you to.

What first drew me to Kennedy and keeps me coming back is that he is one of the most genuine politicians I have ever met and I’m 100% confident he’s in politics not for power, but for purpose. After growing up in small town Manitoba and going to University on a hockey scholarship, he became executive director of an Edmonton food bank at the age of 23, then of the Daily Bread Food Bank at the age of 26. Despite his aforementioned 4:30 am defeat to Dalton McGuinty, he stayed loyal, and as McGuinty’s Education Minister he got results – labour peace, smaller class sizes, higher test scores.

Of course, all the candidates in this race share Liberal values and they all have impressive resumes and a record of accomplishment in Cabinet. However, for me personally, there are two things that set Kennedy apart from the field.

The first is that Gerard is more genuinely committed to changing the way politics is done in this country than anyone I’ve ever met. He was talking about renewal long before it became an empty buzzword, and has released a comprehensive plan for change that will lead to a more open Liberal Party. (In fairness, many of the other candidates have released strong renewal platforms, especially Hoskins and Sousa).

Dalton McGuinty’s surprise resignation letter to Liberals 100 days ago was titled “Renewal”, because he recognized the party needs to change the way it operates to survive. Kennedy is not a member of the party establishment, and he offers real change.

And it is indeed because he is an agent of change that Gerard is well positioned to lead the Liberals to victory in the next election. Despite the happy-go-lucky feel-good mentality that has dominated this race, Liberal Party members need to recognize the situation we find ourselves in. The party has been in power for a decade, has alienated much of its base, and faces the very real prospect of a spring election. That’s an election we can win, but there’s also a very real risk we could tumble to third if the new leader isn’t able to connect with voters and show them the party has changed.

On that front, Kennedy has the advantage of being a known commodity from the Camelot period of the McGuinty government, who is trusted by voters. At the same time, he’s a fresh face who wasn’t at the Cabinet table when controversies around Bill 115, the Mississauga Power Plant, and E-Health exploded. It’s no surprise that every single poll released this campaign has shown he is the most electable candidate in the race – by a significant margin.

That’s the case I’ll be making this weekend. It’s a strong field of candidates, and I’ve heard very compelling pitches from each of their campaigns. When the confetti falls Saturday night (or Sunday morning), we’ll find out which case proves most compelling.

2012 Woman of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics, Featured Posts, Person of the Year | 3 Comments

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. Below is a list of recent choices:

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

Unlike 2011, when Jack Layton’s rise and death came to define the year that was in Canadian politics, no single event or person stands out in 2012. There was no federal election, and little that happened in Ottawa resonated outside the political bubble. After being warned about Harper’s “hidden agenda” for a decade, the most newsworthy item of Flaherty’s first majority budget was the death of the penny.

The robocon scandal might eventually stick, but we have no way of knowing, so selecting Pierre Poutine, or Misters McGregor and Maher is likely premature. A few people on Twitter nominated Mark Carney, but I’m not sure his flirtation with the Liberal Party or departure to England will really change much.

Rather, the focus in Ottawa this year was largely on leadership races in the opposition ranks. Thomas Mulcair deserves consideration for Person of the Year – he won a competitive race, allowing the NDP to complete their journey from protest to pragmatism. Mulcair proved himself to be a steady opposition leader, but his polling bounce has faded due to…

Justin Trudeau. I don’t doubt that Trudeaumania II will be the “Story of the Year” on a lot of recap lists, but it’s not clear to me Justin left any lasting mark on Canadian politics (other than the ones on Patrick Brazeau’s face). And being talked about isn’t enough to make you the Person of the Year, or else I’d be handing out this award to the IKEA Monkey.

If we move outside of federal politics, a couple of past winners find themselves on the short list again in 2012. Rob Ford was a headline machine this year, culminating with a judge ordering him to be removed from office. The only problem is, if we’re going to start naming troubled Mayors, it would make for one long list of co-winners, since you’d also need to include Gerard Tremblay, Gilles Vaillancourt, and Joe Fontana, among others.

It’s tempting to give my 2007 Person of the Year, Jean Charest, and fellow Liberal-on-the-way out Dalton McGuinty a lifetime achievement award for the impact they’ve had on Canadian politics over the past decade. After all, this fall’s Quebec election was a thriller, and Charest surprised everyone by nearly hanging on.

However, even more exciting and unpredictable was the Alberta election. Which brings us to our 2012 Woman of the Year:

Alison Redford poses with Daryl Katz

The PCs winning elections in Alberta is hardly news. They’ve now done that a dozen times in a row, and will soon break the record as the longest-serving government in Canadian history. Alison Redford won 61 of 87 seats which, admittedly, marks a down year for the PCs – but is still considered a rout in most functioning democracies.

But, oh, what an exciting rout that was.

Redford led by 37 points in a January Leger poll, and there were actually non-satirical articles printed citing senior Tories worried they’d win “too many” seats. Luckily for those senior Conservatives, Alison Redford quickly put those fears to rest.

The issue that landed Redford in dire straits and caused her to lose complete control of the agenda was the “money for nothing” controversy. When it came to light that MLAs were receiving $1,000 a month to sit on a committee which hadn’t met in four years, the opposition members did the sensible thing and returned the money. Redford did not. She called the gesture by the opposition MLAs a “stunt” and said there was nothing wrong with the committee – but hung her MLAs out to dry by suggesting there would be electoral consequences if they didn’t return the cash. Her caucus whip said voters were too stupid to understand the issue. Redford dithered and didn’t act until the polls went south a month after the story broke. But the damage was done. She had given the Wildrose Party all the ammunition they would need to run an “entitled to their entitlements” campaign.

In most years, Redford’s stumbles wouldn’t have been fatal, but what made this a truly great election was that the PCs were facing their strongest competition in 20 years. Smith versus Redford pitted two of the country’s strongest politicians head-to-head, in what is likely to become Canada’s most interesting political rivalry over the next few years. Contrary to what anyone reading news stories in 2010 or 2011 would believe, Danielle Smith isn’t perfect – she confusingly tried to brand herself as the “anti-change” candidate and presented voters with a gimmicky platform, offering Ralph Bucks and Doris Day petitions. But Smith is a smart, articulate, and charismatic politician, so it’s no surprise her campaign strategy of “let’s do photo-ops with cute animals” was paying off. Before long, the Wildrose Party had pulled ahead. Alison Redford was sounding more and more desperate by the day, accusing the Wildrosers of being the party of “old white men” (fun fact: Alison Redford’s Cabinet was 86% male and 95% white).

By this time, Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan must have been having flashbacks to the 2004 federal election – a long time government brings in a new leader with expectations of a landslide victory, only to mismanage a scandal and see a new right wing party pull ahead. Sadly for Doctor Tom, the similarities would continue down the stretch, with voters en masse having second thoughts about what this new right wing party truly stood for.

For that, Redford can thank a pair of Wildrose candidates. Allan Hunsperger blogged that gays would burn for all eternity in a lake of fire in hell, and Danielle Smith didn’t seem too troubled. Ron Leech talked about “the white advantage”, and Danielle Smith didn’t seem too troubled, saying every candidate should put forward “their best argument for why they should be the person who can best represent the community”.

For a variety of reasons, the pundits and polls were as off the mark as Smith’s candidates, setting up one of the most stunning election nights in Canadian history. Columnists across the country were forced to madly re-write their columns on the demise of the PC dynasty. Some weren’t able to, hence Andrew Coyne’s first page Post column which beganUnless something astonishing happens, the Wildrose Party will form the next government of Alberta”. Turns out astonishing things can happen in politics every now and then – even in boring, predictable Alberta.

Redford has stayed in the news post-election, thanks mainly to two more badly mismanaged scandals. However, she’s also had an impact on the national stage, being at the centre of the Enbridge pipeline feud with Christy Clark. Although Redford has only been PC leader for a little over a year, she is quickly becoming one of the most well known and respected names on the national stage – and her prominence is likely to grow with new Premiers recently elected or on the way in Quebec, Ontario, and BC (unless something astonishing happens!). With Alberta continuing to grow, and Redford showing an eagerness to expand Alberta’s influence in Canada and around the world, expect to hear more from her in 2013.

Canada’s Greatest Losers

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts, History | 7 Comments

Liberals elected this loser at their 1919 leadership convention

Last week, Martha Hall Findlay and Karen McCrimmon declared their candidacies for the Liberal leadership race. This week, George Takach has taken the plunge. I’ve posted one blog interview with David Merner, and will have others with David Bertschi and Alex Burton next week. Deborah Coyne, meanwhile, has already released more fresh ideas than we’ve seen from Stephen Harper during his entire tenure as Prime Minister.

These are seven very different candidates with seven very different messages, but the one thing they share in common is that none of them hold a seat in the House of Commons. This has prompted Warren Kinsella (and others) to gently suggest they do us all a favour and drop out, before they jump in. As the saying goes, if you can’t win your own riding, you can’t win the country.

Now, Warren is free to support whomever he chooses using whatever criteria he chooses. And as far as criteria go, electoral track record is a pretty important one to consider. I know I’d have a difficult time supporting anyone who has never held elected office. That said, it’s likely worth looking at a few “losers” from history, before we automatically disqualify every “loser” from consideration.

John Diefenbaker: This guy could put together losing campaigns more consistently than the Toronto Maple Leafs. Before being elected, he lost twice federally, twice provincially, and once for Mayor. Despite being a five-time loser, the Tories went with Dief in ’56, and he rewarded them with the largest majority in Canadian history.

Mackenzie King: Even though he lost his seat in both the 1911 and 1917 elections, the Liberals put their faith in King at Canada’s first leadership convention in 1919. King would go on to become the longest serving PM in Commonwealth history…losing his own seat twice more along the way.

Jack Layton: Jack beat out three candidates with seats at the 2003 NDP leadership convention, even though he’d never been elected to any position higher than Councillor. He’d lost in his bid for Mayor, finished fourth in the 1993 federal election, and lost by over 7,000 votes in the 1997 federal election. Despite this track record of defeat, the Dippers went with Jack and he rewarded them by becoming the NDP’s most successful leader ever.

Brian Mulroney: Brian hadn’t even won a City Council election when he became PC leader, and had lost in his previous leadership bid. In his first ever election, he won over 200 seats.

Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, John Turner: Although they had perfect records in their own ridings, all three lost a leadership race before becoming Liberal leader. Losers.

Stephen Harper: Harper did not hold a seat when he ran for Canadian Alliance leadership in 2002. At that time, he had a rather uninspiring “1 win and 1 loss” record when it came to local elections – and remember, that’s a .500 record from a Calgary conservative.

Those are just a few of the many losers who won their party leaderships. Indeed, the only examples from the past 30 years of national parties electing “winners” who had never lost their riding or a leadership race are Stephane Dion, Audrey McLaughlin, Stockwell Day, and Peter MacKay. MacKay killed his party, and the other three almost did.

That’s not to say that all “winners” become “losers”, but you need to go all the way back to Justin Trudeau’s father in 1968 to find a successful leader who had a perfect electoral record when he first took over his party’s leadership. And while I don’t want to dismiss Pierre Trudeau’s accomplishments, I suspect most barnyard animals could have held Mount Royal for the Liberals in 1965.

The above examples come from federal politics, but we see it everywhere. Just eight years before becoming President, Barack Obama lost a primary race for a congressional seat by a 2:1 margin. Alison Redford couldn’t even beat Rob Anders in a nomination meeting.

So while I wouldn’t dismiss a candidate’s electoral record (or lack thereof), it’s important to remember that a lot of winners have quickly turned into losers, and a lot of losers have gone on to have very successful careers.

Liberal Heartland Calgary

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, by elections, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 7 Comments

Like most Liberal campaigns launched in Calgary, Martha Hall Findlay’s leadership bid is a longshot.

Wednesday was not a typical day for Calgary Grits.

While leadership candidates must all fly into town, knowing the party’s weighted-by-riding leadership system makes a vote there far more valuable than a vote in Toronto, I have never seen a serious candidate launch their leadership campaign from the heart of Conservative country. But there was Martha Hall Findlay at the Stampede grounds, declaring her intentions to run for Liberal leader.

It’s tempting to write off the Calgary launch as a meaningless prop, but politics is all about symbolism and Hall Findlay may very well be the closest thing to a “Calgary candidate” to ever run for Liberal leader. She’s an executive fellow at the University of Calgary, once lived in the city for a few years, has family in the area, and employs a Calgary-centric campaign team. Yes, she might very well get steamrolled by Justin Trudeau, but what says you’re the Liberal Party’s “Calgary candidate” more than crushing defeat? Or having your hopes dashed by a Trudeau, for that matter?

Even more surprising on Wednesday, was a poll showing Liberals on the cusp of history in the Calgary Centre by-election:

Joan Crockatt (CPC) 32%
Harvey Locke (Lib) 30%
Chris Turner (Green) 23%
Dan Meades (NDP) 12%

Now before we all get visions of Calgary’s first Liberal seat since Trudeaumania (the first Trudeaumania, that is), it’s worth considering Forum’s shaky reputation and the small sample size (n = 376). I don’t think anyone believes this poll is accurate, but the question is how inaccurate it actually is.

After all, parts of this riding are red provincially (or green now, thanks to the ALP’s rebranding), and Naheed Nenshi won over 50% of the votes in the riding during the last municipal election. It’s a downtown riding, and although they’d never admit it, downtown Calgarians have a lot more in common with downtown Torontonians than with Nanton ranchers.

So even though the Tories got 57% the last election, by-elections are strange animals and Crockatt is a divisive figure – I would not be surprised to see her at 40-45% on by-election night. And that puts us squarely in Linda Duncan territory, where a coalition of progressives could actually win.

Of course, Alberta progressives have a habit of tripping over their feet anytime they get remotely close to power. So we’ve got the Greens attacking the Liberal candidate for “just visiting”, and the Liberal candidate calling the Green candidate “a twerp”. While there are coalitions calling for strategic voting, this poll paints a picture of the Greens pulling away enough vote to let Crockatt hold on – even though the Liberal candidate is an environmentalist who founded the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

So, in all likelihood, it will still be a few years before the Liberals actually win a seat in Calgary. Or until we get a real Calgary leadership candidate. But Calgary Liberals were closer to both those accomplishments Wednesday than they’ve been in a long time. It was a good day to be a Calgary Grit.

Kennedy for Ontario

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2013 OLP Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Ontario Politics | 16 Comments

Get your GK tambourines out of the closet! It’s time to get the band back together.

After some bleating about how no one wanted the “poisoned chalice”, an impressive field of six candidates has declared for the OLP leadership race: Glen Murray, Sandra Pupatello, Eric Hoskins, Kathleen Wynne, Charles Sousa, and Gerard Kennedy. All have Cabinet experience, and all are ready to step into the Premier’s chair. I have nothing negative to say about any of the six and will gladly campaign for whichever one of them scrambles across the finish line first in this race. While that’s obviously my Liberal bias speaking, this is one of the few leadership races I’ve been involved in where I can genuinely say there isn’t a candidate I dislike. I’m crossing my fingers that Rocco Rossi declares soon, so that I at least have someone to poke fun at.

Despite the strength of the field, one name rises to the top for me, and I’m proud to throw my support behind Gerard Kennedy.

Long-time readers of this blog will recall that I backed Kennedy when he ran for federal Liberal leader in 2006. That was very much a decision made with my heart. His background with the food bank showed me he was in politics to make a difference. He spoke of renewal and offered a fresh face for a tired party. He was energetic and charismatic – almost Kennedy-esque some might say. It was hard not to get swept up in the excitement of it all.

While the above still stands, my decision this time is grounded in reason rather than passion. Simply puy, the Ontario Liberal Party is most likely to win the next election with Gerard Kennedy at the helm.

Like all governments who have spent a decade in power, this one has collected its fair share of scrapes and bruises. Voters want change, and if they don’t see change from the OLP itself, they won’t hesitate to look elsewhere for it. Kennedy was not at the Cabinet table when eHealth, ORNGE, or the Power Plant controversies erupted, leaving him the best positioned candidate to give this government the reboot it needs.

Not only is Kennedy untainted by these scandals, but he represents the “Camelot” period of the McGuinty era, when the economy was good, the wrongs of the Harris era were being corrected, and it never rained until after sundown. Kennedy was the Education Minister who cut class sizes, improved test scores, and brought about labour peace. This, combined with his food bank and anti-poverty background, is the kind of message that will strongly appeal to disgruntled Liberals who have drifted towards Andrea Horwath in recent years. Politics is all about weaving a narrative voters can latch onto, and I think there’s a compelling story to be told around Gerard Kennedy.

Moreover, there is some quantitative data to support the “electability” argument. While it’s true these hypothetical polls are based heavily on name recognition, it doesn’t hurt to have a candidate with positive name recognition when there will be little time to define the next leader before a likely spring election.

I will add a pinch of idealism to this largely pragmatic endorsement, since Kennedy himself would be the first to argue there’s no point to power without purpose. Gerard Kennedy is one of the most principled politicians I have ever met (perhaps even to a fault at times), not afraid to speak out against the more unseemly aspects of the political process. In Ottawa, he relied on substantive research rather than empty rhetoric to show stimulus money was being funneled disproportionately towards Conservative ridings. His critique of McGuinty’s prorogation, and his promise to recall the legislature as soon as possible once he’s elected might leave some potential delegates feeling uneasy but it’s the right thing to do. It’s consistent with his criticism of Stephen Harper, and consistency is a trait sorely lacking in most politicians. At a time when the electorate has grown increasingly cynical towards the political process, Kennedy is a breath of fresh air.

While policies will be announced in due course, Kennedy’s values have long been on display for all to see: he has worked to help the less fortunate, he has fought to improve the quality of education, he has talked about the need to help immigrants succeed. He’s from a small town, and spoke at his launch about his desire to expand the Liberal base into rural Ontario.

Most importantly, he has been about grassroots involvement in the political process his entire career – long before “renewal” became a cheap buzzword. Now that the Ontario Liberal Party truly needs to renew itself, Gerard Kennedy is the ideal candidate for the job.

Trudeau’s Challenging Cakewalk

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 8 Comments

With victory almost assured, Trudeau can work on his form, rather than swing for the knock-out

Now that we have confirmation about what we’ve known all summer, and now that we’ve exhausted every conceivable boxing-is-politics metaphor, we can begin speculating about what the Justin Trudeau leadership campaign will look like. Names of some key players are beginning to leak out, but it will likely be months before we truly get a sense of the type of campaign Trudeau plans to wage.

What we do know is that it will be a campaign like none before, simply because Justin Trudeau is a leadership candidate like none before. There has never been a frontrunner this popular who has accomplished so little in his life. I know that sounds like a nasty dig, but the fact that Trudeau finds himself in this position despite a thin resume speaks to just how impressive a politician he is. It’s not just the name – he’s immensely good at what he does.

So how then do you run the campaign of a political superstar who is adored for who he is, not for what he has done?

The easiest road for frontrunners to take is keeping a low profile and avoiding controversy like the plague. Yes, Jim Dinning’s “pro sunshine” campaign for the Alberta PC crown in 2006 exploded in a supernova, but playing it safe works out more often than not.

A variant on this strategy is the tactic employed by Justin’s father in 1968 and Barack Obama in 2008 – pick one big idea (“Just Society”, “Yes We Can”), but focus on photo-ops rather than policies. I’m sure the temptation among many in the Trudeau inner circle will be to position him as the hopey-changey candidate, take a few shots at Stephen Harper, but keep the tone as light as possible. Justin may not have a plan to make the Liberals relevant in Alberta but, look, he’s rock climbing! Justin may not have a position on supply management but, look, he’s churning butter with a class of grade 4 students!

I have no doubt that type of air war, paired with a well run ground game, would lead to a first ballot victory in April. But the unique challenge of this campaign is that the definition of “winning” is not necessarily getting more votes than his nearest competitor. If Trudeau crawls across the finish line with his reputation damaged, the party brand weakened, and the party divided, it’s game over for the Liberal Party.

With Trudeau’s objective re-defined as victory over Stephen Harper rather than victory over Marc Garneau, the wishy-washy rockstar campaign begins to look less appealing. We all know attack ads are coming, and we don’t need to see Conservative Party focus group reports to know these ads will try to brand Justin Trudeau as an airhead and a lightweight (or as Andrew Coyne put it on The National: “flibbertigibbet“). If Trudeau wants to erase this caricature before it is drawn, the leadership race is the perfect venue to do that. We know the media will hover on every word Justin says over the next six months, so he’d be foolish to not take advantage of the microphones that will be in front of his face.

My advice to Justin would therefore be to use the leadership race as a chance to re-explain to Canadians who he is and what he stands for. That will mean sticking his neck out and taking controversial stands, but he’s better off doing that now than after the honeymoon wears off. There’s nothing wrong with photo-ops, but if he’s petting cute animals the caption should be that Justin is talking to farmers about his plan to save the family farm. If he’s kissing babies, the caption should be that he’s announcing his child care policy. I know it’s easier to have him somersault into swimming pools and shoot hoops with Young Liberals, but there’s no point in holding any campaign event that doesn’t help write the narrative of Justin Trudeau as a man of substance. I don’t know which anonymous Liberals are quoted in today’s CBC article, but no one on the Trudeau campaign should be referring to him as “the American Idol candidate” – even if it’s in the most flaterring terms.

So when a divisive issue comes up, Justin will need to take a principled stand, even if he alienates some of his caucus supporters in the process. When Justin is asked about Deborah Coyne or Martha Hall Findlay’s latest policy paper, it’s not simply enough to shower platitudes about “studying the issue”. When he’s challenged to explain his position, he can’t smile and tell reporters to wait for the next election.

In politics, it’s almost always easier to win when you play to your strengths. And because politics is about winning, politicians rarely have opportunities to work on their weaknesses. Since Justin Trudeau is almost assured to be the next Liberal leader, rather than running up the score he’d be wise to use the next six months to grow as a politician, re-defining himself as a thinker, and re-defining what the Liberal Party stands for in the process.

100 Years of Bad Photo Ops

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

As you have probably heard a hundred times over the past month, the Calgary Stampede turns 100 this year.

Calgary has changed a lot over this time. A seat at the 1912 rodeo cost 50 cents. Calgary’s population was 70,000. And, oh yeah, back then Alberta was a Liberal bastion, with the Grits holding 6 of 7 federal Alberta ridings and 36 of 41 provincial seats. Times have changed.

So maybe then-Prime Minister Robert Borden can be forgiven for not braving the hostile frontier known as Liberal Calgary to visit the first ever Stampede.

The first notable political Stampede photo-opp I could track down came from 1928, featuring soon-to-be-Prime Minister RB Bennett. Bennett, after all, was from Calgary and actually once owned what would become the Stampede land.

RB Bennett left his Bennett buggy at home to walk the grounds

It’s not clear when it became expected for Prime Ministers to “go cowboy”, but I suspect the sight of Lester B Pearson in a three-piece suit and bow-tie may have been the tipping point that made politicians realize they needed to at least try and fit in. It’s hard to look more out of place than Pearson, so this photo may well have been his “leather vest” moment.

Mike Pearson lets loose at a 1960s Hays Breakfast

Next up is one of the most bizarre sights ever witnessed in Calgary’s history: The great satan himself, Pierre Trudeau, riding a horse down 6th avenue, in suit (with his trademark lapel rose) and cowboy hat, waving to the crowd. It’s a look any other politician would have been ridiculed about for weeks, but if there’s one thing even Albertans could agree Trudeau had, it was style.

And any time you can ride a horse with confidence, you usually get passing grades on the Stampede Fashion Report.

No, that’s not an effigy. That’s Trudeau himself. (1978)

Liberal Prime Ministers since Trudeau have not fared as well. While Jean Chretien delighted in telling the same story about his great uncle visiting Alberta in 1900 on each and every trip to Calgary, he always looked out of place at Stampede.

Paul Martin meanwhile, was always Paul Martin – trying too hard to make everyone love him. Photo ops galore with the Calgary Flames is one thing – the “I love Alberta Beef” sticker and full jean outfit was likely overkill.

Not only did he enjoy stealing Alberta’s money…the grinch himself stole their donuts (1995)

Paul Martin at the most important Stampede ever, in 2004

Which finally brings us to the most infamous Stampede picture of them all.

The year was 2005, long before then-leader of the opposition Stephen Harper hired a psychic/stylist. It’s too bad, because she could have cautioned him against the tight leather vest and backwards cowboy hat that made him look like one of the Village People. At the very least, she would have been able to predict the coast-to-coast ridicule his outfit prompted.

Mind you, 7 months later Harper was Prime Minister, so he got the final laugh.

Luckily, this picture doesn’t show the ass-less chaps.

Harper’s an Alberta boy, so he should have known better. But, for some reason, Albertans sometimes have great difficulty looking like Albertans.

Take Ed Stelmach who, in 2007, had one of the worst Stampedes ever. Stelmach kicked off his first Premier’s breakfast by welcoming everyone to the “Alberta Stampede“. Minutes later, he was nearly pied. To top it off, the man looked horribly out-of-place the entire time in a dark blue suit jacket and a “get me out of here” smile.

Miraculously, this picture was never used in a “flip flop” campaign commercial.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are others who had varying degrees of success in pulling off the “cowboy look” over the years.

Mackenzie King can be forgiven for leaving his cowboy hat at home in 1939, when the King and Queen came visiting.

Carolyn Bennett finds herself at the Hays Breakfast, after getting lost en route to an “ugly Christmas sweater” party

PC leadership candidate Gary Mar poses with the winner of the Gary Mar look-alike contest, in 2011

Harry Chase always shows up to Stampede breakfasts looking like he’s ready for a gun fight at the O-K Corral.

Jim Prentice poses with the Tory caucus, in 2009

Gilles Duceppe, during a rare visit to the Stampede grounds, in 1997

Bob Builds His Liberal Party Legacy

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

As in 2008 (above), Rae has stepped aside for the good of the party

As I hoped would be the case, Bob Rae has taken a pass at the Liberal leadership race.

Despite Rae’s solemn pledge not to run for the permanent leader position, this news comes as a bit of a surprise in the wake of last week’s reports that he had all but declared. Rae himself acknowledged he’s given the matter serious thought, having made us all watch him “skate and then dance and then skate again through many scrums and individual interviews”.

While I think we would have been better served without the skating and dancing show, Rae should be applauded for his decision. Rae’s candidacy would have unleashed a divisive leadership race centered on the issue of when it’s ok for a politician to break his promise – not exactly the sort of contest that screams “renewal” to Canadians. The Liberal Party will be better served with Rae representing the party in the House, while the next generation of Liberals criss-cross the country signing up supporters.

This was no doubt a difficult decision. No matter how low the Liberal Party has fallen, Rae can be forgiven for dreaming of a leadership win followed by a series of miraculous events that allow him to stumble across the finish line first in 2015. After all, this is the man who “accidentally” won the 1990 Ontario election. Saying no today meant saying no to ever being Prime Minister – not an easy decision to make for someone who has lived and breathed politics for over 40 years.

At the same time, saying no to that dream secured Rae’s legacy. You’ll recall in 2006, many Liberals snered at him as a “tourist” in the Liberal Party, assuming he would pack his bags if he lost the leadership. Since then, Rae has twice won under the Liberal banner and has given thousands of hours of his life to the party. In 2008, he graciously stepped aside after caucus crowned Ignatieff interim leader in the wake of the coalition crisis. Rae could have easily gone negative, running for the permanent position against the establishment (hell, I would have voted for him), but he backed his old roomate for the good of the party. Today, Rae again made a difficult decision, placing his party above his ambitions.

The end result of this is that Rae will hold the interim title for 2 years – nearly as long as Dion and Ignatieff held their permanent positions – only Rae’s record will not be stained by electoral embarassments. He will hold a leadership role in the rebuilding process, and will be given his fair share of credit if his succesor makes gains in 2015.

Rae now instantly becomes one of the most respected Liberal Party elders in the land. That may not get you a portrait in the Parliament Buildings, but as far as legacies go, it’s not a bad way to wind down one’s political career.

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