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Rae’s Play

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 28 Comments

Rae has milked the interim leader title for all its worth

In perhaps the least surprising news story of the year, Bob Rae appears set to announce his candidacy for Liberal leadership for the third time in the last six years. Say what you will about the man (and I’m about to say plenty), but he has proven the haters who called him a “tourist” in the Liberal Party wrong.

The controversy over Rae’s candidacy stems from his now infamous pledge to accept the interim leader title on the condition that he not be a candidate for permanent leader. At the time, I cheered on the decision to name Rae interim leader and assumed his stint as “Bob the Rebuilder” would let him transition to a role as one of the party’s most respected elder statesmen. After all, Rae himself said he wasn’t interested in the permanent job, that his wife wasn’t down with it, and that it was time for a new generation of leadership.

No doubt Rae’s leadership team has already drafted the messaging to extract him from this promise. I assume Bob will shrug and say he’s following the rules of the National Executive, even though this is a smokescreen argument – it was always Rae’s promise and his promise alone that prevented him from running. As we’ve seen too many times before, there’s no law preventing politicians from breaking promises.

With that in mind, Rae’s team will privately argue that he is far from the first politician to break his word, and that he is not alone in saying he had no intention to run before declaring. After all, every politician begins their career by denying they have aspirations of leadership (and ends it by saying they want to spend more time with their family). Team Rae will argue that Rae’s change of heart is no different than, say, Justin Trudeau’s – should Justin decide to run.

The difference with Rae’s situation should be obvious, but I feel like this is one of those obvious truths that’s going to need a lot of repeating over the next year, so here goes: Rae accepted the interim leadership on the condition that he not run for permanent leader. This is akin to a politician getting elected on a single issue campaign, then flip flopping before the ballots are counted on election night. Asking the national executive to absolve Rae of his pledge would be as silly as Harper asking Parliament to pass a motion “freeing” him from his election promises.

Faced with this, Rae’s supporters will say “what’s the harm?”.

The harm from Rae’s gambit is that the reason for delaying the Liberal leadership race was to give the interim leader two years to focus 100% of his or her efforts on rebuilding the party. Instead, we’ve seen a 24/7 sideshow of leadership speculation, culminating in the need to select yet another interim leader. By the time a new leader is named next spring, the Liberal Party will have had 8 leaders over the past decade – hardly the sign of a stable organization.

More importantly, there’s the issue of fairness. Being interim leader brings with it several tangible benefits. While I don’t believe Rae has abused his powers, the interim leader could theoretical woo potential supporters with critic portfolios, committee seats, and QP time – all the while keeping rivals out of view. More importantly, the leader’s staff and budget give him the ability to criss-cross the country on the party dime, meeting potential supporters and organizers.

The very title of “interim leader” also brings with it a soapbox to control the agenda. As an example of this, I point to Rae’s caucus speech in January extoling the virtues of Ontario’s early 90s NDP government. “Rae defends NDP record” wasn’t the headline the Liberal Party needed that day, and it’s certainly not the type of speech Bill Graham would have given back in 2006.

There’s also the reality that being interim leader makes it a lot easier for Liberals to visualize Rae in a leadership role. That’s the same reason the incumbent is usually named “Best PM” on polls (even if his party trails), and it’s the same reason companies will often keep on a contract worker when a permanent position opens up.

This is why interim leaders should not be allowed to run for the permanent position – especially when that interim leader was appointed by an ever dwindling caucus rather than the membership. It’s why Jack Layton wanted Nicole Turmel to follow him in the interim, rather than someone with leadership ambitions of their own. It’s why Bob Rae and others objected strongly when the National Executive named Michael Ignatieff Liberal interim leader in December 2008.

If Rae does decide to run, it seems likely the race will turn into a divisive bloodbath, centered around the issue of when it’s ok to break promises. While nasty leadership battles are nothing new for the Liberal Party, this is hardly the recipe for renewal. Just as Rae’s leadership ambitions have been an unecesary distraction over the past year, Rae’s broken promise risks becoming an unecessary distraction from issues of substance in the leadership race.

Regardless of what the National Executive decides on Wednesday, Rae is free to run for permanent leader.

But he shouldn’t.

An update on all the people MAYBE running for Liberal leadership

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

The expectation is that rules for the Liberal leadership race will come down in June, setting the stage for a summer of getting to know the men and women wanting to lead Canada’s third party.

But while we won’t know the rules of the race for another month or two, that hasn’t limited speculation in the interim…or speculation about the interim leader, for that matter.

Back in January, I looked at the ten most commonly rumoured Liberal leadership candidates…and 18 fun longshots – the Naheed Nenshis and Amanda Langs of the world. Today, an update on the names that were most on the lips of delegates at the Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) convention in Toronto this past weekend.

Don’t count on it

From that January list of ten “buzz” candidates, we can likely scratch off Scott Brison and Dominic Leblanc. While their names still get floated in most newspaper articles, the Liberals I know who would be first in line to support them aren’t expecting either Maritimer to toss their cap into the ring.

Which is a shame, because both represent the kind of generational change the party needs – and both are highly engaging and entertaining speakers, with pleasant demeanors that would contrast nicely with the gruff angry man personas of Harper and Mulcair.

The Big Names

While this is very much anybody’s race to win, in my mind there are three candidates who would instantly vault to frontrunner status if they ran.

Trudeau. McGuinty. Rae.

All three are political superstars with the name recognition and organizations that would make them very difficult to beat.

While Justin Trudeau has done his best Chris Christie impersonation by repeatedly denying he has any interest in running, there have been new rumblings about his potential candidacy in recent months – and they haven’t just been fueled by his TKO of Senator Brazeau, or idle media speculation.

The word on the street is that Justin is listening to the calls for him to run, though I’m still skeptical he’ll move beyond the listening stage. The man has shown remarkable restraint thus far in his political career, so the smart money is on him waiting until next time. That said, if the Liberals make the wrong choice there may not be a “next time”.

The reaction to Dalton McGuinty at January’s convention was electric, and he would enter the race with a formidable track record and political machine behind him. But given he’s fighting tooth and nail to tip the scales in Ontario to a majority, I seriously doubt he’d resign his own seat and plunge the OLP into a leadership race. There’s also the harsh reality that, for perhaps the first time since confederation, leading the Ontario Liberal Party is a more glamorous job than leading the federal Liberal Party.

Of course, if big brother isn’t interested, perhaps little brother will be. David McGuinty was one of the first candidates to openly muse about a leadership bid, but he’s never acted like someone coveting the top job. The man rarely leaves his own riding and was a no-show in Toronto this weekend.

So what about Bob? One year ago, Rae categorically ruled it out, solemnly swearing he would not seek the top job, saying it was time for “a new generation of leadership”. Now? He says a decision hasn’t been made, and he’s waiting on the rules. It’s a politician’s answer, and even his most ardent critics agree Rae may be one of the greatest politicians of his time. For this reason, many would follow him without hesitation if he runs – but others are so dead set against Rae they’d sooner back Alfonso Gagliano.

Seriously considering a run

Martha Hall Findlay sounds like the most serious of the “maybe” candidates. She’s been sending out newsletters, holding events, and getting herself in front of cameras – Findlay herself acknowledges it’s “not a secret” she’s thinking about it. While Martha was the plucky underdog the last time she ran for leader, she’s definitely in it to win it this go around.

Also from the class of 2006 is Gerard Kennedy, who has openly mused about running. Kennedy was ahead of his time with his “renewal” themed campaign, back when Liberals assumed everything could be fixed with a new leader. He has continued to beat that drum of late, holding renewal roundtables, renewal BBQs, and renewal pub nights. The real key for Kennedy will be how many renewal french lessons he’s taken in the past few years.

One of the guests at Gerard’s Political Renewal Fair a few weeks back was Kirsty Duncan. Duncan would be a great addition to the race, as an intelligent well spoken woman. If she runs, expect a strong focus on Health Care and the environment from her campaign, as she has written books on these topics.

Envisagent sérieusement de briguer le poste de chef

If you buy into the alternance theory of Liberal leadership, it’s time for a francophone leader, and there are certainly plenty of candidates from La Belle Province making noise.

The loudest has been Marc Garneau. Like Ken Dryden in 2006, Garneau has plenty of star power, but the question comes down to whether or not he has the right stuff to lead. I hope he runs, if only because I have a dozen out of this world astronaut puns that will go to waste if he takes a pass.

Even though Martin Cauchon and Denis Coderre have never run for Liberal Party leadership, they’ve each spent more than a decade thinking about it. I suspect Coderre’s future lies in provincial or municipal politics, though he will undoubtedly be a major asset for whichever campaign he winds up backing this go round.

Cauchon held a hospitality suite at the national convention and attended the LPCO convention this weekend – a clear signal he’d like to take on Thomas Mulcair not just in Outremont, but on the national stage. Believe it or not, he’ll only turn 50 this summer, but in some ways going with Cauchon would feel like a throwback to the Chretien era. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure that’s the mood of the membership.

It doesn’t take a lot to start a leadership rumour, so the fact that Mauril Belanger quit the official languages committee and then showed up in Toronto this weekend was enough to get people talking. Of course, being an Ontario MP, you’d expect him to be at an LPCO convention. And of all the things holding Mauril back from a run for Liberal leadership, I really don’t think his spot on the official languages committee was very high on the list. But such is life in politics, where a new pair of glasses is taken as a sign of leadership aspirations.

People you’ve never heard of

The candidates making the most noise about running at this point are the ones with no chance of winning. After all, given enough time, a politician can delude himself into thinking he has a chance at winning anything. Moreover, Martha Hall Findlay and Martin Singh’s longshot campaigns did wonders to raise their profiles, so it’s not even always about winning in the conventional sense.

The most credible of the “no names” appears to be defeated candidate David Bertschi, a persistent worker who ran a strong campaign in Ottawa Orleans last spring. Bertschi is assembling a team, has a website, and has launched a teaser video that tells us a lot about Canada’s potential as a country…but little about Bertschi’s potential as a candidate. Bertschi is a dynamic speaker one-on-one, and everyone who talked to him at the LPCO convention, myself include, left impressed.

Also making the rounds at the Sheraton this weekend was Toronto businessman George Takach. While he lacks elected experience, he’ll have no trouble raising money and, in the end, the amount of coin you bring in is the deciding factor in how long you can stay in the race.

Another name being floated is David Merner, the president of the BC wing of the federal Liberal Party. I’ve never met Merner, but this race needs a western voice or two, and to date Joyce Murray is the only MP west of Etobicoke making any noise about running.

Margin of Error

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics, Featured Posts, Polls | Leave a comment

I don’t think I’ve ever followed an election where the polls were as horribly off the mark as they were in Alberta.

Last May, when the media jumped on the “pollsters blew it” bandwagon for not projecting a Tory majority, most companies were still within the margin of error on the final vote intent numbers. Even during the 2004 federal election, the case study in pollsters “missing” a late swing, there wasn’t a poll the final week of the campaign that had the Liberals behind (even if seat projections did), and most only under-estimated Liberal support by 3-5 points.

But last night? This wasn’t just a case of shanking a field goal “wide right”, but booting it in the complete opposite direction of the goal posts. Here’s how the final polls stacked up with the results.

As most have commented, Forum’s Sunday afternoon poll picked up part of the late swing but, even then, to go from a 2-point Wildrose lead and 10-point PC win is under 24 hours is shocking. It wasn’t just a case of last second “strategic voting”, since most polls in the final week correctly pegged Liberal and NDP support levels.

So what went wrong? I can think of 6 possibilities:

1. The polls made little effort to screen out the 43% of Albertans who didn’t bother to vote on election day. Just asking respondents if they were absolutely certain to vote would have been a good start, even if few followed through on those intentions. But there are other attitudes and demographics that can help predict intent (i.e. older people are more likely to vote), and because of a lack of transparency in how these questions were asked or weighted, we have no way of knowing what steps were taken to screen out unlikely voters.

2. Building on the above point, the Big Blue Machine may have had a superior get out the vote operation than the relatively new Wildrose Party. I suspect this is part of the reason the federal Conservatives have “over performed” the polls on election day in recent years. Still, the best GotV operation will only bump you up a few percentage points, and it’s not like the Wildrose Party was short of former Tory organizers, money, or volunteers.

3. The PCs had better candidates and more incumbents. Even though local candidates rarely have a big impact on the results (see Quebec, 2011), it’s possible Albertans “voted” for the party and leader they wanted when asked that question on the survey, then considered the local candidates when they saw the names on the ballot. Still, once again, I can’t imagine this would translate to more than a point or two at the province-wide level.

4. With voters growing increasingly disengaged and disinterested in the political process, it’s possible many simply made up their mind in the voting booth. Since most polls only asked vote intent, there was little analysis in terms of strength of support, or where undecideds and soft voters might break before election day.

5. The most popular theory is that there was a “late swing” back to the PCs. This is born out by the Sunday Forum poll but, even then, a 20-point swing in the margin over the course of 5 days, or a single day 12-point swing is almost unheard of in politics. I don’t doubt there was a late shift, but from what I hear, the PC Party’s internal numbers showed them in much better shape than any of the media polls, suggesting that Smith’s lead was never as big as it was reported.

6. So how could all those polls have been wrong? Well, if you look at that table above, you’ll notice that Leger was one of the closest to the final mark, despite leaving field a week prior to the vote, before any “swing back” to the PCs was fully felt. The pollsters who overshot Wildrose support the most all used robo-diallers and online panels.

Both of those methodologies have inherent problems. You often need to make 50 to 100 robo calls to find one sap willing to complete the survey. So we know the Wildrose Party was popular with shut-ins, but that’s about it. Moreover, since robo calls can only ask 5 simple questions before respondents drop off, you rarely have the opportunity to collect enough demographic information to judge how representative the sample is.

You can get those demographics using online panels, but while a national panel will have hundreds of thousands of Canadians on it, you’re fishing from a much smaller pool when you get down to the Alberta level. Companies who don’t frequently conduct political polling in Alberta might not have a good understanding of the biases inherent to the panel they’re using, opening up the risk of skewed results.

If you’re looking for more background on some of the problems associated with robocalls and online polls, I’d suggest this excellent letter by Darrel Bricker and John Wright, or this article featuring blunt comments from Allan Greg and Andre Turcotte.

The blame doesn’t rest solely on the polling companies. The fact is robocalls and online polls are cheap to produce, and that’s all the media is willing to pay for. The internal Tory polls used live callers, and asked more demographic and attitudinal questions than just vote intent – this no doubt let them verify the validity of their sample, and provided direction on what levers could cause the public to swing back to the Tory fold. There’s something to be said about the old “you get what you pay for” adage, and most newspapers simply don’t have the budget to invest in getting the job done right.

We’ll probably never know which of the above factors were actually in play. And hell, this being Alberta, it could just be part of the deal with the devil the Alberta PCs signed long ago that ensures PC victory after PC victory.

Where do we go from here?

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics, Featured Posts | Leave a comment

The end result of Monday’s Alberta election may have been yet another crushing PC majority, but it’s impossible to deny Alberta’s political climate hasn’t been permanently altered. With the Wildrose Party now her majesty’s loyal opposition, each party faces unique challenges in adapting to this new political climate. Voters showed a willingness to change their vote this election, so any party failing to adapt risks extinction.

The PCs

Yes, they nearly blew it. Yes, they lost seats. But Monday was nothing short of complete triumph and total dominance by the PCs. In other words – the usual.

While the PCs have never been shy about knifing successful leaders, most of the discontents have fled to the Wildrose Party, so Redford’s leadership is likely safe…for now.

The challenge facing Redford is that she leads a very different PC Party than the one she inherited less than a year ago. Ted Morton and much of the rural caucus went down in defeat, and the PCs won their mandate from a vastly different coalition of voters than in 2008. If the polls are to be believed (ha ha ha!), half of all 2008 PC voters saddled up with Smith this campaign, while half of all 2008 Liberal voters jumped to Redford. In the process, the PC “base” has shifted considerably – Redford’s mandate was effectively given to her by liberals. If she governs like “your father’s PC Party”, there’s no way those voters will buy in to any kind of “Stop Smith” movement in 2016.

Of course, if she governs like a Liberal, she risks more bleeding to the Wildrose Party, who will now be staring her down in the legislature. In the past, the PCs have faced off against Liberal professors and doctors who cared more about policy than sound bytes. Now, they’ll be up against a well funded and media savvy libertarian. Gone are the days when elections could be won with a few simple chants of “NEP!” and by outspending their opponents by a factor of ten.

The Wildrose represent a new kind of opponent. The PCs have never had to worry about their right flank before, so Redford will have her hands full keeping everyone inside the PC tent happy.

Wildrose Party

Once the tears have dried, my advice to the Wildrose Party is to take a deep breath, take a vacation, and look at the big picture.

This party rose from the ground up, and won over 34% of the electorate in their first election with Danielle Smith. That’s better than Peter Lougheed fared in his rookie campaign as PC leader, and it leaves the Wildrose well positioned to form government in 2016.

To do that, Smith need look no further than the path to power taken by another Albertan, Stephen Harper. After coming close in 2004, Harper regrouped, developed a plan, and came back with a vengeance in 2006, running one of the best campaigns in Canadian political history. He had a moderate and focused platform, took social issues completely off the table, and avoided the “bozo eruptions” that had doomed him two years earlier.

Smith’s challenge in the coming years is therefore to silence the extremists in her party, and present her caucus as a government in waiting. To do that, she will need to tone down the rhetoric in the legislature and moderate her positions – Smith’s musings on reconsidering the party’s climate change, firewall, and conscience rights positions is already a step in the right direction.

What’s Left of the Left

For a party that lost over half of its vote Monday night, the Liberals have actually got to be feeling pretty good about the outcome. They held 5 seats when many were predicting a shut-out, and stayed (barely) ahead of the NDP both in terms of seats and popular vote.

While the NDP would have liked to vault ahead of the Grits, they doubled their caucus to four seats, tying their best showing in 20 years. Brian Mason can stick around as leader if he wants to, but the NDP are usually pretty good about giving all their MLAs a turn as party leader so it wouldn’t surprise me if the torch is passed to Rachel Notley or David Eggen.

Of course, these feel good results mask the reality that the status quo isn’t working. With the PCs shifting under Redford, there simply isn’t enough room for both these parties to be viable on the left of the spectrum.

In an ideal world, the two would simply merge, take the Alberta Party’s name and Twitter handle, and recruit a charismatic leader from outside their current MLA ranks. The thing is, I just can’t see a situation where the membership of either the Liberals, NDP, or Alberta Party would agree to this type of arrangement. Such has always been the story among Alberta progressives, who value pride above power.

That’s not to say it’s a hopeless situation. If Redford falters, the opportunity for someone on the left to squeeze out the PCs could present itself. The 30-40% of Albertans who always voted Liberal or NDP before this last election are still around, even if many parked their vote with Redford. If someone comes along able to capture their imagination, it wouldn’t be unfathomable for them to move ahead of the PCs, the same way Jack Layton vaulted ahead of the Liberals federally last spring.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen, but when you consider how volatile Alberta’s political climate has been of late, it would be foolish to assume there won’t be a surprise or two in the coming years.

"40 more years! 40 more years!"

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2004 Federal Election, 2012 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics, Featured Posts | Leave a comment

How certain was I that Alison Redford would be dealt a humiliating blow last night? I had my “morning after” post time stamped to go up at 8 am, detailing Smith’s victory using a colourfull “Wildrose chinook of change” analogy.

It turns out that politics, like the weather, can be unpredictable.

Not that a PC win in Alberta should ever be considered unpredictable. As I mused in my National Post Full Comment article this morning, dynasties do not crumble overnight. The decline of Rome lasted hundreds of years. The Oilers won a cup after dealing Gretzky. The Empire was good for two more movies, even after the Death Star blew up.

And last night, the PC empire struck back in full force:

PC: 61 seats  (44%)
Wildrose: 17  (34%)
Liberal: 5  (10%)
NDP: 4  (10%)

Yes, the PCs who were down by 7-10 points in every poll days before the vote pulled out a crushing 10-point victory.

The comparison I would draw is to the 2004 federal election, when the dying Liberal dynasty succeeded in scaring voters into giving them one last chance. With that in mind, here’s my cautionary warning to PC supporters who might have dreams of another 40 years in power:

The situation in this election is eerily similar to the 2004 federal campaign, when 2012 Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan — then working for the federal Conservatives – tried to lead an upstart right wing band of misfits to victory against the natural governing party. In both instances, the incumbent dynasties had knifed successful leaders, and had unrealistic expectations for their new leaders. Just as anonymous PC strategists lamented about winning “too many seats” in February, in 2004 Liberal strategists mused about 200 seats for Paul Martin (which in fairness, Martin got – it just took him two elections to do it).

In both instances, the incumbent badly mismanaged a scandal (Adscam for Paul, the “no meet committee” for Redford), and threw caution to the wind by calling an election in the midst of it. In both instances, Flanagan’s great right hope rose in the polls, pulled into the lead, won the debate…and then blew it in the bottom of the 9th. Both times voters stared change in the face, and decided they weren’t ready for it – yet.

We all know how things turned out federally, and therein lies the cautionary tale for all the players in Alberta. The Wildrose Party now has a base of 35% of the Alberta electorate. They have an impressive, albeit inexperienced, leader in Danielle Smith who now has four years to refine her skills and weed out the thornier candidates from her party’s ranks. If Stephen Harper could make the federal Conservatives look “non-scary”, then surely the photogenic and charismatic Smith can pull off the same trick in Alberta.

The challenge facing the PCs is now the same one that faced Martin in 2004 – they won on a campaign of fear, and won thanks to borrowed votes from the left. It was a brilliant play for which Alberta’s political mastermind Stephen Carter deserves full credit, but it leaves the PCs governing on a shaky foundation. Given the Alberta Liberal Party has received between 25% to 30% of the vote in every election since their near-victory in 1993, some quick napkin math suggests that as much as one-third of the PC vote this campaign came from former Liberal supporters. These voters were willing to look past the decades of the PCs doing everything in government they accused the Wildrose of wanting to do, but they are unlikely to be forgiving if Redford veers to the right again. To keep these voters in the PC tent will require competent, centrist government from Redford — but also a still-scary Wildrose Party come 2016, and the lack of a credible alternative on the left.

I wouldn’t discount that possibility, but holding borrowed votes on the left and preventing further bleeding to the right is a difficult balancing act for any government. While Redford was the big winner Monday, when the book is eventually written on the PC empire, its latest victory could still prove to be the beginning of the end.

Alberta Votes Today

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics, Featured Posts | Leave a comment

After the most only exciting election in nearly twenty years, Albertans head to the polls today, with the fate of the 41 year old Tory government hanging in the balance.

The polls all show Danielle Smith and her lovable band of bigots homophobes racists misfits up by between 7 and 10 points 2 and 10 points. It’s hard to say what that translates to in terms of seats, but the mean prediction of the 150 entries in the Great Alberta Election pool is: WR 42, PC 37, NDP 4, Lib 3, AP 1. Despite the poll numbers, over a third of all pool respondents predict a PC victory, so someone’s in for a surprise tonight – one way or the other.

I’ll be watching the results as they roll in with a dozen ex-pat Albertans. There will be Big Rock and there will be live blogging – at least until I blow .05 .08 and have my laptop taken away.

Until then, here’s a recap of the past four weeks:

Day 28: What to expect tomorrow
How I’d Vote
Day 26: Problem Solved
Election Pool
Dear Alberta PCs: Welcome to life as a Liberal
Day 25: “Fuck it, I’m voting PC”
Day 24: Sleeping arrangements at minority motel
There goes another $1,000 “good behaviour” bond
Day 23: Born this way
Day 22: Closing arguments
Day 20: Notes from Week 3
Day 19: The morning after [the debate]
Debate live blog
Day 18: Debate night in Edmonton
Day 17: Conservatives attack conservatives for being conservative
Day 15: Paging Stockwell Smith
Day 14: Party of One
Day 12: Who says a 40 year old government can’t come up with new ideas?
Day 11: A wild wave sweeps across Alberta
Day 9: Ralphbucks returns
Day 8: Losing control of the agenda
Day 5: This time when we say “it’s time”, it’s actually time
Day 4: Danielle Smith comes out as the anti-change candidate
Day 3: Time to bring back Ed?
Day 2: Polls and prostitutes
Alberta Votes Preview
Redford in Dire Straits over “Money for Nothing” controversy

How I’d Vote

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics, Featured Posts | Leave a comment

Far be it for me to tell anyone in Alberta how to vote. I don’t live in the province anymore, and my biases are right there for you to see in this website url. I’m a Liberal, and voting Liberal is almost a reflex by this point.

At the same time, I fully expect my old riding to be a hotly contested PC-Wildrose showdown at the Southcentre Mall. If the Wildrose Party has a list of targeted ridings, I suspect mine is somewhere between 40th to 50th on the list, so it could very well be the one that swings the balance or gives Danielle Smith her majority. Liberals are pragmatic creatures by nature, so I can’t ignore the wild elephant in the room.

If the vote had been held a month ago, this post might actually have ended up sounding like a quasi-Wildrose endorsement. For reasons I’ll get to shortly, Alberta desperately needs a change of government, and I viewed the Wildrosers as nothing more than a slightly less experienced and slightly less corrupt version of the PCs. So why not?After all, Danielle Smith is a very impressive politician – the “Alberta Sarah Palin” meme is completely unfair to this woman who is articulate, thoughtful, and intelligent.

However, any secret longing for a Wildrose victory has quickly dissipated over the course of this campaign. Rather than presenting a creative long term plan for Alberta, Smith has attacked Redford for not loving Alberta, resorted to vote-buying gimmicks, and abandoned the notion of even pretending her math ads up. More troubling is her refusal to repudiate overtly homophobic and racist comments from her candidates. That says all I need to know about Danielle Smith’s values and her ability to represent all Albertans.

So I guess that means I’m in the “Liberals for Redford” camp, eh? I will say that Alison Redford is likely the closest thing to a Liberal Premier Alberta will ever get, but that’s simply not enough. While we’ve all been quick to criticize the words of Smith’s candidates, the actions of the PCs have been equally unsettling. As Paula Simmons brilliantly recounted this week, the PCs legislated against gay marriage and spent a decade refusing to add protection for gay Albertans to Alberta’s human rights legislation, despite a Supreme Court of Canada ruling requiring them to do so. They quietly supported Ted Morton’s private members bill on conscience rights, and loudly passed Bill 44 which “protected” children from ever having to hear about homosexuality in school.

Of course, the argument you hear is that was the past and this is not your father’s PC Party. Even though Alison Redford was Justice Minister when Bill 44 came into law, she is rightly seen as being “red” in more than just name. The thing is, if we’re going to judge Danielle Smith by the company she keeps, surely we need to apply the same rule to Redford. Ted Morton is on record supporting pretty much everything Redford has accused the Wildrose of secretly plotting, and he’s not just some fringe candidate, but is Redford’s Minister of Energy. Despite attacking Danielle Smith for leading a party of “old white men”, Redford’s Cabinet is 85% male and 95% white.

The PCs have been drifting aimlessly for years, spending more than any other government in Canada without any semblance of a long term plan. Given Alberta’s wealth, there’s no reason the province shouldn’t have the best hospitals, schools, and infrastructure in the world. Instead, we have high tuition rates, long wait times, an inquiry into the Health Care system, and accusations of doctor bullying. By Redford’s own admission, Ralph Klein’s cuts hurt Albertans and created a massive infrastructure backlog.

Sure, much of this is ancient history, but if you can’t judge a 41 year old government on its record, what can you judge them on?

Ever since Redford’s surprise ascension to the throne, the PCs have looked every bit like an arrogant empire, just waiting to get swept aside. In February, they were worried they’d win too many seats. We’ve already seen broken promises from Redford on a judicial Health Care inquiry and campaign donor disclosure. This lack of transparency shouldn’t be surprising, given an access to information study recently ranked Alberta the least transparent province in Canada, and placed it behind beacons of democracy Niger and Angola internationally.

Then there’s the saga of the money for nothing committee. When it surfaced that MLAs were receiving $1,000 a month to sit on a committee which hadn’t met in 4 years, Redford accused opposition members who returned the cash of “grandstanding”…then ordered PC MLAs to return 12% of their pay after a poll showed the public up in arms. One week into the election campaign, she finally ordered them to pay back the full amount, though there’s no indication they will. The incident shouldn’t instill voters with confidence the PCs have turned over a new leaf.

I’d be willing to look beyond all this if the PCs had offered a compelling plan in their budget or platform, but those documents ran away from doing anything even remotely bold – and why would they, when PC strategists were musing about winning 70+ seats a few months ago? The best argument for voting PC this campaign has been that “the Wildrose Party is worse“, but when the Wildrose Party is nothing more than a collection of disgruntled Progressive Conservatives, that’s not enough for me.

So if I had a vote, it would be going to the Liberals – not out of a sense of loyalty, but because they’re the only party with a “think big” platform. They offer a compelling democratic reform platform, and have used something more than wishful thinking to fund their more expensive promises, such as free tuition and Health Care investments.

That said, Brian Mason strikes me as a genuine and principled politician, so if orange is your flavour, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to change your mind. Even the upstart Alberta Party strikes the right tone, and it’s possible that movement will eventually morph into a credible progressive alternative to the Wildrose and PC parties.

In any event, there are plenty of options, so there’s no excuse for another 41% turnout rate. This Monday, be sure to get out and vote.

Dear Alberta PCs: Welcome to life as a Liberal

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics, Featured Posts, Humour | Leave a comment

Dear Progressive Conservatives,

First off, congrats on the 40 years in power. It was a good run and, speaking on behalf of the Alberta Liberal Party, I’d like to think we played a small role in making it possible.

But the latest polls show Danielle Smith and her band of lovable homophobes poised for power – some polls even have PC support dipping below 30%, into “Liberal territory”. It looks like the party’s over, and if Alberta’s history is any indication, once you lose power, you never get it back.

So as someone who spent many years fighting for the Alberta Liberal Party, I thought I’d offer a few tips to help facilitate your transition to irrelevance.

1. Blame the Media: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Liberals complain that “we would have won, if only the media had covered our education platform“. Yes, it’s not in any way productive to trash the media, but it’s something you can bond over with other activists, and it’s healthier than blaming voters.

You’ve already got a good start on this – I’ve seen lots of tweets from PC members complaining about Danielle Smith’s free ride this campaign. One Facebook post dismissed a ThinkHQ poll as “Wildrose propaganda”, even though the company is run by Dave Bronconnier’s former chief of staff.

2. Blame the electoral map: Repeat after me – “why does rural Alberta get so many seats?”. Seriously, whose idea was that?

3. Forget the Past: I know there will be a temptation to look back longingly at the glory years. Maybe you’ll even try to convince a nephew of Ed Stelmach’s to run for leader one day, to try to reclaim the magic of the 70-seat Stelmachian era. But I’ve told enough Alexander Rutherford stories on the door steps to know voters don’t give a damn about the past.

4. Accept the Messiah: Back in 2001, a drunk Ralph Klein berated the homeless in Calgary, and the voters shrugged. He threw a book at a 12 year old girl, berated AISH recipients, got busted plagiarizing an essay, and told ranchers to “shoot, shovel, and shut up” next time they saw a case of mad cow disease – each time, voters shrugged. It used to drive me crazy, but after a decade, I came to accept it.

The sooner you accept that Danielle Smith is infallible, the less likely you’ll be to develop high blood pressure.

5. Learn to Love Opposition: Rejoice! The days of having to defend no-meet committees, controversial appointments, and spending boondoggles are over. I know you found it awkward explaining why Ron Stevens billed taxpayers for a 3-day “stopover” in Hawaii, as part of his fact finding trip to Australia to “study” their gambling system. Luckily, the days of PCs doing anything on the government dime are gone.

Yes, there will still be MLAs to embarrass you. But the good news is there will be far, far fewer of them.

On the other side, it’s a lot more fun to criticize than to be criticized. You don’t think vegans in the Annex don’t secretly love complaining about Rob Ford? Righteous indignation is a drink that can make you forget about landslide election defeats, and given Danielle’s Smith platform and caucus, she will be serving you up the ingredients for this drink every day.

6. Become an Idealist: I know a lot of PC members are only members because the PCs are in power. They won’t be members for long.

Once they’re gone, you’ll have the freedom to advocate for policies you believe in. You think the Alberta Liberals are proposing carbon taxes and tax hikes to get elected? Of course not. Trust me – you’ll feel a lot better having the door slammed in your face when you say something you believe in, than having the door slammed in your face because of a scandal involving an idiot Cabinet Minister you’ve never met.

7. Embrace the Novelty: It will take a few years, but before long you’ll find yourself at a party in Ontario and someone will exclaim “boy, a PC supporter in Alberta – that must be tough!“. I know you’ll be tempted to argue or educate them – “actually, we won 8 seats last election and were in power back in 2011“. But don’t do it! Take it from me, no one cares that the Liberals hold seats in Calgary or that the party routinely gets 25% of the vote.

Instead, play up the stereotype – talk about the 3 person riding association meetings, or the time the 90 year old grandma in rural Alberta chased you off her porch hurling f-bombs your way. It’s what your audience wants to hear. Call yourself an “endangered species” and claim you joined the PCs as “an act of youthful rebellion” – you’ll be the hit of every party.

Heck, even a benign blog title like “Calgary PC” will be eye catching and mysterious before long.

An update on all the people not running for Liberal leadership – Part 2

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts | Leave a comment

Yesterday, I looked at the ten names being tossed around most frequently for Liberal leadership – Rae, Leblanc, Trudeau, McGuinty^2, Garneau, Brison, Coderre, Cauchon, and Kennedy.

Today, a look at some long-shot candidates.

Mark Carney: The Bank of Canada governor would have instant credibility on the economy and, unlike many bankers, he’s not uncharismatic. There is, of course, still the question of whether or not he’s a Liberal – but no one seems too concerned about that.

Naheed Nenshi: The superstar Mayor of Calgary set Twitter abuzz when he tried out his French at a Toronto speech last year. I’d love to see Naheed toss his cowboy hat into the ring, but we’re still 5 or 10 years away from having this conversation. At the rate we’re going, the Liberals will have cycled through another three leaders by the time Nenshi is ready to run.

Gregor Robertson: Like Nenshi, the assumption is that Vancouver’s Mayor will one day run provincially or federally. Yes, he was an NDP MLA provincially, but that’s never stopped anyone from running for Liberal leader before, nor should it.

Ralph Goodale: There’s a movement afoot to convince Goodale to run. Admittedly, his age and his french would make him a long shot, but the race would benefit immensely by having a Western Canadian of his stature in it.

Amanda Lang: To the best of my knowledge, there is only one Liberal in the country floating her name as a possible leadership candidate, but it may not be as far fetched as it sounds. We’ve seen media personalities jump to politics before, and as a business reporter she could make the economy her issue. And hey, her dad was a Liberal MP! I have no idea how she’d fare in the political game, but the idea of a well-spoken, attractive 41 year old woman from Manitoba leading the party certainly sounds good on paper.

Mark Holland: Young and fiery, Holland can give one heck of a speech. Even if he doesn’t run for leader, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t try to win back his seat in 2015.

Navdeep Bains: Another young star who lost his seat last May. Bains could count on widespread support from the Sikh community if he ran.

Martha Hall Findlay: Rev up the engine on the big red bus! The darling of the 2006 leadership race would enter this contest with a higher profile and would be treated as a “top tier” candidate by the media out of the gate.

Siobhan Coady: Any tour of “defeated rising stars” should include Coady, a well liked MP who can ask tough questions with emotion and confidence.

Geoff Regan: As a Liberal MP who has been in Ottawa for a decade and is still young enough to run, Regan should not be overlooked. Jane Taber recently floated his name as a possible candidate.

Jane Stewart: She’s an accomplished women, with an impressive resume inside and outside of politics. As the “Draft Jane” team says, “everybody loves Jane“. She’s said she isn’t running, but so has everyone else – we may yet get a “See Jane Run” headline or two.

Sheila Copps: She ran her presidential campaign as if she was running for leader. Even though she didn’t win, she raised her profile and put a team together – two things that could be useful should she decide to try for the top prize again.

Jean-Marc Fournier: It wouldn’t surprise me to see a provincial politician jump into this race, a la Kennedy in 2006, and Fournier is the name I’ve heard the most rumours about. Quebec’s Justice Minister worked in Michael Ignatieff’s office so he has federal connections to complement his 15 years of experience in provincial politics. Of course, with a resume like this, he might have his sights set on Jean Charest’s job.

Borys Wrzesnewskyj: The Epoch Times, the must-read source for all your Liberal leadership gossip, reported that Wrzesnewskyj is planning a leadership bid, much to the horror of journalists everywhere who will now need to learn how to spell and pronounce his name.

Robert Ghiz: The 37 year old Premier of PEI has said “never say no” but wants to spend time with his two young children.

Belinda Stronach: She made some noise prior to the convention, so I wouldn’t rule out a return to politics.

Andrew Coyne: There are Facebook ads and buttons, making this the best funded campaign to date.

Frank McKenna: You all knew this was coming as the punch line. Yet two commenters on David Akin’s blog and one delegate I talked to in Ottawa suggested McKenna un-ironically. Some rumours will never die…

That’s 28 names I’ve floated over the past two days, and I expect we’ll hear a few others before all is said and done. By all means, float some more in the comments section.

Given the mood for change in the Liberal Party, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if someone we’re not even talking about ends up winning this thing.

An update on all the people not running for Liberal leadership

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Ontario Politics | Leave a comment

It’s been six months since I last looked in on the field of possible Liberal leadership candidates, and that’s because, well, there’s not much to report. Apart from speculation surrounding the interim leader, there’s been little chatter in the media, on blogs, or in Liberal circles.

However, the Liberal Biennial convention may have marked the unofficial starting gun on the leadership race, as names were floated around the convention hall and in hospitality suites. Sure, most of the likely contenders say they’re not interested, but that’s unlikely to quiet the rumours.

Today, a look at the ten most talked about names. Tomorrow, a look at some of the sleeper candidates.


Bob Rae

The case for Rae: Even Rae’s harshest critics within the Liberal Party acknowledge he’s done a bang-up job as interim leader and he’s the best politician we have.

Is he a contender? If Rae runs, he’d have an impressive organization behind him. Do I think he’ll be the next leader? No, not really. As Rae himself said in May, the party is likely to look to a new generation of leadership. But if you put $10 on Rae and asked me to put $10 on just one other name, I’d have a hard time thinking of someone who is more likely to be the next leader.

Why he isn’t running: “I’m focusing on the job of interim leader“. Plus, he made a deal with his wife.


Dominic LeBlanc

The case for LeBlanc: Young, experienced, bilingual. Deep Liberal roots, but still a fresh face for most.

Is he a contender? If I had to put a name down on that $10 bet I mentioned above, it would likely be on Dominic. He’s got pieces of an organization left over from his 14 minute leadership run in 2008, and seems to be the only “high profile” candidate who has not categorically ruled out running.

Will he run? LeBlanc was bullish after the election, but has been quiet since then.


Justin Trudeau

The case for Trudeau: He’s a political superstar, who has the potential to get Liberals and Canadians excited about the Liberal Party.

Is he a contender? If he runs, he will likely win.

Why he isn’t running: “My kids are 2 and 4 and I barely see them enough as it is.”


Dalton McGuinty

The case for Dalton: He’s the most successful Liberal in Canada right now. The man has grown immensely as a politician over the past decade.

Is he a contender? Given the name recognition and organization he’d bring to the table, he’d likely be the frontrunner.

Why he isn’t running: He has an ok day job right now. And he “wants to remain married“.


David McGuinty

The case for David: If you can’t get Dalton, he’d be the next best thing. I likely wouldn’t use that slogan on a button but, like his brother, David is experienced, rarely missteps, and has grown as a politician over the years.

Is he a contender? He’d have a better chance if he’d left Ottawa more than once or twice since being elected as an MP, but he’s a capable politician and the McGuinty organization should not be underestimated.

Will he run? He’s “mulling” a run.


Marc Garneau

The case for Garneau: Bilingual, respected…and he was a freaking astronaut! How cool is that!

Is he a contender? If you buy into the “alternance” theory, it might be a francophone’s turn. At the very least, Garneau would be treated as a “top tier” candidate by the media.

Will he run? You may have missed it if you weren’t reading the political pages on December 25th, but Garneau is considering a run.


Scott Brison

The case for Brison: Like Rae, Brison is a talented politician with the gift of the gab – well spoken, with a quick wit.

Is he a contender? His campaign struggled in 2006, but Brison’s pitch should find a receptive audience this time.

Why he isn’t running:I don’t want to have one of Canada’s first same sex divorces


Denis Coderre

The case for Coderre: I’m really not the person who should be answering this.

Is he a contender? Coderre is one of the best organizers in the Liberal Party. I wouldn’t expect him to win, but he could very easily carry Quebec.

Will he run? Coderre is considering a run for LPC leadership, Mayor of Montreal, or coach of the Montreal Canadiens.


Martin Cauchon

The case for Cauchon: Has an impressive track record, is well spoken, and could be the key to winning back Quebec.

Is he a contender? Cauchon has been thinking about running for a decade, so I suspect he’d be able to put a strong team together, even outside Quebec.

Will he run? He hosted a hospitality suite at the convention. Of course, we have yet to hear publicly on the question of his candidacy from Cauchon, or his wife.


Gerard Kennedy

The case for Kennedy: I’ve made the case before, and I’d argue Kennedy was ahead of the game when he talked about the Liberal Party needing to rebuild itself, back in 2006.

Is he a contender? Well, the party has been moving down the “order of finish” list from 2006 (from Dion to Ignatieff to Rae…), so I guess it’s his turn.

Will he run? He hasn’t closed the door.

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