Featured Posts

2011 Person of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Featured Posts, Person of the Year | 1 Comment

As 2011 winds down, it’s time to pick a Calgary Grit Person of the Year for the 8th consecutive year. The criteria is simple – someone who made an impact on the Canadian political scene in 2011.

While I usually try to think outside the box on these picks, this year’s selection is about as obvious as they come. In effect, I think it’s the first time I’ve been on the same page as the Canadian Press. But before we get there, a few runner-ups.

In any other year, provincial politics would have been the story, as political junkies in nearly every province got their fix. In Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, PEI and Newfoundland, incumbent governments were returned to power in a series of fall elections that ranged from “boring” to “painfully boring”.

More exciting may have been the provinces who didn’t go to the polls. In British Columbia, Christy Clark become Premier by taking the BC Liberal leadership race over Kevin Fallon 52% to 48% on the third ballot. She promptly called a referendum where voters “extinguished” the HST.

In Alberta, you needed a program to keep track of the floor crossings, new parties, and surprise resignations. When the dust settled, Alison Redford emerged as Premier.

In Quebec, François Legault founded a new party and surged to first in the polls on his bold promise of not being Jean Charest or Pauline Marois.

So yes, Redford, Clark, McGuinty…a case could be made for any of them as the person of the year. Just not this year.

JACK LAYTON

There are few politicians who ever get the chance to go out on top. Sadly, Jack Layton did just that in 2011.

If we rewind back to the start of 2011, Ottawa was busy playing its favourite “will they or won’t they” game of election speculation. Between Bev Oda’s problem with “nots”, the Conservative Party’s problem with the rules of Parliament, and Bruce Carson’s problem with escorts, the opposition parties smelled blood in the water. The Liberals had made it clear they were ready to vote down the government and Gilles Duceppe, knowing he was guaranteed at least 40 seats in the subsequent campaign, was set to force an election unless Stephen Harper gave him $5 billion for equalization, a new hockey arena, and daily piggyback rides around the House of Commons. Harper said he didn’t want an “unnecessary election” but his eyes said “yes”.

So it was all up to Jack. Layton had often mocked the Liberals for propping up the Harper government, only he himself tended to come down with a case of “making Parliament work” every time the Liberals found a backbone. Complicating the situation was hip surgery that left him needing a cane to walk.

Layton ended all the speculation 5 minutes after Jim Flaherty’s budget speech, passing immediate judgment on the Harper government. We were off to the poll yet again, for what most figured to be a boring campaign with few surprises. The funny thing about surprises though, is that they tend to be unexpected, by definition.

So fast forward to April 12th, in a 70s-themed debate studio, when Jack Layton pulled off a tour de force. Barely able to stand without sweating a month earlier, Layton stood tall for two hours. Many of his lines were tacky – I rolled my eyes when he uttered “hash tag fail” and when he told Stephen Harper “you’ve changed, you used to care about the environment“. But he connected with voters, both in terms of style and content, and left Michael Ignatieff reeling when he brought up the Liberal leader’s less-than-exemplary attendance record. In 30 seconds, the great Michael Ignatieff experiment (and possibly the Liberal Party) was effectively over.

Layton was good the next night in Quebec, but he didn’t need to be. He’d already made waves cheering on the Habs at local bars and everyone in Quebec was talking about his performance on tout le monde en parle. Layton soon overtook the Bloc in Quebec and, par conséquent, the Liberals. From there, all he had to do was surf the orange wave to Stornoway.

So by May 2nd, it was already obvious Jack Layton would be the newsmaker of the year. He had taken the NDP to record heights and done what Ed Broadbent and Tommy Douglas could not.

You all know the rest of the story – the tragedy and the tributes – since it dominated the headlines in August and September. Even beyond the grave, Layton left his mark, with the NDP making gains in most provincial elections. His departure also launched the NDP leadership race, and made the Liberal and Bloc races somewhat more meaningful.

Although Jack is gone, he’ll continue to have a major impact on Canadian politics for years to come.

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

Primary Debates

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial, Boring internal Liberal Party matters, Featured Posts | Leave a comment

In his Macleans.ca debut, my friend Jeff Jedras takes aim at the proposal Liberals will be voting on in January to move to a US-style primary system to choose the party’s next leader and nominate candidates.

While I’ve already voiced my support for this system, Jeff raises three valid critiques which I want to take the time to rebut – one logistical, one conceptual, and one on the decision-making process.

1) Logistical: “One concern is the potential for shenanigans; supporters of another party signing up as Liberal “supporters” to vote in the primary and negatively influence the process, such as voting for the least-favoured candidate.”

Again, I point to the Alberta Liberal example, where such shenanigans were tried (against a much weaker party) and failed spectacularly.

The reason for this is simple enough – most people don’t give a big enough damn to try something like this, and those who do are too high profile to risk getting caught. Finding 50,000 rabble rousers willing to sign up and make Tony Genco the next Liberal leader simply can’t be done under the radar, and whoever tried to organize a campaign like this would seriously hurt their credibility.

Seventeen US states let Democrats vote in Republican primaries and vice versa. Their rationale is that a candidate who earns primary votes from across the aisle, will also earn general election votes from across the aisle. If Karl Rove can’t find a way to get Denis Kucinich the Democratic nomination, then I don’t think we have much to fear here.

I know some are concerned about special interest groups taking over a nomination meeting, but a $10 membership fee isn’t going to stop them – if anything, a supporter system makes a takeover harder since it takes more votes to win. If an anti-abortion group goes from needing 100 votes to 120 votes to win a nomination meeting, it makes it that much more difficult for them to get their candidate of choice nominated (remembering of course that all candidates still need to be green lit by the party).

2) Conceptual: “One of the key incentives for joining a political party is the opportunity to vote in leadership and nomination races. This proposal devalues membership. Already, during each successive election, it has become harder to get Liberals to volunteer to knock on doors, stuff envelopes, and get out the vote. We need committed members, and more of them, to successfully rebuild this party.”

Here’s the thing. By itself, party membership means nothing. The point of signing someone up to be a member is to get their contact information so that you can get them to knock on doors, stuff envelopes, and get out the vote. I agree we need more of these people, but the way you get them is by making it easier to join the Liberal fold. Consider the supporter system a gateway drug to lure liberal-minded Canadians into the big red tent (and yes, I totally intend to put that line, creepy as it is, on a button at the Ottawa convention). Once they’ve registered, they can be invited to become full fledged members, volunteer, and donate money.

Yes, we need to make membership meaningful to retain and engage members. But if we want to grow the membership, we need to tear down the barriers to becoming involved, and a primary system would do just that. You don’t think a few of the millions who signed up to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries also gave their money and time to get him elected in the ensuing general election?

I know many are uneasy about “instant Liberals”, but if this change means thousands of new Canadians pouring into our ranks, then that’s fantastic. There are instant Liberals I signed up for leadership votes who are now more involved in the party than I am.

3) The Process: “The party executive wants to amend the constitution so the new leadership selection process can be adopted at the biennial convention in Ottawa January 13-15, 2012, barely two months from now. Meetings to elect delegates to that convention are happening now, and many are being cancelled and the delegates acclaimed due to a lack of people willing to fill all the available spots. It’s not as if this concept has been debated in Liberal circles for months. We’re just getting this now. We’re talking about fundamentally changing the most important thing we do—selecting a leader—and we’re rushing into it.”

I know the Liberal response to every problem is to call a Royal Commission, but this gives delegates to the January convention two months to debate the idea – plenty of time to make up their minds. Liberals have talked about “renewal” for years without anything happening – it’s time to get off the pot or shift the way we do politics.

The reality is we need to lay down the ground rules for the next leadership race before we find ourselves in the next leadership race. We’re now a third party, and a series of rolling primaries would add much needed excitement to the contest, helping us introduce the next leader to Canadians.

I don’t think the end result would be any different under one-member-one-vote or the registered supporter system. But, like Jeff says, process matters, and this new way of electing leaders would send a message to Canadians that the Liberal Party is willing to change and open itself up to Canadians.

UPDATE: Jeff responds to my responds here, to which I respond here and he responds here. At this point, I call him and argue Hitler was against a primary system, to which he calls me a redneck and hangs up. Let’s agree to disagree and call it a draw.

The Fall and Rise of Dalton McGuinty

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Ontario Election, Featured Posts, Ontario Politics | Leave a comment


If I told you a few months ago there would be a picture of Dalton McGuinty waving on newspaper front pages October 7th, you’d have assumed it would be on the Sun, directly below a “GOODBYE! GOOD RIDDANCE!” headline .

After all, when the unofficial campaign kicked off this spring, McGuinty was 10 or 15 points down. You couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing a PC “Taxman” commercial. Over a dozen MPPs saw the way the wind was blowing and decided against running for re-election. Opportunists viewed a Tory nomination as the easiest way to power.

Yet Dalton McGuinty earned a rare third term last night. How the hell did this happen?

The first, and perhaps most important, decision of his campaign team was to highlight the Liberal record. Rather than going neg in response to the taxman ads, the Liberals ran a series of crisp and clean commercials featuring nothing but Dalton McGuinty talking about his record. The ad started with McGuinty sheepishly admitting he wasn’t the most popular guy in Canada, before making the case for re-election. The supporting arguments were easy to understand and were backed up with facts and figures.

The Liberals carried this largely positive tone into the fall. Important, considering the grumpy nature of the electorate and the dynamics of a three-party race – simply hitting Hudak over the head day in and out would have left Andrea Horwath free to pick up the pieces. By selling McGuinty, the Liberals were better able to capitalize on Hudak’s missteps.

And misstep he did. I’m not talking about the “foreign workers” slip, the homophobic pamphlet, or Cheryl Miller’s unfortunate case of honesty. Hudak’s biggest mistake was his campaign message, which could be summed up in four words – “taxes bad, McGuinty bad“. Yes, no one likes taxes. Yes, many agree McGuinty is the taxman. But Hudak wasn’t promising to remove the HST and McGuinty wasn’t promising to increase it. Sure, Hudak’s platform contained a few tax cuts in it, but he didn’t talk much about them and never really explained how he’d balance the books. Hudak’s campaign was curiously silent on all other issues – except for the all-important issue of BBQ abilities.

The Liberal campaign was equally focused and on message, but was cooking with more ingredients. They played to the Liberal strengths of Health Care and education, while promising new jobs. Their platform was more modest than their opponents’, so when the markets began to teeter, they were able to quickly pivot to the same “experienced leadership in uncertain times” pitch Stephen Harper rode to victory this spring. Let’s all say it together now – we need a strong, stable, Conservative Liberal government!

Now, I don’t want to oversell this – after all, the Liberal vote fell 5 percentage points, and they lost 17 seats. They barely got more votes than the Conservatives. It was a humbling result.

But McGuinty still won. He won by talking about issues that mattered to voters, and made a convincing case for why he deserved re-election. Tim Hudak talked a lot about about McGuinty’s shortcomings and talked a lot about “change” – but never articulated what it was he would change.

So while the end result may be a bit of a surprise, it shouldn’t be. The Liberals made a better case for why they should be in power than the PCs, and won. It’s as simple as that.

Sixth Annual Politicians in Cowboy Hats

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Alberta PC Leadership Race, Alberta Politics, Featured Posts, Humour, Politicians in Cowboy Hats | Leave a comment

For a brief history of Stampede fashion, you can read the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 round-ups.

Although Rick Hansen served as Stampede Parade Grand Marshal, all eyes were on Will and Kate this year. I do find it somewhat perplexing how many of the same people who lambasted Ignatieff for his time outside of the country went absolutely ga-ga over our future head of state visiting us for the first time in years. If a 6-day cross-country tour isn’t the definition of “Just Visiting“, I don’t know what is. That said…

OH MY GOD! Will and Kate looked absolutely dashing!!! So young! So thin! So beautiful! And they pulled off Western wear more perfectly than most people who have lived in Calgary their entire lives! Their outfits were, like, so simple, and yet so perfectly perfect. I hereby crown them “best dressed” of the 2011 Stampede – the king and queen of fashion.

This was Naheed Nenshi’s first stampede as mayor, and I know many were worried how the man would look in western wear. After all, Dave Bronconnier left big cowboy boots to fill – the man looked the part of the Mayor of Calgary every Stampede, riding ‘ol leroy down 9th Avenue. Nenshi meanwhile, went to Harvard, is a University Professor, and spends his spare time blogging about population density rates in new housing developments. And let’s be honest, the man doesn’t really look like John Wayne (neither the actor nor the serial killer).

However, Naheed hit it out of the park this year. His outfit is irrelevant – the man rode a horse in the parade, thereby making him a Stampede All-Star.

With Stampede a success, the big question now turns to what he’ll wear for pride.

FEDERAL POLITICIANS

Usually it’s the federal politicians who make the biggest splash at the Stampede – for better or worse. After all, Liberal academics, socialists from Toronto, and environmental crusaders don’t tend to have a large collection of denim in their closets. Heck, even the “Alberta boy” himself, Stephen Harper, committed the biggest gaffe in Stampede history.

But this year? Everyone’s tired out from the election. Jack Layton needs to spend time with Quebec. The Liberal leadership contest hasn’t reached the point where candidates need to parade in cowboy hats to court Calgary Liberals.

Stephen Harper did give a speech about how invincible he is (which always ends well in westerns...), but his stylist really earns her money come the second week of July every year, so the PM once again looked fine.

Here’s a pancake. You’ll get your eggs once Canada is out of deficit in 2015.”

PROVINCIAL POLITICS

In comparison, provincial politics are rockin’ this summer with an election on the horizon, and the PCs and Liberals both in the midst of leadership contests. As always, the media was all abuzz about the chosen one, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith.

And 5,000 came to the Stampede breakfast, but there were only 5 pancakes and 2 sausages. So Danielle Smith said “bring them to me” and she placed her hands over them. She broke the pancakes and gave them to Prime Minister Harper, telling him to distribute them to the multitudes. Lo and behold, they were all fed, with stacks of pancakes left over. And so the legend of Danielle Smith grew.
PC LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES

The Stampede may be the most important event of the entire PC leadership race. After all, it gives candidates a dozen socials a day to press the flesh in Alberta’s largest city. As such, the contenders have all no doubt held countless strategy meetings and focus groups to find that outfit that says “I’m an Albertan, I enjoy a good rodeo, but I don’t look like a member of the Village People when wearing a cowboy hat“.

So as a public service, I’ve taken it upon myself to rank the PC leadership contenders choice of western wear.

1. Rick Orman

Winning the “Calgary Grit Best Dressed” trophy will likely be the highlight of the leadership race for Orman, so I hope he savours this. While Orman’s outfit isn’t Jim Prentice-good by any means, it’s the best of a rather uninspiring field. And he gets bonus marks for the 3 cute children in western wear. After all, in politics, nothing beats cute children.

2. Alison Redford

Redford has a bit of a “female Harry Chase” look going on. I know that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it really is, since I consider Chase a stampede fashion superstar.

3. Ted “The Man” Morton

Here’s what I said about Ted when I voted him “worst dressed” last year:

Once again, Ted is just trying to hard. When he ran for leadership, he drafted a catchy little country music jingle. He holds “golf and gun” fundraisers. But, really, he’s just a university professor from the big city trying to pass himself off as a good ‘ol country boy. And, in this case, it shows.

Morton has improved this year, though I’d probably only give the prof a “C-” grade, and the vest above leaves a lot to be desired. However, in browsing the 7 Stampede Breakfast photo-albums on his Facebook page, I did notice he mixed it up and owns at least 2 different cowboy hats, so I’ll give him marks for effort.

4. Gary Mar

Here, PC leadership candidate Gary Mar poses with the winner of the Gary Mar lookalike contest.

While I recognize orange is a hot colour politically these days, I’m just not feeling it. I mean, seriously, have you ever seen Clint Eastwood wearing orange?

5. Doug Griffiths

Mercifully, Ed Stelmach no longer wears suit jackets to the Alberta Stampede, but his habit appears to have rubbed off on a few of his MLAs. Quite simply, it’s just something you don’t do.

6. Doug Horner

Like Griffiths, Horner dons the suit. What knocks him down to the “worst dressed” spot on this list is the cup of Starbucks in his left hand. Quite simply, cowboys do not drink Starbucks.

It appears Yvonne Fritz is equally aghast.

What to expect in the Liberal leadership marathon

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

The best way to think about the Liberal leadership race is like those velodrome cycling races you see at the Olympics. The gun sounds and two cyclists crawl around the track, quietly jockeying for position and looking over their shoulder to see where the field sits. Then, out of the blue, one racer starts sprinting and everyone is forced to join in on the mad dash to the finish line.

With the decision to put off the naming of a new leader for up to two years, the Liberal Party is now in to the “phony war” part of the cycling race. The starting gun has sounded, and the prospective candidates are quietly pushing and shoving for position as they slowly cycle the track, not wanting to break free. Sometime towards the end of 2012, one of them will start sprinting, and then the race will be on in full swing. When the candidates break remains to be seen, but keep in mind that anyone purchasing a membership form after October 1st, 2012 will be eligible to vote. My guess is most serious candidates will therefore spend next summer laying the groundwork for a Fall 2012 launch.

Then again, this sort of leadership timeline is unprecedented, so it’s hard to know what to expect. But here are a few leadership rules that I believe will apply to this contest:

Rule 1: Don’t look like you’re running. The prevalent attitude among Liberals is that the party must rebuild before turning its attention to leadership. As such, potential candidates will need to be quiet when assembling their campaign teams. When asked if they might run, answers will range from “I don’t think the party should be focusing on leadership now” (translation: “of course”) to “I would sooner be beaten to death with live sea otters” (translation: “I’m thinking about it”).

Rule 2: The early battles will be fought in cyberspace. In the end, it comes down to memberships sold on the ground. But until the floodgates open October 1st, 2012, the phony war will be fought online.

That’s where trial candidacies will be floated, “draft Hellyer” websites will be launched, and “buzz” will be generated. A time will come when the media and LPC members decide who’s a serious candidate and who isn’t – that call is going to be mostly based on who seems to have the most momentum online.

Rule 3: Play nice. There was a time when Liberals could savagely tear themselves apart on everything from leadership to PEI Young Liberal Policy Chair elections. As a third place party, that luxury is gone. This is going to be a long leadership, and it might very well come down to members’ second and third place choices. Any candidate seen to be playing dirty or taking cheap shots at the rest of the field is going to suffer for it.

Rule 3 Corollary: Candidates are responsible for their supporters. I know it sounds petty and it is, but many Liberals will base their vote on whose supporters have pissed them off the least. Candidates will need to keep their more overzealous supporters in check. And that includes “anonymous Senior Liberals” who are obviously spinning for a candidate.

Rule 4: The “establishment” matters less than ever before. The new leadership rules have stripped ex-officios of their power, and the end of delegated conventions means you don’t have to find fanatics willing to put down $1000 to go vote at the convention. Sure, party stalwarts are still useful because they’ll put in the time and influence others, but their impact will be muted compared to conventions past.

Moreover, I feel like there’s a strong anti-establishment mood with the grassroots right now, to the point where having a lot of public “old guard” support might do candidates more harm than good.

Rule 5: Rural ridings rule. In this leadership race, each riding gets 100 points. And as mentioned above, you don’t even have to find live bodies from the riding to fly to the convention. What that means is that signing up 10 Liberals in Crowfoot might very well be as good as signing up 400 Liberals in Toronto Centre.

Sure, you need Toronto Liberals for fundraising, but if I were running a leadership campaign, I’d have my candidate spend the bulk of his or her time barnstorming rural ridings. That’s where this thing is going to be won.

Rule 6: Ignore the polls. As Prime Minister Ken Dryden will tell you, leadership race polls should be ignored 19 times out of 20.

Rule 7: The media may be off-base, but they can’t be ignored. Media perceptions of the race may not always match membership sales, but these perceptions will still help shape the race.

Rule 8: You can’t win by endorsing. If I were a candidate for leadership and I dropped out, I wouldn’t endorse anyone else. Quite simply, it’s a Kobayashi Maru.

In 2006, people blamed Gerard Kennedy for everything Stephane Dion said, even though Rae’s decision to not back his old roommate was just as important in Dion’s victory. I know supporters of Dominic Leblanc’s aborted 2008 run still bitter about his decision to support the Iggy coronation.

By supporting another candidate, you inevitably alienate someone – better to just thank your supporters and tell them to follow their hearts.

ELXN41

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

This post is just a collection of blog postings on the past election, for the sidebar archives. Consider it a place to visit at any point over the next four years when you’re feeling nostalgic for daily polls, ads, and news stories.

POST MORTEMS
Conservatives
NDP
Liberals
Bloc
Greens

PREDICTIONS AND PROJECTIONS

How the polls and projections fared

A round up of the final polls and projections

Final Calgary Grit seat projections

Ridings to watch: Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies, Alberta, BC

AD WATCH

Best of the election

Final Liberal Ads
Attacking Jack
Let’s celebrate the GST cut
Just Jack
Mmm…pancakes
Not so subtle attacks
Stephen Harper: The Movie
Ignatieff gets personal
Going after the Tim Hortons crowd
First Liberal ads
Pre-writ ads

RANDOM POSTS

20 Answers

Election Night Reaction

We urge you to vote for these losers

Seeing the world through orange coloured glasses

Pictures from the campaign trail

Michael Ignatieff eats a hot dog

Tory troll application

Election Preview

Party Primers

WEEK IN REVIEW

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

DEBATES

French debate post-game thoughts
English debate BINGO card, pre-game analysis, live blog, and post-game thoughts

CANDIDATE INTERVIEWS

Josipa Petrunic
Stephen Randall

Election Post-Mortem: The Conservatives

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

Previously: NDP, Bloc, Liberals, Greens

A lot has been written over the past two weeks about the election that was, but nearly all of it has been about Jack Layton’s victory. This may be a bit unfair to the election’s actual winner, so let’s pause for a moment to reflect on what Stephen Harper accomplished on May 2nd.

He became just the 7th man to win three elections in Canada’s 144 year history. If he serves out his current term, he will sit 6th on the all-time list of longest-serving Prime Ministers, and second only to Sir John A among Conservatives. It’s a safe bet there will one day be a Stephen Harper Calgary International Airport, and the man just turned 52 during the campaign, so the sky’s the limit in terms of what he can accomplish.

Even more impressive is that Harper very much created his own “winning conditions”. When he was elected Canadian Alliance leader under a decade ago, the Liberals were comfortably in power, facing a divided opposition. Harper’s own party had just cannibalized Stockwell Day, with a dozen MPs breaking off to form a rebel faction in the House.

The prospect of a 200 seat Paul Martin majority lay on the horizon and there was no one out there who thought a dull reformer from Calgary with fractured French and a fairly “un-Ontarian” view of confederation would ever become Prime Minister.

Yet, here we are. Fewer than 10 years later, and Harper now leads a majority government, with the left divided and the Liberal Party decimated. Sure, there were breaks along the way, but from merger to minority to majority, Harper was largely the author of his own destiny.

So how did he take that final step, to get over the 154 seat hump?

In some respects, the election was won long before the writ was dropped. I know many will jump over me for saying it, but Harper has governed as a moderate. Maybe he’s been forced into it, but whatever the reason, he hasn’t done anything during his time in power to rock the boat or worry centrists. This left the ground ripe for a Tory majority, helped no doubt by a little fertilizer in the form of a 5 million dollar Just Visiting ad campaign.

Once the campaign hit, Harper did what he’s always done. He found a simple message and stuck to it. Voters were offered more of the same, or an unstable jumble of opposition parties who would raise their taxes. This message was repeated over and over again, and it paid off at the ballot box.

As for the road ahead, I don’t expect things to change much under majority rule. Yes, the gun registry will go and some “lefty” programs will be cut, but we’re not going to see abortion legislation, two tier Health Care, or a blue flag. Harper’s largest objective in politics seems to be turning the Conservatives into Canada’s natural governing party and he won’t achieve that by jerking the country sharply to the right.

The largest obstacle for Harper in the next four years may very well be his lack of obstacles. The opposition cannot be blamed for holding him back, and the Senate cannot be blamed for killing his crime legislation. Sure, the CBC might be good for a few fundraising letters, but Harper will need a new adversary to rile up the grass roots. A Quebec-dominated socialist opposition party may do the trick there.

The larger challenge will be explaining to his base why he can’t go as far as they’d like him to. But in terms of problems Harper could be facing, that’s a nice one to have.

Election Post Mortem: The NDP

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | Leave a comment


I don’t have much to add to the post-election discussion on the NDP’s past, present, and future, as most of the key points have already been beaten to death. But it’s worth a moment to pause and appreciate what Jack Layton accomplished last Monday. Layton inherited a party with 13 seats in the House of Commons, and took them to 19 seats…then to 27…then to 37. That, by itself, would have been impressive. Then, this election, he took a 50 year old party and not only led them to their best showing ever, he more than doubled their previous record of 43 seats.

Ten or twenty years from now, the words “Jack Layton” will appear under the NDP leader’s name on any Debate Bingo sheets or drinking game. Quite simply, Layton will now be a god to future New Democrats, the way Tommy Douglas currently is, and the way Ed Broadbent almost is. What he has accomplished cannot be understated in the least.

I start with this little ode to Jack, because the NDP’s success is owed entirely to him. I know that can be said of most parties in Canada, but this was a vote for Jack and Jack alone. And deservedly so, since his performance was masterful from start to finish.

I think back to the very first day of the campaign, when all three leaders faced difficult questions. The way they dealt with them foreshadowed what was to come. Harper simply refused to take questions. Ignatieff gave an incoherent answer to the coalition question, forcing him to clarify his position the next day. Layton faced difficult questions about his health with a smile and a joke – everyone seemed satisfied and that was the end of it.

And that was how Layton approached the entire campaign. NDP ads were as vicious and unfair as Liberal or Conservative ads, but they featured cartoons, and ended with Jack smiling and saying something that made you feel good about him. Every second word out of his mouth was an attack on Harper or Ignatieff, but he had a cheerful way of delivering his lines that made voters feel like he was running a positive campaign. In fairness, the other half of the words were positive, with promises to help seniors, hire doctors, and cut taxes. The math didn’t add up, but math doesn’t win elections.

The story was much the same during the debates. That was really when this campaign turned. His attacks were pointed and, unlike Ignatieff, they were on issues voters could relate to. Ignatieff’s attendance record may not have been the most important issue facing the country, but Layton put it in terms people could understand, leaving the Liberal leader stunned and speechless. In short, Layton gave voters everything they wanted in those debates – he looked like a fighter, he looked cool, he looked confident, and, most importantly, he showed how he’d make their lives a little easier. Voters started trickling his way soon afterwards and, once the people realized it was okay to vote NDP, the trickle turned into a torrent.

Layton’s biggest challenge in the coming years is to leverage his personal popularity to strengthen the NDP brand. After all, this was a vote for Jack, not a vote for the NDP – to form government and ensure the next NDP leader has a chance at forming government, Jack needs to get Canadians comfortable with the idea of voting for the NDP.

Doubts about the NDP’s ability to govern will only be heightened as his rookie caucus continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. After all, the media won’t be able to write election speculation stories any more, so the easiest way to get content for a column will be to stick a microphone in the face of one of the NDP rookies. Suffice to say, a crash course in media relations and the art of the “no comment” will be coming up.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with young MPs – it’s something we need more of, and it could actually prove to be a great way to get young Canadians interested in politics. I came within one floor crossing of being a placeholder candidate for the Liberals in 2005, so I’m open to the idea that these political rookies might actually be a breath of fresh air in Ottawa. If they handle themselves well, the media, and voters, will fall in love with them.

The larger concern for Layton is not so much the age of his MPs, it’s their beliefs. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if a dozen or two of the Layton Bunch are quasi-separatists, setting the stage for some very uncomfortable decisions in the years ahead. Layton’s position on the Clarity Act, Bill 101, and the Constitution is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

So there are challenges ahead for Layton and the NDP. If they look and sound like a government in waiting for the next four years, they might very well find themselves in power come 2015. If they don’t? Well, these gains could disappear as quickly as they materialized.

Election Post-Mortem: The Bloc

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | Leave a comment


I was tempted to just post a snide comment along the lines of “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” and leave it at that for the Bloc post-mortem. But their collapse may very well be the most sudden and shocking in the history of Canadian politics, so it deserves more than 10 words. Not much more, mind you, since I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Quebec politics.

Before we jump in, it should be noted that Quebec has a history of swinging wildly from one party to the next, so maybe we shouldn’t be too surprise by what happened. They’d tried every flavour but orange, so it may be as simple as that. Still, it’s hard not to be taken aback by a 20 year old party collapsing from 50 seats to virtually nothing in the span of a few weeks.

So what went wrong?

The Bloc came to Ottawa with a clear raison d’etre, but that’s been lacking for a decade. They were given a jolt of life thanks to the sponsorship scandal, but in recent years they’ve had little to latch on to. Sure, Gilles Duceppe was there to make sure Team Canada didn’t name the wrong captain in 2007. He was there to stand up for the many who were outraged at the idea of Paul McCartney playing a concert on the Plains of Abraham (Quebecers are notorious Ringo fans). He was there to make sure Quebecers were not forced to choose between hockey and the French language debates.

Quite simply, the Bloc had lost relevancy, and anyone who has listened to Gilles Duceppe over the past 3 or 4 years would realize that.

So what went wrong for the Bloc is very similar to what went through for the Liberals. Duceppe did a great job telling Quebecers why they shouldn’t vote for Stephen Harper, but he didn’t give them a reason to vote Bloc – other than them being the default alternative. He waxed on about issues no one really cared out – the amount of time he spent talking about the 2004 coalition letter was baffling. He said nothing about how he would make the lives of Quebecers better.

When a more charismatic leader came along, Quebecers really had no good reason to stay with the Bloc, outside of nostalgia.

So what now?

For starters, the idea that separatism is dead is just absurd. The Bloc hasn’t been about separatism for a decade and the party with the power to make a referendum happen is poised to win the next Quebec election. I’m not saying they will, but let’s not read something into these results that isn’t there.

It’s also premature to write off a Bloc resurgence if they can find an issue to call their own. Jack Layton basically co-opted most of the Bloc’s nationalist rhetoric this campaign, leaving Duceppe with little ground to occupy. If nationalists feel Layton has sold them out, or a new issue emerges that he refuses to take their side on, there will be an opening. As Paul Wells mused, it’s not unfathomable to see 10 or 20 NDP MPs crossing the floor to join the Bloc down the road. All it really takes is one legitimate issue, and the Bloc could rise again.

Beyond that, I won’t waste any more virtual ink on a party that has done nothing for Parliament or for Canada during its wasted 20 year existence. Enjoy your pensions and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Election Post Mortem: The Liberals

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

In the 2004 election, the Liberal Party lost 37 seats. Liberals blamed this on Adscam, and they blamed it on Dalton McGuinty. This was considered a bad result, but the good news was voters had gotten it out of their system and, regardless, they’d never make Stephen Harper Prime Minister so there was a little to worry about. Consider it a speed bump on the road to 200 seats.

In the 2006 election, the Liberal Party lost 32 seats. Again, Adscam got much of the blame, as did the RCMP, the gaffe-plagued campaign and, depending on your faction, one of the previous two Liberal Prime Ministers. This was considered a bad result, but a new leader and a few months of Reform-Alliance government would lead voters right back into the arms of the Liberal Party.

In the 2008 election, the Liberal Party lost 36 seats. This time, it was really all Stephane Dion’s fault – him and that darn Green Shift! This was considered a bad result, but we’d all learned from the mistake in Montreal, so we’d just name Michael Ignatieff leader and take back government. The sooner the better – after all, leadership races can be messy and, as we’d seen, party members couldn’t be trusted with an important decision like picking a leader.

In the 2011 election, the Liberal Party lost 33 seats. The good news is that (I hope) everyone now recognizes there’s a problem here. A problem that runs deeper than leadership.

For this reason, I won’t bother dissecting the Liberal campaign in too much detail. After all, it actually wasn’t a bad campaign. The tour ran smoothly. There we no major gaffes or misspeaks. There were big crowds. The platform was fine. The ads were fine. Yeah, the debates were a bit of a disaster, and the leader couldn’t connect with voters, but do people honestly think there is anything the Liberals could have done differently? Sure, a different leader might have held on to second place or might have kept Harper to a minority, but if the end goal is forming government, it’s clear major changes are needed.

So what happens now?

The first thing Liberals need to do is put 2015 out of mind. That’s a long ways away and given the tectonic shifts we saw in the political landscape over the past four weeks, it’s foolish to predict with certainty what we’ll be up against in four years. Maybe Harper will be hugely unpopular after a decade in power. Maybe Maxime Bernier will be the Tory leader. Maybe Jack Layton’s Quebec caucus will be his undoing. Maybe a Mulcair-led NDP will be flying high in the polls (I’ll believe that when I see it). Maybe the Bloc will be back. Maybe the Greens will be polling in the high 20s.

There’s no way for us to know what the future holds, so the Liberals need to look inwards and get their own act together before worrying about who they’re running against.

In my mind, everything should be on the table, and party members should be the ones to decide after careful and thoughtful debate. I personally think merging with the NDP is a foolish idea, but some Liberals think it makes sense and they deserve to be heard. Let’s figure that out and then move on together.

I’m sure my idea of who the next leader should be is different from what a lot of other Liberals will want, so let’s vote on a leader and then move on together. Unless of course Frank McKenna is interested, in which case, we can just skip the vote. (I kid, I kid…)

Personally, I’d like to see the Liberals take a strong stand against the soft-nationalist policies of the Bloc NDP, but a lot of Liberals will disagree, wanting to win back Quebec. Let’s figure out where we stand and then move on together.

Some will want to move left. Some will want to move right. Some will say we should trash good policy in favour of populist trinkets. The debate needs to be had, and the membership needs to be involved in that debate.

Not just for show, but for real. Ever since I’ve been involved (and I’m sure before then), the party has let the membership talk and then ignored what they had to say. There’s a 14-step policy process, where policies suggested by individual Liberals can climb all the way to the floor at a national convention where, if enough Liberals support them, they may one day be filed away in a binder in the PMO OLO LO.

The Party set up a Change Commission and a Renewal Committee a few years ago. Both did a lot of good work. Both produced reports. The hell if I know what happened after that.

Now, I have a lot of ideas. Most are probably stupid. I’m not going to rehash them all now, because I’d basically be retyping the blog post I wrote after the last election. Or the election before that. Sadly, little has changed in 5 years.

What I will say now, is that the party needs to figure out answers to the following six questions:

1. What do we stand for?

2. Why should Canadians vote Liberal? (this answer cannot contain the words “NDP” or “Conservative Party” in it)

3. How do we communicate the above to voters?

4. Who exactly should we be convincing to vote for us? (I’d call this “who makes up the Liberal coalition”, if not for the obvious attack ad it would lead to)

5. How do we engage our membership?

6. How do we raise enough money to live in the post-subsidy world?

The good news is we have two years to answer these questions, then another two years to put it into practice.

I have a lot to say about this and, judging from the e-mails, blog posts, and Facebook notes I’ve seen flying in the past 48 hours, a lot of Liberals do too.

So here’s what I’m willing to do. Send me your ideas of what you think the Liberal Party needs to do moving forward, and I’ll post them here. Even if I think something’s a dumb idea, I’ll post it, because I’m not the arbiter of what’s a good idea and what’s a bad idea.

There’s definitely a lot of work to do. We need to recognize there’s a chance the Liberal Party may very well fade away into oblivion. There’s also a chance we could be in power within an election or two. As we’ve all learned over the past month, politics is unpredictable and making bold predictions with certainty is a good way to look awfully silly.

The next four years may very well be the most important in the history of the Liberal Party, so let’s get to work.

Plugin from the creators of Brindes Personalizados :: More at Plulz Wordpress Plugins