Friday, October 31, 2008

The Case for Bob Rae as Liberal Leader

In the last year Bob Rae has shown himself to be the most effective spokesperson the Liberal party has. When he was finally unleashed mid-campaign, he led the most effective challenge to Harper of any Liberal. He is so good that he's the guy the media calls to address high-profile issues like the latest cabinet appointments. He is incredibly effective, and yet he has a sense of humor; he's respectful to our opponents; and he is always responsible and loyal to the party. He is the best leadership material we've had in a long, long time.

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate Michael Ignatieff. He just pales by comparison. With two years experience in politics under his belt, he hasn't yet got what it takes. He sounds like the academic he is, and that really puts people off. He has a tough cynical streak which would be a huge improvement on our current leader, but his effectiveness is not quite there.

Yes, there are criticisms that Bob Rae carries "baggage" from his time as Premier of Ontario. I have countered those impressions before and I'll do it again.

So you think Bob Rae did a poor job running Ontario?
When Bob Rae assumed office, the province was faced with an economic crisis -- a deepening recession, unprecedented competitive challenges from a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., high interest rates, an overvalued dollar and a budget deficit of several billion dollars rather than the surplus predicted by the prior administration. Over 300,000 manufacturing jobs were lost between 1989 and 1992.

When the Rae government approached the end of its term, Ontario led the way in growth among the provinces and had one of the strongest economies in the G7. Surveys showed strong consumer and business confidence.

Private sector investment was back with billions in capital spending. Labour productivity was at an all-time high, as were manufacturing exports. Health-care costs were under much improved control as part of a broader strategy that was reducing the deficit.


- Tim Armstrong, Ontario's Deputy Minister of Labor and Industry under Davis, Peterson and Rae. (Read the entire article here.)

Here's some more info about Bob's time as premier:
Back in 1995, Ontario was pretty mad at Bob Rae. The anger was fuelled by the civil service unions, who were furious that he instituted unpaid days off. But the continent was in the worst recession since the Great Depression and Ontario's deficit was so high that it was driving down our bond rating, which in turn was increasing the cost of borrowing for the province. Rae, like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, is socially progressive and fiscally responsible. Recessions are pretty rough times to govern, and I don't think Rae made any decisions that he has to apologise for.

Despite the economic turmoil during his time as Premier of Ontario, Rae accomplished a great deal, including:

- 42% of his cabinet was female (that's by far the best ever in Canada)
- he created child care spaces and extended parental leave
- he enacted employment equity and pay equity
- he raised the minimum wage
- he legalized midwives and birthing centers
- he instituted same sex spousal benefits for civil servants
- he enacted pro-labor legislation (including anti-scab laws)


Read the entire article here.

Do you believe that Rae is unpopular in Ontario? On October 18, 2006, the Globe & Mail wrote:
...29 per cent of Ontarians believe Mr. Rae would be the best prime minister, well higher than the 22 per cent who picked Mr. Ignatieff and the 20 and 21 per cent, respectively, who picked Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Dion, respectively.

"It puts to the test — or to the lie — the notion that Rae carries the most baggage in the province of Ontario and that his five years as premier makes him unacceptable," said Allan Gregg, chairman of the Strategic Counsel.

Here are some quotes from survey reports written during the last leadership campaign:

* "Dryden and Rae are significantly ahead of other contenders among the general public"
* "Rae does comparatively well in Ontario, where he is in first place"
* "NDP voters are disproportionately attracted to Rae"
* "Bob Rae continues to hold a lead in the number of people who say they would vote Liberal or consider voting Liberal if he was leader... In Ontario, Rae enjoys a wider lead..."
* "Bob Rae has increased his potential to draw soft NDP support, which is a very important segment of voters for the Liberal party to focus on."
* To the question, "Which candidate would make the best Prime Minister?", Liberal party members who said they were going to vote in the candidate selection ballots answered Igantieff 16%, Rae 15%; and in Ontario they answered 18% for both. These were the highest scores of any candidates.

Some quotes from the November 29, 2006 Toronto Star editorial, Rae Our Choice to Lead the Liberals:

"Bob Rae stands out as the best choice to lead the Liberals because of his vision, progressive policies and experience."

"Giving shape to his activism, Rae has put forward a wide range of progressive policy proposals. Within the context of a balanced federal budget, he would increase grants and loans for higher education, invest in research and development, make better use of immigrants' skills, invest in "green" power, reinvest in cities, increase income tax credits and child support for needy working families, expand employment insurance and bring in catastrophic drug coverage. On Afghanistan and Mideast policy, he has taken sensible stands. And on the Quebec-as-nation issue, he only grudgingly went along with the misguided parliamentary consensus, saying that it was a debate he would not have initiated."

"He offers the best prospect of renewing the party, moving it boldly forward in a socially progressive direction and giving Canadians the government they deserve."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

After the Crisis

James Laxer (The Global Crisis: The End of an Age of Reaction) argues that the current financial crisis has brought an end to the "Anglo-American era of globalization." It's a good article and I recommend you read it. But I am starting to think that just the opposite is going to happen: the US and its way of business will emerge far stronger than they were before.

In recent years the US dollar has been looking very fragile. The dollar was propped up by Chinese government policy to ensure continued imports of Chinese goods in to the voracious maw of American consumers. The euro has been rising as a real alternative to the dollar.

But the current financial crisis has exposed the great weakness of the euro: although there's a European central bank, there is ineffective centralized authority to take action when there's trouble. Consequently the euro is taking a hammering and the dollar is getting stronger. The euro is looking like an unsafe place to store wealth, while the US dollar is looking very good. This crisis could end the threat of the euro and solidify the US dollar as the international currency.

Demographers are giving us reason to think that the US will beat off some other threats as well. Countries boom when they have growth in the most productive age group, and they droop when they have more of their population in young and old brackets. The US birth rate is going to keep the country an economic powerhouse over the next 25 years, while demographics in Europe, Japan and China all indicate that those countries will drop behind. Only Brazil and India will outpace the US in adding working age residents (and Canada will also do well because of our aggressive immigration policy).

The US also continues to have high output per worker and the highest rate of innovation in business. It has incredible domestic demand and, of course, the benefit of starting as the biggest and most powerful.

Globalization may have contributed to the severity of the crisis, but it will probably be remembered as the savior of it as well. International monetary associations like the IMF, G8 and G20 were all major players in the crisis management, and were very effective. When the world starts to reform financial regulation and create a replacement for Bretton Woods, we will look to organizations like the Bank for International Settlements, an organization of the world's 55 biggest central banks.

In addition, we will look to the US for leadership. The US has been failing in that regard for years, but that is going to turn around: not just because Barack Obama will win the presidency, but because one party will control both the presidency and congress, which will make it possible for the president to get international agreements passed into US law.

I'm not claiming it's fair. Inadequate regulation in the US has affected the prosperity of every citizen on the planet. However, it is starting to seem likely that the US will not be hurt in the long-term, and will probably benefit from the crisis.

Increasingly it seems that India is the only real competition for the US in the realm of economic world supremacy. While India is playing its hand very, very well, it still has a long way to go.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Petition to Avoid a Delegate Convention

From the Kitchener-Waterloo Riding Association:

Whereas in a modern democracy every Liberal Party member in good standing must have a direct vote in the selection of the leader and recognizing that the new constitution allows the national executive to make any bylaw in accordance with the procedures set out in section 26 to regulate the procedures of the leadership vote, such as voting procedures; and recognizing that a traditional Leadership convention will deplete our already strained resources and cash, Therefore, We the undersigned, urge our National Executive and Caucus to develop a one member, one vote system for the upcoming Leadership convention that MAY exclude a national convention and includes a process that:

1. Promotes and facilitates a grass-roots selection of the next leader by
allowing each member to vote directly for a leadership candidate (that is, one member = one vote)

and, in addition, that the National Executive seriously consider implementing the following:

2. A membership cutoff date that prevents "instant-liberal" abuse of the
leadership selection process;
3. DRAMATICALLY limiting spending by candidates;
4. Regional leadership debates;
5. A direct vote in a second round of balloting to choose between two
"finalist" leadership candidates.

WHAT TO DO: go to www.kw.igs.net/~raclausi/petition.htm

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Liberal Reforms Part 2: Developing the Membership

There is an advantage to the delegate system in that delegate wannabes traditionally sign up a lot of new Liberals to vote for them in the riding elections. That's bad for the leadership election process but it brings in a lot of new members. Most of these "instant members" drop out just as fast. However, some of those people stick.

It's up to the party to draw in new members and keep them, and we're failing at that. If we had more detailed membership forms, we could find out what's important to new members. If we had decent membership databases, we could make good use of that information. If every riding had programming to involve members, we could keep some of those people.

A long time ago I wrote a book about how to develop a business selling art and crafts. I suggested that every contact should be viewed on a potential continuum of involvement in the business: browser -> purchaser -> collector -> patron. We should be looking at Liberal members in the same way, drawing them in. We have people on the fringe of membership, and we're letting them slip away. We have people who want to be more involved, and we're wasting them.

When I send the Liberal party money it is guaranteed that within a week I'll get another plea asking for money. Instead, within a week of anyone sending money, the person should be invited to something that draws them into the party more. Different things could be triggered by different sizes of donation. Even if the donor doesn't attend the event, they feel more a part of the party.

Ridings need to organize more affordable fund-raisers, Liberal outings, Liberal workshops, Liberal training sessions - not just for the inside clique, but for the local membership. Every riding should have a goal of a set number of events for members per year, and gear those events to new as well as long-term members. If they lack the resources to organize events, inform their membership about events in nearby ridings, or involve their membership in the organization.

My riding has a woman's caucus that organizes two dinner-dances a year, and other than that and the riding executive, there is no Liberal activity. This seems to be the effect of being a "safe Liberal seat" - complacency and stasis.

In addition, we need to have outreach people to help citizens with causes. If someone is trying to clean up a river, they should know to go to the local Liberal association for help, and the Liberal association can either organize something or just pass the information on to their membership.

Keeping new members is not just about activities - it's also about policy and leadership. We dropped the ball in the last election. After all the talk about policy reform, we got saddled with a flagship policy that members didn't like. I found it very difficult to vote Liberal this time. I can understand why other previous Liberal voters went elsewhere.

Jason Morris has made some good recommendations, but one that troubles me is his recommendation that we streamline the party. I'm not saying that we shouldn't, but we should be wary of emulating the Harper Conservatives in being a top-down, centralized power structure and lean, mean fighting machine. We need to be moving in the opposite direction, towards more broad-based involvement in the party.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Liberal Reforms Part 1: The Delegate System

The delegate system has too many problems to keep.

Dion won the leadership with the support of about 10% of the Liberal membership. To move forward enthusiastically and with the potential for good donations and lots of volunteers, a leader should have greater support than that.

Wannabe-delegates win their local elections by signing up friends and co-workers as members. Those people aren't really Liberals and they don't stay with the party, or in this election, apparently even vote for the party. They shouldn't be selecting our leader.

I have written about my experience trying to be elected a delegate. I didn't even make it on the ballot, and it was fishy. In comments on my blog, other people talked about widespread problems with delegate submission forms being "lost". Werner Patels has written about losing a delegate election in different but fishy circumstances. There were also numerous stories about riding association brass picking a leadership candidate and then making sure that their staff and family got picked as delegates so they could vote under direction.

The system is not just undemocratic, it's disenfrachizing. You have people who want to be delegates - who want to be active in the party - and they're cheated out of being able to do it. You have people voting to choose a delegate to choose a leader, and their vote is turned into a joke when someone wins with a tiny fraction of the vote. You have Canadians looking at a party that has an antiquated, undemocratic system of leader selection, and they're not impressed.

See also: Moving Towards Improvement

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Weird Crisis

This may be one mother of a financial crisis, but it is no perfect storm. Sure, we're in a credit crunch. Interbank lending is dismal. The stock market and housing market are freefalling. The financial system is disintegrating. In the words of Paul Krugman, "the economy is rushing downhill."

But while the turmoil is driving down asset prices and throwing financial companies into bankruptcy, there are many pockets of strength. Among them:

* The core of the crisis is the US, but the US is currently a debtor nation. In the 1930s the US was also at the epicenter of the crisis, but the US was a loaner nation, so lots of other countries were hit by the US withdrawing funding. This crisis won't spiral in that way.
* There would be a huge problem if foreign lenders lost confidence in the US, but that's not likely as the US dollar is strong. In fact, the US dollar is out-performing the euro, which is (was) its main rival. The euro is emerging as an unsafe place to store money, partly because Europe has no central authority to bail out European banks. (The countries that hold the majority of US debt, like China and Japan, do not want the US dollar to fall. Those governments face extreme domestic pressure to preserve the value of their reserves. The dollar is strong also because US banks are less leveraged than their international counterparts, meaning that while US banks caused the crisis, they're not suffering too much from it.)
* The TED Spread (difference between the Treasury bill rate and the rate at which banks lend to each other) is falling today, usually a sign that the crisis is over. Todays' Libor also indicates an unfreezing of the money markets, thanks to effective government intervention in England.

It seems that the biggest dark cloud on the horizon is inflation, and that's no small threat. I believe inflation has already hit 3.5%, and the bailout is dumping a lot of money into the system that will cause more inflationary pressure. Some economists are now predicting there will be no recession, but a couple of years of "soggy economy".

The US faces enormous short-term challenges due to its huge deficit and need to reduce consumption, increase saving, and improve production. Canada will face some adjustment issues during that phase. But in Canada, most other economic indicators are strong: income, housing starts, employment, fiscal surplus, funding of CPP... The one bad area is the manufacturing sector in Ontario, and since the financial crisis has driven the Canadian dollar back down below 80 cents US, that should pick up.

Long term, it looks like the US isn't going to cede its supremacy in the world economy, and might emerge even stronger than before. Stats like birth rates, immigration, productivity and innovation all indicate that the US and Canada will do well in the 25 years to come.

At least a little of the current doom and gloom story is cooked up. I attended a lecture by political economist Eric Helleiner last week, and he said the Globe & Mail has recently been asking academics (including himself) to write articles about why we're about to experience a great depression again. It seems to be a case of: be depressing or don't get published.

There is a lot of rebuilding to do, and the biggest threat may be that as the crisis abates, our determination to reform the financial system might wane. Another problem is that, unlike the years after the great depression, there are no clear leaders who are trusted by other countries anymore. The Bank for International Settlements, which is important in these sorts of reforms, only includes the 55 richest countries. Another problem is structural: the world's largest economy, the US, requires agreement by Congress to pass anything.

Some of the best suggestions I have heard for reform are:

* We need not just more regulations, but better regulations. The approach of Basel II was pro-cyclical and that has hurt us.
* We need to take action to dampen the boom and bust cycles. For example, in boom times, make financial institutions pay into an insurance fund for bailouts required in bust times.
* The US needs to clean up its act. For example, it is relaxing its "mark to market" requirements (valuation by market value not book value), which gives its companies a competitive advantage and encourages others to lower their standards.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Opera Kitchener

There's a new opera company at Centre-in-the-Square called Opera Kitchener. This winter they have four performances:

Marriage of Figaro (in Italian with surtitles), January 10, 7:30
La Traviata (opera in concert), February 15, 3:00
Kathleen Battle (spiritual and sacred songs recital), March 21, 7:30
Cinderella (in English), April 5, 3:00

Subscription prices are great: from $84 to $161 for all four operas. ($21 an opera! That's cheaper than the Galaxy!) Subscriptions are on sale now and per-performance tickets go on sale December 1. The box office number is 519/578-1570 or 800/265-8977.

For more info, see Opera Kitchener and this article from The Record.

What is Renewal?

During the last leadership campaign, Liberals used the word "renewal" as if it was some fairytale object that, once chosen, would magically transform the world in a Tinkerbell trail of glitter.

There was a Liberal Party Renewal Commission in 2006. It had 32 sub-committees and held public consultations in five cities, but I can't find any sort of report for it. It used to have a web page on liberal.ca but that has disappeared completely.

I found some criticism of the Liberal renewal commission, written at the time it was going on, by Cherniak and Political Nobody. There's a reference in an old article in Macleans. Otherwise, renewal seems to have been taken out back and shot.

So dropping the emotionally-laden term "renewal", there's lots of stuff we need to think about fixing up:

* Organization of the party
* Fundraising network
* Fundraising methods
* Computer systems (web site, databases, tax receipts)
* Constitution re system of electing leaders
* Constitution re other things
* ???

Update: Renewal Obituary

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

One Member One Vote

Aaron Ginsberg has a good post in defence of the delegate system for choosing a new leader. He argues that one member-one vote can be a recipe for disaster because:

- It all comes down to how many new members a candidate can sign up.
- It doesn't give extra weight to party insiders.

They are both valid points. The first can be handled: just set a cut-off date, such as the last election, for party members. People who sign on after that can't vote. We should be doing that with either system, because people who want to be delegates currently sign up new members to get themselves to the convention. And as we saw in this election, those new members from the last leadership race did not vote Liberal.

The second is a bit trickier. I agree that party insiders, who after all are the most knowledgeable, should have more influence. There are other ways of achieving that. In the last leadership race there wasn't nearly enough information coming from insiders. Even worse, the Dion/Kennedy camps used the strategy of demonizing insiders to discredit the more experienced camps supporting Rae and Ignatieff. (We had the ridiculous situation where the 12-year cabinet veteran claimed that the guy who just became a resident of Canada and the guy who just joined the party were "insiders".) In fact, people now criticize Dion for not listening to Liberal party advisers enough, but that was the platform he won the convention on. He confused "renewal" with "rejection of experience", and his supporters enthusiastically provided him with a mandate to continue with that losing strategy.

One of the many problems with rejecting the influence of insiders is that then we have to rely on the media to tell us what's in our best interest, and the media is not always our friend. We should be getting a lot better information about candidates from within the party: not just of the form "I endorse so-and-so" but position papers on each candidate, what their leadership would mean for the party, and so on. To make this important decision we need better information, and we need some direction.

Some media pundits have opined that the Liberal party needs an Obama to fire up the grass roots. I disagree. A good leader can make use of different people to appeal to different groups. For example, the leader could bring out Justin Trudeau and Ken Dryden as motivational speakers. But there needs to be good strategy for when and where to use them.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

War and Peace (review of COC production)

Tolstoy spent six years writing the novel War and Peace, followed by ten years releasing revised editions. Prokofiev spent 17 years writing the opera based on the novel.

Both the novel and the opera were shaped by political repression. Tolstoy wanted to set the novel in the 1825 Decembrist uprising against the czars, but would not have been able to publish in the Romanov era (he wrote the novel in the 1860s) and so changed the setting several times, finally settling on Napoleon's invasion of Russia in the early years of the 19th century.

Prokofiev was commissioned to write an opera based on War and Peace by the Soviet Committee on Arts Affairs, and then he was dogged by them for 17 years to make it suit their ideological requirements. Started in 1941 - a couple of months before the German invasion of Russia - it was originally to be a patriotic call to arms. After the war the committee added other purposes: a glorification of peasants, denunciation of decadent Russian royalty, and paean to the motherland. The committee nitpicked over individual notes. They wanted less conversation and characterization, and more declamation on patriotic themes. One argument over three measures (a few seconds of music) lasted three weeks. Prokofiev initially put up a fight, but increasingly ill health and political pressure caused him to give in.

It wasn't just the committee that picked at Prokofiev's masterpiece. When he tried to mount the opera the conductors who took it on required numerous modifications. Such were the presures of the Stalinist era that an unsuccessful opening could doom a career, and one conductor threatened to call in sick on opening night if certain changes weren't made. The sublimely beautiful death scene of Prince Andrei, backed by an offstage chorus providing music that evokes his feverish state, was thus almost cut because someone thought the audience would find the use of nonsense words unintentionally funny.

The current COC production of War and Peace is a reprise of the recent English National Opera production, and it works. The casting of the main characters couldn't have been better. Russell Braun is the ideal Prince Andrei. His lyric baritone, sensitive phrasing and strong good looks make him an ideal doomed romantic lead. His death scene was everything that opera should be; in the language of Tolstoy's "What is Art", Braun's performance caused an "emotional infection to spontaneously occur in the listener."

Elena Semenova as Natasha and Mikhail Agafonov as Pierre were also perfect. But for me, the chorus stole the show. Not in the initial epigraph - while they sang it well, that piece of music just doesn't work for me. The dissonance in the music and the overuse of percussion ends up sounding like a tinny broadcast to my ears. But after that, War and Peace has sublime choral music, especially for the men, and it couldn't have been performed more perfectly.

The orchestra, under guest conductor Johannes Debus, sounded better than I've heard it since, well, Bradshaw. Here's hoping Debus will join us on a permanent basis. In case he does, here's how he pronounces his name (I attended a symposium he was at on Saturday): Yoh-HAHN-us DAY-boose.

The strength of the ENO production is in the second half, which depicts war. The backdrops and costumes were so evocative in the second half that I was simultaneously on the edge of my seat and on the edge of tears. When Pierre is rescued from his French captors the Russian partisans rise from the snow banks in white capes and slit the throats of the French. I felt I was "there" in a way I seldom do in movies.

It helps to have read the book, as the opera is more a montage of scenes than a reproduction of the plot. Prokofiev and librettist Mira Mendelson do a better job capturing the war part of the book than the peace (peace, in this sense, means romance). This might be explained by the limitations of reproducing a 1,400-page novel and the distortions caused by numerous rewrites, but it might also have been due to the difference in circumstances between Tolstoy and Prokofiev when each worked on their version. Tolstoy wrote the novel while living in comfort on his estate, marrying the love of his life and then raising his family. In the first years that he worked on the opera, Prokofiev was also starting a new and lasting relationship (with librettist Mira Mendelson), but they were evacuees, moving from city to city while the German invasion grew, worrying over his children who stayed behind in Moscow.

###

Friday, October 17, 2008

Move to the Center?

I can see two reasons for the Liberal party to move to the center:

1. It's appropriate in the current economic context.
2. It's politically expedient.

Argument 1: We are moving into a recession, and we need a steady fiscal hand, not new expensive progressive policies.

Argument 2: With the left split across four parties, it may be the only way to separate ourselves from the pack.

We can't give up our principles, and we can't give up on environmental policy, but in a recession it's important to prioritize the size of the pie rather than the size of the slices. Improving the size of the slices helps those who still have jobs, but improving the size of the pie helps keep people from losing their job.

I'm not convinced by my arguments, but I think this sort of question should be on the minds of all Liberals as we head into a leadership race.

There Are No Chretien/Martins This Time

The Chretien/Martin feud traumatized some Liberals so severely that they think it's happening again. It isn't.

A feud of Chretien/Martin proportions is an unusual thing. Martin just couldn't accept that Chretien won the leadership. As finance minister he tried to control all the other departments, and he openly campaigned for Chretien's job for years. Chretien, scrappy and stubborn as ever, stayed in power after he should have left in the hopes of leaving Martin too old to reach his goal. Or at least that's what seemed to be happening.

The Liberal party still has rivals, in particular Dion, Ignatieff and Rae, but none of them have exhibited any feuding behavior. Ignatieff and Rae have been consistently loyal to Dion (especially Rae). They didn't take advantage of his faltering in the polls in any way. They were responsible party members, praising and supporting their leader. And despite some unconfirmed reports during the last leadership race, Rae and Ignatieff remain BFFs. They talk on the phone every day. They may decide they want to run for the same job again, but there's no animosity.

Now that there's another leadership race on the horizon, I think we can all calm down about the so-called infighting. It just ain't there. Who knows, all the allegations of it might be from Tory trolls, as a recent commenter on my site suggested.

The Stink of Power

Warren Kinsella recently published a blog post called Happy. It shows a photo of Andrew Telegdi and has a one-sentence explanation of why he's happy that Telegdi, an MP in Kinsella's party, lost the recent election. The sentence cites two occasions long in the past when Telegdi refused to apologize for things Kinsella thought he should apologize for. One of the transgressions happened in 1974.

The idea that Kinsella could be so nasty really got to me, until I remembered a story about Telegdi himself. Telegdi had a hate on for Bob Rae during the leadership campaign, and the reason was that Rae didn't return a phone call from Telegdi shortly after Rae became premier.

In both of these cases it seems that being in a position of power made a guy feel justified to act on his grievances and put the hurt on someone. Most of us wouldn't even think of doing something like that, partly because we're not asseholes, but also because we know we couldn't get away with it.

Kinsella is a pundit who appears on all sorts of media outlets opining about Liberal matters, and I guess he's out there slamming people he has grievances against - since he's doing it in his blog. Telegdi influenced the delegates that went to the leadership convention.

It's not a great way to run a party.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

And So It Begins

At 23:50 on October 16, there are 60 articles on Liblogs.

Three of them are anti-Dion, two mildly so, one adamantly so.

Sixteen of them are pro-Dion, most wildly so.

Most of the wildly pro-Dion posts assume that everyone else is calling for his ouster, even though there seems to be little evidence of that. Some of the pro-Dion posts say things like "[the Liberal party] consistently back stabs its leader" and refer to "everyone" "attacking" Dion. They urge people to "show some respect" but call people who disagree with them "self-serving goons" and "stupid".

The pro-Dion faction is out and about, writing outraged comments anywhere they think someone might not be a hundred percent behind their guy. In the comments section of my blog, in the last two days, I've already been accused of not doing enough for my party and been told I'm not a real Liberal.

Five of tonight's Liblogs posts are rabidly anti-Volpe. These bloggers are spitting mad that Joe Volpe expressed the opinion that Dion should go. We went through this anti-Volpe thing during the last leadership campaign. It reminds me of when I used to raise chickens. For no particular reason all the chickens will start pecking at one chicken, and they keep at it till they kill it.

So it seems that we begin another leadership phase. Goodbye to the relatively calm two years of mostly polite disagreement. Hello to hysteria, bullying, insults.

At this point all we've got is the pro-Dion forces. When the pro-every-other-contender forces start spitting their bile, well, it'll be like old times, eh?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Should He Stay or Should He Go Now

Some Dion supporters are arguing that we should stick with the leader we have because the learning curve for a new leader is long. It's a serious argument. We don't want to deepen the hole we're in with hysterical attempts to change direction.

But. Dion screwed up in such a range of ways. He:

* Continued to be a lackluster public speaker.
* Wasn't able to communicate his flagship policy to Canadians.
* Wasn't prepared for the election.
* Has been unsuccessful at fund raising.
* Didn't have an effective response to Conservative attacks.
* Was slow to get help from experienced Liberals.
* Didn't assuage doubts about his ability to lead Canada in tough economic times.

Polls showed that support for Dion was way behind support for the party. He dragged down the rest of the party. Canadians don't like him and don't trust him. He's had two years to get his act together. If Dion wants to stay, he should give us some reasons to think he'll improve.

Ground Rules for Picking a New Leader

I'm not calling for the ouster of Stephane Dion, but it seems likely that ousted he will be, either by his own volition or by others. So I think it's time to start thinking about how we each decide who we want to be the next leader.

First, we need a leader who is ready to lead. Please don't fight for Justin Trudeau. He just got elected for the first time. He's young. If he wants to be leader, he has plenty of time. Now is not the time. I say this because I saw a poll on TV that placed Trudeau as the second most popular leadership choice of Liberals.

This is part of a more general point: when you propose or support a candidate for leader, please be thoughtful and reasonable. Be rational. Every Liberal can influence the selection of leader, and we all need to be careful about who we support. Someone may sound good, but do your homework and think it through.

Next, we should involve the backroom players in our selection process. Once we have a slate of candidates, we should ask members of the party elite to provide their opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Let's not start out in our corners, fighting tooth and nail. Let's move forward together to select the best person for the job.

What Dion lacked with his surprise win at the convention was a mandate. Had the Liberal party been behind his green shift plan, the country would have understood it, but regular Canadian Liberals just didn't like it or understand it or want it. Dion won by a trick, and then never won us over. Maybe he was the second choice of delegates, but that would have been because the race became so bitter that they wouldn't accept their candidate's real rivals. In any event, Dion wasn't the choice of most Liberal voters. Next time, let's pick someone who everyone can get behind.

And to put my money where my mouth is, this is what I have to say about Bob Rae. I fought hard for Rae in the last leadership race, and I still think that he is by far the best choice in terms of competence, ability to communicate and inspire... and all other leadership qualities. But. He has been in the federal sphere for a few years now, and he hasn't overcome the biases against him based on his time as premier. Even though polls showed that more Ontarians supported him than supported any other leadership candidate, he hasn't been able to break the myth that he can't win in Ontario. Every time his name comes up someone says, He'll never win Ontario. Even though he did an admirable job with the economy, every time his name comes up someone says, He ruined Ontario's economy. They're ignorant, but they're voters. If Rae can't overcome that prejudice quickly, then he shouldn't be our leader.

Here are some people I heard mentioned today as possible leaders:

Michael Ignatieff
Justin Trudeau
Bob Rae
Ken Dryden
Elizabeth May
Ralph Goodale
John Manley
Louise Arbour

Update: James Bowie has a great suggestion about the next leadership vote: "The membership cutoff date should be election day [Oct 14]. If you haven't signed up as a Liberal by the time you're supposed to vote, then feel free to sign up next time, but we don't need you to choose our leader."

The Hard Work Ahead

At this point, I'm more concerned about process than personalities.

Is it in the best long-term interest of the party to replace Dion? Part of the answer has to do with how we choose a new leader and who we choose. But the main criterion for deciding if/how/who has to be the good administration of the party.

The Big Lights in the party have spent the last three years raising money for their leadership campaigns or paying off their leadership campaign debts. The party needs $$$$.

It needs a huge war chest to counter Harper, and it needs to spend it not just during a campaign, but as preparation for a campaign. We can't endure another two years of attack ads without responding. Harper has to know that when he hits us, we hit back. More - we need to go on the attack before the election: not in nasty personality-driven ways as he does, but on all the legitimate scandals of his administration.

We also need to be much better prepared for the next election, and that means, in part, we need a lot of money. Money + PR Firm = Votes. It's that simple. In my riding, where the long-term incumbent Liberal, Andrew Telegdi, was defeated by the Conservative by 75 votes, I got a glossy flyer in the mail at least once a week during the campaign. One side belittled and mocked the Dion. The other side described the happy family life of the local Conservative candidate. It was awful, but it won the election.

Another big issue is to avoid splitting the party over personalities. The last leadership campaign was awful that way. In an attempt to create thrilling TV and to time the results for the six o'clock news, they even delayed the final vote for an unnecessary hour and left Mike Ignatieff in the fishbowl with the TV cameras on him, trying to look confident.

The convention left the supporters of losing candidates feeling awful. For example, when Dion won, he should have immediately embraced Rae and Ignatieff and made their supporters feel that they would have a good place in the party. Giving a senior appointment to Hall-Finlay before giving one to Rae was a slap in the face to Rae supporters. Just when Dion needed to pull us in, he left us out.

But the disunity-creation started long before the convention. Candidates said things about other candidates that the Conservatives were able to use against us. Forced to campaign against each other for half a year, frictions arose that were then blown out of all proportion. There were reports that life-long friends Rae and Ignatieff had become bitter enemies. Untrue, but destructive.

The bitterness came down to the grass roots, as well. Supporters of some candidates wrote terrible things in the comments sections of blogs. I was particularly troubled by the antics of Kennedy supporters, who were a mean bunch of young men. I supported Rae in the leadership race, and was the butt of a lot of abuse on my blog.

Now, after a fall to record lows in yesterday's election, we have to be very worried about bleeding more support. I was so energized by Elizabeth May during the campaign that I already have a foot in the Green camp, and I have met dozens of other Liberals who feel the same. We don't need bickering. We don't need finger-pointing. We need to rebuild. We need to feel that there is someone steering the course with a responsible hand.

I think it's clear to everyone that the most articulate and effective member of the Liberal party is Bob Rae. If Dion quits, I suggest that he be made interim leader.

After that, the party needs to plan how to pick a successor. We should try to find solutions to the following problems, even if we can't completely solve them:

* Most people who run for leader are not qualified to win and do not have the support to win; they run to jump-start their careers. If we can't keep them out of the race, then we should limit debates to the people with the most support.
* The leadership race should be as unfractious as possible. The race should not be designed so that contenders have to stand up and badmouth each other. Supporters should not be pitted against each other. We should have a sense of moving towards a common goal, not furthering the ambitions of a handful of powerful men.
* Whoever wins, all the front-runners should immediately be made part of a management team.

Finally, the party can't sit idle while we wait for a new leader. We need to start doing some things we've been neglecting:

* Forge all alliances possible. Forge alliances with premiers. Support premiers on disagreements with Harper when we agree with the premier. Forge alliances with other parties; with indigenous groups; with the food inspection people; and on and on.
* Energize the grass roots. Involve people. This is no joke - it has always been the weakness of the Liberal party (in my experience) that riding associations are cliquey and don't welcome new volunteers.
* Policy, policy, policy. What were we doing letting our leader be chosen in the arbitrary way that Dion got in and then letting him influence the direction of the party so strongly? Most of the party wasn't even sure they supported the Green Shift.
* Reform the leadership selection process. End the delegate system and adopt a one member-one vote approach.
* Start preparing, tomorrow, for the next election. It could happen any time. Liberal unpreparedness for this election was shameful and should not happen again. We need money, policy, and a local machine in every riding - including Quebec.

Update: Scott's DiaTribes fleshes out a plan for picking a new leader here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Arbitrary World of Politics

The Conservative Party shifted far to the right after a hostile take-over by the Reform-Alliance. There is no question that the Progressive Conservatives did not want to be taken over by the Reformers. When the Progressive Conservatives elected Peter MacKay to be the leader of the party, they made him promise in writing that he would not form an alliance. MacKay signed the agreement, but then immediately reneged on it. The vote to merge gave equal voice to Reformers and PCers, and since the Reform-Alliance party was stronger, they won easily. Now the remnants of the venerable old party is in tatters, led by the iron-fisted and ideological Stephen Harper.

It defies belief that such an important party could be perverted by the ambition of one man, and yet it happened - and it happened with very little fuss. A few prominent Tories left the party and there was a fair bit of grumbling, but most party members seem to have stuck by their brand, even it's really only the color of the signs that stayed the same.

On the Liberal side, there is a much more minor example of the arbitrary and personality-based nature of politics. Stephane Dion entered the leadership convention in fourth place (in terms of committed delegates). But because of a secret deal he made with another candidate, he won the leadership. As leader, he is farther to the left than recent leaders Martin and Chretien. I don't oppose this shift to the left, and Dion has involved the caucus very strongly in his policy formulation, but still - there's an arbitrary nature to this shift that doesn't seem quite right.

In the case of the hostile takeover of the Tories, it's difficult to see how it could be prevented. When there are powerful people who are as unscrupulous and crafty as Harper and MacKay, democracy will be trampled. Mulroney wasn't quite as unscrupulous, but his election to leader in 1983 was also marked by some dirty tricks. I hate to say it, but the Tories have a record of employing some pretty shady tactics. Unless the party decides to stop tolerating dirty dealing, they're vulnerable to corruption.

In the case of the Liberals, it seems we need to reform how we elect leaders. We should give up the delegate system and adopt "one member-one vote", as other parties do.

On the NDP side, sometimes I wish there was a little more growth in the party. Policy-wise, they stay pretty much the same, and sometimes their rhetoric sounds a little stale and obsolete.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Harper, a Million Dollars, a Dying MP, the Reputation of a Journalist, and the Effective Cover-Up of a Scandal

A transcript from The Star of the tape recording of Harper talking about the Cadman bribe:
Zytaruk: "I mean, there was an insurance policy for a million dollars. Do you know anything about that?"

Harper: "I don't know the details. I know that there were discussions, uh, this is not for publication?"

Zytaruk: "This (inaudible) for the book. Not for the newspaper. This is for the book."

Harper: "Um, I don't know the details. I can tell you that I had told the individuals, I mean, they wanted to do it. But I told them they were wasting their time. I said Chuck had made up his mind, he was going to vote with the Liberals and I knew why and I respected the decision. But they were just, they were convinced there was, there were financial issues. There may or may not have been, but I said that's not, you know, I mean, I, that's not going to change."

Zytaruk: "You said (inaudible) beforehand and stuff? It wasn't even a party guy, or maybe some friends, if it was people actually in the party?"

Harper: "No, no, they were legitimately representing the party. I said don't press him. I mean, you have this theory that it's, you know, financial insecurity and, you know, just, you know, if that's what you're saying, make that case but don't press it. I don't think, my view was, my view had been for two or three weeks preceding it, was that Chuck was not going to force an election. I just, we had all kinds of our guys were calling him, and trying to persuade him, I mean, but I just had concluded that's where he stood and respected that."

Zytaruk: "Thank you for that. And when (inaudible)."

Harper: "But the, uh, the offer to Chuck was that it was only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election."

Zytaruk: "Oh, OK."

Harper under oath: "What I do know is that this answer is not the answer to this question, I think there’s been some editing in this question, so I don’t think it goes from this question to this answer." After the quote, The Star article continues: "Harper insisted in his testimony that at that point in the interview he told Zytaruk he did not know about the offer of an insurance policy. He claimed Zytaruk edited that response out of the recording."

It appears from the tape that Harper did not tell the truth under oath. His initial response confirmed the question. Several statements later he appears to repent that and makes a weasel-statement about "replac[ing] financial considerations he might lose due to an election" but he never denied the million dollar question, and in fact initially appeared to accept it as fact.

As to what exactly the Conservative operatives offered Chuck Cadman, The Globe published this: "Jodi Cadman says her late father, Independent MP Chuck Cadman, told her on his deathbed about an alleged offer from the federal Conservatives to gain his pivotal budget vote and topple the government. ...[Cadman's] wife Dona says he told her two Conservative representatives offered him a $1-million life-insurance policy and other inducements in exchange for his tie-breaking vote against the minority Liberal government's May, 2005 budget."

Some other things to note:

* By suing the Liberals, Harper muzzled them. For example, the Scandalpedia page on the issue now says, "This story has been delayed due to Stephen Harper's lawsuit."
* Journalist/author Tom Zytaruk is a victim of Harper's hardball tactics. Zytaruk said recently, "I was really looking forward to testifying because it's not pleasant to be accused on a national scale of doing something dishonest such as doctoring a tape."
* Bribery of the Cadman family may have extended to his wife. By offering her a Conservative candidacy in this election, they effectively muzzled her as well - at least until the election is over.

See also Cyberwanderer's blog: February 28, 2008 and October 10, 2008.

Listen to the tape here.

If Harper wins the election and then goes to jail for perjury, who will be prime minister?

Jim Flaherty?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Harper Committed Perjury

This seems to be what happened:

Conservative party officials tried to bribe a dying independent MP to vote to bring down the Martin government. According to his widow, they offered him a million-dollar life insurance policy.

Harper discussed this issue with author Tom Zytaruk. Zyartuk taped the interview.

Later, Harper denied that he knew about the bribe and claimed the tape was doctored.

Harper got an injunction preventing the Liberals from using the tape and sued the Liberal party for libel for $3.5M. Harper won a delay in the trial until after next Tuesday's election.

Only the people in the room during the taping knew the truth about what Harper said. One of those people was Harper.

Now it has been revealed that the tape was not doctored.

Is there any explanation other than that Harper perjured himself?

(He apparently thought he was safe denying the tape because experts said that it was doctored. However, it turns out that while part of the conversation was recorded over, the damning part of the tape was clean.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Faltering at the 11th Hour

Timing is everything. Two weeks ago, the video of the Stephane Dion interview would have been a small blip. The timing today could be devastating. Tomorrow the long weekend starts, and then the next day is the election. There's time to make Dion look bad, but not time to recover.

I spent part of this afternoon at the office of my local Liberal candidate making cold calls. I did not talk to one person who said they were voting Conservative, but the proportion of people who said they were undecided was shockingly high. I can only hope that some of the indecision was a Canadian sense of politeness.

Better, But Not Enough Better

The VFE seat prediction model now has the Conservatives at 134, the Liberals at 83 and the NDP at 38. LISPOP is predicting Cons 138, Libs 88, and NDP 31.

Just a week ago a Harper majority seemed unstoppable. Now it seems that if we had just one extra week in the campaign, the Liberal and NDP momentum might re-establish enough seats to form a coalition.

We have so little time left. If we could just put on one final, grand mal effort over the weekend - and I don't just mean the political operatives, but all of us - we might replace the Harper government.

If we don't, the Conservatives might put on a grand mal effort that puts them back in majority territority.

The biggest challenge left is getting out the vote. That's something we can all work on in our circle of acquaintance.

Update: Apparently the Bloc has signalled a willingness to consider a coalition with the Liberals. The two seat predictions above have the Bloc at 50 and 51 seats. That puts the Liberals and Bloc almost (but not quite) in range of being able to form a government.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Conservative Platform

What's the deal with releasing your platform ONE WEEK before the election?

This seems to be more of the Harper-Conservative sleight of hand: propose policy after the debates, when it's too late for a full public discussion of the ramifications, but just in time to be able to claim a "mandate".

There's no question that Dion took a hit because he proposed the Green Shift months before the election, before the economy started to decline and public attention shifted from the environment to the economy. But by proposing the Green Shift early it gave the country time to fully vet the idea. It's not goign to be easy finding environmental policy that everyone can live with, and having full discussion is the responsible way to proceed.

In terms of the content of the Conservative platform, why do the Harper-Conservatives continue to be obsessed with putting young people in jail? Don't they realize that putting more young people in jail will INCREASE crime rates? Isn't the evidence clear that the US model they espouse is not working? While our jail-diversion programs and policies to target the causes of crime have given Canada a far lower crime rate and far fairer justice system? What sort of mean-spirited idelogoue would make a key part of his election platform the proposal to publish the names of 15-year old offenders?

Despite Harper's strange desire to punish Canadians more and more severely, you'd think he might balk at the enormous waste of money it is to build more prisons - that there would be some pragmatic voice mitigating his love of imprisoning youth with pragmatic considerations that jail only encourages youth to adopt a life of crime. He may not be interested in the human rights angle, but you'd think he'd care about the cost.

Most of the rest of the platform is last-minute pandering that targets particular issues Harper has faced in the campaign, but one other policy deserves special attention: reducing the tax on aviation and diesel fuel. That policy is a huge slap in the face to every Canadian who is calling for effective environmental policy. And don't think it's unimportant: if elected to either a minority or majority government, Harper will claim his anti-environment stance as a mandate from Canadians.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mr Experience?

While I was writing about Stephen Harper's history of plagiarism, it dawned on me that - other than his other well-known character flaws (propensity for dirty tricks, willingness to do anything to win) - the probable reason that Harper stole other people's speeches was that he was out of his depth as a newly-minted Leader of the Opposition.

To recap, Harper was primarily known as a backroom player until 2002, when he became leader of the Canadian Reform Alliance party. (He had been on the national stage before, as a Reform MP from 1993-97, but his party wasn't even number 2.) In May 2002 Harper was elected leader and then won a seat in a by-election, and suddenly he was leader of the opposition.

It was in that period and over the next year that Harper is known to have plagiarized at least two speeches. The John Howard speech, which he lifted whole sections of in 2003, was particularly important to his fledgling career. He also used the plagiarized speech as the basis of several editorials that were published in the National Post, Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen and Wall Street Journal.

This line of thought made me realize that Harper was a rookie party leader just six years ago. He has no cabinet experience and just two and a half years experience as prime minister. It's not nothing, but it's hardly the seasoned old leader that his fireside ads portray.

It shows the effectiveness of political propaganda: even I had started to unconsciously buy into the image of Harper as an experienced old war horse.

As to Harper's portrayal of himself as an economist, I've already refuted that. His party does not even have a good record as ecnoomic stewards - despite cuts to social spending, Brian Mulroney sent the deficit into the stratosphere, and left it to Chretien/Martin to clean up. The reason Canadians elect Liberal governments so often is that Liberals have the best record on economic management.

In their latest ads, Conservatives try to portray Harper as the safe choice, calling the Liberal Green Shift proposal untested and concluding, "It's just not worth the risk." That's all part of the web of lies. Carbon taxes have been successfully used for years, in the UK, Sweden, Finland, Holland, and elsewhere. In fact, almost all countries, including Canada, already have consumption taxes on fuel, which are carbon taxes. Even former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker said that "it would be wiser to impose a tax on oil than to wait for the market to drive up oil prices."

The Green Shift untested? Just another lie.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

ANOTHER Purloined Speech?!

Let's be clear. Plagiarism is infingement of copyright and it is illegal. That's why university students get expelled for doing it. That's why political careers are done in when politicians do it. When someone writes something or says something, they own it. Unless they specifically put it in the public domain, it is illegal and immoral for someone else to rip it off.

In 2002, Mike Harris said:

"Thinking about things from a new and different perspective is never easy. It takes courage, conviction and the strength to know that in taking a new and innovative course, you are making change for the better. ... Genuine leaders are the ones who do the right thing."

A couple of months later, Stephen Harper said:

"Thinking about things from a new and different perspective is not about reading the polls and having focus group tests. It is never easy because it takes courage, conviction and the strength to know that taking a new and innovative course is going to make change for the better. Genuine leaders are the ones who do the right thing."

Harper is trying to slough this off, but plagiarism is a big deal. You cannot use someone else's words without giving them credit.

Not long after Harper stole these few lines, he ripped off much of a speech by Australian prime minister John Howard.

There's a pattern here. How many more plagiarized speeches are we going to discover in Harper's closet?

For more information about plagiarism, see this.

Local Polling Data

Here are some good sources of local info:

*Vote for Environment: Very rough prediction for ridings (recent national polls applied to the results of the last election)
*Election Canada Project: Riding-level predictions
*DemocraticSpace: Regional projections
*Canada Votes: Profiles of candidates, history of ridings, and comments
*Vote for Climate: Puts you in touch with like-minded people in your riding
*Plus the national links in the top right of my blog

There are some tight, unfortunate races. In Elizabeth May's riding Central Nova Peter Mackay is predicted to win, although the NDP and Green party combined have a lot more support.

Michael Ignatieff is currently behind in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, although the Election Canada Project still predicts he'll win. Patrick Boyer, who's the Conservative candidate, was the riding's MP from 1984-93.

As I've said many times, I'm a big fan of strategic voting - and I don't mean just to support the Liberals. In our kind of parliamentary democracy a vote is a blunt instrument. If we split our votes, the Conservatives could win a majority. If we vote smart, we could keep them to under 100 seats.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Daydream

Here's an idea I can get behind. The Greens actually get some seats, and the Liberals do well - well enough that together, the Liberals and Greens can form a coalition government. Elizabeth May then becomes a member of the government... (I'm not trying to leave the NDP out - they can be in my dream coalition too.) Maybe one day there will be a Green-Liberal merger and May will become the leader of the Liberals...

Is a coalition such an impossibility? Maybe not. Today's Nanos poll has the Conservatives only five points ahead of the Liberals. The leadership poll is really interesting: the Nanos leadership index shows Harper sharply down and Dion sharply up, so that only eight points divide them. (I guess the lesson is: attack ads work, but when they're based on lies they don't work forever.)

And I promise: this time I double-checked the date of the poll!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Canadian Leadership Debate

That was a good debate. Except for some bizarrely partisan questions by Steve Paikin, the format was good and everyone sounded great. I would even have said that Harper did well if not for Elizabeth May calling him on all his lies. He sounded so smooth and plausible. For example, Dion mentioned that Harper fired the head of the nuclear safety commission; Harper responded in his sing-song, almost hypnotic way: "We all know that's not true. Parliament voted on the nuclear safety issue." But a little voice piped up while he was saying that: "Not true. Parliament didn't vote on the firing." Which broke the trance: of course she was right. She was always right.

May is a master of the under-talk. Frequently while Harper was talking she'd say something very quickly, not interrupting him, not shouting over him, but you could hear her in the background: "That's a lie." It was brilliant.

She also used her one-minute responses, over and over, to point out what Harper was really doing. Everything she said was fact-based, not personality-based. She backed up most of what she said with references. She nailed issue after issue. I can't do her justice from memory: I must get a transcript of the debate. Anyone know where to get one?

Clear Winner in the Canadian Debate (MHO at 21:30)

It is 9:30, 30 minutes in, and Elizabeth May has already had so many good moments she could shut up for the next 90 minutes and still win this thing. Wowee, is she sharp. They said noone could deliver a knockout punch in a five-person debate, but she keeps lobbing them at Harper and they hit: kerpow! Kerpow! If this were a two-person debate, just Harper and May, he'd be through.

On Reputations and Rot

When someone really sets out to smear you, it's difficult not to get smeared. When they have millions of dollars and a great PR firm and put all their efforts behind discrediting you, it's almost impossible.

It's not at all surprising that viewers thought Stephane Dion won last night's debate. They got to see the real guy, rather than the caricature invented by the Conservatives.

I don't think we Liberals should blame Dion too much for his low standing in the polls. While Harper is Conservative leader, whoever is Liberal leader is going to be the target of a relentless, vicious smear campaign.

The Conservatives aren't relenting one iota in their attacks on Dion. I got a glossy pamphlet from my local Conservative candidate today that contains two big photos of Dion. The flyer includes two vague tag lines about the Conservatives but no platform information. The entire Conservative campaign appears to be based on a smear of their main competitor.

I'm surprised that there's not more of an outcry, especially in Quebec, about the photo the Conservatives use over and over and over (this flyer I'm looking at uses it twice). We've all seen it a million times by now - it shows Dion shrugging with his arms out. It's a very Gallic gesture - it might look funny to Anglophones, but it seems a typically Francophone stance.

But I guess it's not surprising that the Conservatives would make fun of Francophone characteristics. After all, a party that boasts about interfering in another party's leadership selection process has no shame.

But when I say party, I mean party leaders. I don't believe that Conservative party members are as unprincipled as the top dogs in Ottawa. The party got taken over by some bad apples, and unfortunately those bad apples are successful so they get to stay. A rot that started in the Reform party with the ouster of Preston Manning spread to the Conservative party. It is now spreading across Canada and seems destined to grow even more after October 14.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Anyone But Harper

According to the Globe & Mail, 52% of Canadians say they're anxious about the prospect of a Harper majority, but 81% of those people say they won't change their vote to prevent it.

Let me try to persuade you otherwise.

In a parliamentary democracy such as Canada's, a vote is a very blunt instrument. We have one act to signify our choice of a local representative, a national leader, and a party. How we prioritize those options determines whether we use our vote to try to elect a government or whether we let others decide who runs the country.

Strategic voting does not mean that you have to vote Liberal. A vote for any party other than the Conservatives will help - but smart voting can help keep Harper from getting a majority. The question is: in your riding, who is best able to beat the Conservatives? That's the person/party/leader to support.

And support means more than one vote. It means: speak out; put up a sign; volunteer; donate moeny; persuade your friends; get out the vote.

After the election, if they have enough votes, the Liberals, NDP and Greens can work together to oppose Harper - at best, as a coalition, or if not, as an opposition with teeth. The Bloc may not cooperate in such an endeavor, but they may also be our strongest stalwart against Harper by holding seats in Quebec.

The differences between the policies of the Liberals, NDP and Greens are minor compared to our differences with the Harper Conservatives. It's great that we have a plurality of voices on the left - we are stronger and more vibrant because of it. But we need to come together to stave off a common threat.

To see current polling projections for your riding, click here. For more polls, look at the links in the right pane of this blog.