Worst. Leadership race. Ever.

Somewhere in my collection of flotsam and jetsam of old newspaper clippings from my youth, I have the famous Edmonton Journal paper from the day after the Progressive Conservatives, under Peter Lougheed, finally toppled the Social Credit dynasty. The headline, written in massive type in true Tory blue, read: “Now! It’s Lougheed!”

Now, as the longest reigning Canadian provincial government in Canadian history staggers to the finish line of its third leadership race in eight years, the most likely headline should be “Finally … it’s Prentice.” 

On Saturday, the PCs will announce the winner of their leadership race, and if all goes according to plans (and polls), the new man will be Jim Prentice, another Calgarian with extensive ties to The Industry. (Calgary, it seems, produces leaders or would-be leaders; Edmonton produces opponents. Good thing somebody does.)  As everyone knows, the PCs are in disarray. After 43 years in power, the party seems to be suffering from the political equivalent of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. If you were to lay a bet right now, it would seem the wise choice to put your money on the odds-on favourite in the 2016 election, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

But wait! The PC party obit has been written more often than Mark Twain’s. (Twain, after a premature obit appeared, famously said: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”) In some ways, when Prentice takes over the party, he will be in a better position than Alison Redford.

Redford, you may recall (and it seems almost impossible to believe, considering how far she had fallen), took over with sky-high hopes. Finally, the progressives cheered, a truly progressive Progressive Conservative. A worldly, big-city lawyer — and a woman! (I had a feeling the Liberals were in trouble when a long-time Liberal operative I know greeted the election of Redford not with dread, but with unbridled joy.)

Redford was, shall we say, a bit of a disappointment. The party Prentice inherits is in disarray, bedevilled by a series of puny, travel-related scandals and a general sense of exhaustion. While Redford started on a high with great expectations, Prentice starts with the party at a low ebb. In other words, nowhere to go but up.

(I write this based on my assumption that Prentice wins. If either of the two lame-duck candidates — professional dunderhead Ric McIver, or the slithering Thomas Lukaszuk — somehow wins, you can dust off that PC obit and run it today. If Prentice wins, we can happily write the long overdue obit of Lukaszuk.)

Prentice actually has some potential. After the feckless farmer Ed Stelmach, and the patrician Redford, all Prentice has to do is play the hard-nosed businessman type and ground the government’s silly fleet of airplanes. (By the way, this ‘scandal’ of Finance Minister Doug Horner taking his wife on the occasional plane ride is a whole lot of nothing. If there was an empty seat on the plane, as I assume there was on the times she went along, the actual cost to the taxpayer is nil. This is small change.) Alberta, after all, is in pretty good financial shape, and to most voters, that’s all that matters. Once Prentice realizes that he had billions of dollars to throw at any problem — health care, education, whatever the problem du jour is — he will make these problems go away in time for the next election. 

Once this dreadful, uneventful, petty leadership ‘”race” is officially over, Prentice can get down to business. His first order of business will be, of course, business. Get to work, avoid trivial scandals, and the Tories can easily extend their record setting longevity streak. The Wildrose is always just one dip into the lake of fire away from reminding the public of their extremist roots, as we saw in the last election. 

(By the way, the New Democrats are also holding a leadership vote, pitting the earnest Rachel Notley against the earnest David Eggen, and somebody else who is, I assume, earnest. Just thought I should mention it.)

 

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Thomas Mulcair’s Keystone tap dance.

I’m taking some perverse pleasure in watching NDP leader Thomas Mulcair try to finesse the Keystone XL pipeline issue.

Not too long ago — in fact, anytime before the 2011 breakthrough election — the NDP would have had no problem staking out a position on the pipeline. Mulcair would have been loudly opposed to the pipeline based on the environmental concerns alone. The no-pipeline position would have appealed to the NDP’s, base, the broad coalition of the disaffected and the sanctimonious.  And it wouldn’t have mattered what the NDP had to say, really, since nobody really cared about a party that had no chance of being government.

But thanks to the freakish results of 2011, Mulcair and his New Democrats have drunk the Kool-Aid and have convinced themselves that they can actually win the next election. For the first time in the party’s history what the New Democrats say now actually matters. And therein lies the conundrum.

Mulcair has to be opposed to the pipeline to keep the base happy. But opposing a project that has long-term implications for the Canadian economy is political suicide. All Canadians, not just Albertans, need to get that glop out of the ground and shipped out. So, Mulcair has had to come up with a way to oppose the pipeline, but in a way that satisfies potential voters and long-time supporters. His solution is to oppose the pipeline based not on environmental concerns, but on the basis that bitumen should be refined here, to supply Canadians with jobs and long-term energy future.

I agree with Mulcair on this issue. We should be refining here, and not shipping jobs down a pipeline. I’ve never understood why we don’t do this; I can only assume the economic case for shipping bitumen to the U.S is stronger than refining it all here. But Mulcair is slinging it when he uses economics as the reason for opposing Keystone. Keystone is not an all-or-nothing proposition; Keystone can be built, as can the proposed west-east pipeline. Arguing against Keystone based solely on Canadian energy concerns is utterly bogus, and Mulcair certainly knows it.

After Mulcair met with Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pelosi said: “Canadians don’t want the pipeline in their own country.” On CTV’s Question Period, Mulcair denied that he gave Pelosi that impression (apparently, she came up with that idea all by herself), but when asked where he stands on the pipeline, he ducked and weaved and dodged the question (Watch the interview at http://www.ctvnews.ca/qp/).  But what kind of message would Mulcair has brought to the Americans? That the New Democrats were opposed to the pipeline because Canadians want to refine the bitumen for themselves? Why would Pelosi give a rat’s ass about Canadian energy needs?

Mulcair’s position on Keystone is purely political, and not based on the real reason for opposition to the pipeline, which is almost entirely environmental. I’m sure he would love to take the environmental stand, but he can’t if he wants to become prime minister.

Yes, the little New Democrats are all grown up now, compromising their core beliefs in hopes of attaining power, just like the big boys.

 

A few contrary thoughts on Jack Layton.

Was I wrong about Jack Layton?

When he was alive, I always found him somewhat insufferable.  A glad-handing, ‘hi how are ya’ kind of politician who was forever seeking the spotlight, and finding it, thanks to a doting press.  I have always likened him to a used car salesman.

But not what Layton is gone (sorry, that should be ‘Jack’; everyone has taken to calling him ‘Jack’ like he was a close personal buddy), I’m wondering if maybe I was wrong. I see thousands of people lined up to pay their respects. I see makeshift flower shrines (we can credit the British for creating this trend after Princess Diana died), dotted with the occasional can of Orange Crush.  I read and hear of people talking about his integrity, and how he was trying to bring decorum back to politics, and his decency, etc.

Have I been wrong about Jack Layton? Was he, really, a politician who touched people in a special way that I have missed?

Clearly, yes. I missed the Jack Layton parade. But all this public grieving is a little over the top, don’t you think?

I know it’s risky to say anything negative about a person who has just expired. I’m sure when Charles Manson finally goes to hell, someone will extol his leadership abilities. But let’s put Layton’s career in politics in perspective, shall we?

Jack Layton had been in politics almost his whole life, with little to show for it. He has been the NDP leader since only 2003, and an MP only since 2004. In that time, his greatest success was in improving the fortunes of the NDP, luring away enough potential Liberal voters to ensure minority governments for Stephen Harper. His greatest success was in this year’s election, with the party’s stunning breakthrough in Quebec and the NDP’s elevation to official opposition status for the first time in history. It can safely be said that the NDP gains in Quebec had little to do with NDP policy or the quality of its candidates, and everything to do with pissed off Quebec voters turning their backs on the Liberals and the Bloc, and finding nothing else other than the NDP and their smiling, singing, casual French-speaking leader. Until further notice, it will have to be regarded as one of the great flukes in Canadian political history.

I guess you could say that Layton’s greatest accomplishment as NDP leader was in reigning in Harper’s worst right-wing impulses during the minority government years. For that, we can be thankful. But otherwise, the cupboard is bare. No legislation, of course, bears the Layton signature. I’ve tried, in fairness, to come up with something Layton can be credited with (aside from the success of the NDP) and come up with nothing.

Was he a decent guy? Apparently, but there are lots of decent people in politics, believe it or not. Did he have the country’s best interests at heart? I’m sure he did. I suppose he was a good human being, but he was also a political operator and a bit of a showboat.

So why all this supposed grief for a politician who was, up until this year, a secondary player on the Canadian scene? Maybe it’s because we have in Stephen Harper a leader who is so cold, so unappealing, that we’re lavishing our love on someone who actually knows how to smile. Michael Ignatieff (remember him?) left us cold, too. Layton was the only leader we could warm up to (well, not everyone), which makes his passing all the more painful.

A Jack Layton government would be reason to leave the country. But still, we are poorer for having lost him. He clearly connected with people in ways I don’t understand, and he was the only person standing in the way of the Harper juggernaut, even if he was only going to be a speed bump in the Harper majority years to come. Now, with Layton gone, opposition to Harper finds itself rudderless. The Liberals are a wreck, and the NDP is at sea and bewildered.

No, I didn’t like the guy at all, but I’ll give him this — Canadian politics is a lot worse off without him.

On Linda Duncan’s silence, and Alberta Liberal lists.

On this lazy Saturday morn (as opposed to my lazy Monday morn, my lazy Tuesday morn, etc.) a couple of mini-comments on provincial and federal politics.

First, the NDP honeymoon with the media appears to be ending.

After the revelation by the Globe and Mail that interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel was once a member of the Bloc Quebecois, the media has started sniffing around the Very New Democrats looking for past allegiances.

Postmedia — which used to be Canwest, which used to be Southam, or something like that — send out a survey to all 103 NDP MPs asking if they had ever held a membership in another party. Only three MPs returned the survey. A Toronto newspaper did the same, and received no replies.

And what of Linda Duncan, the Edmonton-Strathcona golden girl (she comes with her own halo) and media darling? Well, it seems St. Linda of Strathcona replied she was “not available to participate”.

Hmmm. Not available to participate in a small survey that wouldn’t take any more than a minute to fill in? Is she so busy doing good works that she doesn’t have time to tick off the “no other party” box, or whatever. This is very suspicious.

Now, I know Dippers will be crying foul about the survey, saying that it smacks of 1950s-style “are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the (fill in the blank) party?” And why, they will no doubt whine, aren’t members of all parties being asked the same question.

Those are legit questions, but the Dippers are going to have to come to the realization that they are no longer the coddled, babied and pampered third party, and are now in the big leagues. Scrutiny will be much more intense, so get used to it.

And as for Duncan, why the silence? I hope somebody in the mainstream media picks up on her silence, and asks her why she didn’t answer.

Could it be that she was once a member of …. THE COMMUNIST PARTY? Or worse….THE CONSERVATIVES? Or worse still…THE LIBERALS?

The horror, the horror…

Meanwhile, the provincial Liberals are facing some unwanted publicity, which is rare for a party that craves any kind of publicity.

It seems that the party’s idea to open up the leadership campaign to anyone who wants to vote in it, without even buying a party membership, has resulted in some questionable tactics.

As revealed first in the Globe and Mail (how does the Globe consistently beat the Journal at Alberta stories?), there are dozens of suspicious names (dead people, cats, Conservatives, dead Conservatives, dead cats) on the list of supporters. Suspicion has fallen upon Raj Sherman, who says he has rounded up 18,000 supporters. When the total number of supporters comes in at 25,000, it’s a pretty safe bet that most of the questionable entries come from the Sherman camp. Hugh MacDonald, another leadership candidate, has called the list “a joke”. Gotta love Hughie; he calls it the way he sees it, even with his own party.

Am I surprised that there are questionable names on the list? Not at all. I figured this anyone-can-join idea was going to be fraught with problems. I’ve received “demon dial” calls from the Sherman camp, and even one last week that said my name was not found on the voters list, and that I would have to register again. I don’t know where the call came from.

Sherman is hyper-aggressive, and intent on winning the leadership. Liberal leadership races are a gentleman’s (and gentlewoman’s) game. Liberals always play nice with other Liberals, and with everyone. (Maybe that’s why they have a nearly 100-year record of defeat.) It looks to me that Sherman is not using the traditional Liberal fair play handbook, and borrowing tactics from the more cutthroat Conservative race. As I wrote in my blog about Sherman, he is cut from a different cloth. It will be interesting to see if Sherman’s much more aggressive tactics will alienate, or appeal to, the party faithful.

JLP (Jack Layton Party) and his pimply-faced caucus playing politics.

If you’re really hard up for something to do, turn your TV to channel 120, CPAC, the Canadian parliamentary channel. (The only thing sadder than watching CPAC is the fact that I know what channel CPAC is on.)

The Jack Layton Party (the new name of the New Democratic Party — just check out their backdrops and graphics; Jack Layton’s name is twice the size of the words New Democratic Party) has decided, as its first show of strength as the Official Opposition, to filibuster a bill that would send Canada Post back to doing what it’s supposed to do — deliver the mail. We’ve been two weeks now without mail delivery, and my magazines are piling up somewhere in a Canada Post storage facility (also known as a sorting facility). Hey, I want my Entertainment Weekly! How am I supposed to know who’s hot, and who’s not? By the time I get all my back issues, whoever’s on the cover as the hot new thing will already be reduced to made-for-TV movies on the Lifetime channel.

If the JLP thinks they have the support of Canadians in this utterly pointless filibuster, they are misreading the mood of the public. Or, maybe I am. But since I am a member of the public, and I talk to other members of the public, I feel it is safe to say they are clueless, and this filibuster is all show.

True, the mail isn’t what it used to be. It’s not remotely as important as it was when Canada suffered through postal strikes roughly every two years. Back then, postal strikes were a national crisis. Now, they’re more of a national nuisance. But still, a lot of people depend on their mail for their business. It’s important; not as important as it once was, but still important.

I don’t agree with much that the Stephen Harper government does — hell, I am at a loss to think of even one thing right now — but I agree with the act to resume postal service. The dispute has gone on long enough, and since a resolution seems well nigh impossible, the government had to step in.

But the JLP, anxious to assure its small but rabid support base that they’re not willing to move to the centre to solidify their power, has decided to take a stand against the bill. Never mind that they can’t win, never mind that most people in Canada want their mail back, and the JLP is standing in the way of that. The JLP has a stand to make, and screw the public.

Besides, for the JLP’s pimply-faced caucus, the filibuster is just like a sleepover. You get to stay up all night, and eat all the pizza you want!

Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not willing to give up my mail delivery so the JLP can take off their training wheels and pretend to be real politicians.  Mail is important to the economy, and the government is right to bring this to an end.

What’s behind the NDP surge?

Jut a couple of weeks ago, this election nobody apparently wanted seemed destined to be an either/or conclusion: either Stephen Harper gets his majority, or not.

But strange things have been happening, and nothing more strange than the New Democrats and their glad-handing, used-car-salesman leader Jack Layton and his impossible promises pulling ahead of the Liberals and their leader, Michael Ignatieff. (I’ll bet the Tories are having second thoughts about their apparently successful smear campaign against Ignatieff now.)

Could it be, excited pundits are punditing, that we could have a Jack Layton led coalition government? Or even — gasp! — a New Democrat government?

Uh, no. There will not be an NDP national government in Canada, and never will be, because I’m not prepared to leave the country quite yet. And I have a hunch that the New Democrats are being set up for a bit of a comedown on election night.

The most recent poll put the NDP at an unheard of 30 per cent  nationally. Where does all this support come from?

Well, it’s primarily from Quebec, where as of the Harris-Decima poll Friday, the NDP was at an astonishing 42 per cent, 20 points ahead of the Bloc Quebecois. This is good news if it holds. It shows that the Quebec voter might just have grown exhausted with the BQ’s act, and it looking for something new. The Liberals have never recuperated in Quebec since the sponsorship scandal, and the Tories haven’t been strong in Quebec since Brian Mulroney. The option, for the disaffected Quebec voter, appears to be the NDP. Only in Quebec would I cheer that development.

But the backlash has begun. Stories are appearing about Quebec NDP candidates who were so certain of defeat, that they took holidays during the campaign. One candidate in an almost entirely French-speaking riding doesn’t even speak French! In the dying days of the campaign, more and more of these stories will begin to emerge, threatening the NDP revival.

But let’s look further in the so-called NDP surge. In Ontario, where elections are decided, the NDP is still a distant third. The Liberals, in the Friday poll, are the top party, followed by the Conservatives. Could it be that Ontario voters remember what it was like to have an NDP government, and are rallying behind the Liberals?

The Prairies are, with a couple of isolated cases, a lost cause for the NDP. In BC, they’re in second, but well behind the Tories.

So the NDP ‘surge’ is mostly in Quebec. Yes, they’ll pick up seats, but mostly at the expense of the BQ. I think, however, that when the unsuitability of NDP candidates becomes clearer, their support will soften.

Then there’s the fading Liberal vote. Ignatieff has not engaged the population, and the Liberals have run a miserable campaign, trying to out-flank the NDP on the left, giving the NDP a boost. I think a lot of Canadians are saying, ‘If I’m going to vote for a left-leaning party, might as well go with the real deal.’ But one thing the polls will do is galvanize the existing Liberal vote. They’re scared, and the thought of becoming Canada’s third place party will get soft or lazy Liberal voters out in droves to prevent a historic humiliation.

As for me, I don’t now which is worse. Jack Layton and the NDP having any kind of power in Ottawa, or Stephen Harper getting a majority. It’s like having your choice of execution methods — lethal injection or the chair.

How Harper can block the Bloc.

Things have been pretty quiet on the political front lately, what with all the snow and cold and with most politicians taking a winter break somewhere warm.

But Mr. Warmth himself, Stephen Harper, sat down for an interview with whatever they call the company that owns the Journal now (Post-Southam? Post-Age? Postmedia?) where he floated the idea that it’s time to end subsidies to political parties.

Well, as you may recall, this little idea nearly scuttled his government in the past. When he made that same suggestion, the oppo parties banded together and threatened to bring down his government. That forced the first of his prorogation stalls, and his government was saved, and the country was saved from the spectacle of having Bloc Quebecois creeps in cabinet positions.

But Harper, despite his near-death experience from the last time, is at it again. He wants to end the subsidies the political parties get per vote won. We’re talking a fair amount of money here — a toonie for every vote won in the previous election, every year. The Conservatives last year got $10.4 million, the Liberals $7.3 million, the NDP $5 million, the Bloc Quebecois $2.8, and the Greens $1.9.

The Tories can afford to propose to end the subsidy because they are swimming in cash, well ahead of the other parties. The loss of $7.3 million could ruin the Liberals. Harper wants to make it an election issue, and it would probably be a good one for him.

And in a way, I agree with him. It’s clearly a politically motivated move — cripple the other guy is never a bad strategy — but in a couple of ways, he’s (shudder) correct. But he’s going at it the wrong way, all scorched earth and all. I have a couple of suggestions that some of the other parties might support.

First, how about matching, or close to matching subsidies? According to the Hill Times, in 2009 Last year, the Conservatives raised $17.7-million compared to the second place Liberals, who raised $12.58-million. The NDP raised $7.4-million while the Bloc raised $889,763.24. (Yes, 24 cents.) How about fifty cents for every dollar raised? That would give the Conservatives about $9 million, the Liberals $6, the NDP $3.5 million and the Bloc about $450,000. Everybody gets money, but only based on how much you can raise.

But an even better idea, and one I can’t believe Harper didn’t try, is to base subsidies on not just number of votes won, but on number of candidates. Frankly, it pisses me off to no end that the Bloc, a party that wants to destroy our country, gets taxpayer money to run their party. In fact, almost all of their operating money comes from federal taxpayers. So, to get the NDP and Liberals onside, make federal funding contingent not just on votes, but on a formula based on number of candidates run. Let’s say you get funding only if you have candidates in 90 per cent of Canadian ridings, or offer candidates to 90 per cent of  the Canadian population. Put enough restrictions on the funding so that the Bloc will be shut out of the money unless they find a way to run candidates outside of Quebec. Right now, the Bloc just sits in its Quebec enclave, runs for election and wins easily, and reaps the rewards. Subsidies should be for NATIONAL parties only. If Harper made a proposal along those lines, the NDP and Liberals would happily support it and drop the Bloc like a hot potato, perhaps delivering a death blow to their Quebec rivals.

It’s a disgrace that we give them money to support their cause, which is the slow destruction of Canada. Harper should show some gumption and propose a law aimed directly at the Bloc, and dare the other parties to vote against it.