Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

The little blue fortress

It’s a funny way to run a campaign. Stephen Harper is talking up the need for his coveted majority, but his campaign approach – banning, and forcibly kicking out, undecided voters and non-partisan onlookers from his Conservative rallies – seems very strange. What are rallies for, if not to generate new party enthusiasm? And what use is any such enthusiasm if it doesn’t reach contagion in the wider world? Hard-core CPC cheerleaders won’t get to vote twice – how much more excitable do they need to be?

It seems like a dumb approach, but it’s of course a tactical decision. Harper wants his majority, not through bringing new votes onside, but through simply getting his entire existing base out to vote on 2 May. He wants to whip up all the sworn-allies into such a state of anti-Ignatieff frenzy that they’ll simply out-participate the majority of Canadians – you know, non-Conservatives – on election day.

Canny, if only the Canadian arithmetic worked in his favour. Regardless of whether 100% of Harper’s hard-base come to vote, it’s probably not enough. In Facebook speak, Stephen Harper simply doesn’t have enough friends.

This is not, of course, a new thing for the Cons – it’s at the heart of how they communicate and conduct themselves. Last summer, in effort to be a little better informed (about communication styles, if not about actual policy!) I thought I’d subscribe to all the federal parties’ online newsletters (except, to my shame, the Greens. Sorry Elizabeth!).

It’s a simple process – you visit the party website, you register the email address to which you prefer receiving what I call “useful spam,” and rub your eager hands in anticipation of lots of new political bumpf to fill your inbox.

And so it is that I get lots of emails from Michael Ignatieff and team – today, he says:

How Stephen Harper’s Conservatives decide to do a Facebook background check on everyone at their rallies, while ignoring the criminal past of a senior advisor like Bruce Carson is a mystery to me.

But I’ll tell you what. We’ve had thousands and thousands of Canadians show up at Liberal rallies from Vancouver to St. John’s. And all they hear at the door is “Come on in to the Big Red Tent.”

I also get messages from Jack Layton and team. Tons, in fact. Today, he says:

For years, your priorities have been pushed aside in Ottawa.

Your life is getting more expensive. Your health care services are being ignored. And the Liberal-style scandals are pushing your family’s priorities aside.

Ottawa is broken – and it’s time to fix it.

I have a team that’s ready to fight for you.

And yes, I get messages from Gilles Duceppe and company. The Bloc is apparently so excited to communicate with a voter registered at a B.C. postal code, that today, they even bothered to email me about their new campaign theme song:

Le Bloc Québécois a récemment dévoilé la ritournelle de sa campagne électorale. Écrite et interprétée par Jason Hudon, les arrangements musicaux sont l’œuvre de Mike Sawatzky, le guitariste principal du légendaire groupe québécois Les Colocs.

Anyone want to wager a guess how many messages I’ve received from Team Harper?

*crickets* *sagebrush drifting over the arid valley bed*

I always found this odd. Here I am, a Canadian voter, signing up to their website, asking them to spam me with all manner of propaganda, and they never so much as said hello. The only reason I could deduce, given that they cannot be accused of being relaxed and disorganised on the PR front, is that they inferred through running my email address against Facebook and what have you, that I was not a serious Conservative voter. I was an imposter. I might use their newsletters in dark socialist rituals of some kind. In short, they wrote me off.

In a manner, they were right. I am more likely to grow bat wings out of my shoulder blades than support a CPC candidate in the year 2011. But the fact they simply do not give a rat’s ass about seducing new, moderate, curious Canadians into their fold, speaks to me of a single-minded (and, frankly deluded) get-out-the-base strategy, and nothing more.

Have at it, I say. But, as David McGuinty told them so recently: too bad, so sad – you don’t got the numbers.

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

Battle Royale, Twitter style

I smile when people call this the Twitter Election. It has the air of revolution about it, doesn’t it? As though the normal political condition of the Canadian citizen is ashen-minded apathy – but now, with Twitter, we will magically become transformed into eager and fearless critics of an oppressive double-helix state-media establishment! Just like in Egypt!

Perhaps a blogger should watch his trap when it comes to balking at citizen-generated comment. But, at least for me, it seems difficult to use 140 characters to say anything more useful than “Here’s a link to something much longer and more interesting.”

I can’t guarantee this is more interesting, but it certainly is longer. I’ve decided to draw up a second instalment of an experiment last week, with 140-word reviews of each party’s performance to date. It’s like Twitter, but Mega.

Conservatives: I honestly wonder how often senior Conservatives look each other in the eye, shrug, laugh, and admit: “I have absolutely no idea how we’re staying ahead.” Indeed, enjoying a 14% lead, according to Nanos? It absolutely beggars belief. Harper does himself no favours. Antagonising the press with “five-questions-a-day” is needless and feeds into the control-freak narrative. Criminals in the employ of the PMO should be a scandal: that Harper shrugs it off is just a scandal further. They’ve been reactive and uninspired, trotting out old chestnuts on gun freedom, and dispensing with billions in dubious spending promises. Ontarians seem especially enthusiastic, which may be a consequence of the departure of Day and Strahl, and the pronounced Mike-Harrisification of Harper’s senior team? I’d like to threaten to leave the country if Harper wins a majority, but, dang it, I’m already gone.

Bloc: Duceppe’s biggest problem (if there is such a thing as a problem for the Bloc, who certainly enjoy milking our broken electoral system for every last drop) is deciding how to define the threshold of his outrage. He can turn red and scream bloody murder about Lower Churchill. He can rage that Ottawa is an anti-Quebec, imperialist, nefarious hell-spawned engine of neverending betrayal that shackles the potential of all Quebeckers. But he can not go so far as to get deep into sovereignty talk anymore. That just alienates his soft base. How do you escalate the outrage far enough to suck in wavering federalists, without scaring off wavering nationalists? He doesn’t really know. And maybe he doesn’t care. He could spend the whole campaign peeing in the road and shoplifting from corner shops, and still vacuum up 50-odd seats. Sigh.

Liberals: Still super impressed with the performance, but slightly anxious they’ve peaked too soon. Releasing the platform early is good, but it kind of gets lost in the noise of the fact they had a surprisingly solid week previous, and had introduced the heaviest-hitting policy points already. I’m sensing one of two things: either Canada is drunk, or pollsters are drunk. Why aren’t the Liberals winning? The LPC have reached dizzying highs of 32% but, as a natural consequence of their left-leaning strategy, none of this has hurt the Conservatives. There isn’t much more of the soft-left vote for them to poach, which is where LPC emphasising ethical scandal is important. They need to say “Fraud and contempt are not conservative values. Conservative voters, like all Canadians, need to punish Harper for abusing our trust and taking the country for granted.”

Greens: The biggest coverage the Greens have had so far has been through the Debate Debate, which, however bad the news is for them, it’s been an opportunity for them to feature in a fair amount of press. It’s a great shame that they’re excluded, and also that a broadcast consortium has such power to determine the format of the debate (not that any of the HoC leaders protested very hard). It’s an arbitrary logic – the GPC have no seats in the HoC, but then, the Bloc don’t have any candidates anywhere in the RoC, and have zero capacity to produce a new Prime Minister. The Greens have an opportunity to use this to their advantage. Turn the campaign into one of “the status quo,” implicating every other party as complicit in an Establishment Massive, versus the suppressed, undervalued, solitary change-makers.

NDP: I’m feeling for the NDP. Their policy points have underwhelmed, and it seems the Liberals’ collective verve has taken wind out of their sails. Jack Layton has responded as well as he could to a range of questions, but he’s stuck watching the perennial NDP nightmare unfold – Liberals campaigning like the NDP, but with the added barb of “No one can stop Conservatives but Liberals.” It happens every election, but as Harper is a particularly nasty form of Conservative, perhaps the ABC vote is a bigger factor than normal – and, in more cases, it’s gravitating to the Liberals. Ridings where NDP have been second to CPC, Layton’s employing Liberal approaches: “Only NDP can beat Harper here.” O.K. But it muddles their overall message of “strategic voting is for dupes. Vote with your heart for the Canada you want.” Oh dear.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s hard being a swinger

My girlfriend would insist that I elaborate on that.

Elections force decisions. For those in a “base” of any description, it’s not so much the case – and part of me envies it. Loyal partisans can dedicate their considerable energies to converting wavering voters to the cause, to plugging their predetermined messiahs, and they don’t have to spend quite as much time wondering to themselves who it is they want to vote for. It’s called loyalty for a reason.

I’m afraid I’m a fiercely disloyal, oscillating left-wing cruiser, who’s voted for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the UK, and for the NDP, Greens, and Liberals in Canada over a range of elections. It’s nice to come into a new campaign with fresh eyes. But there’s a struggle as well – perhaps I’m less disloyal, and more multiloyal. Every potential choice feels like a betrayal to the consequent non-choice. Hence a deep loathing for FPTP!

However addled I may be by indecision at this early stage, I thought I’d like to review the parties and leaders so far. Rather than Twitter’s 140 character shackles, let’s nonetheless be brief – 140 words per party! A few ruminations on how the campaign appears so far…

Greens: A funny place to start, since there’s nothing of import I’ve been able to glean about the Greens so far. Nor am I especially likely to vote for them. I feel for the party’s struggle to be heard on the national stage – a party that can command around 10% support deserves coverage. But, as they command around 0% of the seats, they just don’t get it. I fear for May’s prospects in Saanich – Gulf Islands. The hippyish Gulf Islands part I get, but Saanich? Wealthy retirees with monster homes do not strike me as fertile territory. It’s frankly a disaster of a riding for anyone. I do want to see May in the debates again, though; if she can’t demand the national stage normally, she can at least get the chance to hold her own in front of her rivals.

Liberals: I know I’m living abroad, but what I can tell, Ignatieff is actually doing brilliantly – as is the party write large. No gaffes yet. Quick, sharp rebuttals to dumb Harper policies like a “tax break for families, maybe, in five years.” He’s pouncing on Harper’s reference to “ethnics” as “you people.” He’s drumming away at key ethics slogans, and chipping away at the “prudent economic steward” garbage that Tories try to own. Liberals seem organised, serious, competitive, believeable, innovative and frank. The university grants scheme is smart. Would like to see it promote cross-provincial study, frankly. It blows my freaking mind that they aren’t yet 10 points ahead. Despair a bit at Ignatieff ruling out a coalition, but recognise his rationale. It’s just toxic in poor Canadia. If an election were held in five seconds, I’d vote for Iggy.

NDP: Layton’s the best leader of the lot, and the nicest, classiest, and most natural by far. I’m pleased he’s campaigning in Edmonton and Saskatchewan, and they need to keep it up. Would like to see other prominent NDPers taking up some campaign work too (are they?). Mulcair, Martin, Davies all out there, illustrating the “team” dynamic to contrast against Harper-authoritarianism. I feel “Jack Layton” branding on everything over-eggs his charm, and is slightly offensive to the depth/breadth of the party. Like many, I want NDP to grow, but not at expense of Liberals! Painful. Where’s it likely? Prairie urban centres, the Far North, much of B.C., and Quebec. I want them going whole hog in those areas. “CPC taking prairie voters for granted” is brilliant. Policy so far a bit middling. Credit card limits? What’s this about?

Conservatives: Regardless of Ibbitson’s praise, I honestly find the Harper campaign so far to be an embarrassment. I’m trying to see it from the perspective of loyal, or potential, CPC voters. Does yammering on about coalitions, like some sort of dysfunctional 1970s robot, when Ignatieff has gone so far as to rule it out explicitly, not reek of desperation? It’s not only dishonest, it’s pathetic. They seem to have no Plan B narrative to coalition-fear-mongering. “Ageist” and “you ethnic people” optics are nasty little bumps in the road for them. “Family tax breaks if you’re lucky in 2016” is a joke, and they know it. No convincing defense of their record so far – I thought CPC was a well-oiled machine? Doesn’t seem at ease, and will fail badly in debates, I reckon. What will “real Canadians” think, eh?

Bloc: Sigh. Ballsy and clever to trot out the 2004 coalition letter. Nice way to put Harper on the back foot. Otherwise, what can you say? No sovereigntist talk, just “Quebec is great” talk. Am frankly glad Parizeau emerged from sarcophagus to call for big separate Quebec state, as it flummoxes Duceppe plans to morph BQ into a fuzzy regionalist social democrat party without any serious separation leanings. I think he’s been a useful thorn in Harper’s Quebec ambitions, but that’s perhaps a bit of spiteful glee on my part. What I’d love to see is Duceppe campaigning cross-Canada trying to explain his vision of the universe and, specifically, the Canadian federation. Wouldn’t that be in Quebec’s interests too? To show the softer, gentler, cuddlier side of Quebec nationalism? Oh well, perhaps he is not ballsy after all. Ha ha.

O.K., the “ha ha” may not be the cleverest way to get to 140 words on the Bloc, but anyhoo, it’s no less clever than some of the analysis we’ve seen on the Globe and Mail so far.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ottawa: the healthy scratch

So Québec, along with Ville du Québec, are able to go ahead with a new Colisée on their own after all. Whether Gary Bettman cares or not is a whole other matter!

Who’s offside in this whole mini-drama? Who scores the biggest? Has Harper incurred a 2-minute minor for delay of game? Will Duceppe get his own 2-minute minor for (attempted) too many men on the ice? Are there any other bad hockey-politics metaphors we can use?

On balance, it’s probably a minor loss for the Tories – they’ll win some relief in the West, where Ottawa faced “Québec-pandering” allegations should they have ponied up muiltimillions for a new arena (one with only the most speculative of potential uses) in La Belle Province. But, in a way, so what? Harper can (and does) pretty much anything he wants, and it doesn’t send Western Conservatives running to other parties with new affections.

But of course, it may hurt the CPC around Québec City, where they’ve only been holding onto seats by their toe-picks, and the BQ will salivate at the prospect of retrieving those seats now.

This doesn’t make it a clear win for the Bloc more broadly, though. Duceppe’s front-and-centre rationale for his party is to leverage more fiscal goodness out of Ottawa, or else “referendum-times-are-here-again.” There are vulnerabilities to such a platform. On the arena front, he’s failed in this game, and has consequently laid bare the fact that two levels of government (municipal and provincial) were, all along, enough to finance the proposed arena. Putting Ottawa on the hotseat for this was just guffery and bluffery. Will souvereigntistes lose face?

It was always ironic that the Bloc could, in the very same breath, profess both the viability of Québec’s national independence, while also insisting that Ottawa’s help was absolutely indispensable in building so much as an ice rink. Now, Duceppe might be better able to quell that irony and spin this as: “You see? Who needs Ottawa? Not us!”

So, it appears the CPC and the Bloc both wobble and gain in minor amounts here. It might all have been quite different if the Liberals had been bolder and clearer earlier. Imagine if the Liberals had made a clear case from the start, saying “it would be fiscal madness for the government to start building NHL rinks, especially for cities with no prospect of getting NHL teams.” Today, they’d be in the position of saying “They’re building it on their own, that’s great, good luck to them. It’s all working out the way we would have hoped, and we didn’t spend six-months dithering over mixed messages like the Harperites did.”

Oh well. Perhaps there is still room for Ignatieff to use this whole story in an accusatory narrative whereby the government is suffering from policy drift, suffering from acute shruggery, and not knowing what it’s going to do next, or how. Harper as Darryl Sutter, if you like? (is that unsportsmanlike?)

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,

Parliament of puppets

As I prepare for a month-long trip to South America this week, I thought I’d leave you with a little puppet show I put together last year to commemorate the prorogation of Parliament. Harper, Ignatieff, Layton and co. all have their chance to shine in what served as a little alternative House of Commons, established in a shoebox in my kitchen. Even better than the real thing 🙂 Enjoy!

I’ll try to update the blog with travel-related bits of interest while I’m away, but will probably leave any of the normal political bits and bobs until January, when the lure of mountain treks and dinners of steak and riojas have become but distant memories. Sniff.

Adios till then!

Filed under: Canada, Politics, Travel, , , , , , ,

Hockey Canada’s own goal

Following on from the unity theme, a good article here on a head-shaking development. Doesn’t a separate Team Québec kind of ruin hockey’s great, all-inclusive, unifying power?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , ,

Gilles’ secret world tour

Trying to find evidence that Duceppe’s been on a sovereigntist publicity drive in Europe isn’t easy. Unless Google is broken, not a single British source has covered his visit to Scotland this week, excepting 1) an announcement from the University of Edinburgh, where he gave his actual speech, and 2) well, Polygonic. Which is a British source, after all. 🙂

Google searches for “gilles duceppe barcelona” and “gilles duceppe scotland” reveal nothing other than Canuckistani media covering his trip.

In their solitude, the Globe and NP seem quaint through the high drama with which they introduced Duceppe’s international tour. But it’s maybe a typically Canadian anguish. Outside the Ottawa conversation, no one has noticed a thing. Is that good, or bad?

More than complaining that Duceppe is using the Canadian taxpayer’s dime to trumpet separation, perhaps the concern should be that he’s using the taxpayer’s dime and hasn’t managed to provoke a single peep of interest in the condition of Canadian unity.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, UK, , , , , ,

The atom that wouldn’t split

Gilles Duceppe is courting European powers in support for his fantasy republic. Not sure that visiting Catalunya and Scotland with an independence drum to beat is going to especially endear the Spanish and British overall, but hey, solidarity has a price.

Duceppe points to one of his key principles here: “the indivisibility of the province.”

Sorry to split hairs, but if you can split Canada, you can certainly split Québec. You could even split Montréal. You could go on and split Outremont and Côte-St-Luc and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

I used to live in a block of flats on Boul. Décarie that I thought would make a stunning republic. A lovely garden to grow our veg, and a gym in the basement we could rig up to generate human-powered energy. And my national anthem would be the greatest song that ever took to air: the theme song from Star Trek Voyager (tell me that would not sound wicked after taking Olympic gold).

The “indivisibility” assertion is not uncommon among aspirant dividers. The moment that the Kosovar microstate split from Serbia, it unfurled a flag depicting a map of the new territory. The message being: these precise borders outline the very shape of our national heart. We will defy the merest snip with all kinds of merciless fury.

Lending sympathy to internal minorities doesn’t seem to be a major attribute of the great patriots. Goose and ganders, you guys. Goose and ganders.

Conversely, interesting news from Scandinavia. CO2-Art blog recently turned up this news:

When asked what they thought of the idea of creating a common Nordic state, 11 percent said they were “very favourable” and 31 percent said they were “favourable,” according to a poll conducted by the Oxford Research institute on behalf of the Nordic Council.

Over 40% support to unify five states with five languages? That’s incredible. They say that unity would allow for a better resourced social democratic system, and a better capacity to support the high quality of life they enjoy. Surely sentiments like that, if nothing else, put the sovereigntists to shame.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , ,

Duceppe and the Bloc: 20 years and counting

Gilles Duceppe today celebrates 20 years as a Bloc Quebecois MP, as the party itself enjoys its 20th year in federal life. The Globe today provides a short biography of the man, full of respect for his style and perseverance. It’s a testament to the staying power of the party and the longevity of Quebec nationalism.

The Bloc is such a marvel. Its goal is the creation of an ethnic state, but it speaks the language of civic values. Its founding principles are based in a rejection of pluralism, but it appeals to immigrant Montrealers as much as to pur-laine white Quebecers in Lac-St-Jean. It exists to give Quebec nationalism a voice in Ottawa, and does so by divorcing Quebec nationalists from the actual levers of federal power.

Duceppe’s longevity and continued support, despite the ever distant realization of his goals, is fascinating. In the same surreal vein, I suspect his downfall would really come in actually achieving his goals, as the nationalist dreams would become hard-headed and uncomfortable realities. Instead, it’s his (and his cause’s) perpetual underdoggism and perpetual struggle that generates and renews the nationalist appeal, and I suppose will do forever.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Canada’s Shoebox Parliament

Ah, memory lane. A lane of wonderful memories.

After a skinful of beers following the anti-proroguation demonstrations in London (UK) last January, I got the cockamamie idea to create my own puppet show of Canada’s Parliament. Bereft of a real working parliament in Ottawa, it seemed like the only way to get a solid fix of political titillation. That’s right, titillation.

Here in the dreary midsummer, impatient I suppose for Parliament to resume once more, I thought I’d share the video with you now. It’s nearly eight minutes long, but so, so worth it.

Enjoy!

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

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