Polygonic

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

MacKay: We’re just as dodgy with our accounting as Sponsorship-era Liberals

Duhhhhr! Ooonnggg... errrrggg....

Out of the mouths of babes.

It’s been an awkward delight watching Conservative spinmeisters trot out Plan A through Plan W in their Catalogue of Flimsy Excuses over the F-35 affair. Blaming bureaucrats didn’t cut it, even blaming the other parties hasn’t cut it. One waits with bated breath for Harper to find a new Guergis-figure he can throw under a bus and hope to be done with it.

Until then, Peter MacKay’s latest delicious position is that the $10 billion difference in Tory cost estimates and actual cost comes down to a simple “difference in accounting” between the DND and the government.

A difference in accounting. Ten. Billion. Dollars. The very act of stringing these words together with a straight face ought to be grounds for dismissal. What is gross misconduct if not forgetting to count Ten Billion Dollars? Or worse yet, remembering to, but not caring?

You just can’t square the idea that “sober stewards of the economy” can shrug off Ten Billion Dollars as a blip in accounting practices, and MacKay knew it. The argument was more than simply flimsy, it was damaging.

And, what’s the Conservatives’ default damage control strategy again? Oh yes. Blame The Liberals.

Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it leaves the Opposition enfeebled and dumbstruck. But, this time, the strategy has the ring of the truly surreal. Peter MacKay has been marched in front of national television to argue that, because the Liberals once excluded staff, maintenance and fuel costs in procurement of military equipment, the Tories are in their rights to do it too.

The Conservatives, in turn, pointed to a 2004 Liberal government announcement about military helicopters as proof that excluding salary and fuel costs has been common practice for years.

This is precisely how low the Conservatives have sunk. In the midst of ballooning scandal, Peter MacKay has had to come out and announce, with a certain air of righteousness, that his government maintains the same accounting principles as the Liberal Party. And not the Liberals of today – but the Liberals of 2004.

The Liberals of 2004 who, like the Conservatives of 2012, found themselves subject to a damning Auditor General’s report. A report that ultimately vaporised any remaining public trust in the government, liquified the Liberal Dynasty and ushered in The Republic of Harperland.

What did Sheila Fraser say in 2004 again, when the government “wasted money and showed disregard for rules, mishandling millions of dollars”?

“I think this is such a blatant misuse of public funds that it is shocking. I am actually appalled by what we’ve found.”

“I am deeply disturbed that such practices were allowed to happen in the first place. I don’t think anybody can take this lightly.”

In 2004, the Liberals’ proclivity towards subterfuge and black-box budgets were enough to fuel and fan the Conservative rise.

In 2012, though, the Liberals’ proclivity towards subterfuge and black-box budgets seems to mean there is a perfectly acceptable precedent for the Tories to do the same.

Precedents being precedents, though, it’s becoming difficult to see how Harper can ever fully reclaim the trust of a public he has taken for stupid for far too long.

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

A future Liberal Party may want to consider…

There’s a lot of personal tragedy in elections, and it couldn’t get any worse for Michael Ignatieff. He’s finally succumbed to wounds meted out by the most vile, relentless attack ad machinery Canada’s ever seen. Shamefully, a huge hunk of the electorate swallowed it all hook, line and sinker – so much for our compassionate discourse. Turns out Canada is more Zdeno Chara than Wayne Gretzky after all.

Ignatieff will be wondering why he ever bothered, and the scale of this defeat will haunt him forever and ever, though in most respects, he doesn’t deserve that kind of torturous retirement from politics.

After all, he did resist the Big Blue Sauronic Machine more effectively than Stephane Dion ever did, at least personally. The problems in the recent couple of years were that slowness and confusion in Liberal responses to CPC tactics, or to policy generally, were rooted in a broad lack of clarity across Liberal High Command.

The vagueness of today’s Liberal identity isn’t Ignatieff’s fault, nor was it Dion’s, or Martin’s – it’s perhaps a consequence of a phenomenon known as toomanycooksism. Everyone’s got a bright idea about how the LPC should have created itself in the aftermath of the Martin Meltdown in 2006. The problem has been, maybe, that a thousand flowers blooming inside the Big Red Tent did nothing to carve a clear direction. It mitigated directly against it.

And, take heart, Ignatieff – it doesn’t seem, broadly speaking, that Canadians like ousting incumbent governments very much, whatever they do. Trudeau’s Liberals governed for nigh on 16 years. Mulroney had 9. The Chretien-Martin team had 13. We generally tut when we read about African sham democracies that tolerate strongmen at the helm for a decade and more, but in Canada, hell, it’s the pattern.

Harper’s had five years, and sure, he’ll get his nine. It’s been five abysmal years, yes (and Canadians will one day beg the gods for forgiveness that they did not react against it sooner), but the Liberals, as logic would then dictate, have only been out of power for five years – perhaps it’s not been long enough, or easy enough in minority circumstances, to rebuild as they need to.

How might a future Liberal Party manifest itself? Rather soon to say, I guess. But one thought occurs to me – perhaps all this time trying to imitate the NDP platform has led them (ironically?) into a deeper state of empathy with the erstwhile minor party, at least as regards particular electoral injustices.

For example, in “vote-rich Ontario” this election, the NDP only secured 16,000 more votes than the Liberals, across the province. That’s a close race, really. It meant, however, 22 NDP seats and 11 Liberal seats. Amazing! Traditionally, it’s the NDP (and Greens) on the losing end of such cruel electoral arithmetic.

The potential upshot of this? One hopes (and one is very, very patient) that a serious interest in pursuing electoral reform, once the pet project of the so-called fringe parties, might now take root in some part of the current Liberal necropolis. When the Big Red Phoenix rises in the future, will it do so through having advocated for democratic reforms towards a better system?

They have to start thinking big. Perhaps a silver lining for the party is that they’ve found the time to do it.

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, , , , , , , , , , ,

Playing politics out loud

This doesn’t quality as a gaffe, perhaps, but the Liberals best avoid being quite this frank.

The Liberals had also worried coming back to the Commons in January that Stephen Harper would cancel the $6-billion tax cuts, deciding the country just couldn’t afford them. It would deny the Liberals their big issue – and the spending envelope for their programs.

Their entire platform would have been in jeopardy had Mr. Harper changed his mind. “Our biggest fear coming back in the New Year was that he would think twice about the corporate tax cuts,” a senior Ignatieff official said Monday. “But he didn’t do that, he is stubborn, he is ideological and he didn’t do that.”

When you say that you feared Harper might roll back the corporate tax giveaways because it would make campaigning against him tougher, you’re pretty much saying that the issue itself is secondary to the competition.

As always, Jane Taber doesn’t reveal her “senior party sources,” but whoever she/he is, please – we get enough hyperpartisan spin from Team Harper. Let’s stick to the bottom line: corporate tax cuts are inappropriate, full stop.

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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Beautiful day

Happy Friday, Canada – here’s the soundtrack to a collapsing Conservative government 🙂

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

Enough Harper video

A clever new one from the Enough Harper people. Peter Donolo needs to subscribe to these folks asap!

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

A Liberal dream ad?

How fast can Ignatieff speak? If he can say the following in 30 seconds, it’s pretty much exactly the kind of Liberal ad that I’d cheer for.

You can tell a lot about someone by how they talk to you. We have a Prime Minister who has nothing positive to say about his record, and nothing for Canadians to hope for. All he does is talk about the Liberal Party, and he tries to make me out like a monster. Well, I’m not.

If I were him, I’d be scared to talk about the Conservative record too. He gave Canada our biggest deficit in history. He wants to spend billions of dollars on fighter jets that aren’t fit for purpose, dozens of supermax prisons that we don’t need, and huge corporate tax giveaways. Fake lakes and PR. And peanuts for seniors and everyday families across this country.

He has a record of contempt for Parliament, and contempt for Canadians. That’s why he wants to change the subject, and won’t take Canadians’ questions. He takes us for granted.

I’m proud to be a Canadian, and to be a Liberal. We’ve been there to fix big Conservative messes in the past, just like after the Mulroney years. Well, after five years of Harper, we’re ready to do it again.

(Borrowing healthily from Jean Chrétien’s LPC 2009 conference speech in Vancouver – it’s good material, and should be used!).

Recommend this post atProgressive Bloggers

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

♪ ♪ It’s now or never ♪ ♪

The tension is incredible. Even from across the big salty pond, I can hear the soundtrack to Canada’s Election-That-Might-Be ringing in my ears like so many high-strung violins.

Lots of things to watch between now and tomorrow morning. Much attention focusses on Jack Layton, though I find it unfair that, simply because he didn’t choose to nail the NDP’s flag to the mast before the budget was even produced, the media now portrays him as ultimately responsible as to whether or not the writ is dropped. Conservative obstinance? Liberal ambition? These haven’t contributed as much to the development of a 2011 election as NDP budget considerations?

Like it or not, the optics have conspired to put the NDP in the hot seat. Whatever the details of the budget, their main consideration has to be: Is now a good time for an election? And if not now, when?

It’s incredibly hard to read. On the one hand, there appears to be a perfect storm of scandal and abuse, whirling the narrative out of Conservative control. Contempt is a big word, and CPC complaints that the Commons committee was stacked with Opposition members only calls further attention to a democratic fact: the Opposition is the majority.

Couple the ethical transgressions and the abuse of power characterisations with a seat-of-the-pants economic plan (how on earth the “fiscal conservative” and “prudent economic manager” labels stick to Harper is head-slapping stuff. Is it simply because he speaks in calm monotones? Is it the glasses?), and one would think the Conservatives are in about the most dangerous electoral territory they’ve been in since coming to power.

On the other hand – the Cons continue to defy gravity, despite everything. None of their ethical or economic disasters have produced a significant quotient of outrage outside Official Ottawa. It leads some pundits to opine that Canadians mustn’t be paying attention to politics if Conservative support can possibly rise under these circumstances. I can’t help but think along Rick Mercer’s lines: it’s not that Canadians aren’t paying attention – it’s that nothing surprises us anymore:

Apparently our opinion of politics and the people who practice the art is now so low that no matter what the behaviour we’re no longer surprised. It’s like going to a family wedding. Why bother getting upset because uncle Jerry has too much to drink and makes a holy show of himself out on the dance floor? It’s uncle Jerry, that’s what he does.

And so, if Harper abuses that cynicism, he does not necessarily do so at his peril. Infuriating as it may be.

Where does that leave decisions on whether to provoke and election, or not to? Clearly, Harper’s comfortable poll position must be a source of infinite frustration for the Opposition parties. But there are three convictions that stand out to me:

1) These circumstances may be as good as they get. Why wait for even more scandals to amass, while running the real risk that the existing scandals will then have time to fade into the abyss of forgotten yesterdays?

2) The cut and thrust of a campaign may well render the whole of the last year’s polling obsolete as parties and their policies get serious attention. Ignatieff may be who he is, and his leadership indices are not enviable, but he’ll draw a sharp contrast with Harper on the campaign trail, as will Layton (and, as an aside, LPC/NDP vote-splitting is not a new thing, and an election later rather than now doesn’t diminish that age-old danger, unless Big Things Happen).

3) Progressive voters (and we’re a big group, eh?) are so eager to get the chance to have a kick at the electoral can that, should one of either the NDP or the Liberals’ decide to deny an election and support the CPC now, you would hear the stampede of support rumbling away to the other federalist Opposition party in an instant. Neither Ignatieff nor Layton want to see that.

Top it off with bittersweet memories of the NDP “rewriting” Paul Martin’s budget five years ago. It was a source of triumphalism at the time, but all for nought when that hung parliament fell, taking that NDP budget with it. What of a repeat? Layton could support this Flaherty budget today (tomorrow), and come to Canadians afterwards, saying he’s made Parliament work, he’s got some good initiatives locked in for everyday families, the NDP have punched above their weight again, etc. All fine. But who’s betting such measures will see actual light of day? Jack would be naive in the extreme, I think, to accept half-measured promises which the PMO will almost certainly forget about from next week.

An election won’t simply feel good: it’s deserved, and it just might work. If not now, when?

Recommend this post atProgressive Bloggers

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

The Liberal ads

After much discussion in recent days and weeks, the Liberal Party have come out with some harder-hitting advertising. We’ve got:

Abuse of power

and Economy

What do you think of them?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , ,

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