Quotulatiousness

July 29, 2014

Will Alberta lead the way on legalization?

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:28

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells discusses the (rather amazing) fact that support for marijuana legalization in Alberta just went over 50%:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been hitting hard at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s advocacy of marijuana legalization for about a year now. Really hard: I don’t think the extent of the radio, TV and paper campaign against Trudeau and pot has yet been tallied. Here’s one early effort of mine to provide a partial accounting. The Conservative case against today’s Liberals, in fact, can be summed up as a general argument that they lack judgment and their leader lacks more than most; and a specific case that he’s high and wants to get your children high, too.

My own hunch, discussed at length in this column from last September, was that Harper was onto something. Advocates of pot legalization are a loud and self-impressed bunch, I wrote, but they’re balanced by other people in other parts of the country who still greatly fear the demon weed — and outnumbered by many others who don’t care about the disposition of the law and won’t vote for a party just because of its views on pot.

But views change. One suggestion that they’re changing in Canada comes from Faron Ellis at Lethbridge College, who’s done several waves of public-opinion polling in Alberta on social issues. In 2013, for the first time, Ellis and his colleagues found majority support [PDF] in Alberta for decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use. Support for liberalized laws on recreational pot had grown by more than 10 points in only two years. In Alberta.

[...]

I’m not sure how marijuana will play in a general election, or whether it’s salient enough to make any real difference. A year’s polling on political party preferences suggests it hasn’t exactly been a magic bullet against the Trudeau Liberals. Opposition to same-sex marriage was a strong incentive to form a united Conservative party more than a decade ago and, now, that issue has just about vanished as a differentiator among political parties. That sort of thing could happen again on another issue, and Harper must worry that it is.

I’m suspecting that marijuana will turn out to be a big issue in the next federal election — if only because Harper isn’t likely to give up what he thinks is a great weapon against Justin Trudeau. However, if the trend in popular opinion toward legalization continues, that weapon might well turn in his hand.

As Colby Cosh said a few weeks back:

The consciously libertarian vote in this country is not large, but there is a larger, less intellectually coherent “leave me alone” vote — a fraction of the public that is equally tired of drug laws, overpriced cheese, green boondoggles, housing-market fiddling and all the other familiar species of unkillable state intervention. Feeding and watering the Ron Paul-ish voters would be light work for Conservatives if they weren’t so strategically devoted to exploiting soccer-mom fear of drug dealers and other baddies. Paul himself spent 30 years as a tolerated totem, almost a sort of licensed royal jester, within the Republican party.

When Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced his party’s backing for marijuana legalization, we were told by newspapermen, almost with one voice, that he would rue his radicalism. The pundits all know he is in the right on pot, but they do not trust him to articulate the right position. This might be fair, but his espousal of legalization doesn’t seem to have hurt him in the polls yet. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that is taking an awfully long while to fulfill itself.

I’m not all that pleased to see the rise of Justin Trudeau: I suspect his actual policy positions should he become PM would be informed by the “we know better than you” nanny-staters, do-gooders, and earnest interventionists. His sensible position on marijuana may indicate a latent libertarian streak, but is more likely to be a variant of the stopped-clock phenomenon.

July 13, 2014

Trudeau Junior’s personal popularity lifting Grit fortunes

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:48

He may be just a pretty face with great hair, but he has the Harper Conservatives very worried:

Nationally, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have been running second to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in all but seven of 63 polls published by several different firms in the last 15 months.

The most recent one, published last week by Abacus Data, found the Tories trailing the Grits by three points. Abacus also reported this remarkable statistic: 13% — or better than one in ten — of the 5.8 million Canadians who cast a ballot towards a Harper majority government in 2011 would now cast a ballot for one of Trudeau’s Liberal candidates. (The news is even worse for the New Democrats as nearly one in four of the 4.5 million who voted for Jack Layton would now vote for Trudeau.)

In the nine by-elections since Trudeau won the leadership of his party last summer, the federal Conservatives have held four of the five seats in which they were the incumbent — the only loss was to Trudeau’s candidate — but their share of the popular vote has dropped precipitously in many cases while the share of the Liberal vote has risen in every contest, even in a riding like Scarborough-Agincourt that always and forever votes Liberal.

So more and more Canadians are voting for Trudeau when they get the chance and more and more are telling pollsters they’d vote for Trudeau if they had the chance.

This, despite the fact that the Conservative Party of Canada spent $1.5 million on radio and TV ads — mostly TV — in the last year to encourage Canadians to adopt the same low opinion of Trudeau that Conservative HQ has of him.

The net effect? We turn again to this month’s Abacus Poll to find that 37 per cent of Canadians have a positive impression of Trudeau and that number is up, not down, since Abacus last asked the question in March.

The Abacus poll showed some improvement in the last few months in federal Conservative fortunes in B.C. and in Ontario but that is thin gruel for the blue team.

Could this be Harper’s nemesis?

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 24: Canadian Parliament Liberal Party member Justin Trudeau (L) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright participate in a panel discussion during a conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Center for American Progress in the Astor Ballroom of the St. Regis Hotel October 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. Co-founded by former Clinton Administration Chief of Staff John Podesta, the liberal public policy research and advocacy organization is a think tank that rivals conservative policy groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

March 31, 2014

Dimitri Soudas departs, Tories now looking for fourth executive director in six months

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:45

Paul Wells exhausted his supply of italics and exclamation marks in this breathless tale of inside baseball the federal Tory party:

“Today I am writing to direct your full attention to the Confidential Memo I received today from Dimitri Soudas, the dynamic new Executive Director of the Conservative Party hand-picked by Prime Minister Harper,” Sen. Irving Gerstein wrote in a letter to Conservative donors dated 16 days ago.

Soudas had written to Gerstein — Confidentially! — to make a “new, urgent and pressing request” to raise $1.23 million within 90 days, a “critical need” that was “essential in keeping our Conservative Majority in power — and keeping Stephen Harper as Canada’s Prime Minister.” Well, like you, I’m sure Gerstein dropped everything upon receiving this Confidential Memo from dynamic hand-picked Dimitri — or DHPD as he’s known in tippy-top Conservative circles — so he could rush that memo out to donors. Nancy! Cancel lunch at the wading pool. We’ve got a red-ball from Hand-Picked Dimitri! Start licking the envelopes — this one’s a Code Seven!

And barely two weeks later it has all turned to ashes, because three days after Hand-Picked Dimitri sent his Confidential Memo to Irv describing the urgent, pressing, critical, essential crisis menacing Stephen Harper’s very future and — as if this even needed saying! — the Commonwealth’s along with it, Hand-Picked Dimitri reportedly drove his life partner Eve Adams to a riding-association meeting in Oakville-North Burlington, where Adams is not the incumbent MP, and waited outside in the hall while she made enough of a scene to get herself kicked out. Then he fired the guy who wrote to the party complaining about her behaviour. What a coincidence.

[...]

This latest uproar is more of a sensation in the Queensway bubble than in the real world, where most people had the luxury of not knowing who Soudas is. It contributes to the feeling that Harper’s majority mandate has been snakebit. Lately when the PM sticks in his thumb he has not managed to handpick many plums: Mike Duffy, Nigel Wright, Marc Nadon, Soudas. Tonight it emerged that Justin Trudeau swore at a charity boxing match. The PM’s spokesman said the incident spoke poorly of Trudeau’s judgment.

March 19, 2014

Running a Canadian political campaign

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:14

At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson explains the nuts and bolts of setting up and running a federal political campaign (in this particular example, he’s discussing the Liberal Party of Canada):

In order to run a political campaign you need many people. You need a leader, who is the public face of the party and all around political Messiah. You’ll also need lots of overpaid and over credentialed back office strategists. If you’re wondering what a “strategist” does it depends on the individual and the party. Some fetch coffee and others drink that coffee. It’s an open question as to which of these two groups is the least valuable to a political campaign. My bet is on the coffee drinkers.

Beyond the Messiah and his coffee fetching / drinking entourage there are some actual technical people. There are pollsters who know something about math, admittedly just statistics rather than anything with letters and weird Greek looking symbols, but stats is a type of math so we’ll give them a pass. Then there are the IT people who design the website. There are also the communications people. In days gone by these were writers, as in people who loved and respected the English language. Today writers have been replaced by “communications specialists.” This latter group treats the English language the way a sailor treats a Marseilles whore.

The above groups are paid political operatives. Their salaries are quite pricey, since bull shitting is apparently a highly marketable skill set in modern Canada. But to run a big political campaign you need a lot more people. Someone has got to knock on doors, nail in signs, man phone banks and get insulted by angry voters. To pay all these people is beyond the resources of a Canadian political party whose annual budgets are rounding errors in most US Senatorial races. That’s why you need volunteers.

[...]

So why would an otherwise semi-rational person volunteer for a political campaign? Well there are the idealists fighting for a better world. God Bless Them. No one else will. This explains a significant portion of those who volunteer for the Conservatives and the NDP. The Liberal Party hasn’t had any principles since they buried Laurier, both figuratively and literally. A sane person no more joins the Liberal Party out of idealism than a man visits a prostitute in search of true love.

That’s two whore jokes in almost as many paragraphs. That’s quality writing people. Appreciate it.

The Grits are the party of political operatives. There are the actual paid political operatives and then there are the interns, otherwise known as volunteers. You volunteer for the Liberal Party largely because you believe that one day, should the political stars align, you too will have someone else fetch the coffee. Besides it looks good on the law school application.

February 24, 2014

Paul Wells on Justin’s speech, plus Harper in Zombieland

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:11

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells says that as a result of Justin Trudeau’s leadership of the Liberal Party, Canadian politics just got interesting:

“It is a fundamental economic responsibility for the Prime Minister of Canada to help get our resources to global markets,” Trudeau said. “More and more, the way to do that is with a robust environmental policy that gives assurances to our trading partners that those resources are being developed responsibly.”

That bland excerpt drew one of several long standing ovations. I’ve seen earlier Liberal crowds, for longer than I would ever have thought possible, haul themselves to their feet for jarring, overly laboured, awkward or barely comprehensible lines delivered by a succession of over-credentialed stumblebums. This was different. This enthusiasm came more naturally to this audience.

In interviews on my book tour I’ve used a gruesome analogy to explain Stephen Harper’s success at keeping his Conservative base long after Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark started to lose theirs (in Mulroney’s case, through the spectacular defection of thousands of militants and millions of voters to the upstart Reform Party). To people who spend their lives calling themselves conservatives, Clark and Mulroney weren’t conservative. In an early episode of the TV show Walking Dead, post-apocalyptic humans realize that if they smell like zombies they can walk among them. Stephen Harper smells like a conservative to Conservatives. They trust him and will go far with him, even when the direction seems uncertain or confusing.

Justin Trudeau is the first Liberal leader since Jean Chrétien who smells like a Liberal to Liberals. And in the most intriguing part of the speech, he set about doing to Harper what Harper has been so energetically doing to one Liberal leader after another: peeling the party base off the leader.

“Many Canadians who voted Conservative last time are beginning to cast a weary eye on this government,” he said.

“I say this to the grassroots Conservatives out there, in communities across this country. We might not agree all the time on everything. We might disagree about a great many things, but I know we can agree on this: Negativity cannot be this country’s lifeblood. It may be the way of the Conservative Party’s of Canada current leadership, but it is not the way of those Canadians who voted Conservative.”

February 22, 2014

Federal Liberals to switch emphasis to the economy

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:37

David Akin recounts the last few federal campaigns the Liberal Party ran and the dismal results they achieved:

When the Conservative war room in the 2011 general election first saw video of then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff hoarsely exhorting Canadians to “rise up!”, they could hardly believe their good fortune.

As Maclean’s political editor Paul Wells reports in his latest book, The Longer I’m Prime Minister, Conservative operatives at first thought it was a hoax. But, no, there was Ignatieff running around the country, literally calling for a revolutionary overthrow in the midst of the worst recession since the Depression.

“You’ve got Stephen Harper on the one hand saying times are dangerous and we need a stable government and then you got a guy yelling at people to rise up?” a Conservative told Wells.

Canadians, of course, did not rise to Ignatieff’s call to arms, and instead dumped Liberals in record proportions. New Democrats and Conservatives had stuck doggedly to themes that revolved around pocketbook issues and reaped the electoral rewards.

The Liberals ignored pocketbook issues, too, in 2008 focusing instead on Stephane Dion’s “Green Shift”. Dion’s plan could quite easily have been sold as a job creation plan with a huge tax cut but instead was sold as the solution for a problem — climate change — Canadians were not nearly worried about as much their own household economic security.

And in 2006, Paul Martin had a rock-solid economic record that should have helped him glide right by the sponsorship scandal and back to power. Incredibly, he tried to seal the deal in the last weeks of the campaign with a surprise pledge to eliminate the “notwithstanding clause.” Riiiight! Canadians love to vote for parties promising constitutional amendments!

This time, the party appears to have decided to fight the 2015 election campaign on economic grounds, and Justin Trudeau’s video appearance is intended to be the beginning of that new tack. As Akin points out, the Tories and NDP have been occupying that part of the agenda for the last few years, so the Liberals have to find a way to draw the public attention to them and away from the other parties. That may be a key advantage for them in media terms, as Trudeau is far more mediagenic than Harper or Mulcair, so they have a fighting chance to catch attention but still need to work on what to do when they get it. The next election is starting to look more interesting all the time.

Update: Stephen Gordon is attending the Liberal convention and while he applauds them for allowing non-party members to sit in on their economic discussions, he’s not blown away by the quality of the economic arguments and suggestions:

I don’t want to be overly harsh (really!), because the proposals were the result of a lot of work and thought on the part of the people bringing them forward. Engagement on that level is something we need more of. The problem is that they came from people whose views on economics have been largely conditioned by the dirigiste approach that Liberal governments have adopted in the past. I counted no fewer than nine calls for a ‘National Strategy’, a few ‘National Policies’ and countless other ways of spending enormous amounts of money, often for no better reason than ‘it’d be really neat if we had this.’ For example, the “Building a More Competitive Economy” session was chock-a-block with proposals for infrastructure spending, and bereft of anything that would have actually created more competition in the Canadian economy.

The fault lies within the policy process itself. None of the proposals were accompanied with estimates of their costs, and I’m informed that party members are warned against discussing costs when they put their proposals together. (I can only infer that the party would rather avoid controversial stories on proposals that had not been endorsed by the leadership.) This is unfortunate, because cost-benefit analysis is at the heart of economic policy analysis. Virtually all of the policy initiatives proposed here bring some benefits, but the really hard and interesting question is whether or not these benefits outweigh their costs. The problem is that answering this question is the prerogative of the leadership, and not the delegates.

February 20, 2014

Even when he does nothing, Justin still gets great press

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:18

Paul Wells discusses the upcoming Liberal Party convention in Montreal, and the evergreen topic of Justin Trudeau’s ability to get loving press coverage even when he’s not doing or saying anything at all:

… Justin Trudeau, whose party has led the others in national polls for 10 months. Since Trudeau has been the Liberal leader for the same length of time, he has become a figure of some fascination, not least among the members and supporters of other parties. They are convinced the coltish young man, who first set foot in 24 Sussex Drive at the same moment he first set foot anywhere at all, has been given a free ride by the press gallery. Not just a free ride: a leg up. Perhaps even a leg over. In my own case I’ve gone about it in odd fashion, by publishing a 400-page book about Stephen Harper whose thesis is that the Prime Minister is eternal, but you knew I was devious when you walked in.

The Liberals’ opponents have compensated for the gallery’s failure to give Trudeau proper scrutiny by scruting him as hard as they can. The Conservatives have spent millions of dollars on commercial radio ads — in Punjabi, Cantonese, Mandarin and English — warning parents that Trudeau will give their kids marijuana. The Liberals have spent large sums rebutting the Conservative ads with their own. This fight has been going on for four months and may now stand as the most sustained bout of pre-writ campaign advertising in your lifetime. Newspaper reporters, who do not listen to commercial radio and are not sure they believe it exists, have covered almost none of it.

But if the Conservatives attack Trudeau for four months on the radio — and every day in the Commons, and almost as often in email blasts to Conservative donors — and the Liberals still lead, are the Conservative attacks failing? Hard to know. Maybe the Liberals would be less popular if the Conservative back bench and Ezra Levant stopped talking about him. Or maybe they’d be riding even higher, carried aloft on the praise of complacent scribes. Politics rarely lets us test counterfactuals properly.

But if Trudeau’s big mouth reliably gets him into trouble — a proposition routinely argued by his opponents while they are on breaks from trying to get him into trouble — then the Liberals’ Montreal convention is a risky proposition for him. He has two big speeches scheduled there, one on Thursday and a second on Saturday. If his jaw is a shovel custom-built to dig his political grave, he will have two chances to dig deep.

I must commend whoever it was in the Liberal war room that suggested the Tories get “Justin”-themed rolling papers printed up. Even the Conservatives — who have been known for generations for laughably bad political notions — might not have come up with something so dumb without help.

February 19, 2014

Federal Liberals begin to outline their economic agenda

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:46

Stephen Gordon examines what is said (and left unsaid) in Justin Trudeau’s video on the economy.

For example, the video offers a definition for what means to be middle class in all those Liberal talking points:

    the people who live off their incomes, not their assets

This is a bit of a head-scratcher: everyone lives off their incomes. The people who live off their assets have incomes – it’s just that their incomes are generated by their investments and not by working. If Trudeau is referring to people who depend on their earned income, then he’s including most of the one-percenters: the surge in income at the top has been driven by earned income, not their asset holdings. He’s also excluding retirees: their incomes are generated by their asset holdings. (Raising this point gives me an excuse to point people to the CBC Radio series The Invisible Hand, and especially the “Your Grandmother is a Capitalist” episode.) Trudeau probably does not want to include one-percenters in the middle class and almost certainly doesn’t want to ignore retirees, but his definition appears to do just that.

As I said, it’s a head-scratcher.

Later on, Trudeau brings up a compelling point, one that has been raised by many others (including myself):

    I worry that at some point, Canadians will say: “Why should we support a growth agenda if it doesn’t help my family?”

I don’t know how the Liberals intend to answer this challenge, but this is a good and constructive way of framing the problem. It is far more likely to generate a useful answer than putting it in terms of terms of class warfare.

January 29, 2014

Justin Trudeau and the senate’s (now former-) Liberal caucus

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:03

Anyone clear on what is going on within the federal Liberals at this moment? Here’s Paul Wells reporting on this morning’s contretemps:

The reporters lined up outside a meeting room in the basement of Parliament’s Centre Block were confused. I mean, maybe more than usual.

The Liberal Senate Caucus, as it then was, had walked into the room earlier this morning. Then Justin Trudeau had walked out to say he had ejected the lot of them from the Liberal Caucus. “There are no more Liberal senators,” Trudeau, who theoretically should know whether such a thing is true, had told reporters.

The (ex?-)Liberal Senate Caucus continued to meet long after Trudeau’s departure, then long after their weekly meeting’s scheduled end. Not that this was a problem, suddenly, because the normal reason for such a meeting’s end — Senators must troop upstairs to the slightly-later weekly meeting of the National Liberal Caucus — was now moot. From inside the black box of their meeting, little escaped.

I spotted a staffer for one of the senators. Did you have any advance word on this, I asked? “Nobody had a f—kin’ clue!” she said cheerfully.

September 12, 2013

Stirring up opposition to the Charter of Quebec Values

Filed under: Cancon, History, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:23

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells gives a bit of sovereigntist history and brings us up to date on the proposed Charter of Quebec Values:

When Bernard Drainville, another minister in today’s post-cosmopolitain PQ government, released the text of his proposed Charter of Values — complete with handy wall charts showing the articles of clothing (Veil! Kippah!) that will heretofore be banished from public servants’ bodies while at work — he had the handy effect of smoking out two federal party leaders who have been equivocal until now. The Liberal, Justin Trudeau, has opposed the charter since the PQ started putting up trial balloons nearly a month ago. The New Democrat, Thomas Mulcair, has most of his seats in Quebec, and had resisted comment until now. So, mostly, had the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, although he did tip his hand when asked about the PQ plan in Toronto: “Our job is making all groups who come to this country, whatever their background, whatever their race, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their religion, feel home in this country and be Canadians. That’s our job.”

On Tuesday the trial balloons became official government policy. The NDP and Conservatives came out unequivocally against the PQ. Speaking for the government, Jason Kenney suggested a possible federal court challenge.

This, too, happens to be one of the tactical tricks Jean-François Lisée cooked up during the long years before he entered electoral politics. In his 2000 book Sorti de secours, Lisée suggested the PQ cook up some scheme that would be rejected by the rest of the country, so Quebecers would feel insulted and want to secede.

Such a plan would depend for its success on a clear distinction between Quebec public opinion and the actions of national parties. So far it’s not going well for the PQ. Mulcair and Trudeau are Quebecers whose parties hold 66 of the province’s 75 seats. The Bloc Québécois did not hurry to embrace Marois’s scheme. Every Montreal mayoral candidate opposes it, as does the Quebec Federation of Women.

The inspiration for the PQ’s decision to retrench is purely electoralist. It is a reaction to 30 years of failed efforts to make the sovereignty movement every Quebecer’s fight. Forced generosity having failed the PQ, the party is falling back on cynicism and pettiness. It’s make-or-break for the entire sovereignty movement, and I’m pretty sure Marois, Lisée and Drainville just broke it.

August 8, 2013

A brief moment of sympathy for Thomas Mulcair

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:54

Richard Anderson finds a drop of sympathy for the unexpected plight of the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition:

It must be galling to be Thomas Mulcair right now. A decades long career spent climbing the greasy pole of Quebec politics. A quick ascent to the federal level and then, by the oddest stroke of luck, an unexpected death places you into the leader’s role. It seems that with a bit of luck your old nemesis the Liberal Party might be finished after the next election. Happy days to be leader of the Official Opposition.

That is until the MSM started following around the latest bright shiny thing: Justin Trudeau.

While the Once and Future King is touring the sumptuous beauty of British Columbia, poor Tommy is wandering through the backwoods of Northern Ontario. The region is horribly neglected. An afterthought to provincial administrators in downtown Toronto. The area above the French River, sadly, has always failed to capture the imagination of Canadians.

The settlement of the West is one of the great romances of Canadian history, if not the greatest. The charm of the Maritimes is irresistible. The North’s terrible majesty demands admiration. Quebec is Quebec. Southern Ontario is the center of English Canada, Toronto commanding the region like, well, an Imperial Capital around which all else revolves.

Northern Ontario is kind of just up there. Somewhere between Barrie and Winnipeg. What small romance that region conveys is from faded memories of the great mineral boom a century ago, and the twangy recollections of Stompin’ Tom. Only he could make Sudbury Saturday Nights memorable. At least Hamilton has the virtue of being between Burlington and Niagara.

Poor, poor Tommy. There isn’t a major media outlet that gives a damn about his “listening tour.” Leader of the NDP shaking hands with a miners union representative doesn’t make for great copy, especially not when competing with Justin’s adorable family.

May 30, 2013

The real reason we’re getting wall-to-wall senate scandal coverage

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

Colby Cosh suspects we may be on the receiving end of a massive distraction attempt:

I’m starting to half-believe the theory that the Senate expense scandal was cooked up to cover other problems for the Conservative Party of Canada. The broad main effect of the Senate fracas so far has been to exasperate the hell out of everybody. Mike Duffy’s bad behaviour presents the public with the frustrating conundrum that only the Senate can make rules for or punish errant senators, and that the major features of the Constitution (including that one) are probably immune from formal amendment for the next hundred years or so. Stephen Harper’s statutory end-run proposals for permitting Senate elections and tightening term limits are currently awaiting scrutiny by the Supreme Court; if the court rejects his measures, he can argue that they represented at least a fillip of attainable accountability, which they do, and that it is not his fault they were bounced.

In modern history, providing convenient excuses for inaction by elected politicians is about 45 per cent of the court’s function. And, at that, maybe it is okay to notice that the court, now crowded with Harper appointees, is as much an audience for Duffy’s antics as the rest of us. On top of all this, the whole mess invited Justin Trudeau, following cues like a good drama teacher, to plunge headlong into the trap of not only defending the Senate, but defending it on the specific grounds that Quebec is beneficially overrepresented therein.

If people are pulling faces at the Senate, that’s a win for the Conservative party. But perhaps more importantly, it’s a boost for the New Democrats, who have a clear “dynamite it” position on the Senate that they have advocated pretty consistently for half a century. Keeping the seat counts of the NDP and the Liberals roughly level with each other is the paramount strategic axiom for the Tories from now until (at least) 2015.

Most Canadians over the age of 40 would rather do almost anything other than watch another attempt at constitutional wrangling … we saw what happened the last couple of times the feds and the provinces tried re-rigging things to their preference.

March 13, 2013

Garneau throws in the towel, leading to the inevitable coronation of Justin Trudeau

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:55

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells would like to welcome you all to the Justin Trudeau era, ready or not:

Marc Garneau dropped out of the Liberal leadership contest because he is not a fool. The poll numbers he released, if anywhere near accurate, would have led to futile humiliation. He would have lost badly and then been asked to rally to the new leader. He is an engineer, so he found a more elegant solution. He is rallying now to avoid losing later.

Garneau had spent several weeks trying to thread a needle he must have found annoying: remind everyone that his c.v. is superior to Trudeau’s, while not saying it so loudly that he would just get Liberals angry at him. He managed to get a fair number of Liberals angry anyway, without putting a dent in Trudeau. He must have wanted to shout it from the roofs. He earned his engineering doctorate before Trudeau turned two. He rose to high Navy rank the way one does, by putting in thousands of hours. He hurt himself in politics by doing what so many backseat drivers insist good citizens should do: put in a full life in a useful career, then move into politics when you’re ready to contribute. That almost never works. There is a reason lifers usually do better than late arrivers. Garneau first ran for Parliament in 2006, the year 13 Liberal years in power ended. His timing has not improved since.

February 22, 2013

Andrew Coyne: Liberals still trying to avoid serious reforms

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Andrew Coyne tries to explain why the Liberal Party of Canada increasingly looks like it will embrace Justin Trudeau as its new saviour leader.

Perhaps it was an impossible thing to expect. Perhaps it was even unfair. To demand that the Liberal Party of Canada, after a century and more as the party of power, should reinvent itself as a party of ideas; that it should, after a string of ever-worse election results culminating in the worst thumping in its history, ask itself some searching questions, including whether Canada still needed a Liberal Party, and if so on what basis — perhaps it was all too much to ask.

Because, on the evidence, the party isn’t capable of it. Or perhaps it simply doesn’t want to. Either it does not believe such a process is necessary. Or it does, but can’t bear it. Whatever may be the case, nearly two years after that catastrophic election, the party shows no interest in reinventing itself, still less in any healthy existential introspection. The policy conference that was to be the occasion for this came and went; the months that followed were similarly void.

[. . .]

Because the party seems determined to give itself to Justin Trudeau, come what may. Now, it is true that Trudeau has himself offered up a policy morsel or two. He favours liberalizing the drug laws and accepting takeovers by foreign state-owned enterprises in the oil sands. He opposes tightening Quebec’s language laws and boutique corporate tax credits. He was for the long-gun registry, but is against bringing it back.

But beyond that? He has his father’s views on the Quebec question, without doubt. But the only broad statement of his economic policy we have is his unswerving devotion to “the middle class.” And while the same criticism could be made of the other candidates — a grab bag of positions does not add up to a philosophy, still less a raison d’etre for the party — only Trudeau has made a virtue of his opacity. To take more forthright positions now, he argues, would prejudge the sorts of grassroots consultations he intends to hold — after he is leader.

January 15, 2013

The Who-the-heck-is-who of the federal Liberal leadership race

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

Andrew Coyne gets in the first “who the heck is that” survey of the field of candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada:

With nominations now closed for the Liberal leadership, let me be the first to cackle smugly at the cast of non-entities that have put their names forward. George Ta-who? Karen McWha? Hee hee. Ha ha. Hoo hoo.

Actually, the nine candidates (assuming Martin Cauchon’s last-minute application made it under the wire) make an impressive bunch, all in all. If several are lacking in political experience or name recognition, that should not detract from their many personal and professional accomplishments.

George Takach is a prominent Bay Street lawyer and professor with three degrees and four books under his belt. Karen McCrimmon was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Forces and the first woman to lead an RCAF squadron. David Bertschi was a Crown prosecutor and founding partner in his Ottawa law practice. Deborah Coyne (yes, my cousin) holds degrees from York and Oxford, taught constitutional law and was a central figure in the battles over the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords.

And so on. Martha Hall Findlay founded her own legal and management consultancy, and was a candidate for party leader in 2006. Joyce Murray was a minister in the B.C. government and is the owner-operator, with her husband, of a company with more than 500 employees. Cauchon was minister of justice in the Chrétien government. Marc Garneau was Canada’s first man in space.

[. . .]

But isn’t the debate over before it has begun? Hasn’t Trudeau got this whole thing locked up? With four times the support of his nearest rival (Garneau) in the polls, a massive fundraising advantage, and more endorsements of note than all of the other candidates put together, the dauphin would indeed appear the prohibitive favourite: confirmation that the monarchical principle is alive and well in Canadian politics.

But there are three months to go, and several reasons to hold off on the coronation just yet. First, there is Trudeau’s own tendency to get himself into trouble, on show of late in the matters of the gun registry and the influence of Albertans in federal politics. The five debates will offer the other candidates further opportunities to rattle him, in hopes a brick or two again falls from his mouth.

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