By Paul Wells - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on the Parti Québécois’s sudden love of resources
Few events challenge a political party’s convictions more profoundly than the transition from opposition to power. Suddenly everything is so much more complicated than it was. The other day I asked a Quebec government official how Pauline Marois, the province’s Parti Québécois premier, plans to handle Jean Charest’s plan for major natural resources development in the North.
“We keep going,” the official said. This surprised me. Marois campaigned last autumn on claims that Charest’s vast northern strategy—$80 billion in public and private investment, $14 billion in benefit to the Quebec government—amounted to pillage of Quebec’s natural beauty by private interests. She didn’t want to cancel the whole thing, but she was eager to rein it in by charging much higher royalty rates to mining companies, so Quebec could share the wealth. Of course that might have killed the goose that laid the mineral-laden eggs.
These days she doesn’t talk as much about overhauling the royalty regime. In December she visited New York City to pitch northern development to U.S. investors, telling reporters on the way that she now expected to implement Charest’s plan with “slightly different parameters.”
But there’s more. So much more.
“The two most important days since Mme. Marois became premier,” the Quebec official told me, “were budget day and the day she met Alison Redford.”
That meeting happened last Nov. 22 in Halifax, during the annual premiers’ conference. Redford is Alberta’s premier. She is trying to get oil sands bitumen out of the ground and to market. If she cannot sell the oil, very little of the massive investment in northern Alberta makes economic sense. But everywhere she looks she sees obstacles. Westward, the Northern Gateway pipeline faces opposition from British Columbia’s premier, her likely successor, and just about everyone who shows up at environmental hearings. Southward, the Keystone XL pipeline faces perhaps years of delay even if, as now seems likely, Barack Obama finally gets around to approving it.
That leaves the east. On the day Marois met Redford, the Canadian Press described the Quebecer as a “potentially combative customer.” A reasonable guess but flat wrong. Marois seems positively eager. Last month she added New Brunswick Premier David Alward to her meeting schedule. The two emerged with a plan to jointly study a proposal by TransCanada to pipe hundreds of thousands of barrels a day through Quebec to the Irving refinery in New Brunswick.
Add that to Enbridge’s plan to reverse an existing pipeline to send 300,000 barrels a day to the Suncor refinery in the east end of Montreal, where some of it would be refined on site and the rest shipped by boat—big honking boats—to the Ultramar refinery in Lévis, across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City.
The stakes for Suncor and Ultramar are clear. They’re the last two refineries in Quebec. In 2010 Shell’s plant in Montreal closed and 500 jobs were lost. But of course with oil those are never the only stakes. Quebec environmental groups were pretty sure they had a friend in Marois. Already they’re wondering what happened. “She told us she wanted a strategy for reducing dependance on oil,” Equiterre’s Steven Guilbault told Le Devoir’s environment reporter Alexandre Shields, whose reporting on all these developments has been diligent. Now, Guilbault said, there’s nothing about an oil-reduction strategy, and a lot about pipelines. Who’s on these committees Marois has struck with Redford and Alward? Will their reports be public?
The longer you look at Big Oil’s recent moves in Quebec, the more intriguing coincidences you see. Recall that Marois and Redford first met on Nov. 22. That was the day Joe Oliver, the federal natural resources minister, visited the Ultramar plant in Lévis. He told reporters the Alberta oil, if it makes it that far east, would “replace higher-priced foreign oil . . . from countries such as Algeria, Angola and the United Kingdom.” I’m told the Quebec government observed the coverage of Oliver’s visit closely. What they saw was that coverage concentrated not on the prospect of dirty Alberta oil ravaging Quebec’s virtue, but on the prospect (hardly guaranteed in any event) of cheaper gas at the pump.
Oliver has been in Quebec at least once a month since November for activities designed to help the oil patch and the PQ get along.
Of course, the oil patch likes to make friends. A month after Marois and Redford met, Enbridge announced it was buying a half stake in the 150-megawatt Massif du Sud windmill farm southeast of Quebec City. The windmill farm was developed by Electricité de France. Enbridge’s share cost it $170 million. The windmills are across the St. Lawrence River from Pauline Marois’s riding.
Albertans and Quebecers really need to stop hurling insults at one another. They’re forming the most intimately connected business partnership in Confederation. A year ago a Quebec think tank reported that the Caisse de dépôt, which invests the Quebec Pension Plan’s assets, held $5.4 billion in oil sands assets, more than double its holdings in all Quebec companies combined. The Caisse has done its math. Marois is doing hers. A prosperous Alberta keeps Canada’s equalization system going, but why wait for equalization?
All of this has many implications. Here’s one. Tom Mulcair is the former Quebec environment minister who’s staked the NDP’s future on a classic confrontation between Quebec’s environmental virtue and Alberta’s profligacy. What does he do if the two provinces become partners?
By Paul Wells and macleans.ca - Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on Conservatives turning a new (Kevin) Page
In two months Kevin Page’s term as parliamentary budget officer will end. He’s the fellow appointed under the Federal Accountability Act—the ﬁrst piece of legislation the Harper government passed—to provide independent analysis of federal spending. He keeps disagreeing with the Harper government’s explanations of its spending. That’s actually his job. “It would be an independent body that would answer to Parliament and would not be part of the government,” Monte Solberg said in 2004, in the Conservatives’ opposition days, about the office Page wound up occupying. “It would not be a situation where the government could manipulate the figures to its own ends.”
Page has resisted the government’s attempts to manipulate the figures to its own ends. He said jet fighters would cost more than the government said they would. He said year-end deficits would last longer than Jim Flaherty said they would. He said the government had created a “structural deficit,” one that could be eliminated only through cuts or higher taxes. Flaherty disagreed for months, called Page every name in the book, until his department acknowledged Page had been right all along.
Flaherty has had just about enough of this crap. On the Global TV show West Block the other day, Tom Clark asked the finance minister whether Page’s office has been “a net benefit.” “Not yet,” Flaherty said. Continue…
By Scott Feschuk - Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
Scott Feschuk on Chief Theresa Spence and living on fish broth
According to its founders, Idle No More “calls on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty.” That doesn’t sound like a very fun revolution. The best revolutions are, like, “Hey, let’s kill the king!” or “Hang on, we preferred the original Coke!” Honouring and fulfilling stuff doesn’t usually cut it.
But the movement has taken off. We’re at the point now where it’s like Occupy, but with fewer hacky sacks and douchebags. And it’s splitting opinion pretty sharply. For many, your perspective on Idle No More may come down to how you feel about the hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence. Many find inspiration in her commitment. Others feel Spence is cheating because she’s consuming tea, lemon water and fish broth. Fish broth is food! they say. Kind of but not really! comes the reply. Although, if we’re debating the calorie count of fish water, we have perhaps strayed some distance from the larger point.
There is one thing for certain: I would be the world’s worst hunger striker. I’d have the fish broth. I’d have the lemon water. I’d have the lemon and the lemon peel. I’d have the pizza—but just one or two slices because, you know, hunger strike. Worse still, if my hunger strike actually got me a meeting with the Prime Minister, as Spence’s did, I wouldn’t be able to say anything because for three hours my mouth would be full of muffin. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, October 12, 2012 at 5:30 AM - 0 Comments
John Baird makes the rounds of the global middle powers
In the panoply of tools available to a cabinet minister, public remarks are always a sign that a written statement wasn’t thought to be enough. So Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was sending a clear signal on Oct. 3 when he convened Ottawa reporters on short notice to condemn Syrian shelling of Turkish targets that left five Turkish civilians dead.
Turkish artillery had already fired back. Baird sided unequivocally with the Turks. “Canada strongly condemns, in no uncertain terms, this attack by the Assad regime across Syria’s border,” Baird told the cameras. It was an indication of support for Turkey that went above and beyond Canada’s minimum obligations.
It was not the first. In the 17 months since he became Foreign Affairs Minister after the 2011 election, Baird has been working to improve Canada’s relationship with a handful of countries around the world. The list includes Turkey, Indonesia, Nigeria and Vietnam. What the countries have in common is that they are big regional players with bright economic futures that at least balance their woes. In the 1980s, one might have called them “middle powers,” a list that has almost always included Canada.
Baird’s studied pursuit of these global middleweights marks an evolution in the Conservative government’s foreign policy. Support for Israel has been pretty much the only constant since 2006. The Prime Minister’s early enthusiasm for the so-called Anglosphere countries—the United States, Australia and Britain—vanished after conservative governments were defeated in the first two countries and Britain’s Labour government was replaced by a Conservative-led coalition that has little in common with Stephen Harper’s. Harper’s next big idea—this year’s pivot on energy exports from the United States to China—is turning out to be difficult to execute.
Suddenly a bunch of countries that function like so many far-flung Canadas are getting a lot of attention. “Minister Baird has made engaging with . . . emerging powers (‘next economies,’ as some call them) a definite priority,” Rick Roth, Baird’s press secretary, told me. “That’s one reason he is visiting Nigeria this week, for instance.
“To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky: you have to go to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.”
For most of a decade, the puck sure hasn’t been in Turkey. Successive Canadian governments have been frank about using the term “Armenian genocide” in relation to events in 1915. The Harper government has maintained that position since it came to power in 2006. As the Turkish embassy’s website notes, this “creates difficulties in Turkish-Canadian relations.”
But lately, it actually doesn’t. Gulcan Akoguz, the chargé d’affaires at the Turkish embassy in Ottawa, told me Baird’s personal involvement has accelerated a reassertion of normal relations, and more, between the two countries. “Canadian international relations is changing under Minister Baird,” Akoguz said.
There are now direct ﬂights between Ankara and Toronto; flights to Montreal may soon be added. There have been preliminary discussions toward Canada-Turkey free trade, a Turkish consulate in Toronto has opened, and in August Ahmet Davutoglu became the first Turkish foreign minister to visit Ottawa in 14 years.
It was the same month that Baird welcomed Indonesia’s visiting foreign minister. Turkey’s population is 75 million, Indonesia’s 240 million; both populations are overwhelmingly Muslim. Nigeria, which Baird visited this month has 170 million people, half Muslim. Not every country on Baird’s list has a large Muslim population: Vietnam’s 88 million people include almost no Muslims, but its robust economy makes it, with Indonesia, a handy Asian counterweight to China. But it’s striking that so many countries on Baird’s list are largely Islamic. This reflects both the unsurprising news that about 1.6 billion people in the world are Muslim, and the slightly more surprising news that the Harper government has decided it cannot forever work around them.
Is there an electoral or immigration-related angle to the list of countries Baird is concentrating on? Not really. Canada’s Turkish and Indonesian minorities, combined, amount to fewer than 60,000 people. This emerging middle-power strategy seems pretty clearly to be about Canada trying to exert influence in the world, not about Conservatives seeking to improve their performance among Canadian voters.
In a sense it reflects lessons learned, often belatedly, after nearly a decade in power. And in the end, it is still a complex world with a lot of moving parts. Canada can’t prosper if it withdraws from the world, and it can’t have any influence unless it deepens its relationships with the countries that function as big regional players. The isolationism of the Harper government’s early years was a luxury Canada can no longer afford. In international relations as in so many things, this government has learned, and adjusted.
By Paul Wells - Friday, September 28, 2012 at 11:45 AM - 0 Comments
Marois’s new Harper-opposing policies discourage investment, immigration, resource development and healthy universities
It is a marvellous country that tolerates as many contrasting styles of government as Canada does. In the late 1990s Preston Manning gave a news conference in Ottawa where he argued that, with Mike Harris and Ralph Klein running Ontario and Alberta on the right, Jean Chrétien must somehow be kept from running Ottawa on the left. In the end the only mechanism that could be found to fix the problem, if it was one, was a succession of general elections. It took many years after Manning voiced his complaint, but today Stephen Harper is running the country in a different direction.
Unfortunately for fans of uniformity, the provinces move too. Ontario hasn’t been run the way Mike Harris, or Stephen Harper, would like it run for nearly a decade. British Columbia seems likely to tilt leftward soon too. And in Quebec—well, let’s have a look.
Watching the early moves of Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois government, I’ve found myself thinking of a speech Harper gave at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. This was Harper the economic manager laying out his long-term vision for Canadian prosperity. Even people who don’t like what he’s done to the long-form census or the long-gun registry might discern some horse sense in what the Prime Minister said at Davos. At the time I noted it was much like a big speech Paul Martin delivered seven years earlier.
By Paul Wells - Friday, September 21, 2012 at 11:31 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on the Tories’ NDP smear campaign
The Conservatives could not possibly have made it more obvious that they were itching for a week’s worth of headlines about the NDP’s environmental policy. They could not be happier that the NDP has obliged them. Eventually the NDP will figure all of this out.
On Sept. 2, Ottawa newsrooms received copies of “a memo from Conservative campaign manager Jenni Byrne to the Conservative caucus.” I put that last bit in quotation marks because Byrne, like her predecessor Doug Finley, doesn’t ever “write to the caucus” unless she wants to see what she writes appear in the newspapers. Leaking a “secret memo” is cheaper than buying ad space and guarantees better play.
Byrne’s message to Canadians was that it was “important to ensure Canadian middle-class families understand the threat posed by Thomas Mulcair’s risky and dangerous economic plan.”
By Paul Wells - Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 2:18 PM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on the fundamental changes in the party’s language and identity policies
“Je n’ai jamais lu autant de violence envers nous les Québécois dans la Gazette, j’ai refusé de donner une entrevue à ce journal,” Sophie Stanké wrote on Twitter a few days after the Quebec election. Translation: “I’ve never read so much violence toward us, the Quebecers, in the Gazette, I refused to give this newspaper an interview.”
Stanké, an actress and TV personality, was the Parti Québécois candidate in Saint-Henri-Saint-Anne, one of the prettiest ridings in Montreal. She lost. The Gazette is still publishing.
I wonder who Stanké thinks is working at the Gazette. The paper has been published in Montreal since 1778. The very large majority of its employees grew up in Quebec. I will guarantee that if Sophie Stanké and Don Macpherson, the paper’s Quebec affairs columnist, sat down for a written and oral exam in French, Macpherson would get higher marks. And yet here was a candidate for public office drawing a casual distinction between “la Gazette” and “nous les Québécois.”
By Paul Wells - Monday, September 3, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells considers how the premier got swallowed up by forces he hoped only to contain
In the current edition of Maclean’s magazine, published before Tuesday’s vote, Paul Wells considered the political legacy of Jean Charest:
If Jean Charest loses badly in the Sept. 4 Quebec election, the resulting political obituaries will not be gentle. Such promise he once held. A long career ends in a long summer of protest, corruption inquiries and collapsing highways. What a bum.
But take a step back.
In March of 1998 Charest was in a fix. He was the 39-year-old leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, already a 14-year veteran of the House of Commons, bruised from a disappointing result in the 1997 election but pretty sure he was doing good work at the head of the party that founded Canada.
Then Quebec’s business elite forced Daniel Johnson to resign as leader of the Quebec Liberal Party. An election loomed, Lucien Bouchard was the incumbent Parti Québécois premier, and Montreal’s plutocratic Desmarais family basically decided Johnson wouldn’t do. So out he went. The pressure on Charest to take over was irresistible.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
Which way will Quebec voters stampede?
At the end of June, Jacques Duchesneau, the former Montreal police chief, sat down with William Marsden, a veteran Montreal Gazette reporter. Duchesneau had just wrapped up his testimony as the star witness at the Charbonneau commission, a public inquiry into political corruption in the province’s construction industry. Earlier the Charest government had appointed him to run his own investigation into corruption, then sat on his report until he decided to leak it to the press.
At the commission he said 70 per cent of Quebec party financing comes from illegal sources, and that he’d warned Montreal’s mayor about people on the mayor’s staff. The mayor, Gérald Tremblay, denied everything and demanded Duchesneau name names. “He can go to hell as far as I’m concerned,” Duchesneau told Marsden. “You call him a mayor?”
Then he said he was going to disappear for safety’s sake. “It’s time for me to vanish for security purposes. The family has been hit kind of hard. They are scared.”
Where was he going?
By Paul Wells - Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 4:40 PM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells: ‘In Canada we rehearse for the real controversies by getting huffy about fake ones’
In Canada we rehearse for the real controversies by getting huffy about fake ones. My colleagues in Quebec spent the hottest weekend of the year trying to rally the public’s sympathy for their plight: political reporters will soon be forced to cover a historic provincial election.
Hand across forehead: oh, the indignity! “Don’t come talk to us about equalization, restrictions or tax rates,” Stéphane Laporte wrote in La Presse. “We just want to know where the pickles are.” (It read better in French. Very slightly better.)
Never mind that summer elections have been held at the federal level in 1968, 1974, 1984 and 1997; that Quebecers voted in a summer provincial election in 1994; that Nova Scotians did so in 1988, 1999 and 2003; that Ontarians did in 1987 and 1990; the fiction that elections constitute a hardship and a chore persists, if only because until an election starts, column inches have to be filled with something.
By Paul Wells - Friday, July 13, 2012 at 3:39 PM - 0 Comments
Time to change the agenda–again?
What if the major policy initiative of Stephen Harper’s majority mandate is a non-starter?
This will take some explaining. Let’s begin with a pop quiz. You’re in charge of a big pipe that carries liquid a long distance. One day you notice the pressure inside the pipe is dropping. What on Earth could be making the pressure in your pipe fall?
If it takes you less than 17 hours to answer, “hole in the pipe,” then you would have been much too clever to work for Enbridge in July 2010, when more than three million litres of diluted bitumen gushed out of that company’s pipeline and into the wetlands and rivers near Marshall, Mich. That’s an amount of ethical oil roughly equivalent to the amount of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The oil kept spilling for 17 hours after the initial alarm. By Enbridge’s own rules, the response to a pressure drop should have been to shut the line down until the cause was known, but, you know, whoopsie.
By Paul Wells - Monday, July 9, 2012 at 2:28 PM - 0 Comments
The party has set an insanely lackadaisical schedule for choosing its next leader
And now we bring you exciting news from the Liberal Party of Canada, where—no, wait! Come back!
The latest news from the Liberals is that Deborah Coyne has entered the race to become, more or less, depending on definitions, the party’s sixth national leader in a decade. (I never know how to count Bill Graham.) This is an exciting development if you’re the sort of person who wishes a conversation about politics were about any other conceivable topic, just, please, not politics, because it’s pretty easy to segue from talking about Deborah Coyne to talking about how Pierre Trudeau was the father of her daughter.
Bam! Suddenly the Liberal Party is about 14 times as interesting as it was a few minutes ago. You can measure this. There are instruments to measure such things.
By Paul Wells - Sunday, June 24, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Apart from some Conservative sass-talking, the NDP leader rises unhindered. Why? Paul Wells has theories
For six years Stephen Harper’s opponents have wondered when he would stop spending millions of dollars to whale the tar out of them. Apparently the answer was that he’d stop as soon as his opponent stopped being Liberal.
Say hello to Thomas Mulcair. A few surprising things have happened since the hairy cosmopolitan took over the New Democratic Party. First, his party has closed ranks behind him. That was hardly guaranteed at the outset. He arrived late to Canada-wide prominence, first elected outside the hothouse of Quebec provincial politics in 2007. His Outremont cloister has no history as an NDP hotbed. And he made a show of running as an outsider to the party’s culture. But everyone’s been grown-up about things so far, and lately he actually seems to be running a more cohesive party than Harper is.
Second, Quebecers haven’t rejected Mulcair. He was always the darling candidate of Le Devoir editorialists, but that’s an unsteady predictor of broader appeal. Many Quebecers voted in 2011 for a vague idea they had about Jack Layton, but many seem to like their new NDP MPs and they like Mulcair. A Léger poll in mid-June suggested his NDP is on track to win substantially more seats than the 59 Layton won last year. We make a lot of fuss about the unsettled Quebec electorate. Perhaps too much. The Bloc Québécois dominated Quebec for six elections and 15 years in a row. If that unsettled vote unsettles around Mulcair in a similar fashion, he could be leader of the Opposition until he’s 71.
By Paul Wells - Friday, June 8, 2012 at 2:01 PM - 0 Comments
‘Diplomacy, like a lot of other things Harper used to regard with suspicion, is back in style.’
In his first speech in the House of Commons as leader of the Opposition, in 2002, Stephen Harper’s chosen topic was “perhaps the most important issue that ever faces Canada: our relationship with the United States.”
Harper was pretty sure the Liberals were making a mess of that relationship. Jean Chrétien didn’t really even like Americans, so he was frittering away time on trade trips to China in a doomed attempt “to revive the failed trade diversification of the 1970s, the Trudeau government’s so-called third-option strategy, which did not work then and is not working now.”
On the matter of Canada-U.S. relations, as on almost no other topic, Harper admitted nostalgia for the days of Brian Mulroney. Now there was a guy who “understood a fundamental truth,” said Harper: “The United States is our closest neighbour, our best ally, our biggest customer and our most consistent friend. Whatever else, we forget these things at our own peril.”
By Paul Wells - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 9:11 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells: After thinking about it for three months, close to half the population is with the protesters
Three months in, it’s getting harder to dismiss the Montreal tuition protesters as a tiny bunch of malcontents. It’s true that they are calling for the perpetuation of Canada’s best bargain in higher education. It’s true that the active, on-the-street protesters represent a minority of the student population and a smaller minority of the larger student-age population.
But the protesters are not alone against the rest of Quebec. They have had substantial popular support at every stage of this dispute. And as the conflict settles in and becomes more bitter, support for the protesters has grown. A Léger poll for QMI last week showed that 43 per cent of respondents were “more favourable to the student position,” which the poll defined as a continued freeze on tuitions. That’s a nine-point increase in support in 11 days, thanks largely to a tough law the Charest government passed to increase restrictions and penalties for protesting. To sum up, after thinking about it for three months, close to half the population is with the protesters. So are many editorialists and the members of Arcade Fire.
My hunch is that if Charest could back down, he would. He spent most of his career as premier demonstrating that he doesn’t actually care whether Quebec’s universities are underfunded. He maintained a tuition freeze for his first four years in office, then increased tuitions at $50 a semester until this year. During that time, Quebec’s university rectors say, the annual funding shortfall in Quebec’s universities, relative to those in the rest of the country, increased from $375 million to more than $620 million.
By Paul Wells - Friday, April 27, 2012 at 12:24 PM - 0 Comments
The Id vs. Superego of Tory revolts
What does Alison Redford’s Alberta election victory mean for federal politics? Well, let me tell you a story.
I haven’t spoken to a single Conservative who’s satisfied with the budget Jim Flaherty brought down last month, although to be fair I haven’t spoken to Jim Flaherty. Probably he thought it was tickety-boo. Everyone else, once they’re reassured the Prime Minister won’t hear what they think, says the budget was a timid, watery thing.
And mostly they think it’s just not fair. Conservatives have been so good. All they want is to shrink the federal government until it’s about the size of a dinner muffin. Instead, they’ve been biting their tongues while they watch brand-new office buildings spring up around Ottawa like mushrooms, each one chockablock with freshly hired bureaucrats. They walked on eggshells through half a decade of minority Parliaments. They crept up to their 2011 majority victory on little cat feet.
By Paul Wells - Friday, April 20, 2012 at 11:04 AM - 0 Comments
Jean Charest denied the mess all around him for years–eventually it will destroy him
So what’s the going price for Céline Dion tickets these days, anyway? Nine of them, in a luxury suite at Montreal’s Bell Centre? Figure a little over $200 each, anyway. Not less than $2,000 for the set.
If somebody gave you $2,000 worth of Céline Dion tickets, you’d probably remember who gave them to you. I know I’d never forgive anyone who gave me that much access to that much awful, awful music. But Nathalie Normandeau, who was deputy premier of Quebec until she quit politics last autumn, likes Céline Dion. She did get nine tickets to the Bell Centre suites for a 2009 Dion show. And she still couldn’t remember the name of her benefactor when the Radio-Canada investigative journalism program Enquête called her a couple of weeks ago.
It was a trick question, of course. The reporter from Enquête knew who gave Normandeau the tickets. It was Lino Zambito. The same guy who also gave her Madonna tickets.
By Paul Wells - Friday, April 13, 2012 at 9:47 AM - 0 Comments
Unlike Dion, Mulcair is not allergic to political strategy, effective staffing and artful rhetoric
And suddenly the left is on a roll in Canada. Sort of. “Canada’s got a new leader,” an NDP ad says. “Tom Mulcair.” This is not strictly accurate—Canada has the same old leader and merely a new Opposition leader—but never mind.
“We started something special together,” Mulcair says in the ads, eyes glinting. “Now let’s get the job done.”
As if on cue, the polls are lining up to offer a semblance of support for the idea that getting the job done is possible. A Léger poll published April 7 found the NDP at 33 per cent Canada-wide, the Conservatives 32 per cent, and the Liberals down at 19 per cent. That’s an eight-point decline for the Conservatives since last year’s election.
By Paul Wells - Friday, March 30, 2012 at 6:30 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells: Get ready for Beethoven vs. Nickelback in federal politics
Tom Mulcair is the most experienced opposition leader Stephen Harper has faced. Between Quebec’s national assembly and the federal Parliament, he’s been in elected politics for 18 years. Unlike Paul Martin, who had been in Parliament for nearly as long, Mulcair has been in an opposition party, Jean Charest’s Quebec Liberals, that fought its way to government. He is an effective interrogator of witnesses in parliamentary committees, a skill he should keep using. He’s smart and hungry.
For now, he’s more a danger to Bob Rae than to Stephen Harper.
Some of my colleagues have been tut-tutting Mulcair for reading from notes in his victory speech at the NDP convention and in his ﬁrst performances in the House of Commons. Here in the Parliamentary press gallery, we like our political leaders spontaneous. It’s why so many of us thought Michael Ignatieff’s town-hall free-association sessions were the highlight of the 2011 election. It helps explain why apparently nobody in 30 years has ever taken Bob Rae aside and said, “Bob? Edit.”
By Paul Wells and Tamsin McMahon, with Alex Ballingall - Friday, March 16, 2012 at 11:35 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on the 2012 Manning Networking Conference and the conservatives’ power shift to Alberta and B.C.
A familiar face from Calgary was at Hy’s last Friday, looking a little down.
The 2012 Manning Networking Conference was under way. “Manning,” of course, is Preston Manning, whose Manning Centre for Building Democracy mostly works at building the conservative end of the democratic spectrum. The Networking Conference is the largest annual unofficial gathering of Canadian conservatives. These conservatives are free to be Conservatives or not, depending on mood and inclination. In fact, while we’re at it, people are free to attend even if they are neither Conservatives nor conservatives, as long as they are willing to pay a $349 conference fee, which isn’t unusually high as these things go.
But the event program billed the whole shindig as “A Conservative Family Reunion,” and it was certainly that, with old Reform party stalwarts like Deb Grey and Monte Solberg and Tom Flanagan back in Ottawa to watch a less familiar generation of right-ish thinkers plot and plan for life under a strong, stable, national Conservative majority.
By Paul Wells - Friday, March 9, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on why there’s more to the NDP leadership hopeful than poor French
Let’s deal with the French thing right away. Each time Paul Dewar spoke French at an NDP leadership debate on March 4 in Montreal’s Bonsecours Market, Quebec-based political reporters made a show of rolling their eyes. At one point, urging the audience to imagine a government that celebrates the diversity of the arts, Dewar said “de les arts,” which is a nice try, but it sounded like he wanted a government that celebrates the diversity of lizards.
Everyone who follows politics has had to get used to candidates for national leadership whose second language is a ﬁxer-upper. Usually it’s French that needs work. In the Liberal Stéphane Dion’s case, atypically, it was English. Dewar, the game and rangy member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre, is the latest specimen. And it’s his French. He can make himself understood, but that’s as good as it gets. What can a guy do? He travels with a French tutor.
It’s a larger than usual challenge because the NDP won 59 seats in Quebec in the 2011 election and would like to hang on to those seats, or even win more, in the next election. The other candidates haven’t been shy about pointing out Dewar’s weakness. “It’s very hard to imagine,” Dewar’s effortlessly bilingual rival Brain Topp told one interviewer, “how you can be . . . at the head of a party whose whole future at the moment turns on holding a big breakthrough in Quebec, when you cannot speak to French-speaking Quebecers.”
By Paul Wells - Friday, March 2, 2012 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on Parliament taking up residence in the gutter
Remember when the arrival of a stable majority government was going to allow your members of Parliament to stop squabbling and concentrate on matters of state with a little serenity? Yeah, never mind. It’s starting to look like the circus is never going to leave Ottawa.
Here’s what kind of winter it’s been. Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu said every jail cell should come with free suicide rope. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said it might be okay to fire a few warning shots over the head of somebody stealing your all-terrain vehicle. MP Larry Miller mentioned supporters of the long-gun registry in the same breath as Hitler, then apologized, then un-apologized, then un-apologized some more. Basically, he’s glad he said it but sorry you heard it. You know who else had a hard time apologizing? Hitler. Sorry. Sort of.
Then there is the rather thorny bundle of issues surrounding Vic Toews. I met Toews in 1999 campaigning door to door in Winnipeg with his boss at the time, Manitoba’s then-premier Gary Filmon. That particular election didn’t end well for either of them. I remember Toews as a pleasant fellow. He’s always a pleasant fellow, unless you ask him a question in the House of Commons and he suggests your choice is to “stand with us or with the child pornographers.” Which he did on the day before Valentine’s Day.
By Paul Wells - Friday, February 24, 2012 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
WELLS: Most of the party’s support came at the Liberals’ expense. That’s not a path to power.
It’s getting down to the home stretch of the interminable New Democratic Party leadership campaign. The party will announce its next leader on March 23. Three televised debates remain: Winnipeg on Feb. 26, Montreal on March 4, Vancouver on March 11.
Montreal will get most of the attention because it sits in the middle of the NDP’s most interesting questions. More than half of the NDP caucus is from Quebec. Who can hold those 58 seats? Can anyone do that, while increasing the party’s support outside Quebec? Can anyone do so well outside Quebec that the party can afford to lose, say, half of its 2011 Quebec bumper crop?
The first question is easy. Thomas Mulcair has the strongest claim to being able to hold support in Quebec. The fact that Brian Topp was born in the province and speaks superb French seems to count for little. Quebec political commentators usually fly in tight formation, and they’ve already signalled that if Mulcair doesn’t win, they will view it, not as his personal failure, but as a rejection of “the Quebec candidate” and therefore as proof the NDP doesn’t value what it won there last year. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, February 17, 2012 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
The prime minister’s trip wasn’t about trade, goodwill or pandas. It was about crushing his opposition at home.
Foreign ships have been putting into the Cuntan port in Chongqing, on the Yangtze River 1,700 km west of Shanghai, since 1891. But these days the whole region has a new vocation. All of a sudden Chongqing has become a major assembly and export centre for cheap laptop computers designed in Taiwan. Very soon, 50 million laptops a year will be leaving the port, bound for the world.
Sometimes ships come into port too.
On Feb. 11, Stephen and Laureen Harper strolled along the Cuntan dockside, chatting with International Trade Minister Ed Fast while a Canadian television news camera crew recorded the moment for posterity. The Harpers paused next to a dirty white steel shipping container draped with a Canadian flag. Work crews opened the container’s steel doors. The Harpers watched as somebody opened one of the cardboard boxes inside the container.
“It’s pork,” somebody said. “From Canada!”
“All the way from Winnipeg,” the Prime Minister chimed in.
By Paul Wells - Friday, February 10, 2012 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
WELLS: China’s like a compulsive shopper with a bottomless wallet. No wonder Harper’s joined the rush to the East.
TV reporters travelling with Stephen Harper to China this week are desperate for some colour to go with all the talk of pipelines. The Prime Minister’s Ofﬁce, more adept at serving up pageantry than it used to be, has served up a couple of old standbys.
Mark Rowswell, a television entertainer who has been famous in China as “Dashan” for longer than Harper has been in politics, was designated as Canada’s goodwill ambassador to China. And in this trip’s worst-kept secret, a Saturday visit to the Chongqing Zoo is designed to ensure the Harpers will be followed home by some cuddly panda bears for the Calgary Zoo.
The message sent by those announcements is one of continuity and sure value. The message sent by just about everything else in today’s China is one of constant turmoil. Harper’s predecessors used to arrive in Beijing as rare emissaries from the outside world. These days, the outside world sends visitors at such a heady tempo that Harper was in some danger of being run over on arrival by the next carpetbagging potentate if he didn’t clear off the VIP runway lickety-split.