By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 0 Comments
On the anniversary of the end of his first and last national campaign, Michael Ignatieff posts a note.
Our vision was to build jobs and growth on equity and fairness instead of corporate tax breaks and austerity. The values we fought for were clear: evidence rather than ideology in making policy, compromise and co-operation in place of meanness and spite in our politics, and equality and unity in place of resentment and division in our national life. Let’s also remember what we fought against: a government that plunged us into deficit and now is cutting programs that don’t need to be axed; that bought the wrong planes at the wrong price and misled everyone about it; that builds prisons instead of investing in education; and that strong-arms Parliament and every Canadian who disagrees with them.
A long road to renewal lies ahead, but today it’s worth remembering we fought for a good cause. One day that cause will prevail again.
More on the rest of this day’s festivities later this afternoon.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Three-hundred and sixty-six days ago a rather remarkable election culminated in a rather remarkable weekend and a rather remarkable result. I spent the last few days following Jack Layton’s campaign and then took in the last night of Michael Ignatieff’s campaign. Here are the four sketches that resulted.
By Paul Wells - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 12:05 PM - 0 Comments
About that Michael Ignatieff interview on Scotland and Quebec:
The way to rise in the BBC, in the world of letters, and in the United States national-security establishment is to say provocative things that sound plausible about important events. It’s not easy, and Michael Ignatieff was better at it than almost anyone in the world. Then he went into politics. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
Denis Coderre said yesterday that a Wild Rose win in Alberta might have an impact on national unity.
“We have to be very, very careful to have a Wildrose government because when the leader’s saying, ‘well, Quebec is complaining all the time, we shouldn’t give them (equalization), they have to understand where the money’s coming from …’ Hello? What’s that?” said Coderre. ”Everybody at one moment of their history was there to help each other. So I think we have to remember what Canadians stand for.”
Meanwhile, Michael Ignatieff sat down with the BBC to talk about Scotland and ended up musing about the potential eventuality of independence for Quebec.
Both men seem to forget that in defeating the Liberals in 2008 and electing a majority Conservative government last year, Canadians have already assured this nation’s unity.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 23, 2012 at 11:52 AM - 0 Comments
In light of the NDP’s recent bump in opinion polling, Eric Grenier looks at how the Liberals fared immediately after the arrivals of their two previous leaders.
When Stéphane Dion became Liberal chief in December 2006, he pushed his party ahead of the Conservatives. Though the Tories hardly budged, the Liberals saw their support increase to 34.2 per cent from 30.5 per cent in polls taken before and after the Liberal leadership convention by the same firms. The bump of 3.7 points came primarily at the expense of the NDP, who dropped 4.8 points overnight.
Michael Ignatieff became interim leader in December 2008 and also increased his party’s support, to 30.5 per cent from 23.8 per cent, a jump of 6.7 points. This was in the highly charged days of the coalition and prorogation, however, so the impact of Mr. Ignatieff’s arrival is somewhat blurred. But in this case, it was the Conservatives who took the hit.
By one poll, the New Democrats actually went into their leadership convention last month tied with the Conservatives, though that had more to do with a drop for the governing party. Similar findings of equality have held over the last few weeks.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
On account of this, two previous appeals to clarity as it pertains to the F-35.
October 27, 2010
Jack Layton. Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister cannot accept the Auditor General’s recommendations and then refuse to implement them. That does not make sense. The Auditor General warned that the systemic mismanagement she observed is going to mean cuts in the operational support for our armed forces. This is a serious matter. Will the government abide by the recommendations of the Auditor General, which would mean putting a stop to its plan to implement a sole-source contract for the purchase of the F-35, or is it going to repeat the helicopter boondoggle?
Stephen Harper. Mr. Speaker, these are two different matters. Of course the government will act on the recommendations vis-à-vis the helicopter situation. There has been a process in place for this since the days of the previous Liberal government. The leader of the NDP, however, should not pretend for a moment that he is raising these concerns on behalf of the military. The military has been absolutely clear about the need here. This is simply coalition politics playing games with military contracts, against what the entire aerospace industry and the entire defence establishment realize is necessary. The government is going to proceed.
November 17, 2010
Michael Ignatieff. Mr. Speaker, we are indeed listening to the aerospace industry. They are saying that there would be more economic and industrial spinoffs with a competitive bidding process. I have done a lot of town halls this year. The Prime Minister does not hold open town halls, but if he did, he would listen to Canadians. What Canadians are saying is this does not make sense. We cannot persuade a small business person across the country that it makes sense to buy 16 billion dollars’ worth of equipment without a competitive bid. We would not run a small business like that, so we cannot run the Department of National Defence that way. How can the Prime Minister stand and assure business people across the—
Stephen Harper. Once again, Mr. Speaker, there was a competitive process held under the previous government to choose this plane. In fact, the Government of Canada, under the previous government, has funded the development of this aircraft. What are we to do when the CF-18 reaches the end of its useful life: simply ground the air force or spend more money on a second set of planes? The government’s position is clear. It is straightforward. The opposition is simply playing politics with the lives of air force members and with jobs in the Canadian aerospace industry.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
As noted yesterday, the idea of there being a “contract” to purchase the F-35 seems to have changed. (Here and here are other examples of Mr. Harper using the c-word. And here is Michael Ignatieff using it. And here is Bob Rae using it five months ago.)
When the Prime Minister was confronted about his terminology last month, he explained that he was referring to a “memorandum of understanding.” That MOU was signed in December 2006. The decision to acquire the F-35 was announced in July 2010. And here is a handy fact sheet explaining the MOU.
Canada is buying the F-35 is through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) versus signing a contract…
Signing the MoU in 2006 did not commit JSF partners to buy the F-35, instead it laid out the terms and conditions should a partner country decide to purchase the aircraft.
Peter MacKay did refer to an “MOU” on two occasions in 2010, here and here. Tony Clement managed to describe it as both a memorandum of understanding and a contract. But that a contract had not been signed seems to have become a point of emphasis five weeks ago, when Julian Fantino stood in the House and said so.
But that is not quite the end of it. Understandably, the memorandum of understanding is referenced numerous times in the Auditor General’s report. Here is how Postmedia’s Lee Berthiaume summarized the relevant findings earlier this week.
The report says that in convincing the Conservative government to sign onto the MOU, the military talked up the potential billions in contracts Canadian industry could secure if the country continued to participate in the project. However, “while ministers were told, correctly, that signing the 2006 MOU did not commit Canada to buy the F-35, we did not see evidence they were told that retaining industrial benefits depended on buying the F-35 as a partner in the [Joint Strike Fighter] program.”
… Defence Department officials also did not tell ministers that by signing the memorandum of understanding, the government would be hard-pressed to run a fair competition in the future to replace Canada’s ageing fleet of CF-18s.
And now, quite interestingly, here is John Ivison’s latest column. He turns to an October 2010 meeting of the defence committee and an exchange between Dan Ross, the assistant deputy minister for material at National Defence, and former Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert. Mr. Ross apparently argued that holding an open competition to replace the CF-18s would require withdrawing from the memorandum and that would result in penalties and loss of benefits. But Mr. Wilfert was not convinced. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 26, 2012 at 4:24 PM - 0 Comments
From his scrum after QP, Mr. Mulcair explains his decision to make jobs and employment the focus of his first question as opposition leader.
Throughout our campaign, we’ve been concentrating on jobs. We’ve been concentrating on the failure of the Conservatives to apply basic rules of sustainable development. That’s had a devastating effect on the manufacturing sector, a loss of hundreds of thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs, the attendant pensions, a lot of those jobs being replaced by part-time precarious work in the service sector. That’s the type of thing we think they should be addressing in the budget and we’re trying to make sure that people have that in mind as we go forward until Thursday.
Michael Ignatieff’s first question as opposition leader was about the economy. Stephane Dion’s first question as opposition leader was about women’s rights. Stephen Harper’s first question concerning government advertising contracts.
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 11:17 PM - 0 Comments
At 7:49pm Eastern Standard Time in Toronto, Thomas Mulcair had to use the facilities. One last bathroom break before destiny.
On his way to the men’s room, down the second-floor hallway strewn with the bodies of the faithful, everyone so very tired, Mr. Mulcair passed within maybe three feet of Brian Topp, the only other remaining candidate conferring then with his campaign manager in a relatively secluded corner. The two contenders did not appear to acknowledge other.
A necessary amount of time later, Mr. Mulcair emerged from the bathroom and proceeded back down the hallway. Once again the two candidates passed within feet of each other. If they acknowledged each other, it was fleeting. Mr. Mulcair went on back to his headquarters. Mr. Topp sat on a table and talked with one of his aides for awhile. No jacket, right hand resting on hip.
At 8:02pm, from the far end of the hall, the sound of drums rang out and a clapping, gyrating throng of supporters from Team Mulcair emerged. Dancing their way down the hall, they proceeded to the escalator positioned in front of the Team Topp headquarters and then down to the subterranean convention hall on the basement floor. A smattering of Mr. Topp’s supporters watched the heaving mob. Some raised their hands and clapped along as the likely victors marched towards the final confirmation.
The moment was soon at hand. And then, of course, it was announced that the results would be delayed by an hour. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
The NDP says it is prepared to launch an ad campaign around its new leader shortly after his or her election this weekend. How quickly will they have to move? Possibly very.
Stephane Dion was elected Liberal leader on December 2, 2006. The Conservatives launched attack ads against him on January 28, 2007. A span of 57 days.
Michael Ignatieff was elected Liberal leader on May 2, 2009. The Conservatives launched attack ads against him on May 12, 2009. A span of 10 days.
(In the case of Mr. Ignatieff, he had taken over leadership of the Liberal party in December 2008, but was not officially confirmed until the party’s convention in May.)
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 2:04 PM - 0 Comments
Speaking in the House before the vote to eliminate the long-gun registry last week, Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner recalled how she had introduced similar legislation in the last Parliament. She then proceeded to gloat.
Unfortunately, some individuals on the other side of the House broke faith with their constituents. They told their constituents they would vote to end the long gun registry but they did not. Instead, they voted in the interests of their party bosses. However, every cloud has a silver lining. We decided that we might have lost a battle but we were determined that we would not lose the war. We made an effort to get out and talk to Canadians. We knew that we needed a majority government. We needed a mandate from Canadians in order to end the wasteful long gun registry, and that is exactly what we received.
Listening to Michael Ignatieff’s demands that all Liberals vote to keep on criminalizing law-abiding gun owners meant that we exchanged Liberal Larry Bagnell for the Conservative member for Yukon. It meant that we exchanged Liberal Anthony Rota for the Conservative member for Nipissing—Timiskaming. It meant that we exchanged Liberal Mark Holland for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, the Conservative MP for Ajax—Pickering. They were great trades.
It was not only the Liberals who lost. Listening to the big union bosses in the backroom of the NDP did not work out so well for some of those members either. The good people of Sault Ste. Marie made what some would call an MP upgrade from Tony Martin to the Conservative member for Sault Ste. Marie.
This is an interesting version of recent electoral history. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 1:54 PM - 0 Comments
A New Democrat MP worries that the party might end up with its third choice.
Mr. Brahmi said the current situation reminds him of the 2006 Liberal convention, where Stéphane Dion came from behind to beat Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. He added that at the 1995 NDP leadership convention, Alexa McDonough finished in second place on the first ballot, but still won the crown when Svend Robinson conceded victory.
Mr. Brahmi called on fellow MPs to remind NDP members to “be very careful” about their second choice on their ballots in the one-member, one-vote leadership convention. “I’m behind Thomas Mulcair,” he said. “However, I’d prefer if the winner were Brian Topp instead of everyone’s second choice.”
In this analogy, Paul Dewar and Peggy Nash are potential versions of Stephane Dion, at least insofar as how they might come to win the NDP leadership and at least so long as you assume that Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Topp are running first and second (or second and first). Whether that would then doom Mr. Dewar or Ms. Nash to something like Mr. Dion’s fate is another question entirely.
By Jordan Owens - Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
This morning, Anonymous Liberal Sources sat down again with Michael Ignatieff. We talked about his view from the stage at last night’s tribute and his thoughts on what comes next for the Liberals. We’ll have a longer piece later, but will leave you with this snippet where he mentions presidential candidate Mike Crawley:
The party’s got to understand—and Mike Crawley said this last night—the party’s got to see itself as being one public service organization in a very competitive field, all of whom are competing for the allegiance and commitment and brains of the next generation. They’ve got to be big enough to reach out to those groups and say “come on in.” We have no monopoly on public service, we have no monopoly on virtue, and no monopoly on wisdom.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 10:19 PM - 0 Comments
After a nice story about Michael Ignatieff’s willingness to listen, the man’s disembodied voice filled the room as a montage of still images hovered on screen—little moments when it must’ve seemed he was bound for a better fate.
The soft-focus retrospective continued as the voice intoned about the vastness of the land and the vastness of the party. A few dozen young people then bounded on stage. These, explained a young man and a young woman at the lectern, were some of those inspired to join the Liberal cause because of Mr. Ignatieff. He was duly described in fawning term. Indeed, the politician they were here to honour sounded like a fine one: passionate, caring, courageous, substantive, generous. A good listener. A visionary. A man blessed of a devoted wife. It was announced that a scholarship would be created in his name.
Shortly thereafter the man was welcomed to step forward and explain himself. Here the Liberal party has gathered to discuss the extent to which it can be described as “dying.” And so here it would hear from the man who (at least nominally) put it in this place. Continue…
By Adam Goldenberg - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 6:47 PM - 0 Comments
The last time Michael Ignatieff addressed a Liberal convention, he had just won the party leadership. I was backstage, watching his speech scroll by on the teleprompter.
“Friends,” he said that day, “I am confident that if we offer our fellow citizens a message of hope, they will ask us to form their next government.”
In the end, our fellow citizens weren’t quite on the same page. But Michael Ignatieff is still hopeful. Continue…
By Jordan Owens - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 4:27 PM - 0 Comments
Earlier today, Adam and I sat down with our old boss, Michael Ignatieff. We’ll have more for you shortly, but here’s some of what he had to say about the Canadian political landscape.
AG: What is it like to watch the Conservative majority unfold from your vantage point?
MI: Painful. The Prime Minister is saying that we’re now a conservative country. Who does he think he is? What does he think Canada is? It’s as arrogant as when we said it’s a Liberal country. It’s neither a Conservative country nor a Liberal country. It’s just the country, and it’s bigger than all of us. The Canadians that I know are practical, moderate, non-ideological, middle of the road, fiscally conservative, socially progressive, by and large. It doesn’t make them Liberal, doesn’t make them Conservative. I don’t think they’ve moved an iota actually. So when he says the country’s gone conservative, it’s just the kind of arrogance that will ultimately bring these guys down. Just the same way we were brought down by thinking the country was Liberal. There’s a message for us and a message for them.
By Adam Goldenberg - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 12:42 PM - 0 Comments
To Canadian political journalists, Liberal fratricide is mother’s milk. Trudeau-Turner begat Turner-Chrétien begat Chrétien-Martin, and Dion-Ignatieff begat Ignatieff-Rae. Liberals only stand behind their leaders, it is said, to stab them in the back.
What rubbish. Sure, there are divisions in the Liberal party. There are divisions in every party. Take an old-time Newfoundland Tory for a pint, and ask him what he thinks of the Reform Party. In the months before the last election, I met at least one New Democrat MP who couldn’t stand Jack Layton—and don’t even get him started on Tom Mulcair.
Political people are, well, political, and that’s both a vice and a virtue. What makes the Liberals different is that internecine warfare is part of the party’s modern mythology, perpetuated by a persistent minority of aging backroom boys who’ve never met a dead horse they don’t want to beat. Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 2:43 AM - 0 Comments
“Better a Rae Day than a Harper lifetime.” Not a bad line, is it? I take this minor witticism to be a major portent for the Liberals. When the Conservatives attacked Michael Ignatieff for his truancy, his response was all tear-streaked indignation. A lot of people still think the attacks on Ignatieff were harmful and despicable; I think they weren’t answered properly because there was no good answer. But we might still agree (and by this I mean it would now be insane not to) that the man could have afforded to display a little more self-awareness, a little less wounded amour-propre. By denying the possibility that any amount of time out of the country could impinge on his moral eligibility for leadership of it (MAH PATRIOTIZM!), he forced his defenders into absurd logical postures while allowing undecideds to suspect that he was protesting just a little too much. “How dare these colonials expect me to have actually lived amidst their kooky regional accents and odd cooking smells?”
The important thing to notice about Rae’s little gag is that he is actually part of the punchline. He’s acknowledging (by referring openly to Rae Days) that people still have bad memories of his Ontario premiership. He has assembled the first draft of a defence of his record, rather then shrieking at the temerity of those who might bring it up. Rae says he’s learned from the mistakes he made as a young New Democrat premier, and if he’s going to lead the Liberals, we shall have to hope he has. In the meantime, it sure looks like he’s learned from his pal Iggy’s experience.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 9, 2012 at 2:11 PM - 0 Comments
From the latest issue of the print edition, 1300 words or so on the permanent campaign that is our politics (including a bit about something the NDP has been up to that I don’t believe has been reported elsewhere).
Consider one of the otherwise inconsequential portions of the parliamentary day—the time allotted for “statements by members.” These 15 minutes immediately before question period are generally reserved for the recognition of favourite causes, honoured constituents and notable world events, but in recent years this time has also allowed for free political advertising. Faced with a Liberal opposition, the Conservatives took regular pleasure in using those 15 minutes to mock Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. After barely two weeks of relative quiet this spring, the Harper government duly turned on the NDP—backbencher David Wilks stood up on June 15, nine sitting days into the new Parliament, to decry the dangerous policies of the “radical hard left NDPers.” Five days later, Conservative Blake Richards ventured that the NDP was “not fit to govern.” “With its high tax plan, the NDP is not fit to govern or to lead Canada through the fragile global economic recovery,” Richards informed the House. That particular phrase—and its cousin “unfit to govern”—have since been committed to Hansard, during members’ statements, question period and otherwise, a total of 37 times.
This is the embodiment of the permanent campaign—a constant, unrelenting and tireless approach to politics. And it is this idea of the never-ending election that now dominates Ottawa. What might have previously been dismissed as an unfortunate side effect of minority Parliament is now foundational to modern Canadian politics. The practice–in discourse and tactics alike–prevails even after the obvious political necessity is gone.
Why does this matter? Good question. Continue…
By John Geddes - Friday, December 30, 2011 at 2:07 PM - 0 Comments
Stages in the legislative process that make a bill law in the Canadian Parliament; ministers (not including the Prime Minister) on cabinet’s powerful Priorities and Planning committee; former political figures (not including sovereigns or social activists) memorialized in bronze around Parliament Hill—twelve is the number in each of these interesting categories. But for our purposes here, in this second annual stocktaking of the year just ending, it’s the 12 calendar months that matter. Pick just one political story for each page, and 2011’s kaleidoscope might just take a turn from jumbled to intelligible.
January: We glimpsed how Ignatieff thought a leader should look
By the start of 2011, we had long since figured out Stephen Harper’s disciplined style and thought we understood the limits of Jack Layton’s appeal. But Michael Ignatieff had taken over as Liberal leader in an odd way, with no conventional leadership race to bring him into focus. Instead, Ignatieff had been defined for many Canadians by Conservative attack ads. For those who had paid attention to him before politics, his globetrotting-intellectual persona still loomed large.
Then came his Jan. 25, tone-setting address on Parliament Hill to the Liberal caucus, with the media invited in. This was no detached thinker. Sleeves rolled up, Ignatieff ripped through a 15-minute speech in which he mocked Harper, invoked Barack Obama, and answered his own question—“Are we ready to serve the people who put us here?”—with a shouted, “Yes, yes, yes!” Hopeful Liberals saw a fiery campaigner, astute Conservatives a man ripe for ridicule. We didn’t know it then, but this was a clear foreshadowing of the campaign to come.
February: We watched Conservatives smoothly execute a key transition
As an opposition leader and especially as Prime Minister, Harper has shown a remarkable ability to shed and replace chiefs of staff, communications directors, and other key advisors. But the one constant in his electoral machine was the beard and brogue of Doug Finley, his campaign director. When Finley stepped down at the very end of January as he recovered from colon cancer, the party began a testing transition. Guy Giorno and Jenni Byrne stepped into new roles.
For a lesser partisan machine, the loss of a figure as dominant as the Scottish-born Finley would have been a marked setback. Instead, the transition seemed to go off without a hitch. Spring election speculation continued unabated. As for Finely—who ran Harper’s winning 2006 and 2008 campaigns and was rewarded with a Senate appointment in 2009—Twitter awaited.
March: We marveled as the PM fell, yet defined the moment his way
It was no surprise when the Conservative minority was voted down by the opposition Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois on March 25. The House had been an increasingly fractious and angry place. The actual non-confidence vote, only the sixth in Canadian history, found the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to supply full cost estimates for fighter jets, crime bills and corporate tax cuts.
Yet Harper largely succeeded in burying those reasons by asserting doggedly that the real issue was the opposition’s refusal to support his government’s budget. “There’s nothing, nothing, in the budget that the opposition could not or should not have supported,” he said. “Thus, the vote today that disappoints me, will, I expect, disappoint Canadians.” His refusal to even minimally acknowledge that the election was triggered by anything other than a clash over economic priorities carried him into the campaign and, arguably, to victory.
April: We absorbed the potential of Layton’s NDP surge in Quebec
The orange wave surged over Quebec so unexpectedly that even senior NDP veterans had difficulty knowing what to make of it. By April 23, when Jack Layton climbed to the podium at Montréal’s Olympia Theatre to address his party’s largest ever campaign rally in the province, the possibility of an NDP breakthrough was widely acknowledged. The Bloc was running scared. The Tories and Liberals were looking elsewhere in the country for any gains.
At the back of the Olympia, Layton’s young Quebec organizers spoke, wide-eyed, of a dozen or so new Quebec seats being within reach. That seemed remarkable enough. Yet had they been able to fully take in the spectacle of Layton podium performance, and the crowd’s reaction, they might have dreamed bigger. Holding his talismanic cane aloft, smiling as only he could, hitting his applause lines like the pro he was, “Bon Jack” embodied an unlikely convergence of long, careful political preparation and recent, inspiring personal determination. You can’t make this stuff up.
May: We experienced Harper’s majority win as an inevitability
It’s an illusion of course, maybe even a delusion, to think anything in politics had to happen the way it did. There are always too many variables. Still, Harper’s May 2 election victory had that it-was-written feel about it. He steadily built toward the moment, from his near miss in 2004, through his two minority wins in 2006 and 2008. The train was rolling toward this destination.
And Harper’s campaign-trail consistency was remarkable. His rallies were a model of methodical planning and error-free execution. He refused to be badgered by media complaints into taking more reporters’ questions or exposing himself to unscripted encounters with voters. He stuck to his key economic message even when Layton’s rise might have unnerved a more skittish campaigner. Election night was full of compelling stories—Bloc and Liberal failures, NDP ascent—but it belonged, in the end, to the Prime Minister.
June: We shrugged as a political financing experiment was cancelled
On June 6 Finance Minister Jim Flaherty reintroduced his spring federal budget, which was never passed in the rush to an election, with a key twist: Flaherty added a measure to phase out the $2-per-vote subsidy to political parties by 2015-16. The taxpayer subsidy was introduced by the former Liberal government in 2004, to compensate for the curtailing of corporate and union contributions.
The Conservatives’ first attempt to get rid of the subsidy, announced in the fall of 2008, triggered the ill-fated bid by opposition parties to form a coalition and replace Harper’s minority. But with Harper leading a majority, there was no chance of his being thwarted this time. Few Canadians took much notice. And so an attempt to make raising money less central to our politics comes to an end. Constant, clever, insistent fundraising appeals to the party faithful—a Tory strong suit—will be essential to any party’ success for the foreseeable future.
July: We saluted as our troops left a battle zone still in question
When Canadian soldiers moved in large numbers into Afghanistan’s violent southern province of Kandahar in 2006, military and political leaders were unprepared for how much the mission would come to dominate foreign and defence policy. The hard fighting they were soon engaged in was unlike anything Canadians had experienced in decades. Before exit day, 158 Canadian soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan, along with a diplomat, two aid workers, and a journalist.
The last Canadian commander of Task Force Kandahar, Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, didn’t really want to leave. He would have preferred to stay a bit longer to help the Americans, whose troop surge into the province had put the Taliban on the run and stabilized previously volatile districts. Canadian troops remain in Afghanistan, but mainly engaged in training the Afghan National Army. But the years of fighting changed the place of the military in the Canadian public imagination—and Canadian political calculations.
August: We mourned Jack Layton, moved by what he’d come to mean
The death of the NDP leader on Aug. 22 at just 61 was not entirely surprising. The previous month Layton had announced that he was battling cancer for a second time, his ravaged face and desiccated voice shocking the country. But the way he died was unprecedented. He drafted a farewell letter and organized a public funeral in Toronto, knitting together the personal and political in his final weeks and days in a way that made them indistinguishable.
Layton came at the end to represent, in an era of deep cynicism about politics, an unapologetic zeal for total immersion in public life. All through the spring campaign, struggling back from a broken hip, Layton had exuded his relish for the democratic fray. Facing death, he didn’t shy from explicit partisanship. “Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us,” he told the New Democrats in that last letter, “that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.”
September: We were reminded by judges that even majorities face setbacks
With Parliament in session again, the Conservatives sitting pretty with their fresh majority, it seemed that nothing could slow the implementation of Stephen Harper’s vision. Then came the Sept. 30 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the federal government could not shut down Vancouver’s Insite supervised injection clinic for intravenous drug users.
The unanimous 9-0 decision delivered a rebuke to the Conservative position that Insite’s clear track record since 2003 of helping addicts avoid infections and overdose deaths should be trumped by the government’s desire to send a strong anti-drug, law-and-order message. The ruling also validated the pro-Insite positions of the British Columbia provincial and Vancouver municipal governments. For those left disheartened by Harper’s resounding spring victory, the court offered a fall tonic.
October: We witnessed the lasting emotional power of a populist cause
From the time it was implemented in 1995, the federal registry for rifles and shotguns was deeply controversial. In the broadest of strokes, rural gun owners resented it, while urbanites who feared gun crime approved. Opposition gathered steam after a 2002 report from Auditor General Sheila Fraser put estimated the registry tab would climb to $1 billion by 2005.
With hot-button right-wing populist issues like abortion and capital punishment largely off the table in Canadian politics, the long-gun registry took on disproportionate importance for that portion of the Conservative base. Harper extracted maximum political benefit from attacking the registry. On Oct. 25, the bill to eliminate it was finally tabled in the House. A drawn-out, culturally fraught episode in Canadian political life was coming to a bitter close. Even the data in the registry was to be destroyed, so no province or future federal government, not to mention police force, could make use of the information. Few outcomes politics are so categorically one-sided.
November: We took comfort from a Canadian’s prominence in troubled economic times
The Cannes summit of the G20 club of major developed and developing nations was dominated by gloomy, even alarming, news about Europe’s deepening debt crisis. This was the backdrop for the appointment of Mark Carney, the Bank of Canada’s youthful governor, to head a key oversight body called the Financial Stability Board. Never mind what the FSB does—highly technical banking stuff. Pay attention to what Carney represents—solid Canadian economic management.
Carney is a fascinating story in his own right. His assessments of the state of banking regulation, economic policy and its international coordination, are parsed closely by rapt global market players. Beyond his personal qualities, he embodies the new Canadian swagger concerning our sound banks and solid government finances. But can Canada’s political and business leaders build beyond those oft-mentioned fundamentals to more innovative manufacturing and competitive service sectors?
December: We watched a familiar national shame unfold in the hinterland
On the first day of the last month of 2011, the federal government imposed what’s called third-party management on the Northern Ontario reserve community of Attawapiskat. That meant an administrator appointed by Ottawa would run the Cree community of 1,800 on James Bay, where a crisis of abysmal housing began drawing national attention in late November.
It was yet another example—they happen every few years—of a burst of media attention to the plight of an impoverished, remote First Nations village briefly forcing Canadians to contemplate the worst policy failure of successive federal governments. But how to break that desultory cycle? As Attawapiskat took centre stage, the Harper government was quietly introducing legislation to reform band council elections and improve financial transparency. Maybe this incrementalism will help where past grand gestures did little.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 10:32 AM - 0 Comments
My first print column of 2011 was accidentally prescient. I say “accidentally” because I didn’t even realize one of the points I was making. Re-reading the piece with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see not only how Stephen Harper managed to hold power, but also how the NDP could make such strong advances. Yet I ignored the evidence at the time and continued to treat the NDP as a non-story until that became impossible in late April. My bad.
The column used a then-new poll to show how completely public faith in the Liberals had shattered:
A new poll from an upstart Ottawa polling house, Abacus Data, asked respondents how they felt about the three big national political parties. Abacus found respondents were likelier to agree the Conservative party “keeps its promises” than the Liberals or New Democrats do. They were also likeliest to agree the Conservative party “has a good team of leaders,” “has sensible policies,” and is “professional in its approach.”…
Abacus found Canadians have less trouble agreeing about the Liberals. When comparing the three parties, respondents were least likely to agree that Michael Ignatieff’s party “keeps its promises,” “understands the problems facing Canada,” “looks after the interests of people like me,” “defends the interests of people in my province,” “has a good team of leaders,” “stands for clear principles,” “has sensible policies,” or is “professional in its approach.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 11:27 AM - 0 Comments
The Harper government is apparently eager to cap increases to health transfers after 2016 and is apparently willing to argue that their election promise to increase transfers at 6% per year was limited to two years. The Ontario government seems to think that’s not quite what the Conservatives promised.
… Ontario government officials pointed to an interview Mr. Flaherty gave to the CBC during the campaign. “We will keep it at 6 per cent for whatever the duration of the agreement is,” Mr. Flaherty said last April, adding that the length of the new accord will be negotiated with the provinces. “It could be two years, five years, whatever.”
During the election—on Friday, April 8, to be specific—Michael Ignatieff promised to maintain the 6% increase and challenged Stephen Harper’s willingness to do likewise. The Conservatives duly responded. Continue…
By Alex Ballingall - Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 9:20 PM - 0 Comments
From Julian Assange to RIM–this year’s reversals of fortune
As the hockey world adjusts to stricter hitting rules and increasing concerns over brain injuries, Cherry’s tough-guy rhetoric seems more and more antiquated. The man of a million suits bowed to pressure in October and apologized after he called three former NHL enforcers “pukes” and “turncoats.” Weeks later, he declined an honorary degree from the Royal Military College after a professor took issue with Cherry’s alleged intolerance of French-Canadians, immigrants and homosexuals.
In September the former business mogul was returned to the prison population he once described as “an ostracized, voiceless legion of the walking dead.” U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve had re-sentenced Black to 13 more months behind bars in Florida for mail fraud and obstruction of justice.
By Peter C. Newman - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 42 Comments
Special interests and entrenched fiefdoms doomed the Liberals to electoral defeat, writes Peter C. Newman
Peter C. Newman’s latest political book was supposed to be a close observer’s inside account of the rise of Michael Ignatieff from novelist and Harvard professor to prime minister of Canada, with barely a stop in between. Instead, as Newman followed Ignatieff during his climb to the Liberal leadership and the party’s catastrophic federal election campaign last spring, it became clear that he was chronicling the destruction of the Liberal party. In this excerpt from When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada, Newman describes the Liberals’ abject failure to respond to the Conservatives’ devastating anti-Ignatieff ads and the Liberal leader’s hapless debate performance:
The attack ads deﬁned Ignatieff in a way the Liberals did not—it turned out, could not—answer. Not because the accusations were true, but because they were repeated with brainwashing frequency.
How that lapse happened is the great untold story of the campaign. There was, during the 2011 election, no public proof that anything positive was stirring inside the Liberal camp, but in fact nearly $5 million quietly trickled into Liberal headquarters. Those voluntary contributions were greater than the totals mailed in during the last three elections. The Liberal party’s fundraising was actually quite good, much better than that of the NDP or Bloc. The problem for the Liberals was that the power brokers divided the spoils. The Grits had the highest infrastructure costs of all the political parties—every federal-provincial association demanded their own office budgets and staff, plus there was a commission for every special interest within the party, each with its own budget. The Liberals’ rotten internal culture meant that the power brokers would rather the party die than lose their little fiefdoms. The party thus left its leader helpless to defend himself. Too busy dividing what remained of fundraising dollars and the public subsidy between its fiefdoms and power brokers, the party was unable to save any for the response to the negative advertising that Ignatieff so desperately needed.