Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The 2011 Gerry Awards

OK it's time to stop your speculating and guessing.

Here's this year's official 2011 Gerry Award winners!!

Most Dead Terrorist Award
Winner: Osama Bin Laden - US Navy SEALs will drop the award over undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean.

The Medal for Parliamentary Decorum
Winner: Tie - Liberal MP Justin Trudeau and NDP MP Pat Martin. In response to winning this award the two MPs released the following statement: “Go f*%k yourself, you godd#%n piece of sh&t.”

The Lifetime Achievement in Gazebo Promotion Award
Winner: Cabinet Minister Tony Clement for his determination to keep Gazebos in news headlines no matter the expense to Canadian taxpayers.

The Eggheads Don’t belong in Politics Prize (AKA The Stephane Dion award)
Winner: Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff who in the 2011 federal election clearly showed why intellectuals have as much business engaging in politics as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has of joining the Margaret Atwood Appreciation Society.

Best Deceased Dictator
Winner: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il
Note – Mummar Gaddafi actually received more support for this honour, but judges couldn’t agree on how his name should be spelled.

The General Custer Strategy Prize
Winner: The political geniuses in the Opposition who thought toppling the minority federal Conservative government and running an election on the “ethics” issue was a winning game plan.

The Most Likely to get a Government Bail out Award
Winner: Research in Motion – We tried to email this good news to the company but unfortunately our Blackberry froze.

The Economic Action Plan Award
Winner: Vancouver hockey rioters. Thanks to the damage they did to property after the Stanley Cup finals, massive amounts of spending was undertaken which must have “stimulated” economic activity.  Based on this success, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty now hopes fans across the country will offset a possible recession by going on a similar destructive rampage after the Super Bowl.

The Dirty Harry Award
Winner: The Conservative federal government. This government’s single-minded determination to get those lowlifes off our streets with more cops, more laws and more jails has led to a new Canadian national motto: “Well what about it punk, feeling lucky?”

Keeping Canada Safe Award
Winner: Defence Minister Peter Mackay who has managed to protect our country with a creative combination of free helicopter rides and unlimited expense accounts.

The Boston Red Sox Award for blowing a big lead in September
Winner: Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives

The Lenin Turning Over in His Grave Memorial Prize
Winner: “The Occupy Movement” which sought to overthrow capitalism (or something) by camping out in public parks and chanting a lot.

The "We're Glad She Wasn't Included in the Leaders' Debate Award"
Winner: Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who is also the best Canadian MP ever to represent Papua, New Guinea.

The Teenager Achievement in Politics Award
Winner: The entire NDP Quebec caucus. 

The Houdini Disappearing Award
Winner: The National Citizens Coalition – Thanks to incredible incompetence at the top, this once great organization is now basically irrelevant. (Oh it still has one key function: mindlessly regurgitating Conservative Party talking points.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fighting the good fight

One of the dangers of involving yourself in the rough and tumble world of politics is you risk succumbing to cynicism. If that happens you either give up your ideals or you simply give up all together. Sadly, it happens all the time.

However, one person I know has managed to emerge from the political trenches with both his ideals and his fighting spirit intact. His name is Kevin Gaudet.

I first came to know Kevin when he headed the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a group dedicated to making governments at all levels more accountable. And Kevin did his job with the tenacity of a pit bull. But more than that he displayed a rare combination in politics: he not only embraced political principles but also understood the nuts and bolts of political gamesmanship. 

This is why, although working with a limited budget, Kevin constantly made headlines. He knew how to craft his message so that it resonated with both the media and the public. As a consequence the CTF became the bane of wasteful government bureaucrats and politicians and Kevin emerged as a champion for all taxpayers.

But he wanted to do more. Rather than just lobbing bombs from the political sidelines, Kevin decided he needed to tackle the problems of big government from within. So in a gutsy move he quit his job at the CTF and ran for the Ontario legislature as a Progressive Conservative. True to his nature, Kevin ran a spirited campaign in the recent provincial election, but ultimately came up short.

Now a lot of people might have thrown in the towel after such an experience. But not Kevin. He is already back in action, this time running for the presidency of the PC party, a campaign that sees him taking on two other excellent candidates. Not surprisingly, Kevin is running as a proud “fiscal conservative.”

Will Kevin win this race? Who knows? But in my books just by taking on this challenge he is already a winner.

In short, Kevin is the kind of guy who when he sees wrong, will do everything he can to make it right.

We need more people like that in politics.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa vs Suzuki

Canada’s famed environmentalist David Suzuki had better watch out, he better not pout and he better not cry and I am telling you why.

Santa Claus is coming to town and he is not a happy camper.

That’s right, reliable sources say the Jolly Old Elf is not at all jolly about Suzuki’s latest fear- mongering fundraising ploy

You may have heard about it. Suzuki’s Foundation has set up a website which claims Santa Claus needs to be relocated on account of all the North Pole ice has melted thanks to industrial-induced climate change.

And, of course, the only way to save Santa Claus is to send the Suzuki Foundation lots and lots of cash.

It’s not clear how Suzuki came up with this tawdry idea. Perhaps he imbibed too much eggnog, or maybe he suffered a concussion while engaged in Christmas combat shopping, or maybe his heart is just three sizes too small.

But in the end it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that Suzuki’s propaganda stunt has apparently enraged the world’s most beloved Christmas icon.

And why shouldn’t Santa Claus be angry? First off, Suzuki is cutting Santa and his elves out of the action. They won’t get a single dime out of whatever money the “Let’s save Santa” campaign raises. The same thing happened, by the way, when Santa didn’t receive any royalties from the classic book, T’was the Night Before Christmas.

Secondly, it probably never occurred to Suzuki that Santa might actually welcome a little global warming in the North Pole. I mean let’s face it, Santa’s frigid village makes Winnipeg look like a tropical paradise.

Thirdly, Santa is probably no lover of the green movement. I am sure, for instance, those “clean energy” giant wind turbines, which green power advocates love so much, have cut to pieces more than one unwary reindeer flying too low on Christmas Eve.

And lastly, I bet Santa Claus is actually a strong supporter of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He does, after all, fit the Tory voter demographic to a tee: white, older male who lives in a non-urban environment. In fact, my theory is he moved to the North Pole either to escape high taxes or because he didn’t want to register his firearms.

This is why I fully suspect Santa Claus will hit back at Suzuki and his Foundation by doing everything he can to help the Conservative government achieve its agenda.

For instance, rather than riding on military helicopters, Defence Minister Peter MacKay will now get free lifts whenever he needs it on Santa’s sleigh with Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer leading the way.

And the next time tree-hugging American celebrities amass in Washington DC to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, watch for Santa Claus to air drop a battalion of hungry man-eating polar bears into their ranks.

Then just to stick it to the green crowd even more, I can envision Santa’s elves starting up a new business: selling melted glacier water in non-renewable plastic bottles. They will call it “Ethical Water.”

Plus Santa Claus will also likely offer the Tories invaluable political intelligence. His “Naughty or Nice” list (which contains much more data than the old mandatory long form census) could provide a lot of useful ammunition for the next round of Conservative Party attack ads, if you get my drift.

But what about Suzuki himself? Will he suffer any repercussions personally because of his ill-advised fundraising campaign?

Well, let’s put it this way. On Christmas morning Suzuki will almost certainly find his stocking stuffed with Alberta tar sands.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

(This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Harper is a big meanie who is making his critics cry

Ever since Prime Minister Stephen Harper won his majority government his management style has come under severe criticism.

Actually, it isn’t so much criticism as it is whining.

Indeed, many of the complaints against Harper can be summarized as follows: “Stephen Harper is a big mean bully who isn’t playing nice. Boo hoo!”

The whiners include media pundits, academics and Opposition MPs who take umbrage with the way the Harper government is limiting Parliamentary debate and with the way it treats its political opponents.

Take for example, Toronto Star columnist Tim Harper who recently moaned about how the Harper Tories, “Demonize opponents and mock their adversaries. Their partisan elbows as sharp as ever.”

And political scientist and former Globe and Mail editor, Geoffrey Stevens argued the Harper government needs to “relax” and “back off”, instead of trampling on opposition MPs.

Then there was NDP MP Pat Martin who famously and unapologetically used the “F” word on Twitter to express his displeasure with the Harper government’s tough Parliamentary tactics.

This made Martin an instant folk hero among the whining brigades.

Of course, Harper, Martin, Stevens and other Tory critics would never consider themselves as whiners. They prefer to paint themselves as defenders of democracy and of Parliamentary institutions and of civility.

Yet, you get the feeling that what really bothers them is that Prime Minister Harper is “running up the score.”  In other words, Harper continues to effectively and efficiently push his agenda through Parliament while steamrolling over his hapless opponents.

For Harper critics and for those sympathetic with the Opposition parties, this state of affairs just isn’t fair. It’s almost as if they think the Tories should voluntarily ease up just to give the Liberals and NDP a chance to get back in the game.

And who knows maybe that would happen if the Conservatives had a different leader.

But like it or not, the man in charge these days is Harper, a politician who likes to wage total political war. And right now he faces an Opposition that is leaderless, weak and generally ineffective.

So why shouldn’t Harper take advantage of this weakness? Why shouldn’t he use the rules of Parliament to advance his agenda? Why shouldn’t he promote his own political interests?

Plus it’s important to keep in mind that for Prime Minister Harper winning a majority government wasn’t by any means his end game.

In my view, his overall strategic goal is to eliminate the Liberal party as an effective political force in Canada. And now that he has the Liberals on life-support, Harper is not about to let up and show them any mercy. Nor is he about to give up on degrading as much as possible the NDP. And why should he?

In fact, it’s unrealistic and na├»ve to expect that Harper would give up on tactics that so far have paid him rich political dividends.

Now admittedly Harper’s no nonsense approach doesn’t exactly make him a cuddly leader, but it doesn’t make him a wannabe dictator either.

And that’s something the whiners should keep in mind. They should also remember that most Canadians are OK with Harper’s approach to leadership. He did, after all, recently win a majority government victory.

That’s not to say the Conservatives should not be vigorously criticized. But instead of bellyaching about Harper’s Parliamentary procedures or about his supposed “bullying” tactics, his critics should focus instead on issues that actually might resonate with Canadians.

And here’s one more word of advice for Opposition MPs. If you don’t like Harper’s Parliamentary practices, the solution is quite simple: win the next election.

(This article originally appeared in the Hill Times.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chretien's first draft

You have probably heard the news about former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien sending out a fundraising letter. But you probably didn't know that the letter talked about in the media is actually a second draft.

Fortunately, I managed to uncover the first draft.

Here it is:

Dear federal Liberal:

Remember me, I used to be your leader. Those were the days when we Liberals actually …you know won elections.

In fact, I won three majorities in a row. Not bad, eh? Not even the great God, Pierre Trudeau ever did that!

But then that Martin guy, the guy who thought he was smarter than everybody else, he took over the party and led it straight into the toilet.

Not that I am bitter or anything.

And then there were those two losers that came after Martin, what were their names again? Stephane … something and …I forget the other guy.

Anyway, I am writing because the Liberal Party is basically broke. It’s getting so bad Bob Rae might have to start busking for change on some Ottawa street corner.

So they came to me to help with the fundraising. Yeah, that’s right, the same guys who stabbed me in back now want my help.

Ironic, aint it?

Oh well, here goes: Please hand over some cash. Why? Well because, the Liberals are …. Um, we plan to … no that won’t work.... our policies are ....hmmm, that's unbelievable. 

Man, this fundraising is hard.

In the old days getting money was really easy. I just sent some flacks to meet my corporate “friends” in a secluded Montreal restaurant, where a mutually beneficial arrangement was agreed upon, if you get my drift.

Nowadays, it’s different. Now we have to ask regular people like you to fork over the dough, without even being able to offer any advertising contracts.

It’s crazy.

So what are you waiting for? Get some cash, stuff it into an envelope and mail it to Liberal Party Headquarters … and do it now!!!

If you don’t send any money, I will go to your house and throttle you! Ha, ha, just kidding. (No I’m not.)

Yours truly,



Seriously, you have to admit I am the best Prime Minister Canada ever had, and that includes that dandy Pierre Trudeau! Not that I’m bitter.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

MacKay’s Air Force Needs to be Grounded

Remember the old TV comedy McHale’s Navy?

Well now we have a Conservative government production called MacKay’s Air Force, and it isn’t very funny.

In fact, if the Harper Government knows what’s good for it, it will cancel this program sooner rather than later.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Canada’s Minister of Defence, Peter MacKay, is quickly gaining a reputation for flying high on the hog.

It all started when news emerged that MacKay had used a Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopter to pick him up from a lodge where he was spending a private vacation.

This was followed by other reports which indicated the Defence Minister had racked up nearly $3 million worth of flights on government Challenger jets.

Needless to say these stories were a gift to Opposition MPs who were quick to suggest MacKay was using government air craft as his own “personal limousine.”

That’s not only a good zinger, but it’s also a line of attack that could leave a serious mark on the Tory government.

Indeed, Mackay’s travel choices can hurt the Conservative Party in the eyes of voters much more than the so-called “ethical” scandals that helped bring down the government earlier this year.

Why do I say that?

Well first off many of the “ethical” issues the Opposition tried to stick on the Tories during the election just didn’t make great political weapons.

Take, for instance, the infamous “in out” scandal.

This was supposed to hurt the Conservatives because Elections Canada had charged the party with some sort of convoluted accounting shenanigans.

The story went something like this: Elections Canada charged the Conservatives with allegedly shifting $1.3 million in ad expense from its national campaign for the 2006 election to 67 individual candidates, who paid for national produced ads through bank transfers ….oops sorry dozed off there for a second.

Anyway, you see what I mean;
 you need to be a CMA to follow or even care about all the money trails laid out in the “in out” saga.

My point is an issue so complicated and so dull will never translate into an effective 30 second attack ad.
That’s why this “ethical” question was such a flop in the last federal election.

Voters just didn’t care.

On the other hand, people do care about political misbehavior when it’s easy to comprehend.

A voter who might not raise an eyebrow about his government amassing a $30 billion deficit, will be outraged if he learns $5,000 of his tax money was used to subsidize a study on erotic Norwegian literature.

And this brings us back to Mackay’s Air Force follies.

Opposition attacks on the Defence Minister’s use of government equipment will resonate with voters because, unlike the ethical stuff, everyone will understand the narrative.

It’s simple: We have an arrogant, out of touch, politician frittering away hard-earned tax dollars for his own personal comfort.

Plus the Conservatives are especially vulnerable to this sort of attack because they keep talking about the need for government austerity.

In short, MacKay can be cast not only as wasteful and arrogant, but also as a hypocrite.

The attack TV ads practically write themselves!

Cue Announcer: “You may have lost your job, you may be struggling to pay your bills, but Peter MacKay isn’t suffering. He likes to gallivant from posh vacation resorts on military helicopters. It’s time for the
Conservatives to come down to earth.”

This is why the Tories should ground MacKay and make sure other cabinet ministers don’t make similar mistakes.

Otherwise, the Conservative government might find itself in some not so friendly skies.

(This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mulcair making political lemonade

It looks like NDP leadership hopeful Thomas Mulcair is heeding the old adage, “If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade.”

Or rather since this is the NDP we are talking about, maybe it’s an orange and orange juice.


My point is Mulcair is making the best he can out of a bad strategic situation.

And that bad strategic situation can be simply stated: his chief opponent in the NDP leadership race, Brian Topp, has cornered the market when it comes to big name endorsements.

Topp has received endorsements from such stars as former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, former Saskatchewan Premier Ed Ronanow and most recently from the United Steelworkers union.

Getting that kind of establishment party support is impressive. In fact, one pollster has described Topp as an “elite juggernaut.” And no mistake, such endorsements do matter. It means credibility for the candidate, it means money, it means lots of positive media coverage.

Mulcair, a relative newcomer to the NDP (he was formerly a provincial Liberal in Quebec) can’t match Topp in the endorsement game.

So he isn’t trying. Rather Mulcair has decided to play a little political ju-jitsu; he is using Topp’s strength against him.


Well, essentially Mulcair has cast himself as the anti-establishment candidate. At his leadership launch, for instance, he talked about how he would do “things differently” and how the party needed to expand beyond its “traditional base.”

One of his supporters, Dominic Cardy, the leader of New Brunswick’s provincial NDP, was even blunter. “The election,” he said, “is about the future of our country, not the past of our party.”

In other words, Topp is getting support from the party’s establishment, because he represents old ideas and the “Old Guard.”

Mulcair, on the other hand, represents the grassroots and new ways of doing things.

It’s an anti-elistist argument that might resonate in an anti-elistist party like the NDP.

Of course, there is nothing original about this tactic. Running against the establishment is a time-honoured practice that often pays political dividends.

This is true especially of late.

I saw this first-hand last year while working on a Republican primary race in the US. Anti-incumbent feeling was running strong at the time in America, meaning the worst insult you could hurl at an opponent was that he or she was an “Establishment-backed candidate” or that his or her campaign was funded by special interest groups or lobbyists.

Indeed, it was anger at the Republican Party’s establishment which helped fueled the Tea Party movement and which led to the defeat of several GOP “establishment” favorites in the 2010 primaries.

Nor were the Democrats immune. Some Congressional Democratic incumbents sought to win points with voters by pointing out how they had opposed their own party’s establishment.

The same dynamic was at play here in Canada too.

One of the reasons, for instance, Toronto mayoralty candidate Rob Ford won his race so handily was because he overtly took on the city’s ruling establishment.

And Prime Minister Stephen Harper has used anti-establishment feeling to his advantage as well. He and his Conservatives have often railed against cultural, intellectual and media “elites” to rally their populist supporters.

Mind you, none of this means going the anti-establishment route will work for Mulcair in the NDP leadership race.

However, in terms of strategy Mulcair doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Playing the anti-establishment card is not only his best option; it’s really his only option.

I just hope he likes the taste of lemonade.

(This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Votes and Values

Canada these days seems to be an ideological mish-mash.

On the one hand, you could argue Canada is becoming a “right-wing” country and point to the recent decisive majority government victory of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives.

On the other hand, however, you could also plausibly argue that Canadians actually embrace left-wing social democracy and for proof note the even more recent NDP majority victory in Manitoba and the electoral win (albeit with a minority) of Ontario’s Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty.

So which is it? Are Canadians right wing or left wing?

Well, with all due respect to all you ideologues out there, the correct answer is neither.

The fact is the majority of Canadians don’t subscribe to any ideologically consistent set of principles. This is why, politically speaking, voters can seem to be all over the ideological map.

This is not to say Canadians don’t care about issues or that they don’t have well-thought out opinions.

They absolutely do. But they base their opinions and voting preferences not on ideology but on values.

For instance, voters who care about “pocket book” values tend to pay attention to issues like tax rates, deficits and government spending.

Meanwhile, Canadians who identify themselves with “moral values” care about things like abortion policy, same-sex marriage and other issues commonly associated with “The Family.”

And there are all kinds of other “value clusters” that make up the Canadian political landscape.

Politicians understand this state of affairs. This is why they will tailor their message so as to win over different value groups to their side.

For instance, when a politician promises to cut taxes and balance the budget, he is making a play for the “pocket book” crowd.

The political math in this case is easy: Whoever can assemble the biggest coalition of value groups, usually wins the election.

Now political strategists also have to keep in mind that the largest and most important value group in Canada is what I call the “Quality of Life Crowd.”

In a nutshell, those who make up the Quality of Life Crowd basically care about protecting and nurturing their standard of living. That means they want to keep their disposable income; that means they want access to excellent health care; that means they want good schools for their kids and a clean environment.

To win an election, you need a huge chunk of this group.

And the Quality of Life crowd is open to either right wing or left wing proposals depending on which side better frames the issues in its communications strategy.

For instance, Prime Minister Harper succeeded in winning over a lot of Quality of Lifers because he promised economic stability and competent leadership in the possibly tough days ahead.

Quality of Lifers, who are risk averse and who don’t like uncertainty, found Harper’s message reassuring.

What’s more, they also like to be kept safe, so Harper’s emphasis on law and order, likely resonated as well.

Now let’s consider the recent Ontario election.

In that contest the Ontario Liberals (with an able assist from their union allies) succeeded in defining Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader Tim Hudak as a hospital-closing, immigrant-hating, right wing extremist.

The Liberals then focused their messaging on how they stood for a strong health care system, for better schools and for a greener environment.

For Quality of Lifers, who had become a little wary of Hudak and the Tories, McGuinty seemed a safer choice.

This is why Ontario leaned Conservative in May and Liberal in October.

It had nothing to do with ideology, and everything to do with values

(The article originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The sad case of the National Citizens Coalition

I think it was former Maple Leaf enforcer Tie Domi who once said of hockey fights, “It’s not how many you win, it’s how many you show up for.”

And to its great shame and disgrace, the National Citizens Coalition did not show up for the Ontario election fight.
It’s true.
The NCC, once a scrappy champion for freedom, tamely stood on the sidelines during this election and watched as big union bosses poured millions of dollars into a media campaign that not only attacked and degraded the PCs but which also put forward a left wing agenda.
The left won the persuasion war essentially by default because the NCC surrendered the field.
It’s unbelievable.
(Full disclosure: I worked at the NCC for more than 20 years, until 2007 when I was fired after criticizing Prime Minister Stephen Harper for not sticking to his conservative principles.)
It makes me angry.
The NCC was created, after all, specifcally to speak up for freedom and to do battle in the arena of ideas. In the old days the NCC was ready, willing and eager to take on all comers, whether that meant battling government bureaucrats or union bosses or political parties.
We were a David taking on an army of Goliaths.
Today, by contrast, the NCC is a pussycat.
Now to be fair, the NCC did squeeze their donors for cash to pay for  a “Dump Dalton” campaign. But it never amounted to anything but a pathetic joke. They had a low-budget website and a video ad that is embarrassingly bad, so bad I doubt it ever aired.
The upshot is the NCC didn’t make a peep. It was totally off the radar throughout a crucial election.
Now I don’t expect the NCC to match the unions dollar for dollar when it comes to  media ad campaigns, but they should at least have the resources to make some sort of  impact.
Back in the 1995 Ontario election, for example, the NCC was a force to be reckoned with. We ran hard-hitting and effective TV ads, we aired radio spots, put up billboards and published newspaper ads.  We made news. We made a difference. And in a tight race, every little bit matters.
So why didn’t the NCC take on Premier McGuinty in any meaningful manner? Why didn’t it try to offset the union boss propaganda campaign?  And never mind the paid media stuff.  Why didn’t the NCC so much as publish an op ed in a major newspaper to express an opinion? To be blunt, why did they let their supporters and conservatives down?
And by the way, the NCC has not undertaken any serious initiatives in the past four years. It has not taken on any court challenges. It has not mounted any sort of major media campaign. It has done nothing, nada, rien.
Oh that’s not quite true, it still collects in lots of donations to pay for salaries.
So what’s the problem?
Well to my mind there are two basic issues. First, the NCC has basically transformed itself into a cheer leading squad for the federal Conservatives. Rather than promoting a conservative agenda, they simply regurgitate Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s talking points. That’s their new role.
Secondly and more seriously, I believe the people leading the NCC  simply don’t know what they are doing. They don’t know how to run a media campaign; they don’t know how to create an imaginative ad; they lack the ability to communicate to the public in a persuasive manner. I also suspect they don’t even truly understand conservative ideology. Simply put, they don’t fight because they don’t know how to fight.
So the end result is the left can run rampant, unopposed as they did in the Ontario election. The NCC, in other words exists simply for the sake of existing. It really serves no useful function.
It’s sad.
Of course, this happens to all groups after a while. They lose their way, they lose their original sense of purpose, they outlive the spirit that created them. And so it is with the NCC. It isn’t dead, but it isn’t exactly alive either.  It’s a zombie shuffling along aimlessly with neither a brain or a soul.
Canada’s conservative movement deserves better.
We need in short, a strong voice for conservatism that will show up for the fights, no matter the odds, no matter the opponent.
(Crossposted at Freedom Forum)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Ontario election prediction and analysis

Here is my much anticipated official prediction for the 2011 Ontario provincial election:

 The final seat tally will be - Liberals: 55  PCs: 33  NDP: 19 (I hope that adds up.)

Yup, the result will be a slim Liberal majority.

Why this result?

Let me explain by briefly analyzing the political campaigns in this race; because as they say, “campaigns matter.”

Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals

Going into this race Premier Dalton McGuinty’s biggest problem was that … well he is Dalton McGuinty.

Voters were tired of the guy; tired of his big spending ways, tired of his taxes, tired of his scandals.

And when voters get in that sort of surly mindset it’s darn tough to get them “untired.”

So the Liberals played the only card they could: they went on the attack.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day the Liberals (along with their big union boss allies) did everything they could to degrade the PC leader’s image.

And after softening up the Tories they shifted gears and concentrated on putting forward those issues where they had a home field advantage: health care, education, the environment.

Overall the Liberal campaign was professional, competent and well financed.

But it was not perfect. For one thing, the Liberal TV attacks against the NDP (comparing the NDP and the Tories) were weak and unconvincing. And the Liberals seemed to be in panic mode when it came to the Mississauga Power Plant issue.

And finally, McGuinty himself was not exactly Mr. Charisma. Of the three leaders his televised debate performance was the weakest. Basically all he did was spend 90 minutes reminding people why they were tired of him.

Yet in the end all that stuff won’t matter because the real ace up the Liberal Party’s sleeve was the 2011 federal election.

And by that I don’t mean Prime Minister Harper’s crack about the “trifecta” helped the Liberals and I don’t mean Ontario voters wanted to balance off a Blue Ottawa with a Red Toronto.

Nope, it’s far more basic. The federal Tory victory was good for the Ontario Liberals because it allowed angry voters to let off some pent up steam. When Ontarians voted against the Ignatieff Liberals many of them were also voting against the McGuinty Liberals. (Voters often don’t distinguish between federal parties and their provincial cousins)

And so in a sense McGuinty was seen as already punished for his sins.

This sapped some of the anti-Liberal feeling the Conservatives were hoping would carry them to an easy victory.

Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

Anyway, what it all adds up to is Ontarians will put aside their desire for change and stick with safer choice of the status quo.

Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives

This is a race Tim Hudak and the PCs should have won easily. The Tories, after all, were facing a tired, uninspiring government led by a Premier who was clearly past his best due date.  

Poll after poll indicated Ontarians wanted change.

Plus throw in the fact that the McGuinty government had recently imposed the hated HST and it’s all a recipe for a Tory victory.

Indeed, as recently as July some polls gave the Tories a whopping 10 point lead over the Liberals.

But today, if the polls are to be believed, the PCs have squandered their once massive lead.

What happened?

Well first off leadership matters.

And for the PCs their leader Tim Hudak left much to be desired.

Now don’t get me wrong.

It’s not that Hudak is necessarily a bad leader. In fact, he’s actually quite competent.

But he’s like an NFL team’s second-string quarterback: he knows the plays, he can execute a game plan adequately … but he’s just not the guy you want on the field when you’re down by three points with two minutes to play.

Simply put, Hudak lacks the intangible quality that makes for a great leader, the ability to rouse voters or to inspire with a vision.

This shortcoming was evident during the televised leaders’ debate. Certainly Hudak did a good job in that debate; he memorized his lines well and delivered them like a pro. But he didn’t show any passion; he didn’t connect to viewers on an emotional level.

And it seems Hudak failed to even inspire his own conservative base. (By the way, the last leader who really did inspire the PC base was Mike Harris.)

By now you are probably saying: "Sure that sounds reasonable Gerry, but what about Prime Minister Stephen Harper? He won a majority and he isn’t  inspiring".

True, but the federal Tories succeeded because they had a good communications campaign and a leader who if not likable was a known quantity.

The same can't be said for their provincial cousins. In fact, the Ontario PC campaign strategy lacked imagination.

Their plan from day one was pretty simple: Go around the province and tell everybody who would listen that Hudak was not McGuinty.

Everything was change, change, change. Even their platform had a bland generic-sounding name: Changebook.

And that’s fine.

But when the Liberals inevitably counter-attacked the Tories didn’t respond or re-adapt their tactics. They still stuck to basically the same theme, even though Hudak was taking some nasty political hits.

Just promising change, in other words, was not enough.

What should the PCs have done?

Well, most importantly they needed to create a political persona for Hudak, a man who, let’s face it, was unknown to most Ontarian voters.

He needed a narrative. Who was he? What did he stand for? What was his role in the political play? What was his vision?

The PCs didn't really tell us any of that stuff and it cost them because it gave their opponents a chance to define their leader.
And that’s what the Liberals and union bosses did. After their hatchet men were done Hudak was cast in the minds of many voters as a scary, right-wing extremist.

In politics you either define or you are defined.

Still even that could be overcome had the Tories launched a massive air war in the last few weeks of the campaign.

They needed to hit McGuinty and hit him hard.

But they didn’t. They just kept repeating a few tame “taxman” ads that had grown stale and lost their bite.

I suspect this wasn’t so much a strategic shortcoming as it was a financial one.

Anyway, the bottom line is when it comes to blowing big leads the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves will soon have company.

 Andrea Howath and the NDP

The Ontario NDP took a page out of the federal NDP playbook. They stayed under the radar for the first part of the campaign.

And they waited for the debate to showcase their leader on a TV stage, hoping the contrast would translate into votes.

And it will likely pay dividends.

First off, for many voters looking for change, Howarth fits the bill. Indeed, just by being a woman she represents change.

Plus she did a good job at the leaders’ debate, holding her own against Hudak and McGuinty.

This is the first look many voters had of the NDP leader and first impressions are lasting ones.

Most importantly however, the NDP could position itself as the only party with a positive vision, which will likely sway many voters fed up with the mud slinging taking place between the Liberals and PCs.

Finally, any lingering sympathy for the late Jack Layton will also help the NDP.

There won’t be an orange wave tomorrow, but maybe a strong ripple.

So that’s my analysis. But keep in mind, if I’m wrong and the PCs win tomorrow night, then I will strongly insist this was really just an exercise in political satire. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Liberal NDP Merger Doesn’t Add Up

Certain people in this country have a poor understanding of political mathematics.

I am talking about all those “progressives” out there who keep trumpeting the idea of a merger between the Liberals and NDP.

These people seem to think a new “Liberal - New Democratic Party” would both unite the Canadian left and topple the Harper regime in the next federal election.

As left-wing columnist Frances Russell put it, “The Liberals and New Democrats together could create a game-changing foe for the Conservatives.”

Now on the surface such an argument does make sense.

After all, the combined vote totals of the NDP and Liberals in the last federal election surpassed the Conservative vote total.

However this is where political math comes in.

In political math two plus two does not always equal four; sometimes it actually equals three.

In other words, if the NDP and Liberals were to join forces there is no guarantee their respective support bases would come along for the ride.

In fact, it’s likely a merger would alienate many Liberals and New Democrats, causing a substantial number of them to join the Conservatives.

Why is this?

Well for one thing, the Liberals and NDP represent two distinct and separate political cultures.

Yes, broadly speaking both parties are on the left side of the political spectrum, but ideology still divides them.

The NDP, for instance, is an ideologically-oriented party that stresses “class warfare” and “democratic socialism.” It also has close connections to the union movement.

The Liberals, on the other hand, are less dogmatic about their “left wing” ideals and more business-friendly.

Indeed, when it’s necessary Liberals will happily embrace fiscally conservative policies as did former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who managed to balance the federal budget.

And this is not surprising because there exists within the Liberal Party a large contingent of so called “Blue Liberals” who are socially liberal but who still believe in the profit-motive.

Such Blue Liberals would probably be more comfortable in the Conservative Party than in a party where meetings were held in union halls and where everybody called each other “brother and sister.”

Likewise, there would also be many New Democrats unhappy to see a merger take place with Liberals.

This is especially true for the more populist brand of New Democrats who view the Liberals as corrupt pawns of corporate Canada.

They might not stick around in a new Liberal/NDP amalgam.

In fact, many populist-style NDPers in Western Canada actually voted for the old Reform Party, so it’s not too much of a stretch to think they could switch allegiances to the Conservatives.

And there’s another variable merger proponents should consider: Prime Minister Stephen Harper would absolutely welcome and cheer on a union between his two political enemies.

It’s true.

Back in the days when we worked together at the National Citizens Coalition he explained to me he would like to see Canada evolve into a two party system, like they have in the United States, a system that pitted a right wing party against a left wing  party.

Harper’s view was that if you gave voters such a stark ideological choice, the conservatives would always have the advantage.

This is why, for instance, he has worked hard to eliminate the Liberal Party as a political force in Canada.

Of course, if the Liberals were to voluntarily become assimilated into the NDP socialist collective, well that would work just as well for his purposes.

In short, the correct mathematical equation representing a merger between Liberals and Conservatives would look like this:

Liberals + NDP = Happy Stephen Harper.

(This originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.)