Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reviewing the Year in Politics (Sort of)

Whenever a New Year approaches, I like to take my eyes off the road ahead and stare intently for a long period of time at the rear view mirror of history.

Yes, metaphorically-speaking, it’s reckless driving, but it’s also the only way to gather the facts needed for my annual “Year in Review” column, which highlights the key political events of the past twelve months.

And this year’s review of 2013 is chock-full of exciting highlights. Check it out:

(Please note: Nothing you read from here on is meant to be taken seriously and is for entertainment purposes only.)

* Idle No More movement leader, Chief Theresa Spence, threatens to “bring Canada’s economy down to its knees.” NDP leader Thomas Mulcair immediately objects saying: “Hey, bringing the economy down to its knees is my job!”

* NDP says a "bare” majority enough for Quebec to separate from Canada; nudists rejoice.

* Taking a cue from the Idle No More movement, the groundhog refuses to look for his shadow unless the Governor-General is present.

* The federal Liberals face lawsuits when their “imaginative” TV leadership debate format bores several viewers to death.

* During a speech before the House of Commons, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty admits the Conservative government’s entire budgetary plan consists of “putting up a bunch of Economic Action Plan billboards all over the place.”

* Justin Trudeau is elected leader of the Liberal Party, finishing ahead of Liberal MP Joyce Murray who wanted to co-operate with the NDP, proving once again that in politics having no ideas is much better than having bad ideas.

* The NDP holds a policy convention at which it drops the word “socialism” from its constitution and replaces it with the Canadian equivalent of socialism: “Economic Action Planning.”

* Toronto Mayor Rob Ford starts clever PR campaign, which successfully puts his city on the map.

* The Conservative Party, which had already adopted Liberal-style economic policies, decides to also adopt Liberal-style scandals. Enter Senator Mike Duffy.

* Prime Minister Harper leaves for Europe saying his visit will result in several key photo opportunities.

* Worried about its worsening image the Senate takes a pre-emptive step: it passes a resolution to abolish the NDP.

* Controversy erupts when it’s learned Liberal leader Trudeau received pay for speaking at charity events, leading many Canadians to voice a key question: why in the world would anyone pay money to hear a politician speak?

* Prime Minister Harper denounces those who say he is making government too partisan. Later that day Canada Day is officially renamed “Harper Day.”

* The media becomes completely obsessed with the "royal child," or as he’s otherwise known, Justin Trudeau.

* Absolutely nothing happens.

* After watching Russian President Vladimir Putin out maneuver President Barack Obama over the Syrian chemical weapon crisis, Prime Minister Harper asks Putin to negotiate the Keystone pipeline deal.

* Senator Mike Duffy stuns the country when he reveals that he taped the infamous Mayor Rob Ford “crack video.”

* The RCMP says it will investigate the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff for possible illegal activity, causing Harper to boast that his “law and order agenda is clearly working.”


* Conservative MP Michael Chong introduces a Bill to give backbench MPs more power; as a reward, he is quickly named Canada’s ambassador to Siberia.

So as you can see, 2013 was an extremely interesting year. And 2014 promises to provide us more of the same.

Oh well, try and have a Happy New Year anyway.

(This article originally appeared in the Hill Times.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tory fundraising Pitch Suffers from Blandness

Given that for the past ten years or so, the Conservative Party has been something of a fundraising juggernaut, I’m hesitant to criticize their methods.

Clearly, whatever they are doing is working.

Yet, a recent Tory fundraising appeal, which somehow made its way into my email inbox, leaves me cold. (Mind you, it’s possible my coldness might be due to the wind chill.)

At any rate, here’s the Conservative missive:


The success of our Party over the last 10 years has been a result of our ability to consistently raise more money than our opposition.  And as one of our key supporters you've been a critical part of that success.

Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have made fundraising their top priority, and they are working hard to close the gap.

We cannot let that happen.

Our Party can only win the next election if we keep our fundraising advantage and the 2015 election is right around the corner. If we want to win, we need to get ready now.

That's why we are launching the Seize the Moment campaign to raise $2 million by the end of the year.

This is an ambitious goal for our Party, but I know that you, my fellow members, donors and supporters will stand with us. I am asking you today – will you donate $5 or whatever you can afford today to help us reach our $2 million goal?

Make your $5 gift today and help us Seize the Moment – we're counting on you.


John Walsh
President, Conservative Party of Canada

So what’s wrong with this message?

Plenty, if you ask me. (Which admittedly, nobody did.)

In my mind, a successful fundraising letter has to make some sort of emotional connection with the donor while at the same time creating a sense of urgency.

This appeal does neither.

Instead, the Tories offer what I’d call a bland “structural” pitch, i.e. they are essentially saying give us money because: a) you are a Conservative, and b) we are the Conservative Party.

The only hook beyond that basic message is: “We can’t let the other team out fundraise us”.

That’s not exactly a rallying cry to political activists, who are seldom motivated by cold financial calculations and who don’t necessarily see politics as a fundraising competition.

They donate money because they want to advance an ideological agenda or because they want to defend their values or more bluntly they do it for primal emotional reasons: they are afraid, or angry or hopeful.

Asking them to “Seize the moment” so that the Tory balance sheet looks good might motivate accountants, but it will likely underwhelm a large chunk of the donor base.

Plus there has to be a sense that their support is needed right away, that they can’t put off signing that cheque or making that online donation.

But this Tory pitch is about amassing money in a bank vault for the 2015 election, which is more than a year off and I’m sorry that’s not “right around the corner.”

A better approach for the Tories would have been to say something like this:


As you know the left wing media has been unfairly attacking our party and our leader.

What’s more the Liberal Party has been inundating the TV airwaves with advertisements, promoting their new leader Justin Trudeau.

We need to fight back! We need to get our message out so that Canadians know what’s at stake.

That’s why our party has been running a series of our own TV ads to warn Canadians that Trudeau is “in over his head,” that he lacks the experience and expertise it will take to manage Canada’s economy.

We think our ads will work but they cost a lot of money.

In fact, the bills are landing on my desk right now.

I am hoping that I can count on your generous financial support so that we can pay for these ads and continue to stand up against those who want bigger government and higher taxes.

Only the Conservatives can provide the good government you deserve and Canada needs.

Please make a donation today.

OK that’s just a rough draft, but you get the idea.

To energize donors you need a little more punch, you need to give them something beyond an abstract far off goal.

All that said, this message will still garner the Tories lots of dough.

But they are also likely leaving a lot of money on the table.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is Santa a Tory?

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's recent comment about Santa Claus being a Canadian reminded me of a column I wrote a few years ago, concerning a David Suzuki fundraising campaign that exploited Saint Nick.

So given its sudden relevance and its seasonal theme, I thought I'd reproduce it below:

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 inWashington 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)

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Why I'm Not Excited about the Reform Act

Solon’s laws for Athens, the Magna Carta, the Emancipation Proclamation, all key milestones in the history of democracy which pale into insignificance when compared to Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Great Reform Act of 2013.

Or so says the hype emanating from that alternate reality dimension known as the “Ottawa Bubble”.

Ottawa Bubblonians -- columnists, pundits, editorial writers  -- are gleefully extolling Chong’s bill -- which would “empower” backbench MPs by, among other things, making it easier for them to dispatch their leaders -- because they love the idea of returning to a purer 19th century-style British parliamentary democracy.

Ha just kidding!

Of course, they really love this Bill for a more basic reason: they believe it’s embarrassing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

So what do I think about Chong’s bill?

Well, even though I love 19th century political conventions as much as the next guy, I really can’t work up too much excitement about a bill that simply shifts the balance of power on Parliament Hill.

By the way, I suspect it’s the same for most non-Ottawa Bubblonian Canadians.

I doubt very much, for instance, that people get up in the morning saying, “Forget about the economy and the threat of nuclear war, if only we could restore our ancient Westminster British Parliamentary traditions so that my MP could have more power.”

Not that such indifference matters to the Ottawa Bubblonians who would argue that if Canadians only stopped watching mindless TV and spent more time reading Hansard, they would also love Chong’s bill because it would loosen the iron grip of party leaders on their MPs and thus usher in a Golden Age of Good Government.

And even if it doesn’t usher in a Golden Age, Chong’s Bill might at least encourage more MPs to openly defy their leaders and speak their mind, which would undeniably strengthen the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s democratic right to write more juicy and gossipy stories.   

Yet, even those powerful arguments don’t move me.

For one thing, I doubt Chong’s Bill, even if passed without amendments, would do much in practical terms to weaken party leaders. After all, it was more than 40 years ago that then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau mocked backbench MPs as nobodies and ever since then political power has been inexorably centralized in the leader’s office.

And I’m sorry, but one parliamentary bill isn’t going to reverse that flow of power, the parliamentary toothpaste is out of the tube -- like it or not, for a whole bunch of reasons, our system has evolved so that party leaders are the undisputed “Kings of the Hill.”

But even if the pro-Reform Act enthusiasts are correct, even if this bill would empower MPs and reduce the leader’s clout, I’d still ask that most important of all questions:  “So what?”

Why should anybody who lives outside the Ottawa Bubble really care if the power dynamic on Parliament Hill has been altered?

Certainly, Chong’s proposed changes won’t make our system any more democratic, unless you call giving a small cabal of disgruntled MPs the power to “fire” a prime minister -- who was elected to the job by millions of people -- democratic.

(OK, I realize Canadians don’t directly elect the prime minister, but let’s be honest, when most people vote it’s usually not the local guy they are thinking about when they write down their X on the ballot. They are really voting for the party leader they like best.)

At the very least, allowing a small group of MPs to undo a democratic decision is an idea that runs counter to the Reformist-populist ideal of devolving power to the grassroots.

Traditionalists, of course, might contend that making MPs more powerful is actually good for democracy because it means they will act as a bulwark against tyranny.

The idea is that if some future prime minister starts getting all Julius Ceasary, the Reform Act will give MPs the power to grab metaphorical daggers so they can quickly and efficiently strike a blow for liberty.

And that’s a great argument, except that it overlooks one key fact: MPs are first and foremost politicians, which is to say they are usually guided by their own political self-interest, meaning the only time they will go all “Ides of March” on a leader will be when they reckon he or she has become an electoral liability and thus a threat to their own future.

To put it another way, when MPs decide whether or not to depose their leader, things like principles and democracy and liberty, will be less important to their calculations than the most recent polling numbers. Indeed, it’s possible we could see a prime minister deposed simply because he or she is enacting necessary but unpopular measures.

So when you boil it down to its basics, all Chong’s Bill will do is make it easier for jittery MPs to save their own electoral skins.

To that I say, “Big whooping deal!”

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one meaningful way to reform government power – and that’s to reduce it

Asking me to get excited about the Reform Act is like asking a deer to get excited because a pack of wolves has come up with an easier way to replace its dominant male..