Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Decision to Appoint Gomery

The recent hearings of the Gomery Commission in Montreal have produced testimony damaging to the Liberal Party, particularly those in it associated with Jean Chrétien. It also led to the following by no means unique observation from Lawrence Martin in the March 24, 2005 edition of the Globe and Mail:

“It has become clear to every Liberal in the party that one of the worst decisions made by Prime Minister Paul Martin was the calling of an inquiry into the sponsorship scandal.... When Auditor-General Sheila Fraser’s report came out last year, Mr Martin had an option. He could have - to use his own words - swept it under the rug. He could have said it’s old era stuff, the police are investigating, no inquiry is needed. He would have been hit with a week or two of scathing headlines, but not much more.

This argument has been advanced by many journalists before. It is not new. But whenever I see it again, I am reminded of just how utterly stupid and clueless most of our Ottawa commentariat really is.

Paul Martin made mistakes when he responded to the sponsorship scandal, but appointing the inquiry itself (Gomery himself was a very poor choice for Commissioner) was not one of them. He was lucky that he responded as quickly as he did. So far the scandal has not dragged down his government in part because he was able to distance himself very quickly from the Chrétien government when the scandal broke . The danger for Martin is that some fact rooted out by the investigation will still somehow link him personally to the scandal, although there is no sign of that so far.

He has been and will continue to be hurt by Quebec’s hostile reaction to the very idea of using federal money to intervene in the sovereignty debate, and to that society’s embarrassment over the presence of scandal in a social and political system most had to come to regard as very clean.

Most now forget, but the AG’s report came out on Tuesday, February 10, 2005. By the following Saturday, the Globe published a Reid poll showing a collapse in Liberal support. That means there was an instantaneous and overwhelmingly negative public reaction the government could not ignore. With the opposition smelling Liberal blood, the notion that they and the headline writers would have given up on this story after a “week or two of scathing headlines” is absolutely, completely crazy. Not appointing an inquiry communicates that you have something to hide, not exactly a message designed to restore public trust.

What baffles me is how often this contention of Lawrence Martin seems to be repeated as a kind of self-evident truth. The Reid poll numbers, relased just three days after the scandal broke, flatly contradict this lunacy.

Ontario Liberals Deficit Experiment

A poll released on March 17 by Léger marketing preceded by one day an announcement by the McGuinty Liberals an accounting change would mean that the the 2004-05 deficit would be much higher than forecast last spring. The poll gave the Ontario Liberals a big lead: L - 44, PC - 31, NDP -19.

This gives us an interesting real time political experiment. It is considered a given of our political economy, that balanced budgets are a sine qua non of political success. The McGuinty Liberals have just opted for higher deficits of some order of magnitude, rather than a slash and burn approach to budget-making. How high a political price might they pay? Their $23 billion gap campaign is clearly designed to offset some of the expected damage. But the public reaction to this year’s budget will be most interesting given all the bloodletting of a year go. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 18, 2005

On the Left Coast

The new Ipsos-Reid poll out today gives the B.C. Liberals 46% to 39% for the NDP and 12% for the Greens. This would produce a lopsided 51-28 win for the governing party. This confirms recent trends and is no surprise given the province's improving economy and fiscal position (which let them have an election style budget last month). There is still evidence in the polls that Gordon Campbell is not a much beloved personality (he has only a 42% approval rating), so I think there is still the possibility that the election will have some interesting sparks. But it seems to me the ultimate outcome is not in much doubt.

The most interesting bit of news this week was that ex-CBC chair Carole Taylor will run for the Liberals. Norman Spector says "Carole Taylor's entry into provincial politics changes the dynamic of the election campaign. It will narrow the gender gap and strengthen Campbell's "Liberal" credentials..." Taylor gives me the initial impression of someone who may have excellent political skills, and therefor may eventually make a significant impact. However, as a new candidate I don't think she will make much difference to this campaign. And the gender gap is driven by issues not personalities, including the fact that the NDP is led by Carole James.

Ontario By-election in Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey

The Ontario PC leader, John Tory, won a seat in the legislature last night. It was in some ways a typical by-election. The government candidate, Liberal Bob Duncanson, lost badly while the NDP and Greens made gains. The Liberal mistake was to contest the by-election. It gives voters a free pass to whack the government over various grievances.

I can take a by-election outcome and a calculate a province-wide result by comparing the results to the previous provincial election. Last night's result would produce a virtual tie between the PCs and the NDP in popular vote (with the NDP having a slight edge) but it would give the PC's a minority win - 50 seats. Last spring's Hamilton East by-election, actually won by the NDP, would have given the third party an easy win province-wide victory.

While one should take such projections with a huge grain of salt, there is no doubt that the Liberals performed quite badly in both instances. On this one, where they had the excuse, they should not have nominated a candidate.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

B.C. 2005 Election

The B.C. election is coming soon. It is scheduled for May 17. The campaign begins mid-April. I will post on it from time to time.

The only point I would make today is that, because it appears the B.C. Liberals are heading for re-election, brand name confusion with their federal cousins means that polls of FEDERAL party preference over the next few months are likely to be distorted by the presence in British Columbia of a provincial election campaign. Specifically, it is likely that federal Liberal support will be higher than it would otherwise (possibly the NDP too) as the federal Liberals benefit from provincial spillover. It will likely take until the end of June for that to filter out.

Three good sites for following the election are:

1. The Election Prediction Project B.C. election website: Anyone can enter their opinion on the race in each riding on this site. Most of the comments are uninteresting but occasionally you see some important on the ground observations you can’t get in the conventional media. For example, one riding likely to be competitive is Oak Bay-Gordon Head. The conflicting opinions on the site on the riding page are quite helpful in understanding the micro political climate here.

I don’t understand the process that translates the often contradictory comments into seat outcomes but the overall predictive record of the site is reasonably good.

2. The UBC election stock market site:
This site gives you the expectations of the investors. It is based on a “wisdom of crowds” or “wisdom of the market” assumption. It tells you specifically what the collective expectations of the participants are at any given moment.

3. The Nodice 2005 B.C. election page has a comprehensive round up of links and all the background information you could ask for.

Media, politics, Democrats and Social Security

I have been both busy and vacationing and not posting. Time to start up again.

Josh Marshall has been mostly writing detailed posts about the fight over Social Security, but every once and awhile he stands back and delivers a really insightful brief essay on the over arching politics of it all. A recent posting begins thus:

One of the Democrats' greatest problems -- far more insidious than many realize -- is their desire to gain the approval and approbation of establishment Washington and its A-list pundits. The habit or inclination is rooted in a political world that ceased to exist 20 or 30 years ago, and even then was wrong-headed.

The rest can be found by clicking here. It is worth reading.