Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Liberal Response Ad

It is a corny effort, but this Youtube response by a young Liberal has the right idea. Using the video distribution and production capacity of the internet makes a lot of sense. You can get effective widely-distributed political messages out at minimal cost.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Does Harper Want An Election?

The attack ads on Dion imply that he does. If the budget includes tax cuts and a strong effort to woo Quebec, the question arises, why fire off all this political ammunition if the election is not until next year. Harper's statement implying he did want an election made me think immediately that it was what is called in football a misdirection play. If you parse his words he simply observes that he, Harper, has no "incentive" to want an early election. I focused in my earlier post on the opposition but if the government wants an election, they can likely engineer a Commons defeat.

A new CROP poll in Quebec suggests the Liberals are on the verge of being able to win in Quebec - the Liberals lead the PQ by three points 37 to 34. My seat estimate has the PQ ahead of the Liberals 61 to 59, a minority government, but this is the strongest they have been in a long time. With PQ Leader André Boisclair's reputation continuing to diminish, this spring may look to Charest like the time to go.

That would put off a federal vote in all probability to June.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Swiftboating of Stéphane Dion

I am not certain how effective or persuasive the Conservative ads directed at Stéphane Dion are or will be, but then they are not aimed at me. They are directed at establishing a public impression of the man before Canadians have had time independently to establish firm views.

However, I am certain of the genesis of the strategy. Its inspiration is pure Karl Rove, the George Bush operative, who was behind the attacks on John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic candidate for President, made in a series of defamatory ads sponsored by a group calling itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth – with no official ties to Rove, but lots of connections, another Rove trademark.

The tactics are well described on the web site of the makers of the documentary Bush’s Brain:

Our film, BUSH'S BRAIN, is a primer on how Karl Rove operates. If you want to understand what happened in the elections of 2000 and 2004, you should see our film. If you want to know what will probably happen this fall, you must see our film.

For those who saw BUSH'S BRAIN, the Swift Boat Ads came as no surprise. They were vintage Rove. You attack your opponent's strength, not his weakness. And you cast deep shadows of doubt -- which can't be refuted in time for the election.

The same technique was used in the 2000 primary election against Senator John McCain. Rove turned McCain's heroic ordeal as a prisoner of war into a liability. Because of his years of imprisonment, McCain was said to be "mentally unfit" to be president. Sound familiar?

Familiar indeed! This is the exact playbook being used now against Dion – attacking his reputation for integrity and strong support for the environment. And given its odious but effective history, the Liberals should not underestimate its potential. There is more about Rove and his tactics in this Atlantic Monthly article by Josh Green from 2004, for example this paragraph:

Some of Rove's darker tactics cut even closer to the bone. One constant throughout his career is the prevalence of whisper campaigns against opponents. The 2000 primary campaign, for example, featured a widely disseminated rumor that John McCain, tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had betrayed his country under interrogation and been rendered mentally unfit for office. More often a Rove campaign questions an opponent's sexual orientation. Bush's 1994 race against Ann Richards featured a rumor that she was a lesbian, along with a rare instance of such a tactic's making it into the public record—when a regional chairman of the Bush campaign allowed himself, perhaps inadvertently, to be quoted criticizing Richards for "appointing avowed homosexual activists" to state jobs.

You see the tactics at work in the ads – attacks on Dion’s environmental record, insinuations of Liberal corruption, etc. There may be more to come.

The Liberals need to hit back fast and hard but their response so far has been weak.

Other parties such as the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens plus the media should join in denouncing this loathsome import from U.S. political culture. They should all demand that the Conservatives drop the ads, and instead turn the air time over to ads that will raise awareness of global warming and offer practical advice on how to do something about it - something the Conservatives in other moments profess to care about. Let them put their party's money where their mouth is.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Tory Attack Ads

CTV News tells us the Tories will soon launch attack ads directed at Stéphane Dion. This comes just after they made a series of environmental announcements. The ad campaign reveals their true colours. If they really want to persuade us their commitments on the environment are genuine, why not cancel the attacks and do something positive, like using the ad buy to promote ideas that would help Canada reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

No Spring Election

TC has been convinced since early in the fall that we were heading for an election this spring.

Something happened this week to change my mind. First, the premise of my thinking was that each party for its own reasons was likely to vote against the budget. In the case of the Liberals and the NDP it was always likely that there would be elements of the budget - for example, the old child care program ends March 31 and the budget could change that, but won't - which made a negative vote inevitable. The two parties are direct competitors for the same pool of votes. The NDP would be ridiculed by the Liberals if they supported the budget and, while the Liberal exposure on this front is not as strong, the reverse is also true.

In the early fall the BQ began signalling that it was ready to bring the government down. It even toyed with the idea of forcing a confidence vote by mid-February. They also demanded an apparently non-negotiable $3.9 billion for Quebec to rectify fiscal imbalance. This week Duceppe suddenly shifted ground on his fiscal demands and said simply, "Make me an offer".

Here is an excerpt from the story in the Globe and Mail:
Mr. Duceppe, a former union negotiator, said: "For negotiations to occur, there has to be an offer. There is no offer as we speak, there is nothing on the table. I'm not about to negotiate with our own request. We won't settle at 50 per cent of our objective. We will see the offer, how it's spread out, what it means. But don't count on us to start negotiating with ourselves."

The implication is clear: Mr. Duceppe and company will vote for the budget - notice the phrase "how it's spread out", weasel words if I ever saw them. He will likely justify it by saying he wants to lock in and implement whatever gains Quebec makes in the budget on its fiscal imbalance agenda. Chantal Hebert reaches the same conclusion as TC about a spring election with somewhat different reasoning, but her column on this subject is worth reading.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Star for the Democrats

He may have been Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, but Jim Webb, the new Democratic Senator from Virginia, is emerging as one of the stars of the new Democratic Congress.

He gave the reply to Bush's State of the Union's address last night. Apparently he rewrote the original script prepared by the standard Democratic Party wordsmiths. The authenticity shows.

It should be watched or read here.

The response by Newsweek captures the zeitgeist:
Something unprecedented happened tonight, beyond the doorkeeper announcing, "Madame Speaker." For the first time ever, the response to the State of the Union Message overshadowed the president's big speech. Virginia Sen. James Webb, in office only three weeks, ... left President Bush's ordinary address in the dust. In the past, the Democratic response has been anemic... This time it pointed the way to a revival for national Democrats.

As for the speech itself, it contained the usual quota of Bush's, ahem, nosestretchers. All well documented here.

The result of all this for Bush is that his popularity is comparable only to that of Richard Nixon just before he delivered his last State of the Union Address in the middle of the Watergate Scandal.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The New Environmentalists

Stephen Harper and company have spent the past week trying to convince us all that they are the ones truly committed to doing something on Kyoto. One tactic has been to trash the previous Liberal record on global warming.

Fair enough, the Liberals do deserve criticism for their lax record. The catch is that governments don't respond to these things in a vacuum. They take into account response to their plans on the part of individuals, corporations, lobby groups, provinces AND the official opposition. During the late nineties after the Liberals had signed Kyoto, but did not then move quickly to take the steps necessary to achieve the goals. Across the House of Commons they faced a Canadian Alliance opposition which vigourously attacked them, for example, for considering mandatory greenhouse gas emission caps (Alliance MP Dave Chatters speech in 1997 on this subject illustrated the attitude).

Now, if the Canadian Alliance had been attacking the Liberals for not moving fast enough on meeting Kyoto targets, that could have made a significant difference to the behaviour of the Chrétien government. Paul Martin's February, 2000 budget was filled with various tax cuts (even using the neocon phrase "tax relief" to describe them) in order to undercut the campaign by the Alliance for tax cuts as a way of spending the then growing surplus.

Listening to them suggest they will do now what the Liberals failed to do then is a bit much, as it ignores their own very considerable political responsibility for that record.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Strategic Counsel poll has good news for Liberals

The Globe and Mail’s interpretation of their new Strategic Counsel poll is that the Liberals are “clinging to a slender lead”. Not so. The big Liberal lead in Ontario in the survey would translate into a convincing 2004 Paul Martin size minority government.

I calculate the seat numbers as:

Strategic Counsel – National Seats

Liberals – 135
Conservatives – 95
Bloc – 55
NDP – 22
Other – 1

Interestingly, the poll produces a different winner from the recent Environics poll. Now that the Liberals have a new leader and we appear to be heading for a federal election later this year, these surveys take on a new significance so contradictory results really add to the uncertainty.

There is one clear consistency between the two polls, and it is not good news for Stephen Harper. The numbers in Quebec from the two surveys are quite similar for the Conservatives and Liberals (Environics has the Bloc much weaker than Strategic Counsel).

Environics – Quebec (In %)
Liberals – 24
Conservatives – 18
Bloc – 36

Strategic Counsel – Quebec (In %)
Liberals – 25
Conservatives – 15
Bloc – 48

The Liberals won 34% of the vote in Quebec in 2004 but just 21% in 2006. These results suggest the beginnings of a revival, but show that Dion has a long way to go in Quebec, and that Harper is hanging on to about 9 points of the 16% of the Quebec electorate who moved his way in the last election. TC has never thought the Conservatives could build a majority in Quebec, and all the polls since the Liberal convention seem to confirm that, not only is this true, but the Tories may have lost up to half the new votes they won last time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Media myths shape Canadian politics

The media has created a myth, embellished it, and pursued the narrative to the extent it has now actually caused a shift in Canada’s realpolitik by redefining comprehensively media narratives.

The myth: that the Wajid Khan defection actually changed the balance of power in the House of Commons giving the NDP the so-called ‘balance of power’.

In fact, the NDP plus the Conservatives and the two independents (an essential aspect of this math) could have won a Commons vote before Khan’s defection, and the essential facts about this are no different today, although there is now a three vote rather than a one vote margin. (The Lapierre resignation adds another vote.)This calculation actually deducts one vote from the Liberals but there is a good reason for this: the Speaker, Peter Milliken, is a Liberal and does not vote except in the event of a tie, in which case he is bound by tradition to uphold the government.

The only source I can find who seems to grasp this basic fact is the former Clerk of the Privy Council, Norman Spector, who noted in a column:

Let's be clear. It's simply incorrect to say that the NDP now has the balance of power in Parliament. In fact, the NDP is in precisely the same position as the Bloc Québécois, and the two parties are in precisely the same position as they were on the day Parliament opened last year. Neither party held the balance of power then, neither party holds the balance of power now.

There are two other key media assumptions: that the poor poll numbers recently for the NDP mean it desperately wishes to avoid an election in which it faces certain losses; and that the governmentwishes simply to hang on to power long enough to find a way to win a majority. So the implicit message is that we can look forward to a new glorious news-rich parliamentary session full of Tory-NDP deal-making.

Aside from the underlying math being wrong, it appears that another assumption underpinning this outlook is also shaky. This interview that Stephen Harper gave to the Hill Times strongly suggests to TC that he wants an early election, likely to take advantage of the financial and organizational lack of preparedness on the part of the Liberals (which would thus make all recent media speculation about Layton-Harper dealmaking moot). Harper may also be hoping to benefit from a particular constellation of public opinion that would see a diversion of votes from the Liberals and the NDP to the Greens (see TC’s earlier posts on voting for the Greens and the recent Environics poll).

Ironically, there has been a benefit to the beleaguered NDP from all this media attention, however erroneous the basis for it. The party normally has a hard time getting noticed, but Jack Layton has been popping up on all the usual news shows and received a full hour of exposure tonight on TV Ontario’s The Agenda.

TC’s guess is that the budget will likely be delivered close to the March 20th date floated by Radio-Canada. The Parliamentary Calendar suggests the vote on the budget won’t then take place until after the Easter break, putting it well into April. If Jean Charest as rumoured calls a Quebec election in the interim, the federal parties would no doubt defer action until after that electoral process is over. That would easily push the election back from some time in the latter half of May into June. That seems to TC to be the most likely scenario, although I doubt that Charest has really made up his mind yet on whether to call an election this spring.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Climate crisis politics scare George and Stephen

The resistance to the science that says that the globe confronts a climate crisis is (no pun intended)melting. Even George W. Bush is now rumoured to be planning to make it a central theme of his State of the Union address.

See this post from Kevin Drum, who comments: "Color me massively skeptical. Remember how last year we were addicted to oil? Remember the sweeping changes Bush proposed to deal with that? Me neither."

Update: There is much more in this Daily Kos post.

Of course, the johnny-come-lately environmentalist conservatives are responding not to science, but are swallowing their ideological convictions under public pressure. Thanks goes to the blog Section 15, which found this 2002 story from Now, the weekly Toronto newspaper, about an Ontario Tory reception for the anti-Kyoto Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions:

There were speeches by coalition organizers, and a particularly passionate Ontario energy minister, John Baird, made his anti-Kyoto rallying cry. Needless to say, the audience was very receptive. Baird's parliamentary assistant, Scarborough MPP Steve Gilchrist, who at one time helped block developers' plans for the Oak Ridges Moraine, was busy propping open doors with chairs to give relief to a very hot and stuffy room.

Of course, what's good enough for George Bush must be good enough for Stephen Harper. If North America's two most powerful global warming skeptics are about to change their tune, as cynical and politically driven as it clearly is, the environment might nonetheless get some benefit from it.

The problem for both is that, like any huge policy reversal, it is potentially a source of as much political harm to the two of them, as potential benefit.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

2007 Manitoba Election

A Manitoba election may be pending in the very near future, and as noted in an earlier post, the most recent poll shows a three point lead for the Conservatives over the NDP, 41% to 38%. However, a commentary published in the Winnipeg Free Press after release of the poll suggested that despite the Conservative lead, the NDP could win with fewer votes because it leads in the City of Winnipeg by a wide margin, while the Tories hold a big lead in rural areas. As Probe Research Director Chris Adams put it about the huge Conservative gains in rural Manitoba:

"…this is preaching to the choir. Building on their own rural base of support with massive victories in non-Winnipeg constituencies will now do little to improve the PCs' standings in the legislature."

Because of this unusual regional skew I modified my forecasting model to distribute support to mirror the Probe urban-rural results. My numbers show the Conservatives would win a bare majority of the seats in the legislature:

Progressive Conservatives – 29
NDP – 26
Liberal – 2

However, this is a razor-thin margin. The poll's numbers overall make it clear that the race at this stage is too close to call.

There are two key factors that favour the Conservatives:

1. The NDP is finishing its second term and the party has never won a third term in Manitoba. Like all governments it has been accumulating grievances. The Conservatives themselves have not won three consecutive majorities since the Roblin era, so multiple terms in Manitoba have not been the norm since 1969 (Gary Filmon won three times but his first win was a weak minority in 1988.)

2. The Conservative leader, Hugh McFadyen, is an urban Tory representing a southwest Winnipeg constituency who does have potential to win over city voters. More importantly, most of the marginal ridings in the city are in the south end. But he is facing a very skilled political leader in Gary Doer.

In the scenario sketched above based on the poll, the Conservatives would win several rural NDP seats – Gimli, Interlake, La Verendrye, the two Brandon seats, Dauphin and Swan River but also Seine River and Fort Garry in the city. I would guess that the NDP might hang on to a few of those rural seats, but remain vulnerable in a few more city ridings such as St. Norbert and Riel.

The poll's overall sample was large but the sub-samples much smaller with a larger margin of error so there is some uncertainty about the details of the analysis here. But it does reflect the persistent underlying reality of Manitoba politics of a province relatively evenly divided along class, ethnic and geographic lines.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New Environics Poll

A new Environics poll out today reports a close race between the Conservatives and Liberals and substantial gains for the Greens, apparently at the expense mainly of the NDP but I would say also of the Liberals. I do think Green support tends to be overstated in polls because of a substantial percentage of its base is of the young alienated non-voting type.

Despite their gains, my forecast model continues to predict that the Greens would not win any seats (a topic explored more fully here). When it comes to winning seats, voting Green is simply ineffective. The Greens would benefit greatly from proportional representation.

The results:

Conservative - 34
Liberal - 32
NDP - 14
BQ - 8
Green - 11

Projected Seats

Conservative - 127
Liberal - 119
NDP - 13
BQ - 48
Green - 0
Other - 1

A regionally concentrated party, the BQ, with less national support than the Greens, can win 48 seats while the Greens get nothing.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Democrats in control of U.S. House

This was the week the Democrats assumed power in the U.S. House of Representatives. I had not appreciated how significant this could be until Gingrich and company took over in 1994-95 and then were able to tie up Clinton's administration in knots. Clinton did get a few things done but one reason he has a limited policy legacy was that election.

There is a great deal of inertia in the U.S. system and the fact that the Democrats gained many seats in the Northeast from Republican moderates means it is going to be difficult for Republicans to regain a majority.

And it could have been worse for the Republicans. An analysis of the results by the Congressional Quarterly tells us that the Republicans came within a whisker of losing many more races:

Of the 202 Republicans sworn in Thursday as members of 110th Congress, 15 maintained GOP control of their seats by margins of just 3 percentage points or less. On the other side of the aisle, just two of the 233 members of the new Democratic majority were winners of contests in which they retained their party’s control by similarly razor-thin margins.

This suggests the Democrats could easily gain more seats in 2008, especially if they win the presidency. At this point the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, all look like strong choices. I do think a Democrat is likely to be elected president in 2008, especially given the tarnishing of the Republican image and reputation by the Bush presidency.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Harper's New Environment Minister

John Baird is Harper’s new Environment Minister. He doesn’t exactly have the best qualifications for the job, having been a cabinet minister in the Mike Harris government (and subsequently energy minister under Ernie Eves, Harris' successor), two administrations that systematically resisted doing anything about climate change.

An interview with Baird by Kathleen Petty on CBC's House made clear that his knowledge coming in to the new job is, shall we say, limited. Among other things, he refers to the closing of the Lakeview Power generating station in the future tense. Except, um, it was demolished last year.

Listen to the interview (it is at the beginning of the show). Among other things he avoids the opportunity to agree with Petty’s question suggesting that the issue of climate change was “urgent”. And he was quite vague on whether he believes in Kyoto. Pathetic.

Update: Further reflection tells me the interview illustrates that the government has no idea what it will do. It sees the matter as political, not one of environmental substance.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Khan's Floor Crossing

Liberal MP Wajid Khan crossed the floor today to support the Conservatives. Given that the leadership process has just finished in the Liberal Party, you might guess that Khan did not support Dion, and you would be right. So who did Khan support? Well it turns out it was the one candidate who could rightly be described as the Tory dream candidate: Joe Volpe

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Significant Poll

Sometimes a poll jumps out at you as more signicant than others and therefore worth noting.

This strikes me as the case with the Military Times poll of American military personnel on Bush's Iraq policies. Its conclusion:

The American military — once a staunch supporter of President Bush and the Iraq war — has grown in creasingly pessimistic about chances for victory.

I find the sheer scope of Bush's political failure simply astounding. The liberal U.S. blogs are now tracking Congressional Republicans who face tough re-election contests in two years, as they make haste to distance themselves from Bush's new policy of escalating the war (the so-called surge strategy).

So far the debate about Iraq is about the value of competing "policies" for the war, surge, phased redeployment, etc. What the United States has yet to confront psychologically is that they have lost the war. They are quite simply headed for their most significant national humiliation since Vietnam. The political consequences, still difficult to foresee, are likely to be earth-shaking.