Tag Archives: Bloc

Oh, Good Lord, Jack and Gilles!

Predictable, really, the nonsense that spun forth, from the leaders of the NDP and Bloc Québecois yesterday in the wake of the Throne Speech. What’s even more predictable, of course, is that they were treated seriously by the political media in attendance.

Speeches from the Throne lay out broad outlines. They are not meant to speak to specific details. Remember the Parliamentary fiction that surrounds them: the Monarch (in the person of the Governor-General) reads a speech that purports to be what “Her” (in the sense of Section 6 of the Constitution, “The Queen is the Sole Executive Authority in Canada”) Government purports to do, i.e. that it has Royal “blessing”. The speech, of course, is written in the Prime Minister’s Office and whether the Royal Reader approves, disapproves, or even despises the content it must be read. So Governments avoid anything smacking of the details, and the Monarchy stays out of politics. Sometimes fictions serve more valuable purposes, and say more (by being truths), than fidelity to the facts would do.

Now any Throne Speech given in November, 2008, would need to in some way devote its primary thrust to the economic storms lashing the nation. Much has changed even since election day, only five weeks ago. Yet matters of the economy are also budget matters (be that a full-blown operational budget or an economic statement) — and that, by tradition, must follow the Throne Speech. So even if the tradition of guarding the Monarchy from policy positions and critique for them didn’t hold, one shouldn’t expect spending details: merely broad directions.

Give Stéphane Dion, Ralph Goodale and other Liberals their due: they gets this, at least up to the time of writing (the Leaders’ Statements in response come later today). He called the Throne Speech what it is — a statement of intention — and said that governments should not be felled for mere intentions. “Let us see the economic statement before passing judgement”: quite sound.

Ah, but wave a microphone and camera lens in front of Jack and Gilles, who went up the Hill, and we are blown over by the wave of illogic which flows so freely from their tongues unencumbered by responsibility. (Memo to Jack Layton: you want to be Prime Minister? Act at all times as though you have the responsibility of government.)

Now Gilles we could (although I am not feeling charitable toward the BQ today) cut some slack, for he and his senior members have the opportunity to aid and abet their provincial counterparts, the PQ, in the Québec election, by carrying certain messages directly into the Québec media. Besides, there is never “what Québec wants” in anything, and, frankly, I think it’s time Québec showed a little restraint in constantly being in “demand” mode. (I do not expect gratitude: it is a false emotion, usually really resentment rather than one of pleasure, despite the smiles. But a little sense of responsibility and reason wouldn’t go amiss.)

So, en réalité, we are left with Jack and his well-cultivated indignation, aided and encouraged by those who allow him lengthy airtime and softball questions.

The Throne Speech told Canadians of a policy shift: a deficit for a short period of time would not be ruled out. Jack is against that: how dare Mr. Harper go against every Canadian sensibility about the sacred trust of remaining in surplus! Then, too, how dare Mr. Harper limit his options? — what if he needs deficits for a long time in this economic storm? Would he leave amelioration of conditions undone for ideological reasons?

How one can hold both propositions in their head simultaneously is beyond me, but Orwellian Newspeak and Doublethink is alive and well chez Jack, evidently, and in our political punditry, too, who did not break out laughing in response. (If the Ottawa doyens of the media could outright laugh at Paul Martin during the press conference for Belinda Stronach’s crossing the floor for his doublespeak, why not this?)

But Jack is not done: the kitchen table of “ordinary Canadians” has yet to be pounded by the shoe of indignation. Spending on infrastructure is a bad thing, because it takes money away from saving Canadians’ jobs, yet not spending on infrastructure is failing to create jobs. Reviewing other government programmes to afford the efforts to ameliorate economic distress is horrific — “how dare they betray these sacred trusts?” — and yet “the Government must focus on the needs of Canadians”.

Oh, and please bail out the industrial sector, starting with the auto industry, but don’t cut corporate taxes and perhaps even raise them — after all, they’re rich, they can pay.

Drivel is drivel. I have had many good things to say about Jack Layton in the past, but he lost me today. Threatening to bring down the Government over the Throne Speech (“if it doesn’t fall, it’s because the other parties won’t do their part”) over this bag of mixed up priorities? Who are we trying to kid?

Yet the media laps it up without a word of question. No surprise there, though: for twenty years the trend has been to eschew reporting and avoid thinking in favour of catch-phrases, repetition of talking points, press-releases masquerading as reporting, and let’s get to the talking heads, because they’re cheaper than the field work — plus they stay on schedule, which is good for the commercials.

So I guess it’s up to me to bell the cat. Jack, you are irrational. You foam out clichés and talking points without even listening to yourself. You destroy your credibility in a few indignant sentences. You just set your party back — don’t be surprised at seat losses next time around.

No, you don’t have to support the Government. Vote against them as you and your caucus see fit. But you owe Canadians some integrity (you might remember that a position has integrity because its parts fit together and are in accord with facts in the real world) in your opposition, not merely a grab bag approach.

Frankly, as well, to your charge that the Government didn’t “listen to the Opposition parties”: hogwash! Weren’t you the one who held the Martin Government up to ransom over infrastructure spending? Or is that if you don’t hear your own sound-bites, with attribution, you can’t figure it out?

I would cheerfully supporting keeping these two off the air until they figure out the difference between being irrational spoilt brats and being effective politicians for the twenty-first century.

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Unite the Left? It’ll Never Happen

There’s a regular wave of people chattering about uniting the Left these days. You find them even on the so-called Right, where the myth is that if the left would just unite, everyone could have BC-style politics, where left and right face off with nothing else (more or less) in the game. This, of course, doesn’t explain the endless stream of new parties being formed in BC, but it’s a nice myth for all of that. After all, a Conservative facing a united left — almost always painted with the NDP’s colours, since Conservatives think the left would unite with the Liberals going away — would (much like BC) definitely have a regular ride to success as a result.

On the so-called Left, however, the calls for unity tend to come from the Liberals. Oddly enough, their mental map of the landscape shows their colours nailed to the mast, and those noxious NDPers gone from the scene, merged into their party. (This, of course, is a model that promises endless Liberal power, at least in their mind, although after the 2008 election the model now stretches to “the Greens should fold and join in” and even the occasional “the Bloc should fold and join in” to get the numbers to work.)

But a merger on the Left just isn’t going to happen. Instead, all the parties not currently in Government are going to have to fight it out for dominance, much as the Reform/Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives needed to fight it out. A merger, after all, can only come when several things are bloody obvious:

We can’t win in the current circumstances.
They can’t win in the current circumstances.
We’re what block them from winning (and vice versa).

and the biggie:

We’re prepared to change our views to reach an accommodation.

Well, as long as the Liberals have dreams that they can win in the current circumstances (and they do) and that they don’t see themselves as being the roadblock to their other prospective merger partners winning (they don’t; they see them as exclusively a roadblock to Liberal achievement of winning), a merger won’t take place. Put bluntly, they have no respect for the NDP, the Greens and the Bloc. Would you merge with someone who was obvious about their lack of respect for you, your views and your traditions? Thought not.

Then, too, two of the potential merger partners aren’t even necessarily “Leftist” parties (save only that both the Bloc and the Greens believe in the use of state power to smash current social order, which is the traditional definition of a Leftist). Both the Bloc and the Greens contain political views that run the gamut from the traditional left-right divide in Canada. As with Social Credit and the Progressives before them, they are brought together around a very few issues — and don’t try to bring everyone together beyond that.

NDPers, too, are not Liberals in waiting. As with the Canadian Tory (not all Conservatives are Tories) an NDPer has a view of society as something organic and pulsing with life. It has a history and a future: we in our time are stewards of that future, and inheritors of that tradition. Tories tread more cautiously than NDPers in changing traditions, but both think of the future differently than do Liberals (and some of the old Reform members of the Conservative party): they think about what it will mean to future generations to take action. Liberals do not. Everything is “right here, right now”; creating a new problem for the future merely creates a new opportunity for the party.

This is why NDP governments are often the most fiscally conservative of all. Their strain is “purer” than the Conservative one, and Liberals don’t care enough about the farther future to worry.

You could put the Liberals and the NDP together — it would be much like today’s Conservative Party, which couples Red Tories, Blue Tories and neoconservatives (who are right-wing liberals) together. But NDP voices would be a deep minority in a merger with the Liberals (whereas Red and Blue Tories together counter-balance neocons in the Conservative caucus and conventions). That is why the NDP plays for the Liberals to quit, give up the ghost, split — and they’ll take the part of the party closer to the NDP and (just as after the CCF turned into the NDP) slowly imbue the longer-term view into its new members.

That, of course, would send the Bluer Liberals and the Red Tories who went Liberals off to the Conservatives if they didn’t want to be a minor party rump. This they would do, and relatively quickly: the raison d’être of the Liberal Party is holding and using power, not a philosophic framework held in the form of political ideology — the sort of thing that can sustain generational long ventures without “success”. Hence the Liberals need to hang together, and so they will, repulsing anything that would bring something other than the quest for aggrandisement to the party (except in the form of individuals switching to it).

That it would be good for the country to rationalise its party mix is undeniable. But the reality is it won’t happen. For better or worse we are where we are: a five party state.

Master Plan or Not, There’s Common Interest Here

In this morning’s Globe and Mail, Tom Flanagan laid out the reasons why an election now — and not necessarily a majority as a result — serves Stephen Harper’s strategic needs. Picked up on by bloggers Trusty Tory, Patrick Ross, and Steve Janke (amongst others), the story line that the goal Harper has is to continually weaken the Liberal Party in a series of soi-disant “Punic Wars”, tied to the current funding model for politics in Canada, has credibility.

If this is so, it makes the meetings tomorrow between Harper and Duceppe, and Saturday between Harper and Layton, all the more interesting.

Why interesting? Simply put, because each of these leaders has a reason to have common cause — a cause not shared by Dion (or May).

Duceppe’s Need: For the Bloc, this election must maintain relevance in front of the Québec electorate. With the latest poll at 31% for the Conservatives vs 30% for the Bloc in the province, Duceppe needs to win or hold seats which previously might have been out of reach for the Bloc. This means trading off the Québec City region — where the Conservatives are strong — for seats in the 450, the périphérique of Montréal’s banlieues. These seats become more solid for the Bloc with the rise of the Conservatives, turning former two-way races into three-way battles.

Expect, therefore, that during an election Duceppe will expend equal effort trashing the Conservatives and the Liberals — but in different parts of the province — while running on a campaign similar to last time’s, with the sentiments of “it’s a good thing we’re here” (that can be used regardless of the focal point du jour).

Then, too, the Bloc is a fusion of rural fiscal rectitude types coupled with social democrats, overlain with the motif of “what’s in it for Québec?”. In other words, on an issue-by-issue basis, the Bloc can work with the Conservatives or the NDP, whereas working with the Liberals is more difficult for them (and made more difficult by Liberal sensibilities about “being seen in bed with the separatists”: Trudeauvian muddleheadedness continues unabated).

Layton’s Need: For the NDP, if there ever was a time to advance significantly, it is now. NDP policies offer alternatives to Liberal ones: cap-and-trade vs the Green Shift mass-economic-alteration approach, more interest in infrastructural needs, etc. Dion’s Green Shift has painted the Liberals into a corner: neither can it be explained simply (although it can be attacked in a sound-bite) nor does the relationship between its social engineering, spending plans and incomplete taxation model “fit” NDP priorities. It is, in other words, a natural target for Layton.

Much as with the Bloc, the NDP needs more three-way races. Layton is no doubt cognizant of the latest polls in BC — always fertile territory for NDP battles — where the BC NDP has now pulled three points ahead of the BC Liberals, primarily on dissatisfaction amongst BC Liberal voters with the carbon tax and the arrogance of the Government, with its “to hell with you” attitudes. It will be easy in that province, for instance, to campaign on a simple “if you like Gordon Campbell, you’ll love Stéphane Dion” approach: it is credible given the wanton spending and social engineering of the BC Government in the past three years (whereas, in the past two elections, Campbell looked more like an ideological bed-mate of Stephen Harper).

So, although Layton too will need to campaign against both the Liberals and the Conservatives, much of his fire will, too, likely be directed against the Liberals, trying to turn weak Liberal seats into NDP seats in three-way battles. Then, too, at the present time, gains in the 416 (Toronto Core), 613 (Ottawa Core) or 514 (Montréal Core) are more likely to come from the Conservatives beating up the Liberals to the benefit of the NDP. There is, in other words, common cause.

Canadians of a Tory bent should welcome this. It was no accident that, at the founding of the NDP in 1961, noted Canadian Tory philosopher George Grant welcomed the new party as an analogue of the (then) Progressive Conservatives, but on the left. The Conservatives and the NDP outside of French Canada are as much two sides of the same coin contra the dominant political philosophy of the Liberals as the Conservatives and the Bloc are two sides of une pièce de monnaie commune against the philosophy of the Liberals in la nation de Québecois. It is why I, a Tory, can say ”Layton? Why Not?” — but not “Dion? Why Not?”

Harper’s Need: Aside from staying in Government, what the Prime Minister needs is to trigger another wave of navel-gazing as the Liberal knives come out. So he needs to campaign softly against the other two opposition parties, and focus his fire on Dion and the Liberals (which is already occurring, of course).

But Flanagan is right about Liberal Party finances: they are strained, and failing to win the next election will likely strain them even further.

Today, on CKNW, a dual polling result was offered: that (a) a majority of Canadians in the poll want a change of government and (b) a majority of Canadians in the poll liked what the Conservative Government had done over the past two and a half years. What this suggests is that there is a fatigue (which I have previously written about, in the context of the March by-election in Vancouver-Quadra and elsewhere) with the perpetual “election readiness” and confrontation. To that extent, the Prime Minister is right about Parliament being dysfunctional (although that ignores his Government’s part in that dysfunction). Still, if the record is approved of, turning the dislike for the messenger that currently exists around ought to be in reach.

What Canadians are looking for, at this point, in my view, is adult behaviour: neither Harper nor Dion have come off particularly well in that department this year. So a reversion to the 2006 approach: policy announcements, coupled with a reiteration of accomplishments (one presumes “fixed election dates” won’t be mentioned too loudly), and a change from advertising that insults opponents to advertising that analyses deficiencies in the opponents’ platforms will probably consolidate most of the disaffection that currently exists.

We are likely, after this election, to have made it quite clear that the Liberal Party is fundamentally a rump in Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal. That, plus the unleashing of a “gathering of friends in the Forum” for Dion and an increased fiscal impairment of the the Liberal Party, is what Harper needs. This meshes with the needs of Duceppe and Layton. The alliance may be informal, but it is how the election is likely to play out, despite the desire of media personalities located in the Liberal Heartland of the three major cities of the Eastern time zone to “equate Liberal values and Canadian values” (a patent nonsense when one considers the many differing approaches to Canada found in its regions from coast, to coast, to coast. (When one’s social interactions centre on a common point of view, it is easy to come to believe that this is reality everywhere: no cabal or plot need be assumed.)

So, as Margaret Wente said in today’s Globe and Mail, bring it on, already. It’s time to stop playing chicken and start playing for votes — for real.

Parties Hoist on their Own Petards (Part I)

A week has passed since the by-elections of March 17, and in a week Parliament will resume, with the four new MPs being presented in the centre aisle. Already, though, the drum beats of renewed bluff and bluster, storm and fury, and threat upon threat again takes up the airwaves and hectares of highly processed dead tree delivered daily at the door. All that noise — and the speculation of near immediate leadership change and policy change in one or more parties from the pundit gallery.

We return to the possibility of real governance in Canada facing multiple parties hoist high and fluttering in the breeze of their own rhetoric, leaks and ambitions. This faces the Harper Government no less so than those on the other side of the aisle, although it is, perhaps, working its way out differently within the ranks of the Conservatives. Leaving them to the end, then, let’s look at the others:

It Should Have Been “May is Not a Leader”, Perhaps?

After a year of Conservative advertising under the tag line “Dion is Not a Leader”, it would be difficult to use the line elsewhere, if only for fear of being copied. Yet there are numerous circles of thought in Canada today which coalesce around the following: “the Green Party would be worth a look-in were it not for Elizabeth May”.

Goodness knows May has done a number of strange things: having placed second, last time, in London North Centre (and second with a chance of taking the seat in future, not a “second to Bob Rae’s 59%” as in Toronto Centre last week), she has eschewed running there. She struck a bargain with Stéphane Dion (detrimental, certainly, to the Liberals in setting the Green Party up as a viable alternative to the local Liberal — a move that almost cost Joyce Murray her chance to parade next Monday, what with the 3:1 growth of Green votes, mostly from the Liberals, in Vancouver Quadra) to enable her to carry out a quixotic tilt against Peter MacKay in Central Nova, a seat closer to an inheritance than a contest. She could even have sought a seat in one of the four by-elections just held — one of the comments regularly heard in Quadra was “Dan Grice is doing well, but why didn’t May contest this seat: she’d have won and have made it to the Commons”. (Nothing against Grice, mind, simply a recognition that this was a likely opportunity to succeed and that the leader of the party didn’t take it.)

Then there’s the positions she has spoken on, far more Liberal-me-too than charting positive reasons to vote Green.

Come the next election, the battle will be over media time, and participation in the debate. May’s job since the election of 2006 has been to (a) create those positive reasons to look at her party so that (b) the demand to expose the party in the debates would be there (in the newsrooms as much as in the streets) and (c) get a Green into the Commons, much as Reform got Deborah Grey into the Commons. Even one seat makes a difference.

At a time when Canadian politics is showing the early signs of realignment (consider the sheer number of MPs crossing the floor — and winning re-election under their new colours! — this decade) the Green leader had, above all, the responsibility to become a viable destination for those seeking alternatives. In this she has failed.

Jack! Wishes Paul Martin Was Back

Do you recall when Jack Layton became NDP Leader in 2003? Since then, he’s been consistent: he has claimed, over and over again, that the Liberals have moved too far to the right, and that the New Democrats are their successor on the centre-left of Canadian politics. The NDP popular vote has risen in both the 2004 and again in the 2006 general elections. However, there is a huge difference to the NDP in facing a Conservative minority Government and facing a Liberal minority Government, one that Jack Layton has bet everything on — with little to show for it.

Layton’s strategy for the past two-plus years with the Liberals on his side of the aisle has been to try and convince Canadians that the Liberals are not needed. This is, of course, a welcome move from the Harper Government’s perspective: the squeezing of the middle term in the three-party equation by both ends potentially helps lead to a Conservative majority — and, if BC politics (where this squeeze occurred back in the 1950s) is anything to go by, such a squeeze would make the Conservatives the “natural party of government” and the NDP into the strong-yet-almost-never-good-enough “Permanent Opposition”.

The problem Layton’s facing is, despite the reams of truth he dispenses — his party votes against the Government while the Liberals abstain and abstain; his party raises a non-confidence motion against the Government while the Liberals avoid anything so direct; his “Canada’s Effective Opposition” tag line reflects the reality of a Liberal party silenced by its loss, going through a leadership process, then never really settling down after the convention to the task of constructing its own policy positions — the message is fundamentally rejected by the Canadian people and the Canadian media. The media rejects it both because it comes from what, in their book, is generally considered “the filler at the end of the story” (the fundamental story being the horse race between the leading parties and the knifings and back-stabbing potentials within them), and because they know it’s irrelevant: Canadians are often followers of tradition and vote from habit more than from constant consideration of the issues.

Then, too, some elements of NDP policy — even those these are consistent with who the NDP are deep in their roots — don’t sit well with the public. “Out of Afghanistan” may sound noble to many ears, but even many of those (judging by call-in radio) who don’t support being there and don’t want to stay also don’t want to be seen to cut and run. There’s a constant sense that “Working” or “Ordinary Canadians” is code for people who earn less than me: that makes some of the notions on offer seem dangerous, especially since it’s those in that family income between $40,000 and $140,000 range that are feeling stressed, yet feel Jack Layton may be talking about them paying more to transfer to others.

Jack’s best days were when he faced off against Paul Martin, with his sense of entitlement, his wealth, his dithering “all over the mapism” to be exploited (especially in a minority situation), and with the fracture lines the Chrétien-Martin wars dug deep into the Liberal party. None of these face him now with the Harper Conservatives in government. He must either position the NDP squarely with positive attributes and reasons why voters should choose them on their merits, or he will find his party squeezed.

After all, only a few Canadians per hundred spend time thinking about politics between elections. All his actions in the House since 2006 will be dust in the wind once a general campaign is underway.

Anything to Say About the Bloc?

Well, frankly, no. First, I am no expert on Québec and can’t say one way or the other whether Bloc voters are tiring of the game of blocking action in Ottawa rather than being (potentially) a part of it. Second, if Duceppe wasn’t forced out after his dalliance with moving to the PQ (and dashing back to the Bloc within a week) then the post is his regardless of performance, for neither his caucus nor voters (in the three Québec by-elections of 2007) seem disposed to make him the issue.

Tomorrow: the Liberals and the Conservatives.