Tag Archives: Liberals

Larry, Moe & Curly Size Up the Curtains

So much has been written in the past few days on the whole subject of the Big Switch, as the Conservatives look forward to trooping back to the East Side of the House and the Opposition shifts over to the West Side Government benches in a coalition government, that in one sense it’s all been said, more or less. Still, there are a few things to think about, yet.

The Governor-General’s Role

Much has been made about the reserve powers of the Governor-General, deriving from Queen-in-Parliament. It is the role of the Governor-General to ensure that Canada has a functioning Government — not just a ministry that can act by Order-in-Council, but one which can command and hold the Confidence of the House. This is what gives rise to the generally-accepted notion (seen any major media lately that disputes it?) that the Governor-General will simply have to turn the keys to the Langevin Block and 24 Sussex Dr. over to the coalition as a given.

But, caution! The key word to keep in mind here is “functioning”. Governors-General are not a law unto themselves — they are bound in a web of tradition, common law practice and the like — but they are as near as you can get in Canada, thanks to Section 6 of our Constitution (“The Queen is the sole executive authority in Canada”). This is why we have Speeches from the Throne: none of us elected either a Government or a Prime Minister (or, despite the rhetoric, a “Prime Minister in Waiting”). No, we, each and all of us, only elected a Member of Parliament for our riding. These have been duly sworn in as members of Canada’s 40th Parliament, and have duly elected one of their number as Speaker of the House. That is the constitutional fact-on-the-ground, and nothing beyond it.

By tradition, (s)he-who-was-Prime-Minister-before-the-election is given first chance at meeting the House with a new Ministry, which must seek the Confidence of the House before it is really empowered to act. This the Rt. Hon. Her Excellency the Governor-General has done by accepting Stephen Harper to form that Ministry. It has now acquired the Confidence of the House, with the passage of the Throne Speech vote last week.

Suppose, therefore, that the Government fails the next confidence motion, be that one placed by one of the Opposition parties or on one of its own measures. Former Prime Minister Martin has already established the precedent of simply ignoring a confidence vote and continuing to govern (2005), so if the Harper Government simply ignored an Opposition motion he’d be pilloried — but on ground first tilled by the very parties trying to take him down. (His ground would be far less firm if he ignored one of his Government’s motions declared a confidence matter.)

So Stephen Harper could proceed over to Rideau Hall, and simply say “I shall attempt to regain the House’s Confidence” — and the Governor-General would be well within her prerogatives to accept that. Good-bye, coalition hopes, at least before Christmas.

Secondly, he could go and say “Your Excellency, my Government has lost the Confidence of the House, and I do not believe any other combination of MPs can hold it long enough to pass and implement a budget. I therefore regretfully request a new Writ of Election: let us let the Canadian people decide our country’s future course of action”. Oddly enough, the Governor-General would again be well within her prerogatives to accept this and call an election, without calling on the Opposition Leaders, should she agree with that advice.

Thirdly, of course, Stephen Harper could lose a confidence vote, go to the Governor-General and resign the office of Prime Minister. Now life gets interesting, for the Governor-General could (a) decline to accept his resignation, (b) decline to accept and issue a Writ …

Or, (c) call upon another person to lead a Government anchored in the Conservative MPs. That person need not even be a member of the current Conservative caucus. (It is also not without precedent.)

Or, (d) the Governor-General could invite someone to try and form a Government from amongst any or all MPs, be this a “unity” government (shades of Sir Robert Borden in 1917) or the coalition being discussed so eagerly in the country these days.

But It Doesn’t Matter

Here’s the thing, though. The decisions don’t matter because no alternative to the Harper Conservatives is likely to last through the first Opposition Day Motion (if that long).

Picture a motion, put forward by the (now) Opposition Conservatives, aimed at additional socio-cultural recognition of Québec. (Leave aside the distaste this might leave elsewhere in the country for a moment: we’re dealing now in tactical politics in the House.) The BQ can’t vote against “a Québec interest” — which means they vote (even by abstention) to topple the coalition. At which point we’re back at point (a) again …

At that point the obvious answer would be an election. But, if it’s all that obvious, then it’s that obvious now. This is why I think there’s better than even odds a failure of confidence in the Harper Government will lead directly to another election.

Besides, Who Would Lead Such a Coalition?

Again, the presumption is that Stéphane Dion would lead such a coalition, thus escaping the fate of Edward Blake (the only [so far] Liberal Party of Canada leader never to assume the Prime Ministership). But is this necessarily so?

It’s all very well for Liberals to talk about a premature end to their leadership contest, and an immediate handing over of their party leadership to Michael Ignatieff, thus retiring Dion early, but that doesn’t guarantee the Governor-General would approach a coalition débutant and hand over the keys to the kingdom simply because of internal politics in one party. Remember (c) and (d): the Liberals could change leaders, and the Governor-General could still call on Dion; likewise, Dion could go as the coalition M. le Premier Ministre présumé and the coalition’s opportunity could be handed to Ignatieff … Rae … LeBlanc … even Layton or Mulcair. All of these, of course, are unlikely options, but the power is in the hands of the Governor-General, not the Opposition parties.

Indeed, the Governor-General could ask the Opposition Leaders to attend her and offer their advice prior to answering Stephen Harper. (After all, if you want to use part of the residual powers of the Monarchy for your own ends, you’d better be prepared to accept that all of them may be in play.) So, having heard from the “coalition of the power-hungry”, she may just decide that, yes, an election is inevitable, might as well get on with it…

In other words, Larry, Moe & Curly ought not to be sizing up the curtains in the PMO and planning on the décor changes at 24 Sussex Drive just yet, no matter how encouraging the press is.

And the Results of That Election?

Let’s be clear where I stand: Harper’s tactics in jumbling in the removal of the per-vote subsidy with the economic statement were deplorable — very bad form and a sign of his own hubris — but the removal of that subsidy is actually a plus for Canadian citizenship. Parties (and candidates) should have to work to convince me to pay for them. (Raising the limit from $1,100 per party and $1,100 at the candidate/EDA level to $2,500 at each level should make the work in reaching enough donors worthwhile.) If I had my way, he’d lay that measure before the House Monday and call for the vote — let’s get the Opposition parties on the record in a clear manner regarding this.

Of course, Harper has said “no” to that, and a replacement economic statement and early budget have been bandied about. Malheursement, one error compounded on another.

Still, the platform would be clear:

We’ll invest in tomorrow but not in yesterday;
Canada has been different from the rest of the G-7 for a decade & we’re not in the same troubles they are;
Re-elect us and we will squeeze unnecessary and past-their-prime programs to the max;
We’re looking for no deficits, tax reductions and more focused spending;
Politicians will be hit as much as anyone;
We believe in Canadians, not handouts and make-work programs.

A 37 day campaign — be adamant that the Greens do not belong in any debates (maybe even just outright refuse to debate given how short a time it’s been since the last election) — and get out of the bubble and into the faces of Canadians.

That should be a majority-winning campaign.

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Worthy of Joe Clark on a Good Day

I have obviously been reading too many Liberal bloggers this week (and, yes, there are quite a few good and sensible ones out there). The optimism for the Liberal Party’s future that they’ve portrayed seems to have infected me somewhat: I was actually beginning to think that a real debate over the future of that party, brought to the table by several leadership candidates other than IggyBob, might set the stage for the Liberals to, à la the Pearson opposition period, truly rethink themselves.

Well, so much for that.

One by one the leadership hopefuls have tumbled. Kennedy, Hall Wilson, Coderre, Manley, McKenna … asked to play, and answering “no thanks, not me, not this time”. The unstated finish to that, of course, is “… not under these rules”. A $90,000 entry fee (and let’s just forget the discount for a successful run of delegate-gathering for a moment, since by definition those who force the policy discussion for the most part won’t be front-runners) and a 10% tithe to the party on monies raised isn’t very attractive when anyone considering the run knows how many riding associations and how many party operatives are already in the hip pockets of IggyBob.

No, it’s not worth a candle — or the debt.

But here’s the thing. Canadians have seen Ignatieff and Rae, thanks to 2006. Surprisingly (to their egos) and unsurprisingly (to the rest of us) they were found wanting. Don’t believe it? Remember the “Anyone But Iggy” and “Anyone But Bob” motifs of the 2006 race? Isn’t that why Dion managed to sneak up the middle: Kennedy’s deal with Dion could drop a group of delegates for the next vote into Dion’s camp, but it was the migration to Dion out of the “Oh God No…” crowds — on either side of the IggyBob juggernauts — that gave the Liberals St-Stéphane.

Now by this point you may think, “ah, he’s pointing out how that kind of race can have a Joe Clark moment, such as in 1976 when Clark came up the middle between the Mulroney and Wagner camps in the PC Leadership. But, no: that’s not the point.

The point is that Ignatieff’s camp and Rae’s camp are set to fight to the finish — to the point where the investment in beating the other guy is so strong that, no matter what the candidate says afterward, the camp carries on the struggle, much like Joe Clark in his second incarnation as Progressive Conservative leader (and we all know how well that turned out). If you’re not buying that the internecine warfare in the Liberal Party will be that bad, just consider what Ignatieff’s supporters continued to do to back him against Dion post-December 2006. Was Ignatieff duplicitous about his loyalties? Probably not: his supporters just weren’t giving up the fight.

Much as with a negotiation where there’s only one issue on the table — anyone who has done this knows how difficult it is to get entrenched views to move without a way to “get a win” for everyone — what is effectively a two-way race (and LeBlanc is unlikely to be much of a challenge to the IggyBob battle, certainly not enough to turn either camp toward considering him as a rival) will be a single issue fight. Can we live with that other guy? The probable answer is “no” — and unity will be further delayed.

Remember, too, Canadians know Iggy and they know Bob, and they weren’t impressed with either one enough to push them over the top the last time. So neither is likely to be an engine of growth for the Liberal Party: at best, a “hold the fort” while the battle continues to rage under the surface.

That, in turn, will further damage the Liberals. The Canadian people — not the media, but voters in almost every demographic slice — are heartily sick of a party who thinks its own internal issues are the nation’s business. For the Liberals to prosper, three things are required: a belief that whomever “wins” in May 2009 actually has the rank and file behind him; a serious non-grab-bag policy rethink that gives a reason to believe in the party; and a winner who can act Prime Ministerial in Opposition.

None of that is on offer with IggyBob. Maybe those Liberals who thought to insult BCers by complaining about the cost of coming to Vancouver were on to something: a regional rump that’s even more Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal (and not much elsewhere) — and that’s the IggyBob promise! — shouldn’t meet elsewhere. After all, the Bloc wouldn’t hold a convention outside of Québec; why should a residue of Liberals do the same?

Unfurl the egos and the hurt feelings, because that’s where the Western World’s most successful power management organization is headed — followed by an on-going whittling away at the edges and a residue power base in just a few places.

PS: Financially, the party is losing with an IggyBob outcome, too: far fewer fees, far fewer new delegates and members … ah, but the battle of the egos really is more important, isn’t it.

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.

Why the Liberals Need New Leadership Blood

Michael Ignatieff. Bob Rae. The two front runners from the 2006 leadership struggle are ready to engage in their fight to the finish again. (It would be in their interest, of course, to have a short campaign and something close to an annointing: they have the organizations, proven fund-raising credibility, the recognition, etc.)

The other prior candidates: Martha Hall Findley, Gerald Kennedy, Scott Brison, Ken Dryden, etc. Most of these are no doubt exploring their chances, even if only to say “no, not for me”.

Then there’s the names that didn’t contend last time: John Manley and Frank McKenna, plus those who served in the last Chrétien Government who may want to return: Martin Couchon comes immediately to mind.

It seems a field of contenders that give the Liberal Party choice as to how to proceed into the future. It is also a field likely to perpetuate old battles.

Ever since Trudeau eliminated the vestiges of responsible government, centralized decisions in the PMO and subordinated his Cabinet Ministers (remember, this is why John Turner resigned in 1975) the Liberal Party has been adrift. Trudeau used the party as a vehicle to power for his own agenda, and fixed the mould of the party solidly in the form it is today. From then on, the Liberal Party has been the scene of one “inheritor” after another (Trudeau to Chrétien to Dion to, potentially, Rae; Turner to Martin to, potentially, Ignatieff). It is this alternation which is one of the three things that must change for the Liberal Party to arrest its long-term decline that started (at the latest) after the 1980 election.

The next leader of the Liberal Party needs to break this mould of armed camps at war with each other. A strong and dominating leader, such as Chrétien, was able to force the battle to quiesce at least to the point of campaigning as one team. As we know, Martin was able in turn to organize his putsch in the background and thus rip the leadership away from Chrétien. It is with the elimination of the sense of “my camp” and “your camp” that this evolves.

This means fresh blood: members of the party never considered before as potential leaders.

The second thing the new leader must do is revitalize the party. Riding associations (many are semi-moribund due to years of a failure to elect/compete effectively) must be rebuilt. The loyalty of the EDA executives must be to the party first, to the leader second, and not to a particular leadership candidate (an idealistic goal, but one that should be sought). The fund-raising conundrum must be solved: the Liberal Party must be competitive with the best available party in this area (which, at the moment, is the Conservatives by far). Just as with cabinet building, as I discussed in a prior note today, critic building must look to talent and expertise, not either the rewarding of grandees (there are no entitlements) nor “provincial balance”. The job of rebuilding the party requires nothing less than the best available talent. Those unwilling to work under those conditions should be ushered firmly to the back benches.

Third, the last major policy renewal of the party occurred under the tenure of Lester B. Pearson in 1960. What is the raison d’être of the Liberal Party going forward? Is it simply to be “anti-Conservative” and to moan incessantly about the existence of the NDP and the Greens as “siphons of votes that should be Liberal”? Or is it to stand for a clear vision of the future and specific means to make this come into reality?

As a part of such a renewal, new members of the party can be sought to seek elective office, so that required expertise and vigour can be found. This, if one recalls, is also part of Pearson’s legacy — and, with the odd individual exception such as Chrétien recruiting Dion, something not done since. Yes, “Dream Team” candidates have been sought — but not as a response to a coherent, complete policy rethink. It is long past time.

The existing candidates for leader are not only tied to their past associations and supporters, they often — at least amongst the “big names” — are also closing in on the end of their window of opportunity to lead long enough to become Prime Minister and serve for a period suited to achievement of their goals. (In other words, age creeps up on them, as it does on us all.) This rebuilding may well require multiple years and two elections to be effective. Someone — not unlike Stephen Harper himself, if the point of his winning the leadership of the Canadian Alliance is taken as a starting point — who is of an age and determination to build toward success over the required period of time — is what the Liberals now need.

Can they do it? A good question: certainly the cards are stacked against this type of outcome. But to eventually end the “Pizza Parliament” syndrome we need two viable, electable, broadly-based, truly national parties (which means members are elected coast to coast) — and that involves reinventing the Liberal Party, before the NDP or Greens figure out what’s needed to pole-vault over them.

Stéphane, au revoir

Edward Blake is smiling this afternoon. At last he no longer stands alone as the only leader of the Liberal Party of Canada never to acquire the Prime Ministership.

All right, so enough of the schadenfreude. This afternoon, at 14.00 in Ottawa, Stéphane Dion stepped down from the role of leader of the Liberals. (He will stay on until a new leader is chosen, and will focus on the party’s finances.)

Back in 2006, I was asked by a prominent local Liberal in Vancouver who I supported for Liberal Leader. (We won’t, at this juncture, go into the presumption that I was either a Liberal supporter or thought that whomsoever gained the leadership mattered much one way or the other. Liberals often think their own in-party tussles are of deep and abiding interest to Canadians at large, a confusion arising from the notion of “natural governing party” and “Liberal Values are Canadian values”, amongst other faulty memes infecting that party and its supporters.)

I told him Dion: that Dion was the class of the 2006 leadership crew. I stand by that statement. None of the other candidates in 2006 were as promising as Dion was. None of them — should they choose to stand for the leadership again in 2008-09 — are any better today.

Dion in some ways reminds me of Robert Lorne Stanfield, “the best Prime Minister Canada never had”. Thoughtful, seeing more than one side to any question, considering how to integrate the pieces: these are not the tools of the age of the sound-bite, the quip, the endless campaign. Dion always came across as somehow false — fake — with the shouting and protesting in the House.

Alas, Dion came to the Canadian people expecting them to work to understand his great creation, the Green Shift(™ licensed). Too bad, so sad: a people lulled into intellectual stupor by sound-bites (the creation of his own predecessor, Trudeau) and by reality television and the hyperbole of the twenty-four hour news cycle no longer could handle a detailed, rational, “point, sub-point and implication” presentation of anything. He was doomed before he began.

Still, Dion did try to fix one of the Liberal Party’s three great lacunae: the lack of a clear raison d’être for their continued participation in the political life of the country as anything other than a regional rump. Perhaps he did try as well to fix the second great lacuna: the lack of a fund-raising engine that works in today’s rules for handling money. We do not know: the demands on Liberal cash escalated throughout, as eight leadership campaigns struggled to discharge their debts while the party struggled to pay off its 2006 election bills and prepare for the election just past.

The third lacuna, of course, he never tackled: the sense of entitlement. Do you recall his acceptance speech in Montréal in 2006? To paraphrase it: Harper had to be tossed as soon as possible, preferably immediately and the Liberals returned to their “rightful place” of hands on the levers of power. All the backing-and-froing over election calls, all the screaming and shouting in Question Period, all the attempts to smear the government from then on — and all the abstentions! — are the direct result of having to live with that sense of entitlement.

His successor will suffer the same outcome, if these three lacunae are not addressed.

Werner Patels recently suggested Frank McKenna or John Manley as viable successors. (Steve V., of Far and Wide, commented recently and positively about Kennedy entering the House and echoes some sense of the lacunae.) Sorry, though: Chrétien-era folk are — “Blue Liberal” or not — no less likely to find success than the “off to the races” Ignatieffs, Raes, Volpes, Dosanjhs, etc. heard from in the past few days.

To cure the lacunae, the Liberals must turn to a new generation (and no, I am not speaking of Trudeau fils), one who is prepared to spend the years required to rebuild this national institution and reform it of its well-embedded hypocrisy (a natural outcome of an unreformed institution). Whomsoever is chosen, they must recognise that it is not at the next election, but the one after that, that their moment is likely to come. After all, if one awarded to the Liberals every riding in which they lost by 20% or less, they would still only have 133 seats. Great stretches of Canada want nothing to do with this party: it is not national in any sense other than name and the running of candidates, no more national, in other words, than the Greens or the NDP. It will take years of work, coherent policy proposals, the cash to compete and a true sense of humble service rather than entitlement to turn this around.

Ultimately, another thing the Liberals must come to grips with is the question of the Red Tories (and Blue Liberals). As I said in response to Werner’s post:

As for the inability of Blue Liberals and Red Tories to actually form a party and take a place in the spectrum, it is sad but true that they are the centrists everyone loves to hate. These are, of course, the true inheritors of Baldwin and LaFontaine; Macdonald and Cartier — the old “Liberal-Conservative” party (when the alternative was a more radical “reform Liberal” in the Clear Grits, Howe’s Nova Scotians and Rouges du Québec, with tendencies toward copying from the Republic rather than charting our own course of responsible government and a self-governing Dominion (both invented in Canada and designed for the multi-national, immigrant-based community we have become as opposed to either British or American nationalism around the nation-state).

We don’t want to remember our history, our accomplishments and our unique legacy on the world’s stage. We dismiss it (unknown) as irrelevant and chafe instead to be just another nation-state like the others, then we bemoan our “colonial status” and seek/resist a closer affiliation with the power of the day. Blue Liberals/Red Tories would remind us of what we’ve ignored, therefore they must be neutralized, marginalized, trashed.

As a result, all Canadian politics – from the so-called left to the so-called right – is now the legacy of the Grit/Rouge line, while the Liberal-Conservative line is kept from view.

No wonder we can’t say why we matter as a people, eh?

I would add to this only that it is the failure to actually teach our history that aids and abets this, making the Reform strain in the Conservative Party quite as much as the Green and Liberals.

As long as the Liberals are for whatever is expedient in the moment, they will not attract Red Tories in great numbers — you see, we can stomach the Conservative Party and/or the New Democratic Party — and they will always marginalise their Blue Liberals.

The problem, as the tenure of Stéphane Dion has shown is, is resolutely not one of leadership. It is far deeper, far more philosophical — and the continued existence of the Liberal Party as anything other than a Toronto and West Montréal rump joined at the hip to old Maritime traditions depend on Liberals taking the long view.

In the meantime, Stéphane, you suffered for the myth of the leader: may you now be able to set it aside in peace.

Kill the “National Governing Party” Idea

I am no friend of the Liberal Party of Canada. Nevertheless, there is something that is responsible for the decline of the Liberals in our national life: the idea of the Liberals as Canada’s “National Governing Party” (NGP).

That the Liberals were able to dominate Canada’s twentieth century with success in office year after year does not create an entitlement, but many people — and I include editorial writers, columnists, bloggers, reporters, party supporters, hacks and politicians in this — by believing in this mythological status also come to believe in it as an entitlement. By definition, therefore, any leader of the Liberals ultimately has to deliver a return to (or retention of) power. A failure to do so brings out the knives. These may (as in John Turner’s case) or may not (as in the probable outcome for Stéphane Dion) lead to another chance to win an election. But those who believe in an entitlement are vicious and seek revenge if they find themselves denied.

The Liberal Party has to drop the entitlement thinking. As long as it exists, the party is not really a party. It is a flame attracting the moths, the corrupt seeking power for its (and their) own sake. No one with two brain cells to rub together would, on sober reflection, consider either Michael Ignatieff or “Today’s” Bob Rae as serious contenders for national leadership and potential high office: their subordination of principle to personal interest is manifestly visible and has been since the first leadership race in 2006. No one who has ever suffered through a Justin Trudeau speech would consider him as suitable for anything other than the backbenches at this point in his life other than the mystical power of his surname. From these and other jockeying and braying moths in the spotlight and the queueing up of the power-brokers and aides behind one or another “bandwagon” to the type of ground worker in campaigns of my personal acquaintance who think nothing of stealing from co-workers to fund their party life, the Liberal Party attracts those who believe the state and the taxpayer exist for their personal aggrandizement.

Give Dion credit. The “Green Shift”(™ licensed) was not a policy that appealed, but, in the face of his party’s failure to actually think about policy and what it stood for he did do the heavy lifting of trying to provide it with one. That the party felt quite comfortable in dispensing with policy in 2006 — and apparently still is not particularly seized by the question — shows the underlying truth of what I have just written about the Liberal Party’s flame and its moths.

Perhaps taming this beast is now beyond hope: if so, the Liberal decline looked forward to by both Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, and Jack Layton and his New Democrats, will continue. (They are already a Toronto & Montréal rump attached to an Atlantic stronghold, but close examination of the results riding by riding shows how much of a close thing this was in a fair number of seats — and the trend continues to work against them.) There is too much unbridled ambition tied up in the Liberal legend of being the party entitled to lead, and perhaps no leader can emerge that can tame the horses involved in such a competitive race. But a focus on the question why should anyone choose to switch to the Liberal Party? rather than the eternal quest for the leader with the charisma and intensity to bring back old glory days of supping at the trough of “rights denied” might be a very good starting place.

Don’t expect it, though. There’s just still too much impetus behind the idea — and a much more thorough thrashing required at the polls — to make that point stick. For the mythos of the NGP also leads, inexorably, to two other notions: that NDP voters are Liberals “seduced away” and that can be scared into returning, and that Conservative voters are Neanderthals and fascists by definition. Neither of those memes reflects reality, either: a party that won’t deal in reality is unelectable in most of the country. Enough said.

Along the way, of course, Stephen Harper must also drop the notion of the Conservatives becoming the inheritor to the “National Governing Party” meme, or his accomplishment in bringing 2/3 of the fractured big tent right of centre together will fall apart much as the Liberals have been doing since Trudeau (Chrétien benefitted from the disarray in Conservative circles through three general elections). We shall see if he and those around him “get this”. A good starting point would be nurturing and developing more Conservative voices, and a strong set of Ministers with good public identities, demonstrating an openness to differing ideas about the future of Conservativism in Canada.

Do I muse in vain? Or will it come down to another Government-of-One vs the winner of Yet-Another-Horse-Race-Looking-for-the-Leader-Who-Brings-The-Entitlements-Back? For there is nothing “natural” about any party being in Government.

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.