26 September 2008

Election 2008: Day 20

It is now the back half of the election campaign, and we are beginning to see the finish line. Depending on where you stand, it's either a great view or a catastrophic view, the proverbial freight train coming towards you when you thought you saw the light at the end of the tunnel. It is apparent that not only is there a strong possibility the Conservatives be re-elected, they may well do so with a majority. Nanos has them at 40% right now, with a 15-point lead over the Liberals. Dion is having to circle the wagons as he's increasingly coming under fire from within his own party ranks, bearing down to protect what the Liberals already hold while the knives start to come out. He will likely, depending on the severity of the defeat, be replaced, the third leadership change since December 2003. There will be no clemency as the Liberals realize they made a tremendous mistake going with the compromise candidate that had less than 1-in-5 support heading into their last leadership convention. Dion is a good man but he has simply been over his head in this position. He was a solid Cabinet minister for Chretien, deftly handling one of the most hot topics of the time. But since he made his own "green shift" and embraced environmental politics as his mantra, he has slipped greatly because Canadians are simply not willing to put their money where their mouths are on this issue.
Is there a chance of a Phoenix-like resurrection? Of course. With a little more than 2 weeks left in this campaign and the Tories still making gaffes as much a part of their routine as a prime-time ad spot, the opportunity to reverse fortunes is still an open window. But it is going to take something major for the Liberals to turn the tide, and that's going to be difficult since they've already released their full election campaign platform (remember when the Red Book was a seminal event?) and the Tories have not. Their cards are all on the table, and when you're all-in with low cards, you need a miracle from the dealer to save you.

24 September 2008

Election 2008: Day 18

We have a campaign theme for this election. It is the gaffe, specifically, who is making them, how many, and how insensitive/severe/significant are they? The gaffe is a reflection of basic competence and the ability to stay on message. In this day, the message is everything, sayeth the media. The medium is the message. The medium in this election making the most waves is the Internet. From Elizabeth May agreeing with the assessment that Canadians are stupid to a Dipper nutbar smoking 30 marijuana cigarettes at the same time to the daily existence of Stephane Dion to "death by a thousand cold cuts," the predominant thing that has arisen time and again is the gaffe, played endlessly on the Internet. The economy? No. Afghanistan? No. Canada-US relations? No. Good governance? No. This election, so the narrative goes, will be determined by the party that has less foot-in-mouth disease. And that's pretty sad.

23 September 2008

Election 2008: Day 17

Still reeling from the beating the Habs took last night against the Bruins. It's one thing to see your team lose badly on TV, it's something else when it's happening right in front of you. Oh well, it was only a pre-season game; we still beat the tar outta them in April when it mattered! Plus, I got auto's from Josh Gorges, Guy Carbonneau, and Bob Gainey. So that's cool.

Two and a half weeks into the campaign now, and I'm surprised at how little has been said about Canada's place in the world. Afghanistan has been mentioned maybe twice, with one of those times being the Prime Minister's statement that we're out of Afghanistan after 2011. Did that move mean that there's nothing to discuss about Canada's most significant international participation since the Balkans? What about what is to be done in the interim? There's also been very little talk, compared to the 2004 and 2006 campaigns, about Canada-US relations. I'm very surprised that given our two neighbouring countries are having elections within weeks of each other (I do find it hilarious that our campaign started a year and a half later and will be finished sooner) there hasn't been more talk about what Canada-US relations will look like after January 20, 2009. There's been no talk about spiting our neighbour or getting too cozy to the colossus, perhaps because Harper has managed the relationship very well during his time in office, striking the right balance between alliance, friendship, and independence. Something to think about.

Not much else in this campaign worth discussing. The muckracking is at its usual lowness, and it's overshadowing everything else. I haven't yet really gone over the Liberal campaign platform, may do so later today time permitting.

22 September 2008

The Lengths Some Will Travel...

Over the weekend someone hacked into the Prime Minister of Canada's mailing list and sent a fraudulent, if pathetically amusing, message to all "Average Canadian[s]" who subscribe to the news updates from the PMO. While this is a very serious matter, compromising as it does the information security of the PMO's computers as well as of those people who are on the mailing list, I found it very informative just how easily it seems to be to integrate Canada into the United States and "destroy" Canada's "cherish[ed]" health care system. This is how Stephen Harper, the roaring ALBERTAN, plans to do it:

"by infusing my propaganda with hard core ad hominen attacks."

Who knew that simple words alone could dissolve a sovereign nation and its health care system? All this time I thought it would take a massive constitutional debate, a national referendum, or some form of legislation. But no, apparently all Stephen Harper has to do to make an independent Canada and its health care system vanish is making a TV spot and call Stephane Dion names. We should all be very afraid of this power. He MUST BE STOPPED! Moreover, what if others wield this awesome might to transform a country by mere words, not actions; letters to the editor, not legislation; commercials, not constitutional amendments. Surely we must all be on the lookout for any who possess this power...and smite them.

17 September 2008

Dion and Post-Secondary Education

*deep breath* I just finished defending Stephane Dion and the Liberal Party in the comments section of the news of the PSE announcement at CTV.ca. I have long been a supporter of spending in this area; I've benefited from student loan and bursary programs (wouldn't mind making that debt load disappear, though), so today's announcement by Dion is one that strikes a chord with me and will hopefully provide an impetus for the other parties to announce their plans for post-secondary education. The incredible costs of tuition in this country are making it very difficult for the younger generation (and their parents/families) to find the resources to afford a university or college education. The interest rate on the loans, while significantly lower than any of the major credit cards, are substantial enough that I still see a lot of the money I pay on a monthly basis being applied to that interest instead of the principal balance. Others, who have much higher loans than I, are feeling a crush when it comes time to pay these loans back, especially when they're still looking for work in their chosen field. The Liberals have long been aware of this and been leaders in making PSE more affordable, and today's announcement is the first of its kind in this campaign.
I can't sit here and say that this turns the tide and I hope that Dion gets elected so that he can implement this plan. It's a good plank, one that I supported fully when I was a member of the Liberal Party and one I will always support, but there's still too many other problems with him and his party right now for me to endorse them.

Election 2008: Day 11

We open with our head-scratcher quote of the day, from Stephane Dion:
"I'm working for a majority. I'm working for a Liberal government that Canadians will support," Dion said, as he stood in the aisle with microphones and cameras in his face. "I'm very realistic. You need to have conviction to make changes that will be good for the country and good for your fellow citizens."

How he can be claiming to be "very realistic" and set the bar for a Liberal majority government is absolutely beyond me. Given that, much like his plane yesterday, Dion is having trouble getting off the ground and staying there, a majority isn't a bar, it's a dot to him.

In other news, the good folks at Elections Canada wasted our time for about 15 minutes yesterday, collecting all our info without actually checking their voters' list. Had they done so, they would have seen that they already have all our info. I was mildly amused by the whole thing, Tasha seemed less so. I almost believed Elizabeth May's assessment about Canadians' intelligence for a moment or two (see Stephen Taylor's blog for the reference).

16 September 2008

Harper & His Credits

Today the Conservatives announced that, if re-elected, they will give a $5000 tax credit to all first-time homebuyers to help alleviate some of the costs involved. This will work out to a $750 tax rebate. Naturally, Conservative opponents are denouncing the move as either vote-buying or a worthless drop in the bucket (fortunately not both, since that would be contradictory) compared to the excessive costs of buying a home these days. As someone who looks at the real estate market today and sees a whole lot of numbers after the dollar sign, I like this move by the government. Of course $750 isn't a great amount relatively speaking, but here's why the move is brilliant from a conservative perspective.
1. It reinforces the buttress that it is not the government's job to buy you things or provide you with lavish rewards; they will, however, give you a modest chip-in to help you out so as to remain as uninvolved in your daily life as possible. It's the same concept as what was behind the child tax credit. Opponents famously derided that, yet not a single person I'd wager sent the cheque back once it came to their mailbox. Whereas the Liberals were touting a universal child care system, which would come at great cost in terms of setting up the infrastructure and then maintaining it, the Conservatives simply said, "Here's some money from my wallet to help you out a bit and give you the choice to look after your kids in the manner and form of your choice."
2. Conservatives believe that Canadians are taxed too heavily; giving some of that money back lowers that burden, thus giving them more money to spend and thus bolster the economy. If you spend your child care money buying beer and popcorn, fine, the liquor tax and the GST comes back to us in that form and you're boosting your local stores. If you choose to buy a new couch for your new home with your $750, that's a dandy little kick for a small business or a large chain store depending on where you buy from. In any event, you're contributing to the national productivity, giving Canadian workers employment and spending.
3. The retail politics of the move goes over well and reminds Canadians that the government hears their concerns about rising prices and does a little bit to ease the burden.

Let the critics go wild, and for whatever their reasons. These little credits that help people out at tax time are much appreciated by everybody that they give a little boost to. It's a staple of governments in this country to give little goodies out, and Harper has deftly utilized this system.

Election 2008: Day 10

Nothing interesting to report on the local scene. I've yet to see any campaign materials around town--a few here and there for the municipal elections--there's nobody pounding the pavement yet, and nothing in the mail. You'd almost be unable to tell that there is, in fact, an election happening around here.

There's a lead story on the G&M website this morning that, if I were still a Liberal, would have me really questioning exactly what my party is doing. As it is, I question exactly what that party is doing. No major theme, Dion micromanaging communications strategy while at the same time not expressing one, and MPs musing openly whether they did make a big mistake (as many of us thought they did at the time) in choosing Dion as their leader. They're still expressing optimism but it's not in their own party or its leader, simply that somehow Harper will "go down" to defeat. It's still plenty early in this campaign but the Liberals need something major very soon that can gain traction with the public, or else it's going to be too little, too late if they want to take back power.

15 September 2008

Election 2008: Day 9

After the Rosamond Luke fiasco, the Tories have appointed another candidate, Ted Larsen. He's described as a 56-year old former reporter who now runs a rental property business. I have no idea who he is, though it's unlikely to matter as this is staunch NDP territory. The Liberals, for their part, have nominated Catherine Meade as their candidate. Ms. Meade, per the brief bio on Liberal.ca, is currently Chair of the S.O.G.I. (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Section of the Canadian Bar Association – Nova Scotia. I have no idea who she is, though it's unlikely to matter as this is staunch NDP territory. So that's the local update.

Nationally, it looks like this week is going to revolve around Stephen Harper vs. Jack Layton, as both leaders have decided that they're done patronizing Stephane Dion and will now simply ignore him. I saw some devastating polls yesterday on the "leadership" theme that have Dion in a distant third place and only marginally ahead of Elizabeth May. Because leadership has been such a key buzzword in this campaign, this is a major blow to the optimism of the Liberals as they press forward. Layton is capitalizing on the hesitance of many Canadian women when it comes to Harper (remember the whole "The Women Are Angry!" campaign?) by pledging to raise funding for Status of Women Canada and reminding voters that the Conservatives cut $5M from the administrative budget a few years ago (but was silent on the fact that the Conservatives later RAISED the SWC budget by $10M) and stating that Harper would be "devastating" for women's equality in Canada. Now, I'll be the first to admit that this government has done little to actively promote women's equality since being elected and been dipping its toe into areas that may cause controversy on abortion rights, but I do not equate cutting a government program's funding with undermining equality under the law. It's not as if they're talking about disenfranchisement or regulating women back into the home. There are many women's issues where Harper can be clubbed but Layton's rhetoric is (as usual) over the top.

11 September 2008

Election 2008: Day 5

So are the media flip-floppers now? They were right to exclude May from the debates initially given that the party of nutjobs she leads doesn't have an elected MP nor do they have official party status. If the leader of the Christian Heritage Party shows up at CTV's doorstep with a lawyer tomorrow, does he get in too? Harper was adroit in dropping his opposition to her participation, as it completely washes away May's absurd claim that he's afraid to debate her. It does, however, give the Greens a rare opportunity to show the country what they're really all about, something that ought to make most sensible Canadians understand why nobody has ever voted in sufficient numbers to elect one of these whackos to Parliament. On the other hand, it does mean that the Prime Minister of Canada will now have to face a two-pronged attack from both Dion and May; I'm sure there will be a lot of "Ms. May is absolutely correct" and "What my esteemed colleague from the Liberal Party says is right on" whenever one of them takes a shot at the government's record.

Not really up to talking about many of the other developments today. This day, as it has for the past 7 years now, has me in a pensive mood and generally feeling down. Hard to believe it's been that long already when all the images from that Tuesday morning in 2001 are still so vivid and fresh in my mind. They say that time heals all wounds, I still need more of it.

10 September 2008

Endgame in Afghanistan: 2011

Stephen Harper announced today that 2011 will be the end of Canada's participation in Afghanistan should the Conservatives be re-elected. Naturally, Liberal supporters on the Internet are saying that he's flip-flopping and committing that most egregious of sins, announcing a date that suddenly war will end. This is obviously a change in position, as Harper has long been of the view that conditions on the ground will determine when Canada can successfully withdraw its troops. My grave concern is that the benchmarks which were established earlier this week may not be met by 2011; should this indeed occur, does the Government of Canada simply wring its hands and leave the work for someone else (a dangerous concept given the depth of commitment shown by some of our NATO allies)? Of course, giving a deadline for these goals to be met gives our troops and development workers in Afghanistan a stronger sense of urgency to meet them. If a person knows that their term paper is due on October 25th, they'll plan accordingly (or write it entirely on October 24th) so that the objective of completing the paper by the 25th is achieved. Fortunately, projects such as building schools and increasing the sense of security Afghans feel is work that can't be done overnight, so the planning must begin in earnest in the near term.
This is a bold move by the Conservative leader. Whether it generates support from the academic and military communities that are invested very heavily in Afghanistan remains to be determined.

Election 2008: Day 4

In the newly-minted absence of a Conservative or Liberal candidate here in Halifax, we now look at what's happening on Day 4 of the 2008 campaign.

I read an article in the Metro today that basically summed up what I've felt about "the environment" as an issue for many years now. It's become the new "Medicare", a rhetorical tool used by the Liberals to whack the Conservatives. Now, I'll grant it that even with such spiffy props as a Sharpie and a 5x7 index card, the Reform/Alliance never could overcome that beating. But eventually that weapon loses its potency. Enter "the environment." Liberals, ever since it became readily evident that they were going to be relegated to opposition status, have employed "the environment" as the centrepiece of their policy platform against the Conservatives. Stephane Dion has said that every day Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada we edge closer to the abyss of environmental degradation beyond all redemption. People get riled up over the subject, newly conditioned to the idea that we're living in a "planet in peril" and it's all our fault and the only way to redeem ourselves is to give our money to the Russians and call it "buying carbon credits." It matters not to some that giving money to the Russians does not lower our GHG emissions one megatonne at all, it must be done in order to clear our conscience so we don't feel bad about driving our SUVs to work, to the grocery store, down the block to meet our friends. We want change! And the Liberals, despite never moving to implement the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol after signing it and adding a Canada-only addendum of even greater reductions in order to shame the Americans for not signing the Protocol at all, speak the language of change. It's working pretty well for Barack Obama (who, like many aspirants in national political capitals, is going to run headlong into a very hard and thick brick wall of institutional stasis), so they may as well give it a shot. Poll after poll in this country has demonstrated that Canadians want to help fix "the environment," but very few of them want to pay for it. When reality comes into contact with the rhetoric, suddenly the status quo seems preferable.

What does all of this mean? It means that "the environment" will be an issue in this election, but it won't decide the election. There may be many people who will vote against Harper because they feel his record and plan for the environment is insufficient, but there won't be enough of them. There may also turn out to be an equal number of voters who are non-plussed by the Green Shift and its promise to raise your taxes significantly in some areas while cutting them in others and thus vote against Dion. No, "the environment" will not be the key theme in this election, despite its rhetorical value for the centre-left parties to use against the Conservatives.

09 September 2008

Easy Come, Easy Go

Just as quickly as we got a Conservative candidate here in Halifax, Rosamond Luke has been dropped from the roster of candidates because she has a criminal record. So we're back to having a Dipper and still waiting for the two other major parties to get a candidate in the field.

Moving Towards a Theme

CTV News has just broken the news that the Prime Minister intends to announce a broadly-based consumer tax cut measure today. No doubt this will be used as a contrast to the Liberals' Green Shift carbox tax to be portrayed as a significant tax increase. The Tories have been using that theme for some time now, but this is the first measure they've announced regarding what they intend to do. If the strategy is to make this election about the economy and where Canadians' money will go, the Conservatives are naturally putting themselves in a strong position. Nobody wants to pay more taxes on the things they buy, be it gas for their vehicles or the food they eat, both of which will be negatively affected by the Liberal Green Shift. Everybody likes the idea of giving the government less and keeping more for themselves.

Quote of the Day

"They can vote for the Green party in all 306 ridings across Canada. They want to know where we stand." -- Elizabeth May

Someone should tell her that there are actually 308 ridings across Canada. Someone should also remind her that as a quid pro quo for not running a Liberal candidate in Central Nova the Greens agreed not to run in the Stephan Dion's riding of Saint-Laurent–Cartierville.

Election 2008: Day 3

We have our first major party candidate nominated in Halifax! The NDP has selected Megan Leslie to succeed Alexa McDonough. Halifax is sort of like Kelowna in that whomever is nominated for the NDP (in Kelowna's case it's the Tories) is pretty much a lock to go to Ottawa. Too many students out here that follow Winston Churchill's dictum, "If you're not a socialist when you're 20 you have no heart; if you're not a conservative when you're 40 you have no brain." So there's a lot of heart here in Halifax. I think it would have been great if the second-place candidate took the nod, though. Her name: Alexis MacDonald. I wonder how many people wouldn't notice that it's not Alexa anymore.
The Conservatives have also put forward a nominee, named Rosamond Luke. No details were given in the Chronicle-Herald story (big surprise) and the Conservative website itself is not yet updated, only noting "Candidate coming soon" as of this morning. A Google search reveals, however, that she is "the Founder and Executive Director of AWEDA – All Women’s Empowerment and Development Association. AWEDA is an NGO dedicated to the social and economic empowerment of immigrant and refugee women in Nova Scotia. Born and raised in Freetown, Sierra Leone to entrepreneur parents, Rosamond arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on October 30, 1982, for what was initially intended to be a twelve-month stay. She eventually settled here and raised a family of three children."
The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate.

Nationally, still not a defining issue. I think that the longer this goes on, the more it bodes well for the Conservatives. Many Canadians have expressed their confidence in Stephen Harper's leadership, so unless the Liberals are able to define what this election is about, there will be little need to veer from the status quo.

08 September 2008

Election 2008: Day 2

Still not a candidate to be seen in Halifax. I did, however, have a city councillor come by my door yesterday; they must feel bad that they're now the second-place election of October 2008.

Hats off to the Greens for throwing money down a black hole as penance for their carbon emissions during the election. It's a special kind of self-loathing to want to tax yourself, and luckily they'll forever be unable to inflict the same wallet-thrashing on the people of Canada.

We're still looking for a major theme or central issue to this election. Leadership is a word that has often come up in discussions. But there's so much more to good governance than the leader of whatever party is elected. The Liberals have portrayed Stephen Harper as a bully who muzzles his own Cabinet ministers and snuffs all internal dissent, which they say is bad leadership. The Conservatives have much more successfully shown Dion to be an ineffectual leader, replaying over and over the clip in which Dion says, "Do you think it's easy to make priorities?" Obviously, after the dithering of the previous Liberal leader, the Tories feel the current Liberals will offer little better as evidence of leadership. And somewhere in all of this, Jack Layton is saying they're both bad and only his type of leadership and strength is what's good for Canada. Strangely absent from this "leadership" talk is the discussion of actual priorities and policies for Canada as we move forward.

07 September 2008

Election 2008: Day 1

And we're off! As of this morning, none of the major parties has a candidate here in Halifax.

The opening speeches have set the tone. The Conservatives are the tried, tested, and true incumbents and the Liberals are the risky unknowns. The Liberals are the big visionaries of Canada who have guided the country through tough times before and the Conservatives are extreme right wingers. The NDP will put Canadians first and be Canada's Obama Party and the Conservatives are in the pockets of the ultra-wealthy corporations.

So it begins...

04 September 2008

No Sooner Said...

I think Sarah Palin's speech last night should go a long way in rubbing out what I said yesterday. Every election campaign has a defining moment--I think last night's speech may well be that moment for the Republicans. If McCain can hit another home run tonight, I may shift into prediction mode.

03 September 2008

Poor John McCain

I'm not going to make this a "woe is he" posting so much as a set of observations about various factors seemingly conspiring against the Republican presidential candidate. I do believe that his experience and leadership qualities will emerge to the forefront in the final 2 months of this campaign (I'll muse on the hilarity that there actually will be a Canadian election first at some other point) that may help him triumph over Obama, but at this point it's going to take a bit of work to overcome the optical politics that have been at play in recent weeks.
First, the Democratic National Convention was truly a sight to behold. It played really well on TV to have the Clintons go to bat for Obama, it played well to have all the celebrities in attendance, and of course the spectacle of Obama giving an impassioned speech in front of 70,000 screaming supporters at Invesco Field played brilliantly. The Democrats have the appearance of being youthful, vital, energetic, and ready to lead. This comes in spite of their horrid performance in Congress since winning the mid-term elections in 2006, which has left them with a 9% approval rating. That brand of "change" hasn't played well at all, yet Obama's message of hope and change appears to be carrying the day.
So within 24 hours of the Democrats wrapping it up, McCain announced Sarah Palin would be his VP candidate. An astute move, to be sure, as Palin's political credentials will go well with the Republican base, her reformer creds will help reach out to independents, and yeah, the gender card may play a role in winning over some disaffected former Clinton supporters still miffed that their candidate was snubbed by Obama. For 24 hours, the choice dominated the headlines for many of the right reasons. Then came the news that her 17-year old daughter is 5 months pregnant. Despite the Democrats exhorting that they would not go to make political hay out of this, the media is certainly making this preferred non-issue an issue. It's everywhere. Pundits are wondering what else may have been missed in the vetting process. They're loudly hollering about the fact that Bristol is not married and only 17, and revelling in the fact that the VP candidate is an advocate for abstinence education. Whatever goodwill may have been generated by the selection of Sarah Palin as VP candidate has quickly been shoved aside for the gutter politics of sliming her family.
And of course we have Hurricane Gustav compelling the Republicans to dramatically alter their plans for their convention. Instead of receiving wall-to-wall coverage like the Obama coronation, the Republicans have sat idly as CNN et al. devoted a lot of time in the past few days to the hurricane. They've adjusted plans, they've scaled it back, President Bush spoke via satellite instead of live in-person to offer his endorsement of his former rival. The feeling around this convention is reminiscent of the determined soldier getting ready to put his down for another hard push, compared to the sense of celebration and impending grand triumph. Republicans themselves may be completely fine with that--they've been deriding Obama for his celebrity status for months, after all. But optical politics plays a very large role in real politics these days. How much will all of these factors affect McCain's chance at the presidency? Will this matter much during and after the debates? I knew back in 2004 that Bush had it sealed and delivered after the Republican convention; this time, however, it is all very much up in the air.

02 September 2008

Election Fever v.239

It looks like this one may be the real deal.

Harper's had his meetings with all the opposition leaders, and since the most important one was also the shortest and apparently the most acrimonious, it looks like he's got his casus belli to take it to the polls. Today's polling probably makes him feel even more emboldened.

Still waiting for the deus ex machina to appear and magically cause Parliament "to work" until next October...