Here We Go Again

What a week in Canadian politics so far!

Merry Santa Harper and his happy elves have been popping up all across the country as they announce their latest vote buying binge- using our hard earned tax dollars of course. Senior Elf Poilievre couldn’t wear red as that is the colour of the hated Liberals; but true blue with a Conservative logo prominently displayed was deemed appropriate. He reminded me of the blue Santa that appeared at Progressive Conservative Christmas parties in the 1980s.

Add the extra infrastructure and other funding announcements being made by Conservative ministers and MPs (12 today) to the 3 billion dollar Universal Child Care handouts and it really is Christmas in July!

Poilievre’s dress code stripped away any pretense that this 3 billion dollar cash give away was good policy instead of just another vote buying scheme that various governments desperately turn to as they go into an election that they think they might not win. Wasn’t it the Conservatives who would rant at the Liberals when they would do much the same thing? Didn’t we attack the Liberals under Chretien for opening up the cod fisheries just before an election despite the claims from highly respected scientists that the stock simply couldn’t handle it?

Didn’t we also rant at the Liberals for using taxpayers’ dollars to fund government ad campaigns leading up to an election? Mind you I don’t recall the Liberals using a logo on the ads that directly reminded the voters that the policy announcement was connected to an “action plan” that linked directly back to the party in power. It seems it doesn’t matter which party is in power they all revert to the same behavior- IE. use taxpayers’ dollars to cling to power and try to sway votes.

As this campaign heats up all of the parties will be making quite a few promises; some of which will automatically include- openness, accountability, cleaning up corruption, protecting your hard earned tax dollars. All of this is already on display at every news conference the opposition holds or appears on your TV screen in various ads.

It would be nice if they could remember their promises once in power. No wonder Canadian voters are so turned off with politics and such a cynical bunch. Can they believe any of the parties or will it be same old thing all over again?



Some time ago when the push for fixed election dates was first discussed, I for one was never in favour of the idea. I always felt that Canadian elections would end up following the pattern of American ones with a last year being devoted to little that would be considered constructive. The focus would end up being negative after negative and we would end up seeing all the political parties in constant attack mode long before the election date.

Well here we are months before the next election and even a political junkie like myself has had enough.

I expect that like most Canadians who are not political zealots, I am tired of:

  • the constant barrage of political ads, they seem to be on every popular show. Why can’t we have a ban on these ads up to a month or so before the election call?
  • the incessant attacks on each leader by the others and knowing that they will only get nastier the closer we get to election day. If you believe everything they say about each other we have a pretty sorry bunch of individuals running to be Prime Minister.
  • all the promises, promises, and more promises being made by every party, yet we all know most will never see the light of day regardless of who is elected.
  • the increasingly long and expensive list of policies being trotted out. How many tax dollars will the parties wring out of hard working families to implement these policies?
  • listening to the same monotonous talk points recited every time someone is interviewed. Is there no one in Ottawa who can think for themselves?
  • the constant fear mongering by all of the leaders- remember Chicken Little, the world won’t end regardless of which party is elected to form government
  • all the polls everyone is quoting (often ignoring the margin of error) to predict who is ahead
  • all the polls which hardly matter at this early stage, pontificating about who will win how many seats
  • the media spinning the same stories which are often days old as new
  • third party advertising that disguises which special interest group is behind them. What is wrong with telling Canadians who you really are instead of coming up with a name and web site that hides that from voters?
  • the media focus on the three main parties. What about the Greens? If it’s a minority government they could play a key role. Don’t Canadians deserve to know what they stand for as well- and it’s not just the environment?

It could be a long hot summer and if this is what we can expect with fixed election dates, then it’s time to turn off the TV and car radio and grab a beer and a good book while firing up the BBQ.

It’s time to do like most Canadians and ignore the political goings on until a week or so before the election.

Give us a break!


Cleaning Up The Gong Show

Justin Trudeau’s new ideas on how to make government better do have some merit, if they are ever implemented. I say that as someone who is a bit jaded and cynical from having been involved in federal politics from as far back as 1984. There are always great ideas, especially when you are an opposition party. It is only when you form a government that you realize how practical or impractical your ideas were and that goes for all political parties, not just the Liberals

Let us take a look at one area I know a little bit about, namely Trudeau’s promise to improve the Gong Show that is Question Period. Having been involved in Question Period (QP) from 1984-89 and again 1997-2008, I agree with him, there is no doubt that it needs cleaning up.

Gone are the days when opposition MPs would call a minister’s office to give them a heads up on a question so that the minister could have an answer ready for them. This was not unusual in the Mulroney years and as a Chief of Staff, I often took calls from opposition MPs or their staff. This often led to a good rapport between critics, ministers and their staffs and a more civil atmosphere.

Trudeau is suggesting that we have a Prime Minister’s Question Period, similar to the UK model. This is not a new idea, but one he has copied from the excellent work done by Conservative MP Michael Chong. Nether the less it is a good idea.

The PM would still be accountable; even if he is not in the House three days a week (it is rare that any PM is there more often). Generally the PM answers three questions from each of the opposition leaders (less than nine minutes). Harper as a courtesy answers additional questions from the Leader of the Official Opposition if they continue into the second round. Imagine the Opposition having a solid hour (I would extend QP by an extra 15 minutes) to ask their questions and the PM being unable to deflect them to another minister!

This would also take away the practice of every questioner (no matter how far down the line up) asking the PM a question even if he is not in the House. This practice was instituted strictly for the 10 second media clip plus it gave backbenchers something to put in their local media or householders.

The other bonus to this system is that on the days that the PM is not being questioned, there is a lot more time to question individual ministers. If a minister is targeted, it is a lot less likely that they can stick to a tight script provided by PMO. Imagine the opposition parties having an hour to attack Fantino when he was the Veteran Affairs minister!

Trudeau is also proposing to adjust the time allocated to ask and answer a question. I agree that it is far too tight right now. People might want to look back at the old Hansards from the 1980s. Questions were longer as were the answers. It began to tighten up when the Liberal rat pack began using long winded pre-ambles to score media points. Certainly increasing the time to 40 or 45 seconds from 35 seconds will help. Beyond that and you will see the question degenerate into a simple attack piece for media consumption.

While he is at it, perhaps Justin should do away with the list of questioners that is given to the Speaker before QP starts. This list which designates the order in which MPs will ask a question is part of the problem today. It allows parties to line up their questioners in an unbroken series of attacks and decide which MP will ask the most pointed questions for media consumption. For instance Jason Kenney was our clean-up questioner and was often clipped on the nightly news, even if Harper was not.

Reverting back to the earlier practice of the Speaker recognizing the first MP to stand up breaks up the coordinated attacks we see now. Plus backbenchers would be able to ask what they want, not necessarily what the Leader's Office wants IE give more power to individual MPs. It would also do away with those ridiculous soft ball questions the government side asks their ministers. I can remember in the 1980s some of our toughest questions came from MPs on our own side who were allowed to ask our ministers whatever they wanted. The extra bonus was that it also helped to keep ministers on their toes and in touch with caucus members who had issues with the ministers department.

There you have it. Just a little advice from someone who has been there and it won’t cost the taxpayer a cent.


Going Left 

At first glance it looks like Justin Trudeau’s recent policy announcement of a list of items that he would implement if he becomes Prime Minister was based on the wisdom of a former adviser and campaign strategist for Pierre Trudeau.  Keith Davey would always argue that “It is when the Liberal Party shifts to the right that we lose elections” and that “the Liberal Party wins elections when it is most liberal.”

Certainly Justin’s policy announcement has attempted to move his party into the left wing space occupied by the NDP. Whether or not this move will stop the Liberal’s downward slide in the polls is hard to say at this point. With Mulcair and the NDP continuing to rise in the polls, one could be forgiven if they saw Trudeau’s announcement as anything but a desperate move to remain relevant as the “Anyone But Harper” vote seems to be coalescing around Mulcair.

As with any set of policy announcements, there are good and bad ideas, most of which will likely never see the light of day once the campaign officially kicks off. Campaigns are usually defined by leadership issues and one or two key policy items that the public will focus on. Most of Trudeau’s policy announcements will end up being buried in some Red Book that few people will bother reading and like previous Red Books will never be implemented even if the Liberals are elected with a majority which is highly unlikely.

There are lots of nice feel good items in Trudeau’s release; they will appeal to lots of different people right across the political spectrum. For example:

  • reforming parliamentary committees
  • reforming Question Period
  • more open government
  • gender parity in cabinet
  • more free votes for MPs
  • changes to the first past the post voting system
  • amendments to the Liberal supported Bill C-51
  • restoring home mail delivery

The list goes on and on.

Perhaps Trudeau should also have listened to these other words of Keith Davey, when he suggested that during an election you shouldn’t be “foolishly attempting to be all things to all people.”

The next week or so will tell us if Trudeau’s feel good release will give him the bump in the polls that he so desperately needs. Clearly the campaign has begun; it’s going to be a fun ride.


Power and Influence magazine Summer edition

The latest edition of Power and Influence magazine is out. My column on auditing MPs expenses is on Page 12. You can download a free copy of the magazine at http://www.hilltimes.com/special_issue/power_and_influence_summer_2015