Here and There: May 21, 2015

Not the most exciting week in Canadian politics. You know that as soon as you see how much space was taken up in the news over who would attend what leader’s debate.

It was interesting to know that Justin Trudeau is already practicing for the October leadership debates. Now what does that say about the man’s abilities? He needs six months practice to get ready? Why would anyone on the Liberal side want to flag that issue for the media and public at this time? It implies that he isn’t good enough to take on Harper and Mulcair. That indirectly reinforces the Conservative and NDP talk points that Trudeau isn’t ready. 

Not only that, but with 6 months of practice, shouldn’t we expect a super performance from him? What if his performance is just average? The Liberals have raised expectations about how good he will be. What happened to under promise and over deliver?

The other danger with debate prep of this sort is that after a period of time, your answers are triggered automatically when you hear certain words in the questions. He will have to be careful that he doesn’t just practice without having the ability to respond to questions that come out of nowhere or which isolate just one part of a larger issue. Parroting answers can get you in trouble.

The latest information points to the Conservatives and NDP trying to limit the participation of the Green Party in the debates. Can one say anti-democratic? But wait New Democrats want to do things differently don’t they? One can see why politically both the NDP and CPC want the Greens kept out but is that serving democracy well? The Greens do have a substantial following and do have policy options to advance. It seems to me that the Greens have the same problem as the old PC Party… few MPs elected because their support is thinly spread across the country instead of concentrated in a few winnable ridings. It still reflects badly on the CPC and NDP. Both parties will have to handle this issue very carefully if they don’t want to come across as arrogant or bullies.

The PM has decided which debates he will attend… and who cares what the others want to do. So far their talk points on doing debates differently aren’t really sinking in or winning too many people over. It’s probably a good thing for the Conservatives that Canadians are dusting off their BBQs and not paying too much attention to what is happening in Ottawa.

Michael Harris had a good article today about how governments defeat themselves. It is worth a read by the public and the Conservatives. Arrogance and entitlement are the hallmark of governments that have been in power for a long time. It doesn’t matter which political party, PMs, ministers and even MPs get complacent and sloppy in how they do things and if the voters detect a whiff of arrogance and entitlement they don’t like it. Governments really do defeat themselves; just ask Paul Martin or Jim Prentice.


Here and There

Quick comments on some of the events and issues of the past week

Polling numbers are getting interesting as a three way race is developing. It is always good for democracy when the public is engaged. The question now becomes where will the anti-Harper vote go? With three opposition parties dividing up that vote, it almost guarantees a Conservative win, although I hardly think a majority. Unless of course the anti-Harper votes move either to the Liberals or to the NDP and try to block the Tories. Watch for more talk about coalitions and the Conservatives are sure to revert back to form and talk about the dangers of a coalition government, even though they are legitimate and can work quite well.

What a surprise the Conservatives have announced new emissions targets. It must be an election year! It at least gives Harper a talk point for the eventual leadership debates, but does anyone out there think they will ever be achieved?

It is time for all of our party leaders to make sure that their respective parties pay for their travel to political events, not the taxpayer. That goes for MPs and ministers too. It is pretty easy to calculate what percentage of a trip was of a partisan nature and what portion was actually government related or parliamentary business. Let the party, riding or individual pay for the partisan portion.

The party that used to attack the Liberals for how they abused ads, the Conservatives aren’t much better at the moment. It is an election year and the ads flooding the TV should probably have the CPC logo as they aren’t much different from true election ones.

Some of the latest numbers on the Alberta election shows it was about hope and anger. Something our federal politicians should pay attention too. Hope almost always trumps fear.


Old Ideas are New Again

Justin Trudeau has received a fair amount of coverage for his “new” idea to tax the rich and give the middle class a tax break while using the new tax money to help balance the budget.

However, one must keep in mind that in modern politics nothing much is new, most “new” ideas are really old ones repackaged. Trudeau’s new idea was implemented by Bill Clinton in 1993 when he raised taxes on the top two income brackets. Clinton also raised corporate taxes by 1% and put a 4.3 cent tax per gallon on transportation fuel. I wonder if Justin will suggest taxing fuel to perhaps fight climate change? Incidentally, Justin take note, in May 2014, Clinton admitted that even if taxed at 100%, you couldn’t balance the budget by taxing the rich.

In an election year, it’s all about the spin. Policies don’t have to make economic sense; they have to make political sense. Deep down it’s not about balancing the books, it’s about winning elections. Just look at the Conservative cuts to the GST tax and incoming splitting to see a couple of other examples.

One of the proponents of taxing the rich was James Carville, a senior Clinton advisor. He was even brought in by the Liberals to help teach campaign strategy and tactics in the 1990s. Carville is a bright guy and a great political attack dog. I recall using some of his suggestions to help create our Conservative rapid response team, (as did the Liberals) which in its day was very formidable and never slept. It was in action 24/7, 365 days of the year. At one time I even made some of Carville’s books compulsory reading for my team members. I recall reading his book “We’re Right, They’re Wrong”and making notations in the margins on similarity to the strategy, tactics and talk points used by the Liberals on Stockwell Day in the 2000 election campaign.

When Trudeau first stood up in Question Period as the newly minted leader of the Liberals, his questions on the middle class sounded a little familiar. Sure enough this is some of the latest Carville strategy in “It’s the Middle Class Stupid!” and the idea of taxing the rich and using class warfare to win elections appears in the introduction to the book.

Of course it could just be coincidence, although I really don’t believe in coincidence in politics. There is always a political reason for everything- IE winning votes.

One of the reasons you should never drink too much of your own political Kool-Aid is that the other side sometimes comes up with pretty good ideas. If I was still working there my team would be going over his material and other Democratic pundits to check for our vulnerabilities and to get a heads up on potential incoming Liberal attacks. Researchers for the NDP and the Green Party might find a few worthwhile ideas for attacking the Conservatives as well.

Take an old idea like tax the rich, wrap it up in shiny new paper and put a big Liberal red bow on it and make it sound new. It worked for Bill, it could work for Justin.

Or will it? The support Clinton won in 1993 when he introduced the new tax was short lived. The Democrats were crushed in 1994 when the Republicans took control of both the House and Senate in that year’s election.


The Man in Charge

Harper’s visit to Iraq, the Kurds and eventually the Netherlands to join with our vets in celebrating VE-Day was great political theater.

It reminded me of the vintage propaganda film footage we see from World War Two where the leader flies in to visit the troops and he is then shown huddled with military officials and commanders and later peering through binoculars at the enemy lines. It is a time proven technique that works and certainly gets the public’s attention back home.

Was the entire trip necessary, probably not as Prime Minister’s don’t have to personally hand out cheques for aid, but in an election year it was a great way to separate Harper from the other leaders. It gave an opportunity for Harper to once again demonstrate that he is the man in charge and reminded Canadians (and of course voters) that he is not like the other leaders; he is willing to make the tough decisions.

Joining with our vets as they remembered VE-Day and the liberation of the Netherlands was more than symbolic as he needs to patch up the relationship with our veterans that had been so badly damaged with previous political missteps. Harper was right to take the opportunity (as should all of our political leaders) to remind the present generation of Canadians of the sacrifices made in defence of freedom. It is hard for the present generation to comprehend the massive causalities that the Canadian forces sustained fighting across Northern Europe and in the Italian campaign. 7600 Canadians died liberating the Netherlands and the campaign in Europe cost Canada 79,774 casualties, of which 21,478 were killed.

It is worth noting that as of the writing of this post, neither the Liberals nor the NDP had posted a tribute to our vets commemorating VE-Day. That was a good move on Harper’s part. As we get closer to our election day we will see more of this from all of the political leaders as they try to differentiate themselves from the others.


Spring edition of Power and Influence magazine

The Spring edition of Power and Influence magazine is out. You can download a free copy at the attached link. My column is P.81…/power_and_influence_spring_2015