Friday
Sep232016

Perception is Everything

I remember reading some comments from Liberal Senator Keith Davies, otherwise known as the “Rain Maker” for his successful stewardship of several Liberal election campaigns. He stressed that in politics, perception was everything- something this latest generation of Liberals seems to have forgotten.

Arrogance and entitlement have always been the downfall of the Liberals, whether it was Justin’s father giving the “Salmon Arm” salute to voters or David Dingwall’s expensing a package of gum, they have left a lasting impression with voters. Now it is quite true that when voters get fed up with the Conservatives they can overlook this Liberal failing- but it doesn’t take much to remind them about what they don’t like about Liberals.

Politicians need to keep in mind that it is the small things that add up over time and it is the small things that get them booted out of office. It’s the continual picking away by the opposition of the day and the media that eventually sours voters on a government.

What was Trudeau thinking when he suggested to his top two staffers in their letter of employment that they could access this relocation program in its entirety? Did he not stop and think this through; did he not pause and wonder what “regular” Canadians might think? Did he just rubber stamp a letter offered to him by a staffer to sign? Clearly someone wasn’t thinking (especially his two top aides).

Now I am not saying that Telford and Butts didn’t follow the rules. All the evidence says that they did. Following the rules is the song they all sing when it blows up in their face. Bev Oda’s $16 orange juice was within the guidelines, but that didn’t matter to voters. Nor does the fact that Telford and Butts followed the guidelines matter- what matters is the perception of what the voters interpret as going on. If the voters feel it is inappropriate, then in their mind it is and they don’t give a damn if you followed the rules or if it was within the guidelines or not.

Voters can be boondoggled on policy matters, but there are some things they understand- especially if it things they also do. People have paid for a glass of orange juice, people have sold homes and moved, and people have paid moving expenses, real estate fees and lawyer’s fees out of their own pocket- they really do get it. Did no one in the Liberal brain trust (especially his top two advisors) not stop to ask the “what if” question? What if this goes public- how will the media and voters react to my claims? Did no one give any thought as to public reaction?

The median family income in Canada is $76,000, median salary around $50,000. Voters look at Butts claiming in expenses close to the yearly income of two entire families, or 2.5 workers’ salaries just for a move to accept a high paying job in Ottawa. These are the same families that would have to shoulder all moving costs on their own. Telford charged more than an entire family’s year income as well. Do you think staff charging over $207,000 to move the short distance from Toronto to Ottawa impressed Canadian voters? What does this say about Trudeau’s promise to do things differently?

If perception in politics as Keith Davies maintained was everything, so far we have seen-

-a media blow up over Trudeau trying to charge his two nannies salaries to his office budget

-Sophie wanting extra staff to support her work

-ministers trying to pretend that they didn’t use limousines

-extravagant moving expenses charges

The old Liberal narrative is being refreshed in the voters mind and once again “they are entitled to their entitlements” rings true. It is time for them to come out of their ivory tower and time for them to start asking the “what if” questions and give voters a break- if they don’t voters can even the score at election time.

Friday
Sep092016

The Clock Ticks Down"

As the clock ticks down to the opening of the Fall session of the House of Commons the public is starting to see the first real signs of life in both the NDP and Conservative leadership races. Of course the real question remains who wants to be the equivalent of a “caretaker” until the 2019 election is out of the way. At this point unless Trudeau commits a monumental blunder or his government gets embroiled in some type of scandal it will be hard to take him down in the next election.

The Conservatives with the incredibly stupid length of time that they have given their leadership race have all but guaranteed that Trudeau will not face a very effective Opposition until this race is decided. When your best and your brightest are slugging it out for the prize, they are distracted from the task of countering the Liberals in the House. That task will generally fall to the second tier of MPs. The only bonus to that is that once in a while one of these MPs steps up and becomes a star.  

As with most leadership races (regardless of political party) the voting public will be treated to leadership candidates turning on each other like dogs fighting for a bone. While the nastiness and name calling might end in May 2017, the divisions and animosities created will linger on until well after the 2019 election.

On the Conservative side we already seeing the usual assortment of fringe candidates put their name forward. One of the few ways that they will be able to stand out from the crowd will be to take more extreme policy positions. In addition we can be pretty well guaranteed that various factions will be refighting the battles of the 1970s and 1980s. This will not only give the Trudeau Liberals some wonderful ammunition for the 2019 election, but quite possibly drive away more moderate voters. In the end it will be the inability to raise funds on an ongoing basis that will knock most of these candidates out of the race. Unfortunately leadership candidates will find it all too tempting to put “me first” in an all-out effort to win and they will ignore the long term damage to the party brand.

While Mulcair is getting a dose of the usual backstabbing that goes on after a leader is blamed for an election loss, the Conservatives are still waiting for a high profile candidate to want the job. O’Toole and Raitt are still waiting to be heard from and as neither is labelled as coming from the Reform or PC side of the founding parties they can claim to represent the new party. MacKay has promised an answer soon and Andrew Scheer is supposed to be interested. All we have seen from O’Leary to date is posturing and an ability to milk the media for self-promotion. Certainly the publicity isn’t hurting his business interests. Speaking of which can you imagine how interesting it would be if he was every faced with the prospect of putting all of his business interests into a blind trust. It would be shades of Paul Martin all over again, but probably a lot more complicated.

Time is quickly marching on as the unofficial decision deadline of October is rapidly approaching. Who will be in? Who will be out? At this point in time it’s not something the voting public cares about.

 

Thursday
Aug252016

Rest in Peace Elsie

Canada has lost an amazing politician with the passing of Elsie Wayne. Many remember her as tough, demanding, principled, often unbending. She was quite a character.

I was very fortunate to work with her when I was the Director of Question Period and the head of the attack team. I could always count on Elsie to show up at the early morning prep meeting with ideas for issues that she wanted to push or points that she wanted to raise. We shared an understanding of what she felt was a need to speak up for her beloved constituents and on occasions when the discussion around the table would get  a little heated, she would glance my way and give a wink to indicate, don’t worry about it.

I best remember her for her work on behalf of the merchant seamen especially during their hunger strike on the Hill. Elsie would always stop by them and make sure they were ok, often bringing them into her office to warm up. Elsie never let up on this issue and eventually the government would recognize the services of the merchant marine and offered a compensation package to them.

There was also the lighter side to Elsie- her Christmas sweaters that would light up that she wore to QP or the time that we had our Christmas Party on the Hill and she went around replacing all the red light bulbs with blue ones.

Elsie was quite a character, if you met her, you remembered her. She was always Elsie, not Mrs. Wayne. Canada has lost a giant of a politician and a dedicated MP for her constituents. Rest in Peace Elsie and thank you for your service.

Sunday
Aug212016

Definition of a Limousine

Health minister Philpott's defence is that the car that she was chauffered around in was not a limousine but a sedan. We also know that it was a high end Lexus ES 300. Here are a few definitions of "limousine" for the minister to ponder when she comes under fire for misleading parliament.

Definition of a limousine
Merriam-Webster:
  • a very large and comfortable car usually driven by a professional driver (called a chauffeur)
Oxford:
  • a large luxurious automobile, especially one driven by a chauffeur who is separated from the passengers by a partition
  • (North American) A car licensed to transport passengers in return for payment, typically more luxurious than a taxi and not fitted with a taximeter.
  • (North American) A passenger vehicle carrying people to and from an airport

Webster's

  • any large, luxurious automobile, especially one driven by a chauffeur
  • a large sedan or small bus, especially one for transporting passengers to and from an airport, between train stations etc.
This minister is in for a rough time. It isn't the big items that trip up a minister or a government. It is the small ones that really irritate the public.

 

Thursday
Aug182016

What Goes Around, Comes Around

It didn’t take long for one of Trudeau’s ministers to put their foot in it. As has been reported Minister of Health Philpott has been somewhat free with throwing taxpayers dollars around on limousine service in the GTA. Some of the excuses that have been reported are just laughable… it wasn’t a limo it was a sedan… it was on legitimate business etc. They would also have us believe that the fact that the limo company is owned by one of her campaign workers is purely coincidental.

The media have reported that the minister knew that the owner of the company (Executive Sedan Livery Service Inc.) had worked on her campaign, but she still went ahead and used the service not this one time at a cost of $1700 for one day, but she used the same company on over 20 occasions (including another day that cost the taxpayer $1994). That shows incredibly poor judgement on her part.

It also doesn’t say much about the political judgement of her Chief of Staff who is responsible for vetting the ministers work, including travel and whose responsibility it is to keep the minister out of trouble. If the minister knew the company was owned by a campaign worker did the Chief of Staff also know that?

If the minister planned to use limo service on a regular basis why wasn’t a tender process used to get the best price? Who suggested that this company be used? Did her staff solicit several quotes from different companies? Departments often have standing offers from companies to provide services as required. Does Health Canada have one for transportation in the GTA? If so, is this company on their list?

Harper would make his ministers pay out of their own pocket when travel expenses weren’t justified. Let’s see if our current Prime Minister is just as strict or does he sweep this story under the carpet.

It is always fun when sitting on the opposition side of the aisle to attack the government side and make all sorts of demands; they tend to forget that these stories will happen to every government.

Back in 2012 the opposition parties were quick to demand that the Conservative minister appear before a committee to answer questions on her spending and travel arrangements… what goes around comes around.

Perhaps Bob Rae when he was the Interim Leader of the Liberals said it best:

“It's ridiculous to think that ministers get themselves in these positions where they think this is what they are entitled to, it's all wrong," (Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae on Bev Oda’s expenses April 24, 2012)