Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Just remember: when one door closes, another one slams shut in your face

When this happens--and it is "when", not "if"--then I absolutely and totally guarantee you: Paul Martin will renege on his promise to call an election 30 days after Gomery tables his report.

He will call the promise "a mistake" which he was "forced to make after the CPC and the Bloc teamed up to destroy Canada". He will call an election "a threat to Canadian values". He will say that "Canada is frankly more important than Stephen Harper's extremist ambitions".

He will apologise for making the mistake of promising an election. He will do so on national t.v., and the Toronto Star will praise him for his "bravery". And there will be S.F.A. that anybody can do about it. By then, at least one of Chuck Cadman, David Chatters, and Darrel Stinson will be too sick to vote, and it will be mathematically impossible for the Tories to topple the Martin government.

I guarantee you: there will be no election in 2006.

If I'm wrong, I will... er... well, anyway, I'm not wrong.

Martin is going to get away with it. And we will be able to thank Chuck Cadman and Belinda Stronach for the Worst Possible Realistic Outcome In Canadian Federal Politics: a Liberal minority propped up by an NDP coalition. I swear to God, worst possible realistic outcome. I think I'm going to swallow my own tongue.

Byelection breathing room?

Several very sensible bloggers, including Damian Penny and Bob Tarantino, have joined the media chorus that last night's byelection win in Liberaldor Labrador represents breathing room for the Liberals in the House. In fact the byelection is essentially completely irrelevant.

Last week, given the cancellations due to pairing, the Libs (including Stronach) and Dips added up to 150; they needed Parrish and Cadman to get to 152. The speaker's vote--which is cast ONLY in the case of a tie--brought them to 153.

The Tories plus Bloc plus Kilgour were 152.

The Labrador win means the Lib/Dip/Parrish/Cadman total goes up by 1. The Tories don't lose anything, of course, meaning that the L/D/P/C's have 153, and the T/B/K's still have 152.

What this means is that, just like last week, the Libs need to keep the Dips AND Parrish AND Cadman in order to win. If Cadman switches his vote, then the L/D/P side drops to 152, and the T/B/K+C team rises to a winning 153. The extra vote brought by the speaker would not be cast, and the government would fall.

The bottom line is that for the Libs, winning the byelection has literally no impact at all on their ability to retain power (assuming all MPs actually vote, and none abstain--a fair bet, given the importance of these non-confidence motions). All it means is that there will be no more tie votes requiring the Speaker's intervention.

As an aside, I don't even think this matters at all, even if it did magically make the Liberals more immune to non-confidence defeat. My suspicion is that, having lost in the push for a summer election, Harper will likely wait for the Gomery report. Then it comes down to whether Martin lives up to his promise to hold an election. As I wrote a few days ago, don't hold your breath for Mr. Promise-Made-Promise-Kept.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Canada past the tipping point?

Please read this thoughtful, moving piece by Walsingham at The Monarchist (and thanks to Occam for reminding me of it). I have tried hard, and somewhat successfully, to avoid Walsingham's despair and anger. In my opinion, Canada has not yet utterly lost hope.

But I don't think that day is necessarily too far off. If Martin is successful in avoiding a post-Gomery election, and polls show that Canadians don't care... or if Martin does call an election, and the Liberals win... then honestly I think my country will be dead.

I'm sorry to say that. I love my country--but she is very, very ill.

(In recognition of this and previous contributions, the Senate of the University of N=1 is pleased to announce the appointment of The Monarchist at the rank of Associate Professor. Monarchist will be teaching in the Departments of History and Political Science.)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Une petite blague

Knock-knock
Who's there?

Belinda.
Belinda who?


What, is it 2006 already?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Not a hiatus. Just lazy busy.

Sooooooo busy lately at work, impossible to take time to blog. I promise I don't have Blog Neglect Disorder! (And please, give generously... those poor souls need your help.)

Belinda

Most of the analysis of her floor-crossing emphasizes her ambition, her opportunism, or (if you're Jeffrey Simpson) her "I'm-a-social-liberal-in-a-party-of-neanderthals!"-ism. This is all true, I believe (well, except for Simpson's lazy effort, which is frankly too pathetic to deserve a response), but it's only a part of the picture.

In my own humble opinion, Belinda is simply not very bright, and is incapable of taking the long view. She is a short term thinker, and a superficial thinker, to the extent that she is a thinker at all. It is painfully obvious that her long-term options were much better in the Tory party, if only she were willing to bide her time for an election or two. She is, or was, at least a potential leader of the CPC, which is to say a potential Prime Minister. She will never, ever be anything more than a mid-rank cabinet minister in the Liberals, and even that is a short term bet only.

Martin will be able to use Belinda for one election ("Harper is scaaaaaary, and here's Belinda to say so too! Go ahead, Belinda! Tell them exactly what we talked about in the Green Room! You remember, right? The room with the snacky-poos and the little sandwiches?"). Then Martin will be gone, because as either the winner or the loser of a minority parliament, the Liberal Party will not tolerate Martin sticking around for #3. And after Martin is gone, Belinda is toast.

If she had stayed a Tory, Belinda could have been PM or deputy-PM within 5 years. But as a not-so-bright short-termer, Belinda lacks the focus to invest in a 5 year plan. Moreover, I suspect she is quite used to listening to older grey-haired men advise her on what to do. When Harper abdicated his mentoring role vis a vis Belinda, that gap was filled by David Peterson and Paul Martin. They were able to fill Belinda's head with talk of national unity, and appeal to her desire to be seen as having an excuse to leave the Tories. Bingo, it's the separation bugaboo! Belinda hears Peterson and Martin telling her that a vote against the budget is a vote against Canada, and hears her own inner monologue telling her to advance her short-term ambition as a Grit, and the two form a beautiful rhyming chorus.

So her not-forever-just-for-now ambition and her gimme-an-excuse efforts combine to push her into the Liberal cabinet. Only now she is starting to realize she is trapped: there's no way to improve her position, she has no real friends or allies in her new caucus, and she's the target of a media that obviously believes she sold her vote to Martin for a cabinet post that she does not deserve.

Look at the pictures of her in the news these days: she looks tired and wrung out. When she smiles now, it never reaches her eyes. Her eyes are dead.

Harper

I must admit it: I like Stephen Harper. I think he would make a perfectly sensible PM. But the man has terrible management skills.

Look at two separate episodes: the Scott Reid - Peter MacKay imbroglio during the convention, and the Stronach defection. In both cases, it seems to me, Harper relied on other people to Do The Right Thing, i.e. submerge their personal vanity and ambition to The Cause. He let Scott Reid advance a motion he knew would cause MacKay to blow up, he let MacKay blow up, he let Stronach feel embittered and sidelined, he let her think her personal interests would be better served as Liberal... Can anyone imagine a gladhander like Mulroney letting that happen? Not on your life.

Harper has obviously accepted that he must moderate his political views in order to be electable: goodbye firewall, goodbye Iraq war, goodbye private healthcare, goodbye BMD, hello anti-SSM (which frankly I doubt Harper really gives a crap about), etc etc. But he has not learned that he must also moderate his personal style. Other people will not always see the long-term as clearly as Harper appears to, and these people's short-term thinking has to be massaged. Stronach should have been made to feel like Harper's Ontario lieutenant. She should have been made to feel like her personal short-term interest was to stay with Harper's team. She didn't. Yes, she's acted like a fool. Yes, she has betrayed her constituents and her colleagues. Yes, she deserves ridicule and contempt. But Harper should have seen her coming a mile off. His failure to do so underlines his terrible management style.

It is not good enough to rely on other people simply choosing to do the right thing. He utterly blew it in managing Stronach's ambition, a failure which suggests that a Harper government would likely be plagued by leaks and infighting. He needs help learning to manage.

I wonder if Marjory LeBreton could give Harper a call? I bet she could put him in touch with someone who, whatever his political faults, knows a thing or two about caucus management.

Harper, parte deux

My God, what's with Mr. Angry Boots? Could someone please tape record this message, and play it at subsonic frequencies overnight at Stornoway?
More In Sorrow Than In Anger
MORE in SORROW than in ANGER
more in SORROW than in anger

It goes without saying that a liberal media will look for things to attack Harper about, and have recently fixated on his "angry" persona, in lieu of substantive attacks. But Harper has made it easy on them. It's like the Republicans during the 90s, asking "where's the outrage" about Clinton. Look, partisan political types who hate the Liberals agree that everybody should be outraged by Martin's corrupt government. But the average person isn't outraged, and frankly probably reserves outrage for things that actually matter, like getting a parking ticket. The average person doesn't seem to care overmuch about politics at the best of times, and certainly isn't going to get outraged about it. But they will still feel upset at corruption and poor governance, and Harper must MUST tap into this without making people feel he's an angry zealot.

Outrage is not going to cut it. Harper needs to learn this, fast. I think the decision not to try another non-con vote before the House breaks for the summer is a wise one, because to do otherwise would be to look too angry and obsessed. Remember, Steve: more in sorrow than in anger.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings

Some analysts have found silver linings in the failure of the CPC to bring down the government this week (check out Tiger for some excellent thoughts). Do not let the silver lining talk get out of hand, however: it is a bad thing that Harper could not bring down the Liberals this week.

The CPC had a good chance to win an election on the corruption issue, and that chance may not come again despite the Gomery report. For all we know, Martin will actually get serious today about fighting corruption, will fire half a dozen deputy ministers, will publicly castigate Chretien for his maneuverings and lies, will make an honest effort to clean house... okay, it's unlikely, but it's possible. And then Gomery's report turns into a pat on the back, rather than a summons to the executioner. And another thing: if the CPC had brought down the Libs this week, they naturally would have had to campaign against the Liberal budget (oh nooooo! the budget of perfection!), but do you really think the Libs won't cook up something else the CPC will have to run against in January? You think Martin will sit there with his thumb up his rear end, letting the CPC turn the whole campaign into corruptioncorruptioncorruption? Not a friggin' chance, as the Minstrel of Mississauga said this week. There will be something else: a softwood lumber deal, a BSE deal, a tax cut, another handout to the cities or the natives or the fill-in-the-blanks. The Libs will always be able to say "Harper is putting his personal ambition ahead of X", and the silver lining crowd are deluding themselves if they think that next year's X isn't going to be at least as good as the craptastic Dipper budget.

Harper was right to make the effort to topple the gov't this week, and it is a real shame he failed. He will have to try harder next time, and he may not find it as easy, what with an extra Lib MP in Nfld. and no doubt some extra floor crossings... what's that? You think Gurmant and Inky won't be asked again, along with every backbench schlub in the CPC? Ha. It's going to get harder and harder every time Harper needs to pull the pin. And as for Martin's "promise" to call an election after Gomery? Well, maybe. But try this on for size:

Toronto Star headline, January 12, 2006:
Martin Makes Bid To Save Canada
OTTAWA (CP) - Prime Minister Paul Martin said last night that, because of the strength of the separatist movement in Quebec, he was compelled to renege on what some critics are calling a promise. "Let me make this clear," said Martin to loud applause from his caucus, "I am willing to take the blame for saving Canada from the separatists." Martin went on to say that, with polls showing the Bloc would likely sweep Quebec in the wake of Justice Gomery's damaging report, it would be "irresponsible and frankly disastrous" for him to call an election at the present time.

An apoplectic Stephen Harper, Leader of the Opposition, called it "the most hideous example of a broken promise since Hitler invaded Poland." He vowed to try to topple the government at the earliest opportunity. However, since three Tory MPs crossed the floor to the Liberal Party in December, it is mathematically impossible for Harper to defeat the government without the help of the NDP. And since the appointment of Jack Layton as Finance Minister in November, the New Democrats are expected to support the Liberals in any confidence motion.


Believe it. Martin will not call an election after Gomery. You heard it here... er, second.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

CTV Poll: "61 per cent of Canadians say they believe [Martin] would lie if it would help him politically"

Wednesday:
Stephen Harper "debas[es] the Canadian political process" and sinks to "a new low" (S. Brison) when he accuses Martin of delaying the Budget vote until next week so that ill Tory MPs won't be able to be there. Martin goes so far as to rebuke Mr. Harper: "I would simply ask him to demonstrate better judgment. If we are to have civility, he should set the example."

Thursday:
Tory MP Darrel Stinson is too sick to attend next week's scheduled Budget vote. Martin refuses to change the date of the vote, in order to "respect" the centenary of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

It honestly boggles the mind.

He's a mendacious parasite, a prevaricating worm. Martin is gutless. Heartless. Soulless.

He is, as Paul Wells said, hollow.

The Consent of the Governed

The words "constitutional crisis" sound pretty silly to modern ears--or, if I ought to be a little more modest, to my ears. I mean, it's pretty obvious what the government is supposed to do, right? In the USA, during the aftermath of the 2000 election, it was pretty obvious what was going to happen: either Bush or Gore would win the Florida recount/lawsuit imbroglio, and whoever lost would piss and moan, and then it would all go away. Even if Florida had somehow authorized two separate sets of electors--one Dem, one GOP--the election would have ended up in the House of Representatives. A little weird, perhaps, but hardly a "constitutional crisis".

I'm not sure which commenter first used the phrase "constitutional crisis" to describe the pathetically risible state of Canada's current Liberal "government"--maybe Andrew Coyne. He's pretty much going 24/7 with Liberal Malfeasance these days, so it could well have been him. In any event, it sounded to me just as silly about Canada as it did about the USA 5 years ago... until now.

The Leader of the Opposition has today moved a vote which a large majority of the House of Commons (3 of 4 parties, representing something like 172 of the 308 voting Members of Parliament) clearly considered a motion of non-confidence. The vote even passed by a large majority, in part because the Liberal "government" decided the whole thing is just too funny for words. And the government did not resign.

It's frankly disgusting.

It is not up to the government to decide what is and is not a confidence motion. It is up to the House. The House has decided, and furthermore has decided it has no confidence in the government. And yet the Liberal Party turns it into a joke.

Democracies are supposed to rest upon the consent of the governed, not the consent of those who govern. But the Liberals have made a literal mockery of the most fundamental principle of our Westminster parliament.

Harper must ask the Governor General to dissolve this House. Paul Martin has shown himself to be a demagogue and a privateer. The man is a nasty and disgusting insect of politics. He and his Party of egomaniacs and parliamentary assassins deserve nothing more than electoral oblivion.

I expect to be disappointed on this score. I fully expect that the Governor General would refuse to intercede--Lord knows I would refuse, if I were the GG. I mean, really, why would she stick her neck out? She'll only be criticized. Better to lie low and hope the whole thing blows over... But ignoring it is the wrong thing to do. If Martin can keep his clutches on the executive functions of government after losing its legislative powers, does it really matter that it's only for a week? It's long enough for the principle to be established. So Martin can cling to his web for a week. What's to stop the next guy--Hell, maybe Martin himself--from hanging on for a month? Or two? What's to stop him from simply refusing ever to allow a motion to be considered a confidence motion, and governing solely by executive fiat?

We can now see that what separates us from the third-world kleptocracies and former Soviet Thugostans is just piffle, really. Parliamentary "tradition". "Convention". Just "habits" that a governing party can set aside whenever it chooses.

This is no longer about ideology. This is frankly a declaration of war against Canada's democratic system of government. How can the Liberals live with themselves? How can they look themselves in the mirror? Are they proud of their maneuvering? Their slick manipulations and technicality-fondling?

They make me sick. If Chuck Cadman and David Kilgour have any self respect, they will not allow themselves to be pimped on behalf of a party of dictators.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Na na hey hey?

I have nothing to add to the analysis of today's confidence vote which, by rights, should lead directly to an election call. The Tiger has a worthy summary of opinions on this. I was particularly interested in Prof. Heard's.

Several bloggers have pointed me to the new Strategic Counsel poll, showing the CPC leading nationally and in Ontario. Sadly, we are still only polling half as strongly as the Libs in Quebec... 8% compared to 16%! (rimshot!!)

But the important number is not 31% or 35%... it's the NDP number: 20% national, 25% Ontario. If Jack Layton thinks he will gain seats in an election, he will not support the Libs after the budget vote. This means that even if Chuck Cadman decides (wrongly, in my view) that he ought to vote for the Libs in a "real" confidence vote, and if the gov't thereby survives to pass their wanna-make-a-deal budget, they still will be put to the sword shortly thereafter. As soon as Jack! figures out he's better off with an election, it's going to be Hello Hustings! Even Martin's bribes won't matter then.

Go Jack go!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Not a gun, but a nail



Yesterday, Political Staples suggested that the testimony of Chuck Guite may be the Smoking Gun linking Paul "Sergeant Schultz" Martin to the Sponsorship Scandal. I'm not sure if we can truly call it the smoking gun, given the nature of the evidence (i.e. hearsay, referencing a dead man...), and Staples has even added a question mark to the "smoking gun" phrase to emphasize this doubt. But today's report by the Globe & Mail describes something that I believe will turn out to be much more damaging for the Liberals.

Testimony at the Gomery Inquiry has already suggested that the Grits participated in a simple kickback scheme, by which the Liberal party directly profited from advertising payments made by the Liberal government. Now Daniel Leblanc in the Globe tells us what they did with that cash:
Senior Liberal organizers allegedly showered about $300,000 in cash on Quebec ridings held by the opposition during the 1997 federal election campaign, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Michel Béliveau, a close supporter of former prime minister Jean Chrétien, made the allegation in preliminary interviews with members of the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship program.

Mr. Béliveau is scheduled to testify today about allegedly receiving the cash from Jacques Corriveau, another Liberal supporter and close friend of Mr. Chrétien, who got millions through the sponsorship program in the 1990s.

The testimony would be the first by a Liberal official describing illicit cash transactions in contravention of Canada's electoral laws. It builds on allegations from Jean Brault, former president of Groupaction Marketing Inc., who told the inquiry of secret payments to Liberal officials in the 1990s and early 2000s -- including payments to Mr. Corriveau he was told were "for the cause."

Mr. Béliveau was the director-general of the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party when he allegedly asked for the money from Mr. Corriveau.

Mr. Béliveau said he later received $75,000 to $100,000 in an envelope full of $20 and $100 bills from Mr. Corriveau.

"Only Mr. Corriveau and Mr. Béliveau were in the room. Mr. Béliveau did not provide him with a receipt," a confidential record of the interview says.

Mr. Béliveau said the rest of the money -- $200,000 -- was given to another Liberal organizer in Eastern Quebec, former provincial Liberal minister Marc-Yvan Cote.

His allegation contradicts the Martin government's position that the problems in the program were caused by a "parallel group" of rogue Liberals.

The cash was used to prop up Liberal organizations in "orphan ridings," Mr. Béliveau said, referring to the expression used in Liberal circles to describe ridings held by other parties. The ridings were evaluated before the campaign and found to be short of cash, he said.

Martin was the political minister for Quebec at the time. In my view, it is insane to suggest that he could not have known about this.

It may not be a smoking gun, but this ought to be the nail in the coffin.

As an aside, is anyone else bothered by how badly the supposedly conservative National Post is covering the sponsorship scandal? They are regularly being beaten to the punch, journalistically and editorially, by the muddled-centrist Globe. With the notable exceptions of Andrew Coyne and some other columnists, including Don Martin and John Ivison, the Post is trailing far behind the Globe in its analysis and coverage. I wonder if the Aspers are squeezing the paper so as to avoid jeopardizing their Human Rights museum...

How long can Martin defy the electorate?

Now it seems that a majority of Canadians are hungering for an early election call. My word, how long can the Liberals deny the wishes of the electorate? Do you think they'll be punished at the polls if they try to fight against a spring election?

Thanks to 905 Tory and Neale for the news. All we need now is for Paul Martin to make another Televised Emergency Address To The Emergency Nation In This National Emergency, and people will be heading to Ottawa with pitchforks and burning torches!

Academic Appointments

The Senate of the University of N=1 is pleased to announce two academic appointments.

Associate Professor Tiger in Winter has been promoted to Full Professor, on the basis of his recent work addressing both practical and philosophical conservatism in Canada. This is much more fertile territory for research than the Tiger's previous publication focus (graduate school applications, moving to Cambridge, etc.), and we are delighted to recognize Tiger's prolific and excellent record of publication with this promotion.

905 Tory is a new member of our University community. He is teaching in the Division of Political Geography, with the rank of Sessional Instructor. We are looking forward to great things from 905.

Congratulations to both of them.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Stench of Decay

In the last several weeks I have become increasingly fixated on the political tactics involved in replacing a Liberal government with a Conservative one.
  • How can Harper organize a non-confidence vote when the Liberals can cancel opposition days?

  • Should Harper try to defeat the Libs on the budget or in a non-con vote? Does it matter?

  • Will anyone really vote against the CPC because they forced an "early" election?

  • Would it be tactically better for the Tories to wait until after Gomery?

  • Does the recent sag in the polls mean Harper must delay?

  • Which of Cadman and Kilgour can the Tories rely on? Does Harper's confidence at the microphone imply that he feels he already has one in the bag?

  • How can Jack! be convinced to vote non-con in Martin, even after he supports a budget vote?


I'm sure most CPC supporters could add a few of their own to this list. But what is giving me pause today is not tactics, nor electoral strategy, nor even the amusing sight of Belinda Stronach trying to carve out a little media happy place for herself and Peter MacKay.

Today we are confronted again, as we have been so many times in the last while, with more crystalline-perfect examples of why this Liberal government deserves to fall.

After Martin basically agreed (via a typically pathetic non-denial) that he would attempt to bribe Tory MPs to resign rather than vote against his government, it now seems likely that at least one Tory member has been offered a sinecure in exchange for resigning prior to a non-con motion:
Inky Mark, MP for Dauphin, Manitoba since 1997, told CTV News on Tuesday that he's one of the Opposition MPs who has been offered a new job by the Liberals.

"On Friday, a Minister of the Crown called me and talked about the possibility of what I could do or wanted to do in my political career," Mark told CTV, reluctant to say who made the call.

The Liberals naturally have denied this allegation, although as we might expect the actual words leave them a little wiggle room in case they are later exposed as crass liars:
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office said no one has been authorized to make such offers.

If I may borrow a Paul Wells trope: Translation: Martin didn't specifically ask anyone to give Inky a call, but, you know, sometimes cabinet ministers get cute ideas in their own little heads after all...

For what it's worth, I personally think Inky Mark is telling the truth. Although of course there is no evidence being offered to support his claim (despite the supposed existence of contemporaneous telephone records), I suspect that some people on the Liberal side of the House have probably been making lots of sotto voce overtures to various disgruntled Tories. What's more likely: that Inky Mark is making this story up out of whole cloth? Or that somebody in the famously ethical Liberal Party Of Canada was working the phones, trying to keep the Martin government on life support for a few more days? Needless to say, Andrew Coyne has the goods on this story.

For sheer political stupidity and recklessness, of course, this whole sordid influence-peddling scheme does not hold a candle to Joe Volpe's howler: that the CPC is full of KKK members. His evidence: some CPC MPs used a Western Standard version of a Small Dead Animals idea to poke fun at the Liberals. Okay, yes, Volpe is possibly a few sandwiches short of a picnic... but don't you think this speaks to the level of panic which must exist within the Liberal caucus? Personally I'm amazed the Liberal media guys haven't come up with a better response than "KKK! Hitler! George Bush! Iraq War!" You'd think they'd've thought up something slightly funny on their own, some poster they could put together poking fun at Harper and the Tories (let's not help them out by offering suggestions, m'kay?), some good image to compete with "The Libranos". Instead, we are treated to the rancid gibberings of Volpe's fevered imagination. C'mon, Joe. KKK? That's so Hedy Fry. How about something more 21st century? Okay, so Volpe can still rely on CTV to run his spittle-flecked comments almost approvingly (except for Lloyd saying that "things in Ottawa are getting heated"!)--but CTV's response makes sense, because this is a Liberal gaffe (therefore 11th minute of broadcast, minimal intro, no discussion, no Tory reply) and not a Tory gaffe (lead story, interviews with representatives of victim groups, numerous Liberal commentators, no Tory reply). But despite the soft lob granted by Lib-friendly media, Volpe has given the Tories a golden opportunity to paint the Liberals as purveyors of hysterical invective, an opportunity which I hope will serve the Tories in good stead during the "hidden agenda" discussions to follow.

The common thread linking these two Liberal eructations is: these are not the actions of a healthy governing party. If you believe you have any reasonable chance of surviving an election, you do not attempt to bribe Opposition members into resigning, nor do you claim that the Tories are Klansmen. These are the last gasps of a thoroughly diseased organism. The Liberal Party is gangrenous, and the stench is rising. And what is more, they're acting as if they know it.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Well, the "babble" part is right

Paul Wells is an excellent commentator, and I enjoy his excoriations of Paul Martin. Occasionally I believe he misses the mark by a mile, and today's post fits into this category.

Under the headline "Babel Fish", Wells offers his "translation" of a Canadian Press report, concerning the internal Tory election timing debate. Wells explains what the report really means:
Superannuated, pensionable Reformers who couldn't be budged from their seats with sticks of dynamite will spend tonight's caucus meeting urging Ontario newbies to jeopardize the party's hard-won Ontario beachhead, just because Stephen spoke before he knew what the public-opinion landscape would look like.


Wells can speak to the Fish in his ear all he likes. I will spend my time peering at the two Big Hairy Assumptions (of the species Predictiones columnestis), loping gracefully across the plain.

Assumption The First:
Stephen Harper is obliged to bring down the government in May. In fact, all Harper has obliged his party to do is to vote against the budget--which they have to do anyway, because it's a piece of crap. As to whether he will actually precipitate an election in May: look, he's got at least two more weeks to decide, and possibly more. Two Tory MPs have cancer, either one of whom could "unavoidably" miss a non-confidence vote due to "illness". What's that? You mean, Harper might be threatening to bring down the government, and may not actually accomplish that goal at the First Possible Opportunity? You mean to say--Harper might actually be trying to play some political hardball with the Liberals? He might be... acting in a slightly underhanded and aggressive way? As Wells himself said in another context: Fetch the smellin' salts, Clementine! Here's the simple truth: Martin has demonstrated a pretty healthy capacity for political panic. Harper is rattling Martin's cage with all this "we're putting them out of their misery" talk. Now Harper's in the catbird seat: if the polls are good he can get all his MPs in the House and vote Martin out of office (assuming he can get at least one independent to vote with him--and if he can't then Wells' assumption is even less reasonable), or one or two can stay home because THEY HAVE CANCER (gee, think the Libs will have the cojones to call them out on that?) and the Libs cling to power by one vote. In the former case, Harper wins. In the latter case, Harper makes Martin's hold on power look tenuous, and can plausibly claim that a future non-con vote will go his way, as soon as his ill MPs can make it to Ottawa... like maybe in the fall.

Assumption The Second:
We now know what the public-opinion landscape looks like, and it's unfavourable for the Tories. I think this is obviously the male of the assumption pair, because it's even Bigger and Hairier than the last one. We had a bunch of polls last week showing the Tories in majority territory. We had a bunch this week showing the Libs and Tories more evenly split. Does Wells really think that the most recent CTV poll is the Public Opinion Gold Standard? Please. This is a fluid electorate. They went whole hog for the Tories, and then partially retrenched into the undecided camp. But we've got a few busy weeks ahead of us: Guite's testimony, the forensic audit, Corbeil's testimony, more Public Accounts excitement, the dawning of the (IMHO overblown) Paragraph K drama... Okay, I know Wells is chuffed at having been "proven" right about the public opinion swing post-Martin-monologue. Hell, sentient beings on distant planets have probably been attuned to the existence of Earth solely on the basis of Wells' self-satisfaction radiation. But in fact he will only be proven right if Martin really does survive until next spring. If I were Wells I would be a little more modest about relying so much on the transient preferences of a fickle electorate. Of course, Wells may naturally turn out to have been correct (in which case it will be me dining upon Corvus brachyrhynchos). But his assumption, that recent polls are Carved In Mystic Runes Upon The Very Living Rock, may in fact evaporate as early as this week. We'll see.

"The business of governing"

On the radio today I heard Deputy PM Anne McLellan dismissing the Tories' apparent plan to force an election. Although I have been unable to find an exact quote on the web, the radio quoted her as saying something like "Canadians aren't interested in having an election, Canadians expect us to get back to the business of governing."

The business of governing.

Me, I'd be careful using that phrase if I were a Liberal. Businesses make profits--at least, successful ones do. Political parties generally don't make a profit... but I guess some do manage to scrape together the odd nickel. I'm not sure I'd want to be calling people's attention to that whole profit motive thing, mind you.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Enough is enough

In June, 2004, Paul Martin calls a sudden election in order to forestall an inquiry into Liberal party malfeasance and corruption. He cancels a Public Accounts Committee inquiry into his Party's allegedly criminal activities, and forces Canadians to go to the polls before even one witness is heard by recent appointee Justice John Gomery.

After falling behind early in the campaign, the Martin Liberals defeat the Harper Conservatives largely by convincing enough voters that Harper has a "hidden agenda" to destroy the health care system, return abortion to the Criminal Code, and invade Iraq.

These threats move a few percentage points back into the LIB column on election day, enough to save Martin's political hide.

In April, 2005, the Harper Conservatives open a large lead in opinion polls largely because the Liberals are factually guilty of massive electoral fraud and theft of public monies. Martin, panicked, makes an unprecedented pitch to Canadians in a live-to-tape evening broadcast: please don't have an election before Gomery has had a chance to report his findings. (As Conservative Life put it: "When Paul Martin is ahead in the polls he has no trouble shutting down inquiries before all the witnesses are heard. When Paul Martin is behind in the polls he not only wants to wait to hear EVERY SINGLE witness but he wants to read the book about the trial too!") Naturally, Martin and his allies in the Canadian mass media begin to make the same pitch to voters that worked so well in June: Harper has a hidden agenda!

This plea, and this threat, move enough voters back into LIB territory (or, at least, out of Tory hands) that the Grits appear to have retaken the lead. And, despite differences among various polls, they definitely have retaken the lead in Canada's most populous--and most credulous--province.

As I said today on Andrew Coyne's website:
I understand that it does no good to blame the "sheeple" or to curse the credulous stupidity of the public. I know that blaming the voters is the blazing highway to political oblivion. I accept that the gap between [the opinion expressed in a recent Coyne] column and the recent polls only represents a message to the Tories that they have to work harder to advance a positive message.

I know all this. But it's so hard to remain engaged in Canadian federal politics when I see the Liberals at 40% in Ontario. They should be at 10%. They should be at 5%. My God, they are guilty of electoral and political fraud on a scale so massive it makes Watergate look like a children's playdate gone wrong. How can they still be supported by so many sensible people? On the Shotgun recently, Paul Tuns wrote that it "buggered credibility". I was going to write a comment correcting the idiom [i.e. it should be "beggared"!], but it turns out he's correct. Certainly it buggers my imagination...


This kind of anger, my kind of anger, is of no use to the Tories in any spring election. I don't get to mark more than one ballot just because I really REALLY mean it. What the Tories need is not anger but numbers. The CPC has to have the good sense to sell its own message to the voters, before Martin can define us in the eyes of the non-partisan public. We need positive issue-focused ads. We need Rona Ambrose selling the Tory message on child care--whatever the hell that is. We need Steven Fletcher selling the Tory message on Hep C. We need Belinda Stronach selling the Tory message on the US beef embargo. We need Monte Solberg selling the Tory message on tax cuts. We need Lawrence Cannon selling the Tory message on decentralization. We need to see a Tory team, with a believable message, not just Harper telling us the Grits are corrupt. Hey, Steve: I believe you. Probably the 40% of Ontario voters who are saying they'll vote Liberal also believe it. But I have to hope that even this g**d*** f***ing stupid grab a f***ing brain cautious 40% includes reasonable, rational people, who are not so much supportive of Martin and his corrupt band of electoral pirates as they are worried about what the Tories might do. Harper and his whole team--not just Harper himself--have to tell this worried voter what she can expect.

I find it so hard to know what will actually convince someone to change his vote, or move from "undecided" to "decided". The famous neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a fascinating story a few years ago, titled "An Anthropologist on Mars" (published in a collection carrying the same title), about a very high functioning autistic woman with a Ph.D. in zoology. This scientist had a brilliant understanding of animal behaviour, but because of her autism she simply could not understand human behaviour the same way--although she had learned to act in certain ways to elicit certain responses, such as saying polite things or making eye contact while speaking. She told Sacks that she felt like a human anthropologist among Martians, because while she was able to learn how people behaved and what influenced them, she was never able to feel it herself, or have the innate understanding that "regular" people seem to have. I don't mean to trivialize this woman's analysis of her own condition, but I feel much the same way when it comes to politics. I am a partisan and an ideologue. I love attack ads and heated rhetoric. I do not understand what it means to be "undecided". I suspect most political people are the same. And yet we are all trying to influence our parties to act in certain ways in order to appeal to undecided, apolitical voters.

We are the anthropologists. The voters are the Martians.

And the anthropologists end up with the government that the Martians deserve.

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