Canadian Election: Aftermath

We sure blew out the doughnut.  We are officially CONSERVATIVE.  No surprise here that ‘English’ Canadians value entrepreneurial spirit, the opportunity to create wealth and personal security over environmentalism and academic discussions about democratic practice in a parliamentary system.  Harper gets it. Big time. While Grits and left-libs grind their teeth, one must recognize that Harper built a multi-ethnic, bilingual coalition from coast to coast to coast.  He had a plan and he stuck to it.

Harper’s victory means Canada will take on an increasingly American Republican character. Once again, this is no surprise. The vast majority of Canadians live along a 50 kilometer wide strip along the American border.  They buy American products, consume American culture and ape American values.  Colonies are like that. And, if any of my Torontonian friends are still feeling smug, don’t forget that Steve won his majority in Ontario.

Harper is smart enough to burnish the matters Canadians feel separate them from the USA – hockey, doughnuts, ‘universal’ health care and a significantly greater measure of gun control. Harper respects, and evidently enjoys, the French fact of Canada in a way that many of his left and centrist opponents do not, many being simply incapable of doing so because of their inexplicable uni-lingualism.

The good news?  Canada has its first Green member of Parliament. Kudos to Elizabeth May.  The New Democratic Party’s breakthrough was achieved largely in Quebec. It is a most welcome development in our politics. The mainstream media will chew on its Gainseburger over youthful, inexperienced sometimes maladroit NDP M.P.s. When that passes, Jack Layton, Thomas Mulcair and other experienced NDP members may well rise to the challenge of forming an effective opposition. But make no mistake, it’s Steve’s show for the next four years plus. Finally on the positive ledger, if nothing else, the election shattered the illusion that the Liberal Party was a legitimate, electorally ready progressive remedy to Conservative rule. Michael Ignatieff’s massive failure is one of the greatest in the history of Canadian politics. Let some new flowers bloom!

The day after in Toronto Danforth

For the record, this was my predication on the morning of the election:

CONS 152

NDP 77


BQ 32

OTH 1 (I assumed independent Andre Arthur would be re-elected in Quebec.)

So…I, like everyone else, failed to grasp the entirety of the Bloc collapse, which of course moved en masse to the NDP.


He Did Not Drool

Political debates are funny things.  It’s not so much who won, but whose team spins best.

Immediately following the event, everyone seemed to agree that the NDP’s Jack Layton had done very well and that the PM Steve Harper had more than held his own.

No one that I know or heard from in any way who saw the English language debate thought that Liberal Michael Ignatieff “won” the debate last night. No, he did not drool.  In that way, The Igster absolutely overwhelmed the expectations of anyone dim enough to have wholeheartedly imbibed the Tory character assassination by attack ad that preceded the election by many months.

Twenty-fours later, Layton is basically no longer part of the conversation in the English Canadian mainstream media.  Ignatieff, apparently, scored through the repetitive use of mind numbingly short sound bytes that have, sure enough, been repeated over and over as clips since the debate ended.

So…minutes away from the French language debate, English Canada seems programmed for the exhausted polarity of the past: Tory vs. Grit.

Perhaps en francais Monsieur Layton will claim and cling to  a seat with the grown ups. He and independantiste Gilles Duceppe can still play decisive roles in this election in a place called Canada.


Canadian Election: The Igster & Steve Take Over

One week down and just over four to go in Canada’s federal election.  Some quick thoughts: while the ‘mainstream media’ expresses universal surprise and admiration at The Igster’s start out of the blocks, nothing has really changed in the polls.  Steve’s Conservatives are still perched at a near majority with a small increase in their 144 seats predicted. Monsieur Layton, leader of Canada’s kinda democratic socialists, on the other hand, may have reason to worry.  One must concede that The Igster and his team have made some inroads in framing the election, in ‘English Canada’, as a choice between the Grits and Steve’s hellcats.

Meanwhile, le suave Gilles is on cruise control in Quebec.  Barring a Grit breakthrough, the BQ will win 50+ seats on May 2. The Quebec independence movement is dead you say?  Just couple that result with a likely PQ victory over the decaying Jean Charest in Quebec’s next provincial election. Then, we’ll talk.

If you ever wondered just how dead environmentalism actually is in Canada witness the lack of collective moral outrage over the exclusion of Elizabeth May from the planned leaders’ debate. The Greens are officially a political non-entity on the federal scene. If they ever win a seat, we’ll talk.

Finally, regarding the debate: that will be The Igster’s one real chance.  Basically, all he needs to do is stand there and not drool in order to belie the Tories’ devastatingly brilliant caricature. If, in addition, the Harvard prof turns Pierre Trudeau for 90 minutes or so in both English and French – that is, an intellectual Canadians can stomach and admire, he could catch lightning in a bottle.  Very slim odds, but a possibility.

Failing the above, Canadian political junkies will spend the night of May 2 counting to 155.

Obama veers to the right

Wow! If the Obama-maniacs were expecting their leader to become a reborn social democrat in wake of his health care reform, they were in for a rude surprise. Mind you the drugs they seem to collectively imbibe apparently inure them to Barack’s foibles.

Let’s review:  First, a surprise visit to Afghanistan where the Imperial Barack pledged His and His nation’s support for the heroic efforts of American women and men in uniform there. In sum, it was extremely good optics and a clever manoeuver to keep Fox News off His case over the `socialistic’ health care reform.

Today, with Bush-like panache, Obama announced that restrictions would be lifted on off-shore drilling for hydrocarbons along significant expanses of the coastlines of the United States. This flies in the face of the received environmental wisdom that Democrats had observed for many years. America is once again open for business; and Americans will damn well drive their cars no matter what price the Arab nations try to put on oil!  Hey Obama-maniacs, how do you spell G-e-o-r-g-e- W. B-u-s–h? Drill baby, drill!!!!!

That leaves us with ObamaSecState Hillary’s odd visit to the northern frontier.  Let’s see… Americans as defenders of indigenous rights?  Sweet… ’nuff said. Freedom of choice and equal access to abortions?  Apparently the Canadian media is not aware that the same rights are clearly circumscribed in His health insurance reform (sic).

As far as Afghanistan goes, in the guise of Hillary, head office has clearly indicated its wish for Canadians to continue serving up the donuts in Kandahar. To his credit Harper immediately said ‘No thanks.’ Please forgive me, but I am cynical/wordly enough to suspect that Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals may yet find a way to the right of Harper to argue that Canadian troops should stand beside Americans in Afghanistan after 2011. But what do I know?

Layton does a Dion

Jack Layton probably assured his electoral doom and may have handed Michael Ignatieff undeserved legitimacy. By propping up the Tories of smilin’ Steve Harper in the Canadian parliament, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton is following in the footsteps of erstwhile Liberal leader Stephane Dion. Meanwhile Michael Ignatieff, he who replaced Dion, can sit back smugly in opposition to the government even though it’s been his Liberals that have served in a virtual coaltion with the Conservative government for the past year.

Layton insists that he achieved needed employment insurance reform for Canadians. That’s very small beer. In the coming weeks, if Layton and his NDP members are the only thing that stands between Harper and defeat, they have to bring down the government. On Friday, the NDP was joined by the Bloc Quebecois which supported the home renovation tax credit scheme. The next time the Harper government’s life is on the line, the Bloc won’t be so accommodating. If the NDP supports Harper under those conditions, it will have done its best to make Michael Ignatieff the next Prime Minister.  And perhaps that’s the outcome Layton seeks – few Kneedeepers see their party as a prospective government. Perhaps in his heart of hearts Jack just wants to help Iggy out by making him appear to be PM-in-waiting, a lone wolf standing staunchly in opposition to Harper.

What's Iggy thinking?

So… this place called Canada inches ever closer to yet another federal election. Michael Ignatieff, known in these parts as ‘egghead Iggy’, has announced that the Liberals will not support the minority Conservative government when parliament resumes this month. Iggy has grown a spine! This stalwart action after Ignatieff and the erstwhile Grit leader Stephane Dion served in a virtual coalition with the Conservatives since 2006.

But what’s up?  The timing could be iffy for Iggy. Signs abound that Canada is coming out of recession. Under the Tories, no banks failed in the worst of the economic crisis. This cannot be said of governments in the USofA. This may have been blind luck, but it could make Stephen Harper look good in an election campaign. Nothing pleases English Canadian voters more than to think they are different than Americans.

The current polls suggest no one will win a majority government. These polls show that the Liberals are tied with the Conservatives. In fact, the Conservatives have enjoyed a pretty good summer.  Harper’s trip to the Canadian arctic provided some great optics (watch for them in Tory campaign ads) of Steve Standing on Guard for Thee. The Tories’ absolutely brilliant “Just Visiting” attack ads on the the aforementioned Iggy, who did not live in Canada for close to 4 decades before choosing to save us from ourselves, worked like a charm. Surging Liberal fortunes stalled in mid-air. Following Ignatieff’s non- contested coronation at a Liberal convention in May, he had opened up a 3-5 point lead on Harper. That’s gone. Conversely, Iggy’s brand new ads seem oddly soft and, dare I say it, kind of out-of-focus…politically at least.

So it begs the question: why push the country into an election now? It certainly has Jack Layton’s NDP stumped. They, of all people, now seem the most reluctant! While the savviest and most experienced practitioner of Canadian federal politics, the Quebec independantiste Gilles Duceppe says ‘Bring it on, Etienne!’. That’s because Duceppe remains confident of winning at least 40 seats in Quebec. Oh…and in a political afterthought if there ever was one….in the country with arguably the worst environmental record in the developed western world, Green leader  Elizabeth May is still searching for a riding to run in.

So, once again, why go now? My guess is that Ignatieff thinks he can make big gains in Quebec and sweep most of Ontario. That’s dicey, but plausible. I also predict the Liberals will trade on Ignatieff’s Harvard past to make nice with the Obama administration in a visible way. Weirdly, next to thinking we are different than Americans, one of the things that turns the cranks of English Canadian voters most is to feel the love of  a youthful, Democratic President. The newly minted ads play up Ignatieff’s internationalism. Team Liberal will try to contrast Iggy the sophisticate with that hard-hearted Harper and his gang of western rubes. Again, that’s not without risk. In many voters’ minds, Harper is quintessentially Canadian…a hard-working, lumpy guy with a young, attractive family.

Further, the Liberals should be cautious with playing the ‘Democrats love us’ card. I suspect Canadians’ collective honeymoon swoon with Messiah Barack is slowly abating. Discerning voters might cotton on to the increasingly disastrous Obama approach to Afghanistan; and take pause with more news of protectionist “Buy American” campaigns. Given that he must establish his Canadian cred (odd task for a Grit leader) Ignatieff might not want to appear too much like an American Obama Democrat.

If team Harper can make the PM look like the custodian of mainstream English Canadian values; if it can spin matters in a way that make it appear it was the Liberals alone who forced reluctant Canadians to their voting booths, the nerd Steve, in a move worthy of Mackenzie King, might just be in a position to win the majority that’s eluded him to date.

En tout cas, fun time ahead for political junkies! Happy autumn, all.

Valpy on Ignatieff – The Globe And Mail 18.04.09 April 20, 2009

I want to commend Michael Valpy and Toronto’s The Globe And Mail for a fine article about Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. This major feature appeared in The Globe on Saturday, April 18, 2009. The analysis was thought provoking. The piece featured a terrific interview and the excerpt from the Ignatieff’s new book was most revealing.

I think ‘Iggy’ is largely “wrong, wrong, wrong” in his take on his Uncle George Grant’s famous book on Canadian nationalism Lament For A Nation, but it’s heartening to see an intellectual/politician taken seriously by a Canadian newspaper. In that, The Globe and Valpy committed a form of journalism that it seems newspapers still do best. Despite the joys of theblogosphere and Internet journalism of many kinds, I hope newspapers like The Globe continue to produce work of this calibre and nature. Journalism of this kind has simply disappeared from most North American television.

Perhaps Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be spurred into finishing his long promised tome on hockey. Then the next Canadian election campaign could be a battle between authors!