Ontario Provincial Election 2014

This election provides further proof that campaigns matter. It was lost by the New Democratic Party and Progressive Conservatives more than it was won by Premier Kathleen Wynne. Wynne’s Liberals had been been in power for 11 years. The government she inherited from former premier Dalton McGuinty was tainted by serial scandals.

Andrea Horwath of the NDP and humiliated, now outgoing PC Tim Hudak join the likes of British Columbia’s Adrian Dix and Québec’s Pauline Marois in the annals of Canadian PoliSci101 under the rubric ‘how not to wage a provincial election campaign.’

Says here that Ms. Horwath was correct to defeat the Liberals in the legislature. She then proceeded to conduct a thick-headed campaign. For example, her NDP once had some environmental credibility. Promising to reduce car insurance rates for urban drivers in the era of climate change? Good social democratic and environmental policy, Ms. Horwath!

Further, like the governing Grits and the diminished Tories, Horwath’s NDP stands for a separate, publicly funded, Catholic school system in Ontario. For the NDP, a self-described social democratic movement aimed at equitable use of taxpayers’ money, this is an aching policy contradiction. In Ontario politics, the silence around this issue, resolved long ago in some Canadian jurisdictions, is deafening. Former provincial PC leader John Tory (now a Toronto mayoral candidate) once proposed an ill-conceived, but much fairer arrangement. It cost him an election. No ‘major party’ leader has gone near the matter since. In this election, among significant parties only the Greens stood for a secular school system.

Other ‘takeaways’:

1. slightly more than 50% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot. That’s grim news. As an educator, I observed scant awareness and interest in the election among the college and university students I teach. Troubling.

2. I agree with those who are suggesting that Ontarians deserves a pat on the back for not making Premier Wynne’s sexual orientation an issue. Kudos.

3. As a bilingual Ontarian, I suggest that the lack of French in the campaign, in a province with a sizeable Francophone population, was lamentable. Neither Horwath nor Hudak bothered to say a word en français as they bowed out last night. Wynne’s efforts to use French, even though she speaks it poorly, are commendable. Keep it up, Ms. Wynne. One day you might speak it as well as Stephen Harper!

4. Speaking of Prime Minister Harper. Last night’s result could be good news for him. Like neighbouring Québécois, Ontarians often choose balance in provincial – federal power. As Ontario’s debt and de-industrializing realities continue to take hold in the next year or so, Wynne’s government could well make some unpopular choices. That might just provide an opportunity for Harper’s Tories in the 2015 federal election.


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.

Stephen Harper Five Years On

Yes, Canada, he’s been Prime Minister for five years!

Those of you outside this place called Canada are perhaps dimly aware of Conservative Stephen Harper, the economist and political activist who was elected to the head of a minority government on January 23, 2006. Minority governments are generally very short-lived here; it’s a testament to Harper’s strategic acumen that he’s lasted this long. Lingering doubts about his intentions mean that Canadians have not given him a majority government – yet.

Harper is vilified routinely by what passes for a left in Canada.  He’s regularly accused of things he would not dare bring to Parliament, such as restrictions on access to abortion, or a return to the death penalty. He’s consistently accused of damaging national cultural programs when it was Liberal governments that truly  put the ax to institutions such  as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Some even suggest that he’s responsible for Canada’s role in the war in Afghanistan, forgetting that Conservatives and Liberals have agreed on the policy from the get-go.

Harper surprises. He is the Prime Minister who offered a national apology for Canada’s historic crime over residential schools for aboriginal children. He’s also an economic nationalist, when it suits his purpose, witness his government’s decision to block the sale of the province of Saskatchewan’s potash industry to an Australian company.  And just when you think he’s nothing but a complete “suit”, Harper sits at the piano and plays rather delightful renditions of Beatles’ and Rolling Stones’ tunes.

On the dark side, Harper is a control freak.  He is the face and the lips of Canada’s government. Back bench MPs, civil servants, even cabinet ministers, quail at uttering anything that does not echo what the great one has already decreed.

More grievous still, the Harper government’s environmental record is woeful.  However, in that respect, sadly, he cannot be accused of being out of step with the electorate. Canada, as a whole, with the possible exception of Quebec, treats climate warming as a mere nuisance about which nothing truly serious needs to be done. Harper reflects national values.  Toronto, after all, the country’s biggest city, just elected a mayor who ran against public transportation, and for the redemption of the fossil fuel burning automobile. Further, any party with a hope of achieving government and the need to win votes in Alberta is committed to the rampant expansion of the oil sands project in northern Alberta.

Overall, Canada’s Prime Minister is a man of his country’s time.  He’s to the right of the mythic Canada that liberals (and Liberals) cling to. He survives, and will, perhaps, endure, because he’s toughly competent. Like the Canadian banking system, about which he and his government exhibit so much pride (and take too much credit), Harper is not flashy, but nor is he out of control. Unlike Jean Chretien, he has not allowed political scandal to erode his government. Unlike Paul Martin, Harper has the good political sense to focus on small accomplishments and steady management rather than shooting for the moon.

Haiti - It's All About Us

CANADA RIDES TO THE RESCUE That was the headline on yesterday’sToronto Star.  This morning’s on-line edition features more front-page news about the efforts of Canadian rescue teams. Trust The Star to look for the Metro angle anywhere, all the time.

Readers in the Greater Toronto Area are not alone. Flipping the dial through the Am-nets for the last week, I see repeated images of various Clintons, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric and other stars of American news/entertainment/politics.  I see, or hear precious little from the mouths of ordinary Haitians, let alone the surviving political, military or intellectual leadership of the country. The wise heads of English language television in many parts of North America clearly feel their audience is incapable of hearing lengthy translations from Creole or French. It’s classic, pervasive pandering that underestimates the intelligence and humanity of those audiences.

At home, we are besieged  for requests to help by non-governmental organizations of all kinds. Believe me I hope the world combined gives the Haitians all the assistance they need, but like some of the media content, I often find the tone of some appeals unsettling. Frankly, a lot of it would make Rudyard Kipling blush. It’s ‘the white man’s burden’ all over again; classic ‘underdeveloped world’ as home to permanent victims stuff. As some academic wag noted: there is nothing “post” in “post-colonial”.

I appeal to the media to continue covering the relief effort even when the news agenda is temporarily bushwhacked by items such as the Democrats’ own Massachusetts disaster. It’s wonderful that relief teams and soldiers from Canada, the United States and elsewhere are getting through, but please – they are not the centre of the story! The BBC is one of the few news organizations that seems committed to seeing the disaster and the recovery through the eyes of those who experienced it directly – the people of Haiti.

Finally in a domestic political aside: Team Harper is drawing deserved praise for its quick response. The early pictures of Steve alongside the understandably grieving Haitian born GG Michaelle Jean humanized him.  Next Monday’s quick international conference, held appropriately enough in Montreal, home to a 100,000 strong Haitian expatriate contingent, could reflect well on the Harper government and perhaps help it recover somewhat from his self-inflicted wound of that ill-advised early prorogation of Parliament.

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.