Friday, April 29, 2005

Quote of the (Fri)day

From esteemed Swedish researchers comes exciting news, and the quote of the week:

"Alcohol makes your brain grow."

Okay - I know it is technically early Saturday morning, but there you go. Been under a slightly distressing cloud of schoolwork these past few days, and gearing up for traditional May Day celebrations tomorrow evening/Sunday morning. Will hopefully get around to a more coherent summary of the Jeffrey Simpson talk soon, and some final thoughts before the polls close on Thursday. In the mean time, enjoy the article. Truly Onionesq.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Question Time

While I've been busy studying and holidaying in Stratford and London, the British election has suddenly become interesting again. Iraq has been catipulted back into the spotlight after leaked documents showed discrepancies in the legal advice relied upon by Tony Blair in going to war.

Tonight at 8:30PM local time, the 3 leaders face off in a potentially key moment on the program Question Time. For some reason, no formal U.S. Presidential-style debate could be agreed upon. Instead, the leaders will appear one after the other, for 30 minutes each, answering questions from the audience. I'll try and tune in and weigh in later with an assessment.

The Luckiest Guy on the Planet

First, Nicole Kidman. Then, Penelope Cruz. Now, Katie Holmes!?! Outstanding.

Doing the Right Thing

"I think that he is a man of considerable judgment and I know in the the end what he will do is the right thing... And I hope that the right thing is to support the government."

That's Paul Martin as quoted in the Vancouver Sun. It really must be a tough call for a truly independent MP to make. Does Cadman have any pet issues to include in the budget? Now would be the time.

Here's the most popular man in Canada himself, seen proudly sporting his Livestrong bracelet. That baby is everywhere! (photo Lyle Stafford, Globe and Mail)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Permit a Moment of Self-Reverence

SO - a few hours ago, columnist Jeffrey Simpson was absolutely brilliant. Speaking without a text, he spoke eloquently about Canadian politics for just short of an hour, offering a scintillating diagnosis of the landscape, a brutal condemnation of the corruption-fuelled drive of the opposition parties, and a fierce attack on the feathery backbone of the Martin government. Full report tomorrow, but want to state now in broad terms how impressive he was...

... before I served up a softball question about the blogosphere, that is.

I'll wait until McNair emails me the night's definitive photo (jamesmacduff@yahoo.com, sir) and will catch a few hours rest before having a go at the true post in its totality. Suffice it to say that he doesn't read blogs, and so needs a renewed education from us peasant folk. Jeffreysimpson.ca seems available, and might soon become the stuff of donation requests and legend. Much more on the flip side.

While you wait, here's a classic photo in the best "self-referential and self-reverential" tradition of the blogosphere that Mr. Simpson claimed to so abhor.

I think the lovely Ms. Brown might have been led to believe that Cooper and I were the authors of Captain's Quarters, and not Ahab's Whale - judging by her amazement when we revealed our "secret" identities. But a fabulous and beautiful lady nonetheless. How can you not love a girl who swears that Blair Stransky is one of the great guys of all time?? Who in their right mind could disagree with that? Let's hope we see more of her.

And spark the emergence of Master Simpson into the blogosphere on top of it.

Stranger things have happened.


After an engaging evening in London town, how disappointing to return to the BBC sport website to find that both Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry have crashed out of the Snooker World Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield.

Both are sublime talents, adamantly demonstrated over the years. It could have made for a truly titanic final. Instead, we can only wonder what might have been. O'Sullivan's loss in particular is a tragedy, easily the finest tournament player of his age and a man worthy of the "genius" moniker. Apparently Ebdon just got under his skin - to the point that Ronnie refused to concede a frame despite requiring 10 snookers to pull back. Unbelievable, as those who have watched these matches can attest. His heart was just never in it, and he is even contemplating goodbye. Let's hope he finds it again.

Williams pots the maximum, then gets eliminated. Jimmy White, the people's champion, gets throttled. And now Hendry and O'Sullivan fall in the course of an evening. It's why they play the game. But in this case, what a damn shame.


Who says a scoreless draw can't be riveting?! Liverpool holds Chelsea, easily England's dominant team this year, and now needs only the win at Anfield for the most heroic of trips to the final in Istanbul at the end of May versus AC Milan. Somewhere, I hope, if he has heard the result yet, Mr. Mike Pal is dancing.


And no, that is not Raphael Benitez posing for the tired-yet-victorious "Master of Strategy" photo...

The Line I've Feared

"The prime minister has just cut a $4.5 billion deal to buy votes to deal with allegations of vote buying," he said. "So to deal with Liberal corruption we get an NDP budget. The way that this parliament is supposed to work, I guess, is what the Liberals don't steal the NDP gets to spend."

-Stephen Harper, via Coyne via Politics Watch.

What Hath Sponsorship Wrought?

Support for sovereignty in Quebec has broken through the 50-per-cent barrier to its highest level since 1998 amid growing controversy over the sponsorship scandal. A new poll shows 54 per cent of decided voters would support sovereignty in a referendum that offered an economic and political partnership with the rest of Canada -- the same question asked in the Oct. 30, 1995, referendum.

Polls over the past year asking similar questions showed support of between 44 and 49 per cent for sovereignty.
The Bloc Québécois appears poised to capitalize on the backlash against the federal Liberals. The poll says it now leads by 31 percentage points. After distribution of the undecided voters in a proportion equal to the expressed voting intentions, 53 per cent said they would vote for the Bloc, 22 per cent for the Liberals, 12 per cent for the Conservatives, 9 per cent for the NDP and 3 per cent for other parties.

The pollster delivers the ironic piece de resistance:

This survey, conducted April 21 to 24, shows 76 per cent of voters felt betrayed by the actions of the former prime minister and the Liberal Party of Canada after the 1995 referendum on sovereignty. That opinion was shared by a majority of federalists regardless of their political allegiance, according to the poll. "The sponsorship program, which contributed to undermining support for sovereignty between 1997 and 2002, is now having the opposite effect," said pollster Jean-Marc Léger. "In fact it is helping rebuild the sovereignty movement."

The story speaks for itself. But as if the story couldn't get dourer, the survey was conducted by Leger Marketing, which "during the 1995 referendum accurately predicted the final tally in which federalists won with 50.6 per cent of the vote." Amazingly, a federal election may just be the calm before the storm.

Layton's Gamble

Well, against the odds, we do have a deal in principle. After all the harping and negativity over the state of affairs being revealed in Ottawa (by myself as much as anyone), I must applaud the initiatives that seem to be emerging from the Martin-Goodale fold in order to keep the government alive.

Kudos to Layton for pressing forward his agenda. He has kept his eye on the ball. Liberals do seem fairly content with the outcome of the negotiations, but make no mistake - this is a rather surprising capitulation. As Ibbitson writes (although in much more ominous and hyperbolic terms), it amounts to a substantial altering of the budget: "Jack Layton told Paul Martin that the price of survival was nothing less than the equivalent of a new Speech from the Throne, written by the NDP. Paul Martin, dizzy from gazing into the abyss, surrendered without a fight." But I am much less convinced than he is that this will prevent NDP voters from bleeding to the Liberals in the face of a strong Conservative challenge next election. That's the risk Layton takes.

In my haste to see the back of a regime too comfortable in power that they have neglected and foresaken their authority to govern (through direct acts, willful blindness, or otherwise), perhaps I had overly closed my mind to the possibility of initiating socially progressive policies while we wait for the hour to render judgment.

My overriding concern here has always been that Martin's play for time will cause Canadian anger over the sponsorship allegations to fizzle away. The Liberal party must be held to some type of political account for the scandal by the public. I hope that Layton's deal only delays that inevitable bruising. And there are elements of seediness in being seen to "bribe" a tainted regime - but politics is a tough game, and these are not new NDP priorities unknown to Canadians.

If the government does hold, the true masterstroke of Layton's endgame has been under-reported thus far. Keeping the government alive greatly increases the chances that the same-sex marriage legislation will not die on the order paper and then suffer through a Conservative minority. Ideally, it will pass before an election. Getting that into the books alone might be worth the wait. If the numbers don't add up for the Tories, Harper will have to win it on Martin's terms. I still think he is fully capable.

Off to London (oh how I love typing those words!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

"Community of Equals"

Senator Russ Feingold has posted a few diaries regarding FEC regulation of blogs over at Daily Kos in the past few weeks, yet another example of the blogosphere's growing relevance. In Canada, Conservative MPs Monte Solberg and Andrew Scheer now have true blogs of their own (i.e. not written by aides or couched in excessively safe "political" language) and the interactive nature of the new fora allows anyone with a decent brain to engage in substantive dialogue with heavyweights of the political press gallery such as Norman Spector, Andrew Coyne, Warren Kinsella, and Paul Wells. The blogosphere is at its most valuable and exciting when it facilitates such ease of communication, not only between armchair pundits, but with experienced columnists and political decision-makers as well.

The critical point in all this, however, is not only the ease of direct communication and interplay, but the relative status of those engaged in legitimate civil argument. In responding to those who feel he owes Feingold some type of proper deference, Kos fires back:

"Well, I consider this place a community of equals, and Russ Feingold gets as much deference as any of you would get -- which is praise if I agree with you, and a sharp dissent if I don't."

Exactly. I wrote awhile ago that Norman Spector didn't "get" the blogosphere, mainly because he didn't seem to appreciate the wealth of informed debate taking place, between neophytes and veterans alike. His main point seemed to be that "the great fallacy of the blogosphere is that all opinions are created equal; the great strength of the mainstream media is that editors weed out most of the crap."

Actually, I'd say that the great strength of the blogosphere is that we get to decide for ourselves what is crap and what isn't. Since then, Spector's site has added a comments section of his own though, so maybe his thoughts are evolving. Give weight to the merits of a particular argument, not merely the status of the person making it. Weed through the legitimacy for yourself. A democracy of ideas. Imagine that.

Tonight, the paths of Ahab's contributors converge in London again - to hear columnist Jeffrey Simpson speak at Canada House. Looking forward to what he has to say about the blogosphere. Stay tuned.

Bring On The Angry Catholic Email

Had to laugh when I saw this photo montage, and then I realized there was a sort of congruence between the philosophies of Emperor Palpatine and Herr Ratzinger. To wit:

Pope Benedict XVI: "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."

The Emperor: "If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed."
[shoots Luke with Force lightning]

(This is a joke, people. But scarily close to the truth.)

Precision Assembly

In amusing fashion, Kaus elucidates why GM is going down the toilet.

The Devil And (Is?) Mr. Blair

"I'm renouncing Tony Blair, the Devil, New Labour and all their works ... Is it any wonder I urge everyone from the centre and left in British politics to give Blair a bloody nose at the election and to vote Liberal Democrat to ensure the tawdry New Labour project is dead? ... Look at Blair standing in the shadow of Gordon Brown and you can see the power ebbing away from him. He is now an empty husk who should be thrown on the scrapheap of history.

-Long-time Labour backbench MP Brian Sedgemore (Hackney South & Shoreditch), who announced today that he has defected to the Liberal Democrats, in a must-read, uproarious column in the Independent.

Sure, Sedgemore is not running for re-election, but the timing of his defection has to hurt Tony -- 10 days before Britons head to the polls? This kind of political noise is going to be difficult for Labour to ignore, particularly as Iraq has become Issue No. 1 in the last couple of days. Then again, as Sedgemore says himself in what is undoubtedly a prescient observation, 'I will be rubbished by the New Labour spin machine. Mad Dog [John] Reid will be set on me. John Prescott will say, "Brian? Brian who?"'

Layton's Price

Just a quick thought this morning, before returning back to bed to nurse a damned stomach flu that's emerged as an unwelcome side-effect to that great weekend.

Why didn't Layton ask Martin to support some type of proportional representation style reform as the price of his support, as noted by a reader of Coyne's? It is a much more principled and popular position than what will naturally be portrayed as an unseemly grab for money for Layton's pet issues, especially since it only amounts to "chump change" by Wells' account. By contrast, support for PR long been an aspect of NDP policy, it only stands to benefit the party in the long run, and may only get off the ground when a governing party finds itself this desperate.

Getting electoral reform on the agenda now would have helped move an NDP issue into the spotlight and implicitly highlighted Martin's failure to address the "democratic deficit". Instead, Layton plays right into the socialist stereotype that wants above all to eat the rich at every opportunity. If they do get this deal, it seriously undermines the main electoral argument that Liberal priorities are indistinguishable from those of the Conservatives. And since the cuts are "radically back-loaded" anyway, what's to prevent the next government from reneging on them.

The establishment of a federally appointed commission/body to look into PR might amount to a small victory, but it could have a lasting effect in popularizing the issue in years to come. Poor politics from Layton, then. He should have set a different asking price to keep this government afloat.

Given the ever-declining voter turnout in Canada and the likelihood of provinces (Quebec, Alberta) sweeping in representation from only one party, you'd think proportional representation is an idea whose time has finally come. But we are made to wait.

So is Britain, incidentally. Martin Samuel has a great piece in the Times here today on the very issue. Maybe this election would be more exciting if it wasn't being fought so exclusively in the marginals. Samuel's main point:
According to the ERS, in addition to the 425 dead rubbers, there are 54 more that need a 7 per cent swing to change, and are therefore easier to call than any sports event this year (bar the Ashes). At best, 800,000 citizens of any age will get a chance to truly rock the vote on May 5. So maybe the debutant abstainers have a point. First past the post might be the way to sort Joe Pasquale from Paul Burrell or Ant from Dec, but it is far too frivolous to be trusted with the serious business of government. No other large nation in Europe uses it, and few large democracies, except America: and we all recall how well it worked there.

Let's bring in reform. It is long past time to register the support of Conservatives in Brixton and Quebec, Liberals in Alberta, and the new parties (like the Greens) throughout the country as a whole.

Some Luck

I'm not a big believer in omens, but here's how Paul Martin chose to close his Liberal party leadership acceptance speech in December 2003:

I was in the Okanagan recently, where the devastating wildfires consumed forest and homes, with terrible loss. You may remember Rob Rutten and Susan Garland who took me through the charred ruins of their antiques store, which, like the whole community, had been burned to the ground.
Nothing was left - except for a charred horseshoe. They gave that horseshoe to me, saying: you've got a lot on your plate these days, so take it. We hope it brings you luck. Here they were, in the midst of great personal tragedy - and their first thought was of someone else.

And now that the Liberals are themselves consumed with the inferno of scandal, and becoming a burned-out husk before our eyes, we must ask: where is that horseshoe today?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Shakespeare's Birthday Weekend

A mighty successful couple dozen hours, all told. More on Canadian politics in due course, as I try and dissemble the rambling and conflicting thoughts of the past few weeks. Each day I seem to hold a differing opinion on the whole environment, from whether an election is on its way and how the leaders are holding up. Whatever the assessments - it has been fascinating to watch unfold.

But for now, "on such a night as this", as I struggle to prepare for another legal tutorial on a less inspiring, much more forgettable topic, behold the top five memories of a most memorable weekend:

5. Political conversation amidst Pimms's and Lemonade and Pints of John Smith’s Extra Smooth at the Chicago Rock Café, amidst plastic St. George’s hats (which we stole) and the video of Tony Christie’s cult song of the year, (Is this the way to) Amarillo.

Followed this with a hell of a long walk home through Tiddington to the Youth Hostel miles and miles away from the city center. This sign en route proved that even in the land of Shakespeare, the English language still gets butchered from time to time. Cooper clearly amazed at the site.

4. Visiting the Home of “Feste” – Twelfth Night’s fool, the day after seeing him in performance. We sat beside him as he sang some of his songs, and then toured the rooms of his house to find:

(a) a Hamlet (Duke Orsino) reciting “To Be or Not To Be” as he bathed, a toaster precariously held above his head;

(b) a Romeo and Juliet (Viola and Sebastian) preparing to part ways in a dimly lit bedroom;

(c) a rabid Lady MacBeth (Maria) struggling desperately to clean her hands and rid the dishes of their damn spots in the kitchen;

(d) and a frustrated MacBeth ruminating on the potential assassination of Tony Blair while sitting in the outhouse (If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well/It were done quickly!)

3. Staring down on the bald pate of Patrick Stewart, in conversation about his experiences as an actor in Stratford and Hollywood.

Jean-Luc in fine form indeed, with hilarious insider information on the good ship Enterprise and touching memories of rehearsing in the very space occupied by the Swan Theatre where we sat listening. Apparently the Captain’s chair was stolen 4 times during the run, several Chairs and Vice Chairs of the Joint Chiefs sent requests to be photographed in it, and he still has one of his uniforms in safe-keeping. A marvellous man.

2. Attending the Shakespeare Memorial Service at the Bard's church. The Sermon was delivered by the President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust with energy and zest. Several wonderful lines, but no doubt the best was this beauty: “We celebrate Christ through bread and water. But Shakespeare never lets us forget our cakes and ale as well.” Later, we paid our respects to His immortal remains, the grave stones showered and overflowing with the most colourful of flowers.

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here!
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

1. Act II, Scene iii of Twelfth Night, the best of a hypnotic show: Expertly performed, especially the music and general merriment captured so perfectly. Sir Toby emerging as one of my favorite Shakespearean characters of all, the rascal, and Sir Andrew as one of the most hilarious. Feste’s love song for them says it all:

What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Sir Toby

Let's not end ce soir on too negative a note...


yeah, that's actually a photo from the trip to Stratford in February. And if you look closely in the corner, you'll notice my extra excitement for Act IV, Scene iii, for it is to Twelfth Night we do go (a pint to the actor that plays Sir Toby from me, then!)

Last time, Cooper and I met the crazy Americans from BADA there, and then passed an impossible night at the impossibly named "Bureau". What will the return leg hold in store? Who knows, but I better get to sleep now. It could be a 4AM bus home to Oxford tomorrow.

Well let me be wrong politically...

... but it doesn't make me ultimately wrong, so frustrated with some of this reaction I am.

[for the Dr. Seuss language, and the infantile ranting - many apologies. It is Friday night before a trip to Stratford for St. George's to 12th Night at the RSC and I am mercifully drunk]

Below Cherniak, consummate Liberal, says (in reference to Martin): "People really feel sorry for the guy getting attacked all the time."

OK, fair. Except - doesn't Martin DESERVE to be attacked personally?

Putting partisan politics aside - well, sorry, but the argument IS (it has to be) against Martin himself... saw no evil, heard no evil, did no evil, eh... just should have been more vigilent (ask: what would/should you have done - and you'll get: silence)

What should we do now? Ask him a question about it? Good luck. Oh yeah, let's not have an election until the.... oops. Why SHOULD THAT NOT BE the whole crux of the debate, and once the election is called, woe be those who have to go door-to-door on behalf of the Libs and say "just give us more time... last election we were kidding when we went."

Forgive me if this attitude is what makes me (I am drunk, remember) always hate arrogant Liberals and their "bullish" politics. But if this strategy ends up working, it is only because of the lowest ability to engage people on fundamental issues. The lowest of absolute common denominators. And makes a guy who wants to be a political strategist abhor the very idea. Because what are you really doing or working for?

And even if it works politically, impossibly, for even the sake of ONE HOUR, it isn't worthy of anyone who looks at the issue seriously for even a second. Cherniak might disagree, and quote emails to the National - but if the allegations in front of Gomery are even remotely true, shouldn't ANY Liberal argue that after 12 years in power, they must suffer some penalty for this, whether or not Mr. Dithers himself was technically responsible or not? The party needs to be held to account, or else there is nothing left. Is there ANY circumstance that some of these people would accept that this party should be rejected?

As a left-wing politcally hyperactive person who desperately wants to see government active in people's lives, and believes it can do good, this all really makes me sick, frankly. Especially for ANY Liberals who tonight (or in coming weeks) still try and argue that they are the best to clean this up. IT WON'T WASH. How can it? And it shouldn't. PLEASE: If you are a Liberal that had nothing to do with this, even YOU should feel that some of these people should be booted as far from Ottawa as possible, as soon as possible.

Support Martin if you want, die-hards. But ask yourself what you, yourself, would have done if you were in his position at that time, and then heard what happened while you were in charge of the books. How fucking phoney would you have felt doing that taped address? Pathetic doesn't even begin to describe it.

I don't much like Harper. At all. But watching him these past few weeks, I have to say I'd much rather him as my PM than Martin. At least he doesn't look like he wanted to be Prime Minister since he'd been born. Or ever begged to get there. In fact, he looks, frankly, something like my father would in the midst of what he is hearing these days. Fed the fuck up. And I keep thinking that he looks ready. I emphasize: I don't agree with his politics. But he looks straightforward enough - that is what we need now and what I would tell people to vote for.

He is certainly not looking angry or making personal attacks, and shouldn't be accused as such. He is attacking exactly what any opposition leader would and should when faced with the allegations coming out of Gomery. People will talk about how they underestimated him, just as they constantly underestimated JC. Tonight, tomorrow and the next day.

And you know what? (please note: still drunk - listening to Phish on a loop and about to catch an hour of sleep or so before what promises to be an epic day with Cooper in Stratford at the RSC and the Bureau for Shakes' supposed b-day). At this point, if there is an election in the Spring, and die-hard Liberals keep up this rhetoric about people who shouldn't be "attacking Martin", I am going to mail in a vote across the Atlantic for the leader that least represents my ultimate political philosophy. It will likely be the only time, in my lifetime, that I vote Conservative. But I will if this continues to be the argument out of the Libs and NDPers.

And as I pass out, so cynically, I do so in the thought that at least I had Dean. Anyone who laughs at that should have been in New Hampshire to see him speak. I saw him twice - in Keene and Nashua. With Rocco from Jersey and Helena from California. Just the idea that a guy like that had the *possibility* of being President was such a humongous victory.

Inspirational politics at its finest. Who will be next?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Assessing the Actors

I too was foiled by the unexpected Blogger shut down last night, and have been busy today with a tutorial on EU treaty-making powers. Did get to watch the entire performance last night courtesy of CPAC, so here's my belated take on Martin and a comment on the replies:

(1) Martin: As good as his fellow Liberals could have hoped, given the circumstances. His delivery and the speech content were superb (especially by his standards) and he did it all without looking too partisan.

But, it could never be enough. His problems here are all in the subtext of the occasion. Why was he forced to address the nation under such unprecedented circumstances? The Sun's Linda Williamson masterfully nails him on the point. And why is it so imporant to wait until Gomery reports? As Andrew Coyne writes:
"I have said since the scandal broke that everything Mr. Martin said or did in the way of presenting himself as the solution, rather than the problem, was belied by a single, fateful choice: his decision to call a snap election last spring, before anyone had any idea how far the corruption spread, or whether members of his own camp were part of it -- before, indeed, the Gomery inquiry had heard a single witness.

That underlying contradiction has only grown since then, and it was significant to see Stephen Harper, no fool, home in on it in his response. Mr. Martin now says there should be no election until after the Gomery inquiry has reported? It’s a little late."

As for the pledge itself? Frankly, I was surprised that many reported it as a bold one. The idea never really crossed my mind, partly due to the fact that it seems absurd to contemplate a PM in a minority successfully setting the agenda on the future timing of an election in precisely this way. He doesn't have control anyway. If he had taken Paul Tuns' advice over at the shotgun and declared an election in May after the witnesses concluded, now THAT would have been bold.

Also: Paul Wells is right that the comparison to Jean Chretien is irony in the extreme. "Hey, I'm retiring.... in a year and a half." Heh. [side note: if, as Wells thinks, the PM's pledge successfully avoids an election - it won't - then I must remember to try that the next time I am about to get kicked out of a bar: "You are too drunk, you have to leave," says the bouncer. "Okay," I'll drunkenly slur. "I'm on my way. In another hour or so."]

In brief, a great performance in a losing effort. After the first dozen callers phoned in to CPAC all expressing negative opinions, one of the hosts was reduced to begging supporters of Martin to call in with their views. Of course it is an unrepresentative sample. But it tells you something.

(2) Harper: I think Harper struck the right tone. He does need to proceed carefully (okay, I was wrong in comments below) but he is seems to be doing a good job of looking exasperated as opposed to angry. We are going to see a lot of these talking points return in the coming months. Especially the following:

"Mr. Martin received his mandate by holding an election before any of the facts of the sponsorship scandal were known. Last May, it was Mr. Martin's decision to shut down the public accounts committee in its attempt to get to the truth. It was Mr. Martin's decision to call an election last year before a single witness had been heard by Justice Gomery. And it was Mr. Martin's decision to turn a blind eye to it all when he was minister of finance.

Do Canadians really believe that the number two man in a government now under a cloud of corruption, is the person to clean up that mess today? Do Canadians really believe that the Gomery inquiry would be operating if the Liberals had won a majority? And do you really believe that the Liberals will ultimately prosecute themselves, and hold their own to account?

I don't believe that. I don't think you believe that."

I found he came across as considerably strong: live, bilingual, and returning to answer questions - stark contrast to the PM holed up in a room and delivering it cowardly on tape (how many takes, I wonder?) Was he too "mean"? I think it was important to be tough. The time for conversation with the electorate is when the campaign is under way. Last night, he just needed to keep the focus on the desperation. Judging by the next day's press, mission accomplished.

Also, it may have been a reflection of the opposition performance in general (or just a measure of the PMO's miscalculation) that initially they were just going to let the statement speak for itself, but after the opposition leaders spoke, Stephane Dion was unleashed on the cameras. At least that what CPAC said. Oh, are we going to need that guy in the months to come!

(3) Duceppe: the line of the night and the quote of the friday -
"La dernière fois qu'un Premier ministre canadien s'est adressé à vous à la télévision, c'était en 1995, à l'occasion du référendum sur la souveraineté. Jean Chrétien l'avait fait pour sauver le Canada. Paul Martin le fait pour sauver le Parti libéral du Canada."

That is so devastating precisely because it is so true. Nothing more to say about that guy. If the gossip is true, he'll soon be the leader of the PQ, Premier of Quebec, and enemy #1 for all of us.

(4) Layton: I joined the NDP during the last leadership race precisely to vote for Layton (a membership I let lasp immediately to preserve "independent" political status) in the belief that the party needed rejuvenation that the likes of stalwarts such as Blaikie and Nystrom simply couldn't provide, to hold right-leaning Liberals to account. During that race, I was consistently impressed by him - articulate, persuasive, seeking out a moderate tone. He seemed to know the weaknesses of the party and was willing to address them in a competent way.

His performance last night exemplified his best and worst qualities. The approach was correct - address the cynicism, lament the non-progress on popular issues (though did he have to go into such detail?). Mentioning Alexa, Broadbent, Blaikie was particularly solid - hopefully all four respected parliamentarians can play a prominent role in an election that will be dominated by ethics.

BUT... Layton's presentation just doesn't seem authentic somehow. Maybe he repeats stock phrases too often or just the "I'm always outraged. Outraged" persona. And on that front, his weasling "let's make a deal" approach disturbs me greatly. Of course I realize that negotiations should be taking place, and also that a deal might make good sense for the NDP in the short term. But bartering so openly on the air, in such specificity? Under the guise of what "Canadians want"? It reeks of an opinion that: "I think you are corrupt, but hey, if you give me what I want then great, we'll worry about that other stuff later." Fine if you want to appeal to a very specific portion of your core vote, but he should be setting his sights higher. He must act more diplomatically in the coming weeks if he is to avoid getting trapped in this wedge.

Bottom line: Did much change? Don't think so. We still seem headed toward an election that the Liberals are going to have a hard time winning. Any moral authority Martin may have gained in his statement was more than offset by the opportunity provided to the opposition. But that's my opinion - maybe (likely) the paradigm swing voter sees it all differently. We'll see.

The Globe DOES Buy It?

There is a distinct odour of desperation in the air, as a frightened government tries evey dodge it knows to avoid facing the voters, and hopes they won't catch on. 'Oh baby,' Sheriff Bart says to himself after fooling the town hicks with his hostage play. 'You are so talented, and they are so dumb.' Canadians aren't so gullible, whatever the Liberals may think."
Prime Minister Paul Martin made a strong case last night for delaying a federal election, even if he doesn't succeed in fending one off.

Canadians are angry, and rightly so, over the dramatic allegations about the sponsorship scandal that are emerging from the Gomery inquiry. But we won't know the full picture until Mr. Justice John Gomery submits his final report later this year. At that time, Mr. Martin has promised to go to the people and face their judgment in a general election -- an extraordinary pledge for a Canadian prime minister. "Let the facts come out," he said. "And then the people of Canada will have their say." That seems a fair bargain.

Fair Bargain? I am not so convinced. Granted I do see merit in waiting, but do we really believe that voters aren't entitled to make a judgment on what they have heard to this point? Especially since Martin won't even accept that he willingly chose to call an election himself before Gomery even got off the ground, due entirely to political considerations.

The premise of a minority is that the Government falls when it loses the confidence of the house. That confidence is surely lost now. How can the Globe think it "extraordinary" for him to promise to go to the people only 7-8 months later?

I sympathise with the idea of waiting, and sure Gomery's report is necessary for the true picture, but is he going anywhere? The report will not be abandoned if the writ is dropped, will it? Why is it so crucially important that the exact details are known before a vote? And do Canadians really want an election over Christmas?

And even if not, are there really people out there who will punish the Conservatives for a Spring election, but would vote Conservative after digesting the report in the Winter?

[I'll answer that last rhetorical question explicitly: No. And that's the reason I'll be watching the 2nd consecutive Canadian election results in Oxford in June.]

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Globe's not buying it

The Globe absolutely roasts Martin in today's editorial:

(thanks to Scharma for helping circumvent the damn Insider Access foolishness!)
"Call it the Blazing Saddles strategy. In a famous scene from the Mel Brooks movie, a black sheriff beseiged by hostile white townsfolk takes himself hostage, putting a gun to his own head and threatening to shoot unless they back off. Which they do. Do the Liberals think Canadians are that dumb?"


Ever more damning coming from the newspaper that ran an almost infinite amount of editorials over the past years, urging Chretien to step down so that boy wonder Martin could grab the helm. Unimaginable, even.
"As talk about a spring federal election grows, the ruling party has been warning Canadians that if the Conservatives force an election, all the wonderful things the government has been doing will be swept away forever. Tax help for the cities. Health care money for the provinces. The Kyoto greenhouse-gas reducton plan. All gone. With the entire government agenda reduced to dust, Canada would have to start over from scratch. What malarky."

Malarky indeed.

It's why tonight Martin has to be ever so careful to avoid making this a partisan pitch for Liberal government in favour of the broader agenda that Parliament as it stands seems to support (as I argued last night). Once the election inevitably comes, he can claim that mantle back.
"There is a distinct odour of desperation in the air, as a frightened government tries evey dodge it knows to avoid facing the voters, and hopes they won't catch on. 'Oh baby,' Sheriff Bart says to himself after fooling the town hicks with his hostage play. 'You are so talented, and they are so dumb.' Canadians aren't so gullible, whatever the Liberals may think."

I would add that to this point the Liberals under Paul Martin haven't been that talented, either, and that is probably the bigger concern. Should be very, very interesting, regardless. The showdown is coming, and Martin's behaviour resembles a guy letting it ride who still hasn't checked his hole cards yet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A Most Unusual Address

Will wait to hear from Paul Martin himself before speculating broadly on the implications of his unusual address to the country. But some quick talking points on what the sides should be thinking:

(1) For the Libs: Cherniak's right, it is the speech of Martin's political life. However, if he simply sticks to the tired message we've heard ad nauseum up to now (it was I who ordered the inquiry, I am actually the angriest guy around, etc...) it is going to be difficult to overcome the sense that he is really just acting out of desperation to stay on as Prime Minister. He'll come across sounding like a kid bragging about cleaning up the mess he made in the first place.

So what's the ace? The old "Bait-and-Switch" - ye oldest trick in the playbook. Martin makes the straight-out plea to Canadians to wait for Gomery, but specifically not because he fears electoral reprecussions over sponsorship now or later (bait). I am NOT addressing you tonight to make excuses for any of the allegations being reported at the Inquiry. Far from it. In fact, I am more than ready to accept responsibility. This party is prepared, eager, willing to accept our share of responsibility. We are not going anywhere. You, the voters, will get your chance to render your verdict soon. BUT (switch) lots of Parliamentary business currently hangs in the balance. Wouldn't it be terrible to lose the whole year's progress? The negotiated Atlantic Accord. Health Deal. Cities Deal. Budget tax cuts. Same-sex marriage legislation. The Kyoto plan. The Foreign Policy Review. And so on. Less than a year ago, you elected members from all major political parties to work together to get things done. And we have been working, with a keen eye to the reforms necessary to make Canadians trust in government again, to ensure such abuses can never occur again. Why throw away the legislative progress made thus far for the sake of a few months?

Never mind the fact that there is no real danger of losing this legislation in the long run. Martin's last best hope is to actually overemphasize the tragedy of losing the legislation on the books, without sounding too self-congratulatory about specifically Liberal accomplishments. That is what buys the time without looking desperate. People worried that I meant to announce tonight that I mean to prorogue Parliament, he might say, when in actual fact I want the opposite. I want it to work. Frame the narrative so that the opposition's forcing an early election looks irrational, greedy, opportunistic, and counterproductive.

And, of course, leave the subtle point unsaid throughout - what would going to the polls this summer really accomplish? Wouldn't an early election is likely to leave us right back into this mess anyway, no further along? The only people who would benefit fully would be the Bloc. Actually, waiting until the fall would be both fair and productive. Wouldn't it?

(2) For the opposition: Hammer home the point of this Toronto Star article: this is a highly unusual address. Where's the emergency? Martin is just desperate to hang onto a job he seems incompetent to perform. Listen to Catherine Murray, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University:
"If it's meant as an attempt to save the Martin government from defeat and then from defeat at the polls, then it's inappropriate," she said. "If it's a partisan political announcement, then the party should be paying."

Use this line to tee up your home-run, something like "...here they go again, using the pulpit of the Canadian government and PMO to further the ambitions of the Liberal Party of Canada and its political cronies." Regardless of Martin's rhetoric and delivery, how can he avoid the attacks that he is just trying to buy time in hope that the sense of outrage fades away? Because make no mistake, that is all this is. He wants to get on with House business, but he never shows up in the House. He wants the government to function, but he won't accept that he doesn't have the majority of his rival predecessor. After 12 years, haven't they had long enough to figure it out. You don't become a bold and visionary leader overnight. Martin's 15 minutes are, finally, up. It is time, as the campaign saying goes, for the long awaited change.

Eclectic Odds

The campaign's perceived dullness doesn't mean that some aren't having fun, the bookies in particular. On the day of wee Donald Kennedy's birth, ladbrokes immediately (and cheekily) put the odds of him becoming Prime Minister on May 5th as equivalent to his father - 100 to 1.

Meanwhile, the odds on Deputy PM John Prescott punching someone during the campaign are set at an insanely low 5 to 1! That's because of this incident from the last election in 2001. Gotta love a scrapper.

About that "other" election...

It has been awhile since either of us posted anything tangible on the British election happening in these parts. Mostly, I'd say this is because the campaign's been rather dull. Despite early promise of an exciting tactical campaign, so far neither opposition party has been able to develop any sense of momentum. Why? Three reasons, briefly:

(1) Blair (critically) agreed to bring Chancellor Gordon Brown back onto a virtually equal footing with him in the Labour campaign structure and manifesto launch. This put the focus squarely back on the stellar performance of the economy since Blair-Brown have come to power. When it comes to who the voters trust on this key issue, Labour simply trounces the Tories, in large part due to memories of the previous Conservative campaign. In the best rhetorical line of the opening weeks, Blair turned the Tory slogan on its head: "Are you remembering what we're remembering? Recession, ten per cent interest rates for four years, one million home repossessed, people thrown on the scrap heap." The decision to bring back Brown, initially sidelined in favour of Blairite former Minister Alan Milburn, was also viewed as a humbling one for Blair, satisfying some supporters who want to see him suffer a little.

(2) The Conservative party has been simply unable to move off an at-times demagogic focus on issues of immigration, inviting accusations of bias and preventing them from staying on message. The pre-election campaign saw a confident Michael Howard control the political agenda (just as Harper seems to be doing adequately in Canada now), but thus far have not been able to link this with mismanagement and poor Labour governance in other areas. You certainly don't want to be dealing with mid-campaign headlines such as "Tories Deny Immigration Obsession".

(3) The decision of Lib-Dem leader Charles Kennedy to spend the crucial opening days of the campaign with his wife and newborn first son is certainly understandable, but it tired him out to such an extent that he flubbed up crucial questions on his policies at the launch of the party platform! Who knows if this truly makes a difference, but it certainly doesn't lend an air of professionalism or competence to this perennial 3rd party at a time when they are trying to sell themselves as the "real" alternative.

For my part, I find myself oscillating between Labour and the Liberal-Democrats. This despite serious misgivings with Tony Blair, mainly over his penchant for playing fast and loose with the truth. And this is by no means limited to the war in Iraq, I must stress, but a broader pattern. As the satirically titled "Backing Blair" website FAQ explains:
"People involved in this campaign pretty much want to get rid of Blair and bring a halt to his style of government. We hope that includes you. Common beefs include Iraq, the erosion of civil liberties, Blair's almost unquestioning loyalty to the Bush administration and the Blair government's ongoing swing to the right.Our ultimate goal is to significantly reduce Labour's majority. We hope this will weaken Blair's position within the Labour party and lead to a viable leadership challenge."

But on the other hand, the Labour government in power has made great strides for progressive politics in Britain. Consider the arguments of a "Ben P" over at mydd.com on Labour's successful efforts to ensure that everyone across the spectrum benefits from these improving economic conditions. I also applaud Labour's staunch support of Britain's involvement in the European Union.

Maybe I'm just tired of voting against political parties, on the periphery, and so find myself in the classic mindset of a "Vote Blair, Get Brown" member of the electorate. Still undecided. I laugh in passing that, hilariously (maddeningly?) and for diametrically opposite reasons, I may yet find myself on the same side of this debate as this guy and this guy. Unbelievable.

All testament, perhaps to the shocking good fortune that has accompanied Blair throughout his political career. Other poor souls, like Paul Martin, must simply shake their heads in frustration at the comparison.

The real outrage

What more do you need to know about the pedantic idiocy of Tom DeLay?

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay intensified his criticism of the federal courts on Tuesday, singling out Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's work from the bench as "incredibly outrageous" because he has relied on international law and done research on the Internet. ... "Absolutely. We've got Justice Kennedy writing decisions based upon international law, not the Constitution of the United States? That's just outrageous," DeLay told Fox News Radio. "And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous."

Wow, the internet. "Outrageous." As if DeLay's reputation couldn't be any worse, after being investigated for ethics scandals, and saying that members of the Supreme Court would "answer for their behaviour" after refusing to reinsert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. More than anyone else, he gives Republicans and conservatives (let's not conflate the two) everywhere a bad name.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Lawrence Cannon, M.P.?

In this evening's sign that a Canadian election is upon us, Stephen Harper has announced the recruitment of a "star" candidate to run in the Quebec riding of Pontiac: Lawrence Cannon.

The Tories clearly need some token representation in Quebec in the near future, in order to establish some early legitimacy in the wake of a minority victory and also lay the groundwork for the party in the province. In order to entertain any hope of winning now, however, they'll need to match candidates with winnable opportunities in short order. Lawrence Cannon's nomination in Pontiac fits perfectly for 3 reasons.

(1) A Federalist Riding - Take a look at the numbers from 2004's election:

David Smith, Liberal: 15,358
L Hubert Leduc, Bloc: 11,685
Judith Grant, Conservative: 8,869
Gretchen Schwartz, NDP: 2,317
Thierry Vincente, Green: 1,673

Pontiac is a newly created riding [Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle was abolished in 2003, but witnessed similarly easy victories for Liberals in 1997 and 2000, with decent-sized CA+PC 3rd place finishes]. Not only do the Conservatives have a reasonable base to start from in Pontiac, it is reasonable to think that any Liberal voters who wish to express frustration over the sponsorship scandal might not necessarily move toward the Bloc, who have never won here. Federalists will hold their noses for the Liberals if they fear that a separatist candidate might squeek through.

Take a read of the submissions to the Electoral Prediction Project for the riding. Seems that it is the only riding outside of Montreal with a substantial Anglophone population (25% according to the Globe's breakdown), so an obvious target that Peter McKay even visited last time around.

(2) A Lightweight and/or Inexperienced Liberal Opponent - David Smith was elected to the House for the first time in 2004. According to this article on the riding results from CBC, he knocked off Chretienite incumbent Robert Bertrand in the nomination fight. Given only one year in office, he is unlikely to have built the personal ties that might help popular local members overcome the negative association with the Liberal party brand.

(3) A Politically Savvy, Appealing Candidate - here's the key. As the CBC post-mortem article above noted, Judy Grant (the CPC candidate of '04) may have been a popular mayor, but her inability to speak decent French certainly cost her politically. No such problems with Cannon - check out his website and note his previous government experience, not only as a cabinet member for Bourassa but many years experience as a city councillor. I imagine this guy knows how to run an election campaign, and will also know the upshot of winning - a guaranteed Cabinet post.

So take those as the 3 criteria for Conservative success in Quebec this time around. I have to say that I like Cannon's chances a lot. Are there any other ridings where they can get this trifecta in place before election day? More on that as nomination announcements continue

If Harper could win 2-4 Quebec seats in a June 2005 election call, it would be a significant morale-boosting and political victory. Target #1 must be the road through Pontiac.

Pope Benedict XVI...

...has to be the worst name ever. But congratulations to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who won on the conclave's fourth ballot, and condolences to MacDuff, now that his longshot $5 bet is a bust. This is not a courageous choice at all, but that is hardly surprising, given that the Church was almost certainly going to elect somebody who would defend the doctrinal orthodoxy following John Paul's historic term (and somebody who would be out of the picture relatively soon: Ratzinger, er, Benedict, is 78). The world will have to wait for the first non-European pope, and that is a shame.

Who will it be?

For the second day in a row, black smoke billows out of the Sistine Chapel chimney, allowing punters further time to lay down their bets on the man who would be Pope. Check out this ad from an Irish agency - not altered from its original state:

I have decided to go with an Italian, Giovanni Batista Re, for $5 at odds of 21-to-1 as the caretaker and compromise selection. Will the Italian caucus hold firm? The waiting game continues.

Liberal Leadership Woes

Echoing many of my thoughts on the current state of the Liberal party, James Bow weighs in on the long-overdue need for renewal in the National Governing Party:

Paul Martin’s government echoes that of John Turner in 1984 and of Robert Bourassa in 1976. The Liberals have been too long in power. Worse still, they’ve spent too long facing an opposition that couldn’t get its act together. If they win the next election, it won’t be on their own merits, it will be because the voters thought the alternatives were worse. They’ve become lazy and arrogant, and Canadians just don’t deserve that bad a government.

So, it’s time: the Liberals need to be sent to the opposition benches for their own sake as much as for Canada’s. They need to be taught humility. They need to dump Paul Martin. They need to sort out their internal differences and elect a charismatic and savvy new leader in a cathartic leadership convention echoing the one they had in 1968 (when Trudeau became Prime Minister). They need to soap out the stain of corruption and reassess their policies. In short, they need to get hungry again.

Exactly. Bow then goes on to speculate on future leadership candidates and the timing of such a campaign, mentioning Stephan Dion and Michael Ignatieff in particular. Both represent intriguing and sound choices, but they are far from the only strong candidates. I cannot imagine Martin stepping aside as easily as Bow thinks possible, but do agree that it is going to be increasingly difficult for PM to ever recover from the negative position that he now finds himself trapped in.

For my part, I am shocked at the adamant suggestions of some in the Liberal party, like my friend Jason, that no other worthy successors seem to exist:
"...people just sort of assume that we can lose one election, pick a new leader, then win the next one and get rid of Harper. The problem is that we have no other leaders. I cannot emphasise this enough. I personally think the Brison, Cotler or Dion would do a great job, but none of them have a real chance to win. Maybe someone like Ignatieff is the right way to go, but he will almost certainly lose one first. When all is said and done, all we have left is McKenna as a caretaker to rebuild the party. The worst part - this is a standard conversation between grassroots Liberals! None of us see a leader in the wings."

Manley, Tobin, Rock, McKenna, Cotler, Dion, Ignatieff, Cauchon, Coderre... and more names could be added to this list (Brison must be ruled out as an all-too-recent turncoat). The critical point IS exactly that no one leader waits in the wings, no one person who has wrapped up support and pledges of allegiance across the country. So, this would not necessarily be a leadership race dominated and pre-determined by loyalty, but instead run on ideas, policy, and the future direction of the party.

The outcome's uncertainty is precisely what will allow it to succeed. Martin suffered terribly due to the slow, methodical, and organizational take-over of the Liberals without a corresponding campaign platform that represented his opinions. He consistently avoided taking principled positions on critical issues so as not to offend anyone, envisioning a massive electoral victory. Too late he discovered that you cannot be all things to all people in the top job. Just as McCain made Bush a better candidate in 2000 and Dean helped make Kerry competitive in 2004, Martin needed someone stronger than Sheila Copps to challenge his pursuit of the Prime Minister's job. Now, in midst of the sponsorship mess, he is finding it increasingly difficult to identify the bold vision of "achievement" that would give reason for Canadians to keep him in office.

I think Liberals should be enthusiastic about the upcoming opportunity to redefine the party via substantive internal debate. When will this occur - that's really the question.

Kos wants Schweitzer in '08

With all the political hoopla surrounding the ongoing British election and the (likely) impending Canadian one, the focus has drifted away from one of our favorite topics on this blog - potential Presidential candidates for 2008. And if you have not heard of Montana's Governor Brian Schweitzer yet, maybe it's time you did.

Could a guy who currently lives on a "wheat, barley, and hay farm near Whitefish, Montana" make it all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Kos has been gushing over him for the past few months, and seems to have all but endorsed him already.

Read the Salon interview piece Kos links to here. I have to say, I too find this guy exceptionally intriguing. Consider their glowing assessment:
"A native Montanan who spent time in the Middle East before returning to start his own business, Schweitzer espouses a political philosophy that combines the class-based populism of a John Edwards with the budgetary pragmatism of a Howard Dean, all wrapped up in shit-kicking Western dialect that the Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas Zúniga calls "a genuine version of Bush's fake ranch."

Sounds like someone to watch, whether in 2008 or 2012, and certainly an authentic if underdog persona that could entice me back to Concord, New Hampshire in two and a half years time... Stopping Hilary may prove impossible. But the best chance for the Democrats lies with someone of Schweitzer's background and style, not the junior Senator from New York's.

We shall see.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Entertainment and Politics Roundup

...with the emphasis on 'entertainment.'

1. Will Bono be peeved if PM is no longer PM when U2 performs as promised in Ottawa in November (brr)? Would PM still be called to the stage in a show of anti-third-world-poverty solidarity? Would Stephen Harper show up?

2. Will he who walks in as a boorish loudmouth, walk out as pope?

3. Against all odds, I have been captivated of late by the Michael Jackson trial. Read this article; the whole fiasco is pretty engrossing entertainment, if wonderfully tragic. At least, the most recent court scenes are more captivating than anything I can remember from the OJ trial. (Aside from the theatrics of Johnnie Cochran, may he rest in peace.) Free Jacko!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Quote of the (Fri)day

"If certain girls don't look at you
It means that they like you a lot
If other girls don't look at you
It just means they're ignoring you
How can you know, how can you know?
Which is which, who's doing what?
I guess that you can ask 'em
Which one are you baby?
Do you like me or are you ignoring me?
Do you like me or are you ignoring me?
Do you like me or are you ignoring me?
And all you need to do that
Is one good pair of big balls."

-Dan Bern, "Tiger Woods"

Hypothetically Speaking

.... (of course) ....

Is it wrong to be somewhat dismayed at the ascendency, indeed the "national governing party" tag label, that is being (has been?) consolidated now by Labour in Britain and of course by the Liberals in Canada, even for left-wingers unfamiliar with the horrors of Thatcher and Mulroney?

Can you believe, fundamentally, in the "progressive consensus" that Blair-Brown have so (well) attempted to fashion since 1997, and yet still hope for a Lib-Dem breakthrough and/or the "smirk" to be humbled?

Can you be pleased at the hopeless state of Michael Howard's Conservatives, and yet still recoil at the adamantly terrible proposals of Blunkett/Clarke/Blair on "terrorism" - to the point of Labour's rejection of even Magna Carta habeas corpus laws - and howl in antagonism to such terrible positions?

Can you believe in Canadian national unity and national healthcare and still believe that, even so, Stephen Harper might be a better Prime Minister (in a limited, short-term, minority position) than Paul Martin?

Can you believe that there should be consequences to appointing the co-founder of the Bloq Quebecois as your Quebec Lieutenant, yet then doing nothing further to contain the frustrations of sovereignists except rail unceremoniously against the supposed "unholy alliance" opposite?

Can you be frustrated by those who have made public mistake after mistake (including outright theft and corruption) that has threatened and potentially damaged the future of your country, and yet then turn around and have the moxy to brag and campaign that only THEY (and they alone) are the true defenders of national unity and the people's rights?

Can you believe that political hypocrisy deserves SOME sort of penalty, and that some political parties don't really deserve your support (in fact, they deserve your antagonism) during an electoral campaign, even if you ultimately support their policy ideas over the long term?

Can you ever actually feel loyalty to a particular political party, and yet still divorce yourself from them enough to feel that the entire structure must do with renewal on a more fundamental level that requires an electoral defeat of sorts?

Can you be happy with both Labour and Liberal governments since 1997 (1993), and yet still publicly wish for public consequences for their multiple indiscretions and maddeningly hypocritical decision-making?

IN BRIEF: can you be a loyal member of a left-centre political party in the modern day world and remain truly honest?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


So as I walked toward my office this morning, there were about 100 cops barricading the building. I had to show an ID to get in. Why? Because Tony Blair is going to deliver his manifesto upstairs today. (I'll try to sneak a peek. )

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Les Reponses

To respond to MacDuff's 'big questions', in brief fashion:

How will the Liberal campaign strategists approach the campaign?

Go negative. I know McNair, and probably others, are calling for a reminder of the feel-good Chretien days, but that just won't wash. (Read my comment on the McNair blog for more.)

Will Martin and Brison ever get tired of repeating that it was the Liberal party who established the Gomery Inquiry?

I assume that is a rhetorical question.

Will they emerge with bold ideas in time?

The track record, and my magic 8 ball, say no. (The long-overdue foreign policy and defence reviews could be a nice start, though.)

What roll [sic] will same-sex marriage play in the campaign?

See my answer to question number one.

Can the NDP sustain and build momentum?

Check out the EKOS poll data, with the link below -- the NDP is the prevailing second-choice party. How many voters can Jack Layton convince that the Dippers are the true alternative?

Can the Tories find any rainmakers to win a precious few seats in Quebec?

Now that's an interesting question.

Gore-ing Martin?

Some out there have noted one of the EKOS poll's most interesting findings, as it shows that "Canadians believe social issues [52%], not 'ethics and accountability,' [17%] are by far the most important things going into the next election. Least important are 'fiscal issues' [12%]." (Here's the EKOS backgrounder, in PDF format.)

I can't decide how revealing that finding is. With the dismal showing for the Liberals overall, you have to think that the accountability issue is playing a big part. Do Canadians really buy the Conservative social agenda? Depends what you mean by 'social issues,' which is about as vague as it gets. The whole thing reminds me of the 2000 US election, when the economy was on pretty sound footing (or so it seemed at the time), and the financially sated public defied the expectation that "it's the economy, stupid" by voting the Clinton regime out of the White House. In a sense, it was a sort of moral purge, as nobody believed a change of presidential administrations would presage a substantial change of economic fortunes.

Other interesting findings to chew on: 75% in Alberta (the most of any province by far) and 62% overall say an election should wait until the Gomery commission has issued its final report; 60% believe Paul Martin "has been an essential part of the Liberal government since 1993 and now as Leader of the Liberal Party should be held accountable for the sponsorship mess".

June it will be

If a few more polls continue to show the Liberals at historic lows, Harper will have no choice but to roll the dice. The stars seem aligned for a late June election, the so-called "irresistible scenario" for Stephen Harper according to the Star. It nicely mirrors last year's summer outing to the polls, with a heavier emphasis on calls that it is time for a change. Ironically, I watched the 2004 results come in during my first few days on this side of the Atlantic and it appears that my last few days will see me following the new results for 2005.

For now, the only caveat is, of course, the idea that Canadians seem to want to wait until Gomery's report before heading to the polls. So Harper responds immediately by lowering this bar and laying the groundwork for his forthcoming justification:
"Justice Gomery has to make decisions about potential prosecutions, about criminality. Frankly, the standards of the electorate are a lot higher than that," he said at a gathering of real estate executives in Ottawa.

Smart politics, especially canny in continuing to lash out at the "separatists" as he does so. If Gomery finishes with the witnesses by late May, as the Toronto Star article above suggests, that will be the point to declare no confidence. "The Canadian people have heard the evidence of Liberal corruption in full, and they can draw the conclusions for themselves," Harper might say. "This Liberal party does not deserve 3 more minutes, let alone 3 more years in control of taxpayer dollars." Critically, so long as the Gomery inquiry is not shut down if an election gets called, there really shouldn't be any backlash. The NDP's numbers will help the electoral cause, since they'll be spinning the media that the time has come as well.

Too much can happen over the summer for the opposition to chance it. A month is plenty of time to ramp up the nomination process and prepare for a summer campaign. Harper and Layton will have to strike now while the fire is hot, talk of defections and scandal are in the air, and the media continues its gleefully daily coverage of Liberal free-fall and electoral jockeying.

The big questions remains: How will the Liberal campaign strategists approach the campaign? Will Martin and Brison ever get tired of repeating that it was the Liberal party who established the Gomery Inquiry? Will they emerge with bold ideas in time? What roll will same-sex marriage play in the campaign? Can the NDP sustain and build momentum? Can the Tories find any rainmakers to win a precious few seats in Quebec?

Time will tell, but the race is almost certainly on now.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Samarkand and Ithaka

In light of LK's thanks below, now is as good a time as any to post a few of my favorite traveling quotations that capture the magic, wonder, and truth of traveling life's road. If only everyone realized how easily it can be done...

It's my most important piece of advice to anyone: Travel often.

"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

- Song of the Open Road, by Walt Whitman

"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life." - Jack Kerouac

"Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen." - Benjamin Disraeli

"The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

"... the highway is for gamblers better use your sense
Take what you have gathered from coincidence..."
- Bob Dylan (It's All Over Now, Baby Blue)

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

"No man can be a Politician, except he be first an Historian or a Traveller; (for except he can see what must be, or what may be, he is no Politician)." - James Harrington

"A year to go around the world! A whole twelve months of scenes and curious happenings in far-off foreign lands! You have thought of doing this, almost promised yourself that when you got old enough, and rich enough, and could "spare the time," you too would go around the world. Most of us get old enough; some of us get rich enough; but the time! the time! - to spare the time, to cut loose from goods and lands, from stocks and dreary desks, quit clients, patients, readers, home and friends - ay, and our enemies whom we so dearly love! Full many a promise must be broken and few the voyagers round the world." - D.N. Richardson, "A Girdle Round the Earth"

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page." - St. Augustine

"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow." - Lin Yutang

"Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." - Kurt Vonnegut

And two final poems, dedicated to those two special places that I will one day, someday, visit as on pigrimages to the very idea of travel and fortune.

(1) Samarkand:

We travel not for trafficking alone:
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

-The Golden Journey to Samarkand, by James Elroy Flecker

(2) Ithaka:

When you set out for Ithaka
Ask that your way be long,
Full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon -- do not fear them;
Such as these you will never find
As long as your thought is lofty,
As long as a rare emotion
Touch your spirit and your body.

- Ithaka, by C.P. Cavafy

"The Problem is Paul Martin"

In the comments to an earlier post below, friend and fellow Dal Law classmate Jason Cherniak (who is in the midst of exams - good luck!) asked for my real complaint about the Liberal party, sponsorship scandal aside. As a left-leaning politico, I certainly do not relish the opportunity of a Harper Prime Ministership, but have begun toying with the thought that it might be the least worst of disappointing alternatives. I did take a stab at outlining some of my misgivings with the Liberals in those comments, but just came across a column by Susan Riley in the Ottawa Citizen (thanks again to Norman Spector for getting us around the registration requirements) that captures the essence of that criticism. In brief, the problem is Paul Martin:

"Next election, however, the problem for many voters may not be Harper -- or not Harper exclusively. The problem is Paul Martin. He hasn't shown the courage or instincts of a strong leader. He has let bad situations slide. He has presided over the increasing privatization of medicare, because he is afraid to stand up to Quebec. He is expected to produce a Kyoto plan this week so undemanding we will never meet our targets, because he is afraid to confront Alberta . He only endorsed missile defence and same-sex marriage when backed into a corner by forces within his own party. He has apparently forgotten the "democratic deficit -- he appointed discredited
Chretien minister Art Eggleton to the Senate and is giving failed Liberal candidate Glen Murray a
profile-boosting environment job after a Commons committee rejected Murray as unqualified.

Martin can still save his government if he takes the focus off corruption with some inspired and brave policy. But that would require a miraculous transformation in a man who often looks more like an eager apprentice than a confident leader. Harper, though, is dead sure of where he is going."

So add to my previous comments points the status quo Senate appointments, and also the failure over the years to come up with any coherent idea on the direction of Canadian foreign policy, as Paul Wells keeps documenting. I guess I would just like to see some fresh blood in the front ranks of the federal Liberals, sooner rather than later. Speaking frankly, a Harper minority might be the best way to ensure this.

The Turning Tide

The Liberals are losing their case in the court of public opinion, as the EKOS poll clearly shows and MacDuff has noted. I'm not sure if Harper and co. are ready for prime time, but they'd better start preparing. I don't think their poll position can get much better, and I certainly don't think the Liberals' position is going to get much worse. You've got to think that if a similar poll comes out next month, the Tories will have to muster a June election call in May. The Brault testimony is damning, and I believe it is enough to cost Martin the election if one is held this summer. Still, I'd be tight-lipped about an election call if I were Harper, as a fall date might be more advantageous, for exactly the reasons MacDuff outlines.

The EKOS poll makes it pretty obvious that the public (look at Ontario and Quebec!) is getting impatient with this government over the sponsorship scandal. This is unsurprising. Far too many Grit supporters are saying that the scandal should not be made that big a deal, especially if -- horror of horrors -- it leads to Harper in the PMO. Even worse are the assertions that Martin shouldn't shoulder any electoral punishment for this fiasco, just because it's his party that is implicated, and he (supposedly) had nothing to do with it. Would these arguments ring true for them if the shoe were on the other foot, and, say, associates of Stockwell Day's party were the culprits and Harper and the Conservatives had to answer for it? If that's the best the Liberals have, then what better justification is there for today's poll numbers than the frustration of the Canadian people with the lack of self-accountability in a corrupt ruling party?

UPDATE - by MacDuff - here's John Ibbitson's advice to Harper from the Globe today, courtesy of Norman Spector:
"There is no such thing as a risk-free political strategy. Your job as a Tory strategist is to weigh those risks and advise the leader. But by any reasonable calculation, the risks of waiting until November are greater than the risks of going now. A Jean Brault only comes along once in a political lifetime."
A tough call indeed. But it just may be an offer too tempting to refuse, and a "what if" for the Canadian political history books regardless of the choice.

The Importance of Travel

"The trip [to Europe in the 60's] was an experience that has informed the way I look at things. There is a world out there, and people don't look at everything the way we do. That trip taught me that everyone should get out of the country and see other parts of the world.

It's pretty sad that President Bush the Junior never had the intellectual curiosity to go abroad until he was in office. I still wonder how you can elect a leader of the free world who has never seen the world. For God's sake, the man never even made it to Canada. That's almost impossible. Even drunk on a bet you can make it to Canada.

If you don't go and see the rest of the world, you don't realize that they have something America does not---and that is culture. We don't have that. We are too young a nation to have a culture. The closest we come is when we leave yogurt in the fridge too long."

-Comedian Lewis Black, "Nothing's Sacred" (via a DailyKos' Cheers and Jeers post)

Heh. I especially love the reference to getting to Canada on a drunken bet. Over the course of this year, I've read two travel-oriented books by Tony Hawks, an English comedian. In the first, Round Ireland with a Fridge, he endeavours to hitch-hike around the circumference of Ireland accompanied by a fridge in order to prove the island's hospitality. After betting a drunken 100 quid to do so, of course (hilariously, the purchase of a suitable fridge itself costs him 90 pounds).

The second, Playing the Moldovans at Tennis, emerges out of Hawks desire to prove an argument that gifted athletes could not necessarily beat him at tennis, a sport he played reasonably well when he was younger. At the time, Hawks and his friend are watching a football match between England and Moldova, so the bet becomes whether Tony can play and beat all 11 starting Moldovans. And so a truly modern quixotic quest begins.

Both stories are marvelous examples of the power and glory of randomness. I am actually learning to row on the river Thames this week, a rather miraculous bit of randomness in itself. It is glorious.

"A Breathtaking Shift"

Those are the words of Frank Ekos, following the release of the latest poll in the Toronto Star today, the first since the publication ban on the Brault testimony's been lifted. And the shift is indeed seismic:

"The pollster found that only 25 per cent of respondents nationwide would vote today for the Liberals, compared to 36.2 per cent for the Conservatives. The Liberals won a minority government with about 37 per cent of the vote in June 2004.

The NDP have moved up to 20.5% nationally as well. Of course, this really reflects the extent of the immediate backlash over unsubstantiated news of corruption, but it does indicate how drastically the bedrock of Liberal support has eroded. The Conservatives are ahead of the Liberals by 3 points in QUEBEC, if you can believe it!

I still think the election's on hold until after the summer, primarily for logisitical and circumstantial (B.C.'s got elections coming in May as well), but these numbers are certainly going to tempt all the opposition parties. When does Parliament conclude for their summer holiday?

I see Harper having a much firmer footing to stand and govern on if he can see out the full report and spend the summer bolstering a "government-in-waiting" image while the Liberals are seen performing desperate damage control. An election now would be reduced to an argument over whether the timing is appropriate before the conclusion of the inquiry, whereas the fall election would be about implementing the reforms proposed by Gomery. It is at the later date that the refrain of "We don't trust you anymore" lingers more strongly.

But who knows, maybe waiting only allows Martin the time he needs to recover? At this point, I'd say it's probably an even money proposition, though I'd trust Guinness's maxim that "Good Things Come to those who Wait". What's your advice, Cooper?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Harper's Achilles Heel

Just when I think that maybe a Conservative Minority might not be such a bad shakeup in Canadian federal politics, there's Harper back harping on same-sex marriage in the Globe:

Mr. Harper told the crowd Saturday that 95 of 99 Conservative MPs back the traditional concept of marriage.

He promised a Tory government would bring in legislation defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

"Liberals may talk about minorities," Mr. Harper said. "But undermining the traditional definition of marriage is an assault on the beliefs of all cultural and religious communities who have come to this country."

MPs are slated to vote Tuesday on a motion by Mr. Harper that Parliament refuse to give second reading to the bill.

"And if just a few more Liberals are persuaded to vote their conscience instead of their party line, we can kill Bill C-38 dead in its tracks," Mr. Harper said Saturday. (emphasis added)

Putting aside the unnecessary language - an "assault"? - what does Harper see in the recent reference on same-sex marriage that some 143 Canadian law professors have already told him is not there? Why won't he simply accept that any attempts to stop "Bill C-38 dead in its tracks" will last for all of about 1 minute? As the legal experts attempted to explain to him:
"If Parliament were to adopt your proposal and define marriage to exclude same-sex couples, this legislation would very quickly end up in court, and be struck down as unconstitutional."

For Harper, it should be simple. If he believes passionately in upholding traditional marriage (as he obviously does) and thinks it's a vote-winner, then why not come out in favour of using the Notwithstanding clause? If Harper refuses to accept that the Notwithstanding clause is required, then why not assuage those concerned about his party's perceived intolerance by promising not to invoke it if (and, inevitably, when) the Supreme Court eventually does rule on an official legal challenge?

I suppose it is a reflection of the recent Convention resolution, but surely he could at least assume a little lower profile on the issue at this crucial moment. Headlines such as "Harper links sponsorship scandal to same-sex marriage bill" are not the route to victory. His base is fired up enough to vote as it is.

And permit me a final thought, from a federalist point-of-view. Why oh why the fixation and rigidity on this issue just as an opportunity to expand the party in Quebec has opened up? Are we ever going to see the end of the Bloc Quebecois?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Cheering the Cancellation of CHEERS

While perusing today's New York Times editorial (re: the need for Democrats to choose their battles carefully when challenging Bush appointees), this particular paragraph leapt from the screen:
"Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida are threatening to stall Mr. Johnson's confirmation [to head the EPA] unless he promises to end a suspended Florida study in which families would be paid to allow researchers to study the effects of pesticides on their children - a macabre investigation co-sponsored by the American Chemistry Council. The idea that the E.P.A. would pay families to continue exposing their children to potentially dangerous chemicals is on its face outrageous - and made worse by the study's ghoulish acronym, Cheers, for Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study. But the study has already been stopped, pending a review. It would have been a good sign of independence if Mr. Johnson had called a complete halt, but there seems little likelihood that the study will ever be revived. This seems like a weak reason to stop a Senate vote."

CHEERS, indeed. Details on the recently cancelled program here. Apparently, participants were to be awarded "study T-shirts" and even (I'm not making this up) a"study Bib for your baby".

Yeesh. Talk about a particularly ill-named acronym designed to disguise the actual substance of the program. It called to mind some other famous, irony-laden moments of the Bush administration's use of language. Two favorite examples:

(1) The "Clear Skies" Initiative - "Compared to current law, the Clear Skies plan would allow three times more toxic mercury emissions, 50 percent more sulfur emissions, and hundreds of thousands more tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides. It would also delay cleaning up this pollution by up to a decade compared to current law and force residents of heavily-polluted areas to wait years longer for clean air compared to the existing Clean Air Act." - National Resources Defence Council)

(2) "Healthy Forests" Legislation - "We have to cut the nation's forests to save them. That seems to be the Bush administration's rationale for its misnamed Healthy Forests Initiative, now before the Senate. The measure grants the U.S. Forest Service and private loggers virtual free rein to saw down trees on 10 million acres -- no environmental review needed. It also lets them bulldoze roads into areas long set aside for possible designation as wilderness." -L.A. Times)

And, of course, who can forget the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, or Leave No Child Behind, or the USA PATRIOT Act - bonus points to people who knew that this last one was actually an acronym as well! It's true: "This Act may be cited as the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001" - what was it that Orwell said about the use of language in politics? Oh yeah:
"The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible." - 1984

But perhaps the quote of the day belongs to Oxford's Lewis Carroll, from Through the Looking Glass (Chapter 6 - just before Humpty has a go at translating Jabberwocky):

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!' "

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,' " Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that’s all."

[UPDATE - here's some more information on the program, not quite as objectionable as the New York Times editorial seems to indicate, but still smells rather unsavoury and ill-conceived as an experiment. And that acronym!! Also found word of this on the Kos front page. If you are prepared to sift through the comments, you'll find good argument back and forth amidst the hyperbole.]