Saturday, December 06, 2008

On relative support

So much for the West being a monolithic sea of blue which would be looking to separate from Canada if a coalition government came to be. Instead, at least a couple of major cities showed exactly the same pattern of relative support for the coalition that not unexpectedly played out in Toronto and Montreal as well.

In Edmonton, the coalition's supporters outnumbered those who back the Cons' choice to shut down Parliament roughly 400 to 300.

And in Regina, I'm proud to be able to say that the 250 estimated for the pro-coalition rally far outnumber the less than 100 who showed up to back the Cons. (And this after Brad Wall and his Sask Party government spent the entire week in the Legislature blustering about federal politics rather than having anything to say about the province they're supposed to be governing.)

All of which might suggest that the first wave of polls unfavourable to the coalition may be far more a byproduct of the Cons' immediate rush to the airwaves than any real support for Harper's attempts to hide from democracy. And if the coalition does indeed enjoy a deeper level of support than the Cons, then that could signal a turn to come over the next couple of months.

Collaborative efforts

There was never much danger of the Cons making any real attempt to work with anybody outside their party in Parliament. But today we get another indication of just how far they're going out of their way to avoid cooperating.

The two independent MPs who sent out an invitation to all party leaders are likely the most Con-friendly members of the House of Commons in Parliament outside of Harper's caucus: Andre Arthur is sufficiently popular with the Cons that they chose not to run a candidate against him, and Bill Casey is of course as a former member of their caucus. Yet Harper couldn't even be bothered to respond to a meeting proposed by those two MPs - offering yet another indication that the opposition parties can't expect anything even remotely resembling a good-faith effort either.

Meanwhile, there's exactly one leader who did show real interest in response to Casey and Arthur's proposal to get Canada's federal parties working together:
A spokesman for Jack Layton said the New Democrat leader would attend such a meeting.

"The leader of the NDP is always willing to meet the other leaders," said Karl Belanger. "It has been his practice."
Of course, the opposition parties need to be about Harper's motives - and Layton is surely as much so as any opposition member.

But particularly in looking to sell the message that opposition cooperation is exactly what Canada needs, it can't hurt to keep putting the message about collaborative efforts into practice - especially when contrasted against Harper's continued refusal to work with anybody. And if Arthur and Casey can be added to the voices pointing out the problem with the Cons' aversion to any meaningful discussion, that can only help in persuading the public that a coalition now and a reduced Con contingent in the House of Commons later make for the best solutions.

Hypothetically speaking

While Robert Benzie's article on Deceivin' Stephen doesn't contain too much news about how Harper governs, it's noteworthy in including multiple criticisms toward Harper from Brian Mulroney and some of his loyalists. And the connection raises what looks to be one of the more interesting questions about Harper's regime in the longer term.

From all indications, Mulroney looks to have been the lone individual who held enough of Harper's respect to be able to restrain his habit of constant partisan attacks. Which leads me to wonder: how different would Harper's stay in office look now if he hadn't cut Mulroney off from his party? Would Mulroney have been capable of talking Harper out of some of his less-canny gambits like slamming artists and bringing the opposition together with his financial update? And what does it say if the Cons' government has been ineffective enough that we're left wishing that the man who reduced the PCs to 2 seats had more of a say?

Strategic leadership

The events of the past week have led to another round of speculation about Stephane Dion being asked to step down as the Libs' leader, with the presumptive result that a separate interim leader would be put at the head of the impending coalition. But I'll suggest that there might be another solution which would work better for all involved in the coalition.

To start off with, I don't think there can be much doubt that the Cons will be dispensing as much vitriol as they can toward what they perceive to be the coalition's weak points. And from all indications, Dion's leadership is at or near the top of the list.

Now, that's done plenty to feed into some public skepticism about the coalition to date. But it also gives the coalition a significant opportunity to wrong-foot the Cons going into the next session of Parliament.

What if, rather than replacing Dion now, the Libs were to arrange a caucus show of support for Dion's continued leadership to drive home the point that the coalition is still in the works - with the agreed intention that somebody else would step forward to lead the coalition only as Parliament is set to resume?

From what I can tell, a show of support for Dion and the coalition would force the Cons to keep pouring money and effort into their assault on the idea - again focusing on the perceived weak spot in the form of Dion. But with the prospect of Dion as PM pulled away at the last second even as the coalition moves forward, the Cons would get little to no return on their investment. Which would seem to be about the best outcome the coalition can hope for, particularly since its efforts could be focused on what would actually be the battleground areas of public opinion once Parliament reconvenes.

In contrast, by pushing Dion to step down immediately, the Libs would only tip their hand early enough to let the Cons develop the narrative they want to see around a new leader. Which means that the Libs - and the coalition - would almost certainly end up right back where the Libs were a couple of months after Dion first took over the leadership: fighting a losing battle against a Con air war aimed at defining a leader who can't afford to fight back.

Mind you, there is one other possibility which has been hinted at before but not considered in the context of this week's developments. If Dion is indeed going to step down - whether immediately, or shortly before the return to Parliament - it might make more sense for everybody involved if Jack Layton were to be named the coalition's leader and interim PM-in-waiting pending the results of the Libs' leadership race.

After all, unlike any new face the Libs could bring into the picture, Layton has a strong public image built up over the course of multiple election campaigns which won't be easily torn down over the course of a short-term ad blitz. Which means that he offers the best chance of turning leadership into a relative strength for the coalition.

Moreover, putting interim responsibility in Layton's hands would avoid the danger of alienating those Libs who might otherwise be bypassed in favour of somebody else. At least two candidates and their supporters could consider themselves rightfully aggrieved whether the Libs installed an interim leader from the pool of Goodale/McCallum/Brison, or a permanent leader out of Ignatieff/Rae/Leblanc - and with Harper looking to poach anybody he can to try to buy a majority, the Libs are probably best served keeping their leadership race going to ensure that everybody has a reason to stay within the tent.

That said, I wouldn't want to see the NDP making any overly strong push for Layton to take the reins. Indeed, having already sent the message that the Liberals' senior place in the coalition will enable them to choose who's best positioned to lead, the NDP should stick firmly to that position in order to avoid putting any unnecessary stress on the coalition.

But as a corollary, I'd think Layton should be more than open to serving as the interim face of the coalition if the Libs ask him to take on that role. And for anybody looking out for the greatest likelihood of making the coalition work, Layton as interim coalition leader would seem to present the strongest possible chance of getting the job done.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

A reminder

Two days after the fact, the Cons still haven't apparently done a thing about the MP(s) who shouted support for the firebombing of opposition property. This would seem to be about the easiest possible gesture for a party to at least pretend to value some bare minimum level of common decency - but to nobody's surprise even that's more than Harper is willing to bother doing.


Your must-read of the day.

What Harper hath wrought

Financial crisis? Parliamentary crisis? National unity crisis? Sure, Harper can take credit for starting or exacerbating all of them. But in the signs-of-the-end-times department, they pale in comparison to the fact that the NDP's chances of landing its first-ever federal cabinet seats in the current Parliament now seem to be inexorably tied to Bob Rae.

Conservative government at work

Yessiree, we'd sure hate to do anything to improve the economy until we're absolutely certain there's a crisis.

Rally capped

While last night's coalition rally has already been discussed by Saskboy and Buckdog, I'll toss in my two cents' worth about the evening.

The rally itself looks to have been a significant success. Even in the wake of yesterday's prorogation, enough people turned out to nearly pack the venue - and they were treated to a well-organized event and interesting speeches from Fred Clipsham, Monica Lysack and Stephen Moore. While Saskboy has documented a good chunk of those, one additional comment is worth mentioning: it was Lysack, a Liberal candidate in the 2008 federal election, who rightly pointed out the need for coalition supporters to keep pressure on the Libs' caucus in order to ensure that the coalition is still ready to take office when Parliament resumes.

All in all, the rally succeeded in firing up the troops. The downside, though, is that it didn't do much to get them organized going forward. Only Moore made mention of the need to discuss the coalition through personal connections in addition to writing MPs and media outlets - and there was no apparent effort either to collect information to determine who attended, or to establish any ongoing organization.

It's understandable to some extent that information collection could have been a thorny issue given the different parties involved in the coalition and the rally. But if the coalition is going to hold its own in a difficult PR battle, this can't be the last time people from multiple parties get together to show their support and discuss what's at stake. And if organizers have to start from scratch every time they want to get people together rather than building off the interest of the people who attended last night, then that looks all too likely to put the coalition at a disadvantage.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Just wondering...

A few of the bigger questions which arise out of today's prorogation mess...

Is there any formal order, or other way to know whether or not Michaelle Jean set any conditions on the prorogation? Would those instead be considered part of the confidential discussion between Harper and Jean?

Whether or not any conditions were public, what could Jean do to enforce them? Would she be able to refuse to allow Senate appointments or other executive acts to be formalized under a confidence vote takes place? If the conditions are private, would it be a breach of confidence to try to enforce them in the wake of (let's say) a public announcement of a prohibited appointment?

Finally, would Jean have given any direct indication (or indirect hints) to Harper as to what she intends to do at the end of the prorogation during their discussion? If so, can she possibly justify arming Harper alone with that knowledge, rather than at least allowing the other party leaders to hold an equal amount of information about her plans in the event of a non-confidence vote?

On responses

There have been several interesting suggestions going around as to how the opposition parties should deal with today's prorogation. But I'll point out off the bat what looks to me to be a significant risk - along with a suggestion as to what to do instead.

I'd see two main problems with any plan - whether based on a protest or an alternative Parliament - which involves the opposition parties staying around Ottawa.

First off, that would involve essentially giving the Cons a free pass in working across the country to spread their message. As it is, the coalition figures to be outgunned in an advertising war - which means that the last thing it can afford to do is to largely confine itself to Ottawa while Con MPs and challengers are working their ridings.

Second, the Cons have already used a campaign message based on running against Ottawa. And by gathering there, the opposition parties would simply reinforce a message which the Cons have already planted in the the public memory - helping the Cons to get on the right side of what looks to be significant public cynicism at the moment.

Which isn't to say that a couple of Ottawa events shouldn't take place. Indeed, it would seem to me a gimme to hold a mock non-confidence vote next Monday, and there may be other times when Parliament Hill can serve as the backdrop for opposition efforts. But for the most part, the opposition parties (and particularly the coalition ones) need to reach out to their ridings and beyond to counter the Cons' push for public support and make it clear that they're listening closely to constituents.

Meanwhile, for the coalition parties in particular, that public presence should feed into a detailed stimulus proposal to trump whatever the Cons would figure to include in their budget. While it's of course impossible to finalize anything without access to the federal civil service, that should involve some effort to work with the provinces and municipalities to highlight specific infrastructure projects which could be fast-tracked, as well as detailed proposals related to green investment, pensions, EI, and the other areas which the coalition has already agreed to deal with.

That way, the Cons won't have much of an argument available that the time required to topple their government would lead to significant delays in implementing a stimulus package. And the coalition will be able to present itself as no less prepared to govern than the Cons when it votes non-confidence.

Aside from that, the one other essential element which I'd draw from the shadow-Parliament type of proposal is for the opposition parties to keep in contact and ensure that their messages reinforce each other (along with the need to topple the Cons). And if they're able to do that despite Harper's best efforts at sabotage in the meantime, then it should serve as a strong indication that the coalition will be stable enough to handle power once the time arises.

The right to be heard

So it's apparently official: the Cons have bought themselves a couple of months to try to bully, smear, bribe and fearmonger their way out of impending defeat in the House of Commons. While others have pointed out some of the substantive problems with the decision, I'll focus for now on the process followed by Michaelle Jean in making it.

Based on the length of the meeting with Harper, it seems glaringly clear that Jean didn't simply assume that she had to accept his advice without question. Instead, there presumably must have been some justifiable doubt in her mind as to whether or not Harper's request ought to be granted. And given that Harper seems to have acquired everything he asked for, there's every reason to think that his arguments had at least some effect on the outcome.

Which raises a massive red flag: particularly where an action is being questioned precisely based on a reasonable dispute as to whether or not the Prime Minister has lost the necessary legitimacy to make a request, how can the Governor-General hear only from the Prime Minister's side (bolstered by publicly-funded research from the Privy Council Office and Justice Department) before making a decision?

Now, this isn't to say that there's any likelihood of Jean's decision being successfully appealed to any court based on her failure to give the coalition a chance to make its case to deny (or set conditions on) prorogation. And indeed I'm not sure I'd want to see the courts dragged into what Harper has already turned into a constitutional quagmire.

Likewise, it doesn't mean that I'd want to see every action of the GG made subject to representations from all sides: so long as a government's confidence in the House of Commons isn't seriously in question, there wouldn't be any reason to change the usual rule that the GG takes her advice solely from the sitting prime minister.

But faced with a serious issue of whether or not Harper effectively had standing to make a request for prorogation, it seems awfully troubling that Jean seems to have not only deferred to Harper's opinion, but also concluded that nobody else should be allowed to make their case. And particularly if Harper himself decides to push the boundaries of executive power vis-a-vis the GG as he's already done in so many other areas, it's that combination - not just the precedent of prorogation itself - which may prove to be the most damaging result of all.

For the sake of balance

Of course, while Con MPs go about their business of encouraging firebombing, there's also controversy on the coalition side. Take for example the shocking revelation that the main websites supporting the coalition are run by...parties and groups who support the coalition.

Yeah. That's the ticket.

Especially in contrast to the scrupulously non-partisan spokesman for the Cons' attempts at organization.

On political violence

So let's get this straight: in the course of the last day:
- Con MP Dean Del Mastro has not only thrown around the word "traitor" repeatedly, but attempted to defend doing so even when called out on it; and
- at least some Con MPs have explicitly approved of vandalism against their political opponents.

And all this without a word of disagreement or concern from anybody else within the Cons.

Now, I've been suspicious for awhile as to the Cons' message that they'll do "anything legal" to cling to power, which based on their tendency for spin could easily be taken to allow for the encouragement of illegal acts by party supporters as long as the caucus itself stays in the grey area between merely hinting and outright inciting crime. (Of course, they've already incorporated seemingly criminal acts in their effort with a "let the courts decide" attitude.)

But we would seem now to have a perfect test case. If anybody who stated their agreement with the firebombing of Nathan Cullen's sign isn't booted out of the Cons' caucus immediately, then we can confirm that the Cons have no qualms about encouraging criminal activity from their own supporters. And that should only create all the more urgency in getting the Harper-created crisis dealt with immediately, rather than allowing it to fester.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

So that's what it was for

Garth Turner points out what looks to be the real reason for Harper's demand for TV time:
Thirty-one minutes after a speech in which the prime minister had used the word “separatists” more often than the word “economy”, people in Halton on the Con list started getting urgent phone calls from Ottawa asking for $500 donations, “to save Canada from the coalition.”
That's right: having nothing at all new to say, Stephen Harper just hijacked Canada's airwaves for a Conservative Party fund-raising drive. So I guess I was half right about trying to grab what he can while he's still clinging to power.

Well said

I'll second what NDP Outsider has to say.

Deep thought

I can only assume that Stephen Harper's request for broadcast TV time was a ruse to distract the country for 10 minutes while his party grabs/burns/insults everything it can on the way out of office.

On ballot questions

As a corollary to my post this morning, I'd like to see the coalition's messaging largely move past citing past Harper quotes about his willingness to form a coalition as anything but a riposte in question period. But John Geddes has tracked down one more recent Harper quote which cuts to the heart of the Cons' already-feeble argument attacking the legitimacy of a coalition:
About one week before the Oct. 14 vote, a change of tone took hold in Harper’s campaign rhetoric. Stéphane Dion’s campaign, after being written off by many early on, was showing signs of life in the stretch run. On the hustings in British Columbia, Harper suddenly seemed to sense danger, and he turned up the rhetorical intensity a few notches.

At a new conference in Victoria on Oct. 8, he caught reporters off guard by presenting the hypothesis that Stéphane Dion might actually become prime minister, but not necessarily in the usual way. “If you get Prime Minister Dion either directly or by the opposition parties helping him take power,” Harper said, “…interest rates are going to be going up.”

Leaving that interest rates warning aside, clearly Harper was thinking about something like the scenario we now face.
While Geddes analyzes the quote more in the context of Harper's strategic blunder, I'd think it's a point very much worth repeating as to what was voted on this fall. During the election campaign, Harper did in fact raise the concept of a coalition as a reason to vote for his party rather than any of the coalition members. And obviously enough voters rejected that argument to make a coalition possible today - meaning that Harper's question of whether the public would give him a majority to avoid a coalition led by Dion has been asked and answered by the actual composition of the House of Commons.

Now, one can make the case that the message didn't form a huge part of the election campaign. But that's surely a matter of choice on the Cons' part: if they'd figured that they had a better chance of winning a majority by warning against a coalition, they could have hammered the point home at every available opportunity. And at best, that leaves Harper asking for a do-over on the last election campaign, which isn't a good reason for forcing another trip to the polls when there's a stable government ready to take the reins.

Today's popular uprising cancelled due to lack of interest

There seems to be little doubt that the Cons' last desperate hope to cling to power is based on trying to claim enough of a public uprising to prevent the coalition from exercising its majority in Parliament. So let's see how they're doing at building a mass movement to overturn the results of this fall's federal election:
About a dozen protesters gathered outside the constituency office of Windsor West MP Brian Masse Tuesday, decrying the Liberal-NDP coalition that would topple the Conservative government.
Which of course raises some questions: seriously? "About a dozen"? In a riding where the Cons finished second with over 9,000 votes in 2008? And with the lone Con supporter cited in the article having come from a neighbouring riding held by a Con MP, which would suggest a multi-riding effort?

Much as Mike's worst case scenario seemed over the top, I'd shared at least some concern that a desperate Harper would whip up something resembling a frenzy among a substantial portion of the Cons' supporters. And there may be more reason to worry in some other areas of the country. But if the Cons' turnout efforts in a major city can't even assemble a protest capable of outnumbering the incoming coalition cabinet, then the public side of the dispute may be a lot quieter than I'd figured.

Edit: changed title.

Just so long as I'm the dictator

Shorter Lawrence Cannon:
I'd find it far easier to do business internationally if it weren't for pesky nuisances like "democracy" and "responsible government".


As much as this post was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, I have to wonder now if it might hint at part of the message that the coalition parties need to be sending. So far, the public battleground seems to be about what the Libs and Governor General should do - while there's been little concerted effort to push on the Cons to stop putting roadblocks in the way of democracy since Layton's remarks when the coalition was first announced. (Note that this is distinct from criticisms of what the Cons have done already - the issue is what they should be doing now.)

With that in mind, a few added talking points that I'd like to see emphasized over the next couple of days:
- By electing another minority Parliament, voters told their MPs that they expected to see cooperation among Canada's political parties.
- Four of the parties (including the Greens) have come together to meet that demand; only the Conservatives are standing in the way of a cooperative government.
- The coalition is ready to get to work in dealing with the economic downturn. As part of that work, the coalition fully expects to listen to the Conservatives and their supporters.
- If the Conservatives want to have a stable and effective government in the near future, the best thing they can do now is to work with the coalition. The more they do so, the more the coalition will be able to take their views into account.
- Conservative cooperation doesn't have to start at the top. Individual Conservative MPs and supporters can also help stabilize Canada's government merely by pointing out in caucus and in public that the coalition holds the support of a majority of MPs backed by a majority of the popular vote.

And for the coalition's supporters, it probably can't hurt either to contact backbench Con MPs and send the same message to them as well. We know that at least some of them recognize that Harper's stay in office can't be salvaged; the more they hear that the public expects them to act accordingly, the better the chances of minimizing the damage done by Harper's last desperate attempt to cling to power.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Early resolution

The operating assumption for now seems to be that Harper will be voted down and the progressive coalition will form the government next time the House of Commons gets to vote on a confidence matter - likely either next week if Michaelle Jean rejects a request for prorogation, or in January if for some obscure reason she chooses to grant it.

But based on the obvious fact that the opposition parties have agreed that the Cons have lost the confidence of the House of Commons, is there any reason why Jean would need to wait for the formality of a vote which Harper can delay? And with the dispute set to spill over into the streets over the weekend, isn't it possible that the least intrusive and most responsible course of action would be to install the coalition before the end of this week, rather than letting Con-fueled hysteria grow thanks to continued uncertainty?

On crumbling support

There's no doubt that the Cons are pulling out all the stops to try to prevent the elected majority in the House of Commons from carrying out the will of Canadian voters. But it's worth pointing out that at least some Cons recognize how pointless the effort is:
But Eastern Ontario Tory MP Daryl Kramp said there's no point (in asking for prorogation), because the coalition will take power sooner or later.

"To my mind, all that would simply do is delay the situation to another day."
Which leads to an important question for all the donors the Cons are pursuing in the wake of their self-generated crisis: why throw money at an ad campaign which even some Cons acknowledge to be futile?

Deep thought

If the Cons are so scared of a coalition which includes separatist votes, they're welcome to offer their support to the coalition instead.

Solving nothing

A quick response to the suggestion that the Cons should be able to stay in power if Harper jumps (or is pushed) from the helm: what problem could such a move possibly solve?

After all, the Cons' few remaining arguments for clinging to power are based on the shaky premises that they can offer more stable government than the opposition parties, and that Stephane Dion's election results don't justify an opportunity to form government even if a majority of the House of Commons will support the coalition.

But it would seem to me that a different Con leader would make matters worse on both counts. Nobody has the slightest idea whether the Cons can even keep their caucus together for a day under a leader less domineering than Harper, let alone win enough opposition support or forbearance to maintain a stable government. And it's impossible to rely on an election where the Cons tried to present Harper alone as the face of their party as justification for giving a new, unelected Con leader a shot at government ahead of a coalition where each leader has at least managed to win the support of his party's members.

Moreover, there's always the possibility that Harper would merely "step down" in the sense that Ryan Sparrow was "fired" during the campaign, only to be brought forward again as soon as the opportunity arose. (And particularly in the wake of the fiscal update debacle, there's no reason at all to trust the Cons' judgment as to the lines they can get away with crossing.)

So while the suggestion might reflect the desperation of some of the Cons' crew to hang onto their perks by throwing the captain overboard, there's no reason to think that Harper's departure alone would improve matters at all under continued Con government. Which means that the effort to trade Harper's head for more time in power shouldn't be any more persuasive than the rest of the Cons' attempts to cling to their government seats.

Update: Pogge says it better.

On destinations

I'd planned to following up my review of possible NDP cabinet ministers with a more detailed look at the most likely positions, but Wheatsheaf has already thoroughly analyzed the possibilities and risks coming from most of the positions. That said, I'll take a minute to point out a couple of the more subtle issues which may fit into portfolios which the NDP could pursue.

I agree entirely that Industry should be a natural fit for an NDP seat at the table. But in addition to the obvious role in working with the NDP's manufacturing base, the position would provide an ideal opportunity to deal with Net neutrality and intellectual property, two issues which may not attract the mainstream attention they deserve but could have a substantial impact on how Canada's creative class is able to function.

Similarly, the NDP should be looking to ensure that one of its MPs picks up whatever portfolio includes the issue of democratic reform. Since the cabinet will be pared down that doesn't look to be kept as a stand-alone position - but it could relatively easily be packaged as part of a number of different roles (Citizenship and Immigration? Justice? Intergovernmental Affairs?). And with Layton already discussing how the coalition may serve as a first example of the type of government Canadians could expect under a PR system, it would be a huge plus to be able to build on that starting point with an NDP hand guiding the process.

Monday, December 01, 2008

On cabinetry (Part II)

With official word now out as to the terms of the coalition government, I'll note that I'm pleasantly surprised to see how the cabinet has been designed. When I wrote my earlier post on who the NDP should seek to place in cabinet, it was based on the assumption that the party would have only 6-8 spots total to work with - leaving a difficult choice between selecting those most experienced in a particular area and those with a chance to turn a current cabinet role into bright futures on the national scene. But with the NDP holding six parliamentary secretary positions as well, it'll have an obvious development ground for its younger MPs - meaning that the cabinet position can focus more on some of the caucus' senior members.

Which isn't to say that the allocation of responsibilities will be easy. But here's a rough rundown on the rest of the options.

After the three shoo-ins described earlier, I'd think that next in line would be Charlie Angus. About the only downside would be the likely position: Heritage would seem to be the obvious fit for the NDP's longtime critic, but the position has also proven to be a dangerous one at times...particularly when ministers have given in to the temptations of big media. (Remember Sarmite Bulte, anybody?)

Fortunately, Angus has taken a strong enough position against the dominance of corporate entertainment that I'd think we could count on avoiding that problem. And since he combines a strong enough reputation to get the job done from day one with plenty of potential to move up in the party in the future, he should be an ideal choice for the fourth slot in cabinet - even if he's somewhat less than assured of a spot.

The last possible candidate that I'll deal with individually is Olivia Chow. All indications are that she'd do a great job given a shot at a ministry related to immigration or social development. But particularly if Layton is going to be in cabinet, I'd think it would be a must to keep Chow on the ground in Toronto as often as possible to keep building the NDP's base there.

From there, the possibilities can be put into a few different categories. There are the stalwarts: Libby Davies and Judy Wasylycia-Leis might be slightly in front of the pack based on a combination of seniority and diversity of experience, but any of Dawn Black, David Christopherson, Joe Comartin, Jean Crowder, Yvon Godin, Brian Masse, or Peter Stoffer could be counted on to do a solid job in their areas of relative expertise - with the Libs' choices as to their own members likely determining whether any is needed to fill in geographic voids. And then there are the up-and-comers with enough caucus experience to hold their own in cabinet: Nathan Cullen might be at the head of the pack, but Paul Dewar, Peter Julian and Bill Siksay would have to at least be in the mix.

As for the parliamentary secretary positions, any of the up-and-comers listed above who don't make it into cabinet would seem to be first in line. But some new MPs would likely also be in the mix - and indeed the NDP will presumably be glad to highlight Niki Ashton, Don Davies and Megan Leslie if possible, though it may need to include at least one or two more experienced MPs in the mix as well.

Of course, the NDP's goals and strengths in designing its contribution will have to be balanced with those of the Libs as well. Which is why it's fortunate that the NDP has an abundance of talent to offer up for its positions - and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing who joins the first NDP contingent in the federal cabinet.

On cabinetry (Part I)

Needless to say, the prospect of the first ever federal cabinet ministers from the NDP is one to look forward to. But the question of who should be included and in what roles looks to be an interesting one - and there's a case to be made that any of the obvious frontrunners might be best off not actually seeking a cabinet position. I'll limit this post to what seem to me to be the three sure things for inclusion within a coalition cabinet, then follow up with some discussion about the further possibilities later on.

Starting at the top, it's virtually certain that Jack Layton will end up in cabinet in a relatively high-ranking role. But purely from a party-building standpoint, I'd think one of the smartest strategic plays the NDP could pursue would be to keep Layton out of the cabinet.

After all, as a party leader, he's the lone NDP MP who can be assured of press coverage whether or not he's in a ministerial position. So the incremental gain in profile from having Layton in cabinet would be less than that acquired from having another MP at the cabinet table with Layton still holding the party leader's profile.

Moreover, a cabinet role risks narrowing Layton's public image. To the extent Layton comes to be associated with specific policies within a single portfolio, it may require extra work to put together an election campaign which once again presents him as prime ministerial.

That said, there are strong reasons for including Layton as well - not the least of which is that he's better placed than anybody to broker multi-party agreement for government policies. And of course there shouldn't be much doubt that Layton would be a strong performer in whatever role he takes on.

The other apparent gimme is Thomas Mulcair. Again, there shouldn't be much doubt about his ability to handle any role he gets put into - and both he and the party would presumably love to see him get more national face time.

But having pointed out the upside of having NDP members like Mulcair able to make inroads into new territory from their current seats, I'd see at least some risk that the time and effort required to run a ministry would reduce Mulcair's availability for party-building. And the cross-incentives with the Libs may be worth watching, as they'd presumably be happy to make sure Mulcair is away from Montreal and unavailable to represent the NDP as frequently as possible.

While she hasn't been mentioned as quite as much of a sure think, I'd think the third lock would be Linda Duncan, despite her not matching the previous governing experience held by Layton and Mulcair (and sharing Mulcair's difficulty in being the main focus for building NDP support in her region).

After all, Duncan is the coalition's only option for an Alberta MP within the cabinet - meaning that there would need to be some awfully compelling reason not to include her. And since she instead seems to be extremely well suited to handle a cabinet role, she would figure to be included.

On supporters

While La Presse's Quebec poll this morning has been discussed as the first indication of public opinion about a coalition government, perhaps the more important findings are the ones as to what respondents want the Bloc to do in response:
Une forte proportion des répondants (70%) croit par ailleurs que le Bloc québécois devrait se contenter d'appuyer ponctuellement le gouvernement de coalition, notamment dans les votes de confiance. Même les Québécois qui voteraient pour le Bloc si des élections avaient lieu maintenant (36% après répartition des indécis) appuient cette option dans une proportion de 86%.
Translated, the findings are that 70% of respondents and 86% of Bloc voters want to see the Bloc support a coalition government on confidence votes. Which should significantly rein any any reason for concern that a coalition would be unstable from the Bloc standpoint - or that Duceppe be in a position to make unreasonable demands as the price of his party's support.

Of course, the situation could easily enough change with time - and we can count on the Cons doing their utmost to try to make that happen. But for now, it looks like Bloc supporters have bought into the line from the past election that the party's main role is defined by disagreement with Harper's right-wing vision. And they seem to be in agreement with progressives across the country that the effort is one worth following through on.


Let's take a brief break from the continued federal happenings for a note on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. A well-connected source suggests one more name to add to the mix: Ryan Meili, a family physician who has worked both at Saskatoon's West Side Community Clinic and in Ile a-la-Crosse, in addition to being a board member of Canadian Doctors for Medicare.

Based on what information I've tracked down so far, it would difficult to design a better candidate on paper. Meili would be young enough to make a generational argument against Lingenfelter, yet be able to point to a wide range of experience both in Saskatchewan and abroad; he has well-established progressive connections, but is a new enough face to credibly present himself as the candidate of change. And of course, a physician who has taken up the cause of protecting and strengthening health care would seem to be an ideal heir to the Saskatchewan NDP's legacy.

It remains to be seen whether Meili actually will throw his hat in the ring - and if so, whether his personal impact and organizational abilities can match his resume. But regardless of the outcome, he should be a significant addition to the leadership race if he decides to take the plunge - and he would appear to have as good a chance as anybody of derailing the Lingenfelter message of inevitability.

Edit: fixed label.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Obvious questions

The Cons' claim about the NDP caucus call which someone is acknowledged to have covertly listened in on and taped:
A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said there was nothing unethical about covertly listening in to the private NDP deliberations, taping those discussions and releasing them to the media.

An unidentified Tory was "invited" to participate in the call, said PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas.
So...was it somebody in the PMO who's claiming to have been invited in on the call? If so, then who? And if anybody had a valid invitation, why would they have needed to be covert listening it?

If not, then who provided the tape to the PMO for distribution? And then the questions can be asked down the line to figure out who was involved in taping the call.

Unlike Cadscam, the Cons can't plead that anybody involved is no longer alive to offer up answers. So we should expect either some details in a hurry, or some serious consequences for anybody who had any involvement.

Deep thought

I wonder if we can get all-party agreement on a mandatory minimum sentence for intercepting private communications.

Oh, the outrage!

So it turns out that two political parties who campaigned against the Cons actually had the nerve to discuss how to react if Harper went too far? Cue the Robocons: Socialists! Separatists! Despicable! Treasonous! How dare anybody but Harper even consider playing chess, let alone beat him at his own game!

If anything, I'd think it's a great sign that Layton not only recognized the potential to work on some of the opposition parties' common ground long before the last week's developments, but was able to work with the Bloc from the top to put a coalition structure in place. And the fact that the coalition isn't merely an immediate creation should put to rest any concerns about it being hastily assembled or less than fully thought out.

Instead, it's exactly the type of contingency plan which the opposition parties needed to have in place to deal with a power-mad Harper. And since any change in Harper's immediate message will do nothing to change his underlying pathology, there's every reason to keep building on what Layton and Duceppe were able to put in place.

Update: More from impolitical.

Well said

Prairie Topiary points out the similarities between the Harper government and that of R.B. Bennett - which include, but also go far beyond, mere cluelessness and inaction in the face of financial calamity.

Go read...and consider this another spur to take the opportunity to remove this particular model of government from a position to further harm Canada's economy while the chance is there.

Can't be trusted

One quick note on a question which was put to Michael Ignatieff on today's CBC News Sunday, and figures to feature prominently in media coverage of what the opposition parties do from here on in. When asked "what does the government have to say to avoid being brought down?", the worst thing any opposition speaker can do is to leave the door open for a panicked reversal on economic stimulus or any other issue. After all, it could hardly be easier for the Cons to simply repeat back what the opposition has been demanding in order to buy themselves time.

Instead, the right answer is to point out that the current sitution only reflects a consistent problem with the Cons: they've repeatedly said one thing while planning to do another, such that there's no reason to believe what they say for their own political benefit - especially when their government is on the line. And that in turn is why a coalition with less seats can nonetheless offer far more certainty and stability than the Harper government.

Update: Or better yet, what Chris said. (Except for the fizzling part.)