For tonight’s fun!
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. – Sun Tzu
What is dancing around inside the new PM’s head these days? I dare not venture on the specifics, but I’d be willing to bet that the overall theme is not how to set up for the upcoming Parliament but rather how to win the next election.
With their main rivals in disarray at the top and separation likely on the backburner for the time being, the playing field really is theirs. I have suggested previously that one option for Harper is to come out of the blocks with a few bones for his right-wing social base before settling into the rhythm of governing. This is possible given that the opposition, specifically the Liberals, are unlikely to want a quick election before, say, next November to February.
This could be done relatively cheaply, in Parliamentary terms, by offering up a few free votes on social issues like gay marriage. Such free votes would not threaten a minority government and would likely lose, with the BQ, NDP, and likely large parts of the Liberal caucus voting against the move. Harper could then walk away saying “I tried”, and move on.
That this might be a dangerous game to play come election time is obvious. Regardless of how effective and clean a government he runs after such a vote, when the writ is dropped the fear-mongering that the Liberals effectively used in 2004 and ineffectively in 2006 might well work.
I had written this off as a possiblity based on the possible dangers come the following election. However, in a conversation last night my buddy Dan said something to the effect that “a 50 or 60 seat NDP caucus might well be Stephen Harper’s dream”. And this line kept me up half the bloody night. Thanks, Dan.
The Liberal party is an odd amalgam of high-finance and social spending – banks and welfare; a blend that has solidified their position in the centre of the Canadian political spectrum. It is what has made them the “natural governing party of Canada” for lo these many years.
It is easy to make the mistake and think that this is the way that it has always been or always will be. Indeed, in order for the Conservatives to experience long-term electoral success, they are going to attempt to change this very political spectrum. They could do that in two ways. First, they could try to rebrand themselves into the centre and replace the Liberals. They did this in this past campaign and to some extent it worked. Like electoral Jedi mind tricks, childcare and GST cuts played on the middle-class Canadian voter. The second option is to simply try to cut the Liberal party in half along the monetary and social meridian that runs through its centre.
As I said, Plan A worked to some extent in the previous election campaign. However, I have to believe that, unlike the Liberal Party, the Conservatives have a plan for the country and the plan is not to steer a middle course. You might, like Paul Martin did during the campaign, call it an evil sinister scheme, or you might call it like it is – a vision of Canada that you might not share. (The Conservatives have been quite cagey about this scheme, but I think the election results indicate that Canadians believe they have a vision for the country and the Liberals and NDP did not. What it is, I don’t know, and thinking about it gives me the willies, but that’s just me.) In any case, I think that the idealogues in the Conservative Party are not going to steer a middle path for very long and that leaves Plan B – to tear apart the Liberal Party.
It often seems to be the case that, just like in the comic books, the things that make us strong also are our greatest weaknesses. So it is with the Liberals. I don’t think that it will be a single vote or issue that suddenly rends party support, rather it could seep away in a change in environment within the party brought on by a series of divisive issues. Issues like gay marriage might well split party support and cleave off portions of it to the NDP, whereas tax cuts and other moves might pull some support from the other side into the Tory caucus.
Of course there is the “reality trap”. If there is a genius to the Bush Administration (and I mean Administration, not Bush) it is their understanding that reality can be imposed. They have sliced up the country using wedge issues and a nation that really is quite liberal by modern political standards continually votes in right-wing nutbars. They have mobilized their country into a perpetual war footing by inflaming a single event. The reality trap appears when your imposed reality, say a useful, profitable, and on-going struggle with a now well-known battle tactic, runs into an immovable and real object, say a chaotic and despotic Mid-East country.
Like Bush’s army in Iraq, the Harper Conservatives may find out that reality usually wins these battles, and the reality here is that Canada is a centrist fiscal, tax, and social policy. It will be interesting to see how much to the right the Conservatives will be able to pull the electorate before it snaps back.
To say that I find this surprising is an understatement!
What does “risk-averse” mean?
The coming months are going to be critical ones for the New Democrats. The recent election speaks to an important change in the political dynamic of this country – the resurgence of the Right.
Since the shredding of the Progressive Conservative party in 1993, the right has been partitioned more or less on an east/west basis. The rise of the the Reform Party in the west and the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec guaranteed that what was once the Tory party could never again rise to power in this country. Since the Canadian public for whatever reason cannot countenance a NDP federal government, this meant that the Liberals were ceded power on a permanent basis. Naturally, this was not a stable situation.
For the rest of the nineties’, the remnants of the Progressive Conservatives tried in vain to gain traction across the country. Save for a few stalwart Tory seats regained since ’93, gains were few to none. So bad was the situation for the federal Progressive Conservatives that a 40-watt bulb like Bernard Lord was considered a leadership hopeful.
Meanwhile, the more socially and fiscally right-wing Reform party continued to consolidate its power base in the West. This pretty much guaranteed that any merger of the two parties was going be a merger in the same sense that a shark merges with a surfer. When the merge occurred in 2003, the selection of Stephen Harper as party leader was announcement enough as to who was on and who was under the surfboard.
The resulting Conservative party is now a much more direct threat to the liberal left of the country than either the Reform Party or your daddies’ Tories of the eighties. Why? The Reform and Alliance parties were never a threat to the reigning Liberals. This meant that they were essentially free from having to govern the nation, and indeed free from having to look like they could govern the nation for nearly ten years. This period allowed them to flesh out their economic and social policies without having to seriously justify them to the voting public.
If the recent election campaign is any indication, the CPC spent the time well and the unprepared Liberals were trounced.
Where this leaves the federal New Democrats is the question that most interests me. They did reasonably well by historic standards this election, but I can’t help but think that they expected better. I bet Jack is happy that Olivia won in Trinity-Spadina, but I’d bet he’d trade her seat for enough seats to be the Official Opposition. (Shh! Don’t tell her I said that!)
That the federal NDP was unable to capitalize on the Liberal electoral malaise tells me that the Canadian voter is still unable to visualize a Prime Minister Layton, however much they might secretly have fantasized about a Prime Minister Broadbent. This problem might prove more than minor for the NDP in the coming months as the Liberals rebuild, because my bet is that the Liberals are going to rebuild on the back of the NDP and steal back at least what the NDP won from them this time around.
So what are the NDP to do? First, they will have to take a page out of the CPC manual and control public statements from the rank-and-file, albeit for a different reason. The Conservatives have done a remarkable job keeping a ball gag in the mouths of their more extreme elements – a feat that prevented a repeat of the last week of the 2004 election where they seemed to only get off their dicks to change feet.
The NDP will need to do this not to silence whackos, but to focus the public on the party’s message. And what will be the party message? My recommendation would be that the party spend some money and time to develop counter-plans for every single policy the Conservatives bring forward. At every step of the way, be prepared to step in front of the camera and say “this is what we would do in this case…” and be specific. Note that I’m not saying they should automatically oppose everything the Conservatives put forward. If Harper proposes something useful, vote for it, but if it isn’t perfect, and judging from the source it won’t be, be prepared to say exactly what you like about it and what you would like to change.
The public does not vote for the NDP because the public does not know the NDP beyond some vague “they’re lefty tree-hugger” image. If the NDP does not take the opportunity presented to it by a weakened Liberal party, it will for the foreseeable future be merely the “socially conscious” arm of the Liberal party from which the Liberals can pull a few votes in close races. Why not turn things around right now and make the Liberals the “fiscal tight-ass” arm of the NDP?
Bad governance lost this election for the Liberals, but clarity won it for the Conservatives.
If I had my act together during the election campaign I would have started trying to dig up more details about the Conservative daycare proposal then. I actually missed the local candidates debate and later on when I managed to talk to the NDP candidate he didn’t know any more about it than I do.
Knowing very little about the Canadian right-wing, except that for the most part I don’t trust them, I am determined to dig into this a bit more. The idea of someone I don’t trust giving me $1200 seems a little weird. You know – icky. According to their policy document the child care dollars are in addition to existing benefits – the Canada Child Tax Benefit, National Child Benefit Supplement, and the child-care expense deduction.
Sounds grand, doesn’t it? A little too grand, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but that’s the kind of guy I am. There is a string in here somewhere that I haven’t found that I’m sure if you pull it… If anyone has some more information on what this might mean, feel free to share. I’m going to start prowling and will post whatever I find.
But their comes a time when a municipality becomes too obsessed with the bottom dollar.
I’m just saying, that’s all.
They are always kidding around:
Seriously, where are these masochists that said Atlantic Canada? Probably in a glass office high above Barrington Street, I suspect.