Tag Archives: ndp

How not to woo Liberals

There is no doubt that many Liberals are engaged in some (much needed) deep introspection.

But on the issue of a merger with the NDP Douglas Bell’s piece in the Globe may have been one of the worst thing proponents (on either the NDP or Liberal side) could have asked for.

Bell’s piece, which links to a West Wing clip that ends with the line “there needs to be TWO parties” is beset by all the things NDPers claim to hate about Liberals: smugness, hypocrisy, and callous insensitivity. If this is the opening move in a potential merger, it may have been on of the shortest windows of opportunity in the history of politics.

It begins with the fact that Bell – by choosing this video – suggests that Liberals have rolled over on every major policy issue and lack backbone. For a party whose members likely feel they have innumerable social justice victories under their belt this is not an effort to woo those with ideas and a desire to advance the progressive cause, it is cheap effort to insult them. While I work as a negotiation consultant, you don’t need to be an expert to know that if you are looking to create a partnership, mocking the people you seek to engage isn’t an effective a strategy.

What makes the piece more galling is that Bell himself rejected a proposition in the past. Indeed, only last year Bell noted that a merger might not work and worse, might compromise the NDP. Better, he said, for the NDP to wait until conditions were more in its favour. Of course, now that the tables have turned, Bell expects Liberals to do the very thing he himself was unwilling to do: compromise. If the terms of a merger are do as I say, not as I do, they probably aren’t that appealing. The NDP was patient and successful. Bell’s tone will – I suspect – leave Liberals thinking they’d be better off follow his advice from last year and not his dictate from this week. Plan, build and wait until conditions are more favorably. (Note to Liberals: if it should come to pass, be sure that you write a significantly kinder offer to the NDP.)

But more importantly, the longer term implications of the election are still unknown. Most federalists would agree that if you have several referendums for independence and win only the most recent one, your claim to secede is not completely firm. The same probably applies to elections. The NDP has run in elections for decades. A single “win” which sees it sitting in opposition (not government) does not a viable or sustainable alternative governing party one make. Today the NDP is much, much closer to that goal and its members have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that they can be a national political party that sustains a strong base. Many hope it can. But to simply demand Liberals fold up camp because of a single NDP success (not victory) takes the arrogance of well, the worst type of liberal.

Moreover, speaking of secession votes, there are real risks ahead. It’s worth noting that the NDP’s gains were largely made by opening up the pandora’s box of national unity. As bad as the Liberal’s “snakebite” may be in Quebec, the NDP may have just received its own, far more potent one, the type that bit Muroney. I pray, for the country, they have not. But consider this quote from the NDP’s youngest MP: “What I’ve said throughout the campaign is that sovereignty, we know, won’t happen in Ottawa. As long as Quebec hasn’t decided, why not have a [federal] government in Quebec’s image?… That’s how I campaigned: As long as we’re in Canada, why not have a government in Quebec’s image.” In short, the NDP is a pit stop on the way to sovereignty. If the choice is between defining a progressive agenda at the cost, or defining a progressive agenda within Canada – I suspect that most Liberals (and many Canadians) will choose the latter. Can Layton and the NDP make this coalition stick? And is it a coalition federalists want to be part of? These are tough questions and tradeoffs that will have to be debated. They are also debates that, historically, have ended in tears for all involved.

Does the country need two parties? Unclear. What is clear is that such an end game won’t emerge on the left if the terms of debate are defined by insults. The attitude in Bell’s article suggests that any kind of reconciliation and merger will be much, much more difficult then some people assume. Ultimately, politics is driven by those who believe in a vision they want others to share, to win them over that vision needs to feel inclusive for people, not degrading. I’m sure the post felt fun to write but it is hard to see how it advanced the cause of the NDP.


The Census weak link: What the Liberals, Bloc & NDP should do

Public and the media condemnation of the government’s decision to end the long form census has been universal (see more fun quotes below). Now the political opposition has started to mobilize. The focus of the opposition has been on the secretive nature of the decision and the failure to consult any stakeholders. While this is problematic I’m not sure it is the most ironic and sensitive point. There is actually a much more juicy Achilles heel in this decision, one that might garner press attention.

In explaining the decision (such as in the quote to the Canadian Press below), Minister Clement has repeatedly claimed that MP offices has received numerous complaints about the long form census form:

“Every MP has had complaints like that so this year we decided to at least try another method that could be a sound method that would beat the issue of concern of degradation of data, and deal with the issue of coercion and too much intrusiveness”

The statement suggests broad base support but, ironically, anecdotal and, in theory, untestable.

The fun thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way. The opposition could bring more (and hard) information to this process and expose how the Conservatives are using a lack of information to at best mislead and at worse, lie, to ordinary Canadians. Better still, if the opposition parties have been organized, they should possess that data.

How is this? Well, I’d like to see the Liberals, Bloc and NDP ask each of their MPs to search and count every email and letter from constituents over the past 4 (or some sensible number) years that involved a complaint about the census.

My suspicion is that there are no more than 100 such letters (and, maybe even a lot less, like 10). You could then pick a couple of issues of your choice on which you have received 1000s of letters and which the conservatives have taken no action and put a simple chart up showing how they react to made up issues, but ignore real priorities of ordinary Canadians.

Of course, maybe there has been some massive, secret letter campaign targeted at Conservative only MPs but I think most Canadians will want to know how many letters the Minister and conservative MPs have actually received (sadly I don’t think you can FOI this) and most will suspect it is about as many as other MPs have.

Let’s show that better data leads to better decisions and that a little transparency can go a long way to exposing those who seek to mislead us. The minister says MPs get lots of letters – lets find out how many. And in comparison to what. Moreover, let’s show that those who seek to restrict the gathering of good information are generally those most inclined to use a lack of data to mislead the public and drive agendas that are not in the public interest. Canadians are sensible people, they want a smart government that makes good decisions. This, much more than secrecy, will rub them the wrong way.

The narrative isn’t as neat – but I suspect it could be turned into something more fun and more impactful.

Other fun articles…

Also, the universal condemnation of the Conservatives decision to end the mandatory long term census continues. My newest favourite is an article in the Globe where Derek Cook, Calgary’s the research and social planner at the City of Calgary and in the riding of the Prime Minister Harpers states that “If we don’t have that data at the neighbourhood level, we’re crippled.” Now, in addition to business groups, ngos, think tanks, cities, university researchers we are also seeing even more local and focused organizations such as those representing French Canadian communities, Inuit people and others starting to call for a reversal as well.

Neo-Progressive Alert: The NDP as risk-averse conservatives

As some of my readers know, I’m always interested in articles that highlight how all the political parties in Canada (and the US?) have become conservative. Not necessarily in the sense that they want to roll back government, but in the sense that they cannot not imagine some new future.

I think the classic example of that in Canada is the NDP which seems stuck in trying to remake the country as it was in the 1950s. This opinion piece in the Star by McMaster Assistant Professor David Goutor touches on the theme of a conservative NDP party, to scared to take a stand.

At the most basic level, today’s NDP is a truly remarkable phenomenon: it is a fourth-place party, usually stuck in the teens in the polls, and purporting to represent the most marginalized groups in society – yet it has become stubbornly risk-averse, acting as if it has too much to lose to speak out strongly on many key issues facing the country.

When it comes to strategy, the NDP was certainly bold in lunging for power through the coalition. It also has a notable amount of talent in its parliamentary caucus, with even right-wing commentators praising NDP MPs for being knowledgeable and performing effectively in parliamentary committees.

But when it comes to the party’s main policies, a mind-numbing blandness has set in. There are few instances where the NDP has boldly taken a controversial position on a key issue.

If you have visited the NDP’s website frequently in the last couple of years, you were much more likely to read about credit card rates, bank fees, and insurance premiums than central economic, social, or foreign-policy questions.

A particularly deep part of the NDP’s rut is that avoiding controversy has become to be seen as the “pragmatic” approach. Standing out on major issues, meanwhile, is viewed as the “radical” approach that will keep the NDP on the fringes. But if pragmatism means anything, it is paying attention to results. The results of the recent “pragmatic” approach are in, and they are dispiriting.

I suspect (but could be wrong) that Goutor would disagree with my and Taylor’s neo-progressive thesis and that our understanding of why we believe the NDP are conservative are markedly different. My assumption(potentially deeply flawed) is that I’m sure Goutor wishes the NDP was more aggressive in re-invoking the 1950’s (a more planned economy, closed off from the world with labour forming a bigger part of the pie) But the fact is, for many Canadians going back isn’t desirable, moreover the party doesn’t know what going forward means and so is flailing around in the present, going after small wins without a grand vision appears to be the order of the day.

This isn’t to say the other parties are significantly better off, the challenge is just more noticeable with the NDP.

Postscript – I notice the NDP never got around to debating the motion about the name change. My sense is that this means it got killed… in the way you’d expect from a democratic party, by procedural means.

Federal Leaders on the run…

In early December – as a result of the mess that was the first Conservative budget and the proposed coalition – I proposed that all the federal leaders, save Duceppe, would be out of their jobs within a year. We’ve already lost Dion… that just leaves Harper and Layton. In both cases things are look like they are proceeding apace: Harpers’ office is in disarray with senior people leaving, and Layton’s numbers have tanked.

Some highlights from the pieces…

What does all this mean? Search me. But some who orbit just outside Mr. Harper’s innermost circle speculate that a Conservative party with no heir apparent could lose its leader before the next election.

Layton was seen positively by 37 per cent and negatively by 49 per cent of respondents, almost a complete reversal since the closing days of the election campaign when the NDP leader was the most favourably viewed national leader.

I suspect that Mulcair and a host of Conservatives are at least beginning to feel out the possibility of a leadership bid.

Not persudaded? I understand completely, but perhaps you could be tempted into placing a friendly wager. Just to keep things intersesting of course…

What next for Liberals? – Proceed with Caution

I’ve yet to talk to a Liberal who is excited by this coalition. I’m sure they are out there – I just have yet to meet one. From what I have heard, most feel the coalition proposal is a necessary evil – one required to reign in a Prime Minister who -during a period of economic crises – became partisan, out of touch and just plain nasty in his approach. I see that Bob Rae wants to champion the coalition idea – I think he’ll find it a hard sell in many corners.

The smart move for a leadership candidate now is to not get more partisan, but instead to try to be a statesman-like. Canadians are tired of this political mess, they want someone to end it – and there are probably political points to be earned. Herein lies the opportunity.

I’m looking for the leadership candidate who says:

First, I don’t agree with the Governor General’s decision. I think it is wrong for a Government to escape a confidence vote with a procedural move – I think it sets a bad precedent and weakens our parliamentary democracy. That said, I respect the decision and this is the situation we must work with.

The Conservatives now have a month with which to rethink their approach to the economy and how they wish to manage parliament. They should use this time carefully. Canadians, the Liberal Party, and I’m sure the NDP and the Bloc are all eager to have a parliament that is focused on the critical issues of the day, not partisan infighting. That said, Canadians, and this parliament, have lost faith in the Prime Minister – in his priorities, in his approach and in his leadership.

The Liberal party is prepared to work with all parties both to make this parliament work and ensure Canadians are well represented in this time of economic turmoil. To this end, we think talk of a coalition should be suspended, if, and only if, the Prime Minister resigns and/or a new budget with a sufficiently credible stimulus package is put forward. We say this because the Prime Minister’s capacity to lead a cooperative, effective parliament has been fatally compromised, and because, given the severity of the economic crises confronting us a real stimulus package is essential to the financial well being of the country.

Such an approach has several benefits. It offers a clear route out of the crisis. It allows the proposer to be appear above the fray – trying to reconcile a partisan battle. It also gives Conservatives a clear choice while simultaneously fostering tension within their party. It temporarily ends the discussion of a coalition by enabling opposition parties to score a significant victory. Finally, it allows the crises to be pulled back from the brink, but sustains the threat of a coalition to compel the Conservatives to act responsibly on policy matters in the future.

Finally, as an after thought I suspect that. as it becomes more and more obvious that the public is uncomfortable with the idea of this coalition, Dion and Layton are going to wear the coalition proposal like an anchor around their neck (Gilles will get away scot free because, well, it doesn’t really matter for him – the Bloc win no matter what happens at the moment). Consequently, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that all of the authors of this disaster – Harper (for instigating the crises) and Layton and Dion (for overplaying their hand and perpetuating it) – could lose their jobs over the comping months.

Negotiating within a coalition – or why Liberals don't trust Jack

So the one thing I glossed over the other day about negotiating in coalitions is that you’d better have already completed your negotiations within your coalition. Reading Andrew Coyne’s blog (among others) suggests that this has not happened. This project seems to have been cooked up by Dion and foisted on the party and there are a few disgruntled MPs starting to emerge from the woodwork.

Toronto MP Jim Karygiannis said “a lot of my constituents” are saying Dion should go. He also complained that MPs had been kept out of the loop on the coalition negotiations.

Just add this on to the further stresses for the coalition. If this thing even begins to teeter, someone is going to have to wear this, and the blame game isn’t going to be pretty.

Another big problem is Jack Layton. Interestingly I think a lot of Liberals are more wary of working with Jack than with Gilles Duceppe. Gilles intentions are always very clear – he’ll do whatever is in Quebec’s interests. Layton’s motivation and history is a little more shaky. Take, for example, that Layton never had to wear the fact that he got us all into this mess three years ago when he helped bring down Paul Martin’s government.

Here was a man who was getting the goodies he wanted added to the budget and yet voted against the Liberals so that he could what… win an extra dozen seats in the house? Layton has had his opportunity to work with Liberals to advance his agenda and he instead opted to give the Conservatives the opportunity they were craving. I suspect the trust threshold between most Liberals and the NDP leadership is so low that it will take real skill to sustain a working partnership.

Again, a common threat can bring people together, but as the threat recedes (the conservatives lose power, or even more intriguing, Harper is forced to resign) then the capacity to work together becomes more important. Canadian political parties have never invested much in this capacity… can they make it work now?

Pollster Deathmatch: Who's winning the election?

Anyone notice this? We seem to not only have a battle of political parties, but also a battle of pollsters.

According to Harris/Decima press release of September 21st the Conservatives lead is growing:

Liberals: 23%
NDP: 17%
Green Party: 11%
BQ: 8%.

However, a press release on the very same day by our friend Nik Nanos (who it is worth remembering predicted the last election within .2%) had the Conservatives lead shrinking:

Liberals: 31%
NDP: 20%
Green Party 7%
BQ 7%.

Personally, my money is on Nik, but something is going on here. These two polls are in disagreement well outside the margin of error. Liberal support is either at 23% or 31%? A lead of 5% versus 16%? These are huge differences…

When this election is over someone is going to really have egg on their face.

left wing tonic for Michael Byers

Recently I’ve been reading more and more of Policy Options. I’m not a reading every issue (although I’m not trying to) but I am enjoying much of what I do get through.

Going way back to the February issue there was an article by Robin Sears entitled “Canada in North America: From Political Sovereignty to Economic Integration.” The piece was a hard assessment about the limits of Canadian sovereignty and economic independence in light of our geographical position next to the United States. He notes that our position is one where we must work with our American cousins and try to gain as much influence as possible – a bold statement these days – but one that remains true. Perhaps no more so today. When things are at their worst (and I’ll admit, they are) that’s precisely when we need a map for a better path. As Sears points out…:

Imagine the vision, the courage and imagination that it took in the harsh winter of European famine of 1947-48 for two powerless French statesmen to sit in a Paris café and begin to plan for a united Europe! …They reflected grimly on “the success of the victorious Allied powers” in Europe.

The continent was being savaged by Soviet armies in the east and staggered under starvation in the west. The only European unity any rational person could foresee was a shared visceral hatred of Germany and everything it had stood for. The miracle that was the Marshall Plan was still in the future. Germany was a decade away from its economic leap forward. England, torn by its loss of empire, with its special relationship with the United States and its eternal ambivalence about Europe, was unreliable.

The simple fact is, we are stuck on this north american rock with the a powerful neighbor who knows little about us, and cares less and less every day. The only thing that will be worse is when they suddenly do care about us – like our border after 9/11. Sears’ is at pains to find ways to foster political structures to promote cooperation between Canada and the United States and he’s right. We need them. Those who wish to die at the altar of sovereignty, preserving it absolutely at no matter what cost, will find that they have significantly less influence, not only abroad, but at home as well. Worse, sovereignty is usually not what they care about. In perhaps the pieces most biting line, Sears points out:

“Canadian nationalists trying to ring-fence our sovereignty are engaged in an especially ironic struggle, given their citizenship in the nation that invented the modern, more supple form of sovereignty: federalism. Those who are most determined to draw deeper lines in the ongoing crusade against American encroachment on our national sovereignty are often the strongest advocates of Canada’s leadership in the development of global governance through multilateral institutions. The contradiction reveals less about their convictions about sovereignty than about their plain vanilla anti-Americanism.”


The piece is interesting and worth reading on its own merits. But what makes it still more compelling is its author. So who is this man? Excellent question. First, despite the article’s bent, analysis and conclusion, he’s not a Conservative. No, for the uninitiated (like me) Robin Sears was the national campaign director of the NDP during the Broadbent years and served as Bob Rae’s chief of staff when he was premier. He was also Deputy Secretary General of the Socialist International. For those on the left whose only prescription to our geographic conundrum is to seal the border and throw away the key (a proposition that would see no end of pain for the Canadian economy) it is interesting to find those, on the same side of the spectrum, who disagree. I hope we see more of them… frankly the debate needs their perspective.

Hargrove vs. Layton

According to National Newswatch Buzz Hargrove is ruminating running as a Liberal against Jack Layton.

It is no secret that Hargrove and Layton dislike each other. Indeed, the NDP even revoked Hargrove’s membership during the last electoin after he suggested NDP voters vote strategically (e.g. for Liberals) in some ridings to prevent the Conservatives from gaining power.

The bigger question is why the Liberals would want to be the vehicle for this feud. Taking out Layton will not end the NDP. Indeed, it’s unclear why the Liberals would want to take out Layton at all. He’s has been pretty good for the Liberals… the NDP remains more or less stuck in the polls. Why would the Liberals mess with a good thing?

The downside however, is not insignificant. Taking a run at Layton could galvanize NDP voters as well as give him greater prominance in the election. Layton usually has to fight for media attention. By offering up a high profile challenger the Liberals will draw attention to him that he could never earn on his own. Worse still, a high profile match up would enable Layton to claim the Liberals perceive him as a threat – lending him an air of credibility and respect that again, he has been unable to earn on his own.

All in all, it’s obvious what Hargrove gets out of it, the Liberals… less so.

But then, this is all rumour and speculation…