Tuesday, December 26, 2006

“This was an abusive relationship and I’m glad it’s over”

A quote from recently-jettisoned Hydro One CEO Tom Parkinson, from a Tom Adams-penned piece in the December 21st National Post. It bears reading if you missed it. Adams’s thesis is that Parkinson did a good job, with measurable results. Parkinson’s expenses detailed in the recent Provincial Auditor’s report were in fact legitimate office expenses; others were part of his compensation package and properly approved. Adams argues that the real reason the McGuinty government showed Parkinson the door (and paid the $3-million severance to which he was contractually entitled) is that Parkinson was too critical of government interference at Hydro One. Some excerpts:

Parkinson had sought to control bloated industry-wide pay scales left over from Ontario Hydro. In 2005 Parkinson, challenged the inflated compensation demands of Hydro One’s management union. With his board’s support, Parkinson drew his line - existing entitlements would remain but new staff would only get market rates. Parkinson’s prepared so well for the negotiations that when the union struck for 105 days and consumer demands hit records, the lights stayed on. Unable to take the heat as the strike worn on, Premier Dalton McGuinty caved to the union, thereby saddling consumers with excess costs more than $100-million per year.

In March, speaking to a trade association, Parkinson let fly. Government had mired critical projects in duplicated bureaucracy and indecision. New transmission to accommodate the government’s nuclear and wind power purchases in Bruce area are so stalled that massive amounts of power, already paid for, will stay locked in and wasted.

One option the government did not have was firing Parkinson for cause. When he took the helm, he refocused the company on its core wires business. As a result, Hydro’s performance is way up. Serious accidents dropped from 95 to 68 per year. High-voltage customer satisfaction more than doubled to 91% in 2006. Interruptions at key delivery points dropped from 0.8 to 0.6 events per year. The grid around Toronto was reconfigured on time and budget, including a completely new high-voltage transformer station. Hydro One finally got around to cleaning up dangerously overgrown rural lines neglected by the old Ontario Hydro. A new Grid Control Centre was completed in Barrie on time and budget in 2004. Two months ago, it was certified by the continental power reliability regulator as best in class in North America. Hydro One’s credit rating also improved; progress that will directly save consumers tens of millions.

John Tory came closest to the truth, demanding to know why $3-million in severance was paid since the government claims that Parkinson resigned.

The government’s claim of resignation is a deliberate half truth. Hydro One’s board of directors remained united in their support for their embattled CEO to the end. On Dec. 7, under direct political pressure and Question Period in high rant, Hydro One’s board held an emergency meeting. All in attendance realized the board member’s jobs were at risk.

A deal was stuck. In a tacit admission that there never was cause for firing, the government accepted the contractual severance in return for a resignation. To make its views clear, the board issued a public statement announcing Parkinson’s departure, heaping praise on his contribution.

Parkinson also accepted the deal. “I had no effective alternative. This was an abusive relationship and I’m glad it’s over,” he said in an interview. “This was about commercial compensation in a business that is about to lose the commercial mandate and become a Crown corporation. The writing is on the wall for others.”

What can we expect? Parkinson again. “H1 is too complex, too valuable and too important to the Ontario economy to be in government hands. Career politicians and mediocre ex-CEOs are not up to the complex challenge of running companies like these. The price of chronic government interference is enormous.”

Monday, December 18, 2006

Shades of Crap

I finally had the stomach to sit through “Shades of Black,” the CTV take on the life and pre-trials of Conrad Black that aired two weeks ago. As I feared, it was a clumsy pastiche of well-known anecdotes from Black’s life and career. Black’s longtime business partner, David Radler, was portrayed as a schlemiel straight out of Flatbush. Adding insult to bad writing was the wholly implausible subplot/device involving the Jason Priestley character: a “reporter” to whom Black grants an interview.

But what really irritated me were the funhouse details that compounded the pinball-machine narrative: The fact that the foyer of Black’s childhood home appeared eerily similar to his current Bridle Path home, down to the unusual green paint colour. The patently laughable notion that Lady Black would receive the reporter – whom she scarcely knew and for whom she felt obvious disdain – while reclining on a chaise lounge, undergoing a pedicure, attired in a short negligée. The truly amazing coincidence that every single character who happened to be consuming spirits – no matter the decade or continent – used glassware of the exact same crystal pattern, a low-priced old Cristal d’Arques style that was widely available at such proletarian outlets as Eaton’s and the Bay.

It is an embarrassing production at every level. I have not been able to track down any information on how it fared in the ratings, but I would be surprised if it passed Toronto Sun TV columnist Bill Brioux’s “Brampton Test:” i.e., any show that garners fewer viewers than the population of Brampton (currently 460,000), is a failure.

For a lengthier but equally negative review, I recommend Mark Steyn's in Macleans.

Full disclosure: when I ran for OPCCA president in 1987, one of Black’s companies contributed to my campaign.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The National’s “Road” leads to CFB Trenton, Edmonton and Petawawa

Props to CBC’s The National for doing “Road Stories” segments this week from Canadian Forces bases around the country, namely Trenton, Edmonton and Petawawa. Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge travelled to and broadcast from the bases.

The National does not have any related web features up at their website at the moment, but last night’s broadcast from CFB Petawawa can be viewed online here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Annan unwittingly indicts himself

But his Bush-bash diversion gets more play

I couldn’t believe my ears last night when CBC's "The National" played a clip from the farewell address of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in which he says:

. . . respect for national sovereignty can no longer be used as a shield by governments intent on massacring their own people, or as an excuse for the rest of us to do nothing when such heinous crimes are committed.

But, as [Harry] Truman said, “If we should pay merely lip service to inspiring ideals, and later do violence to simple justice, we would draw down upon us the bitter wrath of generations yet unborn.”

At first I thought he was talking about Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and more specifically the Iraqis Hussein tortured and murdered, and all the UN resolutions he violated. But no, Annan was talking about the UN’s own failure on Darfur:

And when I look at the murder, rape and starvation to which the people of Darfur are being subjected, I fear that we have not got far beyond “lip service.”

Never mind. Annan was only admitting to one failing, not the fact that the UN under his watch has become even more of a talking shop that mouths pious platitudes and high ideals, while doing little to put those ideals into action. It could argued that it has allowed opposite ideals to advance (viz: North Korea, Iran).

But despite the fact that the US and its allies stopped the lip service and delivered simple justice to Saddam Hussein, Annan went on to take what he must have known would be a well-reported slap at President Bush:

The U.S. has given the world an example of a democracy in which everyone, including the most powerful, is subject to legal restraint. Its current moment of world supremacy gives it a priceless opportunity to entrench the same principles at the global level.

As Harry Truman said, “We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength, that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please.”

Sadly, many media outlets fell for Kofi’s diversionary tactic and gave airtime to his inference that the US does what it pleases (“If only!” some of us might say), while downplaying the UN’s failure to prevent tyrants and terrorists from doing what they please.

Also recommended:

Say goodnight, Kofi Annan” by Paul Schneidereit in the Halifax Chronicle Herald (hat tip: National Newswatch)

Claudia Rosett at National Review Online, on the speech Annan should have given.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Well, shut my mouth

A few months ago, and several times since, I have expressed the view that “The View” is in a death spiral, due to the blow-up over Star Jones, and the replacing of Meredith Vieira with angry loose cannon Rosie O’Donnell. But ratings don’t lie, and O’Donnell has delivered a ratings boost. From Variety:

Three months in, it's still very apparent that firing Star Jones and replacing her with Rosie O'Donnell was the right ratings move for ABC's "The View."

Daytime strip notched its best-ever November sweeps ratings last month, surging 27% over its year-ago Nielsen numbers. Sweeps period was the first for the show since O'Donnell joined in September.

Overall, "The View" averaged a 1.7 rating in the key demo of women 18-49, making it the No. 4 show in all of daytime.

"The View" also scored record ratings in the total viewer category, attracting an average aud of 3.4 million viewers -- up 15% vs. the same frame in 2005.

Just the other night on Larry King, O’Donnell fan (and Star Jones detractor) Kathy Griffin expressed her awe at the power of the septuagenarian Barbara Walters to make and break careers. Perhaps she is right. I don’t actually watch "The View" anymore. I know that if anything really crazy happens, it will be in Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hill scribes taking gubmint lolly on the side

Ouch. The Harper government continues to break new ground in its dealings with the media, this time by outing longtime Parliament Hill columnists Jeffrey Simpson, Lawrence Martin and Hugh Winsor as having given paid speeches to federal government staffers.

Update: I have been alerted to this story in today’s Ottawa Citizen – in which Liberal MP and former Financial Post editor John Godfrey describes the assembling of the list as a witch hunt – and to this item at CBC Watch.

From the Ottawa Citizen story published in the Regina Leader-Post (hat tip: National Newswatch):

. . . the Harper government has released a list of parliamentary press gallery members who received contracts from the federal government they report on.

The list of journalists receiving government money includes several prominent writers from the Globe and Mail who took speaking fees or honorariums, including national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson, who was paid $2,400 for two speeches through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The government tabled the list this week in response to an order paper question from Conservative MP Scott Reid.

There are no rules explicitly prohibiting press gallery members from getting paid by the government they are supposed to cover, but the gallery's constitution does not allow journalists to use their membership for their own "benefit." Journalists have been tossed out for using their gallery membership to win government work in the past.

The records show that Lawrence Martin, a Globe and Mail columnist, was paid $2,500 by the Department of Justice to speak to a group of managers on the topic "Leadership in the New Canada" in October 2005. Martin is the author of a biography of former prime minister Jean Chretien and now contributes two columns a week for the Globe.

He also received $4,000 for a February 2005 speech to the Canada School of Public Service, a training centre for senior public servants.

Simpson's former colleague, Hugh Winsor, was paid $1,070 by Western Economic Development Canada for a speech in 2004, a year after he retired from the Globe and Mail. Before he left the paper, Winsor wrote a column on politics and the senior public service. He continues to write freelance pieces for the paper occasionally. He said he recalls recycling one of his lectures from a course he teaches at Queen's University for the speech.

Reid's order paper question required every government department and Crown corporation to compare a list of more than 400 parliamentary press gallery members against all the contracts issued over the past four fiscal years -- a time-consuming and likely expensive undertaking.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Is the Zerb for the curb?

On November 20, I noted that the Star’s politics blog and Antonia Zerbisias’s media blog had gone essentially dark. Since then, the politics blog has ramped back up.

The Zerb, however, hinted yesterday that she may be quitting blogging altogether, posting that her recent win as best media blog at the Canadian Blog Awards may well be a posthumous award.” Asked by her readers to explain, she posted the following comment:

Now I am looking at the rest of my life and career and deciding how I want it to play out. Emphasis on the word PLAY. All work and no play makes Antonia a very very grumpy girl. Not to mention a chunky one.

The Zerb doesn’t have much time for what she calls “the Blogging Whories,” George W. Bush, or anything else from our end of the ideological spectrum (which is perhaps what she meant by her realization during her hiatus that “I did not have the time for the pain of some of the regulars here.”)

But if her blog disappears it would be a loss for blogging, as she is one of the few who are paid to do it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kennedy: Deal or No Deal?

Holland admits to Dion deal on CBC, Kennedy denies it elsewhere

Almost every leadership campaign has one. A candidate or top campaign official so full of himself or convinced of the historic importance of his sleep-deprived conversations that he agrees to be miked up by a TV network for the purposes of an insider’s-eye-view documentary, not to be shown until after the convention is over (see below for prior examples).

The sucker this time was rookie Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland, chair of Gerard Kennedy’s Ontario operation. Holland was the focus of a short insider piece on CBC’s Sunday Night last night (transcript not yet posted). From the beginning Holland speaks of an “arrangement” between Kennedy and Dion. Negotiations with the Dion camp and the “deal” are referred to several times throughout, by Holland and others.

Unfortunately for Holland, his star turn has made a liar of his candidate, Gerard Kennedy. In all the weekend interviews I saw, Kennedy denied that there was a deal between him and Dion. This added a hilarious subtext to one of the first clips in the CBC Sunday documentary, which shows Holland verbally massaging a Dion organizer with the claim that “We’ve got two candidates who can’t lie.” But, as Kennedy’s denials and the documentary suggest, somebody is lying:

Jane Taber: Had you made a deal with Mr. Dion?

Kennedy: No deal. I get nothing for this. We had a lot of conversations. I did with Mr. Rae and Mr. Ignatieff as well. We all have to have that contingency. And to me it’s how do we assemble the party. How do we get the new drive forward.
--Question Period, CTV, December 3 (link to video on this page)

He said he cut no deal in exchange for his support. “I get nothing for this. This was not a negotiation. This is an understanding, this is mutual respect and I know that it's tempting to see it another way.”
--“ All the right moves for Kennedy,” Toronto Star, December 3

The only defence Kennedy would have to this is that he could argue he was engaging in some Clinton-worthy semantics: while the reporters were clearly asking whether or not he had an agreement to move his support to Dion, Kennedy chose to answer a different question, i.e. whether Dion promised him anything beyond the convention. Even if that is the case, it doesn’t do much for his boy scout image.

Update: CP's Joan Bryden is no fool. She caught on too:

. . . the optics were sufficiently bad that even after Kennedy crossed the floor to Dion, the two men continued to insist there had never been any deal.

"There was no agreement. I chose to go because I felt I couldn't win at that point," Kennedy told CBC television on Sunday.

But Kennedy advisers revealed that an agreement was effectively struck late Friday. Nothing was put in writing but there was finally a meeting of the minds and a sense that each genuinely thought the other would make the second-best choice for leader.

Footnote: Longtime Martinite, former Liberal candidate and Rae organizer Richard Mahoney also agreed to be miked for the CBC’s piece, but was smart enough to stick to clichés and not say anything stupid. Watch and learn, Holland.

Previous Leadership Reality TV Stars

In 1989, Simon de Jong, a candidate for the NDP leadership, fell for it. Deciding at one point during voting day that he didn’t want his conversation with his mother to be a matter of public record, de Jong thought he could confound the CBC by speaking to her in Dutch. I guess with all the pressure de Jong didn’t think that the CBC would have the resources to find a translator, which they did by the time the doc aired. The CBC aired the translation of his tearful conversation with mummy.

The most infamous example is that of Ontario Liberal Dwight Duncan, who agreed to wear a mic for a CPAC documentary of the 1996 Ontario Liberal leadership, in which Duncan himself was a tier one candidate.

Duncan thoughtfully provided a moment of high drama for the documentary, namely his surprise decision, after being eliminated, to go to frontrunner Gerard Kennedy instead of Dalton McGuinty as was widely expected. Duncan’s mic faithfully recorded the lead-up to the decision, with Duncan opining that “Dalton’s a nice man but he can’t win seats in Toronto.” Even better, however, was the denouement of Duncan’s betrayal: he wanders across the convention floor in search of his then-wife, encountering angry delegates all along the way, including his chief riding fundraiser, who pronounces herself “disgusted” with Duncan’s decision, and his riding president, who turns his back on Duncan.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bare bums and pink covers

Have you heard? When it comes to Liberal policy papers, pink is the new red. And for women, skanky is the new empowered. Can “slavery is the new freedom,” be far behind?

Speaking of behinds, the hottest piece of memorabilia at the Liberal leadership convention in Montreal is a black thong with the phrase “I’m Liberal” on the front – mainly because it has no back. When a garment is already testing community standards, advertising its wearer as liberal would seem to be redundant. But more on the thongs later.

On Monday, the Liberal women’s caucus released its “Pink Book” of women’s policies. The book includes cover letters from MPs Belinda Stronach, Judy Sgro and Maria Minna. Sgro’s letter warns that “the work of the Liberal Women’s Caucus could not be more important than it is now, when we see the Conservative government trying to turn back the clock on the progress women have gained in gender equality issues.” Minna writes of “the Conservative government’s regressive approach to women and women’s concerns.”

The report itself repeats decades-old Liberal orthodoxy on: government funding for Status of Women Canada, government funding for government-run day care, government legislation to implement pay equity, government funding for caregivers, raiding the EI fund for larger maternity/paternity benefits, etc. As far as the Liberal party is concerned, the state may have no place in the thongs of the nation, but anything beyond your lingerie drawer is fair game.

Luckily for the Pink Book’s authors, journalists seemed more interested in their overheated rhetoric than their reheated policy ideas. Said Judy Sgro upon the report’s release: “I think Harper and his Conservative government, based on their policies, would clearly prefer women would stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and move us backwards 40 years.” An old yet still-provocative metaphor, especially given the famously well-shod Belinda Stronach’s participation in the Pink Book. When Stronach crossed the floor to the Liberals last year, her arrival was greeted by then-minister Anne McLellan, who gushed over Stronach’s “great shoes.”

It is always good advice for any observer of politicians to remember this oft-quoted maxim: “Listen to what they say, but watch what they do.” Scarcely 48 hours after Stronach, Sgro and Minna were raising the pink flag of equality, their Liberal sisters were dropping red and black thongs in the Palais des Congrès in Montreal, proving that, while they may be unwilling to go barefoot, bare-assed is totally cool. And on a December night in Montreal, partially numb.

Happily, the titillation was not confined to the souvenir table. On the opening night of the convention, billed as “A Celebration of the Liberal Family,” two very comely female singers were called upon to entertain the crowd as it awaited the arrival of Howard Dean. Unfortunately, no corresponding male eye candy was on offer, Maritime troubadour Lennie Gallant being more reminiscent of the folk singer in “Animal House” whose guitar was smashed by John Belushi.

But a gap between Liberal rhetoric and action when it comes to women is not new, merely unremarked. Whether it is Pierre Trudeau’s purported conquests, John Turner and Iona Campagnolo patting each other’s behinds during the 1984 election, Anne McLellan praising Belinda Stronach’s shoes, or the infamous Globe and Mail pictorial of the all-white, all-male backroomers directing the leadership campaigns, there has long been a, shall we say, “duality” in the Liberal party when it comes to women.

This duality is in keeping with one of the underlying themes of the Liberal party: do as I say, not as I do (or, in this case, not as I renew). And it is a theme apparently undiminished by the party’s recent trials. Having been de-Martinized by both the Gomery commission and an election loss, the Liberals have concluded that their longstanding attitudes and policies – and Bob Rae’s behind – are all looking as good as ever.

Energized by recent polls and their leadership race, Liberals seem firmly in the grip of the same “we’ll be right back” self-delusion that plagued the Ontario conservatives after losing power in 1985. The Liberals are convinced that they too will be right back. Just as wearing a thong is not for the self-conscious, selling thongs while speaking of women’s equality and anticipating a swift return to power are not for a party overburdened by self-reflection.

Justin: HMS JuggerNot II?

Reports from the Liberal convention suggest that the party’s recent experience has hardly dimmed its affinity for the sons of former ministers. For those who missed it on election night, here is a selection of quotes that anticipated the electoral colossus of Paul Martin Jr. In fairness, most of these predictions were made before the worst Auditor-General and Gomery revelations (February 2004 and April 2005, respectively), and prior to the PC/Alliance merger.

One should never underestimate one’s opponents – nor discourage them from overestimating themselves – but overinflated balloons have a tendency to burst.

Martin Juggernaut, we hardly knew ye . . .

Perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, voters in the province have been waiting for Jean Chrétien to retire so their favourite federal Liberal can take over.

Jean-Herman Guay, a professor of political science at the Universite de Sherbrooke, said during an interview yesterday that a change in leadership could be enough to restore the Liberal domination over Quebec that disappeared with Brian Mulroney’s arrival on the federal scene.

“I think that with a new face, the Liberal Party could recapture its hegemony. It used to be that this, not Ontario, was the Liberals’ province,” he said.
--National Post, February 12, 2002

Edmonton Ellerslie MLA Debby Carlson, an active federal Liberal, said Chrétien has weakened his own position by attacking Martin. “It undermines the ability of the prime minister to do his job. I’m looking forward to a federal leadership review.”

Carlson said the Liberals could win six to eight seats across Northern Alberta in the next federal election, with Martin as leader. The Liberals now hold two Edmonton ridings.
--Edmonton Journal, June 2, 2002

The poll, conducted for The Gazette this week by SOM Recherches et Sondages, found that if an election were to be held today, the Liberals under Martin would win a whopping 60.5 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec. Under Chrétien, they would take 33.8 per cent.

If Martin were leader, the Liberal Party would decimate the Bloc Quebecois (which the survey showed would take 20.8 per cent), and would probably steamroll to the largest majority in the province since Brian Mulroney won 63 of 75 seats in 1988.
--Edmonton Journal, June 8, 2003

According to public opinion polled in the immediate aftermath of the extraordinary unpleasantness in Chicoutimi, voters so enthusiastically endorse Jean Chrétien’s departure and his assumed, if delayed, replacement by Martin that Liberals are again the first choice in every region from coast to coast. In that wonderfully shopworn phrase, if an election were held tomorrow Liberals, who won three consecutive majorities with Jean Chrétien, would grab more than 200 seats as they sweep the country behind Martin.
--James Travers, Toronto Star, August 27, 2002

As things stand now, only the Liberals are in contention for the Bloc seats. With Paul Martin as their leader, they figure they can expect to win most of Quebec’s 75 seats. If the Liberals achieve their goal, their re-established dominance of Quebec would allow them to offset any losses in Ontario in the future.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 2, 2002

Paul Martin spoke as if he were already prime minister in an emotional, campaign-style speech Saturday night that rallied Liberal supporters with hope of big ballot-box gains.

“It’s not only a question of us coming out of Western Canada with a large number of seats,” the Liberal leadership front-runner told about 450 of the party faithful at a $100-a-plate dinner.

“It’s not only a question of us coming out with seats in Winnipeg, in Regina and Edmonton and Vancouver,” he said before receiving a standing ovation. He said he wants to make sure the Liberals elect MPs in rural areas such as Drayton Valley, across the four western provinces.

The Liberal message must be that all of Western Canada will be at the table, he said.

“I don’t believe that we will ever have as good a chance as we will have at the next election. The Alliance is going nowhere.”
--Edmonton Journal, May 4, 2003

Even Chrétien was a believer – or was he?

As his rival Paul Martin listened politely, Chrétien told the crowd his legacy ensures Liberals will sweep Quebec in the next federal election. “As leader of the party, I can say that everything is in place for my successor to win a large majority of seats in Quebec at the next general election,” the Prime Minister told the Liberals, who paid at least $500 each to attend the fundraising banquet. “I would say at least 60 seats.” There are 75 seats in Quebec.
--Toronto Star, May 15, 2003

As well, the next election will not just see yet another Liberal victory but, as well, certainly a large Liberal majority as a result of the combination of the proven appeal of Paul Martin and of a couple of dozen seats in Quebec waiting to be snapped up from the now lifeless grasp of the Bloc Quebecois.
--Richard Gwyn, Toronto Star, June 4, 2003

Rod Love, Stockwell Day’s sometime campaign manager, doesn’t think so. He predicted recently that the Liberals under Paul Martin will win about 220 seats in the next federal election; the handful of seats left over will be split about evenly between the NDP and the Alliance. The federal PCs, Love says, will be wiped out.
--Ian Hunter, National Post, June 26, 2003

The federal Liberals are poised to grab up to eight seats in Saskatchewan in the next election, predicts a senior party official. Provincial party president Greg Gallagher said he’s noticed a marked change in the attitude toward the federal government.
--Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 15, 2003

Liberal president Stephen LeDrew calls the membership level a party record and says it bodes well for the Grits in the next election, likely the spring of 2004. In particular, he noted the significant gains in B.C. are bad news for the Canadian Alliance, which currently holds 26 of the province’s 34 seats. The Liberals have six and the NDP, two.

“The Liberal party stands poised to gain support in British Columbia in the next election. As far as the Alliance is concerned, it shows that they probably shouldn’t be taking the summer off. If the Alliance is getting the pulse of their membership in B.C., it should be rapidly quickening because we’re on the move,” said LeDrew.
--Vancouver Sun, July 25, 2003

It has also never seemed more natural for Quebecers to abandon the federal Tories for the Liberal family since Charest blazed that particular trail. On that score, Paul Martin’s arrival as Liberal leader will amount to the final nail in the Quebec Tory coffin.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 26, 2003

Martin could make up for any potential Ontario loss in Quebec. But that would involve a shift of sorts in his strategic thinking. So far, his brain trust has treated Quebec as the icing on his election cake. But if the Tories and the Alliance carried out a successful merger, Quebec could become the bread and butter of a Martin majority.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 29, 2003

A Liberal party led by Paul Martin, with his right-of-centre economic message, will be a contender in the West and could win several extra seats. And the New Democratic Party, under its new leader, the charismatic Jack Layton, could pick up a few more seats in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and even British Columbia.

The next election is thus shaping up as a nightmare for both Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay -- their “mutual assured destruction” in the words of Don Martin, a columnist with the National Post.
--Editorial, Vancouver Sun, October 1, 2003

Yet even using a new leader and a new name, merger math does not necessarily add up to great things for this hybrid. Simply taking any riding where the combined Alliance and Conservative vote exceeds the 2000 Liberal result (and there are 25 in Ontario alone) does not automatically equal a right-wing win.

Polling shows many Tories would rather vote Liberal than anything resembling the Alliance and Martin will have much longer Liberal coat-tails to win new seats in 2004 than Jean Chrétien had in 2000.
--Don Martin, National Post, October 16, 2003

[Joan’s Note: PC/Alliance merger agreement announced October 16, 2003. All quotes from here on are subsequent to that event.]

The advent of a new Conservative party may dampen the already uncertain Liberal prospects for growth in western Canada. It could make Ontario more competitive than it has been in years.

But the one place where it will have little or no impact in the upcoming campaign is Quebec. If there is one region Martin can count on to make up for losses elsewhere in Canada, it is his home province.--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, October 20, 2003

Liberals are energized under their new leader, Paul Martin, and the party is ready to win more seats in Alberta, where they now hold only two of 26 ridings, federal Health Minister Anne McLellan said Saturday.

“Our prospects in Alberta look as good as they have in a long time,” the Edmonton West MP said in a phone interview from the Liberal convention in Toronto, where Martin won the leadership Friday night.
--Edmonton Journal, November 16, 2003

The merger of Canada’s two right-wing parties has so far failed to make a dent in the overwhelming popular support for Paul Martin’s Liberals, according to a new poll.

The Compas/National Post poll, conducted last week, found 49% of voters support the Liberals, compared with 19% for the new Conservative Party of Canada.

Heading into a leadership convention next month, the Conservatives are barely ahead of the New Democratic Party, which under leader Jack Layton has edged up to 17% support, the poll found.

“The Liberals are headed for a landslide in the next federal election, if this holds up,” Conrad Winn, the president of Compas Inc., said yesterday. “The public is clearly comfortable with Mr. Martin and with the party.”

A previous poll, taken six weeks earlier, also suggested the new party is less popular than the former Tory and Canadian Alliance parties combined.

That survey, by JMCK Polling of Calgary, placed the Liberals at 42.8%, the Conservatives at 17.5%, the NDP at 12.6% and the Bloc at 8.1%. Two months earlier, the Alliance registered 16% and the Tories 11.2% in a JMCK poll.

In October, a Compas poll put the Liberals under Mr. Martin at 50%, compared with 14% for the Conservatives and 10% for the Alliance. The NDP was at 14% and the Bloc at 9%.

That poll also suggested that against a united conservative party, Liberal support could drop as low as 46%, while the new Conservatives would pull in 29%.
--National Post, February 2, 2004

“They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast” . . .

. . . is a lyric from the Eagles’ “Hotel California” that comes to mind whenever I read a story about the erstwhile and unlamented Tory, David Orchard. The Star’s Thomas Walkom has an interesting piece today. Some highlights are below.

What it all suggests – or confirms – is that Orchard is neither a Tory nor a Liberal, but a political parasite, and poor Stéphane Dion is merely his chosen host of the moment. Given Orchard’s careful husbanding of “his” 175 delegates, odds are he will be looking for an opportunity to break away from Dion and deliver them to another candidate, in exchange for deal on some policy issue, perhaps on trade, environment or agriculture (though Orchard's claims of being a farmer are bogus, as the National Post exposed a few years ago). And the media will eat it up.

As much as it would amuse me to see the Liberals struggle to rid themselves of Orchard and his batty Orchardistas, My advice to that candidate is: (1) Just say no. (2) If you can’t say no, don’t put it in writing.

From “David Orchard is in the house – once again” (Toronto Star, today):

Could David Orchard end up deciding who gets to be the next Liberal leader? At first glance, the idea seems bizarre. But the Saskatchewan organic farmer and anti-free trade agitator — who twice came close to capturing the Progressive Conservative crown — has surfaced at the nail-biting Liberal leadership convention at the head of a band of 175 fiercely loyal delegates, most of whom are determined to support whatever candidate he chooses.

Right now, says Orchard, that is Quebec MP Stéphane Dion.

Canada's political elites don't have much time for Orchard. He's a zealot, in an age when zealotry is viewed with suspicion. He's a perennial outsider in a game dominated by those desperate to be inside players.

But to his followers, he is an almost Messianic figure.

Joan Tomblin-Morris, a B.C. physician waiting to be bumped up from alternate to delegate status, says she first encountered Orchard in 1987 when, out of curiosity, she attended one of his meetings on free trade.

. . . like most Orchardites, she's been with him since. In 1998, she followed him into the Tories when he took on Joe Clark for the leadership — and came close to winning. "I didn't really want to be a Conservative," she admits. But she soldiered on, becoming president of her riding association. When Orchard made his second leadership bid in 2003, she followed.

When MacKay reneged, Orchard fought the merger — unsuccessfully — in the courts. Eventually, he and his supporters abandoned the Conservatives. Last January, he quietly joined the Liberals. His followers, as always, followed.

And so the fabled Orchard organization went to work. In mid-August, he announced his support for Dion. By the end of September, Orchardites had captured a solid bloc of Liberal riding associations — mainly in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. — for the Quebec contender.

Their speciality was to focus on ridings with no sitting Liberal MP, where the party organization was thin. So now Team Orchard is in Montreal. They are bunked in at an apartment hotel in a seedier part of town. Each evening, they hold a pep rally.

Orchard is coy about who he would support if Dion is eliminated during the voting tomorrow. "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," he said, smiling.

But in an election that promises to be perilously close, his 175 or so delegates could play a significant role.

Orchard already has more committed delegates than last-place contender Martha Hall Findlay. By the time registration closes today, Orchardites here could easily outnumber those committed to other faint-hope candidates such as MPs Scott Brison and Joe Volpe.