Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Yes, the ads ARE running (and in good time slots, too)

My sightings so far:

1. right before Oprah yesterday
2. during the CTV National News last night
3. during American Idol just now

Feel free to post your own sightings in the comments section.

Yes, commercial schedules are less crowded in January, but these slots cannot be cheap, and it puts the lie to the conspiracy theory that the ads were only going to be released on the web.

I hope the next time CTV supremo Ivan Fecan is invited to chair a Liberal fundraising dinner, he remembers the generosity of the Conservative Party of Canada.

I’m guessing Bourque got paid for this “headline”


Ya think?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Clinton “really resents” prospect of presiding over Iraq

Could Nixon have made a similar whine about inheriting Vietnam?

I guess I should not have been surprised by this quote from Hillary Clinton’s campaign swing through Iowa on the weekend:

“I think it’s the height of irresponsibility and I really resent it – this was his decision to go to war, he went with an ill-conceived plan, an incompetently executed strategy, and we should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office.”

(Extricate Hillary, shurely!) Can Clinton just now be realizing that being president is not going to be all beer, Skittles and Vogue covers?

What is even more sobering is that when Hillary Clinton came of age, such a statement from a serious presidential candidate simply would not have been possible. Is it really progress to have a woman president, if she expects it to be largely a ceremonial position?

No doubt Richard Nixon did not appreciate being handed responsibility for the Vietnam War by a Democratic president who implemented a massive escalation in U.S. forces (to 600,000). Lyndon Johnson was so discouraged by the war that he announced barely six months before the November 1968 election that he would not seek a second term. I doubt, however, that Nixon publicly proclaimed that Johnson was obliged to leave his desk clean of any foreign policy files in January 1969.

Unlike for Hillary Clinton, foreign policy was Nixon’s forte, going back to his time in Congress and his eight years as Eisenhower’s vice president. Thanks to the Watergate tapes and other revelations, Nixon’s private peevishness, paranoia and casual racism are now well known. But he was not one to be surprised by – much less publicly whine about – the weight of world affairs on an American president.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, seems unperturbed that her husband’s administration was, as famously described by Charles Krauthammer, “a holiday from history,” and wants to get right back to the pre-Monica Martha’s Vineyard of government-mandated prostate exams and spelling bees. (Unfortunately, there will be no re-living of the Ben Affleck-Gwyneth Paltrow makeout sessions on movie night at Camp David, as both are now old married people with children.)

It is clear now that Clinton’s pursuit of a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee was never a serious foray into defence and foreign affairs, but a mere prophylactic against the charge that her credibility on matters beyond America’s borders was limited to French day care and Swedish hospitals.

Getting back to Nixon, not only did he not complain about inheriting a war into which millions of Americans had been drafted, he actually tried to win what the Democrats had started then abandoned. Some believe the effort was actually succeeding, too, until a Democratic Congress cut funding to the South Vietnamese after Watergate.

Oh, yes. Congress. There actually is a way for Clinton to circumvent Bush’s refusal to synch up his foreign policy with the election cycle and Hillary’s dreams of glory. She could rally her Congressional colleagues to cut funding to the war effort, instead of passing craven resolutions that do nothing but give encouragement and comfort to America’s enemies. If Congress cut funding, Bush would have little choice but to begin a troop pullout, which would likely be complete or near-complete by the time of Clinton’s presumed inauguration in January 2009.

But that would take leadership, courage and the willingness to take responsibility for one’s actions and their aftermath. The Clintons serendipitously found such qualities unnecessary (and in the case of Hillary’s doomed health care initiative, detrimental) to success in White House their first go ‘round. Why would they assume these qualities now?

James Taranto at Opinionjournal.com argues:

Let us think this through, shall we? If withdrawing from Iraq is in America’s interests, why doesn’t Mrs. Clinton – who by the way voted for the war – simply urge President Bush to do so on that ground, or promise to do so herself if elected?

Her demand for withdrawal by Jan. 20, 2009, has a logic to it, though, if she believes it isn’t in America’s interests. Even the Iraq Study Group acknowledged that premature U.S. withdrawal carries with it “the potential for catastrophe.” If Bush withdraws and catastrophe ensues, then President Clinton 44 will not bear any of the blame for it.

If Bush stands firm, the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq would present Clinton 44 with a choice between continuing an unpopular war or doing the politically expedient thing and withdrawing: between doing what is right and doing what is popular. If she does what is popular and catastrophe results, the public, fickle beast that it is, would blame her.

I really resent it, she says. “Height of irresponsibility” indeed.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Democrats trying to exercise power while evading responsibility

But Presidential primaries may shine an unforgiving light on their contortions

The Wall Street Journal has a spot-on editorial today about the U.S. Democrats’ (and some Republicans’) craven attempts to lose the Iraq war while attempting to evade the responsibility for doing so:

Consider the resolution pushed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday by Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel, two men who would love to be President if only they could persuade enough voters to elect them. Both men voted for the Iraq War. But with that war proving to be more difficult than they thought, they now want to put themselves on record as opposing any further attempts to win it.

If they were serious and had the courage of their convictions, they'd attempt to cut off funds for the Iraq effort. But that would mean they would have to take responsibility for what happens next. By passing "non-binding resolutions," they can assail Mr. Bush and put all of the burden of success or failure on his shoulders.

This weaselly behaviour is being echoed by the Democrats’ spear-carriers in the wider public arena. On Wednesday, so-called View moderator Rosie O’Donnell was in her now-routine self-righteous mode, putting forth the notion that a Senator -- any Senator -- should call for the President to be impeached. In the same breath, she then acknowledged that it would be an empty gesture that would only be for the history books. (Had O’Donnell actually read a history book, she might know that impeachment proceedings begin in the House, not the Senate.)

The argument being offered by some Democrats is that they cannot cut funding while forces are in theatre. Yet this most assuredly was, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, a “known known” during the mid-term elections last fall in which Democrats asked voters to give them the authority to fund – or not fund – the war effort. If the Democrats had no intention of using that power until the forces were back home and such a vote were meaningless, shouldn’t they have told the voters as much?

Further, the argument that they cannot cut funding while the troops are in Iraq is a lame one. If Congress reversed funding, or refused to authorize further funding, the President would have no choice but to plan for an orderly withdrawal of forces and equipment. The problem for the Democrats is that everyone would know who was at least partly responsible for the events that would flow from that withdrawal, and those deciders would be held accountable for those events.

Short term, this craven strategy may be a winner for the Democrats, but in the medium term they may find themselves hoist by their own petard. If they voted to cut the funding now, most forces would probably be home or on their way home by the 2008 presidential election. But thanks to their clever line dancing, the Democrats have ensured that Iraq will be an issue in the 2008 campaign, and issue number one facing the next President, whether he or she be red or blue.

The Democrats are also inviting the spectre of an anti-war independent candidate, and, more ominously, grassroots efforts to cut funding emerging during the primary campaigns, which may result in Democrat candidates making statements or taking positions they may regret later. (Remember that it was a surging Howard Dean campaign that was responsible for John Kerry’s vote against war funding in 2004, resulting in Kerry’s “I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”).

Serious candidates seeking to become Commander in Chief cannot fashion themselves a cloak of Congressional resolutions, petitions and CNN polls clipped together like the infamous AmEx card frock worn to the Oscars a few years ago. Nor can they argue they won’t have the authority to direct the forces. They will be asked what they are going to do with Presidential power, and “I won’t lie like Bush did” won’t be an adequate answer. Like Karl Malden holding a bare light bulb up to Vivien Leigh’s face in a “Streetcar Named Desire,” the primaries threaten to expose the true face of the Democrats.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ontario PCs smart to approach Woolley

I have to admit that Oak Ridges MPP Frank Klees was astute to ask OPP Sergeant Cam Woolley to throw his jester’s hat into the ring on behalf of John Tory in the October general election. (It might have been smarter, however, to not tell the media until Woolley had actually decided to run.) My views on Cam’s curbside comedy aside (see below), it is evident that he has a high and largely-positive public profile.

The 905-area ridings will be key to Tory tossing Premier Pinocchio into the wood chipper come October. Woolley would be a good bet to take out any number of do-nothing 905 Fiberals, particularly Thornhill MPP Mario Racco, who campaigned on a pledge to roll back tolls on Highway 407, though the Liberals knew very well they would not be able to do so.

As a general note, history has shown that a “celebrity” candidate can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, recruiting a well-known figure lends credibility to a leader and party, and usually helps the vote in the candidate’s riding.

On the other hand, once elected, star candidates often feel – with some justification – that their election is due more to their own profile and accomplishments than the party leader and platform (hello, Garth Turner!). This can lead to problems with caucus and message discipline, which are crucial to competent governing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Former Star Ombud says Woolley enabled “lazy journalism”

An interesting letter to the editor in the Toronto Star today from some chap by the name of Don Sellar, which happens to be the name of the last Star Ombudsman (or “Ombud” as the post was known). Sellar took a buyout and retired in early 2005. The Ombud post was superseded by a “Public Editor,” currently Sharon Burnside:

The trouble with OPP Sgt. Cam Woolley's entertaining accounts of high crime on our highways was their one-sidedness. As reported by journalists eager for holiday news, Woolley's colourful road stories, usually swallowed whole, didn't name accused motorway miscreants or quote them directly.

As a result, I wondered if the facts ever got embellished or torqued for dramatic effect. For sure, readers were rarely told what happened later in court.

Energetic press agentry, lazy journalism.

Don Sellar, Port Hope, Ont.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Fantino whacks Woolley’s woolly comedy

“I intend to outlive all my detractors” Richard Nixon reportedly said. Unfortunately, that was not the fate of Mike Harris’s first transportation minister, Al Palladini. Al’s sudden death of a heart attack in March 2001 – and the subsequent election of Greg Sorbara to Al’s 905 seat – marked the beginning of the twilight months of the Harris regime (Harris announced his retirement in October 2001).

But it is noteworthy that one of Al’s detractors, OPP Sergeant Cam Woolley, has been silenced. New OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino (a constituent of Al’s) has shut down Woolley’s roadside comedy stylings, which were a feature of many long weekend newscasts and print media headlines.

I had the pleasure (and terror, and many other emotions) of working for Al during his time as transport minister. One of the files he inherited was a coroner’s inquest report into two deaths caused by flying truck wheels. The report made approximately 35 recommendations to improve truck safety, which Al set about implementing.

Bizarrely, Woolley chose Al’s tenure to make it known – publicly and repeatedly – that, no matter what it did, the new government was doing a less-than-adequate job on truck safety. Who knows, maybe he thought he was helping. One would think that Woolley’s immediate superiors would have told him that if he wanted to run for office, he should take a leave and do so, but for some reason Woolley was untouchable.

Woolley also distinguished himself by pronouncing that Highway 407 – then under construction – was going to be unsafe because it lacked a centre barrier. These warnings were torqued by the always reliable Toronto Star.

One school of thought inside the government was that the blame for any safety problems could be put at the feet of the NDP government that let the contract to build the 407. But Al was keenly aware that over a billion dollars of taxpayer money had been borrowed to build the highway, and it would be irresponsible for the government to essentially wash its hands of the project.

A safety review by an engineering firm found, not surprisingly, that the highway was likely to be just as safe as any other 400-series highway (and in use, its safety record has been exemplary). The engineers also found that a centre barrier would be a detriment to safety, as cars straying into the barrier would likely bounce back into traffic and hit other vehicles.

Given Woolley’s bleatings about road safety, it is at the very least odd that in recent years he has regularly provided amateur-night-style comedy routines to GTA-area TV and radio stations, centered around the unsafe drivers and vehicles caught in the net of the OPP’s highway blitzes. Budget-conscious media outlets quickly realized that Cam’s camera-ready lines provided them with useable tape without the bother of having to assign a reporter. But, as Fantino noted in his remarks to Canadian Press yesterday:

“There's nothing funny about unsafe motor vehicles or what people do out there to put the public in danger,” the commissioner said Thursday in an interview.

He said he doesn't want to hear any more “humorous stories about those who compromise public safety,” colourful anecdotes that he complained members of the media tend to focus on.

“I think it trivializes the carnage and the reality of the danger that's out there.”

Amen. And it can’t be good for the OPP to have one of its uniformed officers giving public auditions for “Last Comic Standing.” Happy trails, Sergeant Hollywood.

Postscript: True Blue, however, has a different take on this.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

CRASH!!! . . . “Is this the Country Kitchen Buffet?”

When I read on Yahoo News today that 72-year-old James Hylton is attempting a comeback to the NASCAR circuit, I couldn’t help but think of the South Park episode “Grey Dawn” in which senior citizen drivers are causing carnage throughout the community, but South Park's residents are more terrified of trying to take licences away from seniors than they are of being randomly killed on the streets -- or sidewalks.

True to the episode’s title, it includes an inspired take off of the opening scenes of the 1984 film “Red Dawn” (which, along with “Top Gun” are the definitive Reagan-era films. In my opinion anyway.)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ontario posts negative growth for first time since SARS

Yet Toronto papers seem nonplussed

Last night I speculated that perhaps the reason companies aren’t donating to the McGuinty Fiberals is because Premier Pinocchio and his string-pullers are letting Ontario's economy go down the toilet. Today I see that late-day emission of bad economic news pre-dated my comments by mere hours:

Ontario slips into negative growth in third quarter; GDP minus 0.1 per cent

Ontario PC Leader John Tory was on the ball and got a release out at 7:20 p.m. So Canadian Press moved this story in plenty of time for the papers to put it in Friday’s edition. The Toronto Star had it on their website last night, but I saw nothing in today’s print edition, nor in the Sun, Globe nor Post.

This is Ontario’s first quarter of negative GDP growth since the SARS-induced recession of 2003. Before that, the last negative-growth quarters were in 1992. It’s certainly the first negative growth on McGuinty’s watch.

A history of Ontario recessions (defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth) is at Table 5 in the 2004 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Liberal protest fades to white

Just caught the CBC story on the Stephen Harper visit to Wajid Khan's riding today, which included a shot of about five Liberals outside the venue "protesting" Khan's floor-crossing with homemade signs. Every single one of them was, er, Caucasian.

The video of tonight's National will be online after 11:30 p.m. Eastern here. The Khan story is about 10 minutes in.

Note: Cherniak blogged about the Young Liberals' protest (scroll down to "Khanned" and previous posts). (hat tip: George Pringle)

Maybe it's the 50-plus broken promises

My apologies for messing up the Blogging Tories link by re-naming my item. Here's my post on the McGuinty Fiberals blaming their fundraising woes on the Accountability Act. That's wrong on two counts. . .

Maybe it's the 50-plus broken promises

Fiberals’ feeble fundraising fault of Chrétien – or is it?

From today’s Globe and Mail story about the McGuinty Fiberals hiring John “Beaker” Manley to fill their war chest for a general election barely nine months away:

The Liberals feel the change in corporate donation habits has hurt them more than their Progressive Conservative rivals, who have continued to maintain a well-oiled fundraising machine, according to sources.

But fundraising has become more difficult since the federal Accountability Act came into effect in December. The law bars corporations and unions from donating to parties and caps the amount an individual can give at $1,000 a year.

Even though Ontario operates under a separate system that permits donations from corporations and unions, many companies have opted to comply with the federal rules, Mr. Sorbara said.

But the McGuinty Liberals’ spin that the Stephen Harper government’s Accountability Act is to blame for their sorry fundraising is, er, bulls***, on two counts.

First, what Sorbara and (shame) Globe reporter Karen Howlett fail to mention is that it was the federal Liberals who banned corporations from donating to parties, though they were still permitted to donate to candidates and riding associations. (The Harper government went all the way and banned corporate donations to candidates and ridings.) If, as Greg Sorbara posits, companies chose to stop donating to provincial parties because of the federal rule change, then it’s Jean Chrétien who is to blame, not Harper.

Second, the Fiberals’ fundraising numbers suggest that even this rationale is questionable. The federal ban on corporate and union donations to parties took effect January 1, 2004. So why did Ontario Liberal donations decline – by 30 per cent – in 2005? Here’s what the Ontario Liberals raised in the last three years, as reported to Elections Ontario:

2003: $2,454,688.83
2003 election: $4,351,190.82
2004: $3,859,053.86
2005: $2,645,769.04

So it’s not Harper. It’s not Chrétien. Maybe it’s Premier Pinocchio’s promise-breaking, and letting Ontario's economy go down the toilet.

Monday, January 08, 2007

McGuinty quietly blows a huge advantage

I’m not surprised that Ontario PC Leader John Tory worked his buns off to eliminate the party’s $10-million-plus debt in two years. What does surprise me is that Premier Pinocchio and his backroom advisers let Tory do so unencumbered by new fundraising limits or corporate donor restrictions, as the Liberals and then Conservatives implemented federally.

But, if you can believe it, McGuinty promised he would do just that. (Another broken promise. Go figure.) Yes, among the 200-plus promises in the Fiberals’ voluminous 2003 election platform was a pledge to “give you the power over the role of money in politics, by asking you to set strict limits on the amounts political parties can raise and spend” (“Government that works for you,” p. 2). How were they going to do this? “We will ask you and your fellow citizens to set those limits through Citizens’ Juries." (“Government that works for you,” p. 12).

Instead, the Fiberals seem to have put all their eggs in their Willy Wonka-inspired electoral reform initiative, or Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform, consisting of one randomly-selected person from each riding. This gussied-up focus group is charged with coming up with alternatives to the first-past-the-post electoral system. (There is no mention of election or party financing in the assembly’s consultation guide.) The assembly's public consultations wrap up at the end of January.

I know what you’re thinking: perhaps this is all a fiendishly clever Fiberal plan to make the Tories look beholden to big business. Sorry, but that ship sailed when McGuinty held the first of his annual $1-million-plus fundraising dinners. And John Tory’s not the one living in a $1-million Rosedale house that his party bought for him (that’s mortgaged to the hilt to boot) – the Guinster is.

Slowing the Tories’ progress in paying off their debt before going into an election would have netted a comparative financial advantage for the Liberals, with the added benefit of actually keeping one of their election promises. Instead, they have tied up $1 million of their borrowing capacity to buy a house for their leader to live in. You’re doing a heckuva job, Dalton!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Harper’s achievements put Khan crossing in a softer light

But it's still a betrayal of voters

For those who care, my original posts on the David Emerson floor-crossing are still available here. As everyone knows, all the entreaties to party activists to rise up (à la Republicans over Harriet Miers) failed utterly, but that is not the only reason I won’t repeat them, now that Mississauga-Streetsville MP Wajid Khan has crossed the floor to the Conservative caucus (and Stephen Taylor has scored a scoop).

As Tony Clement once said in another context (and I paraphrase from memory), “Don’t judge me on one decision, judge me on my whole record.” When the Emerson crossing happened, the Harper government had no record to judge: all it had was a stunning floor-crossing that (1) seemed at odds with everything Harper appeared to stand for and, (2) in my humble opinion, jettisoned the new government’s strategic advantage of being cleaner than the thinly-rejected Liberals. But, 11 months later, the Harper government does have a record, and it is a record with which I am in hearty agreement on almost every point.

Further, Khan does not offend me as much as Emerson does. What irritates me about Emerson is that he is one of those people who regard partisan politics as dirty and beneath him. The connection between the partisan rubber meeting the road and Emerson’s posterior meeting the back seat of a government car seems to have eluded him. And I am not surprised by rumours that Emerson will not run again. If he doesn’t, it means that he could have taken one of the options suggested in my February 10th post: resign his seat and handle the softwood lumber and 2010 Olympics files as a government appointee. The new government would not have had to burn up so much political capital to obtain the services of someone who considers being a mere MP to be some kind of a sucker gig.

Khan, at least, had the cojones to stand for a nomination (or at least use his superior organization to scare off anyone from running against him, if you believe the Liberal folklore).

Nevertheless, I still maintain that floor-crossing is a betrayal of voters and hence taboo (though I’m not sure a law banning it would be appropriate or even constitutional). Of course, MPs should not have to sit with a caucus they no longer support, but they should sit as Independents until they have an opportunity to stand as a candidate for the party they want to represent. To be fair, some might argue that floor-crossing is just another necessary arrow in the quiver of partisan politics, and what the Liberals are really angry about is that Harper has had better aim than they expected.

The fact that Khan was not given a cabinet position does not diminish the betrayal of his constituents, but if there is an election shortly, that may. Finally, for the love of God, can’t Khan leave his bad rug with the Liberals?