Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Clark unveils his inner Elvis on Parliament Hill

In an act of vanity on par with Barbara Walters’ lighting and Americans choosing the “thin Elvis” postage stamp, Joe Clark unveiled a portrait of himself – circa 1975 – on Parliament Hill Tuesday.

If only the Sex and the City movie (opening this Friday, in case you hadn’t heard) could have been rendered entirely in CGI by Patrick Douglass Cox, who has given us Joe: Portrait of a Young Fogey, now adorning the halls of Parliament like a still from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Retouched Me: imagine the Botox and light filters that might have been saved.

On the other hand, perhaps we should be grateful that Clark resisted the urge to ask that Cox depict him dressed as Evel Knievel jumping a Harley-Davidson over Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet, while Ann-Margret waits just beyond the landing ramp with arms outstretched.

In his remarks, Clark urged greater respect in public life:

“We are a country of immense diversity. We are going to have our clashes. We have to try to understand the origins, the point of views of others. We have to show them a sense of respect that’s based on the sense of worth that they bring,” he said, drawing applause from the audience.

But that was the thing about Joe, wasn’t it? He had respect for the views of everyone except the citizens of the province that elected him to Parliament in 1972, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 2000. When it came to the “others” of Alberta, Joe’s attitude seemed to alternate between disgust and embarrassment.

But you didn’t have to go as far as Alberta to find people whose opinions Clark had little time for. As Clark would be well aware, many members of his own caucus on his first go-round as leader found themselves sidelined and ignored. Luckily Brian Mulroney was always happy to take their calls and sympathize with their frustrations. Or maybe Clark remains blissfully oblivious to this still: given his conduct in recent years, that seems quite possible.

Clark’s paean to r-e-s-p-e-c-t came less than 24 hours after he took the opportunity of an appearance on "Mike Duffy Live" to take another kick at Stephen Harper’s goolies (coincidentally, another Albertan), a kick that was better aimed than most of Joe’s tactics or strategies as leader:

“I’ve not had a prime minister before whom I didn’t think I knew where he really was, what his real concerns were. I didn’t always agree with him, but that’s the situation I’m in ...,” the former prime minister said yesterday in an interview with CTV Newsnet’s Mike Duffy.

“Even the Afghanistan mission it seems to me is, in effect, a reflection of the interest of working with the U.S., which is a good thing but not alone,” he said. “And Canada’s reputation internationally, which is an immense asset to the country, depends upon using both sides of the Canadian coin ... I don’t think he [Mr. Harper] is inclined to that and I don’t think his government has given a leadership to an excellent public service to be able to do that.”

Sadly, Duffy did not interject to remind Clark that the Afghanistan mission is NATO-led, and was initiated and extended by two Liberal prime ministers, one of whom – Paul Martin – Clark endorsed as “the devil we know” in the 2004 election. Now why would Clark urge Canadians to re-elect a corrupt Liberal government, instead of a Conservative one led by a man who had succeeded where he had failed?

And, yes, I am going to say it, because I always have to: my vote for Joe in the 1998 PC leadership is the only vote I wish I could take back.

Mike McGuire has also posted on this.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Little to lose

Dion’s early days not unlike Chrétien’s last

At first blush, one would be hard-pressed to identify many similarities between Jean Chrétien and Stéphane Dion, other than they are both Québec federalists. Chrétien is a gregarious, instinctual, lifelong politician who prized winning elections and a clean desk, and was so relaxed that he went home for lunch every day while Parliament was sitting. Dion is a quiet professor who probably toted his own lunch in his backpack, and brought thoughtful letter-writing back to politics.

But as I see Dion rush headlong into his roll-the-dice carbon tax election, I can’t help but be reminded of the last days of Jean Chrétien’s tenure, characterized by his declaration to the effect of “I am not running again. I can do what I want.” (Not much of an endorsement for consulting voters before acting – i.e. democracy – but never mind.)

After Chrétien announced in the summer of 2002 that he would not run for a fourth term, he unleashed a whirlwind of hard-left initiatives, including the legalization of marijuana (or de-criminalization, if you prefer) and political finance reforms, including banning corporate and union donations to parties (later on, the Harper government extended the ban to ridings and candidates also).

It is debatable whether Chrétien did these things because (1) he really believed in them, or (2) he wanted to damage Paul Martin, whose leadership he was now powerless to prevent. Either way, he was indifferent to the effects these policies would have on the Liberal party. “Après moi le deluge,” as they say. As Elections Canada’s quarterly financial returns show, banning corporate donations continues to harm the Liberal party to this day.

In the case of Dion, despite reports that he is deaf to most advice, I suspect that he has at least figured out this much: the Liberal party is going to give him but one chance to win an election. After the next election, Stéphane Dion will either be Prime Minister, or an unemployed professor.

In the leadership, Dion was the first-ballot choice of just 18% of Liberal delegates. He has few supporters in caucus. He has little base in the party and has been unable to build one (which is near-impossible while you're leader, anyway). He has a limited personal fundraising capacity, evidenced by his stubborn leadership debt. The party’s overall fundraising has continued to suffer. Liberals fared worse than they should have in the by-elections that have occurred on Dion’s watch, partly because of Dion’s insistence on hand-picking two of the candidates.

There were rumblings about somehow getting rid of Dion last fall, after the disastrous Outremont by-election, but Liberals realized that there is simply no legal or practical way to force out a leader before he’s fought his first election. And so the Liberal caucus became quietly resigned to the notion that Dion would be allowed his one grab at the brass ring.

But surely Dion has deduced that many in the caucus have little enthusiasm for him, and are concerned mainly with keeping their own seats. And Michael Ignatieff’s and Bob Rae’s supporters have made little secret of their readiness and desire to see their guy run for leader again. Soon.

Should Dion be foolish enough to contest a leadership review after a losing election, the Ignatieff and Rae camps would likely make short work of him. (The more likely scenario is that a group of eminent Liberals would approach Dion and, in exchange for retiring his remaining leadership debt, secure his resignation.)

But instead of making Dion more cautious, these intramural heel-nippings seem to have made him less so. The stark reality of what awaits him post-election is actually a bizarre incentive for Dion to use his one chance to “do what he wants,” whether it’s carbon taxes, reviving a national day care scheme, or even raising the GST. If he wins, he may get to implement a platform he believes in. If he loses, any fallout for the Liberal party will be someone else’s problem.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Short memories at the Globe

Mark MacGuigan went straight from Minister of Justice to Federal Court judge after losing Liberal leadership in 1984

Perhaps no one at the Winnipeg Free Press or the Globe and Enquirer is old enough to remember the late Mark MacGuigan, who went straight from being Liberal Minister of Justice to a seat on the Federal Court of Canada, after losing the Liberal leadership in 1984.

Then again, maybe the Globe is aware of this history, but thinks that Mrs. Toews’ monthly household expenses, as disclosed in her divorce filings, are a more pressing matter of public interest. And of course, they had to include in their "news" story their oh-so-informed speculation about what Toews' Christian constituents must think about his marriage ending. 'Cause if anybody knows how Christians think, it's the Globe.

Well, for the benefit of you younger kids: according to MacGuigan’s parliamentary bio and this page at the website of the Federal Court of Canada, MacGuigan’s appointment to the court occurred on the same day as his resignation as MP and Minister of Justice: June 29, 1984.

MacGuigan had run and placed poorly in the Liberal leadership contest that elected John Turner earlier that year, winning just 135 votes.

I don’t recall any cries of conflict of interest at the time, though MacGuigan’s appointment was certainly part of the orgy of patronage appointments made by the exiting Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, appointments that dogged new leader John Turner in the election campaign that began on July 9 and ended on September 4.

MacGuigan served as a judge until his death in January, 1998. He was eulogized in the House of Commons the following month by Liberal minister Herb Gray, Reform MP Randy White (!), NDP MP Bill Blaikie and Bloc MP Louis Plamondon.

I acknowledge that a judicial appointment for Vic Toews -- should one occur -- would raise uncomfortable yet fair questions for Toews and the government but, you know, a little bit of context from major news organizations would be nice. For a change.

Update: Oh, speaking of context . . .

Here’s a lovely story from the Toronto Star’s reliable Richard Brennan, on Bob Rae’s question in the House yesterday about Maxime Bernier’s air fare to Laos for a Francophonie summit:

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier has to travel first class to "stand tall" on the world stage, Conservative government House leader Peter Van Loan says.

Van Loan was defending Bernier, who has been dogged by criticism since taking on the portfolio last August, including over his relationship with a Quebec woman who had close ties to biker gang figures.

The latest has to do with his spending $22,573 on return airfare to Laos for a Francophonie conference, when one of his own staff made the same trip for $2,676.

"I wonder if that makes the government House leader blush, just for once," Liberal MP Bob Rae (Toronto Centre) said to Van Loan.

Well, why should Van Loan or anyone else blush? Rae certainly wasn’t blushing in 1992 when he used an OPP helicopter to visit his family cottage. He explained to reporters that he was entitled to his entitlements:

Premier Bob Rae used a government helicopter to fly him to and from his family cottage during the Victoria Day weekend.

"I had not seen my children for about eight days," said Rae, who has three daughters. The Rae family cottage is on an island in Big Rideau Lake, near the town of Portland in eastern Ontario, about 350 kilometres (220 miles) east of Metro.

Rae said he had no apologies to make, since he is eligible to use the OPP helicopter as part of his security package as Premier.
--Toronto Star, May 26, 1992 (you can look at the excerpt for free in the Star archives).

I believe the seasoned Brennan was even a member of the Queen’s Park press gallery then. Funny how he didn’t remember this to put it in today’s story. It certainly would have put Rae’s feigned outrage into – what’s that word? – context.

Happy Victoria Day, everybody.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Charles Caccia: career ended by Martin, life ended by stroke

I’m guessing there will be some throat-clearing and dagger looks amongst former and current Liberal MPs when they attend the visitation and funeral of their former colleague, Liberal MP Charles Caccia, who died this weekend from the complications of a stroke.

Caccia was one of the lower-profile victims of the Paul Martin steamroller. In 2004 he was the longest-serving Member of Parliament, having been MP for Davenport since 1968. He lost the nomination, however, to then Toronto city councillor Mario Silva. This occurred thanks to Paul Martin’s opening of nominations after finally wresting the Liberal leadership from Jean Chrétien’s vise grip in 2003. Unlike Sheila Copps – who put up a spirited fight against Tony Valeri in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek – Caccia had no chance against the ambitious Silva, who had been signing up new members for months.

I happened to be president of the Davenport Conservative association when all this was going down. The head of our candidate selection committee thought we should, as a courtesy, approach the defenestrated Caccia and inquire whether he would be interested in running for the Conservatives. Caccia agreed to meet with us at his constituency office, and cordially informed us that he intended to run as an independent. In the end, he decided to retire quietly from Parliament.

Update: Nicol DuMoulin also has a post, on his experiences as Caccia's constituent.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

If you want more money, Ralph, you’ll have to ask the voters

Goodale thinks Stephen Harper drank his milkshake

Liberal hothead Ralph Goodale gamely attempts in the National Post today to frame the next election around the notion that the federal government is being rendered into a deficit-burdened weakling under Stephen Harper (actually, that sounds like the Liberal party under Stephane Dion, but never mind).

This is to distract from the frame that the Liberals have already hung around themselves: namely that they would have to raise taxes to pay for their yet-to-be-revealed social and environmental schemes, currently being wordsmithed by Bob Rae (aka “$40 Billion Deficit Man”).

Ralph writes of his glory days as Paul Martin’s finance minister, before it all came crashing down on him: “the government of Canada was working on its 10th consecutive balanced budget.” Translation: “After years of waiting for Jean Chrétien to retire, I was in my robe and slippers writing my second kick-ass budget, and then out of nowhere that f***er Jack Layton pulled the rug out from under me, and the RCMP wrapped me in it!!”

The inflamed gum at the root of Ralph’s latest tantrum is that the only way a Liberal government would have enough cash to launch massive, new social or environmental programs (like the day care program the Liberals promised for 13 years and never got off the ground, despite having blown $250 million, or the $250 million they spent on Kyoto, while our CO emissions increased by 30%) is by . . . raising taxes.

Ralph feels personally betrayed that the surplus he dreamed of spending himself has gone into things such as restoring the military after the Liberals’ dark decade, and Arctic sovereignty. What do these things have in common? They’re national responsibilities (more on that later). And here’s something you don’t hear too much about: federal transfers to the provinces are increasing under the Conservatives. Federal transfers to Ontario are budgeted to increase by $1.2 billion over the next two years (Ontario Budget Papers, p. 93). And that number is assuming Ontario stays a “have” province.

Admittedly, some of the surplus that Ralph believes is the rightful property of the Natural Spending Party, has also gone into the taxpayers’ pockets whence it came: horrible, horrible taxpayers who blow their cash on big screen TVs, World of Warcraft, and memberships in Liberal riding associations where Dion ends up appointing the candidate.

Unfortunately, Ralph’s claim that the GST cut “does nothing to improve tax fairness, disposable incomes, household savings, productivity or competitiveness,” is flat wrong.

In terms of fairness, it is widely accepted that consumption taxes have the greatest impact on low-income individuals, who spend most of their disposable income and likely do not qualify for income tax cuts. That’s certainly what I remember from back when the GST was introduced (to replace the Manufacturers’ Sales Tax), because that is what all the GST’s opponents were screaming at the time. And that’s why the Liberals under Jean Chrétien said they’d “axe the tax.” So by reducing a tax that hits hardest at the poor, the Conservatives have increased tax fairness.

And I think even Ralph can figure out that if you pay less tax, you have more disposable income. But then Ralph’s concern for people’s disposable income seems a little suspect, given his membership in a government that increased CPP deductions, and kept EI premiums higher than they needed to be. Yes, there was good reason to increase CPP premiums, and the Liberals obviously believed they outweighed the impact on people’s take-home pay.

As for savings, well, you’d be surprised how many people put aside their loonies and/or toonies and deposit them in the bank at the end of the month. Surely a 28% cut in the GST adds up to a few more loonies? One notable exception to this habit, of course, is Jean Chrétien. Chrétien kept giving his spare change to his legion of homeless pals. Why do you think he had to go home for lunch every day like a five-year-old? By the time he got to work, all he had left in his wallet were fifties and hundreds.

What Ralph’s beef boils down to is this: Liberals think that giving citizens more than a little taste of their own money is a really bad idea. Instead, the federal government should take that money, keep some for itself, hire consultants to research and write papers on day care or global warming (keeping some money for themselves), set up pilot projects (those need money, too), and give some money to the provinces that are going to play ball with the Liberals (there goes some more money). Then if the Liberals happen to lose power (“God d*** you Layton and Zaccardelli!”), they blame the Conservatives for destroying their brilliant, about-to-be-rolled-out program.

But seriously, Conservatives are not opposed to government. We are opposed to incompetent, unfocussed government that majors in inserting itself into the provincial sphere, while minoring in (1) letting national responsibilities slide, and (2) demonizing conservative governments in Alberta and Ontario.

Provincial governments already run the big social programs (health, education, welfare), they are closer to the people than the federal government, and they have the income tax, sales tax and business tax revenue to pay for social programs. Federal equalization helps poorer provinces offer similar social programs. In the Liberals’ eyes, Stephen Harper’s sin is that he respects federal/provincial jurisdiction. This is what Ralph calls an “ideological obsession to stop the federal government from being an instrument for good in the lives of ordinary Canadians.”

Canadians seem pretty happy with their GST cut, so I guess if the Liberals want another massive program that will be an “instrument for good,” then during the next campaign they will just have to tell Canadians (1) they will raise taxes if elected, and (2) what they want to use the money for. Good luck, Ralph.

Or, they could just try to do what Dalton McGuinty did: promise they aren’t going to raise taxes and then raise them anyway. Liberals seem to be able to get away with that.