Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Ministers Conference

Stephen Harper has arranged for a first ministers conference on November 10th. It will take place within 30 days of the federal election. When Stephane Dion suggested doing the exact same thing he fell under heavy criticisim. Is Harper just stealing from the Liberal playbook?

Harper has been the Prime Minister for over two years. He has passed three government budgets. His government has been discussing the world financial crisis with all of the important world leaders. Stephane Dion complained that a more proactive approach needed to be taken.

When Dion was asked what should have been done differently, his top idea was that a first ministers conference needed to be called to develop a plan. He was right that the meeting needed to be called and there was no doubt that Harper would have to hold one at some point in the future. The problem was Dion did not express that he had any plans before going into the meeting. As Prime Minister he would have to have some type of idea of where to lead the ship and have input on how to get there. Instead he was prepared to wait for someone else to feed him the answers.

It appears that Dion's and Harper's plan are identical. As both men were taking different approach's to prepare for the meetings they would produce different outcomes. The Harper approach is more likely to get the results Canadians are looking for.

Elections Israeli Style

Israel is set to hold municipal elections on November 11th in Israel. Elections in Israel are conducted very differently then they are in Canada. One major difference is in Canada a voter puts an X next to the person you want to win. In Israel the individual or party (depending on the position) is assigned a letter or letter combination. Voterse then choose the letter that corresponds to your choice. I will discuss the mechanics of the election more in depth after they take place.

When I arrived in Israel in August election signs were already up. There are different strategies for elections signs. Some have pictures of candidates, some have the party name. The mayor of Bet Shemesh has been running with the slogan יהיה טוב (it will be good). When his signs first went up it was not clear if it was political campaign or random anonymous holiday greetings. In the last few days the strategy has changed. Posters are up everywhere prominently displaying the letter the candidates will be running under.

At around 6:45 tonight I heard loud music followed by the sound of cars honking. It was a 50(yes, I counted) car parade including the mayor's campaign bus. The cars had baloons and the letters עד (witness) prominently displayed. I must admit that I really don't get it, but it did add 10 minutes of entertainment to my evening.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Israel Going to the Polls

Tzipi Livni has failed in her bid to form a government. Negotiations broke down when she refused to meet Shas demand for more than a billion NIS for family benefits. Shas is trying to frame this has fighting for the rights of all families. In fact they were just trying to put cash into the pocket of their supporters who have large families.

The possibilities of the next Prime Minister to not help to put a lot of faith in the system.

Bibi Netanyahu - Likud -

Bibi is washed up former Prime Minister quit the Kadimah government by opposing the Gaza pullout. This gave him the clout to reclaim the position of leader of the Likud. Conveniently the fact he voted in favour of legislation required for the Gaza pullout has been forgot.

Tzipi Livni - Kadimah -

Livni took on the role of party leader just over a month ago and failed in her first attempt to field a government. Her willingness to stand up to Shas and face the electorate rather than cave into unreasonable demands is a refreshing change. Livni heads the party that botched the Lebanon War leading to the disastrous prisoner swap. Gilad Shalit has not been released. She is refusing to agree to any demand that Jerusalem should be kept off of the negotiating table with the Palesitiains. She is expected to give Netanyahu a run for his money.

Ehud Barak - Labour -

Barak is a washed up former Prime Minister that currently serves as the Defence Minister. There are plans underway to resupply with civilian population with gas masks next year. He claimed that having a population supplied with gas masks will act as a deterrent for enemy countries from using chemical weapons against Israel. Barak is just as out of touch with reality as he was when he was Prime Minister. He is not expected to be a significant contender in this election.

Countries around the world are going to jump to conclusions over the results of these elections. Israel needs some fresh leadership choices with fresh ideas. Livni brings a breath of fresh air to the old war hero political approach. Those who do not agree with her policies do not have an equally competent opponent.

Fatwa Declared Against Arab Voters

On Saturday the Palestinian Authority arranged to have a fatwa declared against Arabs living in Jerusalem. Included is avoiding using the Israeli Court System and selling land to Jews. They also banned Arabs from voting in the upcoming Jerusalem municipal elections. Arabs have generally avoided voting in the municipal election for fear that it would weaken their claim to the land. The fatwa was issued after reports that three mayoral candidates had tried courting Arab voters.

Serving as a federal political party the Bloc Quebecois has been unable to secure their desire for soverignty. This is mostly from the lack of desire for Quebecers to follow through and leave Canada. As Canadians have just elected a third consecutive minority government the Bloc is scene as a tremendous political for for the federalist parties to overcome. In response the federal parties have had to put extra attention to make sure their platforms are attractive to Quebecers.

Every politcian knows that it is counterproductive to develope policy for those who are not going to vote. The Arabs in Jerusalem have missed out on a tremendous oppurtunity to have the city government show concern for their well being. They could have used their political will to help improve their day to day lives.

This is the typical strategy of the Arab leadership. They are willing to sell out any short term gains for fear that it would hurt their chances of total capitulation of their enemies. They are willing to allow their followers to suffer for generations in order to not give up an inch on their dreams.

On the other side Israel has taken the opposite negotiation tactic. They are willing to make painful sacrifices for short term gains. Each concession opens the door to new concessions without demanding any long term benefits in return. Rabin's vision for peace with the Palestinians was based on the mistaken assumption that the Palestinians would take a similar approach to negotiations. This difference in negotiating philosophy is the major stumbling block to a long term solution.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Missed it by that much.

The Conservatives fell 12 seats short of securing a majority government in last week's election. The question being asked is how will the Conservatives respond to the new mandate. Anti-Harper supporters fear that the Conservatives are going to act as if they have a majority government. Some have called for Harper's resignation. If Harper can't beat Dion how is he going to beat a more competent Liberal leader.

Bill Casey has been re-elected after being thrown out of the Conservative caucus last year for opposing the budget. He will likely support most Conservative bills and there is a possibility that there may be room for reconciliation in the future. The Conservatives did not field a candidate in order in a Quebec riding which helped the incumbent independent get re-elected. Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams has offered reconciliation after running a successful ABC campaign to drive the Conservatives out of Newfoundland. The Conservatives lost 3 seats in the Province.

Harper learned some important lessons. Michael Fortier who was appointed to the senate in order take on a cabinet post was defeated. Wijad Khan the Liberal MP who was Harper's special advisor on the Middle East before being drawn into the Conservative caucus was also defeated. All the other MPs who faced heavy hitting from the opposition from former Environment Minister Rosa Ambrose, from Defense Minister Gordon O'Conner were re-elected as well as the rest of the current cabinet. The Conservatives also made a breakthrough by electing journalist Peter Kent in Thornhill just north of Toronto. These results send a clear message that Harper needs to stick to a more tradtional governing role.

There are a number of open cabinet positions and around 35 rookie MPs at Harper's disposal. This gives Harper a deep talent pool for improving his government. He now has enough man power to prevent opposition parties from taking over commitees to rewrite entire pieces of legislation to their own partisan views. It will be more difficult for comitees to focus on partisan witch hunts instead of focusing on preparing and reviewing legislation to benefit all Canadians.

Some people are afraid that Harper is going to use the lame duck Stephane Dion to continue to bully the oppositon parties to push through his agenda. Harper will spend the next 2-3 years focusing on capturing 12 more seats. Such an attack will not be to their benefit. This year will probably not have very much controversial legislation to allow the Liberals time to choose their new leader. They will try to offer stable fiscally responsible government to navigate through tough economic times. If they prove they can weather the storm Canadians will be ready to deliver a majority government.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What do George Brown, Edward Blake and Stephane Dion have in common?

In the history of the Liberal Party there have only been three leaders who have not served as Prime Minister. George Brown lost in the first ever Canadian election to John A. MacDonald and decided not to try again. He had the satisfaction of being a Father of Confederation and a strong influence on the party in an advisory role. Edward Blake also lost to MacDonald as he lead the Liberal Party from 1880-1887. He was the bridge between Alexander Mackenzie & Wilfred Laurier. With Stepahne Dion miserable showing in Tuesday's election it looks like he will be joining this exclusive club.

Every other leader of Canada's natural governing party has been Prime Minister. Here is a list by number of days served from 24 Sussex Drive:

William Lyon Mackenzie King (7826), Pierre Trudeau (5642), Wilfred Laurier (5564), Jean Chretien (3689), Louis St. Laurent (3140), Lester Pearson (1825), Alexander Mackenzie (1796), Paul Martin (787), John Turner (79).

Since taking over the Liberal Party time and again Dion has shown poor judgement. He tried using the Mulroney/Schreiber, Maxime Brenier, Chuck Cadman scandals to attack the Conservatives character. Brenier was re-elected with more then 60% of the vote, while Cadman's wife Dona was elected under the Conservative banner.

He showed poor judgement of character. His hand picked candidate in Outremont was defeated in the by-election. The NDP managed to hold onto to the riding. He allowed Garth Turner to join the Liberal caucus. Turner was thrown out of the Conservative Party for being a trouble maker and did nothing to help the Liberals. Turner was defeated in the election. Without any reservations Dion gave the spotlight to Michael Ignatieff without any fear Ignatieffwas after his job. As Dion got into more trouble the same free reign was given to Bob Rae. When a Conservative candidate was tossed Rae made a big deal of how it reflected poorly on the party leader. A few days later a Liberal candidate was tossed from the election.

Dion was weak on developing policy. He blamed the Conservatives for some of the financial problems in the US. He attacked Harper for not doing enough to protect the Canadian solution. Dion's solution was to hold a series of meetings and come up with a plan 30 days after being elected.

Dion wanted to introduce all kinds of social spending. He was going to bring in a carbon tax (the modern version of the SIN tax) in order to pay for his programs. The Liberals lost seats in British Columbia where they already have a carbon tax. Perhaps the new tax in BC is not as popular as some politicians would like the public to believe.

Dion has shown that he is not fit to be Prime Minister. Even if he does not resign, he does not have a chance of surviving the leadership review next year. All the contestants for his job last time around now have seats in Parliament. Justin Trudeau who some believe is the saviour of the party also has a seat. Hopefully, some new leaders will step forward who can bring the Liberals back to their roots.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Green Party Thrown Under the Bus

Despite claims that she wouldn't, Elizabath has suggested that in some ridings voters should vote Liberal or NDP to block a Conservative win. In other words she is calling on her supporters to vote for Stephane Dion as Prime Minister irrelevant of the effects it has on her party. It is important for voters to consider the message sent through their ballot, even if their candidate does not win. It is another for a party leader to abandon her party on the eve of the election. She has done a tremendous disservice on many levels.

Candidates are entitled to be reimbursed for some of their campaign expenses if they capture a certain percentage of the vote. Some Green candidates could take a personal financial loss from this declaration. Also all parties that capture 3% of the popular vote are entitled to $1.95/year per vote of federal funding. The Green Party has benefited from this rule in the last federal election. Strategic voting will hurt the Green Party financially.

Each party has their own distinct environment policy. A blanket Liberal endorsement sends the message from Green supporters is that there number 1 priority is to get a carbon tax. The fact that the Liberals and Greens have very different ways of spending the extra government revenue does not matter.

The Green Party has always had the problem that their polling numbers on election day are about half of what they receive before the election. It has been understood that these results show that Canadians like to say they care about the environment. When push comes to shove Canadians have more important issues at heart like the economy. A dip in Green Party support will once again reinforce this message. In 4 years from now parties will decide how important the environment is for their election platforms. Once again all the parties (including the Liberals) will put it lower on the agenda because while important it does not win votes. Elizabeth May has managed to not only undercut her own party but the entire environmental movement she claims to support.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Get the Liberals a Calendar

Last week the Liberals switched to attack mode. They accused Harper of plagiarizing two speechs he gave in parliament in 2003. A member of the Conservative campaign team took responsibility for the first speech and resigned. As party leaders do not write there own speeches they must rely on their writers to come up with quality original material.

This is a serious allegation and the Liberals claim that it makes Harper unfit to be Prime Minister. One would expect such serious charges to be brought to light as soon as it was discovered. Why did it take five years for these stories to come to light? Why were the videos the same week advance polls opened?

It is possible that the Liberal dirt digging team has had to go back 5 years to find material of any use. The most the recent Liberal criticism of Harper's foreign policy stems from statements he made in 2003 before he was Prime Minister. Another possibility is the Liberals have intentionally withheld the information in order to maximize effectiveness. The accusation in itself is going to turn off more voters when the story is fresh. The passage of time combined with more relevant facts will undo some of the damage that was done. Revealing the information just before some voters go to the polls puts the story fresh in their mind out of the greater context.

Stephane Dion needs to provide an explanation of why he choose this particular time to release the information. On the surface this appears to be political pandering and media manipulation.