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Election 2015

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Edward Campbell

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E.R. Campbell said:
The (web site) headline above Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson’s latest offering is:  The Conservatives are down and out in Quebec – and know it

Good - and good, in my view.

If the Conservative Party of Canada wants to displace the Liberals as Canada’s natural governing party or even if they just want a rough 50/50 balance à la the Democrats and the GOP in the USA then they must learn that there are two Canadas: Old Canada, East of the Ottawa River, and New Canada West of the Ottawa.

(This (Old vs. New Canada) is not a new idea, nor is it mine. I came across it some years ago in an article by, I think, Michael Bliss.)

The two Canadas are defined by several factors but, primarily:

• One is rich and the other not so much; and

• One is growing and the other is stagnating.

New Canada is rich and getting richer because it is growing faster and it is growing “smarter.” Old Canada is stuck in the mud. New Canada matters - politically, socially, economically – more and more; Old Canada matters less and less.

Québec dominates, almost overwhelms Old Canada; Ontario dominates New Canada.

Right now Old Canada has 107 seats in the House of Commons; New Canada has the other 201. After the next redistribution Old Canada will still have 107 but New Canada will have at least 234.

A party – Conservatives or Liberals - can muster a bare but working majority, now, with only 17 (of 107) seats in Old Canada and 139 (of 201) seats in New Canada – that’s 69% of the seats in New Canada, a significant, indeed major electoral feat, but certainly not unprecedented.1 After the next redistribution the Tories will only need 66% of the seats in New Canada (155 of 234) to secure a majority. In either case that means retaining a virtual stranglehold on the prairies and getting 58% of the seats in Ontario and 63% of the seats in BC – much better than the 48% (ON) and 61% (BC) they (Harper, et al) got in 2008.

But: increasing the Ontario seat haul by 20% is, I think, both easier and more likely than more than doubling the seat count in Québec.

The task will get easier and easier as this new century wears on: Old Canada will become increasingly irrelevant, except as an ongoing drain on the treasuries of New Canada.

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives must learn how to govern without Québec. That doesn’t mean that either party should write off Québec’s 75 seats (or Atlantic Canada’s 32 seats) – each must campaign hard, during and between elections, to buy Old Canada’s votes, but each must adapt to the fact that Québec’s demands for special status will never end and can never be satisfied. Thus, it is prudent for both parties to start ignoring special status for any one province – or to (further) decentralize the federation to a level with which even I would be content.2

Here, by the way, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Globe and Mail is Simpson’s column:

The Conservatives are down and out in Quebec – and know it


From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

March 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT

Something quiet but profound has altered the Harper government's political strategy: Quebec doesn't cut it any more.

From day one of the first Harper government, Quebec was the epicentre of Conservative dreams, plans and spending. Quebec had all those seats beckoning Conservative victories. A French kiss, one author described the affair. Some kiss, some affair.

Billion of dollars were transferred from Ottawa to Quebec (and some other provinces) to resolve the invented issue of the “fiscal imbalance.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the spot decision to recognize the Québécois as a “nation” within a united Canada. There were speeches and programs and blandishments and emotive words such as “autonomy” used by Mr. Harper. All to woo Quebec.

As in all unnatural relationships, what began in hope degenerated into misunderstandings, then feuds. Who threw the first stone doesn't matter; stones were thrown on all sides.

Mr. Harper and his inexperienced crowd thought that, in the Action Démocratique du Québec, they saw Quebec francophones with similar ideas. So they played footsie with this ADQ crowd, even to the point of Mr. Harper's travelling to Rimouski to appear on a platform with the slippery Mario Dumont. The dalliance infuriated Quebec Liberals, whose boss, Premier Jean Charest, thought Mr. Harper should be playing footsie only with him.

After much caterwauling and nattering from Quebec about the “fiscal imbalance,” Mr. Harper had duly handed over billions of additional dollars for social programs – only to find that a campaigning Mr. Charest had taken the first tranche of the money and announced tax cuts to help his re-election bid. At which point, Mr. Harper hit the roof.

Further betrayals arrived. Mr. Charest, having pocketed the billions for the “fiscal imbalance,” sent his Finance Minister to announce at the beginning of the federal campaign that, no, Quebec's “demands” (Quebec is always demanding) had not been met.

With every Conservative candidate campaigning on having settled the “fiscal imbalance,” it was quite a blow to their credibility to hear Mr. Charest declare the matter unfinished. Of course, Mr. Charest had many other grievances and gripes that needed attention. So much for giving Mr. Harper a break in Quebec.

Then came the relatively minor squalls over culture and juvenile sentencing that blew up in the campaign. They betrayed the Harperites' lack of touch when dealing with Quebec sensitivities, as well as Quebeckers' preference for de facto sovereignty-association that they manifest by refusing to participate in governing Canada while demanding more from it through the Bloc Québécois. Then came Mr. Harper's attack on “separatists” during the coalition farce last December.

The Conservatives are now down and out in Quebec, and they appear to know it. The Liberals, through no serious efforts of their own, are on the rise.

Conservatives don't wake up trying to figure out how to placate and impress Quebec, that game having failed. Instead, they seem to have understood that any majority will come with improvement in Ontario and British Columbia.

A more solicitous attitude has been shown by the Harper government toward Ontario, where the recession has hit harder than any other part of Canada.

Ontario's unemployment rate is now higher than Quebec's. Ontario's manufacturing sector, especially its automotive heart, is staggering. Ontario is hollowing out; its fiscal position is eroding sharply (more sharply than Quebec's); tomorrow's budget will spill red ink.

And yet, here's the dilemma: Despite a staggering economy, growing unemployment and a fiscal nightmare, Ontario taxpayers, via Ottawa, are still going to ship billions of dollars to Manitoba, the four Atlantic provinces and Quebec.

Last week's Quebec budget had $8-billion in equalization payments, amounting to 12 per cent of total revenues. Notwithstanding this bonanza, and the fact that payments had almost doubled, the budget contained a chapter complaining about how unfair equalization was to Quebec. Call it Gallic gall.

New Brunswick's equalization payments, announced in a budget a week ago, amounted to 18 per cent of total revenues. No whining there, mercifully.

Part of Quebec's complaint was the Harper government's cap on equalization's growth, a change that will help Ontario, the paymaster that can't afford the bill any more but can't get up from the table without paying it.

Equalization will not go away, not even in my idealized version of Confederation, and Québec will continue to need a substantial amount, but the proportion of New Canada’s wealth that it must “share” with Old Canada will steadily decline over the decades.

Although Ontario is, for the moment, a sort of sick man of Confederation, it has the potential to return, soon, to being the economic engine of Canada – helping it to return to its accustomed place can earn electoral gratitude for a national political party.

Finally, immigration is changing the face of Canada and neither Québec’s historic grievances not its claim to a distinct status resonate with new Canadians as they did with earlier generations.

It is possible to govern without Québec; it is time the Conservatives took stock of the option. New Canada is the key to electoral success.

1. John Diefenbaker captured 78% of the seats in 1958, Brian Mulroney got 75% in 1984 – so 68% is not beyond the realm of possibility.
2. And I would be happy with a very loose confederation of five provinces (British Columbia (consisting of the current BC and the Yukon), Saskatchewan (formed form the existing AB, SK, MB and, remaining as territories, the North West Territories and Nunavut), Ontario (as now), Québec (as now but with “territorial” status for the Ungava peninsula) and Atlantic Canada (formed from NL, NS, NB and PEI (with Labrador as a territory). In my federation the national government would have exclusive rights over fiscal and monetary policy (including securities regulation), foreign and defence policy, constitutional issues, domestic and international trade and commerce, telecommunications and broadcasting, customs (including import standards) and immigration, interprovincial transport and not much else. The provinces would have exclusive control over health and social services, education, aboriginal matters, and, and, and … ad infinitum.

More, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail, this time from John Ibbitson, who appears to be swinging towards some of the positions I have enunciated in the past:

1. It is possible to win and govern without Québec ~ not against Québec, just without either pandering to it or depending upon it for electoral success; and

2. There is a divide, which I have called (not my phrase) “Old Canada” (East of the Ottawa River) and “New Canada” (the five provinces West of that river) ~ which Ibbitson calls the “Pacific province(s).”

Quebec’s profound isolation


From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2011

News that the NDP’s interim leader was, until recently, a card-carrying member of the Bloc Québécois reinforces a new and troubling truth: Quebec’s voice is weaker in Ottawa today than at any time in the past half-century – which is bad for Quebec and dangerous for the country.

The fading of Quebec in federal politics is not a temporary event. It has been going on for years and will continue for years to come.
If the federalist answer to Quebec separatism is to enmesh Quebec within the federal fabric, that answer is failing.

Unless and until Jack Layton either returns or retires, Nycole Turmel, former separatist supporter, is the leader of the NDP, including its 59 Quebec MPs, almost all of them rookies. This NDP caucus is the principal voice of French Canada in the House of Commons. The province is virtually silent within the governing Conservative caucus, which has just five Quebec MPs.

The federal election revealed that it is indeed possible for a party to form a majority government without Quebec’s support. But it revealed much more.
Ontario is now a Pacific province. Its major cities have large Asian-Canadian populations; India and China matter far, far more to its economic future than Britain or France; its voters vote the same way as westerners.

The days when elites in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal shaped the national agenda are well and truly past. The funeral was held May 2. The new consensus is between Ontario and the West. Quebec is outside that consensus.

This is an enormous change. For nearly 40 years, from Pierre Trudeau to Paul Martin, every elected prime minister but one was from Quebec. (The exception was Joe Clark’s government, which fell after just six months.) But in 1993, Quebeckers chose the Bloc to serve as their voice in Ottawa. Effectively, they left government and joined the opposition. In May, the province repudiated the separatists and embraced socially democratic federalists. But as Quebeckers experiment with first one opposition party and then another, their influence steadily wanes.

It’s not just about politics. Demographics also plays a role. Because Quebec has a low birth rate and brings in relatively few immigrants – at least compared with Ontario and British Columbia on a per capita basis – its share of the national population has steadily declined, from 29 per cent in 1961 to 23 per cent today. The Conservatives will introduce legislation this fall reapportioning the Commons to give Ontario, B.C. and Alberta their proper share of seats, further diluting the French fact in Parliament.

The national agenda has changed as well. The debt crisis of the 1990s drove the federal government away from an emphasis on greater social justice, a core Quebec value, and toward fiscal conservatism. So the federal government’s priorities don’t match Quebec’s priorities.

Finally, the principle of horizontal fiscal transfers is in jeopardy. Queen’s Park, for example, has made it clear that Ontario, with its manufacturing sector turning into a rust belt, can no longer afford to send money beyond its borders. Ontario is now the second-largest recipient of equalization payments, leaving relatively less federal largesse for Quebec.

With the province lacking a strong voice in government, with its share of the national population and economy declining and with the subsidy tap in danger of being shut off, the importance of Canada to Quebec and Quebec to Canada gets steadily harder to defend.

All this could change. The NDP could become an effective champion of Quebec’s interests and perhaps, one day, the government of the land. The next prime minister – Conservative, NDP or Liberal – could as easily come from Montreal as from Calgary.

On the other hand, perhaps the next prime minister will be the first since Lester Pearson unable to speak fluent French. Maybe her second language will be Mandarin.
If so, then the next time Quebeckers ask why they’re a part of this country, what will the rest of us tell them?

Québecers are free to ask, “why they're a part of this country,” and they are free to leave if they really want that. But the old question “what does Québec want?” is not longer important. That's what has changed; Québec is a province, ”comme les autres,” neither more nor less. If that is not suffiecient reason to be Canadian then, sadly, ”Sayonara.”

This, I suspect, may be the ballot question for 2015: which direction - back to the East (our European roots) or forward to the West - is best for "New Canada?"

Edit: formatting
Nobody could ever confuse me with anything other than an ardent Brit despite my being Canadian. Consequently my natural orientation is, like Quebec's, towards the East.

However, as I look to the East and contemplate a world of David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Alex Salmon of the SNP and Tony Blair  (4 Scots God help us), not to mention Sarkozy (a Hungarian) and the EU, I find it very easy to turn away from the past and continue to take my chances with Canada in general and Alberta in particular.
Interesting look at how public attitudes are changing according to the Manning Institute. In a way this tracks with the Libertarianism as a social movement meme, but a few disconnects still remain (both Quebec and the different preception of critical issues between the political class and the public):


Fedun: Manning Centre Barometer and its read on Canada’s political climate
Posted on August 3rd, 2011 by Stan Fedun in Opinions, Politics

How long can this government maintain power? Will the Liberals be able to recover from their loss? What role will the NDP play in the future? These are all questions that arose after the election and most definitely will be talking points when Parliament resumes this fall.

The closest thing  we have to a political fortune teller, the Manning Centre (a Calgary-based think tank), published its annual Manning Centre Barometer during the Conservative National Convention this spring. The results? The future of the Conservative Party is abounding. While it included a number of fascinating statistics, a few in particular stood out to me. According to the report:

“Citizens are moving more into a world of self, family and friends and have little expectation or desire that governments will have an increasingly meaningful impact on their lives. The one exception to this tendency is defensive: Canadians expect governments to keep them safe.”

Compare this to the basic tenets of the Conservative Party: less intervention, smaller government, and greater investment in security. Something sounds familiar. The report continues by explaining that:

“Governments are expected to respond—cautiously and with the benefit of past learning—to problems as they arise, not to pursue ‘grand visions’ or force ‘grand designs’
on the population.”

This again mimics the Conservative doctrine but should raise a red flag: what about the NDP in Quebec? According to a tracking of party identification (also included in the report) from 1965 to 2010, 33 percent of Quebecers identified with the Bloc Quebecois, 25 percent with the NDP, 20 percent with the Liberals and a mere 17 percent with the Conservatives.

These statistics should come as no surprise because Quebec has traditionally been left-leaning and nationalistic—the only difference in this election is the overconfident and negligent approach Gilles Duceppe took when it came to addressing the people of Quebec and their concerns. As a result, the Quebecois chose the second viable left-of-centre option, the NDP, which glimmered with the promise of pushing Quebec’s interests forward while resonating the Bloc’s public policies better than any of the other contending parties. Though, it’s necessary to stress that they were the second viable option.

Whereas the NDP will reaffirm that their formation of Canada’s official opposition is not a honeymoon but rather a change of Canadian views, this is clearly not the case. Just as the Liberal Party needs to restructure itself, the Bloc must do the same—if done correctly and pragmatically, future election results will again reflect how Canadians have traditionally voted.

To put it simply, the Conservatives and Liberals will be back in the top voting percentiles skirmishing for governing party while the NDP, Bloc, and Green Party will drop (respectively) into third, fourth, and fifth party statuses. In other
words, yes this is a honeymoon, and yes it will be ending in four years.

Among the other interesting statistics provided by the report are those titled “value statements,” which use a scale of one to seven to understand in which scenarios voters are more conservative and in which scenarios voters are less conservative. Due to the depth of those observations I won’t go into detail, but I’d highly recommend taking a look at it.

There is much evidence in the Manning Centre Barometer demonstrating that Canada’s population is slowly starting to move right-of-centre, however, one particular statistic left me grumped.

“Three in four Canadians say that politicians do not share their views as to the most important issues currently facing the country.”

While this didn’t catch me off guard, as I knew that Canadians and elected officials do not share identical outlooks on Canada, what did surprise me is the great disparity between Canadians and politicians. I’m well aware of the fact that this is not a trend that was created overnight or by one government but I also know that this disparity cannot continue to grow and must be mitigated if we want to continue to claim rule by a representative government.

Given the restructuring of the Canadian body politic outlined upthread, even a renewed LPC will be fighting over a smaller portion of Canada against  the NDP, Bloc and Greens ("Old Canada"), while being much less competative with the CPC in the "New Canada". The downside of this is that the CPC will lack the challenge to remain a competent governing party.
Thucydides said:
Interesting look at how public attitudes are changing according to the Manning Institute. In a way this tracks with the Libertarianism as a social movement meme, but a few disconnects still remain (both Quebec and the different preception of critical issues between the political class and the public):


Given the restructuring of the Canadian body politic outlined upthread, even a renewed LPC will be fighting over a smaller portion of Canada against  the NDP, Bloc and Greens ("Old Canada"), while being much less competative with the CPC in the "New Canada". The downside of this is that the CPC will lack the challenge to remain a competent governing party.

Don't underestimate the LPC's capacity to reinvent itself in whatever part of the political spectrum it can find room to grow. Stephen Harper has made the CPC a centrist party ~ most of us have assumed that the only place for the Liberals is centre-left (left of centre being the NDP's domain) ... what about a Liberal party on the right of centre, tilling ground the CPC ignores.
I wouldn't entirely count out the NDP either - While it is likely that as the liberal party begins its recovery a significant chunk of NDP support will shift, the efforts of the NDP during this period might have them establish establish themselves as a legitimate opposition. Even as an NDP supporter, I think the odds are against them in this regard (but nonetheless still a possibility, which is a fair sight better then they have had historically). The NDP have made some motions about moving more centrist (just how far, or how effective it would be is up for debate however).

I've also spent my time in Alberta and watched the emergence of the Wild Rose party (due in no small part to the stagnation of provincial conservatives lacking credible opposition) - as the CPC moves more central, who is to say we will not have a legitimate successor to the farther right of politics?

Thank you for sharing however - interesting stuff.
>f so, then the next time Quebeckers ask why they’re a part of this country, what will the rest of us tell them?

Because we have a stronger dollar than the Quebec franc (or whatever) can ever hope to be, and the nation of Quebec will not include Ungava.
I would expect something more like a "Maple Leaf Party" to grow on the right, similar to how the Alberta Conservatives are now facing a challenge from the "Wild Rose Alliance" party than for a renewed LPC to track right. This will happen in the post 2015 time frame, since by then the CPC will have been in power for 9 years and  have developed a dissatisfied right wing....
Oh, a poll! ... reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail:

Recent Nanos poll shows Conservative support slipping nationally

Ottawa— Globe and Mail Update

Published Sunday, Aug. 07, 2011

Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are slipping back into minority territory as the New Democrats tumble in Quebec on news that Jack Layton has sidelined himself as he battles cancer, according to a new national opinion poll.

The Liberals, meanwhile, are moving up dramatically and are now statistically tied with the NDP for national support, the Globe/CTV/Nanos poll shows.

“The honeymoon is over,” says pollster Nik Nanos, referring to the Conservatives. “They are back to the old normal, which is the Conservatives ahead but not in majority territory.”

Released Sunday, the poll has the Conservatives with 36. 2 per cent support nationally compared to the NDP and Liberals with 26.8 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.

In June, however, the scenario was much different with the Tories at 41.8 per cent and still benefiting from the afterglow of the May 2nd election that saw them win their first majority government.

Mr. Nanos says this recent drop is likely a result of the Tories talking about prisons and scrapping the long-gun registry rather than the economy. Canadians, he says, tune out when the Conservatives are not on about the economy.

The international debt crisis, however, could provide the Tories with an opportunity to drive-up their numbers.

“This particular issue is going to be critical in terms of moving those numbers into majority territory,” he says, suggesting that the messaging be “tight” from the Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

Mr. Layton and the NDP were also on a high in June after gaining official opposition status on the strength of their win in Quebec where they claimed 59 of the 75 seats.

Although they were at 28 per cent nationally, they were riding high in Quebec with 40 per cent support compared to 34.2 per cent last month. The Tories are at 24.2 per cent in Quebec, virtually unchanged from their 24.3 per cent score in June. The Liberals have increased from 19.1 per cent to 22.2 per cent. The margin of error is 6.2 percentage points.

Mr. Nanos believes the new Quebec numbers are directly related to Mr. Layton and the uncertainty over his health situation.

The NDP leader had been battling prostate cancer but announced last month he was suffering from another cancer, which he has not disclosed. It has forced him to step aside temporarily.

Nycole Turmel, a rookie Quebec NDP MP, is serving as interim leader and found herself in the middle of a controversy after The Globe revealed she was a card-carrying member of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Mr. Nanos says Mr. Layton’s decision to step aside has put a “temporary chill on those very buoyant New Democrat numbers in Quebec.”

His view is reinforced by the poll’s leadership numbers, which show Mr. Layton is four times more trusted in Quebec than Mr. Harper - 58.7 per cent compared to 14.5 per cent.

On the Nanos Leadership Index Score, which measures a leader’s trust, competence and vision for Canada, Mr. Harper scored 88.5 compared to 86.9 for Mr. Layton.

In June, however, Mr. Layton’s score was 104.5 compared to 81.9 for Mr. Harper.

Mr. Nanos cautions that anything that puts the so-called “Jack Layton phenomenon” in Quebec at risk should be worrisome for the New Democrats.

As for the Liberals, their fortunes seem to be soaring - perhaps for the wrong reasons.

In June, the Liberals were at 22.3 per cent support nationally but have seen their support increase in every region of the country over the past month.

Their most dramatic increases have been in Atlantic Canada, where they have gone from 26.6 per cent to 33.8 per cent and in British Columbia where their fortunes have increased from 18. 3 per cent in June to 25.4 per cent in July.

Mr. Nanos attributes this to a couple of factors - unsure voters are parking in the Liberal camp with the “uncertainty of Jack Layton” and the Liberals are without a permanent leader.

Toronto Centre MP Bob Rae is serving as interim leader until the spring of 2013.

The pollster notes Liberal numbers always improve when they don’t have a permanent leader. For example, their numbers increased when Paul Martin announced his departure and again when Stephane Dion resigned.

This, says Mr. Nanos, is a result of Canadians not having a person to focus their likes or dislikes on.

The poll of 1,203 Canadians, conducted between July 25 and August 2, is accurate to within 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

But this is SHOCKING!  ::)  Given the margin of error, the Tories are ... within the same margin of error from their 2 May 11 results.  :boring:

That the Liberals have gained some ground, mostly at the expense of the NDP should surprise no one.

The pollster notes Liberal numbers always improve when they don’t have a permanent leader. For example, their numbers increased when Paul Martin announced his departure and again when Stephane Dion resigned.

What does that say about a party that's more popular without a leader than with?
Life After Layton

The headlines say “Layton's shoes hard to fill.” Indeed they are. Jack Layton was sui generis; he captured the affections of ordinary Canadians, especially of ordinary Québecers, like no one since “Uncle Louis” St Laurent back in the 1950s.

So who is to fill his shoes?

There are two pairs of shoes: leader of the NDP and Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. For the moment – until 2015 – one person will have both jobs, thanks to Layton's excellent performance in the 2011 general election.

But it is not clear to me that any NDP leader, even the late, lamented Mr. Layton, could repeat his 2011 performance in Québec. It is too soon to write off the BQ (or the PQ) although both are in trouble. A really good political leader, which Layton might have proven himself to be, can hold the Québec caucus together and, maybe, even deliver enough to Québec to keep a whole lot of voters onside in 2015, but 53 seats? No, I think not – not even Layton, certainly not Mulcair or Davies.

So who is to lead the NDP?

The pickings are slim: Thomas Mulcair is the best choice; he is in Layton's centrist camp – Layton dragged the NDP, kicking and screaming, towards, not to, the political centre, Mulcair is of the same opinion. Libby Davies would take the Dippers back towards the Judy Rebick, Marxist-Lunatic fringe and , consequentially, back towards 20 seat territory. There are a few other 'possibles' including foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar (but I'm not sure how good his French is). Nycole Turmel is a joke. I'm not sure what she is but leader is not on the list.

But who will lead the opposition after 2015?

The Liberals are as leaderless as the Dippers. The only useful candidate – ie someone who can give Harper a real run for his money – is, in my personal opinion, Scott Brison and I think that:

1. He has a lot of 'negatives,' and

2. The Liberals have a well entrenched tradition of alternating between English and French leaders and the French caucus is very weak.

Good luck to both parties, but the tasks are monumental and tempus fugit.

Edit: Spelling  :-[  Nycole Turmel is such a joke that I misspelled her name, twice! She may be a joke but she deserves to have her name spelled correctly.  :facepalm:
A look at the NDP's place in the Canadian political spectrum, and why we should not expect them to do as well in 2015 (with or without Jack Layton)


The alternative to reality

Robert Fulford, National Post · Aug. 27, 2011 | Last Updated: Aug. 27, 2011 5:23 AM ET

Jack Layton led the NDP more successfully than anyone else but what he led was as much a fantasy as a political party. Over five decades, under half a dozen different leaders, the NDP has evolved into a dream, a means of escape from ordinary life for those who feel the need of it. Layton's successor will be required to embrace an elaborate and much-loved fiction.

The way it's worked out, the central function of the NDP is to help members and supporters pretend that they are not living in a society built on capitalism. Democratic socialism is a fairy tale that they tell themselves as consolation for having to exist in a distressingly grubby, money-driven world. New Democrats don't like business, even if they happen to work for corporations. They know and have always known that the profit motive is not a good thing. Many of them are prosperous, many take pride in their expensive houses, exotic vacations and pensions administered on Bay Street. Some have inherited large sums of money. Even so, they don't care to be reminded that corporations make the comfort and convenience of their lives possible. They love their electronic devices but they don't wish to dwell on the fact that computers and iPads exist (and reach us at low prices) because of the burning desire to maximize profit. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), out of which the NDP grew in 1961, stated its principles as the Regina Manifesto of 1933. It advocated many ideas still dear to Canadians but made one point absolutely explicit: "No CCF Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism."

Democratic socialism has moved a long way since then, so far that the 2011 NDP platform promises to keep Canada's corporate tax always (emphasis added) below the American rate. Yet lifelong study of the New Democrats convinces me that if they had a choice, and didn't have to compromise in order to seem at least marginally sensible, they would much prefer to reinstate the 1933 pledge. For its followers, the NDP delivers the politics of reassurance. It's a question of self-esteem. Those who are even a distant part of it can consider themselves compassionate human beings without necessarily doing anything much that involves compassion. When they think about the NDP, or put its signs on their lawns, they can forget the unpleasant economic truth of their lives and contemplate the presumably better world that might exist somewhere, sometime. They can believe, for a few minutes now and then, that the good people of the world will find a way to fund our medical system and our education system while still providing aid to Somalia. They can look forward to the Canadian foreign policy promised in the NDP platform, a strategy based on "diplomacy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian aid instead of offensive military action." They can feel for a moment like the good people they once intended to be. In their dreams they can inhabit the country they believe they deserve, a place run by nice people, as nice as themselves, from which unfairness is banished. New Democrats all believe in social justice. (Do they assume Liberals and Tories believe in social injustice? Probably.) Above all, they can depend on the NDP to keep alive the most influential delusion of the 19th century, the belief that societies can be planned by idealists without the messy chaos of buying and selling. Over the years the New Democrats have mainly functioned as the Not Party. People voted for them because they were Not Liberals or Not Conservatives.

This year, Gilles Duceppe mislaid his sense of timing, blundered dangerously toward separatism and gave Quebec a reason, at last, to vote for the New Democrats: They were Not the Bloc. That's now part of an ancient pattern. The NDP is alt. politics. It's the alternative to other parties, but it's also an alternative to reality.

Two headlines from the daily papers:

Globe and Mail: NDP leadership race effectively starts now

Ottawa Citizen: Liberals gather in Ottawa ith focus on party's future

This is, on the surface a good time for Stephen Harper; it will also keep both the Liberals and NDP in the media spotlight and that is a double edged sword. My guess is that both leadership races are going to be tough and nasty – each will involve a right vs left debate and Harper may be able to exploit that: “See that? They are just like us.” when the parties' right wings are exposed, and “Do you really want these clowns running the economy?” when the left wing is on top. But there are also dangers. Some of the leadership contenders in each party will be attractive and articulate and will garner considerable media attention – the Tory attack machine will need to go back into high gear but, hopefully, with some sublety.
I think the Tories should just stay in the background during these coronations.....let the rabble select their best.........

then do the character assassination......as they did with Martin, that what's his face....professor....Dion, and Iggy......

The NDP is going to surprise everyone including themselves if they are able to find an effective leader, otherwise....it'll be dogmatic rhetoric  101.....I still see Olivia Chow trying after the next leader crashes......
Olivia will have to work on two things, I think, her French and her policy base. She was a moderately successful city politician but I'm not sure she has many useful 'roots' in e.g. organized labour.

I think that, assuming it can be done subtly and well, the character assassination can begin any time ~ feeding Tory friendly media well made 'scripts' on the dual themes of fiscal irresponsibility or the Liberal or Dipper being on the right wing.
Meanwhile, a "look at me" from Bob Rae via e-mail:
It's a speech that will set the course for the next session of Parliament and the next phase of rebuilding, and you can watch it live online at 1:30pm EDT.

Two months ago, I set out across Canada on a national summer tour. From one end of the country to the other I listened carefully to Liberals and Canadians who care deeply about our Party's future.

What I've found is a deep concern about jobs and the economy. Mr. Harper is talking as if Canada can carry on unaffected by the powerful problems around the world. We know that isn't true. We also know a forced march to austerity won't get the economy back into gear.

We have news for Mr. Harper. It's not "cuts, cuts, cuts." It's "jobs, jobs, jobs."

I also heard another message from Liberals about our Party. Unless the Party changes, our good work in Parliament won't be heard. Unless the Party changes, we won't win the next election.

That's why today's speech in Ottawa before caucus, former MPs and candidates is so important -- and why I'm inviting you to have a front row seat.

But I won't just be talking about change. I'll be demonstrating it, and it's all because of supporters like you.

In late June, I asked you to give what you could to help us rebuild the Liberal website. The response was overwhelming.

Over a thousand of you gave, sometimes $5 or $10 at a time, because you agreed that Liberals needed a hub for our movement, and a tool to help us reach out to Canadians.

This morning the grassroots website you made possible went live at Liberal.ca. Now you can create a profile, talk to other Liberals, check your membership status, and even start your own grassroots fundraising campaign. The ability to turn online support into offline results is firmly in your hands.

Click here to see the new Liberal.ca now and join me live online as I take the podium in Ottawa at 1:30pm EDT.

Awfully big photo for an interim leader.....
E.R. Campbell said:
Olivia will have to work on two things, I think, her French and her policy base. She was a moderately successful city politician but I'm not sure she has many useful 'roots' in e.g. organized labour.

I read a quote on the weekend that defined Olivia to a T....

she was a typical upper class dimwit, slumming with the chic downtrodden of the day, who couldn't bake a loaf of bread without romanticizing the distress of the flour and the noble savage qualities of the yeast.
Beat me to it GAP.

She is back to being a nothing. Don't be surprised it she now addressed as Mrs. Olivia Layton.
(Most) Liberals not keen on merger w/NDP....
Veteran Liberal MP Denis Coderre says he favours merging his party with the New Democrats.

But the Montreal MP seems to be a lone voice at a four-day Liberal caucus retreat to plot strategy for next month’s resumption of Parliament.

Interim leader Bob Rae and other current and former MPs say a merger is not in the cards, even though both opposition parties are weakened and leaderless.

Jack Layton’s death last week has left the NDP reeling and has revived speculation about a possible merger.

Coderre says the outpouring of grief for Layton signalled to him that Canadians want a united, progressive alternative to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

But Rae says uniting with the NDP is not on the agenda.

He says Liberals — reduced to a third-party rump of only 34 seats in the May 2 election — need to focus on getting their own house in order.

“That’s not on our agenda,” Rae told reporters Monday on his way into a Liberal caucus retreat to plot strategy for the Sept. 19 resumption of Parliament.

“People are free to talk about whatever they want to talk about, but it’s not on my agenda at the moment. I think we really have to focus on the Liberal party.” ....
milnews.ca said:

Would you expect anything else at this time?

I am a bit surprised at Coderre's position, unless he sees himself as the leader of the merged party and the future Prime Minister. If so, he is a couple of elections and a decade or so out of date.

To be frank, at this stage the NDP is probably not ready to do more than suggest that the Liberals disband and urge their members to join the 'real' progressive voice for Canadians.
Is it possible that Coderre is trying to get to the head of the Quebec parade so as to salvage whatever relevance that province may have as a powerbase going forward?

The Liberals power has been based on being able to supply a strong cohort of Quebecers since the days of Lafontaine.  With Quebec all over the map, a declining population and a declining share of the Canadian population the influence of Quebec and the Liberals is declining apace with the rate at which their bridges are falling.

Coderre's best shot at the leadership is predicated on the Anglo-Franco alternation.  But if the Francos can't deliver a base then the New Liberals might be encouraged to start looking westward for an alternate base with which to associate.

Ralph Goodale still holds his riding.  There a Liberals in BC and Manitoba of a rightish persuasion.  And even the Dippers on the prairies tend to be of different cast than the Eastern Dippers - more Co-Operative than Socialist.

That could suggest an alternative alignment that wouldn't favour Quebec or Coderre.
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