Monday, April 4, 2011

DAY TEN: Still TheTeflon Tories... but for how much longer?

As the parties enter their second full week Harper's strategy of attacks based on a fictional premise, taking credit for the recovery, avoiding answering inconvenient questions and pretending he has nothing to do with the sketchy cast of characters surrounding him is working... at least according to the latest NANOS poll. Their lead over the Liberals has increased in the last week in spite of numerous missteps by the PM and his party in the opening week of the campaign.

 Today there was more of the kind of news that would rattle some parties and their followers but not this party, not now. The Canadian Press reported Sunday that Bruce Carson, one of Mr. Harper's closest advisers, was convicted on five counts of fraud – three more than previously known – and received court-ordered psychiatric treatment.

Harper says he wouldn’t have installed former adviser Bruce Carson in his Prime Minister’s Office if he had been aware of his past. The Conservative leader claims he was never told of Mr. Carson’s full criminal record. This seems unlikely and Carson's lawyer told the CP that Mr. Carson disclosed his entire criminal record during a security check as was required to become a senior staffer in the PMO.

The latest revelations should raise questions about Mr. Harper's judgment in hiring Mr. Carson as his chief policy analyst and troubleshooter. Mr. Carson would have been privy to top secret government files in his job as a senior adviser to the prime minister up until leaving the PMO in 2008. The PM's claims of "I didn't know until you just told me," ring false as someone in Mr. Carson's position would have been subject to a thorough review by both the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

So he had a five times convicted fraudster as his top advisor. What's the big deal?

Today on the trail Harper was doing what he could to further divide Canadians resurrecting the long-gun registry as an issue. To put extra emphasis on the divisiveness he seeks to create he said “We are the party that stands with rural Canada and understands your values and your way of life,” during a stop in Wainfleet, Ont.. Does that mean they don't understand urban Canadians or stand with them? Please, can someone call them out on this patent idiocy?

Jack Layton gave it a shot accusing Harper of "driving a wedge" between Canadians through the long-gun registry issue. "He goes into Welland for the second election in a row and doesn't even acknowledge the fact that hundreds of workers are losing their jobs and that the middle class is being wiped out in Welland!"

Jack had a campaign stop in Toronto where he talked about doubling public pension payouts. It's not a new pledge but it is one he hopes will appeal to Canadians who are approaching retirement. The NDP were also reaching out to workers who have lost their company pension plans when their employers have gone bankrupt. Pensioners and workers on long-term disability would be the first creditors to collect when a company goes under, according to the NDP proposal.

Michael Igantieff meanwhile was in the Maritimes today where according to a Canadian Press story, the Liberals are setting their campaign sights on military veterans with a $120-million “Vets, not jets” promise. Ignatieff told supporters in Halifax today that a Liberal government would pay the full costs of tuition, books, accommodations and living expenses for up to four years of post-secondary education or technical training for veterans.

The 94-page Liberal document that outlines and costs the Liberal platform which was released on Sunday was given faint praise in today's Globe and Mail. They called it prudent and pragmatic which is okay but then there was insult as it was likened to a document that could have come from Harper. There was some good news for Ignatieff as the Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll has him within seven points with the Conservatives at 35 per cent support, ahead of the Liberals at 28 per cent. The NDP was at 17 per cent, while the Bloc Quebecois stood at 10 per cent and the Greens at eight. (spoiler alert: there's excerpted video of an Ignatieff campaign speech at the link, his best line being "How can you trust a man who doesn't respect you?")

Amongst the promises are calls for a permanent home-energy retrofit program, assistance to family caregivers, a community “Heroes Fund” for fallen firefighters and peace officers, and a new Canada Service Corps. There is also a plan to reform Parliament as well by placing new restrictions on Prime Ministerial power to prevent arbitrarily proroguing Parliament for political reasons, and instituting a “People’s Question Period” which will attempt to engage Canadians online. The idea is to have cabinet ministers and the PM to “respond directly to unscripted, user-generated questions.”

A majority of Canadians believe that the Green Party Leader Elizabeth May should have a seat at the federal party leaders debate, a recent poll suggests. Elizabeth May also made news today with a campaign pledge of $450 million for the CBC on the day before party takes broadcasters to court.

Here's Ignatieff's campaign video response to the question, "Who are you?"

DAY TEN: Platforms (part three)

Wresting the narrative away from the spinners and media is an auspicious way to begin a campaign and Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party deserve a lot of credit for taking this beast by its' antlers and waging a far better than anticipated opening to their campaign.

 The Ignatieff platform delivered Sunday, is what he is calling his 'Family Pack' of measures that will deliver relief to the Canadian middle-class. There are details about the costing of some of the already announced initiatives, including $1 billion to be spent on the Family Care Plan,  $1 billion the cost for aid to post-secondary students, $700-million annual boost to the Guaranteed Income Supplement to help reduce poverty among seniors, especially women and seniors with disabilities. The simplicity of making your spending priorities families, students and the elderly reminds me of the Clinton '92 campaign which had a nifty slogan, "It's the economy, stupid'' to go along with some good and simple ideas they had to get the economy humming and it worked. By the way, that included taxing the rich!



Now the Conservatives predictably shout 'tax and spend' as if spending weren't something governments are supposed to do with tax revenues, and holding the corporate tax rates at eighteen percent instead of lowering them one-and-a-half percent this year and again in 2012 spells doom for corporations and jobs in Canada.  Seems unlikely especially in a year when there were record profits for corporations across the board. The common weal, after all, is why we pay taxes. I hope Mr. Ignatieff embraces their spin. He indeed will be taxing the wealthy corporations and spending on as well as investing in the Canadian middle class -- there are worse things you could spend your money on like for example (according to the Tories) the arts!

The Liberals are in a good position here to defend what they want to spend money on, because as long as Mr. Ignatieff is not gonna' spend $30 billion on jets, $5 billion on prisons and $6 billion on corporate tax breaks, he's left himself some walking around money that he can use to invest elsewhere. Good for you Michael!

To separate themselves further from the Conservatives, the Liberal position is now to reduce the environmental cost of the Alberta tar-sands. Ignatieff said the past five years have seen the Harper government "walk away" from regulating the oilsands at a critical time when the world is watching whether the resource is being responsibly developed. The federal government must "walk back in" for the sake of protecting wild species, improving water conservation and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. He also promises to have a more proactive climate change policy, one that will not necessarily march in lockstep with the Obama administration. Clearly a good idea.

The thing about taking control of the spin away from the media is once you start you can never let up because the media will fight you for that purview and the right will be there to attack your perceived strengths if you falter for a moment -- this all comes from the Lee Atwater/Karl Rove playbook and is now a part of how Canadian Tories conduct themselves in the political arena.

There is an article over at the Toronto Star about how the Iggy game plan is to be 'prudent and cautious' all the way. Now this is belied by the first nine days of this campaign. I can't speak to this in a meaningful way other than to note the sources quoted are not named. As for Ignatieff's prudence, maybe caution will be a watchword on this campaign as it moves forward -- who knows?

So far, however, Mr. Ignatieff has proved himself willing to take far more risks in this campaign than his Conservative opponent, Mr. 'five questions' Harper, even going so far as to accept an invitation to a political street-fight that Harper quickly backed out of. Those are some good optics even if such an offer is unfair in the first place. So Harper, who when not on the defensive has been repeating tired old lines about the opposition parties that don't have the same sting anymore (you can only say "tax and spend liberals," so many times before it becomes meaningless). I'm pretty sure this is not the start Harper was looking for. Whether he pays a price at the polls to Ignatieff's benefit is anyone's guess.

As for Michael, well has his identity, his platform and his own ideas of how he wants this campaign to go. Now all he has to do is defend every last scrap of political turf with every last ounce of his energy and he might just stand a chance. People will rally to someone who fights for what they believe, and based on the early campaigning he looks ready to do just that. It's the kind of action that fleshes out his campaign promises and makes them more than just words on a position paper. It's also a lot easier said and written than done.