Weekend Notes (Vol. 1, No. 19)

In the print edition this week there are two pages under this byline on the enigmatic Peter Van Loan, thus marking the 376th time I’ve referred to the government House leader in print in my short time with this magazine. This time though there’s further commentary from Ralph Goodale, Michael Ignatieff, historian Ned Franks (who confesses he can’t watch QP anymore) and Senator David Smith.

It is perhaps an under-reported fact that Mr. Van Loan and the Senator, the party stalwart presently charged with running the next Liberal campaign, go back a ways and remain good friends—Senator Smith is quite sure he was the only Liberal at the House leader’s wedding not so long ago.

That there isn’t yet a wild-eyed conspiracy theory about the close association between the Prime Minister’s right-hand man and one of Mr. Dion’s primary election advisors is, suffice it to say, somewhat disappointing. Surely some enterprising blogger should have connected the dots by now. For shame.

—So on Monday, Jack Layton is spotted cavorting around Ottawa with the government’s little yellow army of obedient young people. On Wednesday, the only opposition member acknowledged in the Prime Minister’s apology is the NDP leader. And then on Thursday someone makes sure the Star knows that it was an NDP aide whose wise counsel helped convince the PM to let native leaders speak. What, one might ask, is the possibility that this confluence of events was purely coincidental and is not indicative of anything but happenstance?

—For all the stage-managing of Mr. Poilievre’s apology on Thursday, most of his carefully placed peers weren’t actually visible on TV. Indeed, if I saw correctly later, the only visible Conservative (until the camera pulled back to show Rob Clarke applauding) was Fabian Manning. Next time one of their members needs to publicly grovel, I trust the party’s strategists will have a better understanding of camera angle.

—Going back, if just for a moment, to those young Tories dispatched to spread the good word around Ottawa on Monday, one wonders why the troops weren’t sent somewhere like Winnipeg or Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal. Certainly they might’ve influenced more real people in those places than where they were—standing out front of West Block and loitering around the downtown patios of the capital. Ah, but those cities don’t have the country’s foremost political journalists wandering about, eager to spread word of our democracy across the nation. And, really, why spring for air fare, when the press gallery will deliver the message for you? (See previously, This space for sale.) 

Garth Turner on Pierre Poilievre. “Now the only reason Pierre Poilievre merits this attention is the loss that he represents. He has the abilities to make a positive and perhaps monumental contribution to national life. Seldom does a person of his talent show up on Parliament Hill, able to grasp issues, master House procedure, speak for an entire government and rustle such emotion in others. But seldom, also, does the Hill see such idolatry, raw partisanship or the blind ideology of which it is born.”

—A former colleague of mine at the Post, Sean Fitz-gerald, is writing a series on the CFL, the NFL and the future of the sport in Canada. Interesting reading, whether or not you take Senator Campbell’s Canadian Football Act at all seriously. (Apparently this isn’t even the first time an enterprising Canadian political has tried this trick. Seems Trudeau-era cabinet minister Marc Lalonde introduced his own CFA in 1974, looking to block expansion of the World Football League. And, hey, look how effective that legislation turned out to be.)

Michael Ignatieff and Glen Pearson have now posted their respective thoughts about Wednesday’s apology. And CBC’s unsigned bureau blog has commentary from inside and outside the House. I will say this for the experience inside the Commons: to see the galleries packed and to hear those watching react passionately to what was happening on the floor made for a reinvigorating scene. And while the House could never otherwise allow such noise from spectators (the parties would quickly move to fill seats with shouty partisans, turning Question Period into the equivalent of a high school football game with cheerleaders and pep squads to go with the fragile egos and awkward souls at play), it did, for a moment, feel like the grand stage of democracy we often forget it is.

—In the Peter Van Loan piece above, I recycle the Barney Rubble comparison. A commenter here has previously likened him to Jackie Gleason. And this week a Liberal heckler introduced a new reference: Don Rickles.

Weekend Notes (Vol. 1, No. 19)

  1. Just words. Words that will be remembered by some, but quickly forgotten by most.

  2. Since when does the House Leader sit directly behind the Prime Minister?

  3. In the end, it’s all about Harper and Layton joining forces to try to demolish a political party – they who spout democracy.

    Democracy is about having more than one party to choose from.

    Layton makes my skin crawl. Never a camera he doesn’t like – hey Jack, it’s not like you’re a looker or anything – not movie star material.

    Yup, it’s all about Harper and Layton and their evil plans and their huge egos.

    Somehow, the apology has now lost something.

    Sad

  4. Scott M., I don’t recall the House leader sitting anywhere else. Certainly Don Boudria was right behind Chrétien.

  5. Harper needs a strong Layton in Ontario. Not sure why Layton needs Harper, though.

  6. The worst elections for the NDP have been Liberal comebacks. 1974, 1993. This is life-and-death for the NDP. It would not be surprising to see Layton lose half his caucus in the next election, if the Liberals come back.

  7. Yes, but by aligning himself with Harper, LAyton will allienate some party members he can ill-afford to lose.

  8. Harper and Layton will make nice. Dion has one kick at can left come this fall either on a confidence motion or opposition day as he can not wait until spring 2009 since my boy Stevie legislated the term to fall 2009 and calling one in the spring would be an obvious act of desparation not to mention a waste of money. So what could thwart this event – more votes in the house. Layton has an agenda and I am sure some things he would like to accomplish especially something like say —- first nations women’s rights as an example here is an area where both Steve and Jack are in alignment so let’s say come this fall Steve pro-rogues and then introduces an item in the Throne Speech with major things for First Nations people and the next thing you know the Conservatives and NDP seem to appear to hold something in common both possibly gaining serious points with their base and attracting wayward Fiberals – This leaves Stepanie out in the cold for the fall – just a possible scenario – even better Let’s say Stevie changes his mind about the UN Declaration of Aboriginal Rights – who knows

  9. Wayne, are you physically capable of looking at something objectively? Or is the partisan posturing branded into your cerebellum?

  10. Sandi, it’s not like they’re trying to ban the Liberal party. They just both have an interest in making a common opponent as unpalatable to voters as possible. That’s not undemocratic; it’s what democracy is.

  11. Sophie, point taken but let’s remember how far that base has gotten the NDP. If they ever want to become a mainstream contender for government in this country, they need to break out of that base and sometimes that will mean leaving some of the base behind. Ask someone who was a card-holding Canadian Alliance member during the darkest days of the Stockwell Day experiment, and odds are they aren’t too happy with Stephen Harper’s government. They’re as “base” as it gets, but some of them had to be left behind to build a bigger base that could win elections.

  12. It’s interesting to hear Liberals complain about Jack Layton and the NDP trying to obliterate the Natural Governing Party when that is exactly what the Liberals woudln’t mind doing to the NDP.

  13. Blues Clair, that Liberal attitude comes from (at least) two impulses, one more legitimate (to me, at least) than the other. The first is the simple tribal assumption that Liberal interests are legitimate and NDP interests can’t be. The second is a (more) objective calculation that, as the two parties have been constituted for 40 years, a strong Liberal party “produces” “progressive” governments (two words that can be debated energetically by all concerned), whereas a strong NDP splits “progressive” forces and delivers the country into Conservative hands.

    You can tell by all the air quotes that I have problems with the second thesis, but at least Liberals who think that way aren’t merely being petulant.

    Unlike some commenters here and the entire Liberal federal caucus, I believe the NDP, as an organization and a set of ideas, has a simple right to self-defense. But it should also expect to face hard questions. Here’s one: as a rule, is Stephen Harper friendlier towards those opponents who are more dangerous to him, or less? Tory love for Jack Layton reminds me of Liberal fondness for Joe Clark: it sounds like the condescending love of a master for a pet that might bark but can never bite.

  14. The NDP will never be the national governing party. Why? Because history shows that the Libs and Conservatives have won only by reaching into the others base, the Liberals by painting themselves as firmly centre and the conservatives as crazy bible-thumping right wingers, and the conservatives by painting the,selves as firmly centre and th Libs as a bunch of crazy free-spending lefties. THe NDP are socialists. Cool. However, the NDP are never going to win enough centre-right voters to form a government. THus, all they do is fracture the left wing vote and place the Cons in power. Doesn’t that seem like shooting yourself in the foot? (Trust me, my mother and grandfather have organised for the NDP since before I was born. I know what I’m talking about.)

  15. I’m losing my mind.

  16. Excellent news. Now you’ll fit right in.

  17. Hey Paul, how are you and your (liberal) colleagues at the parl press preparing to cover the longest. election. campaign. ever. starting with Dion’s carbon thingy rollout this week? Cancelling vacations? Working out in extreme heat? Hiring Julie as a special election commentator?

  18. As to the longest. eleciton. campain. ever, no kidding. I got the fourth e-mail from the Liberal party today asking me for my money in a month. Alsom, they mentioned OCtober as an election date. Cool cool cool.

  19. Paul Wells wrote: “The worst elections for the NDP have been Liberal comebacks. 1974, 1993″

    However, I note that the NDP seat count held up in the 1980 election that brought Trudeau back to 24 Sussex.

    Having said that, I agree with your central point: the NDP will be fighting for their life in the enxt election.

    In large part this is because of how Harper has polarized politics.

    Anyone other than hard core conservatives will want to give their vote to whoever can defeat the Conservatives, which in most places is not the NDP.

    - JV

  20. From my seat here in BC, Harper’s plan of polarizing national politics to the extremes would be very effective — for him. Our provincial legislature, when split between the choices of left and right, gone starboard 27 out of 40 years (counting from 1968 to today)… That’s plenty of ‘less-progressive’ government than you might have with a centre-of-the-road option, who would be more inclined to borrow ideas from both sides of the curb. Of course, that is the theory that never completely pleases everyone, as noticed by Jack and Steve’s pals.
    Why wouldn’t STeve want to help Jack? Under those odds, he’d be guaranteed an opportunity to renovate 24 Sussex a couple of times.

  21. Actually, the talented Derek Finkle has a piece on Van Loan (my friend and former employer) and Smith’s former law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain, and its political bent, in Precedent. As a precaution, you may wish to wrap yourself in aluminum foil before reading.

    http://www.lawandstyle.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=308&Itemid=100

    From the article:
    For many years, Smith’s junior in this practice was Peter Van Loan, who moved to FMC with him in 1990, along with six other lawyers and the firm’s support staff. “Many people gasp at the fact that Peter and I worked together for so long,” says Smith, whose office walls are famously decorated with photos of Trudeau, Chrétien, and countless other Liberal powerbrokers from the past four decades.

    “Yes, we had different political allegiances but we worked closely on many a complicated municipal board meeting, and Liberal or Conservative politics had nothing to do with it. It was just a world that we understood and had expertise in, and we were able to build a very, very successful practice.”

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