Six weeks later -

Six weeks later

So where are we? Politics editor Paul Wells explains as the parliamentary year begins


On Dec. 13, the day after the Commons rose for the Christmas break, CTV’s Don Martin met Thomas Mulcair in Stornaway to talk about the parliamentary season then ending. The big news there was the F-35 procurement audit and the CNOOC/Nexen deal. When the House sits on Monday for the first time in six weeks, I’ll be surprised if either is a big issue. Politics in Canada has moved on, and it feels like we are a lot more than six weeks closer to the next election.

We know more about two opposition figures, Mulcair and Justin Trudeau, than we did in mid-December. Mulcair spent the holidays and the first month of 2013 accelerating his efforts to moderate the NDP’s public image. Trudeau made it through the opening rounds of the woefully belated Liberal leadership campaign without showing up at a debate without pants, saying the country is run by too many Albertans — well, at least he managed not to say it again — or doing anything else to blow his reputation among Liberals. And a string of polls (the kind that ask about hypothetical situations in the future, so don’t take them as gospel) suggest he’d take a far bigger bite out of NDP and Conservative support than any of his opponents. So his lead in the Liberal leadership race holds steady.

I think Mulcair’s six weeks have been more significant. We always knew he’d seek to position the NDP more toward the centre. Brian Topp’s second-place campaign in last year’s NDP leadership contest was based on thinly veiled warnings to that precise effect. In the Dec. 13 interview with Don Martin he took every chance to depict his NDP, not as a party that more closely approximates some ideal of social justice than the others, but simply as one that’s more competent. He wouldn’t call for Peter MacKay’s resignation over the F-35 procurement because “if you ask for a resignation a week, it loses all meaning.” But he said the fiasco “is sheer incompetence… They blew the whole process from day one. It is public money. They like to brand themselves as good public managers. This shows that they’re not that.” Nor would he flatly preclude the F-35 purchase: “We’re not going to go through the same mistake that we saw when the helicopters were cancelled by the Liberals,” way back in 1993. “Canada needs a jet fighter fleet.”

That wasn’t quite his slogan in the NDP leadership campaign. “Tom Mulcair: Because Canada needs a jet fighter fleet.” But the NDP leader’s refusal to act like an NDP leader continued during the extended drama over Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s dietary choices. As I’ve already noted, Mulcair steered well clear of Spence from the outset. Instead his highest-profile public event between December and now was his (slightly gimmicky, to be sure) summit meeting with provincial NDP leaders in Ottawa. This sought to demonstrate a few things: the notion that New Democrats can govern, as they do in two provinces and could soon in B.C. and Ontario. A more classic post-1960 vision of executive federalism, in which a leader in Ottawa does not exhaust his ingenuity seeking to avoid simultaneous meetings with leaders from the provinces. A continued “focus on the economy,” always hard to define but now apparently a game the NDP can play too.

Jack Layton was always leery about straying too far from NDP orthodoxy because he could never be sure of gaining as much support from new supporters as he’d lose in motivated longtime NDP support. Mulcair’s gone further in that direction, faster than Layton ever did. Largely it’s because the promise of power is more credible now than ever. If the NDP had 40 seats and Mulcair was trying to do what he’s doing now, there would already be meetings of New Democrats trying to figure out how to stop him. I’m surprised the Conservatives haven’t yet tried to drive a wedge between Mulcair and the party he joined less than six years ago.

But then, the Conservatives cannot yet be sure they want the NDP in serious trouble. Enter Justin Trudeau. He had a less surprising January, but one in which he continued as the apparent Liberal front-runner. Much can happen in 10 weeks, but there’s a good chance he’s the next Liberal leader. If he is, his effect on the Liberal vote is hard to predict.

Stephen Harper stays in power as long as that majority of voters who don’t support the Conservatives continue to divide their support among competing opposition parties. As the parliamentary year 2013 begins, the two largest opposition parties are moving, the NDP to consolidate its new position as an alternative government, the Liberals to reverse a decline that has put the party in existential danger. The three parties’ manoeuvring will be the backdrop against which the debates of the first half of 2013 take place.



Six weeks later

  1. Paul, you seemed to have omitted the thought that most of Canada knows Trudeau is a shallow headed person. He is a copycat. He is a repeating, never ending, round and round sameness with not an eager overpowering first thought to himself. And, when a thought comes forth, he blows it.

    Analyze all his speeches and they are the same material in a different order or sequence that reveals nothing. People like Ms. Delacourt swoon over his every word. Harris reeks of his admiration of the kid. It just slays me to read some articles on him.

    I truly believe just you and Mr. Coyne have him pegged for what he is.

    Mr. Mulcair, well that’s a different area. The thought of an NDP in control of all of Canada gives one the shudders.

    • Yes, how silly of Paul. Kinda makes you wonder what Macleans were thinking when they hired the guy.

      • I believe the conversation went, “Paul, I know that in a decade you’re going to write a stinker of a Sunday-night blog post, but you’re awfully cute, so come on aboard.”

    • Great boomer comment, Ouston. Were you ever young?

    • You analyzed all his speeches? Huh.

      • You mean the ones where he says he is listening and he cares about the middle class.

        • As opposed to the Harper ones where he says it’s all about the economy, the economy , the economy, and the economy…justice,environmental responsibility, Climate change, native rights, democratic accountability in the house…all must bow before the god that failed[again in 2008] to paraphrase Harper in the age before his ascent to the seat of power.

    • The thought of an NDP in control of all of Canada gives me goosbumps. The possibility we will finally have a competent government who is fair and balanced is extremely exciting.

  2. Nice post, the best.

  3. The locus of the aerospace industry in Canada is suburban Montreal. Of course, Mulcair is going to be for buying some kind of jet.

    The lifecycle costs of any jet is going to be not much different than the F-35. Maybe $30 billion over $40 billion in the best question.

    The real question is whether we should be buying drones instead of jets, but the aerospace industry in Quebec doesn’t like that question, which is why no political party will ask it.

    • I agree with Mulcair; the F-35 looks like a bad buy but without a proper set of requirements and a proper procurement process we can’t be sure. We definitely don’t want to find ourselves in the same position we are with our helicopters: 20 years down the road and still waiting for replacements while we keep the existing birds in the sky with duct tape holding them together.

      • Oh, you mean the Chretien approach. Don’t forget the bit about the government — and thus Canadian taxpayers — getting sued by the manufacturer for multi-millions. There’s that too.

        • Yeah; not exactly Chretien’s brightest move. We are usually on opposite sides on most issues, but I suspect we are in complete agreement on the helicopter fiasco.

    • “The lifecycle costs of any jet is going to be not much different than the F-35. Maybe $30 billion over $40 billion in the best question.”

      If that’s the case, why didn’t the Cons come clean with those numbers in the first place?

      • They were seduced by the “stealth” factor…but not even that could forever hide the fact that Peter isn’t qualified to run a potato chip shop, leave alone the DND.

  4. Regardless of what the socialist tries to portray himself as and whether the man child wins the leadership of the Liberals Harper will out class them and out strategize them politically. Canadians are not going to hand the keys to the treasury to a tax and spend socialist and the Libs have no chance to gain 100 seats in the next election to take a minority government regardless of how cute JT looks. So Harper will be re-elected and dissension in the NDP ranks will be palatable after Mulcair loses the next election.

    • So I suppose everyone who doesn’t agree with the Harper Government (TM) should just pack up and go home. One party rule seems to be the goal here.

      Odd also that you invoke the term ‘out class’ after offering a couple of personal insults.

      • No. We are entitled to vote for the leader and party we think will manage the country competently. Thus far Harper has no competition.

        • I have yet to see any evidence that Harper is competent at anything beyond winning elections (which, I admit, he is pretty good at).

          • Might I suggest you open your eyes and observe. Unless of course you are so partisan that you don’t want to see the legislation that is being passed.

          • If more people open their eyes to the legislation being passed, the CPC will go the way of the PCs after the next election. Who gets to play Kim Campbell this time?

          • Yep, passing two bills that ran to over 900 pages without a single amendment passed or any of the relevant committees getting to examine them is the very epitome of non partisan.
            Apparently – apart form the opposition members – who did their best to wake the public up and alert them to the fact – it seems that only the FNs were paying much attention.

          • It does seem the public is indifferent to omnibus bills and their ramifications – sigh.

    • A tax and spend socialist would be a big improvement on the current borrow and spend “conservative”.

      • Tell me that when the deficit is covered.

        • I should live so long!

        • If it gets covered, it will be because we have a different party in office.

    • You need to look up the word “palatable.” Well, only if you wish to use it correctly, that is.

      • Either hollinm needs a dictionary, or that is a rather hilarious autocorrect, wherever he may be typing from. I’m assuming he was going for ‘palpable’.

        • Using a keyboard and a mindset that is stuck in 1968 surely can’t help.

        • Yes, I figured ‘palpable” also. Reminds me of Archie Bunker.

    • “Canadians are not going to hand the keys to the treasury…”

      Small but crucial correction: on any given day, according to polls over the last two years, only about 35-39% of those Canadians would keep the keys to the treasury in current hands.

      There’s a very good chance those same Canadians will only give the current keepers of those keys a minority in the next election, making a coalition of “other keepers” a plausible outcome.

      • This is nothing new – the Chretion Liberals won 3 majority governments with 40% +/- 1.5.

        Unfortunately, it seems that people have only now noticed how deficient a first-past-the-post system is in a multi-party environment.

        If Trudea has said one useful thing, it’s that a preferential ballot is the way to go.

  5. “Stephen Harper stays in power as long as that majority of voters who
    don’t support the Conservatives continue to divide their support among
    competing opposition parties”

    Well, it does rather look like it is going to come down to a titanic battle between Mulcair and JT then. One cannot live politically while the other survives, so to speak. Clearly Harper hopes they just wound one another. But at some point unless one gets a clear path to victory , these guys will have to look into the abyss of 5 more years of Harperism; and they are going to have to give serious thought to how they are going to deal with that, and whether burying egos and party hatchets, if only for a day [E day] is what it is going to finally take if neither they or their parties can gain a decisive upper hand.

    I haven’t a clue who will win this struggle, but like most libs/dippers i’m afraid that no one can, except the guy we least want to. At that point the LPC is going to finally concede that history has written them out for good or for ill as a dominant player in the game, and the NDP to concede that they need the LPC whether they like to admit it or not. In the meantime it’s game on then!

    • I don’t feel as defeated as you sound. NDP just got a new leader last year, and Libs are getting one this year. So given that both oppo parties have been weakened during their leaderless times, it’s interesting and a little surprising that harper can’t seem to move that approval rating higher, and there’s no reason to suppose he’s going to suddenly figure out how to become more popular, especially as his supporters continue to rant about aboriginal people, abortions and other so-con issues that keep his support right level to where’s it’s been since about 2006.

      • That’s a fair point about him not really getting any more popular despite opposition leadership gaps and problems. But i’m not sounding defeated at all. I’m just pointing out that even if JT brings the libs someway back it isn’t likely he is going to blow a competent experienced leader like Mulcair away[ conventional wisdom would suggest the opposite] And he has an awfully big learning curve himself.
        So, we still likely left with the two main opposition parties needing to find some kind of detente to oust Harper.
        I’m actually reasonably optimistic that the opposition parties can hold the tories to a minority in ’15 at the very least and win a minority themselves at best.
        Lots of politics to come yet though.

  6. “Stornoway” not “Stornaway”. C’mon man, way to kill a lead.