State of play - Macleans.ca
 

State of play


 

The band — covers from the 60s, 70s, 80s and whatever — was really quite good in front of the big Bill Reid sculpture at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau as the usual Parliament Hill suspects convened for the annual Press Gallery Dinner last night. The speeches — none from any political leader; the prime minister’s boycott of the event has proved contagious, and the shorter event is a blessing — were funny and brief. The attempts at comedy were really bad. The real fun came before dinner, between courses and long after, as journalists, politicians, and former journalists and politicians (i.e. lobbyists) gossipped about the week’s news. Here’s an attempt to tease consensus and narrative out of the jumble:

  • Nobody serious pretends to know how this will end. The task facing the opposition is complex and daunting. Opposition politicians acknowledge that, simply by delaying the vote by a week, Stephen Harper has given them two kinds of opportunity: a chance to get their act together, and a chance for their ramshackle coalition to fall apart. A minority of the Liberals I spoke to expect this attempt to fail.
  • Jean Chrétien is in Florida but he took his cell phone and the numbers of key Liberals and New Democrats. He is in this at Ed Broadbent’s request, because the NDP sees no coherent Liberal leadership capable of delivering the whole party into any deal. Many Liberals deny Chrétien has an active role. But they take his calls.
  • Some Liberals say the Bloc will not accept Michael Ignatieff as PM and that the Bloc insists on Dion, who will do less damage to their long-term chances. Some Liberals say the NDP will not accept Bob Rae as PM. I spoke to an NDP negotiator who said the party does not care who serves as PM. “The Liberal leader will be PM. The Liberals get to decide who their leader is.” The Bloc does not expect cabinet seats. I’ve heard one report that the Bloc is insisting on a French-only requirement for public-service employees in Quebec. This was news to a Bloquiste I quizzed. The NDP does expect cabinet seats; a deal like the 1985 accord in Ontario, which sealed NDP cooperation for a Liberal-only cabinet, is unacceptable to the NDP, who see this as a chance to groom a young generation of New Democrats who are used to the compromises and disciplines of actually governing.
  • I spoke to one of Stephen Harper’s closest collaborators and to several Conservatives more distant from the boss. They were unanimous in acknowledging that, one way or another, the fall economic and fiscal update constituted a misstep of some kind. Where they differ is on what, precisely, the mistake was, and how to recover now.
  • Some Conservatives are very angry with Harper. He called an early election seeking a calmer Parliament in which he could govern without serious interference for a while. Now, at a bare minimum, he’s lost that calm. The bitter, acrimonious autumn he wanted to avoid is here in spades, and according to some in his own party, he’s to blame.
  • He is getting conflicting advice on what to do next. His options, broadly, are Fight or Contrite. Fight is the path he chose on Friday: put every obstacle in the way of the rival coalition, decry its legitimacy, appeal to Canadians. Even prorogue Parliament (Nobody knew whether to believe that theory; one Liberal called it “pulling the fire alarm before your final exam”). Even more. The Conservatives have booked an airplane and campaign buses in the event of an election call. Not because they expect one but because they want to be ready for anything.
  • Contrite looks a little like John Baird cancelling the party-financing stuff on Saturday, but would now have to go much further than that. (Incidentally, I talked to a former cabinet minister and a former senior staffer to a finance minister, from different parties. Both were astonished that a transport minister would be selected to disown part of a finance minister’s fiscal update two days after it was delivered. They saw this as a serious blow to Jim Flaherty’s legitimacy as a minister.) Harper is being advised, not by everyone around him but by some, to take back all of his fall update — pay equity, union-busting, the whole nine yards — fire somebody significant (Flaherty? Guy Giorno?), and promise to better, quickly.
  • But most of his closest advisors would much rather Fight than Contrite.

 
Filed under:

State of play

  1. The problem is increasingly looking like Harper himself. Both the Conservative Party and the country deserve better leadership than this. Conservatives need to consider whether Harper furthers their ambitions or is the greatest barrier to them – I lean towards the latter thesis. People aren’t happy with the Liberals but they haven’t shown any inclination to give Harper the keys up to now. Conservatives need to ask themselves why, and if this can ever change with Harper as leader.

  2. Ironically, Dion might emerge from this the same way he became Leader of the Liberal Party in December 2006.

    The NDP will not work with Bob Rae. The Bloc will not work with Michael Ignatieff.

    Interesting times.

  3. Thanks for all the tidbits from last night.

    “He called an early election seeking a calmer Parliament in which he could govern without serious interference for a while. Now, at a bare minimum, he’s lost that calm. ”

    I am glad to hear that some Conservatives agree with this. I detest Harper’s style, dislike many of his policies and would never vote for him. I was disappointed by the election results and disgusted by the tone of the entire election. However, I accepted the results and was really hoping for at least some months of calm. Parliament had barely been back a week, when Harper shoved us into the dirt again.

    I don’t see how anyone, supporter or not, can ever trust Harper again. Even still, I am hoping he picks the road of contrite, does what he can to make amends and restore calm, just so we can make it through the first part of the new year, and see where we are at (while watching our backs). If Harper choses the road of fight, then we need to take him out.

  4. “Incidentally, I talked to a former cabinet minister and a former senior staffer to a finance minister, from different parties. Both were astonished that a transport minister would be selected to disown part of a finance minister’s fiscal update two days after it was delivered. They saw this as a serious blow to Jim Flaherty’s legitimacy as a minister.”

    PW,

    he seems to do this fairly often, albeit with lesser profile circumstances then this, but nonetheless (e.g., Baird getting bumped on environment announces; etc.).

    Do you see it as a deliberate strategy and, if so, what motivates it? Two guesses from the cheap seats: 1) purposefully maintain levers to control and constrain minister’s legitimacy to prop up his own power; alternatively, make it hard for opponents/media to ever sink their teeth to far into one higher profile cabinet member.

  5. I seriously think the CPC leadership does not believe that large scale government spending will lessen the effects of an economic recession. It’s that simple.

    Harper however, seriously needs to bite the bullet, whatever he believes and stop being too-clever-by-half. It’s time to focus on the things Canadians want: good governance.

    He could be the Dick Morris’ Winston Churchill. Maybe that would inspire him.

  6. The “French Only Public Service” nonsense was tory spin offered up by Bob Fife on CTV news. The CTV website people chopped that ridiculous assertion from the story, too bad the TV producers didn’t have the same sense.

    I note that every clip I have seen of Duceppe since this began has him talking of Quebec “values” as opposed to “money” or “fiscal imbalance” or “jurisidction”. Duceppe has finally figured out that any inch of success in Ottawa acheived by the Bloc is doing nothing to advance his primary goal – the election of a PQ government in Quebec City. I think Duceppe is willing to play along with this coalition, because it helps him buy time for his own run at provincial politics after Marois flames out.

    But back to Tory spin for a minute. The sudden allegations of “cozying up with separatists” from Harper’s gang is ludicrous.

    A coalition government needs Bloc support no less than a Harper government does.

    Harper spent 12 months painting Stephane Dion as “not a leader”. The most tangible piece of evidence he offered up was Dion’s absence from the House, and the LIberals’ allowing Tory bills to pass. Layton trumpeted this even more. The electorate passed judgment on this and the Liberals now know, as per Harper, and Layton, and the electorate, that rolling over is not an option. So let’s accept as a given that the Liberals, as per Harper’s own attacks, must show a spine and act like an Opposition. Let’s also accept that the NDP have never voted for any government on any thing at anytime except once in the 25 years I’ve been following this stuff (i.e. the revised 2005 budget). Of course, they killed it months later but that’s another story. So we know then that the NDP will, 99.9% of the time, vote against every government confidence measure, and 100% of the time every Tory goevrnment confidence measure ever.

    That left Harper, with only two options – either (Option 1) make nice with the Liberals, or (Option 2) rely on the Bloc, in order to pass any legislation.

    Harper telecast from very early in this game that he had no interest whatsoever in Option 1. He and Tom Flanagan have publicly stated their desire to kill the liberals, through lawsuits, committee hearings, ad campaigns and now legislative action to cut their funding. Making nice with the Liberals has never, ever been their chosen course to get anything done in Parliament.

    So that means Harper’s only option – the only one he ever considered – was relying on the Bloc to get his agenda through. So he really has no moral authority to criticize any coalitiion that would get tentative support from Duceppe and the Bloc, does he?

    Of course, the fact that a few years ago Harper proposed the very same option to GG Clarkson just adds to the hypocrisy.

    Barring any Procedural skullduggery, Harper’s odds of being PM in a week are now slightly less than those of Maxime Bernier.

  7. Harper is being advised, not by everyone around him but by some, to take back all of his fall update — pay equity, union-busting, the whole nine yards — fire somebody significant (Flaherty? Guy Giorno?), and promise to better, quickly.

    This would work with me, but it’s probably too late.

  8. Personally, the only person they could fire that would satisfy me would be Mr. Harper himself. If we must have a conservative government in power, let’s at least have one that is interested in governing, not merely crushing the opposition.

  9. Thanks Paul, I was hoping someone would write something like this. I needed my daily fix of gossip, rumours and innuendo and no one was providing it today.

    Personally, I think Cons should fight. It looks really bad for a government to appear as tho they are in office but not in power. I think the Cons biggest problem is that they are incapable of presenting their arguments to the people.

    What they proposed on Thurs got the parties and partisans wound up but your average person is not that bothered by the proposal to stop public sector unions from striking for a couple of years while thousands of people in the private sector, the ones who actually pay the tens of billions of $$$ the government spends, are being laid off.

  10. Personally, the only person they could fire that would satisfy me would be Mr. Harper himself.

    Oh, me too. His moral bankruptcy was established at the time of the Iraq Invasion and I’ll never forgive him for that (although I do kind of regret he wasn’t PM at the time and had been able to drag us into that conflict….he’d be gone by now, like Bush, Blair, Aznar and Howard).

    But that’s just not going to happen.

  11. Thanks for the report, PW. I was wondering if someone might be good enough to pass on the chatter to we stray cats out in the alley. I know it’s gossip, but it’s good, more-informed-than-me gossip.

  12. So do the rumors that “the NDP won’t support Bob Rae” come from the NDP? Or the Iggyites? ;-)

  13. Lots of smart people do not believe large scale government spending will lessen the effects of an economic recession. Still, the Conservatives have been consistent in saying a stimulus would come in the budget, the budget would be earlier than usual next year, and the fall economic update would not announce a stimulus package. This time table is unfolding just as they said it would. The only mistake was including the party funding measure (an excellent measure) in the fall economic update, rather than part of the budget when the opposition would have to vote against the stimulus in order to stop it.

  14. Gee, I’m gonna have to look up those public service contracts. jwl says they don’t pay taxes.

  15. Sisyphus They pay their taxes with my money. Wish I could get a deal like that.

  16. So stop paying your taxes with your employer’s money, jwl.

  17. jwl, circular …. and limited …. thinking.

  18. Sisyphus They pay their taxes with my money.

    So? You pay your taxes with my money.

  19. T Thwim I am self-employed which makes me, according to the government, employer and employee so I get to pay more taxes than the non-self employed. But that’s neither here nor there because my point is that the private sector creates wealth while the public sector spends it.

    There is no widespread support for public sector unions being able to strike for pay increases while those in the private sector are being laid off. Any backtracking by the Cons on this issue is due solely to their spinelessness and inability to communicate their ideas/plans to people in a coherent way.

  20. I am a CPC member and supporter of PM Harper. However, I am furious with the excessive partisanship in the Economic Update.

    There were good reasons to go slowly in introducing the next stages of the stimulus program, not the least of which is waiting for Obama. The government has polarized Parliament at a time when cooperation was necessary. The PM deserves a lot of the blame for this, but it is not enough reason to put a grab bag of Liberal/NDP/Separatist wannabes under the leadership (am I hearing this right?) of Stephane Dion in charge. Please, let the adults take charge – not the Liberals.

    In the meantime, I am leaving the country on December 9 to take care of a sick wife. I am so glad I won’t have to watch the kids in this sandbox for awhile.

  21. Or, could the rumour that Duceppe doesn’t want Iggy started by the Rae-ettes?

    Seems to me, that ever since Harper has been PM there has been one crisis after another. His constant games and all give me a great big headache.

    How much real “parliament and committee” time has there been since Harper took the helm, what with proroguing and filibustering and all? Are they now working part-time under his control?

  22. Acknowledging mistakes and reaching out in contrition are jobs that require a little experience.

  23. But that’s neither here nor there because my point is that the private sector creates wealth while the public sector spends it.

    Depends on your definition of wealth, jwl. What exactly do you create?

    I’m tired of the “self-employed” claiming moral high ground all the time, while looking down their noses at people who work in the public sector (teachers, nurses, librarians, etc.) who all went into debt to do something they consider creating wealth as well.

  24. Now this reporting makes up for yesterday.

  25. The question of which Liberal leader would be unacceptable to which coalition member appears moot to me. The only leadership options available for near-term stability are Dion, or some Liberal figure with esteem and no long-term ambitions (If someone can explain to me why this always falls to Ralph Goodale, I’d be curious to hear it). When a new leader is selected in May, a coalition member could vote against the government to demonstrate this unacceptability. Of course, they would then have to go into an election having made the new leader look either a.) moderate or b.) like the enemy of separatism. Letting the Liberals lead a coalition and hope (expect?) that the new leader ultimately drops the ball seems like a more prudent option.

    Besides, if the Bloc can get two things out of this, it’s a stimulus plan that benefits forestry, aerospace, and other Quebec sectors, and a PM who will agree to renegotiate Quebec’s role in the federation.

  26. Stephen Harper is folding like the playground bully he is.

    This is exactly the behavior bullies exhibit when people stand up to them.

  27. But that’s neither here nor there because my point is that the private sector creates wealth while the public sector spends it.

    Well, this certainly isn’t the most ignorant statement on economics I’ve read today.

    (And I read the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed page.)

  28. I’m not sure, Demosthenes, I thought jwl’s assertion that self-employed, by the nature of being self-employed, pay more taxes than others was pretty ignorant.

    Jwl, you pay more CPP, having to cover both sides of it, but that is (theoretically) going to come back to you anyway. Do you, by chance, expense your gas and depreciate your car, for example?

  29. “ever since Harper has been PM there has been one crisis after another”
    Sandi: this drama started when Harper stole the “Conservative” brand.

  30. Nobody can predict what will happen. But Harper’s biggest mistake, far from creating this whole circus this week, will be the furious back-pedaling he’s done this weekend. He reminds me of a cop who sneaks back to the crime scene to plant a “drop” gun on the suspect he just shot… and gets caught doing so. He’d have been better off just leaving the corpse there and filing his report about the incident, making his best case for shooting him.

    Can someone tell me why Conservatives would be so scared of sitting in Opposition again for awhile? If the current Opposition is so completely off base with their economic retardedness (they are) why not let them at the controls for awhile? How long would it take before everyone can clearly see that their rushed-through stimulus has fallen flat on its face? Just like in every other country, at every other period in history when it’s been tried since WWII. If the Conservatives fear that some sort of economic stimulus package might work, then they are just as economically brain-dead as the other parties, and we’d be no worse off with Jack Layton as Fin Min.

    That’s just the economic angle. The political angle is even more farcical. Even under a best-case scenario, under competent leadership, how long could a coalition like that possibly last? A Bloc-supported coalition, with 1/3 NDP cabinet ministers, with…… Bob Rae or Michael Ignatiaff ready to assume the PM’s position in the spring. Only a month ago we were watching the beginnings of a Liberal leadership race that couldn’t attract flies. Manley and McKenna, the only two qualified leadership heavyweights, took scarcely a week to count themselves out. Now the Tories seem genuinely scared of them. Talk about losing nerve.

    The only thing I can think of that has Harper this rattled is the return, however temporary and fleeting, of Jean Chretien. Chretien is the only politician that is perhaps more wiley, more ruthless and more cunning than Harper. Guys like that recognize each other. They can spot a worthy nemesis from a mile away. And seeing Chretien wandering the hallways of Parliament would send shivers up any Conservative spine. The Paul Martin “Juggernaut” was a sad, pathetic joke compared to even the most compromised half-effort that Chretien could put forward. Maybe Harper had nightmares about Chretien swooping in to rescue the progressive forces in this country, and riding off into the sunset next May with a hero’s send-off, having vanquished the evil Neocon Straussian menace that had hijacked the party of John A. MacDonald.

  31. CTV has a Bob “No Facts” Fife story on a NDP-Bloc coalition before this week.

    The bigger story there is that Mr. Layton’s discussion with his caucus was TAPED by a Conservative MP.

    Boy, there are so many ways this could be bad.

  32. Harper’s problem is that he has destroyed any possibility for trust in him by the Opposition Partie. They have to defeat Harper. If they don’t, then they know Harper will destroy them in the future. They can’t let Harper off the hook. Harper went “all-in” with ace high, while the Opposition holds a pair of deuces. They have to call.

    The Conservatives just have to put a new face on their minority. Harper and Flaherty have to fall on their swords, and step aside for a new PM and a new finance minister to seek the confidence of Parliament.

    That is the best option for everybody, including the country.

  33. RR, you are possibly the only person on the planet–aside from maybe jwl–who still thinks that stimulus is somehow “retarded”.

    (But then again, your economic illiteracy was established in that other thread, where you contradicted pretty much every economist out there by claiming that Gordon Brown’s reforms are somehow a bad thing. And you apparently draw your political analogies from 80’s cop movies. So let’s move on.)

    You asked “Can someone tell me why Conservatives would be so scared of sitting in Opposition again for awhile?”

    And the answer? Because Harper’s made a lot of promises he can’t fulfill. The only thing that has kept the otherwise-fractious Conservative coalition together is the promise of the near-dictatorial power that a Canadian Prime Minister enjoys under a majority government. The whole reason he was lifted to power over McKay and the rest by the TheoCons was because of this tacit understanding.

    Now it’s quite likely that he’s not going to be able to deliver; either because he’s climbing down so thoroughly that they no longer trust him, or because he’s simply going to lose power. They may withdraw their support. How long do you think he’ll be able to stave off the ambitions of a Peter McKay or Jim Prentice without it?

    He’s not that wily.