On the terrifying rise of my arch-enemy Michael Byers


ITQ brings the big news that Michael Byers will seek the federal NDP nomination in Hedy Fry’s riding. (Why ‘seek,’ by the way? Because the NDP leaves selection of candidates entirely up to local riding associations, and the leader is very reluctant even to state a local preference. This has on occasion led to hurt feelings among candidates-for-candidacies who thought they could rely on the leader’s support. Anyone who wants to run against Byers is free to take a shot, but it’s clear the NDP is excited that Byers wants to run for them.)

Anyway, at the not-inconsiderable risk of being self-indulgent, this gives me the excuse I need to address what Byers seems to regard as my implacable vendetta against him.

“I treat criticism from certain quarters as a measure of success,” Byers told an interviewer last autumn. “I would be worried if people like Paul Wells of Maclean’s magazine liked my book; as it is, the fact that he tried to tear it apart means that he’s taking the challenge seriously.”

I have terrible news for Mr. Byers. I’m not taking the challenge seriously. My proof is that I didn’t actually try very hard to tear his book apart. In fact I embraced its central thesis (that’s the part where I say “I want to be careful to say he makes a big point well”) while, it’s true, making some considerable fun of other parts. Here’s the review; decide for yourself.

I did, in an earlier incarnation of this blog, make even greater fun of some epically obtuse things Byers said on an At Issue panel after the London tube bombing (that was the “if Toronto blew up, we’d get by” appearance), but fortunately for the pressing cause of world harmony, no archive of that particular critique remains.

On the issue at hand, Byers looks like a strong candidate for his party in that riding. And the NDP, in general, is doing a better job attracting moderately high-profile candidates than either of the larger parties. Good news for a party that could use some.


On the terrifying rise of my arch-enemy Michael Byers

  1. Imagine if the Tories decided to try and plunk Emerson in THAT Vancouver riding? Foreign affairs minister vs. foreign affairs academic vs. Hedy Fry. Emerson could bank on Hedy and Byers splitting the lefty vote…

    It’ll never happen, but a guy can dream.

  2. Your point’s well taken, Dave. I’m told the Conservatives, or some of them, like Quadra for Emerson — if he wants to run again, a very big if.

  3. Don’t forget that Adrienne Carr is running for the Greens in Van Centre. She is no lightweight. 35% of the vote might win this thing. A big NDP candidate means that Hedy might squeak through–again.

  4. You are right about the NDP attracting high profile candidates. Recall that only a few months ago Liberals were pointing to Byers’ joint piece in the Post with Scott Brison as proof of his inevitable drift into Dion’s sphere of limited influence. The Liberal carbon tax, at least in BC so far, has put a hex on Dion.

    As for the At Issue thing, Byers’ argument was that Canadians are made of sturdier stuff than to despair for long over a terror attack. He’s probably right. Recall that Londoners were out drinking at pubs the night of the Tube bombings. Was it necessary to allude to the annihilation of Andrew Coyne to make that point? According to Coyne, no. Fair point though.

  5. David Emerson would make a good ambassador to the United States, especially during a NAFTA renegotiation. Wilson is expected to resign at the end of the Bush administration.

  6. Things are looking up for Mr. Byers.

    Check out what happens with politicians
    that Mr. Wells actually liked.

  7. It’s true. Stephen Harper became prime minister and Stéphane Dion become leader of the official opposition. I’m a regular Typhoid Mary.

  8. It seems to me you have been rather lukewarm about a guy called Barack Obama. He’s done rather well.

  9. Harper mentions Belgium in a speech and gets lampooned by Wells, Coyne et al. Dion mentions Belgium in an earlier speech and gets praised.

    For his sake, I hope Dr Byers has never mentioned Belgium in a speech. Politically, it’s too risky, unless your name is Stephane Dion.

    I have been to Brussels. It rains.

    I have been to Vancouver Centre. It rains.

  10. Mike: So far, he’s done about as well as Adlai Stevenson. Call me back when he wins all the marbles, which I predict he won’t do.

  11. Wow, it’s almost as if Byers wrote a general-audience book and took up as much op-ed, TV and radio space as possible to increase his name recognition in advance of this shocking announcement. Stunning.

    I think I’m sympathetic to Byers’ general MO, and to some of his specific prescriptions. But the quote about the carbon tax in the release Kady swiped and his Barlowesque fear of economic globalisation leads me to believe he’s going to add to the Layton echo chamber rather than helping the party become a serious force of opposition in Canada.

  12. Sure,Paul.
    Harper,Dion,Sarky,John Howard…..
    Settin’ the world on fire.

  13. I hear Byers only ran for the NDP only because the Liberals couldn’t give him a guaranteed nomination in West Vancouver.

    He is clearly underestimating Hedy Fry. He an Emerson of the left, even before he gets out of the starting gates.

    And if he now says he is running for the NDP instead of his first choice, the Libs, because of Dion’s green shift, then he is a complete goof.

    On the one side, you’ve got almost every reputable economist, David Suzuki, and on the other side you have Jack Layton, Carole James, Stephen Harper and the climate change deniers.

    Good luck, Mr. Byers. No one is going to treat you like an expert any more. Now you are just another politician.

  14. Byers is on The Agenda tonight on TVO talking about arctic sovereignty, repeat, but maybe interesting in light of his potential candidacy.

  15. “Why ’seek,’ by the way? Because the NDP leaves selection of candidates entirely up to local riding associations…”

    And if you really believe that I have a bridge in Montreal to sell you. They are much better at hiding their backroom machinations, I’ll give you that though.

  16. Another “star” NDP candidate in Vancouver Centre is going to beat Hedy…. zzz I’m sorry I fell asleep because I’ve seen this one before. It really sounds like Byers is slightly bitter about not getting a Liberal nomination. Oh and all Adrienne Carr is good at is electing right-wingers.

  17. Andy. “Oh and all Adrienne Carr is good at is electing right-wingers.È

    I don’t know or care if she will win. But I do know that her presence will affect the votes other parties get. She is likely to clear 20% of the vote. From whom does she take it, though?

    Unless you consider either Hedy or Byers a ‘Right winger’ then I think she is unlikely to elect a right winger in Van Centre. But Carr sure will make it a more interesting race than if they run some 22 year old student who works at London Drugs like the greens did in 05/06.

  18. I’m not sure if it means much but it’s interesting that Hedy Fry increased her vote total and % of vote in 2006 vs. 2004. The NDP ran a high profile candidate in 2006 as well, some guy named Svend Robinson. Whether his high profile was helpful or not is debatable but his name was definitely recognizable and that does bring some votes.

  19. Svend did worse than the low-profile academic who ran for the dippers in 2004. The ‘ring thing’ mattered.

    Hedy is hard to beat. She took out a sitting prime minister. She took out Team Martin’s preferred 2004 grit standard bearer (Lynn Kennedy)–even Sheila Copps couldn’t beat the Martinites from taking her nomination away.

    Can’t guarantee Hedy will win, but I can guarantee that pitbull Fry will take some major bites out of Byers’s butt.

  20. Umm… seriously, in how many ridings in this country do the NDP hold contested nominations??? Really?? And how is a quiet acclamation by whisper campaign any different from a publicly acknowledged appointment. I’m willing to bet if you added up all of the past 4 elections (that’s roughly 1250 nominations) the NDP have fewer than 50 contests. That’s less than 5%.

  21. Hold on here. Are friends of the Liberals ACTUALLY arguing that the NDP has crooked nominations??

    This from a party that had to write the power of the leader to override local democracy into thier constitution. This from the party that spiked their local candidate in Central Nova to dump in Dion’s “auxilary back-up leader” to borrow a Wells-ism.

    This from the party whose “leader-approved” candidates in Outremont and Churchill River are now writing letters to the editor.

    Give us all a break.

  22. By an amazing coincidence, the DECLARED candidate had a change of heart today…and nominations are decided at the local level in the NDP? (Better tell that to the provincial wing of the NDP and Carole James who is going to ban male candidates in ridings like Nelson-Creston and Vancouver-Fairview from seeking election).


    Too bad: Garrison is a good chap and did well against that turncoat Dr. Martin in Esquimalt.


  23. According to Elections Canada’s records, 19 of the 98 NDP nominations since the last election have been contested. Not bad for a party with 30 sitting MPs.

  24. Emerson would never take Van Center unless hell freezes over. If he’s actually interested in staying in politics and doesn’t get a Senate appointment, he’d have to cross the Lions Gate Bridge into West Vancouver in order to be electable.

    Anyway an interesting race in VC. Adrienne Carr is the wild card, will she take more from the Libs or the NDP? If the low-profile Kennedy Stewart could come within 3000 votes of winning, Byers certainly could pull an upset.

  25. ““Why ’seek,’ by the way? Because the NDP leaves selection of candidates entirely up to local riding associations…”

    “And if you really believe that I have a bridge in Montreal to sell you. They are much better at hiding their backroom machinations, I’ll give you that though.”

    Doesn’t always work though … even Ed Broadbent had to fight a nomination battle in Ottawa Centre in 2004 (against Paul Dewar, who had already declared quite some time before). Next time out, after Ed stepped down, Paul ran for the nomination against Layton’s former aide Jamie Heath, and won.

    Believe me, NDP members do NOT like to be told which way to vote at nomination meetings. This doesn’t stop the leadership from trying to inject a little persuasion, but it sure doesn’t always work and occasionally has exactly the opposite effect from that intended.

  26. While I respect Byers’s intellect and views on many issues, it really doesn’t amount to much on the campaign trail. Say what you want about Hedy, she’s an excellent campaigner and an even better constituency MP.

    Personally, my money’s on Hedy. If Sven couldn’t take her out in Vancouver Centre, Byers doesn’t have a prayer of beating her.

  27. Am I the only person who is mystified by the press’ ranting and ravings about David Emerson’s prowess as a politician? Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this the same Emerson who negotiated a raw deal for Canada’s forestry industry in the last lumber dispute with the Yanks? I don’t recall hearing anything positive coming from the business community concerning what Emerson negotiated for them.

    Since then, what has he done exactly? Or is it that Harper’s cabinet is so useless that we have had to lower our standards in such a way that Emerson’s performance is now considered stellar?

  28. My feeling is Emerson won’t run again and will instead return to making seven figures on corporate boards.

  29. Hey Boudica have you ever stopped to think that (1) maybe the softwood deal wasn’t as bad as the opposition to it claims. Maybe you should have spent some time out here in BC before the softwood deal as things were way worse before and the deal was acceptable to settle things down. Emerson and Harper should have major cudos for getting the deal through and the timing of it. Things could have gotten way worse believe.

  30. Except that things weren’t in line to get way worse, Wayne. We’d won practically every single court challenge and appeal that the US gov’t could throw at us. We were only a couple of months away from the last appeal at the uppermost court on trade issues, and from everything that was being said, it was going to be another vindication of our practices.

    So Emerson’s deal not only cost Harper his credibility as someone who means what he says (since as leader of the opposition, he was claiming that one thing a Prime Minister shouldn’t do is cut a deal on softwood lumber considering all the facts on our side) but cost Canadians a billion dollars, and a final precedent setting ruling that would have shut down their complaints for a significant period. Instead, we made *our* producers pay *their* producers a billion dollars, and the complaints have already started up again.

    Go Go Team Harper!

  31. Hey T. (1) When it comes to this deal and it’s impact on the forestry biz here in BC I know about what I am talking about you see I work for the Ministry of Forests and have dealt directly with the largest and some of the smallest lumber companies and I am afraid you are misstaken in your judgement not the few facts that you posted. You see it doesn’t matter if we won every tribunal and world court proceeding we entered as the Americans do not have the ability to control the appeals and new charges so therefore any local yankee business and legislator = that has a vested interest = will continue either appealing or submitting new claims this is an old strategy and one that works. At the time before the softwood deal there were several major situations that had to be resolved and was costing us millions on non-recoverable dollars not to mention very large contracts in major danger. The situation had to be dealt with and dealt with fast as it had been going on too long with no end in sight – and it was signed on by all the major players involved and we got some money back which was a major surpise so all things considered it was the best we could do at the time and any other point of view is just that a point of view. The reality is that Emerson and Harper did a good job on this file now you can choose to agree or not however if you were directly involved you would know that it was the best we could at the time and that is how it is.

  32. “Hey Boudica have you ever stopped to think that (1) maybe the softwood deal wasn’t as bad as the opposition to it claims. ”

    Wayne, the claims didn’t just come from the Opposition. As I stated in my post, it was the forestry industry that had a hissy fit over what Emerson negotiated. So forgive me for wondering why the press gallery has all of a sudden decided that Emerson is a brilliant minister that Harper should hold on to for dear life.

    My question is a valid one. What has Emerson done to merit such praise?

  33. It’s a difficult riding to predict. The riding contains one of the highest per capita concentrations of university degree holders in the country, so one would think Byers’ public policy arguments might have some intellectual appeal with this crowd. On the other hand, the riding clearly loves its divas, and Hedy Fry can be surprisingly effective in riding debates and out on the street sidewalks during campaign season. Another advantage Fry has over Byers is that she has roots in the community. Outside of the UBC campus, I can’t say the same for Byers. But professors tend not to handle the transition to politics very smoothly. That said, anything can happen. He’ll definitely need to find an issue much closer to home than Arctic Sovereignty – I doubt this riding will allow itself to be used as a prop.

  34. Michael Byers is by far the most outstanding,passionate, honest and intelligent candidate in Vancouver Centre. You do not have to dig very deep to find that this is evident.

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