Two weeks - Macleans.ca
 

Two weeks


 

Greetings from an Undisclosed Location between Afghanistan and Ottawa. My reflections on the former will appear in the next issue of Maclean’s. As for the latter, I’ve kept close watch. It’s a bit of a mess. I leave you people alone for 10 days and…

A few thoughts.

Saddest moment: Not the Dion cellphone video, but his explanation for it when Gilles Duceppe accosted him later. “We’re not used to being in opposition,” Dion said.

To which the only rational response is: why the hell not? The Liberals were in opposition, with Stephane Dion as leader, for almost precisely two years. That’s roughly as long as the Korean War lasted. The position from which the Liberals had to appeal to the Canadian people on any issue was the position of opposition. The resources at their disposal were the resources of opposition. The privileges they enjoyed on Parliament Hill were an opposition party’s privileges. Dion’s office was the office previously occupied by Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, Bill Graham and other luminaries. Now, I’m told Dion used to be some kind of academic. Maybe he could look those people up. He would discover that they were opposition leaders. But then, as I wrote in June, the distinguishing feature of the office while Dion was there was that he refused to decorate it. Because he refused to believe he was sitting in it.

I did not believe a man could raise denial to a more elevated level than Paul Martin and Joe Clark did. But Dion stands, permanently, as the most appalling example of failure of introspection I have ever seen in a political leader. He has wiped out most of the considerable admiration I ever had for him. I think it is time, for instance, to shift much of the credit for the Chretien-era national unity strategy away from Dion and back to his cabinet predecessors, Alan Rock and Marcel Masse (I do wish I could do accents on this borrowed computer), and to the boss, Jean Chretien. As for more recent events, I simply don’t know whether Dion is capable of measuring his own role in the consummate debacle that was his career as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. His capacity for blaming others is jaw-dropping. Not that any of this matters any more, but it all still leaves me breathless.

The big picture: In October Stpehen Harper had a reinforced minority against an enfeebled Liberal Party led by a man who had no support in his caucus. A long, expensive, divisive leadership race lay ahead for the Liberals. Harper delivered an economic update whose central tenet was that Canada, alone among nations, was not seriously threatened by economic upheaval and did not need to provide economic stimulus. So sure was Harper of his strategic superiority that he pushed the assorted demons tormenting him — opposition parties, labour unions, wage equity — back as hard as he could, presuming none would dare challenge him.

It took two days for him to drop the party-funding and strike-breaking provisions. His finance minister no longer appears in public except to plead for a chance to survive long enough to provide economic stimulus. Harper faces a Liberal party that stands solidly behind its new leader and does not need to incur the expense of a genuine leadership race. (I do not admire the process that led to Ignatieff’s coronation and am not part of the man’s fan club, but I have a hard time seeing how the Liberals are weaker strategically today than they were three weeks ago.)

Parenthetically, but worth mentioning, when Parliament resumes Canada’s most important foreign-policy interlocutor, the United States, will be led by a team that resembles the Harper cabinet about as closely as Neptune resembles a tennis racket. I hear the new energy secretary will be a Nobel prize-winning physicist; could we please arrange a meeting between him and Stockwell Day somehow? Pretty please?

Oh oh oh. And Harper’s best friend in Quebec, Mario Dumont, is unemployed. By running essentially as the true Quebec opposition to Harper’s government, Jean Charest has strengthened his own hand. Most commentators say the Parti Quebecois was strengthened in the home stretch by Harper’s hyperventilating in the midst of a crisis he created.

It is difficult to defend the thesis that Harper has had a good month.

On cynicism: Normally when I criticize a Liberal and then criticize a Conservative, somebody comes along to call me a cynic. I have never understood this. I do not believe confusion and retreat on all sides are either necessary or cheering sights. I much preferred covering Jean Chretien on his best days or watching Preston Manning fail nobly, and even Stephen Harper succeed roughly, at producing a viable conservative alternative that could compete reliably for power. Charest’s late-career maturation has been one of the best political stories I’ve covered in 14 years. I prefer competence and high purpose to… well, to most of what we’ve seen lately.

But when our politics is a mess and nobody looks good doing it, I see no point in taking partisan refuge (“Well, at least my side isn’t as bad as your side”) or handing out medals for second-worst. Our prime minister’s behaviour lately is appalling (more on this in our next print edition). The opposition has been a mess in response. Better days may lie ahead, but these sure aren’t good days for our politics.

A conversion: One rough division of labour here at Maclean’s has long held that Colleague Coyne advocated for electoral reform, whereas I didn’t care. Those days are over. Part of the recent crisis was due to the way our electoral system affords the Bloc Quebecois far more space than the other parties are willing to afford it legitimacy. If we don’t think a separatist party has as much right as the others to determine who keeps or loses power, then it makes no sense to hang onto an electoral system whose many insanities include its tendency to give the Bloc more seats than its share of votes. I will be looking for a mainstream party that credibly and seriously advocates major electoral reform, to bring our Parliament more closely into alignment with the voters’ wishes.


 

Two weeks

  1. But the other parties only deny the Bloc legitimacy when it is voting for the policies still OTHER parties and not their own.

    As for Afghanistan, I saw Lee Windsor on CBC last week, talking about a book he had written. If his disningenuous presentation was the best the pro-war forces could do, we needed the troops out yesterday. I am hoping Mr. Wells can deliver something a little better.

  2. Re the Bloc and legitimacy: Although the Conservative strategy in demonizing the coaliton was to focus on the illegitimacy of the Bloc, I think many observers have overlooked the fact that many Canadians were even more appalled at the prospect of Jack Layton and the NDP being so close to the levers of power in a financial and economic crisis.

    Those of us who prefer to see our federal government run by parties who adhere to middle of the road economic polices still have our fingers crossed that Michel Ignatieff actually understands this and is just using the threat of a coalition to keep the government in line.

  3. “I largely subscribe to the viewpint esposed in The Commitments that jazz is the musical equivalent of masturbation.”

    So how would you characterise hip-hop?

    And in defense of Mr. Wells, he’s not hysterical. And I accuse him of skepticism, not cynicism. In my book, all good journalists are skeptics.

  4. “If we don’t think a separatist party has as much right as the others to determine who keeps or loses power, then it makes no sense to hang onto an electoral system whose many insanities include its tendency to give the Bloc more seats than its share of votes. ”

    I’m sorry but that is an ROC point of view. The fact of the matter is that the Bloc enjoys the support of a great many federalists in Quebec. Where you see a separatist party, they see a regional one that looks out for their interest (kind of like the Reform Party, no?).

    The vast majority of the people who voted Bloc in the last election would vote against a sovereign Quebec in a referendum. They didn’t even campaign on separatism the last time around (neither did the PQ).

    So this notion that the Bloc is not a legitimate party and doesn’t deserve a voice in Parliament is as undemocratic as it gets.

  5. It’s a legit party, it deserves whatever voice it has in Parliament — but it is an extended middle finger to the rest of the country.

    It is a statement — “We don’t give a damn about how the rest of you are governed, or about the greater national interest — we just want our loot.”

    And so people react to their presence accordingly.

  6. Tiger, I’m no fan of the Bloc but as a Quebecer, I also know that the surest way to revive talk of separatism in my home province is by advocating for a reform to our electoral system so as to rid the ROC of the Bloc.

    Perhaps one has to be from Quebec to understand that the presence of the Bloc in Ottawa is the best thing that could have happen to the federalist movement in Quebec.

    You better believe that removing that voice will reinforce that us vs them attitude.

  7. “he assumed that his basic honesty, good public policy ideas, and love of country would be enough to compensate for his weaknesses as a communicator and all the forces aligned against him (internal LPC divisions, the Conservative war room, vote-splitting from hell with only 1 patty on the right and 4 on the left, the narrowmindedness of some Canadians who found his french accent foreign and shady, etc,) He miscalculated how smart and fair WE were. so, yeah, that;s on him i suppose. but its also on us.”

    100% agree. I believe that Canada’s apparent preference for Stephen Harper’s tactics over Dion’s substance says a whole lot more about us than it does about Dion.

    We claim to want integrity and dedication in our politicians but the reality is that we’ll all fall for the slick one with the one-liners every time.

    Perhaps it is us who need to do introspection.

  8. So who else is tired of Jean Proulx?

  9. ” given ignatieff’s academic background though (ahem a specialist on nationalism) he might just be the man for the job.”

    Jean Proulx, what exactly is it about Iggy’s background that would lead you to believe that he would succeed where so many have failed before?

    I honestly don’t understand where this “mystique” that currently surrounds Iggy comes from. What has the man done to merit it? The reality is that we know very little about Iggy’s policy penchants because he hasn’t had to pronounce himself on most of them. The few for which he did showed a man with an erroneous judgement (Irak, Quebec as a nation, Afghanistan, torture).

  10. “As for why I think Ignatieff might be the right guy. Well I think his cosmopolitanism and fluency in french will play well in Quebec. ”

    Why is it that the ROC thinks that speaking french is enough to get you votes in Quebec?

    I think that Iggy will do well in Quebec, not because of his cosmopolitan ways, as you put it, but because Harper is now persona non grata out there. Iggy will benefit by default… that is until he starts revealing his right of center leanings.

  11. “And I probably am overemphasizing the importance of identity politics.”

    I think so which is surprising since you live in Quebec… Unless you just moved there or something?

    Most ROC-ers seem to believe that identity politics is first and foremost for all of Quebecers. Speaking french is indeed important as it is seen as a mark of respect for us but it is not the end-all-be-all that some make it out to be.

    Iggy is going to need a whole lot more than just “good” french to gain and maintain support in Quebec.

  12. There is also something to be said for Jack Layton and 5 fellow NDPers having a brief stint in government, if only to force them to say “no” to their constituent nutbars, thereby hindering their ability to promise the moon to Canada’s fringe left during every election campaign.

  13. Said stalkposter Jean Proulx: “I would also like it if you spent a little less time ripping politicians a new one and instead proposed some bright ideas on how YOU would do things differently in you were in their place.”

    Do the unicorns talk in this magical world you live in?

  14. Hey, folks – give Paul a break here. Dion showed a lot of strengh when he fought for federalism in Quebec during the referendum. Where did that strength go?

    Dion blames everyone else for his problems….so does Harper. The Liberals did it, fire the bureaucraft that is head of the files me messed up, etc.

    Fact is – no one knows who will turn out to be a good leader. They think a person will be for various reasons but you don’t know til ya know.

  15. I write in response to M. Proulx and in defense of Mr. Wells, who, for me, provides clear-eyed insights into the Hill goings-on, and articulates the vague unease so many of us feel about our leaders so that people like me throw up our hands and say, “Yes! Of course! It’s not just the weird Lego-man hair that sets my teeth on edge.” Like Lewis Lapham, Mr. Wells has at his fingertips an encyclopaedic political knowledge, but unlike Lapham, never gets carried away on the waves of florid polemic.

    Moreover, he’s funny. His is not the only blog I read, but it may as well be: I get more from it than the sum of all the others out there.

  16. That was the funny thing about Chretien. To hear him on T.V. he sounded like a complete moron who didn’t know what was going on half the time, while his Ministers got most of the credit for the things that worked and all of the blame for the things that didn’t. But having watched the supposed geniuses behind his economic strategy (Martin) and his national unity strategy (Dion) act independently, it becomes kind of obvious that Chretien was doing the real work and making his surrogates look good.

  17. I hear the new energy secretary will be a Nobel prize-winning physicist; could we please arrange a meeting between him and Stockwell Day somehow? Pretty please?

    Ha! That made me snort.

  18. I look forward to the Afghanistan reporting.

  19. Paul,

    Is there anything in our current system that would allow the Prime Minister to go outside of MPs to form his cabinet? If not, then aren’t we stuck with a very small pool of potential Ministers? The alternative, I assume, would be to hand-pick high quality people, parachute them into ridings, winnable ridings, etc. etc. Is there another way? I for one would love to see a scenario where our Prime Minister could pick from the best and brightest in this country. Possible?

  20. I’m sorry but I can’t get on the Dion-is-not-a-leader bandwagon given the circumstances surrounding his leadership.

    I’m thinking that having to deal with a divided party, “anonymous liberal insiders” all too willing to stab you in the back, a formidable (and expensive) CPC attack ad machine, the sponsorship scandal heritage and so much more makes a huge difference in one’s ability to do this kind of job.

    One thing is clear, the one to lead the LPC against Harper needs to be willing and able to get down and dirty in the mud. This would-be leader needs to do away with the notion that good policies, integrity and a love for his/her country is sufficient for Canadians.

    We might claim that we are tired of the partisan ways of our politicians but our voting patterns say otherwise.

  21. Mr. Wells presents Dion’s recent, very disappointing performance as an unveiling of Dion’s settled nature. It seems plausible enough that ‘capacity for introspection’ and ‘habit of blaming others’ are traits fixed by early adulthood. But Mr. Wells proposes revising the record of the unity battle to give Dion’s credit to others. This is an interesting place to go with the Dion story. Two critical questions:

    (1) The claim (or hypothesis) seems to be that we now know that Dion does not possess the virtues and skills he would have needed in the late 90s to play the sort of unity role with which he is credited. But mightn’t these particular failings (e.g. instrospection, tendency to blame others) be especially damning only for party leaders?

    (2) Character presumably evolves in some ways at least. Is it right to assume that Dion’s character/nature was revealed, and not changed, by the leadership experience?

  22. Alan Rock???? Give me a break!

  23. Paul, welcome back.! As always, a sane and succinct perspective. I’m worried, though, about electoral reform becoming the battle cry for a public disgusted (rightly so) by the events of recent weeks. It tends to play into the Conservative hyperbole about a “separatist” coalition, and overlooks the fact that Duceppe was willing to compromise and support a federalist coalition (as the Bloc has more or less done by not toppling the Conservatives in recent years).

    As much I support electoral reform, if it gains life now as THE fix for our parliament, then the current MPs will be able to hide behind it, and not accept responsibility for making the house work. We need to hold their feet to the fire, and pressure all parties to get to the business of stewardship (I hear there’s something of an economic problem that may need attention).

    J. Proulx – probably time to get your own blog, n’est pas?

  24. Paul,

    Great post.

    On Dion, I couldn’t agree more. I can’t understand how the rest of the media is still sending him off into the sunset as a man of wisdom, class, and integrity. He has shown very little of any of the above since assuming the leadership, and is well into negative numbers on each since the election loss.

    Not sure what you are getting at on Obama’s cabinet vs. Harper’s though. The US system allows Obama to pick from the best and brightest talent available in the nation. Our system allows Harper for the most part to pick from, in this case, 141 politicians, and to get royal sh!t for going outside that “talent” pool. How could Obama’s cabinet NOT be better?

  25. “I do not admire the process that led to Ignatieff’s coronation and am not part of the man’s fan club, but I have a hard time seeing how the Liberals are weaker strategically today than they were three weeks ago.”

    The key point though is whether they will be stronger strategically in the long term by foregoing party policy renewal. The Liberals, more so than the NDP and the Cons, are dependent on leadership to set policy, because of their dearth of guiding principles. By one stroke of the party elite’s pen, they’ve chosen to move the party to the centre of the political spectrum and to end its two year flirtation with the left under Dion’s leadership. Personally I think it’s a good call because I think Iggy has leadership potential and I’m releived the Liberals might be ending their “walk on the wild (read left) side.” But I’m a small-c conservative. What about the Liberal party’s left wing, an important constituency. They’ve been shut out.

    Mr. Wells, you say nary a word about the failed opposition power grab that sparked the parliamentary crisis. This failed coup attempt did not look good on the Liberals. They went for all the marbles and Harper only came out of this strengthened.

    Since you do not want to call things by their name let me tell your readers: the problem with the Liberals is their fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants approach to politics. It is reaction, reaction and all the timem reaction.

    Iggy is the LIberal leader today because of the recent showdown in Parliament between the Liberals and Harper. Harper injected himself in the last leadership convention with his Quebec as a nation resolution, this time his actions resulted in the crowning of Michael Ignatieff as leader.

  26. Paul Wells – “So who else is tired of Jean Proulx?”

    What’s the emoticon for two hands waving enthusiastically in the air?

    16 posts out of the 39 to date; several double and triple serials; many too long to be bothered deciphering; and little overall to contribute. he’s a ‘skip’ for me.

  27. “the problem with the Liberals is their fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants approach to politics. It is reaction, reaction and all the time reaction.”

    Agreed that they’ve been essentially rudderless since Chretien. That said, you’re not suggesting that Harper has a coherent direction and purpose, are you? From fixed election date laws to his take on deficits, it seems like “seat of the pants” is all the vogue in Ottawa these days.

  28. I don’t think that electoral reform will deal with the problem that the BQ represents. For me, it is a serious lack of effort, application and serious politicking that has let them survive. None of the other parties have made a serious attempt to address the concerns of the Quebecois voter, and have instead just attempted to seduce the self-appointed elites of Quebec. Harper won in Ontario because he seriously appealed to the centre-right voters in rural Ontario and the 905 areas, while ignoring the media and other representations of the voter’s supposed wishes.

    Something similar needs to occur in Quebec.

  29. “None of the other parties have made a serious attempt to address the concerns of the Quebecois voter, and have instead just attempted to seduce the self-appointed elites of Quebec. ”

    Amen!

  30. JP – “Brad – Sorry you’re not a fan.”

    That would go to the heart of your own lack of introspection; nobody comes to these blogs specifcally hoping they’ll get the benefit of your insight. To think you might actually have a fan base speaks volumes.

    As for being a suck up – I listed a count of your blogs and my impression of them. I didn’t characterize you for your opinions or attack the value of what you say by resorting to ad hominem remarks. Those are my opinions and PW’s question gave me a reason to express them.

    Have a nice day.

  31. And, yes Paul, I am tired of Jean Proulx.

  32. “But then, as I wrote in June, the distinguishing feature of the office while Dion was there was that he refused to decorate it.”

    I don’t remember your first post about this but I think it’s a very telling fact. I can understand not wanting to accept being Oppo leader and convincing yourself it’s not a permanent position but it’s obvious in hundreds of ways that Dion was not prepared for leadership.

    Dion always came across as a bit otherworldly to me and many of his actions were incomprehensible.

    I thought the most damning thing I heard about the tape fiasco was that Dion and his crew spent hours crafting the letter to GG and spent 30 minutes filming his response to Harper. Talk about having priorities being screwed up: I would be amazed if even the GG read the letter while millions of people are watching tv to see him present his case for becoming PM after receiving 26% of the vote.
    ————-
    “I do not admire the process that led to Ignatieff’s coronation and am not part of the man’s fan club, but I have a hard time seeing how the Liberals are weaker strategically today than they were three weeks ago”

    I think the coronation was/is a mistake but the Libs are at least ten times better off now than they were 2 weeks ago with Dion. When I watch Iggy on tv I pay attention to what he’s saying. When I watched Dion, I found him slightly incomprehensible and I ofter wondered what stupid thing was he about to say next. I always hoped/expected a train wreck when Dion was around, I don’t get the same sense with Iggy (that might change but I doubt it).

    I know Iggy has patrician background but he doesn’t ooze condescension like so many blue bloods, and Dion, do. He comes across as normal guy, someone you would want to have a pint with, and that’s not nothing.

  33. No, Paul’s question was an invitation for people like you to suck up. And, yes, that was another ad hominem commentary on your character.

    Good day to you.

  34. I agree with Well’s analysis of Dion. I was willing to cut Dion a little slack on the election campaign, though everything I have heard points to Dion messing up a lot of it. But there is simply no excuse for the poorly made “You Tube” video that aired. It was the best chance to get support for the coalition and he blew it. How many chances like that would a leader get to take over government? And given past shenanigans I would have believed that Liberal factions somehow sabatoged the video, but from all accounts again it was Dion who was responsible for the mess.

    That said though, I’m not sure why Wells thinks that the opposition has come out of this as a mess? In many ways, putting that coalition together was a breath of fresh air; besides the video, how else should they have reacted? Perhaps what got them the most angry was the proposed elimination of the party subsidy, but the lack of stimulus, the lack of much of anything in the Fiscal Update–what action should they have taken to stand up to Harper and the Tories?

  35. Tired of Jean Proulx ? Well, sure. But , but then again, compared to ….. ??

    Anyway, there are any number of reasons to fault Dion’s various efforts at leadership.

    I don’t think office decoration is one of them.

    Maybe if he were able to lead from the office … without coming out of it ….. we might have had a decent PM prepared to challenge some of the policy orthodoxies leading us down the rabbit hole.

    But that wouldn’t meet the barking seal part of the job description.

  36. Interesting point about the mismatch between the Bloc’s influence in Parliament and the limited legitimacy accorded to it by non-Québécois; as the commenters have pointed out, this reflects in part the mismatch between Québécois voting for the Bloc as a defender of their interests, and the separatist ideology of the Bloc.

    One possible solution would be to produce a system that encourages more choice, not less. I’m thinking here of a preferential voting system. Under such a system, it’s easy to imagine the Bloc dividing between the purs et durs and the soft-nationalists. Nationalist Québécois would be able to choose both, and federalists would no longer have the same fear that a vote for the NDP (for instance) might split the federalist vote and result in a Bloc MP.

    The main system of electoral reform that people propose is proportional representations; but tt’s hard to say how such a system would work out. Certainly minority governments would become the norm, not the exception. As we’ve seen, minority parliaments can result in some strange coalitions developing, and disproportionate influence for minor parties.

  37. Ever since the quiet revolution this nation has been run by Quebecers for Quebecers. Out here in the west we were reletively content to allow this to happen because the benign neglect from the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle resulted (over time) in a more self-reliant and confident region. We have watched with quiet amusement each time the latest ROC outrage has flared the nationalist fire in Quebec and they get up enough gumption to threaten (once again) to leave. While the elites in Toronto and Ottawa plead once again with Quebec to stay, the rest of us roll our eyes because we know that this is a false threat and that the Seperatists will never ever leave this cash cow called Canada.

    So my challenge to Quebec is this. If you are so hell -bent on leaving Canada get up nerve to do it and get out, then at least the rest of us can carry on with our lives. If not then shut up and become a functioning member of this nation.

  38. Sis,
    The barking seal is part is helpful but not necessary. One only has to look at some other present and past leaders from around the world to see that good ideas and strong leadership will get past poor communication and flat personality. In the end, Dion failed on all counts. I liked him at first as well, but not any more.

  39. So who else is tired of Jean Proulx?

    What is this, high school?

  40. The Bloc is doing its job — it’s provoking questions in English Canada.

    Viz.: if all Quebec is going to do is elect separatist MPs to shake down the federal money tree, is this really a union worth preserving?

    Which is not an accurate reflection of how a majority of Quebeckers think, given that a majority do still vote for federalist parties — it’s just how FPTP pushes it.

    So we can either reform our electoral system to better reflect voter sentiment in QC, or we will slowly move towards the point where we no longer worry about how French Canadians are thinking about the country, but how English Canadians are — and the next referendum is in the other nine provinces.

  41. Paul, I’m a fan of yours, but one thing I’ve noticed over the past few years: you build them up then you tear them down.

    “Right Side Up” was mainly complimentary to Harper. Now he’s Darth Vader. You were one of Dion’s early cheerleaders. Now, not so much.

    Full disclosure: my opinions more or less tracked yours over the past couple years. But I’m just a guy from SW Ontario. You’re a national columnist.

    So maybe the fact that you don’t belong to the Iggy fan club is good news for him. But then I’m not an Iggy fan either…

  42. Richmond Hill girl –
    there is nothing in our political system that requires that Ministers be drawn from MPs. In the last Ministry, Minister Fortier was appointed a Senator so he at least was part of Parliament, if not a member of the House of Commons. This, however, was unnecesary.

    There are many examples in the past (which of course elude me at the moment, except for Brian Tobin) of simply picking the best person for the job. It does have some drawbacks though, for example they would not be able to be questioned on the floor of the House (although given QP recently is that really a drawback?). It can also sticky around questions of representation.

    But the long and short of it is you dont need to be elected to the House of Commons to be a Minister.

  43. Here’s an example — Stephane Dion was appointed to cabinet, then the government looked for a seat for him to run in.

    Convention says it’s bad for a member of cabinet not to have a seat in the Commons, but there’s no actual legal requirement for it to be so…

  44. “Under such a system, it’s easy to imagine the Bloc dividing between the purs et durs and the soft-nationalists. ”

    Good point, Gregoire. It is also common knowledge in Quebec that the true separatists despise the Bloc and Gilles Duceppe because they recognize that participating in Canada’s Parliament legitimizes it.

    If one considers the true effect of seeing Duceppe at a table with Dion (Clarity Act Jedi) and Layton, signing an accord that would prop up a federalist coalition, they are right.

    It wasn’t Dion who got into bed with the separatists because he didn’t have to make any concessions for that support. It is Duceppe who got in bed with the federalists by agreeing to prop up Dion with no pre-conditions.

    Of course, that particular dynamic got lost somehow because anything Dion touches is considered toxic regardless of its merits.

  45. “So my challenge to Quebec is this. If you are so hell -bent on leaving Canada get up nerve to do it and get out, then at least the rest of us can carry on with our lives. If not then shut up and become a functioning member of this nation.”

    Hey Don Mitchell, I think that some Quebecers would reply and say that the same applies to your Western Separatists, yes?

  46. Pol Junkie
    Hey Don Mitchell, I think that some Quebecers would reply and say that the same applies to your Western Separatists, yes?

    Well if it comes to that point I think that western Canada is more a more viable option as an independent country than Quebec is.

  47. So Paul, M. Dion’s performance during the referendum where he made the case for Canada every night on Radio-Canada – prior to his entering politics – was that the work of Allan Rock, Marcel Masse and Jean Chrétien?

    It should aslo be noted that all three of those men are Dion fans in one form or another for the last thirteen years..

  48. We can applaud Dion’s former work without it affecting our view of his recent disasters. Not that complicated – it’s the Peter Principal, he simply got promoted to the level above his competence.

  49. “Well if it comes to that point I think that western Canada is more a more viable option as an independent country than Quebec is.”

    That’s the best you could come up with?

  50. “Most commentators say the Parti Quebecois was strengthened in the home stretch by Harper’s hyperventilating in the midst of a crisis he created.”

    I would question this assumption that his “hyperventilating” had much of an effect. Obviously the PQ would claim that it did. However, I read somewhere …I wish I had the time to find it, …that the Liberal vote only went up by 50,000 over the last election and that the PQ vote went DOWN from the last. The result of a Lib majority with a strong PQ opposition was due solely to the ADQ collapse.

  51. “that the Liberal vote only went up by 50,000 over the last election and that the PQ vote went DOWN from the last. ”

    Richmond girl, this may be a dumb question but how could the PQ go down from the last election when they ended up with 20-some more seats than the last time?

  52. Bravo Paul,
    Your analysis improves when you are outside the country. Seeing from afar goes a long way to providing one with a bird’s eye view of the shenanigans that have prevailed in Canadian national politics since the late 1990s when the Chrétien and Martin people declared war on each other. Harper was the winner and is determined to win again and again by crushing all opposition, inside and outside Parliament. I say outside Parliament because the media have been largely complicit in his rise to power and his tactics and strategies in keeping hold of power no matter how damaging these are to our constitutional democracy and to our national institutions, including the Office of the Governor General.
    Harper is now going to pack the Senate with loyal Conservative Senators – this should go over well in Western Canada! It will provide the Conservative caucus with some new blood and gravitas because the CP benches are pretty thin.
    Harper has declared war on all the opposition parties, with the approval of the GG, and is determined to govern with impunity once he obtains his majority in a Winter election.
    He will attain his majority by presenting a modest stimulus in the budget, enough to hold the support of Reformers and Harrisites and attract Blue Grits, but not enough to gain the support of the three opposition parties.
    Once again the hapless GG will quickly comply with Harper’s demand to grant his government a dissolution of Parliament and the dropping of the writ for a general election. He will convince her not to call upon a fragile Ignatieff-Layton coalition backed by the ‘traitorous’ secessionists in the Bloc.
    Harper’s Conservative Party will loose every seat in Quebec, including Mario Dumont’s if he runs for the CP. Harper’s loss of these 9 seats will be compensated by significant gains in Western Canada and some gains in Ontario.
    Harper’s attempt to take on the role of Captain Canada will take on a new meaning. He will be Captain of the Rest of Canada, or better yet, un Canada sans Québec.

  53. Putting a Nobel prize winner in an executive role has its risks. A broad perspective is necessary for a cabinet secretary, whereas winning such a high academic honour demonstrates an ability to focus on minute detail that might actually distract from doing the right thing. I’ve never met an academic who didn’t think the solution to any problem was not to obtain more funding.

    Anyhow, regarding the big picture. I have to admit I was disappointed in the behaviour of the Conservatives in the time leading up to the election. Unfortunately I don’t think the Liberals are ready to do a better job, I disagree that using this parliamentary crisis to provoke a constitutional crisis is the right approach, and I haven’t seen any convincing evidence that holding back on a “stimulus” is the wrong policy for Canada.

  54. On the Q of electoral reform – what will work? I’m not a Quebecer so i need some help here. Will some form of PR fly in Q? Or will it be seen as an unwarrented attack [ask a naive queston eh!] If so, then doesn’t ending the electoral sub [all subs actually] make some sense? Presumably the BQ would have to test thetrue level of their support. [of course the might even do well gulp! ] We will never have this option thanks to our fearless leader. If nothin else Harper is a very bad salesmen. Why not sell this to other fed parties [quiet appeal to for the national good]. But noo he decides on a scorched earth policy. why just hamstring the separitists when you can take out all your opposition. My new slogan: Stephen harper is not a leader!

  55. PolJunkie:

    I need to correct what I said …the PQ vote did go up, but by very little. The link is http://www.antagoniste.net

    Lib vote went up just over 49,000
    PQ vote went up just over 13,000
    The ADQ vote went down almost 700,000 votes

    (I hope I’ve read it right.)

    Didn’t mean to mislead. The person who referenced the chart made a slight error. I still think the point stands …that people didn’t flock to the PQ. Perhaps the PQ would have done much worse had Harper not “hyperventilated”, but I don’t know.

  56. I’m more frustrated with Poljunkie.

  57. Paul,
    Looking forward to your report from Afghanistan.

    On your comment about the appointment of a former Nobel laureate to the US cabinet energy post, isn’t it just a little unfair to compare that to Stockwell Day. You know full well that our federal cabinet muct be selected from either the lower or upper house. The US has no such requirement, and their executive branch has only one elected member. And he get’s to pick who ever he wants in cabinet. One can argue the merits of each form of government, but it’s simply not an option currently.

    On that note, how many sitting Nobel Laureates have we ever had on government or opposition side? I don’t know offhand of any other than Pearson. Rather a short list to be criticizing the present government, no?

  58. “Will some form of PR fly in Q? ”

    kc, resistence to PR will come from all over Canada. No sense in preaching it to Quebecers. The problem is that you view the Bloc as a threat when, in fact, their very presence has played a role in the fact that separatism has lost ground in that province.

    Having the Bloc in Ottawa is a good thing for Canada. Remove the Bloc and you will see the resurgence of separatism in Quebec. Duceppe is the best thing that’s ever happen to us federalists.

    Case and point, look at the impact of Harper’s belligerence against the Bloc on the provincial election? Charest got a majority by a hair.

    If those of you who claim to want a strong Canada have any sense, you will leave that Bloc bashing thing alone. No good can from that.

  59. “I’m more frustrated with Poljunkie.”

    Why thank you for the compliment, Partisan. Didn’t realize anyone was paying attention.

  60. Steve Wart raises an interesting question, and I was always worried that Jed Bartlett’s Nobel in economics would make him a lousy president, but like Bartlett, this energy secretary fellow (name? It’s the middle of the night here) seems to have broad administrative experience as well as specialized experience.As a bonus, this new guy does not appear to be fictional so he may have an edge over Bartlett.

    I’m actually not sure super-genius smarts are a great political asset. Lucien Bouchard could certainly have defeated Jean Charest in any debate but Charest bids fair to achieve more than Bouchard did. Still, I do find it gratifying to learn that profound intellectual achievement will no longer be grounds for disqualification from consideration, in a nearby country if not in ours.

    What you need, ideally, is intelligence *and* street smarts. A rare combination.

    On Dion’s past before he became Liberal leader: obviously he was a key player. But I had written a dozen articles about the post-referendum Chretien unity strategy before Dion arrived in cabinet — things were moving very fast in those days — and Massé essentially briefed Dion on a settled strategy when Dion came to town. Rock, not Dion, had a long private meeting with Chrétien after a crucial January 1996 cabinet meeting in Vancouver on unity strategy; and Rock advocated, designed, and executed the federal government’s Quebec Superior Court intervention on the legality of secession; and the Supreme Court sovereignty reference. Bouchard screwed up his response to that decision by seeking to embrace parts of the ruling selectively rather than rejecting it all; Chrétien immediately called a news conference at the N.P.T. to seal the federal side’s advantage.Chrétien asserts in his autobiography that when he sought to legislate the Court’s decision as a Clarity Act, Dion agreed but wanted to take more time and everyone else in the cabinet was more reluctant. Chrétien’s book should not be the last authority, but I’ve asked around and on that point others’ recollections match his.

  61. Bill Simpson,
    “I don’t think that electoral reform will deal with the problem that the BQ represents.”

    Two points:

    1. First, I think it is a little undemocratic to call the BQ a “problem”. They are the federal party of choice for a significant plurality of Quebec voters. I think it is unrealistic to think this will change. Quebecers have had a taste of a sovereignist party at the federal level and they like it.

    2. It is unquestionable that a move to a proportional representation system would decrease the Bloc presence in the House of Commons. Why? Because, in the first-past-the-post voting system, regionally concentrated parties tend to win more seats than their percentage of the popular vote. Indeed, in every election they have contested, the Bloc has received a higher percentage of the seats than the popular vote. I see no reason to expect this to stop. Now that Harper has burned his bridges in rural Quebec, I can still see the Bloc win a majority of Quebec seats with as low as 30% of the provincial vote.

    Paul, good to see you join the electoral reform cause. I’ll post some ideas for some interesting angles for stories on the topic. You and Coyne are free to steal them.

  62. One of the cards Tories love to play against Liberals is arrogance and that whole natural governing party thing. It isn’t just Stephane Dion who is in denial, though – I read an immediate post-election interview with a newly minted Liberal MP who based virtually every answer around getting back into government. Not serving the constituents, not learning more about the country, not rebuilding the party — this session of Parliament, according to this rookie MP, was going to be all about gaining experience in order to make the transition back into government ASAP. On the one hand, you have to admire Liberals for their singularity of purpose. It strikes me, though, that this obsession with returning to their rightful place and getting back the ministerial car and driver is blinding Liberals to the obvious need to retool the party.

    In 1990, on the night he won the leadership, Jean Chretien famously declared to Liberals, “We have work to do!” It remains to be seen whether or not Michael Ignatieff is capable of delivering the same blunt wake-up call to the caucus and rank and file.

  63. M. Gregoire said:

    “The main system of electoral reform that people propose is proportional representations; but it’s hard to say how such a system would work out.”

    While predicting the future is always and art and not a science, I disagree that we can’t make general comments about how different electoral systems affect democratic politics. Why? Through cross-national comparisons.

    The best example of this I know is “Patterns of Democracy” by professor emeritus of political science and former President of the American Political Science Association Arend Lijphart.

    “Certainly minority governments would become the norm, not the exception.”

    Actually, this is not true. Most governments in PR countries are actually majority coalition governments. That is governments where the executive power is shared between two or more parties that hold a majority in the legislature.

    “As we’ve seen, minority parliaments can result in some strange coalitions developing, and disproportionate influence for minor parties.”

    How have we seen “disproportionate” influence for minor parties? Please specify how a minor party used their “disproportionate” influence. Ideally, for your argument, in a way that is opposed to public consensus or majority opinion.

    In fact, in the recent Ontario MMP referendum, we saw Campaign Life come out against reform because their analysis showed that the Christian right made virtually no legislative gains in European countries with PR!

    To conclude it should be noted that Lijphart demonstrates that citizens in PR countries are more satisfied with government and more likely to say they feel represented by government than countries that use majoritarian systems like ours. I fail to see how that could be the case if a feature of PR is to give “disproportionate influence” to small, out-of-the-mainstream political parties.

  64. “How could the PQ go down from the last election when they ended up with 20-some more seats than the last time?”

    (Putting aside from the point that the PQ vote did edge up slightly)

    The PQ vote could go down and their caucus increase but 20, because there is no relationship between voter support and parliamentary representation in our dysfunctional voting system.

    OK, maybe there is a slight relationship, but it’s a tangential and tenuous one at best.

  65. Seems to me that PR advocates, if they do want to capitalise on the FUFU crisis to push their scheme, need to be explicit that it will be province based. Math time:

    In October, the Bloc got 10.48% of the national vote, 38.1% of the QC vote. QC has 75 of our 308 seats.

    FPTP: 49 seats

    National PR: 32 seats
    Provincial PR: 28 seats

    So provincial PR would actually decrease Bloc representation. Nonetheless, in order to pitch PR the major hurdle is Quebec public opinion and its fear of getting shafted — as amplified by Bloc rhetoricians. So the #1 talking point should be: “This will allow the Québécois to find their voice.” Also one will need to appeal to all the fringe elements who find Duceppe too left-wing or too right-wing but are currently under the Bloc umbrella.

    Of course, electoral reform need not be PR. There’s STV and, always, the startlingly original Mitchell plan which frames “reform” not in terms of representation but in terms of enhanced public discourse, that cornerstone of mature democracy.

  66. Oh, and like others am looking forward to your return, Mr. Wells! This whole mess wouldn’t have happened if you’d been here. Though am also looking forward to your piece on Afghanistan. I guess you can’t have it both ways.

  67. I tend to think that Harper’s draconian move was intended to hive off at least some of the Liberal contingent to allow him to govern. He was otherwise looking at a repeat of the previous session (same set of leaders on the Opposition benches and unrelenting animosity towards his government and anything he tried to do.) I am pretty sure he had got wind of a possible coalition move. If so, he knew his days were numbered without some sort of dramatic move to change the status quo. The removal of funding, and union thing were aimed at altering the staus quo. I don’t think he necessarily expected the arguably positive result that has happened for the Liberals, but I don’t think it will not work out badly for Harper. I believe Ignatieff is someone he could work with. If he senses stability and a reasonable level of cooperation, I would be very surprised if he reintroduced the party funding issue – even though it is a fair point to bring forward and something that should be addressed further down the line. As a foil to Harper, Dion was a disaster for them both, and Ignatieff more of a worthy opponent.

  68. Partisan non-partisan: “there is no relationship between voter support and parliamentary representation in our dysfunctional voting system. OK, maybe there is a slight relationship, but it’s a tangential and tenuous one at best.”

    The key thing is that it’s altogether local. The debate on electoral reform (apart from the groundbreaking Mitchell Plan, linked above) is about altering the geography of representation. In the TV age, when national and regional concerns absolutely trump local ones, this makes a certain kind of sense. Still, in my view, the problem is not representation as such but the more basic issue of discourse.

  69. “need to correct what I said …the PQ vote did go up, but by very little.”

    No need to apologize Richmond. That bump might seem “little” to you but the point is that they weren’t even supposed to gain that much. Most polls were predicting a landslide for Charest. That the ADQ was going to be trounced was common knowledge but many believed that the Liberals would be the ones to benefit from that.

    It is therefore reasonable to assume that Harper’s bashing and name-calling of those who supported the Bloc translated in this sudden “little” bounce for the PQ.

    Duceppe was on the air (and in print) saying that Tories were calling Bloc members “frogs” in the House of Commons.

    To think that this wouldn’t impact the provincial election results is a bit naive, if you ask me.

  70. “it makes no sense to hang onto an electoral system whose many insanities include its tendency to give the Bloc more seats than its share of votes. I will be looking for a mainstream party that credibly and seriously advocates major electoral reform”

    Coyne’s road would give us the coalition dealmaking the public loves sooooo . The blowback this week suggests that you’d have to crawl across miles of broken glass to get the public to buy into a reform that eliminates majorities and single party minority mandate.

    So before doing any more harm, why not try one very simple change already in use for the Australian lower house: Let me put numbers on my ballot rather than X’s.

    Do it for a few elections and watch three things die:

    * The Bloc getting 2/3 of Quebec via federalist vote splitting. If they can’t do 50% after 2nd choices, etc. they don’t get the seat.

    * Stampeding NDP voters with scare tactics. They could put NDP 1st, Liberal 2nd.

    * The vote dampening cynicism that the MP represents a minority. After all all MPs would have their 50%.

    *

  71. I realize that it is now becoming conventional wisdom that calling separatists “separatists” was a bad move for Harper. L. Ian Macdonald makes that case in todays Nat Post.

    Does anyone really have any real data to support this assertion yet ? It may very turn out that the Cons have killed their future prospects for qrowth in Quebec, but so far there have been no polls to confirm this. Most of this conjecture is based on the apparent differential between poll numbers and final outcome in the Quebec election. This is a seriously flawed analysis.

    Polling in Quebec is difficult in the best of times, but to make the backward argument that the polls were absolutely correct 2 days before the election and that Harpers comments caused voters to drift to the PQ is ascribing way too much faith in polling accuracy.

  72. Jack Mitchell,
    I read your piece and it is certainly an interesting idea. I’ve got three points in reaction.

    1. I would think it your proposal would be even more difficult to implement than bringing in PR. Although either reform would be a huge improvement form what we’ve got now.

    2. If you are really concerned about the quality of public discourse, I think there is reason to believe that PR would ameliorate public discourse. Why? First, my studies in comparative politics seems to show that discourse in PR countries is better than in Canada. Second, PR would reduce inter-party sniping as parties would realize that they have to work together in a legislature where consensus is now the way to get things done. Third, a move to a consensus legislature would attract different candidates, likely ones that are less partisan rhetoricians, more pragmatic cooperative people.

    3. As the main short-term goal of Canada’s largest electoral reform organization, Fair Vote Canada, is to have a national Citizens’ Assembly consider options for voting reform, I would hope you join them, as I think the only way Canada could ever get a neo-Athenian democracy is through such an Assembly.

  73. Pol junkie
    As i said i have almost no concept of how Q politis works[ don’t speak French either so why don’t i just shut up?? ] Not sure if followed your reasoning. I’m not anti Quebec in any particular way, just an interested observer [ well maybe i care a little too! ]
    My take on your reply is: accept the BQ [ basically blackmail ] bcause it’s preferable to the alternative, separation. And i thought we were still a country.

  74. @Partisan non-partisan: That’s a good point about the necessity of working together in a fractured PR Parliament. I hadn’t thought of that. The key would be extreme fragmentation, so that the coalitions would be the natural expression of the policy spectrum, or one segment thereof; merely adding 3 more parties would only harden the current gridlock, I think. With extreme fragmentation, MP’s would in effect become nearly as autonomous as 18th C MP’s, though with the responsibility to uphold their party platform. Hey, I kind of like it!

    Thanks for the kind word about my piece. I am googling Fair Vote Canada as I type this. En avant!

  75. “accept the BQ [ basically blackmail ] bcause it’s preferable to the alternative, separation. And i thought we were still a country.”

    ?????

    Acutally, kc, my point was that if your concerns are that the Bloc represents a threat to Canada, you are wrong. Considering its impact on separatism, the Bloc’s participation in federal politics is a good thing.

    Now if your problem with the Bloc is that they take votes away from federalist parties, all I can respond is that this is what democracy looks like.

  76. Actually

  77. My most anxiously awaited event in ’09 or even ’10 – I’ll wait – will be Stephane Dion’s tell-all book. Behind the scenes things must have been wild. And if he’s looking to cash in . . . well there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But he was right about the Carbon Tax, and Liz May, and I’d vote for him again under the same circumstances. This issue is bigger than any of us, potentially bigger than any of us realize right on up to disastrous. And the Libs have a far stronger team behind any leader than the Cons crew. Hell, Maxime was one of the brighter lights. I’d also love to know who was running that video camera; the spiel looked a lot better on radio – I mean, sounded.

  78. “I do not admire the process that led to Ignatieff’s coronation and am not part of the man’s fan club, but I have a hard time seeing how the Liberals are weaker strategically today than they were three weeks ago.)”

    _____

    This is a common theme, the only one in this post that I do not agree with although cleary many other commenters do.

    After a leader holding office for only two years, in a time that required decisiveness and action, the leader resigned.

    The caucus had an option; have some lengthly leadership process or make have a vote and make a decision. Given that the last two standing came in 2ND and 3RD in a 9-MONTH battle….the caucus rightfully said we have enough information and the situation is dire – we better make a decision.

    I admire the process.

  79. “I admire the process.”

    SAB, that wasn’t a process, that was a gamble. While everyone is busy crucifying Dion as the worst leader in modern times, few are pointing out that the Libs just put in a place a man that hasn’t been battle-tested, has little to no experience in government and knows just as much as you and I about what it takes to address the current economic crisis.

    If Iggy proves himself up to the job, than that gamble will pay off. But if Iggy continues to give us the same gaffe-prone performance that we saw him engage in in the last leadership contest, that gamble will come back to haunt them.

  80. Paul below are the words from Garth Turner…. Andrew refused my last reference and I understand MacLeans editorial staff does not want to give him free space… BUT Sir we are in world crisis and many people have lost almost everything ( 55 plus yr olds) and many younger people have lost their jobs… For the love of God will Macleans stand up for the truth and challenge those who are will to on their word and tell us the truth…. what will take mass suicides to shake our professional journalist to write and challenge our government even as they hide in political hibernation!

    For most of this year, Canadians have been shielded from the truth about the economy. This should bother you. It should enrage you. It’s information you should have known.

    We were told the banks were the strongest in the world, and yet Ottawa found it necessary to give them a $75 billion bailout. Also telling is the fact three of the Big Six – including our largest bank, RBC – are out flogging new stock right now to raise more money, despite a terrible environment on Bay Street.

    We were told there’d be no deficit. But there is already. Now the prime minister calls red ink “essential,” and the Parliamentary Budget Officer says we could have a shortfall of up to $14 billion.

    We were told there’d be no recession here. “This is not the United States,” Mr. Harper said pointedly during the election. But now there is, of course. The central bank made that official on Monday.

    We were told the value of our homes would keep on rising, that the US real estate meltdown would pass us by. The Canadian Real Estate Association said this, and bank economists, Canada Mortgage and Housing and most urban real estate boards.

    But real estate sales have fallen as much as 70% in major cities, and average prices have plunged up to $175,000 in Vancouver, $56,000 in Calgary and $45,000 in Toronto. Buyers are staying home as sellers flood the market, ensuring more price drops.

    We were told the economy was strong and would stay in positive growth, boding well for jobs. And yet last month we lost more than 70,000 in a single four-week period. The central bank slashed interest rates to the lowest point since the 1950s in panicked reaction, and the car companies teetered on the brink of collapse.

    We were told Canadians were safe, and our households were far less indebted than those to the south. And yet today the Bank of Canada is raising the awful spectre of widespread anguish, as more and more families face losing their homes. “With household balance sheets under pressure from weak equity markets, softening house prices, slowing income growth, and record high debt-to-income ratios, a severe economic downturn could result in a substantial increase in default rates on household debt,” the bank says. If this happens, it adds, so much for Canada’s ‘strong’ banks. “Should this scenario materialize, the banking sector would suffer significant losses from the rising vulnerability in the household sector.”

    Could this be why the Royal, TD and Scotia have been selling stock in a bid to raise cash for the coming storm?

    More importantly, why has this information been kept from Canadians for the past critical months? Wouldn’t a warning have helped us all give more attention to personal debt levels, to paying off mortgages or, especially, to avoid walking into new debt at absolutely the worst time?

    Well, I may not be sympathetic to the current government for many reasons, but I’d say this fits a pattern:

    * Bring in zero down payments and 40-year mortgages at the wrong time, turning a good housing market into an unsustainable bubble.
    * Cut the GST, rather than income tax, in order to encourage consumer spending, despite rapidly rising debt and a national savings rate of nothing.
    * Run a federal election campaign on purpose before the economy falters badly, then lie to voters about what to expect.
    * Take $75 billion in ultra-safe government securities which were backing our currency and use that to buy high-ratio mortgages from the banks, without disclosing this to Parliament.
    * Bring in an economic statement that cuts spending when every other government in the world is scrambling to try and prevent deflation and a collapse.
    * Shut Parliament.

    Cavalier, out-of-touch, uncaring, dishonest. It underscores one reality: You’re on your own.

    This economy’s in very bad shape and there’s worse to come. Doing nothing is a choice you no longer have.
    …………………………………………………………………

    PS…. Britian is reporting the loss of 370,000 jobs lost by 2012! what does that say???

    db

  81. PolJunkie – my response, clearly opinions not fact:

    (1) It would have been a much bigger gamble NOT to do it.

    (2) The Liberals already rolled the dice when they voted Ignatieff into second place. The guy who came first resigned. The guy who came second is now on top.

    PS.

    (2a) – Speaking as an Ontario voter who has voted Liberal in every Federal election since I’ve been old enough to vote, I’d trust a hamster to manage the economy more than I’d trust Bob Rae.

  82. I love it when you get angry.

  83. @David Bakody, did you and Garth read “Finance for Dummies” beforing postin this?

    ***”We were told the banks were the strongest in the world, and yet Ottawa found it necessary to give them a $75 billion bailout”

    This is inaccurate. The government bought INSURED mortages from the banks in order for the banks to increase their lending activities. This is effectively zero risk and it is incredibly different from the bailout in the states in the UK which includes buying debt that may never be paid back an taking an equity position in the bank.

    ***”But real estate sales have fallen as much as 70% in major cities, and average prices have plunged up to $175,000 in Vancouver, $56,000 in Calgary and $45,000 in Toronto. Buyers are staying home as sellers flood the market, ensuring more price drops”.

    175K, 56K, and 45K are in the 10-20% range more or less depending on the city. It is nowhere near 70%. There may be a neighbourhood or two in a city or two where homes prices have fallen 70% but the comment is clearly misleading.

    ***”Could this be why the Royal, TD and Scotia have been selling stock in a bid to raise cash for the coming storm?”

    This sounds like good business judgment to me.

    I agree with you fully that the current government either downplayed or did not understand the magnitude of the global economic impact, and I am no fan of them. But if it is true that they did not understand, they are certainly not alone.

    The conspiracy theory you describe is suspect. In case you haven’t seen Paulson on TV in the last 3 months, the best in the world have been pretty much winging it.

  84. Anyone who prefers PR would have to vote NDP — Layton has been harping on about it since becoming leader. The NDP traditionally get a significantly higher proportion of votes than seats. I think it’s more of a personal crusade/tirade on his part than an actual party policy. My own preference would be an Australian-style preferential ballot, with government funding going to the first choice. It solves a lot of the same problems of PR, but doesn’t require significant rejiggering of the overall electoral process.

    I suspect a lot of NDP supporters don’t really “like” Jack Layton. They just see him as the most effective person for the job who actually wanted it. He’s probably the most politically experienced current party leader and as highly educated & fluent in both languages as Ignatief. On the down side, he’s overly excitable, loves his own voice too much & can’t debate to save his life.

    I think the biggest obstacle to a functioning coalition isn’t the Bloc, but lingering NDP/Liberal animosity. From the beginning, the main political of the CCF was the Liberal party, who mostly saw the CCF & later the NDP as a bunch of upstarts who keep getting in the way of Liberal dominance. And Buzz Hargrove coming out on the side of the Liberals an election or two ago probably didn’t help much.

  85. SAB, you misunderstand. I agree that there would have been a bigger risk in keeping Dion. My point is that the LPC may have replaced him with the wrong guy… or hamster.

  86. “So who else is tired of Jean Proulx?”

    Not Kady O’Malley. She dedicated a blog post to his new Facebook Group, and reproduced his open letter to whomever in its entirety. (It was a bit long, as you can imagine.)

  87. PolJunkie said, “So this notion that the Bloc is not a legitimate party and doesn’t deserve a voice in Parliament is as undemocratic as it gets.”

    But that’s not what was said. Mr. Wells wrote, “It makes no sense to hang onto an electoral system whose many insanities include its tendency to give the Bloc more seats than its share of votes.”

    It also makes no sense to hang on to an electoral system that gives any other party more seats, or fewer, than its share of the votes.

    It is also worth pointing out that a winner-take-all system that requires only 38% of the votes for a “majority” government creates cut-throat politics and punishes any attempt at reasonableness or cooperation.

    Nice to see Mr. Wells has seen the light. He’s not the only one. A lot of Canadians are beginning to realize that our current voting system is at the root of so much that is wrong with our politics, and that it doesn’t have to be this way.

  88. First of all I am thankful that Jean Proulx has gone to sleep. I am not so happy to see that dire Predictor Garth Turner infiltrate this blog—bad energy there.
    In regards to the Clarity Act, I do want to tell you Paul that before Dion and Chretien, before Rock and Masse, and before Manning and Harper, there was my grandfather back in the Seventies who proposed a tough love approach to Quebec separtists—if the majority don`t want to be with us, then go—completely—-gone forever. The Clarity Act is all about common sense—that`s all—not complicated—even old men saw that almost 40 years ago.

  89. “If we don’t think a separatist party has as much right as the others to determine who keeps or loses power, then it makes no sense to hang onto an electoral system whose many insanities include its tendency to give the Bloc more seats than its share of votes”

    Wrong!

    There are two way to defeat the Bloc. The first is to change the electoral system (which I disagree with).

    The second is to take away their money (which I do agree with).

    It’s coming to a theatre near you very soon (the money vote that is).

    If Liberals end up as “roadkill” so be it.

  90. Jack, would you mind making your nickname more specific?

  91. Bakody, your post is so full of economic illiteracy and exaggeration that I cannot be bothered to provide a point-by-point refutation. The entire globe has slid into recession. That includes Canada. We’ve held up better than most. If you are panicking already, then I suggest you stick around… it’s about to get a lot worse. You must be a youngster who doesn’t even remember the last recession. (Either that or you can’t remember it for other reasons about which I will not speculate.) We are only at the very beginning of the recession. Remember the early 80s? The early 90s? Are you suggesting that today is even worse? As in right now – worse than the depths of those recessions?

    When the doughnut shops and gas stations take down their HELP WANTED signs and replace them with NOT ACCEPTING JOB APPLICATIONS signs, then you know things have gotten bad. That’s the way it was in the early 1990s. And you know what? We lived. We survived. We even prospered for the next decade or so. And we never did reach a point where their were mass suicides, or anything else of that nature.

    We have recessions. There is no way around them. There is no government in the world that can prevent them (though they’re all trying, however wasteful, futile, and potentially damaging their efforts might be). We’re in for a very rough time, and it doesn’t help at all to have people like you panicking before the bad stuff even gets started. My God, what will be the state of your mental health a year from now when things are really bad. I encourage you to seek counseling.

    By the way, the journalists aren’t hiding anything. The newscasts and newspapers are FULL of pronouncements of doom and gloom and recession. They’ve even been throwing around the D-word for a couple months. You think we need MORE of that? I doubt you could handle more of that. You seem pretty tightly wound already.

  92. “But that’s not what was said.”

    Nice of you, Wayne Smith, to come to the defence of Wells but my post wasn’t directed at him. It was directed at all of those who have been suggesting that the Bloc shouldn’t be in Parliament. Those suggestions can be found all over Macleans’ blogs.

  93. “It also makes no sense to hang on to an electoral system that gives any other party more seats, or fewer, than its share of the votes.”

    I’m gonna also assume that this comment is meant for others since I happen to support PR.

  94. “A long, expensive, divisive leadership race lay ahead for the Liberals. Harper delivered an economic update whose central tenet was that Canada, alone among nations, was not seriously threatened by economic upheaval and did not need to provide economic stimulus.”

    The first point is a credit to Harper, and the numbers support him, and you know the numbers support him, you demagogic cad. At least acknowledge our situation is and was better that most in the G-20 in unemployment, inflation, GDP growth, bank solvency, fiscal surplus, and interest rates. Who else is in surplus while recording 1.3% growth last quarter and being near historic lows in unemployment?

    On the second point, Keynesian stimulus as response is far from an economic consenus: cherry picking a few economists representing banks, construction company associations, and unions who endorse – surprise! – bailouts that favour banks, construction companies, and unions isn’t convincing anyone with a clue. Personal income tax was 2-3 times higher in total dollars than business tax last time I checked, the people have more at stake here than this disparate coalition of organized handout beggars.

    At the time the coalition struck they willfully and maliciously misrepresented the domestic economic conditions prevailing at the time. Some economic indicators have come in which suggest that we are indeed entering uncertainty since the deal but refer to point #1: our economy, banks, and fiscal situation really are *that* awesome, under the leadership of Harper and Flaherty, at least compared to the rest of the G-20.

    I see the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance is now calling for a sixty billion dollar bailout. What self serving pigs. What do they care if spending goes up 60 billion? Their taxes go down under either the Conservatives or the coalition and know the burden to pay for it will be shifted to the people, maybe get a highway repaved out of the deal, and they’ll all be retired by then anyway. This one is shaping up as the people versus Big Union, Corporate Welfare Bums, and separatists. Harper will get his election if they force the issue and he will win a majority; people don’t like deficits as much as some might think.

  95. PW: I don’t follow the Bloc argument vis a vis proportional representation. If the Liberals and NDP each had 10 more seats and the clock had 20 less, what difference would it make? You would still have the same situation, with the opposition needing the Bloc to outnumber the Conservatives. The Bloc would still exist as a protest party.

    I don’t think the electoral system has anything to do with it, not that issue anyway.

    “Make Jim Flaherty Our King” is correct. Stimulus is bunk. It’s partly stimulus that cause the mess, with that ridiculous fed rate of 1% for two years following the dot com crash. That’s essentially begging people to make loans, and when there are not good loans left to be made, to start making bad ones. The economy’s problems were caused by overstimulation: an excess of loans, an excess of houses, an excess of leverage, all of them ponzi schemes, all of which would be worsened by additional stimulus.

    I can’t disagree with your thoughts on Dion and your assessment that Harper had a bad month.

  96. Stimulus at the wrong time is bad, as it overinflates things.
    Stimulus at the right time is entirely different.

    The point of government isn’t to halt the economic ebbs and flows. Such a thing would be impossible, and anybody who’s advocating that really needs to learn more. However, govenment should be working to moderate the ebbs and flows where possible. It should seek to tame the good times somewhat so that when the bad times come they are neither as severe as they might otherwise be and so that the government has the resources to aid those who are the hardest hit.

    The problem with Flaherty’s economic plans is he’s doing the wrong things for the time. Cutting GST by 2 points when the economy was chugging along very nicely? Bad move. Depleted government resources needlessly, thus hamstringing the government come the situation of today when people are going to seriously need the help. If anything, the Canadian government should have been taxing us more from 02-08 or so. Thus not only giving the government more resources to help the people and industries hardest hit, but giving the government room to do so while at the same time reducing taxes to provide a general stimulus to an economy that is rapidly shutting down.

    I always find it ironic, living in Alberta, that we have so many die-hard conservatives running around.. some with the bumper stickers that say “Please God, let there be another boom, I promise not to piss it all away this time” yet they strongly support tax cuts in any situation and swear up and down that a government surplus means they should be getting their money back, even at the best of times.

  97. Poljunkie
    I take your point that the BQ is a legit expression of some Quebecers and that fed parties need to work harder or find a different line. But my point was/is that the electoral system so skews things that this not at all likely. It’s still blackmail or what?? Even if it’s what Quebers like it this way, i don’t have too.

  98. T. Thwimm, the BoC controls inflation, not the government of Canada. Inflation is purely a monetary issue that is controlled by monetary policy – i.e. interest rate adjustments, which affect the supply of money and therefore availability of credit and thus price levels. Fiscal policy can only be inflationary if it is so extreme that it causes massive government borrowing, which can make monetary policy by the BoC more difficult. This was the case in the early 80s and again in the early 90s.

    John Crow took a lot of heat, but he refused to allow high government borrowing to affect his monetary policy, and squashed inflation dead. Most central bankers would have eased up on interest rates in order to slow sky-rocketing government debt and also prevent the “crowding out” effect (where government borrowing means less credit available for anyone else, thus less economic growth). Crow decided that his inflation fight would not be interrupted by massive government spending and $40 billion deficits, and we were slammed with an even more severe recession than we would have been otherwise. He did, however, succeed in price stability, which lasts to this day.

    Just to recap, a $40 billion deficit (Mulroney’s last year) is one hell of a “stimulus”. But it was completely overwhelmed by monetary policy. It always is. Fiscal policy is just a fantasy of government officials and economists who should know better.

    If Crow were still running the BoC, he’d never have allowed the housing bubble to get to the point that it did.

  99. T. Thwimm, as for the GST cuts, they did not do much of anything. Many Keynesians argue that consumption tax cuts are the ideal stimulus. They aren’t of course, because there really is no such thing as fiscal stimulus, but that’s another issue. I’ve still got all my economics textbooks from the early 1990s, and many praised the GST as a “wonderful tool” to stimulate aggregate demand in order to ward off recession. In other words, cut it when the economy looks as though it is slowing. That’s exactly what the Conservatives did, and it was useless, just as I would predict it would be. Why? Keynesian stimulus is a myth.

  100. Oh, and keeping taxes higher so you can provide aid to struggling industries is a terrible idea. Why should we build up a slush-fund to bail out mismanaged or simply obsolete companies? That merely preserves outmoded economic activity, and makes us less productive.

    I would have much preferred income tax cuts, but I’ll take ANY cuts before I take massive government intervention in rescuing large firms.

  101. “I will be looking for a mainstream party that credibly and seriously advocates major electoral reform, to bring our Parliament more closely into alignment with the voters’ wishes.”

    Welcome to the NDP, Mr. Wells.

  102. Undisclosed location…

    You’re in Dubai, aren’t you? Lucky *******.

  103. – – Jean Proulx – “Whoops, ignore the above.” – –

    Only?

  104. This discussion seems to have gotten fairly interesting, with the exception of the one or two people who do ten consecutive posts. I tend to think that the problem is not with academics per se, but with the Social Scientists in particular. These, and particularly the Political Scientists, Economists and Sociologists (that would cover all three of our major party leaders) tend to come in two different varieties. There are the ones who aren’t all that intellectually minded and get their graduate degrees with the expectation of going straight into politics, journalism or the bureaucracy. They tend not to approach problems intellectually or analytically, and most of their academic research and publications are really just extended op-ed pieces, wrapped up in post-modernist academic jargon to sound authoritative but ultimately no more wise or significant than what anyone with a blog has to say. Jack Layton and Stephen Harper (in light of the fact that he’s about to spend us back into deficit, it is rather ironic that he wrote his M.A. Thesis on the ways in which excessive, counter-cyclical government spending disrupts the business cycle) belong to this category, as does (though he is much more respectable as a scholar and thinker than either of them) Michael Ignatieff.

    The other kind of social scientists tend to think of themselves as modern platonic guardians, and look at most problems in the abstract, constructing elaborate conceptual models (and often equally tendentious statistical ones) for solving them that fail to take practical realities, the likely reactions of the broader public, the difficulty of implementing anything particular complex when faced with a rigid bureaucracy and determined, interest group opposition etc. That would be Stephane Dion, with his green shift, the waffling over all major decisions etc.

    Even though both of these groups are filled with people of enormous talent who could contribute significantly as advisors, or think tank researchers, I think on the whole we will get better government from hardheaded businessmen and lawyers, and even the occasional corrupt machine pol, who tend to be more pragmatic and have both an understanding of what is necessary to run an organization and a sense of the limits of what they can actually expect to accomplish.

    The Quebec issue, frankly, has been done to death. The only observable rule in Quebec politics is that no one ever knows what the hell is going on from one week to the next, least of all the politicians and the journalists. There is an overwhelming consensus among Quebec pols, including the supposed conservatives, that the status quo of socialist, Ottawa subsidized and union dominated economics should continue indefinitely. And even the die hards stopped believing long ago that separation was achievable. Why would they even want to separate when they can just pretend to be a more or less indepent state, duplicate all of the services of the federal government at the local level, and still get money from Ottawa? So Quebec elections now get decided based on boredom and trivialities, with the Bloc cleaning federally because it is essentially a none of the above vote, a meaningless gesture of collective solidarity that has no practical implications. Until that is, Dion made the idiotic decision to try to bring them into a coalition government. Intelligent English Canadians should realize by now, after endless attempts to seduce Quebec with one bribe and special power after another that their case is hopeless. The smartest move the Liberals, the Tories and their followers could make would be to simply write the whole province off politically, create thirty to forty new seats in the West and Ontario to make it possible to win a majority without Quebec support, pass some kind of law that would make federal funding contingent on running a hundred candidates to bankrupt the BQ, and then respond to all further attempts to extort the federal govt. with threats of separation by saying “if you want to try to make the federation work better, then make the case and we’ll negotiate. But if you want to manufacture a crisis or extort us by threatening to leave, then just go ahead and do it. You’ll be bankrupt in less than a decade. We’ll have more money, greater stability, and a federal govt. that can function in a logical manner.”

  105. Not going to defend Dion a la Jean Proulx but I will say he did change the view I had of the Liberal party away from the sleaze of the end of the Chretien era and the mean-spiritedness of the Martin era. He gave some character, morality and dignity back to the party which wasn’t fully reflected in the October election results. The stories of his inept management of his office and campaign do sadden me though.

    In the end the Liberals may be all about power but there is no specific agenda to dramatically change Canada and that’s why they always come back.

  106. Paul, I’m curious as to why you are not part of Michael Iggnatief’s fan club. Am I correct in guessing that the reason runs something like, “I see no reason to be a fan of someone whose primary accomplishment in public service so far is not screwing up too badly yet?” If not, could you please clarify.

    Similarly, who *are* you a fan of in Federal Politics these days?

  107. “Cutting GST by 2 points when the economy was chugging along very nicely? Bad move. ” Actually, I think it is a bit tiresome for people to go on and on about the GST cut and how it was a bad move. The GST cut was an election promise — a rather popular one as I recall. It was essential for a brand new government to follow-through on such a promise. The argument that income tax cuts are better for stimulating the economy is purely academic.

  108. Reptile Yuks: Pretty close. I’ve promised to myself I won’t write much, good or bad, about Ignatieff until I’ve had more time to watch him up close. I thought his arguments on Iraq, the Quebec nation and Qana in 2006 were kind of wildly all over the map. But perhaps he’s grown.

  109. Paul Wells – I apologize if my comments to you yesterday were overly harsh. I have a lot of respect for Dion and didn’t appreciate seeing people pile on the past few days.

  110. Paul Wells,

    I, likewise, have been convinced of the need for electoral reform. Even if the coalition succeeded, it would not last long because of the high variation in election prospects associated with first-past-the-post. Those able to think longer than a few years ahead should surely realize that having elections every 2 years is hardly a sign of stability for the country.

    I would be willing to accept PR, even though I prefer ranked preference voting (though I already preferred that to FPTP). Canada needs majority governments or workable coalitions.

    That said, I think finance reforms (ironically Harper’s funding move would have done this) can restore Canada to a 2.5 party system. By eliminating the cap on election spending and the public subsidy, the Bloc and Greens would be crippled, and the NDP hurt. I do think the Liberals have the potential, because they have a wide base of support, to get at their own grassroots and compete with a flush Tory party.

    So as I see it there are three options that could give us stable government. The problem is that each would produce outcomes preferred by one party and not others.

    Finance reform -> Tory majority
    PR -> Lib-NDP coalition (or some alliance of centrist and left parties)
    Ranked preference voting -> Liberal majority

    I think the best solution would be a move to ranked preference voting, coupled with finance reforms. This would make minor parties other than the NDP become obscure also-rans, and produce something like the stable 2.5 party system that Canada has enjoyed for most of its history. It would produce governments that have to reach out by definition, and ultimately govern from the centre.

  111. “The other kind of social scientists tend to think of themselves as modern platonic guardians, and look at most problems in the abstract, constructing elaborate conceptual models (and often equally tendentious statistical ones) for solving them that fail to take practical realities, the likely reactions of the broader public, the difficulty of implementing anything particular complex when faced with a rigid bureaucracy and determined, interest group opposition etc. That would be Stephane Dion, with his green shift, the waffling over all major decisions etc. ”

    I think your distinction is essentially that of public intellectuals versus academics (and it makes a good ground for contrasting Michael Ignatieff, the very definition of a public intellectual, and Stephane Dion, who was a serious academic – Ignatieff was far more famous and successful, but nobody really takes his work seriously, and it isn’t theoretically driven anyway). It is a good distinction, though I am not sure I agree with your conclusions.

    Firstly, I think you sort of waste your first two paragraphs, since you draw out the distinctions between kinds of academics and then declare that both kinds make bad leaders, relative to businessmen and lawyers. I think they make different kinds of leaders, but not necessarily worse ones.

    The overall distinction that seems to underly your argument sounds like NT vs. ST, to use the Myers-Briggs terminology. Basically, you have big picture people that have grand ideas, and detail-oriented people that “get the job done”. Generally the latter has succeeded much more in politics. However, I would suggest that most public intellectuals are of the latter type, and that this is precisely why they aren’t in theory-driven academia, but instead, visit the Kurds in Iraq or whatever. They don’t like the commitment to theory-building because the way they think is reductionist and usually full of inconsistencies if drawn out.

    Many public intellectuals have been successful in politics, both here and in the US. I would consider William Lyon Mackenzie-King, Pierre Trudeau, Condi Rice, Newt Gingrich, Preston Manning and Ed Broadbent as examples. If you want to add Jack Layton and Stephen Harper to that list you can, but either way you have a list of very successful people (I consider Reform Party and NDP success in a relative sense). I think ultimately, they have the same qualities that make businessmen and lawyers successful – a lack of commitment to overarching principles or ideas. Each of these leaders has shown at least some degree of flexibility.

    I agree with you that serious academics make poor leaders, most of the time. The only clear examples I can think of in North America are Stephane Dion and Woodrow Wilson. However, they are better at thinking of new ways to approach problems – they excel at strategy and suck at tactics. Wilson’s league, Dion’s green shift, and the Dion’s grand coalition all failed, but that isn’t to say the ideas weren’t taken on later by others and perfected. As in history, you have your Greeks, and then your Romans – thinkers then doers. Dion awakened Canada to the possibility of coalition government – it looks to have failed, but over the next 5 years, a good salesmanship job from Iggy and Layton can very well pave the way for coalition government in Canada. The green shift will probably happen too, though marketed as “make polluters and oil companies pay”, with the tax benefits being marketed separately. Linking the two only complicated the sales pitch.

  112. So where are we to-day in all this worldly mess….. another day older and deeper in debt…. perhaps Paul we should suggest to all politicians they turn in their shovels! Politics could be defined as: “The art of compromise” and here in Canada there could be no better place to start. With out sounding too anti Reform I would like to say that Mr. Harper’s primary task was not to compromise… M. Dion was and is a man with great concern and respect for all things good. Jack Layton represents people who stop and think and see through the eyes and visions of Tommy Douglass….. while M. Duceppe is the type of politician we all would like to have represented us…especially the, I in us…. he continues to state: If it is good for Quebec I will vote for it…. Separation is only a tool albeit a workable option in their eyes… but Quebecers vote with their hands on their pocket books… a good Quebec friend told me that many years ago…. most other people do so also, but Quebecers have a common cause while the rest of fight amongst ourselves… such is life in Canada…. A smart politician must see this and bridge the gaps and throw the trashy stuff to the wind…. Harper in not that kind of man…. Is Ignatieff ? only time will tell but from what I have heard him say so far there are indications…. his talk has more we than I and his words such as from coast to coast, wanting to see the books/ our taxpayer dollars and speaking of rural Canada and yes even barn yards… they reminded my of childhood days growing up in rural Ontario…. slipping on cow slip… and long hours in market garden fields. Nice to hear for a change…. sometimes when things do not work out…. change is good… I hope to continue reading and tapping away Paul…. MacLeans has a special part in our Canadian culture and we need good journalist and news producers… the world is moving fast…just look at our past couple of weeks… heavens to mercy in my younger days this was years worth or more!

  113. “But my point was/is that the electoral system so skews things that this not at all likely. It’s still blackmail or what?? Even if it’s what Quebers like it this way, i don’t have too.”

    Kc, I’m a Quebecer and I don’t like it either. I also hate having to utter the words “Prime Minister Harper” but, again, that’s democracy, not blackmail.

  114. Great column, Mr. Wells.

    “I hear the new energy secretary will be a Nobel prize-winning physicist; could we please arrange a meeting between him and Stockwell Day somehow? Pretty please?”

    Yes, that would be hilarious. Steven Chu can be pretty blunt.

  115. Oooooooh! An ‘Undisclosed Location’! You roving, mysterious international man of mystery, you!

  116. With Chu as energy secretary, I wonder if carbon taxes might fly. Their lower cost, compared to cap and trade, has attracted a lot of support in the US behind the scenes, and Congress has been well briefed on the advantages of a carbon tax.

    Rep. Larson is speculating that with the current economic crisis, even if people don’t understand the significantly higher costs of cap and trade, they might be feeling a bit skeptical of markets.

  117. Jean Proulx, please say whatever you want about me within the limits of the libel laws, but do try to say it in fewer than 14 posts. That was what was ridiculous, not your criticism.

  118. Jean is an out of control ConBot designed to discredit the LIberals

  119. I’d like to see anyone that writes “ConBot” or “Fiberal” IP-banned from macleans.ca for life(Steve’s joke excluded).

    William Shatner’s SNL advice to Trekkies applies here for the well-established group of usual suspects that post the same partisan personal attacks on every blog entry on the site.

    Anyway, I’d like to thank Mr. Wells(and Andrew/Kady) for continuing to provide a great read, and I’m sure that he is aware that he hits it on the nose a lot, judging by how often he is attacked from both sides on the same topic.

  120. Some of you people take yourselves way too seriously…

  121. I’d like to see anyone that writes “ConBot” or “Fiberal” IP-banned from macleans.ca for life(Steve’s joke excluded).

    I’d like to see Conservatives take greater issue with the value of repeating talking points supplied to them by the Party. When you look at the Party’s web site, with its snazzy little interface that automates all the work required to express an opinion in the media, the ConBot characterisation seems completely apt. Frankly, I’m not even sure at this point why they even bother with user input at all.

    I don’t think I’ve ever come across any Conservative who’s criticised the mindlessness of that whole enterprise.

  122. Paul, great to see you’ve finally come round on electoral reform. Coyne has it right. Hope you follow this up. I know some LIberals out West are putting together a ginger group to push for electoral reform – they want to get some poli sci profs and a few retired parliamentarians together to ask: Which electoral system (of the three major alternatives to the status quo) would be best for Canada? And which detailed version of each system is optimized for the Canadian context? Hopefully they’ll get their report written well before the next election, so we can all think about the options and invite the Parties to take a stance.

    On another topic: for such a smart fella, you do sometimes come up with puzzling perspectives. Two examples: I could never quite figure out why you had much admiration for Stephane Dion (nice enough guy, in his awkward way, but clearly not leadership material) — please explain — nor why you are so down on Michael Ignatieff (nice or not, he’s clearly leadership material) — please consider writing a piece totting up Ignatieff’s pros and cons as you see them. I know both gentlemen slightly — have spoken to each a number of times — and it didn’t take long to figure out which one has the stuff, and which does not. I’ve always been puzzled that someone as bright and experienced as you saw it the other way round.

  123. Ti-Guy you’ve never stated your political affiliation but I find it offensive to be continually accused of spouting “talking points” when I’m not a member of any political party, and I never have been one.

    My arguments are based on my own opinions, nobody else. I waste my time posting here because I care about what’s best for my family and my community, not about blind loyalty to a party or this week’s leader.

    I don’t feel that the partisan Liberal commentators here are as honest as they claim to be. In fact, I would appreciate it if you would go back to your riding associations and clarify exactly what the hell it is you’re supposed to be telling us, because you’re not making much sense at all.

  124. “Reptile Yuks: Pretty close. I’ve promised to myself I won’t write much, good or bad, about Ignatieff until I’ve had more time to watch him up close. I thought his arguments on Iraq, the Quebec nation and Qana in 2006 were kind of wildly all over the map. But perhaps he’s grown.”

    Please don’t deny us what’s been brining us back all these years. Having read every one of your posts and your book over the last 3 years, I wouldn’t go so far as to call you the cynic. A cynic by definition is seldom disappointed. Wells is more an eternal optimist, always trying to pinpoint greatness in our faulty leaders and, then, being surprised that they weren’t able to overcome their faults when it was all so clear. I probably making a mess of what I’m trying to say but, I think you’ll get my meaning.

    There are few journalists today who try to hold politicians to a higher standard, but Wells is one of them.

  125. I have disappointment (and part ridicule) in Dion The Leader, but hold my original opinion of him as Dion the dude.

    I don’t understand the problems people have with how Ignatieff became leader of the Liberals. Surely he has overwhelming support, and you can’t force people to run in a competition if they don’t want to. Was Rae supposed to stay in the leadership race just for the hell of it? Granted, I suppose Rae and his supporters still think he had a chance of winning but at what cost? So if Rae personally thinks the cost is too great, then who are we to complain? The final act in the leadership process was in fact the justification that the process was correct.

  126. As an octogenarian, I had the advantage of living through the Great Depression of the 30s. The present situation is certainly well into the early stages of that depression.. I think the continual use by the media:journalists,press and TV of the weasell word recession, gives a narrowly, and primarily economic focus to a much deeper and more severe world crisis: job losses, plunging stock markets,etc. Read The Great Crash byJ.K.Galbraith, then the fiction of Broadfoot, and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. I was born in the Maritimes, and was educated in Montreal, then years in Southern Ontarion, and now the West Coast. In spite of the almost total media bias against the Conservatives in general, and Mr. Harper in particular, I believe that only his politics will guide us through. Remember the market which reached its nadir in 1931 did not regain its pre depression strength until 1954.

  127. When I read

    “It took two days for him to drop the party-funding and strike-breaking provisions. His finance minister no longer appears in public except to plead for a chance to survive long enough to provide economic stimulus. ”

    It sounds like Billy Bob Wells thinks that we need to have strikes from the unions on top of the worldwide economic hardship that the recession is bringing.

    My view is that unions are a significant part of the problem that has led us to this destination of being non competitive in the manufacturing sector.

    Unskilled labour would be paid the appropriate wage were it not for the legalized blackmail and extortion that unions are able to enjoy to achieve their goals.
    What they have created is an uncompetitive Canadian auto sector and sadly

  128. Do you people not have to feed your dog or something…? Has everyone a short or no memory? The four top people in Harper’s Power Group are former Harris acolytes! (viz.) Baird(the Birdcage), Flaherty (flowery man), Clement(the non-Italian), and Fundamentalist(ashamedtobeItalian) Guy Giorno, the most toxic nonelected politician to be produced by the Catholic education system of Ontario! Read between the lines!!! Ontario is still suffering from their term in office! These are not the great Conservatives like Robarts, Davis, Stanfield, Even Joe Clark, and, Macdonald, the our father of Canada.

    Enjoy people this ecstatic moment in Canadian politics, first feed the dog, fear not the neofascists who will soon destroy themselves with a little push from intelligently ballsy (Trudeautype) libearls!

    Salpal

  129. Hi Paul;

    If any comfort, and despite whatever policy or partisan differences we may have, I am in complete agreement with your past several postings on the state of Canadian politics.

    As a long time past partisan, and lifelong right of centre voter, who reluctantly voted Conservative last time, my vote is now in play. I will reconsider Ignatieff, Green, or spoiling my ballot. The Conservatives will not get my ballot as long as Harper is leader and PM, whoever much they rejoice in their short term poll advantage.

    Perhaps time for a mixed member proportional rep. system? Stability of the party that places first getting a clear victory, but awarding all parties seats where they get votes. Here in BC, we are looking again at these options for next May.

  130. I guess what I find frustrating by PW’s post and I guess by punditry in general, is the need to make things black and white. So there is no recognition that Dion could be both the architect of good run of public policy (i.e. both the letter writing campaign / Kyoto stuff) and still be a fundamentally flawed politician.

    Politicians are often a combination of great ideas and great hubris.

    I think it was pretty common knowledge on the Hill, that Dion had a propensity to ignore the advice of others, could be stubborn etc. Sometimes the qualities that make you a good Minister, don’t make you a good leader.

    But Wells has to make it black and white, it was Rock or Masse who did these things, Dion had nothing to do with the good things that were accomplished under his watch, instead of the more subtle understanding that Dion’s stubbornness and tenasity, when managed by a good leader or even the Cabinet structure, allowed him and the govt to accomplish some very good things.

    PW chose to ignore the cautionary tales that people were telling him about both Harper and Dion, because of his enthusiam for their records and actions, and there is nothing wrong with that. We all get caught up in this sort of enthusiasm, but It does strike me as a bit of sour grapes that in because he made this mistake he has to paint both of them as complete failures to make up for his disappointment in them. Perhaps there is nothing so dangerous as a pundit scorned…..

  131. Dion’s video fiasco was indeed a definitive moment neatly summarizing two years of astonishing ineptitude. But Paul, consider the source of the “not used to being in opposition” comment.

    It was none other than the noted sac le merde Jean Lapierre, speaking to Jabba the Hutt Mike Duffy.

    The man who, as Paul Martin’s Quebec Lieutenant took the Liberals to their worst showing in Quebec (13 seats, 20.7%) in the party’s history. Dion managed to improve slightly on Lapierre’s efforts in 2008 (14 seats, 23.7%). Must be tough to go through life knowing that he was outclassed by Dion.

    And of course let’s not forget how Lapierre resigned like a little bitch to leave Outremont for the NDP.