Ten Seats- Really?

Don’t you just love the summer doldrums and some of the political speculation that abounds in the news? One such story around speculation that the Conservatives under Harper could win ten seats in Quebec in the next election was certainly attention getting.

This would require quite an extensive and on-going charm offensive from the Prime Minister if he was to turn Conservative fortunes around, and at what cost to the Conservatives in other provinces? How will the Conservative base react if they see so much attention, time and effort being spent on Quebec?

Quebec voters are pretty astute and any last minute attempt to bring back votes to the CPC will be known for what it is, an attempt to hang on to power. This would require Quebec voters to ignore the CPC role in cultural cuts, the differing positions on justice and environmental issues and other areas as well.

One recent poll showed the Conservatives in last place (their usual place) in Quebec with 14% support. In other words some 83% of Quebec voters opposed them and supported the Liberals at 41%, the NDP 22% and Bloc 20%.

With Trudeau leading the charge for the Liberals does anyone seriously expect that the Liberals will remain at 6 seats in that province? Will Quebec voters shift to the right all the way to the Conservatives to stop Trudeau from winning? I hardly think so.

Nor can we discount Tom Mulcair as he is an effective campaigner and usually has a pretty good handle on Quebec issues. His caucus might be young, but they are the incumbents in 59 ridings. It is never easy to beat a sitting MP no matter which party they represent.

Quebec provincial politicians always put Quebec’s interests first and while relations with the premier might be good right now, the question is how long that will last before divisive issues arise?

Nor can we forget the on-going Senate scandal which has the potential to dominate the news as we lead up to the 2015 election. Quebec voters cannot be expected to ignore that (nor will Canadian voters in general).

The only hope the Conservatives have of winning 10 seats is some serious vote splitting in the ridings the Conservative previous held but lost. But with momentum slipping away from them nationally and towards the Liberals under Trudeau, it requires quite a leap of faith to accept that Quebec voters in any riding will think that voting Blue is the way to go in 2015.


No Real Surprise

Was anyone really surprised by the results of the June 30th bye-elections?

For the most part turnout was low and that has been blamed on the government because the date they picked was just before a long weekend. There will be some truth to that but if someone really wanted to vote, there were plenty of opportunities to do so at the advance polls. Having worked so often on Election Day, I would have to go back to the 1970s to find a time when I didn’t vote at an advanced poll. Excuses, excuses, but if it was important to you, you had a chance to vote.

Bye-elections are also a time for voters to safely send the sitting government a message if they are discontented with that government’s performance. Could the low turnout be partially because those given the opportunity to vote really didn’t have a bone to pick with the government at this time? There will be a lot of tea leaves read over the next month or so as the parties collectively try to extrapolate that answer from the results.

The Conservatives won what they were expected to win (Macleod and Fort McMurray-Athabasca). The Liberals did better than expected getting re-elected in one and capturing another urban seat (Trinity-Spadina) in the vote rich GTA. It’s a good start for the Liberals and gives them a bit more momentum than their left wing cousins in the NDP. Trudeau has served notice to the NDP that the Liberals can take the fight to them and win.

It will be interesting to watch how the NDP bounce back and what their strategy will be and how they position Mulcair over the next few months. Exactly how will they counter Trudeau’s momentum?

For the Liberals it will take some effort to keep the momentum going. With the vacation season upon us, how many voters will be the least bit interested in politics or following what the various leaders are doing? It’s always much harder for the opposition parties to stay in the spotlight over the summer?

The Tories can pretty much go on cruise control over the summer. There will be all sorts of funding announcements which are guaranteed to make the local press. They won’t consider a lack of national media coverage by the press gallery a problem as they continue to make little if any attempt to improve relations with the gallery.

But they will have to pay attention to the drop in support in their home ridings like Fort-McMurray-Athabasca.  They need to look at how the demographics in their ridings are changing especially in urban ridings. Which part of the country are the voters coming from? Did they bring a tradition of voting Conservative with them when they moved to Alberta?  What are the age groups making up the voter pool in those ridings? Are the voters getting younger? As the demographics change will the voter pool in 2015 be as receptive to the Harper style of government and policies that have been in place since 2006?

There are lots of questions and few answers, but enough to keep staff in all three parties busy over the summer.


Waste not, Want Not

Peace and quiet reigns on the Hill now that our MPs and Senators have departed. I doubt that too many Canadians will miss any of them. They certainly won’t miss the ugly debates and nasty partisan attacks that dominate our air waves when they are in town.

The sad thing is that sometimes they do good work but you wouldn’t know it from the daily news.  MPs from all parties are so scripted now that you can almost predict what they will say on any issue. Mind you there is the odd bozo eruption that provides some real news coverage. But in this age of 24/7 news central control of “the message” becomes an all-consuming passion for the PMO or party leader’s offices.

The latest dust up over NDP MPs using flyers inappropriately is but one more example of partisanship getting in the way of positive recommendations. I am sure it was great fun for both the Conservatives and the Liberals to catch the holier than thou NDP doing something wrong.  Unfortunately it became all about the attacks on the NDP and their pushback rather than taking a serious look at a program that has become out dated by modern technology.

Assuming the figure is accurate and the cost of the NDP mailings was $1.7 million, what is the total cost to the taxpayer for all of the 10 percenter mailings and householder mailings etc. per year for all of the parties including the Green and Bloc?

If the Conservatives are hell bent on reducing costs and attacking government programs or departmental staffing levels to save taxpayer dollars, why not gut these mailings too?

In this day of 24 hour TV news, talk radio, Twitter, Facebook plus others, do we need to receive a flyer or householder mail out from our MP? It’s an archaic way of bringing information to the public and it has deteriorated to the point where these items go into the blue box of most Canadians.

If an MP feels their riding is different from most others in Canada and these mail outs are essential then charge them the postage and take it out of their general office budget. Watch how fast the MPs switch to other media sources to get information to their constituents if they were forced to pay the going postage rate.

Small business owners who use flyers to advertise to consumers know that you can negotiate a special mailing rate with Canada Post. Their flyers certainly aren’t free; there is a cost involved which forces the business to evaluate the importance of each and every flyer they send out.  If charged to each MPs office budget their constituents also have an opportunity to evaluate whether their MP is sending out valuable information or just partisan trash.

Do us all a favour, end the mail outs and save us some tax dollars and cut down on the waste paper we send to landfill sites.


Doing Their Homework

The NDP is concerned that the Conservatives are now hiding who travels with the Prime Minister and their destination when government aircraft are used.  

They make a valid point. It is taxpayer’s money after all. As such the NDP asked an Order Paper Question for just that information. The government has responded, but with names and destinations omitted.

As iPolitics has pointed out we used exactly the same information to track then Prime Minister Chretien and Martin. If I recall correctly it was one such trip by Mr. Martin (a vacation with family) and the resulting uproar in the House of Commons that led to the practice of Prime Ministers reimbursing the government for trips that were not official business.

Back then my research team didn’t use Order Paper Questions; instead we used Access to Information requests which cost $5 for each one. At one point, my research team contacted DND so often for the information that they went from demanding we pay for each one to finally phoning us up and asking us to call them when we wanted it and they would simply fax it over. We tracked everyone, Prime Ministers, cabinet members, MPs, senators. Admittedly most of the good Question Period ammunition came from cabinet minister’s use of the aircraft, not prime ministerial travel.

There were of course exceptions even back then and the names of security personnel were always excluded.

The NDP are simply doing their homework, although using Order Paper Questions isn’t always the best way to get information as the answer used to be signed off by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. In this case the government response is a strange one because it makes them look like they have something to hide.

Speaking of doing their homework, the NDP must know that Order Paper Questions are only one way to get the answers. Unless the Access To information Act has been changed, you could request the information and rather than wait for it, you could send someone over to DND to view the original documents.

It is a pretty straight forward request that the NDP have made. Why hide the answer?


Targeting Mulcair?

Last week the Conservatives had great fun targeting NDP leader Thomas Mulcair for the way his party used House of Commons dollars to pay staff in a regional Montreal office. Outside of the joy politicians and their staff get out of beating up on another party’s leader- what was the point?

Was the purpose to drag Mulcair down into the mud of parliamentary nastiness? They probably accomplished a bit of that as the Conservatives were the ones who chose to vote to bring Mulcair to committee so they could have the opportunity to rattle his cage. They did manage to make Mulcair look like every other Prime Minister I have seen since the 1980’s. Mulcair’s ducking and weaving when answering questions was a great reminder of our everyday Question Period format and the nasty political battles that take place within the Chamber. The Conservatives didn’t have to enhance their reputation on that front but they did take Mulcair down a notch.

Was the point to make Mulcair look like many other politicians with dirty baggage? They might have accomplished a bit on that point and I am sure Justin Trudeau thanked them for their efforts. While his side got in their own attack points during the meeting, it was worthwhile for them as the Liberals benefit from any tearing down of Mulcair.

Was the Conservative strategy to get even for Mulcair’s grilling of the Prime Minister in Question Period over the Senate scandal? Probably.

So at a time when the two opposition leaders (Mulcair and Trudeau) are personally looking good in the polls the Conservatives chose to take on the one who is best able to draw off support from Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. That is certainly an interesting strategy. If you are a swing NDP/Liberal voter and Mulcair no longer looks as good in your eyes where to you put your vote in order to stop Harper and the Conservatives? Probably with the new guy on the block whose spin is that he is offering a new way of doing politics.

I am sure Conservative MPs in ridings where their win was by a small margin over their Liberal opponents appreciated the helping hand their own party gave the Liberals and Trudeau.

Yes, it is an interesting strategy- short term gain for long term pain. Just who thought this one through?