Tag Archives: federal

Left-Leaners Must Decide Whether to Vote with Head or Heart

By Jason Menard, 

If you’re a left-leaning voter in this Canadian federal election, you’re faced with more than the obvious four options when you step up to the ballot box — you’ve also got to deal with an even harder question: to vote with your head or with your heart.

Oh to be a conservative voter. It would be so much easier, since you really and truly only have one choice. But for those of us who find ourselves on the left-hand side of the political spectrum, in addition to the Liberal/NDP/Green debate, you also have to whether you’re willing to engage in strategic voting. Continue reading

Headless Liberals Could Return Sooner Than Expected

By Jason Menard

If Canadians are willing to throw their support behind a rudderless ship, can you imagine what will happen when the Liberals finally choose a leader to guide it into the next election?

Listen, we all know what dogs do to polls, but the latest one from Sun Media-SES Research is interesting that the top-driven, Stephen Harper-led Conservative Party now finds itself in a neck-and-neck struggle with the headless, directionless, confused Liberal Party of Canada in the hearts and minds of the voters. With a slim 34 per cent to 32 per cent advantage (which is wiped out thanks to statistical variation), the Conservatives may find that their stay at the helm of Canada may be brief.

The thing the Conservatives have going against them is that they represent only a small minority of Canadians. Most Canucks are socially left-wing, fiscally conservative, and looking for a party that’s willing to take progressive action on soft causes, like social growth and the environment. They also want a party that’s going to balance the books and ensure that the coffers are filled for the future.

Frustratingly enough for Elizabeth May, the Green Party seems to embody most of those ideals – it’s just too few Canadians are willing to seriously consider handing her party the keys to the country. Green policy may be solid in theory, but practically several Canadians hear Green and think Rhino. That’s not a good combination.

But when you look at the national support for Liberal (centre-left), NDP (left), Green (centre-left), and Bloc (get beyond the whole separation thing and you’ll find a big, squishy, socially conscious core), and it’s easy to see that the majority of Canadians don’t consider themselves small c conservative.

While Stephen Harper was able to benefit from Liberal disenchantment and a split left-of-centre vote, it appears this brief taste of Conservative governance has sent a few Canadians running back to the comfort of their social safety net – the left-wing parties.

When people think of Canadians, they think of tolerance, social consciousness, and environmental concern. And these are hardly the hallmarks of the Tories. Rightly or wrongly, many Canadians view the Conservatives as being nothing more than the Republican Party-lite. They see a party willing to cut literacy programs and spend more on military.

So just when everyone was writing off the Liberals as dead in the water for the foreseeable future, here comes the opportunity they’ve been looking for. And that makes the upcoming leadership convention, to be held in Montreal between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2, even more important to the future of the party – and this country as a whole.

Essentially, the delegates flocking to Montreal have an opportunity to elect the Prime Minister in Waiting. Canadians from coast to coast are looking for a party that reflects their values – but they want one that they can believe in. There’s a reason why the Liberal Party of Canada had a stranglehold on Canadian politics for years – and that’s because they represented a palatable compromise for voters from Newfoundland to B.C.

They were the party that would show compassion where it was needed, but still make decisions with the bottom line in mind. When that trust was breached with the sponsorship scandal and various other Liberal missteps, Canadians were left without a place to go.

Hence the minority Conservative government. For some reason in this country we’re not willing to hand the reins over to someone other than the Tories or the Grits. Many-a-time the comment of “well, I like the NDP, but I don’t think they can actually run the country,” has been uttered.

So with Canadians unwilling to embrace the NDP and Green in anything more than a secondary or advocacy capacity, it falls to the Liberals to be the standard bearer for the majority of Canadians. But will the voters agree that the Grits have suffered enough for their transgressions? Will they believe that an adequate lesson has been learned since the last election?

The new leader, whomever it may be, must take the opportunity to position the party as the Liberal party of old. One would think that would favour the Michael Ignatieffs or the Bob Raes who are coming in as relative outsiders, but regardless of who is chosen, they will have to commit to a new dawn of Liberal politics.

Getting back to the basics: fiscal responsibility and a social conscience. It’s a winning recipe for the Liberal Party of Canada and the political environment is ripe for a return to power. After all, when Canadians are willing to cast their ballots for a rudderless ship, imagine what would happen if that vessel was captained by someone with a clear vision and an appreciation of the best that the past has to offer.

Majority rules may come sooner than we all think!

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Eschewing Courtesy May Be “Right” Move

By Jason Menard

An empty seat waiting for the music to stop on the Liberal leadership’s game of musical chairs, a party leader without a seat looking to make history, a former mayor returning to the fray after six years south of the border, and a former city councilor and radio host with a history of community work. Why, it looks like the sleepy Forest City has received quite a wake-up call with Stephen Harper’s snap by-election call.

And because of the make-up of the contenders vying for this federal seat, his bold move may end up working out perfectly as his polarizing, right-wing candidate could benefit from a split vote on the left.

When former Liberal MP Joe Fontana stepped down from his London North-Centre riding to take a stab at the mayor’s office, there was much talk about which Liberal leadership contender would be parachuted in to legitimize their position within the House of Commons.

Who’d have thought that since that first hint of a parachuting candidate into the region, the skies would soon be filled with strategically chosen MP-wannabes airlifted in for a shot at what’s traditionally been a non-descript riding.

The riding, traditionally a Liberal stronghold, now faces a Nov. 27 th election without a Liberal candidate. And while the Grits are crying foul about how the Prime Minister didn’t respect good ol’ Canadian common courtesy, they still find themselves behind the eight ball when it comes to time. Suggestions have been made that if either Bob Rae or Gerard Kennedy win the Liberal leadership, they’d suddenly find a home in London North-Centre. However, those best laid plans have been skewered by Harper’s decision. So in the end, the Liberals are left scrambling for a warm body to step in as the immediate favourite for this riding that bleeds red.

What makes what is traditionally a dull by-election process intriguing are the contenders to the throne. The intrigue was started with the sudden announcement that former London mayor Dianne Haskett was coming back to The Forest City after a six year exile. Haskett’s sudden return from Washington, combined with Harper’s snap announcement, have sent the conspiracy theorists a-twitter with the idea that this scenario was created through back-room planning and cunning – and it’s probably not too far from the truth.

Adding to the excitement is the announcement that Elizabeth May, the new leader of the Green Party, will run in the riding in an attempt to enable her suddenly surging party to earn its first seat – and to give the federal leader a legitimate voice in Ottawa. With the most recent Decima poll indicating that the Green Party enjoys 10 per cent support of decided voters, May’s political star power may create some interest in a left-leaning community.

Finally, former city councilor Megan Walker has made her intentions known that she’s seeking the NDP nomination. While not as big name-wise as the aforementioned duo, Walker’s been a fixture in the community, working in radio and supporting a number of community organizations, specifically those supporting women’s issues.

And while it’s easy to write this riding off as a Liberal win, there are so many intriguing sub-plots to this election that no one can accurately predict right now where this is going to go. Through name recognition out the window – all the candidates (even the unnamed Liberal) have it. So other factors will play an even greater role in the final decision.

Haskett was a polarizing figure in London politics, which was no better evidenced by her choice to not issue a Gay Pride day proclamation, because of her personal belief – a decision led her to face the wrath of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. In addition, Haskett also famously withdrew from campaigning for the last three weeks of the 1997 mayoral election – and still won. Love her or hate her, Londoners all have an opinion.

What works for Haskett is that she’s the only right winger in the region. And with a potential of three left-leaning candidates to split the vote, maybe Harper’s snap election call will turn out to be politically savvy.

After all, the Liberals are a rudderless ship for the time being, the Green Party is too green, and the NDP are the traditional bridesmaid – people seem to be willing to support their ideals, but not willing to hand them the reins of power. So what happens should none of Haskett’s opponents emerge as a candidate for left-leaners to rally around? The vote gets split, and the Conservatives can come up the middle to retake the riding that’s been Liberal since 1988.

Sure, the other parties may claim it’s not courteous, but I’m sure Harper will take victory over courtesy any day of the week!

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Home is Where the Opportunity Lies

By Jason Menard

Liberal or local? For constituents in the London North Centre federal riding, that’s a question they may soon have to answer.

With Joe Fontana’s expected announcement that he will vacate his duly-elected seat in Parliament in favour of making a challenge for the mayor’s office, rumours have started floating regarding who would be a replacement candidate in the required by-election. And one name that’s been bandied about? Gerard Kennedy.

You know, Gerard Kennedy, born in La Pas, Manitoba and former Member of Provincial Parliament of Parkdale-High Park, in Toronto, who resigned his seat and his position as Minister of Education in his bid to lead the federal Liberals. In addition, Kennedy also lived in Edmonton and studied in Peterborough.

All of which makes him qualified to represent the good people of London North Centre how? As well travelled as Mr. Kennedy may be in this great land of ours, there is a noticeable lack of residency in the Forest City on his resume. The question is, should that matter?

This isn’t a new aspect of party politics. In fact, parties have long made it a habit of parachuting star candidates into warm ridings in order to get them official representation in the House of Commons – even if it means that a dedicated member of the community has to take one for the team and put aside their political aspirations, at least for the time being.

But whose team are we talking about? Does the Liberal Party – or any party for that sake – matter more than the representation of the people in the riding? Aren’t elected representatives supposed to be just that? The representatives of the people in a specific region or district? So how well represented will the people of London North Centre be if their potential MP has never spent any meaningful time in the riding?

That’s a question the voters have to ask. And they have to balance it with their political leanings. It’s a hard choice to reconcile and it represents the worst of party politics. If you are a tied-in-the-wool Liberal, do you put the needs of your party over your personal aspirations? Does voting in a representative, who by the very fact that they’re not of your riding – or even within the general vicinity of the area — diminish the sound of your voice in parliament? More importantly, does this type of activity not undermine the entire concept of representative government?

Admittedly, how one votes is a debate that is undertaken with each and every election. Do you vote for the person who appears to be most representative of your views and hopes for your riding, or do you choose the person who is a member of the party whose national view you favour? Do you vote for the local candidate with deep roots in the riding, even if you are skeptical about their party affiliation? Or do you roll the dice and support a candidate whose tethers to the riding are as thin as a spider’s web?

It all depends on how much value you place on individual representation. We have long been conditioned to look at the big picture, as opposed to focusing on the individual players. Coverage of elections and politics in general is greatly focused on Ottawa, as opposed to the impact that our Members of Parliament are having in their own ridings. Even election platforms, where local issues should be at the fore, are largely decided by national politicking and strategies.

So, should Kennedy be parachuted in with much fanfare and bluster, the voters in the London North Centre riding may have to decide where their sensibilities lie. Does the appeal of being the quote-unquote home riding of a potential future Prime Minister outweigh the fact that your representative may not even know who or what he’s representing.

Everyone can learn and a candidate can be well-versed on local concerns by his or her support staff, fellow regional MPs, and even a potential mayor. And there’s no questioning Kennedy’s intelligence, capability, and dedication to his cause. As well, this country has been built by those who have come from other places to settle throughout Canada, who eventually grow roots in their community and eventually become a natural part of the landscape. Can that same community entrenchment happen in a matter of months?

The old adage states that home is where the heart is and the constituents of London North Centre may soon have to decide whether they’re willing to accept someone for whom home is merely where the opportunity lies.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Political Strength is Home Grown

By Jason Menard

Is it any shock that Belinda Stronach has decided not to run for the federal Liberal leadership? After all, to do so at this juncture would have been committing political suicide.

Regardless of Ms. Stronach’s qualifications – and one would think having been in a management role in the multi-billion dollar Magna International would lend itself well to the managing of a country – she’s been caught up in the groundswell of anger over David Emerson’s defection to the Conservative party for a cabinet seat.

The fact of the matter is that the only difference between Stronach and Emerson’s respective party flopping is in the degree of brazenness that both parties displayed. Stronach, at least, put in a solid tenure with the Conservatives and was known as a Red Tory before she made the jump. Emerson’s defection reeked of opportunism. And while Stronach’s decision was validated in the recent federal election by her constituency, it’s hard to even suggest that Emerson’s electorate would afford him the same vote of confidence.

But, overall, the two politicians made similar moves, which not only have been met with disapproval within their own ranks, but they’ve served to cast doubt on the candidates’ very integrity and loyalty. Essentially, they’re not home-grown candidates and for that reason Stronach would be a liability in a leadership role – despite her qualifications.

And it’s for that same reason that Bob Rae should be pulling his hat tighter around his head instead of considering throwing it into the ring. Rae will always be NDP. His legacy will be that of a promising Ontario leadership bid that quickly descended into the land of mockery.

One of the things that Canadians look for in their leaders is fidelity. We want to believe that our leaders have bled the party colours, that their ideals and beliefs are ingrained – not buffeted and shaped by the winds of popular opinion. That’s why Stephen Harper can come across as a credible Conservative, while Jean Charest continues to see his True Grit tainted by Tory Blue.

It’s somewhat ironic that we want our politicians to be flexible, understanding of the differing opinions of the Canadian populace, and willing to change with the times – yet we vilify those who switch parties simply because we look at them as traitors to the cause.

That’s what sets apart the Pat O’Briens of the country from the Emersons, the Stronachs, and – potentially – the Raes: the decision to switch affiliation based upon strongly held personal beliefs as opposed to simply peddling their fidelity for a Cabinet position or a shot at a premium job.

Rae will never been convincing as a Liberal – not when he spent so many years in the NDP camp taking shots at the opposition. In essence, are we to believe that the Liberal Party has undergone such a philosophical shift to the point where Rae has not had to compromise his ideals? Or, more likely, will we believe that this is just another indication that everyone has his or her own price – and for our politicians influence outweighs integrity.

That’s why Stronach can’t run – at least not for the next couple of elections. Until she’s been accepted as a long-standing Liberal and not just a recent convert, she’ll be tainted with the stain of opportunism. A few years of being the good soldier and adhering to the Grit cause should make that year in the Conservative camp just a distant memory.

And that’s why the current Liberals need to either find someone from within, such as Gerald Kennedy, or someone with no prior political affiliation, like Michael Ignatieff, to lead their ranks into the next federal battle. In a country where our confidence in the political system has been shaken, voters need to feel that their potential leaders are committed to the cause and faithful to their party.

After all, we need to know that our leaders will work with our own best interests — not their own personal goals – at heart.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Stars Aligned for Martin to Pull a Trudeau

By Jason Menard

Is it fair to say that Paul Martin got Kim Campbelled? And since we’re looking at former Prime Ministers, with a minority government always a sketchy and short-lived proposition, will he be able to pull a Pierre Trudeau and rise to power for one last legacy-making tour of duty?

As the Liberal leadership race slowly trudges along, time is running short for a suitable candidate to step to the fore. Big names like Frank McKenna and John Manley dropped out early in the process; others have question marks attached to their names – such as Michael Ignatieff, Belinda Stronach, and former Ontario NDP leader Bob Rae; and others, like Joe Fontana, David McGuinty, and Ken Dryden may choose to play the long-shot role in a wide-open race.

But time is not on the Liberals’ side. And if Stephen Harper attempts to be too aggressive with his budget and force a non-confidence vote, Canadians could find themselves heading back to the polls for the third time in two years. And, for Martin, the third time may prove to be the charm.

After 10 years of waiting – with a couple in exile – and a stellar reputation as a tough, but fiscally prescient, finance minister, Martin swam up to the head seat in the wake of Jean Chrétien’s departure from the PMO. Of course, as we found out, the waves created by the Chrétien government ended up drowning Martin and served as the anchor that dragged him and his party down.

Like Kim Campbell, who’s known less for being the first female Prime Minister, and more for being the final nail in the Progressive Conservative party’s coffin, Martin will be remembered for the brevity of his political reign. His entire Prime Ministerial legacy will be defined by his predecessor’s actions and how they stained his tenure.

That is, unless he gets another chance. If an election is called sooner than later, the Liberal Party might have to look to its past to resurrect its future. And it’s not unprecedented, even within the party’s own history.

Back in 1979, with a sliding economy, a public rapidly tiring of his perceived attitude, and increasing debt, Pierre Trudeau was forced to call an election in 1979. After suffering a defeat to Joe Clark, Trudeau announced his retirement, only to return to power after a vote of no confidence brought down the Tory minority. Trudeau’s return to majority prominence offered him the opportunity to polish his reputation, forge a new Constitution ratified by nine of the 10 provinces, and go into history as one of the country’s most dynamic leaders – love him or hate him. After a self-proclaimed long walk in the snow, Trudeau retired, on his own terms, in 1984.

Martin, on the other hand, spent the majority of his time fighting off the Mr. Dithers label that was placed on him by The Economist. However, a more apt title would have been The Fireman, as the beleaguered Prime Minister spent his 27 months putting out the myriad of blazes left behind by his predecessor: AdScam and the Gomery Report, Income Trust, and – of course – the perceived culture of entitlement that 13 years of unchallenged leadership had created within the Grit rank-and-file.

Now, the opportunity is there for Paul Martin to return to the ranks of the Liberal leadership, brandishing a humbled sword and commitment to honesty in the battle against a rapidly beleaguered Conservative Party with no natural ally in a fractured House of Commons. While the Liberals of the last Parliament could find some affiliation with the NDP and left-leaning views of the Bloc, the Conservatives are on their own island. Their skills in consensus-building will be put to the test if they are able to withstand the early assaults that will greet their minority status.

Of course, the other parties will also have to gauge the public’s appetite for yet another expensive election campaign. They’ll have to determine whether a less-than-ideal budget is more appealing than being blamed for causing even more political fatigue within the electorate. And, depending on how aggressively Prime Minister Harper plays his cards, they may have to ante up earlier in the game than they would like.

If that’s the case, look for Martin to be called back to the table, because no one else has shown that they’re ready to go all-in. They say that politics is a game and, for the foreseeable future, the Canadian version is looking more and more like a high-stakes came of poker.

And maybe, like Trudeau before him, Martin will get the chance to reshape his legacy into one that’s more appealing to him.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Right Vote Requires 20/20 Vision

By Jason Menard

With all the nation’s eyes – OK, with a handful of eyes (and some of them heavy-lidded at best) – glued to the televised debates between the Canadian political party leaders, one important component of any election decision continues to be lost in the front-page shuffle.

Each and every time we head to the polls we develop an acute case of hyperopia. Issues of national interest rightfully grab the headlines, but they shouldn’t affect us to the point where we forget about our own backyards.

It’s hard enough to get Canadians to the polls and we do so in woefully inadequate numbers. People feel distanced from the political process because many think that these issues on The Hill won’t affect them personally. But that neglects the fact that we don’t elect a Prime Minister – we elect individual candidates to represent our constituencies. Those numbers then determine who runs the show.

So why do so many people have trouble identifying the candidates in their own riding, much less than what they actually stand for? We can identify basic themes from the national campaign that filter down and affix themselves to the local candidates, but I’d hazard a guess that the vast majority of voters have only a sketchy idea of what their individual candidate stands for in their very own riding.

Although this is a federal election, its foundation is built on the local. And that’s where we, as responsible voters, must start to build the rationale for our decision when it comes time to mark our ballot.

Unfortunately, there are rarely televised debates between candidates in a riding. More often than not, they’re running their campaigns independently of each other, preferring to leave the cross-party sniping and broadsides to the captains of their respective political ships. But the key thing that we as citizens must realize is that while each candidate generally falls in line on the big issues of national importance, there are local issues unique to their riding that can have a direct impact on how you live your day-to-day life.

And that’s where your vote truly matters. When it comes to elections, we’re all pretty much selfish people wondering what’s in it for us – and that’s why campaign promises are made. But nowhere are you more directly impacted than by the decisions and ideas put forth by the person vying to be your local Member of Parliament.

In this day and age, there’s really only one reason why someone can step up to a ballot box completely ignorant of their local candidates’ beliefs and platforms – laziness. Almost every candidate – and certainly those of the big three parties – have Web sites that offer the meat of their party platform. But those sites are also spiced with the regional flavour of local issues.

As well, most candidates are more than happy to answer your questions – or at least have one of their minions do it for you. A phone call to a riding will be returned, an e-mail will be responded to, and a public photo-op/meet-‘n’-greet is only a day away!

There’s a reason why when we put our addresses on things we write the city, the province, and the country – it’s because all three levels impact us. So too should these distinctions carry equal weight in an election campaign. To vote based solely on a broad federal platform ignores your local needs. And, conversely, the overriding philosophy of a federal policy will have some weight on the choice of a local candidate.

This election campaign has been described as choosing the lesser of all evils. But it only has to be that way if we ignore our local constituencies. By talking to our local candidates and finding out where they stand on the issues that directly affect us, we are creating a situation wherein we’re choosing the best person for our own, personal situation. And really, isn’t that what an election is about? We are choosing a person to represent US in Parliament, so why wouldn’t we want that person to accurately reflect the riding, its beliefs, and its unique situation.

In the end, this election is about much more than Gilles Duceppe, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, and Paul Martin – it is about the hundreds of candidates vying for the right to represent individual ridings. And we can’t let the bright lights of the federal stage blind us to the issues affecting us in our own backyards.

To make the right choice we need to restore balance in the way we look at our candidates, because a myopic perspective is no better than suffering from hyperopia. It may mean a little work, but the right answer for all of us will be easier to see with 20/20 vision.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved