Tag Archives: federal

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

Martin Targets Ontario with Gun Law Proposal

By Jason Menard

In order to keep the title he so dearly covets, Prime Minister Paul Martin is taking his best shot – by making it harder for Canadians to shoot. In doing so, he’s drawn the line in the sand and showing just which Canadians he’s targeting in his bid for re-election.

Essentially, by suggesting that guns should be restricted in Canada, Martin knows that he’s released an opinion that’s not going to fly in Alberta. But, the politically savvy Prime Minister knows that it’s a winning formula for B.C., Quebec, and – most importantly – Ontario.

Toronto is being subjected to daily stories of gun violence, in large part perpetrated by gangs, and the citizens are fed up. And, as Toronto goes, so too does a large part of our Hogtown-centred media. In smaller communities, such as London, any gun violence gets tied directly to the rise of crime in Toronto – and the fear-mongering begins.

As evidenced by the past few elections, Ontarians are looking for a reason to vote Liberal. No matter what the scandal, the citizens of Canada’s most populous province are apparently willing to forgive all transgressions in order to ensure the Liberal influence remains dominant in the House of Commons. Overall, Ontario can be categorized as centre-left, and restricting guns and getting tough on crime will be well received here.

If there’s one issue that Canadians are passionate – and polarized – about, it’s the issue of gun control. While Conservative Leader Stephen Harper tried to exhume the long-cooled body that is the gay marriage debate, Martin decided to take just as strong of a stance against another polarizing issue – but one that’s more appealing to the swing voters which both parties covet.

This election is going to be won down the middle. The idea of rescinding rights on marriage that have already been given remains the domain of the right. By bringing the gay marriage issue up, Harper released the spectre of the “hidden agenda” to rule over this campaign. Those wavering around the centre are generally not the type to be opposed to granting rights to all Canadians.

Gun control is just as polarizing, but without the spectre of treading on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In large part, we Canadians aren’t prone to bringing up the ol’ Right to Bear Arms argument that our friends to the south will trot out. And those that will are so set in their ways that they’ll search for any excuse to keep their beloved firearms.

Whether it’s the farmers demanding the right to bear arms against critters in their fields or sport shooters who use handguns for recreation, there will be those whose opposition to this idea is set in stone. Martin knows this and he’s aware that people that hold this ideal generally are going to vote Tory regardless of his stance. So, instead of appealing to the right, Martin’s wooing the far left by introducing a policy that will appeal greatly to Liberal and NDP supporters alike. And, more importantly, it will appeal to those undecideds wavering between Red and Orange.

But since the opportunity’s at hand, let’s make this a gun law with some teeth. Ban outright all handguns. Create strict penalties for anyone found possessing an illegal firearm in this country. And, most importantly, ensure that anyone caught using a firearm during the committing of a crime is sent to jail for a very, very long time. A firearm offense should result in a minimum 10-year sentence automatically tacked on to any punishment levied for the original crime.

If a criminal thinks they can get two years for robbery, that’s not much of a deterrent. But if they know that sticking up a store with a firearm’s going to add a dime to their ride – then the situation changes.

There can be no opposition to this. Guns kill. It’s their sole purpose. Rifles, while not much better, have their use in hunting, culling, and sport. Handguns don’t. They’re designed to kill. In a civilized society, we don’t need the spectre of handguns hanging over us. It’s time to do the right thing and remove them from society.

The people of Toronto will agree – and that’s exactly what Martin’s counting on. Ontario’s the key battleground. And while Harper’s policies have missed the mark on this vote-rich province, Martin’s anti-gun rhetoric is right on target.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Losing Confidence May Send Voters to Safety

By Jason Menard

One key to any successful venture is to know your audience. With that in mind, the opposition parties who are frothing at the mouth to take a bite out of the minority Liberals may find that voters prefer the security and safety that comes from numbers.

And, with no viable governing alternative on the horizon, those swing voters may decide that a majority Liberal government that is capable of working is better than no government at all.

A generation of voters has grown up not knowing what life in a minority government is like. With the last minority formed in 1979 and disbanded in 1980, anyone under the age of 40 can reasonably be expected to have fuzzy memories of the process. That being said, our first taste of minority governance has not been sweet.

As voters, we’ve been forced to swallow the bitter rhetoric of parties waiting for the most politically opportune time to press the issue. We’ve watched as the country has essentially been stuck in neutral, rendered impotent and ineffective by its minority status. All the benefits of a minority government – greater accountability, coalition building which ensures the needs of a wider variety of Canadians are met, and the opportunity for negotiation – have flown out the window.

So a generation of voters is left thinking, is this all there is? Do we want to go through this again? Do we want to waste another year waiting for the inevitable downfall of another minority government? Or do we go back to the ol’ tried-and-true majority format?

And that’s a question that the opposition parties don’t want to have asked.

For many, a Liberal majority would be simply the lesser of all evils. A minority government, no matter who’s at the helm, has been rendered ineffective by our culture of political opportunism and infighting. The NDP is looked upon as an acceptable opposition party, or social conscience, working best in a secondary role but not ready for Prime Time.

So that leaves two choices (sorry Bloc voters, but even the Bloc admits they have no interest in forming a government that has to work FOR Canada – their mandate is Quebec. And Greens? Well, you really didn’t do much for that four per cent of the nation that voted for you and gave you funding rights, now, did you?) Do we go Liberal or Conservative?

Do we choose between a Liberal party that still receives support across the nation, has recently been in power, and is running on a campaign of renewed integrity and honesty? Do we believe those statements or are the wounds from the sponsorship scandal still festering? By re-electing them to a majority are we tacitly approving their pattern of patronage, or will we accept their promises of accountability at face value?

Or do we make a jump to the Conservatives? A party that’s rife with internal turmoil and appears to be uncertain of the abilities and capabilities of its leader – and, as we know in politics, appearances are everything. Are Canadians ready to make that leap of faith and put their future in the hands of a party that can’t even show faith in its own leadership?

Most importantly, are we ready to take a chance again on the unknown, now that we’ve been burned so badly by our experiment with a minority?

How deep is the conviction of those voters who voted New Democrat instead of Liberal in the last election? Are they willing to continue to support this party at the expense of the security that comes from a majority rule? And how about those small-c conservatives who threw their support behind Steven Harper last time around? Has there been anything over the past year to reinforce their decision?

Or will we eschew the unknown in favour of security? As they say, the Devil you know is better than the Devil you don’t – and Canadian voters much prefer an active demon to one whose hands are tied by its minority status.

The opposition parties should remember that 1979 was a long time ago and much has happened since then – including the birth of an overwhelming number of voters, for whom a minority government has meant nothing but headaches.

So as they band together to bring down the Liberal minority, they should remember the old caveat of being careful for what they wish – they may just get it.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Family Squabbles Threaten to Undermine Liberals

By Jason Menard

Generally, to run a government, you need your finger on the pulse of the populace. However, Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberals’ style of governance has seen that same finger used to point out blame at each an every opportunity.

To date, the modus operandi of the Ontario platform has been to find the best scapegoat and deflect criticism. But when you build your foundation on shifting blame, can you really be surprised when the whole house collapses?

Now that the statute of limitations on blaming the Harris/Eves government for all the provinces ills has expired, McGuinty has found a new target towards which to deflect criticism – the federal Liberals. Whether it’s the variance in gas prices in Ontario or the injustices of an allegedly unfair equalization program, McGuinty has worked hard to demonize the federal Liberals and cast them as the source of many of the provinces ills.

While the “I’m doing the best with what I can” platform may work in some cases, it can be a fatal recipe when you’re casting blame within the same family. Like it or not, the average voter sees little difference between the federal and provincial bodies of the respective Parties. And, for the most part, the defining policies and beliefs that guide these Parties is the same.

So, when you’re all painted with the same colour, why would you be surprised when your differences all begin to blend together? Instead of tearing each other apart, Liberal supporters of both the federal and provincial variety need to understand that to ensure the continued strength and political success that the Party has enjoyed, it needs to work to support one another. Essentially, whether you’re on the Varsity squad or in the Juvee ranks, you have to remember that you’re pulling on the same sweater and playing for the same team.

While McGuinty may have able to ride his focus on Ontario’s gap between what we contribute to the nation and what we receive in return to improved short-term ratings, has that been done at the long-term expense of undermining Party credibility?

Of course, this isn’t a one-sided argument. Ontario is arguably the most important province when it comes to deciding who wins federal elections. The composition of the existing minority government just goes to prove the power that Ontario can wield over the nation. As such, it’s imperative for Prime Minister Paul Martin and the federal Liberals to patch up the Party’s differences to present a more unified front going forward.

The federal Liberals can’t afford to look down their noses at provincial politics. They can’t run the risk of treating McGuinty as nothing more than an uppity kid brother who doesn’t know his place in the pecking order. His arguments need to be respected and action has to be taken if they want to continue to obtain the overwhelming support that the province has given to them.

But, while the risk is there, the lack of strong, powerful alternatives in the federal ranks means that there’s a little more wiggle room. At the provincial level, there is no such room. Despite being trounced in the last election, the Conservative party has enjoyed recent support. And the NDP remains a viable choice for those finding themselves on the centre-left range of the political spectrum. In fact, in 2004 the Hamilton East riding went overwhelmingly NDP (63.6 per cent) in its by-election to replace the seat vacated by the passing of Liberal Dominic Agostino.

Unfortunately, a significant number of people in our society don’t get to know their individual representatives or appreciate the unique aspects of each candidate’s platform and beliefs. They look to the example set by the Party leaders and the generic stances and beliefs that the Party is known for when it comes to casting their ballots. As such, how can confidence in a particular Party not be undermined when the respective wings can’t co-exist to get their house in order?

By targeting criticism at his federal brethren, McGuinty is essentially cutting of his nose to spite his face and runs the risk of cannibalizing votes in future elections. By undermining the credibility and integrity of the federal Party, McGuinty runs the very real risk that electors will apply those negative Liberal feelings to the provincial ranks.

It’s the basic laws of nature – when you annoy those who are farther up the food chain and nip at the bigger fish, you often end up finding your way to extinction.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved