Tag Archives: Liberals

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

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

Be Careful for What You Wish

By Jason Menard

The smile is there and all the right words were said, but somewhere deep inside one has to think that Stephen Harper realizes that just about the worst outcome came to bear on Monday night.

Sure, his name will go on the list of Canadian Prime Ministers, but things are set up in such a way that he may join Joe Clark as nothing more than a footnote in the leadership history of this country. He has the power, but in name only.

Conversely, another man destined to be a Prime Ministerial footnote goes out the same way he spent his entire Liberal tenure – as the good soldier. For years, Martin’s been the solid backbone of the Liberal party, biding his time, and playing second-fiddle to the more extravagant Jean Chrétien. And, once the reins of power were finally turned over, Chrétien and the political culture he fostered again rose up to stab his old nemesis in the back.

Today is a new day for Canada – and the beginning of the end of the Conservatives.

Harper’s House is stacked with enemies around every corner. While the Liberal minority was buffered by socially similar allies in both the NDP and Bloc, the Conservatives find themselves alone on the right. There’s no way that the left-leaning parties are going to support any of the Tories’ more aggressive platforms, so the Conservatives will find it increasingly difficult to get anything done in this Parliament. And that alone spells doom for Harper.

Think back just a few months ago to when many in the Tory camp weren’t just ready for Harper to fall on his sword – they were lining up to give him a little push! Faced with a stiff opposition to his minority rule, his ineffectiveness will no doubt rankle the Hawks in his party who have had enough of playing the patient game. Now that the tape is off their collective mouths, what’s to stop them from flying off the handle very early into the mandate?

Now that the Conservatives are in power, they have the responsibility for cleaning up Parliament – as they’ve promised. But with the final Gomery report on its way, what happens if the systemic corruption to which the Tories have alluded never actually materializes. They’ve used the spectre of greater improprieties much in the same way as the Republicans used the treat of Weapons of Mass Destruction – so what happens if the Tories’ search ends up as “fruitful”?

So we turn to the Liberals, who now are searching for a leader in the wake of Martin’s decision to step down. What better way to wipe the slate clean of the sponsorship scandal than to usher in fresh, new leadership? One gets the impression that this election was more a referendum on Martin’s leadership than a coronation of Harper. And, in the end, the Liberals showed much stronger than expected. What does that say about the Canadian voters’ interests?

A new leader, a renewed focus on the social issues that matter to Canadians, buffered by the financial strength displayed over years of government make the Liberals an attractive option for people looking for long-term stability. A Liberal party that many Canadians already support headed by a new leader without all of Martin’s baggage? That’s a recipe for victory.

So what is Harper to do? He can’t call a snap election in the midst of a Liberal leadership race hoping to capitalize on the leadership fallout (much as the Liberals tried to do with the questions about Harper hanging over his head). If he does that, two things happen: Martin pulls a Trudeau and comes riding back on his white horse to rally the troops back to battle; and the electorate – already frustrated with two elections in two years – fights back against the opportunism and ineffective governance that the Conservatives will have provided.

In the end, Harper can only sit and wait. The Liberals will rise, his government will be handcuffed by its minority status, and it will only be a matter of time until the Conservatives are calling for his head. And the Conservatives going into another election with a lame duck candidate, reeling from the arrows in his back, and an electorate looking for the stability and five-year security of a majority government all spells a Liberal resurgence sooner rather than later.

But at least, until that time, Harper will have a nice place on Sussex Drive to fiddle from as his party slowly burns.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Where the Smart Money Lies

By Jason Menard

As anyone who has experienced debt knows, it’s not getting the money that’s the biggest problem – it’s paying it back. And while the latest Liberal campaign promise of more money to students hasn’t missed the boat totally, it is standing on the wrong dock, and runs the risk of more students drowning in debt.

The Liberal platform is designed to make more money available for all, but be weighted so those students most in need will have access to a greater share of the funds. Sounds good in principle, but when it comes time to pay the piper what happens? It’s not enough to promise students money without giving them a clear way to repay the loans once they’ve completed their education.

What you end up with is defaulted loans, destroyed credit ratings, undue stress, and countless dollars lost on a noble cause.

So what’s the right solution? Increasing student loan accessibility is a good start, but it needs to be complemented with an income-contingent loan repayment program. ICLRPs have been a mantra for years for certain student groups and governance organizations because they simply make sense.

It’s not just important to gauge the need of the student before they start school – we also need to assess their situations once they’ve graduated and entered the work force. Let’s face it, a university degree is simply not a guarantee of a higher-paying job. Yes, it may open more doors and it may broaden the spectrum of opportunity, but the fact of the matter is that there are people with university degrees working low-paying jobs – or who find themselves out of work.

By adjusting the rate of repayment to their level of income you allow students the security of pursuing higher education without the fear of being strangled by the threat of debt repayment. And, with a repayment schedule developed around your income at any given point in your career, there is less chance of default. A loan payment geared towards your actual income is much more realistic and tolerable than a set payment regardless of income. For some that may work, but for others it can be an obstacle that prevents them from attending post-secondary education in the first place.

Obviously a switch to income-contingent loans would require an increase in the overhead costs due to the fact that there would be more management. But loan issuers would be able to recoup those extra expenditures with the fact that there would be fewer defaults on existing loans. Much of the money that goes to collection agents could be reassigned to staff that works with the student to match their loan repayments to their after-school income.

The goal of any student loan program is to offer the opportunity to pursue higher education to those whose educational dreams and potential may exceed their financial means. However, there are those who have the desire, ability, and inclination to pursue post-secondary education, but are reluctant to do so due to the financial considerations. An income-contingent program eliminates that roadblock because the potential student is aware before the fact that their after-graduation financial commitment will not be overly onerous – it will simply be a result of paying what they can afford.

There are those who will argue that education is an investment, one for which a person must be willing to pay and sacrifice. However, what gets lost in that argument is that investing in education is not a venture that will only reap dividends for the individual, but that also has residual benefits for the community around the person and the country as a whole. We all benefit from a well-educated populace that’s capable of critical thought and intelligent discourse. And while those benefits are not specifically the domain of colleges and universities, they are concepts and ideas that are afforded the room to flourish in the proper environment.

Society as a whole benefits from education. As such, we should therefore bear some of the burden in subsidizing education for all Canadians who show the talent, intelligence, and inclination to pursue it. In the end, by instituting an income-contingent loan repayment program we allow ourselves the opportunity to reap the rewards from our initial investment, while assuming a low default risk due to the fact that the repayment schedule is not overly onerous and a deterrent to prospective students.

In the end, that’s where the smart money lies – it’s just up to the government to make it reality.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Matador in this Political Bullfight

By Jason Menard

Olé!

That sight you’re seeing is Jack Layton’s ass – or making an ass of himself – as he ran right by El Matador Paul Martin with his bull-headed determination to separate himself from the Liberals.

But has he done so at the expense of his own party?

Martin can afford to be cavalier with his negotiations with the New Democrats because, right now, they need him more than the Liberals need the NDP. It’s a far cry from a few months ago when the Liberals needed Layton’s support to stave off an election call in the midst of questions regarding the Gomery report.

Now Martin is not just emboldened by his exoneration, but also by the fact that he knows, as well as everyone else except Layton it appears, that no one really wants to call a snap election in the winter.

Believe whatever poll you want, the fact is that a winter election will favour the incumbents. At best, we may see a small Liberal minority as frustrated lower-case conservatives and disgruntled lefties who previously threw their weight behind the NDP find their way back to the new and improved Liberals!

Despite whatever tough-talk rhetoric the Conservatives may be spouting, the fact of the matter is that they’d much rather wait for a more opportune time to take on the Liberals. Still reeling from internal squabbling, a leader that hasn’t screamed authority, and the fact that many Canadians still don’t see the Party as a viable alternative, the Conservative Party would prefer to have the extra time to build up some momentum, strengthen its foundation, and head to battle in the early Spring.

And the NDP, possibly drunk from its relative power, seems to have gone in over its head. Instead of realizing that its position of power in a minority government is as good as it’s going to get, Layton is rolling the dice that people will view his tough talk as political savvy – not political folly.

Unfortunately, such delusions of grandeur can be political suicide. Instead of using the position of privilege to insert some NDP-flavoured social reforms into the budget, the party may find itself with a lesser position after the next election. But perhaps Layton was feeling pressured to make a statement and affirm the Party’s individuality so that the long-time NDP supporters wouldn’t feel like their leadership was getting too close to the enemy.

And the Bloc? Well, they’re pretty secure in Quebec, so they don’t really care one way or the other. Thanks to the Gomery bungling of the province, it’s pretty safe to say that the hard-liners and soft separatists alike will make a beeline to the BQ whenever the polls open. For at least a campaign or two, the Liberals are persona non grata in la belle province – and both the Liberals and Bloc know it, and will factor that into their campaign focus.

So now we’re going to be privy of the most genteel display of politicking. The Conservatives and the NDP will fall all over themselves in their public politeness, “After you,” “No, after you,” “No, I insist – you make the first move to bring down the government,” “No, no – you go first…”

Neither party wants to put its neck out on the line first. Nor do they want to get too cosy to each other with their ideological opposition. And, of course, nobody wants to incur the wrath of the voters who may be forced to cut into their holiday festivities as a result of electioneering.

All the while, the Liberals will be sitting back, steeling itself for another foray into the political ring, emboldened by the knowledge that they’ve taken their opponents best blows and, while they may be reeling, they’re still on their feet and not yet ready to throw in the towel. They now can work at putting the past behind them, focussing on important key regions, like urban British Columbia (hello Asian trade initiatives). They can talk tough trade with our neighbours to the south (nothing like a little anti-Americanism to stir up the political pot). And they can prepare to come out swinging next election – the heralds calling out the dawn of a new Liberal party, despite the fact that it’s comprised of a majority of people (except a noted 10) from the old guard.

Layton made his charge and Martin deftly avoided it, daring the NDP to make the next move. The NDP, and by extension the Conservatives, can only hope that their horns aren’t stuck in the wall – and that they don’t end up the traditional way bullfights end – dead with a triumphant matador standing above them.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved