Tag Archives: minority government

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

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The Sky Still Hasn’t Fallen

By Jason Menard

Recently at a hospital clinic the specialist greeted my wife and I with a simple, but telling, comment. He said, “Well, one week into a new government and the sky still hasn’t fallen.”

If that doesn’t sum it all up, I don’t know what would. We’re in a national wait and see position. The left-leaning among us are watching and waiting for that other shoe to drop – some would say in a goose-stepping fashion – and the expected Conservative deluge to come forth.

Most importantly, all of us on both sides of the electorate, are waiting to see what Stephen Harper’s going to do. He’s waved the saber at the Americans over the Arctic waters – partly because it’s the right thing to do, and partly to distance himself from the U.S.-based conservatives who threaten to stain Harper’s Conservatives with a little Bushian Republicanism. The Prime Minister-designate has also committed to continuing Canada’s role in supporting international initiatives, such as overseeing the elections in Haiti.

Most of us don’t know what he’s going to do first — and we’re waiting with bated breath.

As the medical specialist said, the sky isn’t falling. But most of us aren’t ready to tear down the scaffolding just yet, because we’re worried about the shaky foundations that our country’s future is built on.

Really, you have to feel bad for Harper. He can’t even field a congratulatory phone call from George Bush without some looking at it as validation of the U.S. right-wing’s glee over a new, conservative-minded regime running things north of the 49 th. If Bush called Martin after a victory, no one would have blinked an eye, but the allure of a Bush/Harper marriage is too much to resist.

So where does Harper go? Knowing that this minority probably won’t fare much better than its predecessors, he has two options before him. He can go conservative, which ironically means that he’ll have to be a softer, more-Liberal, Stephen. Or he can go all out and push the limits and resilience of his opposition. And somewhere, in the back of his mind, that option has to look appealing.

Knowing that the Liberals are in full-scale rebuilding mode and with several of their supposed leadership candidates eschewing the allures of the top post, Harper knows that the Liberals don’t want another election any time soon – especially if it means that Paul Martin and his baggage is back for another kick at the can.

As well, he has to be aware of voter fatigue. We’ve gone through two federal elections in under two years. We’ve borne a great expense for our dedication to democracy, and Harper would be wise to warn his opponents that any action that brings down the government will be presented to the public as a waste of taxpayer money. Nothing frightens an opposition more than the idea of being blamed for forcing us to spend another 150 million plus on yet another election.

So why not go for it? Why not be bold and put most or all of his eggs in one basket? Commit to the drastic tax cuts, the increased spending, and the social changes that he ran on in the first year of power. Force the opposition to make the choice between swallowing a bitter mandate pill or face an angry electorate.

Playing it safe and appealing to the middle-of-the-road voters would only anger the hawks in his own party and lead to inter-party squabbling down the road. The best offence is a good defense – and with three left-leaning parties in opposition and no apparent common ground to stand upon, the Conservatives’ best strategy may be to engage in an aggressive establishment of his platform.

That would mean that the sky would truly be falling for all the left-wingers out there – but the skies would be clear and sunny for all those right-wingers who have been waiting 12 years for their moment in the sun.

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

Walking a Fine Line

By Jason Menard

A little Conservative thinking can go a long way to giving us the Canada we’re looking for. Politics truly is a dangerous game and with election day upon us, it’s time for Canadians to roll the dice. The only hope is that we don’t overbid and crap out.

It pains my left-leaning heart to say it, but the best situation for this country may be the rise of a Conservative minority government. Yet, in their rush to heap scorn on the Liberal Party of Canada, Canadians may go too far in their punishment and feel the karmic whiplash of getting exactly what they asked for.

In general, Canada is a fairly left-leaning country, as evidenced by three socially progressive federal parties: the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Quebecois. In fact, throw in the Green’s supporters and you have a significant segment of voters who have displayed support for socially left-wing policy in the past. So how is it that we’ve been at the cusp of a Conservative majority for the past couple of weeks leading up to today’s election?

To be honest, I still haven’t made up my mind for whom I’m going to vote. Presented with two strong left-leaning candidates in my riding I have a difficult choice.

Do I choose the Liberal candidate who has been the co-founder and volunteer executive director of the city’s Food Bank for 19 years? The man who works to build schools and end slavery in Sudan? The man who, on top of all this, has been a firefighter and Captain for 28 years? Or do I go NDP and choose the candidate who has been a long-time advocate for social rights in the community? A woman who transitioned from a teaching job to the world of politics and has demonstrated caring and integrity? A woman who champions anti-racism and accessibility causes – and who has the experience that comes with being elected as a MPP?

For once, I don’t have to choose from the lesser of two evils! I just have to figure out which candidate walks on water better. But for the country, what I want is completely different.

Simply put, a Conservative minority government means that everyone wins. Well, almost everyone – everyone but the Conservatives and the taxpayers, in the end.

The Conservatives get power – however fleeting it may be. But their minority status ensures that once the gaffer tape has been ripped from the mouths of the far-right-wing elected representatives, they won’t have the numbers to enact any particularly damaging legislation.

The NDP will continue in its role as the social conscience of the House of Commons. Either with the same number or an increase in the number of seats, they should be able to be a strong voice in Parliament for however long this Parliament lasts.

And finally, the Liberals can begin the process of rebuilding their party. Unfortunately, Paul Martin has been forever stained with the corruption that came before him (and, admittedly, went on while he was around). Ever the good soldier, Martin was forced to fall on the sword set up by his former nemesis Jean Chrétien.

As long as Martin is in power, a significant number of people who would normally consider voting for the Liberal party will stay away, simply because they can’t get by the stink of corruption that Martin has been infused with. Whether or not he’s been involved, he’s been cast as the lead role in this production of entitlement and patronage.

The Liberals need a clean slate. Martin needs to step back to the private sector, having realized his dream if only for a little while. And the party needs to find new and dynamic leadership. Whether Frank McKenna comes back from exile (OK, Washington, but it’s the same thing) or Michael Ignatieff ever acts upon the promise that others have seen in him, the Liberals need to start fresh.

After that, the country’s ripe for their picking. After almost two decades in power, Canadians obviously are comfortable with a Liberal government. In fact, the polls indicate that Canadians, as a whole, are a little leery of the whole Reform/Alliance influence on the Conservatives. That’s why the electorate has made a sharp turn left the moment a Tory majority was predicted.

Once the leadership race is over, expect the pressure to force another election to come in waves. And, on the hook for yet another election bill, Canadians may go the route of a certain five-year majority with a party they’re comfortable with – a reborn Liberal party.

It’s a roll of the dice that sees the very future of our country at stake.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

United Left Harper’s Worst Enemy

By Jason Menard

Well, that certainly didn’t take long. Not even 24 hours into the federal election campaign and Conservative leader Stephen Harper threw down the first sequined gauntlet, promising to hold an open vote on the question of legal marriage in this country.

Yet, what Harper and both capital and small-c conservatives haven’t figured out yet is that if they want to reach out to the soft middle, the gay issue has to be kept aside. Otherwise, the same ol’ fears that keep Harper out of a Sussex Drive address will continue to flourish – and a polarized left will rise to send the Conservatives to defeat.

At a time when there are so many other topics with which Harper could effectively campaign from, he chooses to bring up an issue that was cooling nicely on the back burner. What’s next? Will Harper advocate a plebiscite on the return of the death penalty? How about introducing a motion to make kids recite the Lord’s Prayer in school? Maybe a little missive on abortion laws, just to keep the conversation going?

Instead of promoting talking points that are inclusionary, he has to choose to turn the heat up on one of the most divisive issues affecting our country. And when you take one side of a polarized issue, it’s only natural that an opposing side will unite to fight back – which is exactly what the Conservatives don’t want.

The Tories best chance at unseating the Grits is to play to the soft centre of Canadian politics. They’ve already wrapped up the right-wing vote – in fact, they’re the only game in that town, so why the need to focus on those polarizing issues that cause anyone that leans a little to the left to run screaming away from his party?

Harper could run a successful campaign simply focusing on the Liberal’s lack of accountability, the need for a new voice in Parliament, and a commitment to fiscal responsibility – which was the hallmark of the Liberal party until its recent string of budgetary/campaign promises running up to the non-confidence vote.

But no, that gay issue obviously is quite the bee in his bonnet. Instead of letting sleeping dogs lie, he’s decided to grab it by the tail and wave it around. Now, he can only hope that this particular dog doesn’t come back and bite him.

There’s a reason why the Liberal’s 2004 campaign included allusions to a hidden agenda. It’s the same reason why so many left-leaning voters chose to support the Liberals instead of the NDP at the last minute. Rightly or wrongly, a significant number of people believe that the Tories actually do have a secret agenda. And it doesn’t help when lesser issues like gay marriage come to the fore at the first available opportunity.

This election is ripe for the picking. The Tories could have it easily if they just learned to be compassionate conservatives. Canadians want a viable alternative to the Liberal party but they’re also leery of losing what it means to be Canadian. Rightly or wrongly, the Conservative party has been painted as threats to our social programs and our inclusionary culture – and taking on gay marriage doesn’t soften that perception one little bit.

The Conservatives have to stop preaching to the converted and realize that they’re playing right into the Liberal’s hands. Those who lean to the right will support Harper, while those who lean way to the left are going to support Jack Layton. But it’s the majority of us who reside somewhere in the vast middle that will decide this election – and that’s the demographic that the Liberals have been able to leverage so effectively over the past couple of decades.

Harper needs to realize this and stop alienating the soft Liberal. In the end, while he may see a few former Liberal voters come into his camp, his best option is that he prevents the fear-mongering and polarizing effect an “anything-but-Conservative” campaign can produce.

If he stays away from the hot-button points – or at least stops bringing them up on his own – then voters may be lulled into a feeling of security where they feel that they can comfortably cast a vote for the NDP. That way, the Conservatives can split the left and walk up the right lane, uncontested, to assume the mantle of power.

To Harper, a vote for Layton is just as good as a vote for himself. Secure in the knowledge that the Canadian centre-to-right will support his party, as they’re really the only viable option, then his focus has to be on preventing a unified left from rising up to challenge him in this election. And to do that, he doesn’t necessarily have to appeal to left-of-centre voters, but he does have to avoid being demonized.

Unfortunately, he’s already stumbled coming out of the gates and tripping over the relative non-issue of gay marriage. The Tories have to hope that he rights himself and sticks to issues – not opinions – in order to stake their claim on a very winnable election.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Spending Millions For What We Already Have

By Jason Menard

Imagine you’ve gone on one of those home renovating shows that dot the television landscape like Tim Hortons locations on a map of Ontario. Now, the twist is that you pay for everything the renovators do, and on the big day, everything is revealed before your eyes.

And it’s exactly the same. Think the censors would let your comments air?

“Yes, the room may appear to be the same, but if you look carefully, we’ve rearranged some of the potted plants. And instead of six calla lilies, we’ve taken two out and put in a pair of tulips. Oh, but we’ve put two new calla lilies in that old bowl of tulips over there, to replace the other two we tossed out.”

You’d be pretty P-Oed, right? Now imagine if the producers then turned around and presented you with a bill for $25,000. Needless to say it would make for some entertaining television.

Now, multiply that $25,000 by a factor 10,000 and you’ll get what the next federal renovation will set the country back. And what will we get for our money? Probably nothing more than a few cosmetic changes and a whole lot of buyers’ regret.

The Conservatives are upset that Alberta premier Ralph Klein said what many of us believe – that the upcoming election will bring more of the same, another Liberal minority. Now, as they say in the sports world, if the games were won on paper we wouldn’t need to play them. But it’s hard to believe that we’re much different than we were back in June 2004, but that’s what we’re going to spend upwards of $250 million to find out.

The opposition parties are treating the election as a game of chance: rolling the dice with our money hoping to strike it big. But the one lesson that any gambler worth his or her salt learns is that although the odds may look stacked in your favour, in the end the house always wins.

The Conservatives, NDP, and, to a lesser extent, the Bloc are gambling that our displeasure over the sponsorship scandal and other political boondoggles will send swing voters rushing to the ballot ready to turf out the long-ruling Liberals. They’re hoping that the electorate will believe that they – the Conservatives especially – are capable of ruling the next Parliament.

Of course, they’re also gambling with the fact that voters will forget that they never learned to play nice and make this government work.

The defining memory of this minority Parliament will not be one of greater accountability, parties negotiating together for the betterment of all Canadians, or the maximizing of a coalition government. No, we’re left with less-than-pleasant memories of implied and expressed desires to grind the wheels of government to a halt, of holding the electorate hostage with threats of forcing another election, and general pettiness and sandbox-mentality fighting in the House of Commons.

And these are the guys and gals we’re supposed to elect in with a minority? I always hated the kids that would only play nice when they held all the cards – do I really want to vote them into power?

Again, we’re stuck at a crossroads in Canada. It seems like years, if ever, where we were actually voting for ideals or picking a candidate that we actually want. More often than not, it comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils. That’s what we had last time around and the Devils in question are still wearing the same masks.

So, as it appears we’re heading to another minority government, we can only expect more of the same behaviour for however long the next government lasts. If we are saddled with another Liberal minority, do we expect any different behaviour from the opposition? And if the Tories leapfrog the Grits into minority power, should we be surprised if the Liberals try to exact some revenge?

We’re headed to more of the same. And if that’s the case, can any party actual revel in what is essentially a Pyhrric victory at best. All parties can only lose credibility and stature through this process and an already-fatigued electorate will only tire further.

Play the safe hand? Shuffle the deck? Double down? Any way you cut it, the result will be the same – the house always wins, and it’s our money that they’re playing with.

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