Category Archives: NDP

Lessons for the Liberals from the Calgary-Centre by-election

Harvey Locke ran a great campaign in Calgary-Centre taking a strong second place. and keeping the Conservatives under 40% in the so-called “Conservative heartland” is nothing to sneeze at. I am proud of the campaign the Liberals ran in all 3 by-elections yesterday.

However, I do fear that Liberals across Canada are taking the wrong lessons from the Calgary-Centre by-election. There are those who will argue (out of their own self-interest) that the Liberals lost in Calgary-Centre because of vote-splitting and the only answer is progressive cooperation.

Vote-splitting was not the problem and cooperation is not the answer.

First, allow me a brief digression on how we got here. The in-fighting and tales of structural deficiencies of the Liberal party are well documented. However, I tend to view the last 2 elections from a game theory perspective. We Liberals campaigned fiercely against the Conservatives. The Conservatives campaigned fiercely, and more effectively against us. The NDP campaigned against both and that helped them leapfrog the Liberal Party to become the officially opposition (there is obviously more to it, this is only an examination of the 2011 Federal Election through a game theory lens.)

The Liberal Party has been trying to fight a 1 front war when we are clearly dealing with 4 separate adversaries (the Conservatives, NDP, Greens and Bloc.) We cannot treat the Greens/NDP as if they are a pool of voters for us to take from and we can’t treat Conservative voters as if they are an unpersuaded monolith.

The Liberal Party has been far too lenient towards the Green Party. Not running a candidate against Elizabeth May in 2008 was a big mistake. In some ways, like being respectful of Ms. May in the House of Commons, we have done the right thing. However, the Green Party does not owe the Liberal Party a single thing. Just like the NDP, the Green Party will always put itself first, neither party actually wants to prioritize progressive issues.

The Calgary-Centre by-election was not a Liberal versus CPC competition, it was a Liberal vs CPC + Green one. The Green Party ran a negative campaign against both the Conservatives and the Liberals. If we ignore the negative campaign the Green Party ran in Calgary-Centre as we move forward, the Liberal Party is setting itself up for further loss.

On Chris Turner’s website there are 2 household lit pieces in PDF form. The first one is 3 pages, the majority of which is an anti-Liberal “Just visiting” style attack piece.

Image

The Liberal campaign focused on critiquing the Conservative candidate. I vehemently disagree with those who think that the Liberals lost because they “split the vote” with the Green candidate. The Liberals lost because they a) failed to persuade enough voters to switch from the CPC and b) didn’t take on the Green candidate with as much force as they went after Joan Crockatt.

The Liberal Party’s pragmatic and prudent policy positions can appeal to Conservative voters but if we write off that segment of the electorate before the campaign even begins, the Conservatives will only have to pick of a small segment of Liberal/NDP/Green/Undecided voters to win, as they did in Calgary-Centre.

The Conservative Party is not our friend. The NDP is not our friend. The Green Party is not our friend. The Liberal campaign in Calgary-Centre worked extremely hard and did a fantastic job.

Further reading:

A conversation between Micah Goldberg & Joseph Uranowski on: Progressive Cooperation

Why the Conservatives Love the “Strategic” Voting Sites

Paul Donofrio: NDP Candidate. Rob Ford Supporter. Social Media Cautionary Tale.

Yesterday, I wrote about how the PC candidate in Kitchener-Waterloo, Tracey Weiler, has been running away from the PC leader Tim Hudak. In the riding of Vaughan, the ONDP and their leader Andrea Horwath, the opposite has been the case. Paul Donofrio, the ONDP candidate, has been completely ignored by his party. When he was nominated on August 10th the ONDP did a short, boilerplate press release. Since then, there has been hardly a peep about Mr. Donofrio out of the ONDP.

Paul Donofrio is a classic perennial candidate. He ran for City Council, and lost. He ran for mayor of Vaughan, and lost. And he ran in Vaughan during the 2011 election, and lost.

The point I want to make is not only that the NDP are not competitive in both by-elections (the PCs aren’t either, the Ontario Liberals are the only party competitive in both Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan.) Donofrio offers an important political social media lesson for us all. His twitter account is effectively inactive (he has tweeted 4 times since the 2011 election.) His tweets from over the last 2-and-a-bit years include non sequiturs, lots of ALL CAPS, dead links and some interesting opinions (see below.) When a candidate signs up for twitter (or any social media platform) and doesn’t know what they are doing/has no social media communications team behind them, their dead account will linger online forever. The lesson: you don’t have to get twitter just because other people have twitter. If a candidate gets twitter, make sure that they have a good team behind them and take down the account after the election if the candidate is planning on running again.

Getting back to Mr. Donofrio. Perhaps the NDP doesn’t want to draw attention to some of Mr. Donofrio’s previously held political positions. The website from his mayoral run is still up: http://www.pauldonofrio.com/ and his endorsement of Toronto Mayoral candidate Rob Ford on twitter is still up:

The next day he retweeted a Rob Ford GOTV tweet*:

“WAIT, WHAT?” you may ask. An NDP candidate endorsed Toronto’s regressive mayor? He most certainly did. Now, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. Andrea Horwarth and the Ontario NDP regularly take regressive positions because they have populist appeal (just like Rob Ford.) Andrea Horwath voted against the Clear Energy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban.** The ONDP’s HST policy would lead to a large tax cut for big polluters. Since the 2011 election the ONDP have advocated an auto insurance scheme that would raise rates for safe drivers and lower them for dangerous drivers.***

This does raise some serious questions for Andrea Horwath and the ONDP:

Does Paul Donofrio still support Mayor Ford? How would Mr. Donofrio have voted on the PC’s motion in support of subways in Ontario? How does the ONDP reconcile their candidate’s views with the views of the ONDP?

——————————————————————————

* Click on each picture for a link to each tweet. You can visit Paul Donofrio’s twitter page here: https://twitter.com/PAULDONOFRIONDP
** I am a big fan of bees. They gives us all of our non-wheat/rice/corn food with their pollination. The Cosmetic Pesticides Ban is a great piece of pro-bee public policy.
*** It was denounced by Andrew W. Murie, Ceo of MADD Canada: “[T]he Bill will force responsible drivers to subsidize the insurance premiums of dangerous drivers… In our view, the Bill sends all the wrong messages, punishes responsible drivers, rewards dangerous drivers, and will increase the risk to Ontario road-users.”

David Merner and the Conversation the Liberal Party Needs to Have

David Merner (left) and Alberta Liberal Party president Todd Van Vliet (right.)

It’s funny, I thought I would be running as a pro-business, pro-environment West-coast Liberal but it looks like I’ve become the ‘cooperation candidate.‘” That was former LPC(BC) President David Merner’s reaction when I told him that I had read Gloria Galloway’s article in the Globe and Mail and I had some questions for him about Liberal/NDP cooperation.

Mr. Merner held a meet-and-greet in Toronto at the Duke of York on Friday (it was the second of these type of events that I had attended in as many weeks.) With Jean Chrétien openly musing about the prospect of a LPC-NDP merger, David and I agreed that the party needs to talk openly about cooperation (though Merner, like myself is vehemently opposed to a merger) and we can’t be afraid of talking openly about so-called “Liberal sacred cows.*” If the Liberal Party doesn’t have a serious conversation on what I have termed “progressive cooperation,” there will be fissures within the party that may weaken us going in to the 2015 election. However, Nathan Cullen only received 24.6% of the vote on the 3 (and 2nd last) ballot at the NDP leadership convention back in March. The pair of candidates on the final ballot (Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair) were two of the fiercest opponents of cooperation with the Liberal Party in the running to succeed Jack Layton.

When Merner talks about cooperation he focuses on reaching out to the Greens, red-tories and (a term he introduced me to that I now love) “conservation-conservatives.” As a Liberal campaigning in Victoria B.C., he realizes that in ridings in that area, and in places like Vancouver and Toronto, cooperation with the NDP (our main opponents) wouldn’t make sense. Merner’s approach to cooperation fits in well with the pragmatism that is a pillar of the modern Liberal party. “We should be about creating choices for Canadians not reducing choices.” Merner believes that any practical form of electoral cooperation must, like the debate on cooperation, come from the bottom up. He pointed to the deal between Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May not to run candidates in each-others’ respective ridings as a top down decision that had negative results. This pragmatic attitude was on display when I asked Merner about two of my top issues, cannabis legalization and high-speed rail. Merner supports legalization, calling prohibition a “waste of police resources” while pointing out how cannabis would be a cash crop in British Columbia. On high-speed rail he wasn’t afraid to disagree with me bluntly. We talked about the proposed Edmonton-Calgary and Quebec-Windsor lines. He compared commitments to building massive high-speed rail lines to previous Liberal governments failure to reach ambitious environmental goals. “We need to be the party of practical solutions to real problems.”

David Merner bristled at the fact that certain party officials have said that progressive cooperation is “not up for discussion.” I agree. As the third party we need to show that the Liberal Party’s approach is different than the NDP or CPC‘s. To do this the Liberal Party needs to produce and promote bold policies and we need a competitive leadership race where the candidates aren’t afraid to constructively criticize the party.

David Merner is an intelligent and engaging candidate. Let’s not close our minds to any of the candidates because the media interprets one of his or her positions narrowly or incorrectly.

* Real, substantive health care reform and realistic targets to reduce carbon emissions were two such “sacred cows” that we discussed at the Friday evening event.

Justin Trudeau is a Serious Candidate for a Serious Party

I agree with Andrew Coyne that the Liberal Party of Canada needs to be the party of bold policy ideas and that on some issues we need to be to the left of the NDP/to the right of the Conservatives. However, I strongly disagree with Mr. Coyne’s assertion that “a party that is preparing to throw itself at Justin Trudeau is not a serious party.” The Liberal Party needs to have a competitive leadership race with many qualified candidates. Justin Trudeau would be a serious candidate and would be a solid choice for leader of the Liberal Party, if the Liberal Party wants to be patient and pursue a long-term strategy.
Justin Trudeau and the long-game:

As Premier McGuinty outlined in his speech at the 2012 Biennial Convention, the Liberal Party needs to elect a young leader and give that leader more than one election to rebuild the party. Liberals need to burn the phrase “two election strategy” into their minds. No one seriously believes that we can form the government after one election, and we need to show Canadians that we are a humble, substantive alternative to the divisive bullies Harper and Mulcair. This will take more than one election and we need a leader who can grow with the Liberal Party. Justin Trudeau is 40 years of age as I type this. In 2015, Prime Minister Harper will be 56 (with a full head of grey hair) and Thomas Mulcair will be 61. Justin Trudeau’s youth would bring a new energy to the Liberal Party. While his name evokes a nostalgic connection to the past, the fact that he was elected in 2008 would give the Liberal Party a clean break with the sponsorship scandal. Trudeau is fluently bilingual, but the fact that he grew up in politics makes him fluent in the political language of both French and English Canada.

Trudeau does have a ways to go before he is prime minister material. He is great at giving speeches (when I saw him speak in Parkdale-High Park there was a real electricity in the air) but he needs to speak with a substance and gravity that can only come with time. His name recognition is a great strength. I would also argue that the fact that a certain (small) percentage of Canadians who have a predisposition for/against Trudeau because of his name is another advantage as that good will will bring some Canadians back in to the Liberal Party and Trudeau will get to prove those who irrationally dislike him wrong when he enters the national arena. Becoming the leader the Liberal Party needs will be a lot of work. Justin has shown his strong work ethic on a number of occasions. Running and winning (twice) in Papineau was no small feat. Trudeau has also been a loyal liberal soldier traveling the country for the party. One specific example that I believe shows his commitment was his boxing match with Senator Brazeau. Trudeau saw that he was outgunned, so he spent months training and preparing himself. This is the kind of commitment the Liberal Party needs from its next leader.

The 4 pillars of a winning political campaign:

In the past, Canadian political parties have relied on a combination of three elements to win: a strong leader, strong policy,a strong political machine and disorganized opponents. Under Jean Chretien the LPC focused on having a strong leader, a strong political machine and disorganized political opponents.

In the last few elections the Conservatives have relied on their leader, their political machine and a disorganized opposition. The NDP have gone all in with their leader in 2008/2011 and are trying to play organizational catch up while keeping the Liberals weak. In 2011 the Liberal Party tried to go all in with policy with disastrous results.

In 2015 the Liberal Party needs to have a strong, charismatic leader who campaigns with a solid machine and a solid set of unique policy proposals. We have done a great job explaining why Harper is bad, we need to do the same with Mulcair while always saying what we would do if elected.

Trudeau’s magnetism is not something that a politician can necessarily learn, as is his ability to promote progressive policies in the language of the centre-right and the values of fiscal and personal responsibility in the language of the left.

Justin Trudeau doesn’t fit into the CPC or NDP paradigm:

One distinct advantage that Mr. Trudeau has is that his reality is frustratingly foreign to the Conservatives and New Democrats.

Conservatives purged their party of the genuine grassroots energy and principled policy positions of the old Reform Party and have become solely the party of their leader, Stephen Harper. The CPC’s divisive, slash and burn politics would see an election against Justin Trudeau as the opportunity they’ve always wanted to against Justin’s father. The NDP have a different  mindset. New Democrats do not care about getting real results for Canadians, they only care about getting more NDP seats in parliament. When Jack Layton decided to betray the progressive budget that Paul Martin had negotiated with him in 2005, he did so because the NDP only had 18 seats in parliament. In the NDP worldview Jack Layton, who has no major accomplishments at the federal level, is a hero simply because he helped elect 103 NDP MPs. The NDP and CPC both seem to believe that the Liberals would try and run Justin Trudeau on his father’s accomplishments. They would both be trying to attack the Liberal Party from a perspective that would not be accessible to the majority of Canadians who aren’t as blindly ideological as the CPC and NDP.

Conclusion:

Justin Trudeau still has to prove himself as a leader, as does any candidate running for that position. He may be the unique blend of charisma, substance and hard work that the Liberal Party needs. However, one thing he needs from Liberals is patience.

Liberals need  to stop panicking. We aren’t going to die out in one election–but we aren’t going to rise from the ashes like a phoenix, either. Every single Liberal needs to be working hard to rebuild the party. No political party can win solely on the strength of their leader.

Justin Trudeau has been thoughtful and contemplative in his approach to entering the Liberal leadership race. He is a serious candidate and should be treated as one.

The Ontario NDP Skips the Budget Vote.

“You know, most Canadians, if they don’t show up for work, they don’t get a promotion.” – Jack Layton

On Tuesday, April 24th the 17 MPPs in the Ontario NDP caucus (led by Andea Howarth) skipped out on voting on Ontario’s 2012 budget. This action is confusing. It looks like a huge strategic blunder for the ONDP. After Tim Hudak took himself out of the debate by saying he’d vote against the budget before any details were put on the negotiation table, I was pleased to see Ms. Howarth and Premier McGuinty negotiating over the budget. Now that the NDP joined the PCs in abdicating their responsibilities as MPPs, the Liberals are the only party actually working for Canadians. During the budgetary process, Ms. Howarth abandonded her faux-populist energy HST cut (which is a tacit admission that she knows that it is cutting taxes for big polluters.) So after lengthy negotiations the ONDP let Premier McGuinty put forward a solid piece of policy (the 2% surtax on incomes over $500 000) then proceeded to give him all the credit for that policy and all the other spending in the budget. The Federal NDP has been taking credit for the universal health care system that Prime Minister Pearson created for decades. Now the ONDP can’t really take credit for Premier McGuinty/Dwight Duncan’s 2012 budget and they can (and should) be called out for not doing their jobs.

A conversation between Micah Goldberg & Joseph Uranowski on: Progressive Cooperation

Micah Goldberg is one of my favourite people (he has guest blogged for me on a number of occasions.) One of our first conversations together was an argument about some electoral reform proposals I had put forward when I was Education & Government Commissioner on the University of St. Michael’s College Students’ Union.

He is a committed Liberal, but above all he is committed to Canadian democracy. After the NDP convention we decided to write a point/counterpoint discussion on the prospect of Liberal-NDP cooperation. Please read, share on facebook/the twitter and comment if you feel so inclined.

Micah Goldberg:

We should never be afraid of ideas. We should never be afraid of a conversation.

These two sentences, spoken by Nathan Cullen, an NDP Leadership candidate who fell off on the third ballot really exemplify why I joined his campaign team. Although I consider myself a center/center- left voter and thus a Liberal, Mr. Cullen’s call for cooperation in the form of joint nomination meetings between Canadian progressive policies were something, I felt, transcended party lines entirely, and effectively promoted what was best for Canada as a whole. I decided to attend the convention to be on the front lines of the movement, albeit without voting rights. It was the first time I had ever been involved in something so much larger than myself. I really did feel as though Nathan’s team was fighting to remove an arcane tradition, working together to move Canada forward towards a progressive future.

I fear many people do not fully understand what Cullen’s cooperation plan was, and their ignorance fuelled fear. Voluntary joint nomination meetings in Conservative-held ridings are not a merger. It only occurs if NDP and Liberal party members in the Tory constituency are willing to vote for one candidate, and only members would be eligible to elect one candidate to run under their own partisan banner, with the intention of turning a Conservative seat into a progressive one.

There are some New Democrats and Liberals who feel as though an ocean of difference between the parties will block any path to cooperation. This may be a good argument against a merger, but I don’t see it as an effective one against cooperation. I freely admit the union influence within the NDP, the adherence to the Sherbrooke Declaration, aggressive tax policies the NDP supports (just to name three) illustrate why I did not want to join the party; however if we remove party titles, and focus on individual members and average Canadians the common ground far outweighs the areas of difference. Progressives want clean energy, a better standing in foreign relations, better conditions for the impoverished and seniors, better schools and empowered Canadian youth. When parties move past their partisan instincts and work together in parliament, Canadians reward their cooperation, because it matches their values. If Liberals and New Democrats are willing to think about what kind of government they are currently enjoying, I strongly believe they will accept a progressive solution.

To those that say there is no interest on either side, or that this idea will never work, allow me to say this: First, a quarter of those who voted in the New Democrat leadership race believed in Nathan Cullen and his cooperation idea. It makes me optimistic that among the grassroots of at least one party, his idea has momentum. Second, it seems as though people believe it will never work purely out of mistrust for the other side. I am told there is a history of politicians abusing the trust of the other side. Let me phrase a question to members of both parties: if you had the option to make 15 Conservative members New Democrats or Liberals (depending on your affiliation) would you? I’d bet that most would, and further, I’ll argue that both parties will take joint nominations seriously. If they don’t the political system can always return to how things were: a candidate in every riding.

When Bob Rae was interviewed on CBC this past Sunday, he was asked why the NDP and Liberals shouldn’t be working together. His answer was not that the parties are too far apart, or that there was something categorically wrong with cooperation amongst cooperative parties. Rather, the leader of the Liberal Party only suggested that because the leader of the New Democrats wouldn’t consider it, he wouldn’t waste time on it either. Bob did not come down against cooperation, and it, at the very least, stands as a possible pillar of his leadership campaign (though I doubt he would risk his front-runner status on it).Both major progressive leaders have spent time in the others’ camp. Obviously there are reasons they left, but the fact remains that there were a Liberal or New Democrat in the first place. There is a great deal of overlap, and rather than fighting over the 20% that lies in one unshaded area of the political Venn diagram, lets concentrate our efforts in bringing the 80% that is going unrepresented in Ottawa to realization. Let’s bring a halt to the current unaccountable majority, and replace it with a more optimistic, transparent, cooperative Canadian Government. I encourage all partisan Canadians to come out of the woodwork and bring an end to vote splitting. Voyons travailler ensemble, pour progressistes et pour Canada.

Joseph Uranowski:

After following the NDP leadership race fairly closely I believe we are in “violent agreement” that Nathan Cullen is an excellent and inspiring politician. Though I am a proud member of the Liberal Party of Canada, I cheered for Cullen because his election as NDP leader would have forced the Liberal Party, Green Party and NDP to have the co-operation conversation that we have been avoiding since the ill-fated coalition of 2008. However, although I like Nathan Cullen personally, I disagree with many of the assumptions that lead him to suggest cooperation as a solution. I would/will argue that the specific kind of cooperation he suggested would not work logistically and would fail due to a number of issues within our electoral system and the NDP/LPC/GPC. I also believe that the various policy differences and the gulf in trust between the Liberals and the NDP are a valid argument against cooperation. We cannot run our political parties with the purpose of solving the problem of “how can we remove Conservatives from office?” The question “How can we best serve Canadians?” should be the underlying principle of the Liberal Party and the wider-progressive movement.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” – Cassius (Julius Caesar I, ii, 140-141).

Some problems with Nathan Cullen’s underlying assumptions:

Though I have cited Alice Funke’s excellent article “Why the Conservatives Love the “Strategic” Voting Sites” in my blog post “After a jump to the left, the Liberal Party needs to take a step to the right.” There is one paragraph that really addresses the fundamental premise that leads to calls for cooperation. That premise is that “if only progressives worked together we would win all 308 ridings.” Here is what Ms. Funke has to say:

The sites’ entire raison d’être validates the concept that people who voted for the Conservative Party in 2008 can’t be appealed to further to change their vote now, and thus discourages people from even trying. This is a fundamentally defeatist proposition for the sites’ founders to take, one that also underlies the decision by the Liberal Party not to bother making appeals in that marketplace, but to turn its attention towards other competitors instead. It also implicitly discourages people from voting at all where things seem “hopeless” based on previous election results, which feeds precisely into a vote suppression strategy for the Conservatives, and in fact does at least part of that suppression for them.

The sites’ obsession with who can win has virtually eliminated issue-based politics from either election coverage or debate at the riding level. This is a perfect state of affairs for a party such as the Conservatives which is consciously trying to move the ideological centre of the country a few inches to the right.

Cullen’s plan assumes that the majority of LPC/NDP/GPC supporters in a riding would rally behind one candidate. The problem I have is that this would once again allow Stephen Harper to have a rock solid 29% of the vote, which lets the Conservative Party put all of their resources into the handful of ridings they need to pick up to win a majority. Though I consider myself a progressive voter on free-trade, federalism, and fiscal responsibility, my views are so incompatible with the NDP (and the Conservative Party for that matter) that I am not sure how I would vote if the only options in my riding were Jim Flaherty (my current MP) and an NDP candidate. We cannot assume that the Liberal/New Democratic and Green vote would coalesce if the options were limited. What we do know is that Stephen Harper wins with lower voter turn out, and in many ridings I could see the Liberals/NDPers/Greens staying home. I find the idea that the NDP/Liberals steal votes from the Liberals/NDP to be profoundly arrogant. Votes do not “belong” to any one party, just as no party is Canada’s “natural governing party.” I am not saying that Nathan Cullen has ever put forward this view explicitly but his argument tacitly implies this worldview.

The operative words in you opening sentence are “we should never be afraid to have the conversation.” That is the core problem with the centre-left parties in Canada, not vote splitting. What has been glossed over with his death and subsequent beatification is how tepid/cautious as leader Jack Layton really was. Sure, his buzz words were “bold” and “inspiring” but, in my opinion, the bases of his argument for why he was a “visionary” leader was mainly in the fact that the NDP have never formed federal government. Jack Layton didn’t argue in favour of legalization of cannabis during the last election, his party even joined in with the Conservatives in bashing Stephane Dion’s green shift. Stephen Harper wins because he has, to quote Andrew Coyne, “brought the centre to himself.” When we debate crime, we debate how long a 16 year old should be put in jail because they have 6 pot plants, not over the very nature of our justice system. Same goes for taxes (and the Liberal Party is guilty of this), no one wants to discuss raising taxes for fear of losing votes, even though some taxes should be raised. Jack Layton’s caution got the NDP into opposition but the only real way to defeat Stephen Harper is by putting forward bold ideas. When  the Liberal Party adopted the policy motion to legalize and regulate marijuana I was ecstatic because it was the first time a major political party had taken that position. This allowed Bob Rae to make the argument for legalization in his closing speech of the convention and helped shift the crime debate in Canada.

“If there are two parties pitching liberal ideas in the next election, voters will choose the real one.” – Brian Topp

I somewhat agree with Brian Topp’s scaremongering statement above. I would also argue that if there are two NDP parties running in the next election, Canadians will vote for the real one. With so much talk about the death of the Liberal Party after the 2011 election, what message would it send Canadians if we didn’t run candidates in every riding? As someone who worked every day of the last federal election for a Liberal candidate, I can just imagine how volunteers of every progressive party would feel if they were asked to volunteer for someone they worked against 4 years earlier. I know that I would go to a different riding with a Liberal candidate, which would take my experience/knowledge of Whitby to a totally different area. Ask Scott Brison to define what “progressivism” is and his definition would be way different than Charlie Angus. A joint nomination meeting between the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens in my riding would be an extremely divisive event because of the large trust deficit between the Liberals and NDP. Months would be spent repairing any rifts and that time would be way better spent going after Harper and laying out what our vision is. The Liberal Party needs to get better at community organizing if we are to stay alive as a political party and if we are to grow in the next election and eventually form government.

Policy Differences Matter:

You mention the Sherbrooke declaration in your initial argument. I find that document so repugnant that it could be placed as the main reason that I could not see myself joining the NDP. There are many policy differences between the Liberals and the NDP but our stances on federalism are a deal breaker. If you believe that the federal government should do large projects (like high-speed rail, universal health care or national house/day care strategies) then you need a strong federal government. The NDP’s cognitive dissonance on this was on full display during the leadership race. Peggy Nash laid out her views on health care in English and was unequivocally in favour of universal health care, she was then asked (in French) about Quebec bringing in user fees and she said she would respect Quebec’s jurisdiction. As Stephane Dion laid out in this op-ed, it’s not just support for 50% + 1 that separates the Liberals and the NDP.  Federalism is just one issue and though it is probable issue #1 for me, there are many other Liberals and New Democrats who are in fierce disagreement with the other party’s platform. If cooperation was based upon the Liberals and the NDP abandoning some of their core beliefs/policy proposals, then that very cooperation would be based upon the notion that winning is more important that a political party’s values which would make both parties into Stephen Harper-style Conservative Parties. If there are three Conservative parties running in the next election…

The Trust Deficit:

In 2005, Jack Layton had the opportunity to work with Paul Martin and get progressive results for Canadians, he choose to side with Stephen Harper and bring down the government. Fast forward to today, where in the House of Commons I see NDP MPs bashing the Liberal record as much as they do that of the current government. I have heard it said a countless number of times at Liberal events and online that “the NDP hates the Liberals more than they hate the Conservatives.” I am sure that New Democrats feel the same way about us. The problem seems to be that we don’t trust each other enough to work together and we can’t work together because we don’t trust each other enough.

This reminds me of the “Tit-for-Tat” strategy from studying Game Theory in International Relations class. The Liberals and the NDP need the opportunity to work together so we can build that trust (the last best hope for that was the 2008 coalition.) With the NDP at its greatest strength there are enough within the party who believe that they don’t need to cooperate with the Liberals, or that cooperation would be a means to an NDP majority government.Though I am cynical on the prospect of cooperation, there is an experiment currently taking place. If you look at Ontario, there’s the NDP opposition that have the opportunity to work with a Liberal minority, and Premier McGuinty has created a committee to reach out to them. We get to see, in real time, if the NDP will work with the Ontario Liberals or if they believe, like Jack Layton did, that more seats in parliament is more important that progressive policies being implemented.

Proportional representation:

I do not believe that cooperation is the answer as I differ with Mr. Cullen on what the question is.  If the Liberals, the Green and the NDP are able to form a coalition government, or Canadians elect a non-Conservative majority, and they change Canada’s electoral system (which is Green, NDP and Liberal policy) then political parties will be forced to work together. The largest flaw in Nathan Cullen’s plan is that it is based on voluntary cooperation when our political system is designed in such a way that parties have only cooperated when they are forced to.

Micah Goldberg:

In advocating for cooperation, the stiffest resistance I’ve faced is where it seems Joseph is driving his main argument: the ocean of difference between Liberal and NDP members. To some it seems unlikely that NDP members would ever vote for Liberal members let alone work on their campaigns. For many people like Joseph, it might simply become impossible to work on a New Democratic campaign, but according to a recent poll (http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1153428–poll-new-democrats-riding-mulcair-wave) fifty percent of both parties’ memberships are willing to cooperate. To me it seems like the memberships realize this ocean, is more like a river.

Divisive issues like the Sherbrooke declaration are enough to keep me from advocating for a merger; however, when it comes to environmental degradation, poverty, aboriginal issues and many others, I find the New Democrats to be stalwart allies. There are differences, but if we can cooperate to get Prime Minister Harper’s government out of power then we can at least start a discussion on child poverty, education and healthcare, because there is no back-and-forth in Ottawa, only a stream of ideological demagoguery. I think after New Democrats and Liberals consider the current condition of the country, they will agree to run 330 candidates, instead of 338 in the next election – hardly what I would consider an indication of weakness.

While a perceived notion of difference is the most common form of rebuttal I’ve come up against, the most difficult argument to answer to is what Joseph concluded with: the parties simply do not trust each other. This issue was not raised in a single NDP leadership debate. The truth of the matter is, there is no way trust can spontaneously be created. If both parties actually want to stop the Conservatives from a second majority, they will have to do something differently. Stephane Dion did not run a candidate against Elizabeth May when he was the Opposition Leader, why could we trust her not to run a candidate against us?

This road is the more difficult one to traverse, but I am a stalwart defender of its utility. It would not be a perfect marriage, and it would come with certain detractions, but if Liberals and New Democrats can agree to end the vote split where their local organizers deem it is acceptable, then the parties ought to take back progressive seats that sit in ideologically opposing hands. If not for our own party, or for us as individuals, then for the greater good: for the citizens that want their country put back on track.

Joseph Uranowski:

I agree that running 330 candidates out of 338 is entirely reasonable.

However, Nathan Cullen is not the leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair is. Earlier in our discussion you referenced how Nathan Cullen had received 25% of the vote during the convention. You inferred that at least 1/4 of the NDP supports cooperation. I would just like to draw attention to the fact(s) that 75% of the NDP rejected cooperation (by your thinking) and on the final ballot 42.8% of NDP voters supported Brian Topp who was the most emphatically anti-cooperation candidate in the running to replace Jack Layton.

In researching and considering the topic of cooperation, I have come to a very different conclusion (on the topic of how Mulcair won the NDP leadership) than the one I had reached on March 25th. After Mulcair won, I thought that NDP voters had repudiated the so-called “party establishment.” However, if you look at caucus endorsements (of which Nathan Cullen received 4, tied with Niki Ashton) Mulcair received way more than Brian Topp (who got a paltry 13.) Mulcair’s victory wasn’t a defeat for the New Democratic party establishment, it merely revealed that there is a new set of party elites in the post-Layton era. I believe this is confirmed by the fact that Nathan Cullen won a plurality of the vote during the convention, but Mulcair owned the pre-convention vote. Even if 50% of NDP supporters polled say they want to see cooperation (and who doesn’t) only 4 NDP MPs (+ Nathan Cullen) were willing to advocate for the idea.

Thomas Mulcair’s flip-flop on cannabis is disappointing but not surprising


On January 25th, 2012, a survey was released on EndProhibition.ca (a pro-NDP anti-prohibition website) where Thomas Mulcair’s campaign stated that he was in favour of decriminalizing cannabis and was very much in favour of medical marijuana. On March 18th, 2012 Mulcair was doing a t.v. interview with Tom Clark (see the video above) and he declared that he was opposed to decriminalization and that cannabis needed more study.

This may come as a shock to Canadians and those who voted NDP in the last election but it didn’t surprise me at all. The NDP, under Jack Layton and now Thomas Mulcair, has always masqueraded as Canada’s progressive political party but when it comes to the war on drugs they have always refused to take a bold stance in favour of drug legalization (as the Liberal Party did at the beginning of the year during our biennial convention.)

Jack Layton favoured decriminalization* (when he was forced to give his views) but he never really emphatically campaigned on the issue. With overly-harsh sentences and a dumb-on-crime agenda being one of the major pillars of Stephen Harper’s agenda, the opposition can’t afford to be tepid in our response to the PM’s evidence-free policies. Mulcair is taking a position that will let Stephen Harper muddy the waters and undercut the progressive approach to crime that the opposition parties should be putting forward during the next election. I hope that Mulcair is shamed into changing his position (once again) when he realizes that he is to the right of the Liberal Party on this issue.

*Decriminalization is usually what politicians support when they want to punt on the issue. Legalization provides the federal government with a source of revenue and would allow the RCMP/police to go after real criminals.

Banning floor-crossing is silly.

Last November, Mathieu Ravignat (NDP-Pontiac) and Peter Stoffer (NDP-Sackville-Eastern Shore) introduced a Private Member’s Bill that would prevent MPs from switching parties (crossing the floor as it is called in our parliamentary tradition.) Some had speculated that since the NDP share many of their policy positions with the Bloc Québécois that they want to ban floor crossing to prevent a stampede of newly elected Quebec NDP MPs to the Bloc if the NDP’s fortunes change before the next election. However, this was actually the 5th time Peter Stoffer has introduced a bill to ban floor-crossings so, like pandering to Quebec on the issue of federalism, prohibiting floor-crossings is a long-held NDP policy position.

At the time this bill was introduced the NDP had an interim leader who was a member of the Bloc Québécois & Québec Solidaire before joining the NDP (the NDP then chose a leader who was a member of the Liberal Party of Quebec) and Mathieu Ravignat himself used to belong to the Communist Party before giving Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon the boot/the karate kick. The fact that the author of the bill, and the NDP’s two most recent leaders had switched parties, seems to contradict the external antipathy the New Democratic Party displays towards party switchers.

Although I am ambivalent to floor-crossing in the House of Commons, NDP efforts to ban this Parliamentary process – and their assumption that this process could be banned at all – can be considered misguided for several reasons:

  • Floor-crossing is part of our parliamentary tradition.
  • The more Members of Parliament can exercise their conscience the better INHO.* Unless the NDP wants to make every vote a whipped vote, they can’t really justify taking away MPs’ autonomy this way.
  • There isn’t really an epidemic of floor-crossings going on.

I asked Liberal MP Marc Garneau (Westmount—Ville-Marie) what his thoughts were on banning floor-crossing and his answer was quite reasonable:

When an MP is elected, he/she has a duty to party, to constituents, to the leader and if I may say, to himself or herself.

Having said that, if an MP, over time, becomes less and less comfortable with the positions of his/her party, he/she must be given the option of joining another party and, of course, paying the price (if his/her constituents choose not to re-elect him/her).

If an MP moves from being in government to being in opposition or from one opposition party to another opposition party, then I believe that they should be allowed to do so without having to resign and run in a by-election. In this case, they are moving either downwards or laterally and I believe such a move is probably principled.

If on the other hand, an opposition MP crosses the floor to join government, i.e. an upward move, then they should resign and run in a by-election because their motives are suspect, i.e. they may have accepted an inducement rather than because they no longer feel comfortable in their party.

Not being able to cross the floor gives too much power to the leader of a party and diminishes even further the status of an MP. This is not acceptable in my opinion.

Yes, I agree that an MP crossing the floor will result in an injustice to the constituents of that MP but you also can’t have an MP who is forced to stay in a party with which he/she no longer agrees.

My solution: A more productive Private Member’s bill for Mathieu Ravignat:

The NDP are always saying that they want to make parliament work. If Mr. Ravignat and the NDP actually did want to fix parliament they would start with question period. Ravignat could/should have worked with Conservative MP Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills) and introduced his Motion 517 (which would fundamental change/improve QP) in the form of a private member’s bill. Motion 517 was killed when the last election was called. Mr. Chong’s motion would have:

  • Elevated decorum and fortify the use of discipline by the Speaker.
  • Lengthened the amount of time given for each question and answer;
  • Required that ministers respond to questions directed at them;
  • Allocated half the questions each day for backbench members;
  • Dedicated Wednesday exclusively for questions to the Prime Minister (Like in the U.K. If you haven’t watched David Cameron answer questions for an hour, without notes, you aren’t a true parliamentary geek.)
  • And dedicate the rest of the week for questions to ministers other than the Prime Minister.

The private member’s bill lottery gives MPs a rare opportunity to raise an issue or affect real change. The NDP had the chance to bring about real democratic reform but they chose to squander that opportunity with a useless process issue that is nothing compared to the cynical spectacle that Question Period has become.

With this bill the NDP proved that making Ottawa work isn’t one of their goals. They want parliament to be a dysfunctional mess so they can run against that mess in 2015 (just as Stephen Harper and the Conservatives did in the last two elections after making a point of contributing to that dysfunction.)

There is no urgent need to ban floor-crossing. I hope Michael Chong’s motion is passed the next  time he puts it forward in the House of Commons.

* In my handsome opinion.

Why Nobody Believes the Conservative Talking Points on the RoboCon Scandal.

Mere days ago the Conservative Party finally admitted their guilt in the “In & Out” election fraud scandal (remember that the Conservative Party headquarters was raided by the RCMP.) Months ago, the Conservative Party admitted that they paid to make phone calls in Mount Royal (saying Irwin Cotler was going to resign, which is a lie).

The Conservatives voted against giving Elections Canada expanded power to investigate the election fraud that they are being accused of today. Stephen Harper and Dean Del Mastro said repeatedly in the House of Commons that the Conservative Party didn’t use American call firms. It was later revealed that they did.

So, only the Conservative Party of Canada has been convicted of electoral fraud. Only the Conservative Party has been caught paying to make misleading calls. Only the Conservative Party has opposed an independent investigation of possibly electoral fraud in the 2011 election.

On a number of occasions the Conservatives admitted that they called Conservatives to inform them of changes of polling locations. Now, Elections Canada specifically told all of the political parties not to do this. The riding that was mentioned, a number of times, by the Conservatives was Edmonton-East. There were no polling location changes in Edmonton-East.

Stephen Harper prorogued parliament, twice, to avoid democratic accountability. The Conservative Party of Canada then proceeded (in 2009, then throughout the 2011 election) to lie to the Canadian people on the subject of coalition governments. Conservative Members of Parliament, the Senate, the Conservative campaign team and the Prime Minister told Canadians over, and over and over again that coalition governments were “anti-democratic.” The Prime Minister said that he prorogued parliament because the opposition wanted to “overturn” the election results, which is exactly what he did by proroguing parliament.

Stephen Harper’s animus toward Elections Canada is well know. He has had the opportunity to call an independent investigation but he has refused to do so.

The RoboCon situation will unfold over the next few months and years. The allegations are quite serious but the Conservative Party, the only Federal party that has been convicted of electoral fraud, the only party that has paid to call Canadians with false information, the only party that is being investigated for election fraud and the only Prime Minister in Canada’s history to be found in contempt of parliament, refuses to take it seriously.

The NDP Leadership Foreign Policy Awards – 2012

The evening of the Academy Awards a good friend and I were reviewing the foreign policy platforms of three NDP leadership candidates, Tom Mulcair, Brian Topp and Peggy Nash. Here are some awards we created for each of the three candidates’ policies:

Most impressive foreign policy recommendation:

Peggy Nash – “Prioritizing efforts in those countries where consenting same-sex relations are criminalized or where there are moves to change existing legislation (in either direction), raising the issue and encouraging States to make human rights sensitive legislative changes.”

Thomas Mulclair – “Support and defend our veterans, as they have supported and defended the implementation of our foreign policy, by halting any reduction to pensions for retired and disabled veterans.”

 Least innovative foreign policy recommendation:

Thomas Mulclair – “Resurrect the Democracy Canada initiative abandoned by successive Liberal and Conservative governments.”

 Most credible premise for a foreign policy platform:

Peggy Nash – “Canada has fallen in terms of reputation and action promoting peace and prosperity on the global stage. We can do better.”

 Least credible premise for a foreign policy platform:

Brian Topp – “If one thing can be said with certainty about the world in 2012, it’s that the experiment with neo-Liberal globalization has failed in spectacular fashion.”

 Least connected foreign policy criticism and recommendation:

Thomas Mulclair – “The Conservatives politicized foreign aid…”

“… Offer preferential trade and assistance to countries based on their commitment to human rights, labour standards, and environmental protection.

Foreign policy recommendation that is most antagonistic to Canadian allies:

Thomas Mulclair – “Follow Jack Layton’s policy of working with partners for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine, within a framework of respect for international law and UN resolutions including recognition of the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace as independent states within negotiated and agreed-upon borders.”

Thomas Mulclair – “Reform the United Nations Security Council by including nations such as Indian and Brazil as permanent members.”

Foreign policy recommendation that is least likely to succeed:

Brian Topp – “And [the NDP] can restore Canada’s good name in the world.”

Most vague foreign policy recommendation:

Thomas Mulclair – “Reduce duplication within the United Nations to ensure programs are delivered cost-effectively.”

Foreign policy recommendation that will actual damage Canadian credibility

Thomas Mulclair – “Offer deeper, longer-term assistance to a more limited number of countries as an incentive to progress, while using the prospect of bilateral treaties on trade or immigration to reduce the problem of aid dependency.”

Thomas Mulclair – “Reform the United Nations Security Council by including nations such as India and Brazil as permanent members.”

Foreign policy recommendation that most panders to the NDP:

Brian Topp – “Canada should work with other nations to end the current economic and fiscal race to the bottom.”

Supporting evidence that most panders to the NDP:

Brian Topp – “I’m happy to say that even in the US, the homeland and birthplace of these destructive “reverse Robin Hood” policies, support for a new path is building.”

Brian Topp – “From the streets of Cairo to Wall Street, the times they are a changin’.”

Foreign policy recommendation that was stolen from the Liberals:

Peggy Nash – “Placing civilian protection as a lead priority in international strategy.”

(http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/macleans/canadas-responsibility-to-protect-doctrine-gaining-ground-at-the-un)

Foreign policy recommendation that was stolen from the Conservatives:

Peggy Nash – “Advancing the promotion of LGBT rights on the agenda of international organizations and agencies to which we are party.”

(http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/01/23/john-baird-points-finger-at-gay-rights-abuses-in-african-caribbean-countries/ )