The odds are that Paul Martin, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, will never read this but here goes. I’m sure nobody in the heat of the election will read all of this, so here’s the executive summary:
1) Start telling Canadians that this is the "new" Liberal Party, that you’re the new CEO, so to speak, and that you’ll continue to find and purge people who can’t respect the public trust. Here’s the trick: you’re running against Cretien’s Liberal Party, not the other guys on the ballot!
2) Please stop doing this indirect "hidden agenda" crap when talking about Steven Harper. Come right out and call him a Western Separatist. Put the cards on the table or get ready to sit in opposition.
3) Use Harper’s proposal to cut the GST to illustrate that he’s willing to do anything, to say anything, to get into power. A GST cut runs completely against Conservative fiscal policy. The last guy who pulled this kind of stunt during an election campaign was Cretien, and Cretien the cretin has to be the most loathed living politician in the country… so link them together. Say "hey, you want a guy who will compromise his principles just like Cretien, vote for Harper." If you do a good job at distancing the Martin Liberals from the Cretien Liberals, this will stick. Harper’s rising in the polls because he’s pulling planks from the Liberal platform and you’re sitting on your hands letting him do it. He’s lying through is teeth and the majority of the population is so desperate for an alternative to the "old" Liberals that they can’t see that.
And now some background and reasoning:
Mr. Martin’s party has been in power for the last 12 years or so. For all but the past year, Mr. Martin was the Minister of Finance. In this role, he took the country from borderline third world status — with an astronomical deficit — to a country that’s the poster child for the G7. We’ve had a budget surplus for eight years now. The interesting thing is that for nearly thirty years, Canadians have elected the candidate who promised to get the deficit under control, and now that the person who achieved that sizeable goal is running for the top job, he’s in the political battle of his life.
Jean Cretien, Prime Minister for most of the past 12 years, never really liked Mr. Martin. This isn’t all too surprising when you look at Mr. Cretien’s total failure to get the budget under control decades ago when he was finance minister. Old man Cretien held onto the post for quite a few years longer than he should have, and the general consensus was that he was trying to stay in power until Mr. Martin was perceived as being too old for the PM’s job. In the end he got gently escorted out by his own party. But Mr. Cretien found a more effective way to make life difficult for Mr. Martin: scandal.
There’s no room here for a primer on Canadian politics but I’ll try to paint a quick sketch. One of our largest provinces, Quebec, is predominantly French speaking. For the past 40 years or so, they’ve been threatening to "separate" from Canada. This means anything from declaring independence to some whitewashed poppycock called "sovereignty-association", which basically means taking all the good bits without severing the ties that would force them to take the bad bits, such as a proportionate share of the national debt. Every once in a while, Quebec politicians decide that rattling the separation sabre isn’t working as well as it should, so the provincial government holds a referendum on the subject — and one time the vote was pretty close.
Thanks in part to the ineptitude of the last Conservative government, there are two dominant federal parties in Quebec, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois. The Bloc’s charter is to work for the cause of separation at the federal level. That probably seems a little odd, but there it is. Many members of the Bloc are refugees from the Progressive Conservative party, just after Brian Mulroney’s run as PM. Mr. Mulroney managed to get most of the country so angry with the PC’s, and his replacement (Kim Campbell) proved so inept at running an election campaign, that the party would never recover. More on this later.
During the run up to the last referendum, the federal government, under the direction of Cretien, spent a whack of money promoting the federalist cause in Quebec. The problem is that about $100 million of it was spent in rather questionable ways. There’s lots of talk of envelopes full of money, party officials on advertising agency payrolls collecting $10,000 a month for doing nothing, and so on. A set of criminal investigations is proceeding and some people will go to jail. The Canadian populace is justifiably angry at all of this, and Quebec voters are pretty much livid. The Liberals will have a hard time winning any seats outside of Montreal, which still has a significant English speaking population.
Now over to the West side of this vast country. For years, the Western prairie provinces have been feeling pretty much isolated on the national stage. This is not without justification. The problem is that starting from the East Coast, once you get past the Greater Toronto Area, the majority of Canadians have already cast their vote. If Quebec and Ontario vote the same way, the election is decided, done, over. The people who occupy more than half of Canada’s land mass are a footnote. So we have something called "Western alienation." From this alienation, the Reform party was born. Basically, Reform was the West’s version of the Bloc Quebecois. The problem is that without getting some votes outside of the West, the best they could hope to achieve was a few seats. Reform was the closest thing we’ll ever get to the United State’s Republican Party, which still leaves them at most a few hairs right of the Democrats. Faith, family values, and low taxes were woven into their thinking, even if they wouldn’t admit it openly. Reform decided to see if they could seduce some Ontario voters and started to move away from their social conservatism while retaining their fiscal conservative stance. What they wound up doing was splitting the small-c conservative vote, handing the Liberals consecutive majority governments.
Now, some years after the old Progressive Conservatives got tired of sitting in opposition, and noting several ridings where Reform and PC split a majority of the votes — thus handing seats to the Liberals –the parties conducted a truly ugly forced marriage of sorts, and emerged as the Conservative Party (although many of us are fond of calling them by a short-lived name, the Conservative Reform Alliance Party, or CRAP for short). The Conservatives are now led by Stephen Harper, a politician with deep roots in the Reform movement. A man who once wrote an op-ed piece saying (I paraphrase) "I’m not a fundamentalist, I just have core beliefs that define my policies." Buy that man a dictionary, please!
The last major player on the national stage is the New Democratic Party. This is our official left, with strong socialist roots. Except that Canadians are nothing if not ardent centrists, so after many decades of losing with a socialist platform, they finally wound up hiring economists who could both add and subtract successfully and now they’re more advocates of large, "helpful" government than anything else.
So this is the stage for the election, to be held later this month: Quebec will go to the Bloc; much of the West will vote Conservative; everyone is ticked off with the Liberals. In Ontario, the Liberals will lose some votes to the NDP and some to the Conservatives. The end result will be another minority government, and it’s a toss-up between Liberal and Conservative. Either way the odds that an effective government will result are slim. We can expect to go to the polls again before the year is out.
If Paul Martin doesn’t realize that the only way to get people to vote Liberal is to distance himself from the past leadership of the party, then he’s toast. The only good news is that a Harper run government is likely to be so inept that it won’t be in power long enough for the Liberal Party to toss Martin out. (If they do manage to toss him out, they can expect a long dry spell much like the PC’s got after Mulroney… I hope they’re not that stupid.)
Personally I think Mr. Harper will say and do anything he has to do get into power. If the election goes to his party, I expect a government that’s virtually indistinguishable from the Liberals, so that he can sucker voters into giving him a majority next time around. Then, I expect him to follow up on one promise he’s made, to devolve power and responsibility from the federal stage to the provinces (if anything we should be doing the opposite). Once the provinces are equipped with greater autonomy, a quick alliance with the Bloc will give him the ability to cut the country into pieces, and he can go become Governor of Alberta while applying for statehood. Yuck.
I hope Mr. Martin does stumble across this.
Enough politics, next post I’ll return to something more… more… palatable.