Category Archives: Sunday Series: Election 2015

This week in Electionland: There’s a war on for the soul of the NDP

ALSO: Duffygate and the things it distracted from; the Liberals struggle to stay relevant; campaign coverage is increasingly a story that’s being covered

For months, this week has been circled in red on the calendars of Cdnpoli nerds across the country. Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper’s one-time chief of staff, was scheduled to testify this week in the ongoing Mike Duffy trial about the $90 000 personal cheque he wrote the then-senator in an effort to make the rapidly metastasizing scandal surrounding Duffy’s residency expenses go away. The scheme backfired spectacularly, leading to Wright’s resignation from the PMO. Ultimately, Duffy was charged with bribery for accepting the cheque, although Wright, oddly enough, was never charged with anything for writing the cheque.

And, as expected, the testimony was contentious and scandal-ridden. Stretching over several days, and set to continue tomorrow, the Wright testimony has been a centrepiece of the still-young campaign, with Duffy’s legal team seeking to demonstrate that the Prime Minister’s Office sought to buy Duffy’s cooperation in their messaging war and attempted to deceive the Canadian people about the source of the funds Duffy paid back to the government.

But surprisingly, the real story of the week, at least from where I was sitting, was the increasingly visible internal struggle in the NDP.

Long-time NDP leftist stalwarts have been distressed by the rightward drift of the party over recent years – look at, for instance, the open letter from 34 prominent NDP members to Andrea Horwath in the midst of last year’s Ontario election campaign accusing the party leader of abandoning its base and running to the right of the Liberals in an ill-conceived attempt to win over Conservative voters. Up until this week, the federal NDP had been able to keep a tight lid on internal dissent over its increasingly neoliberal policies, but attacks against the party from within shot to prominence in recent days.

It began with candidate Linda McQuaig’s comments last week that much of the “oilsands oil” will probably have to be left in the ground – a position which is held by most prominent climate scientists and which, taken literally, is hardly controversial, given the vastness of Alberta’s reserves. The attacks on McQuaig and the NDP from oil industry lackeys was fast and furious, and Thomas Mulcair very quickly and publicly caved in, proclaiming that the NDP was committed to bringing tar sands oil to market. “We’re in favour of creating markets for our natural resources, we’re in favour of developing them, but that has to be done sustainably,” Mulcair insisted, a litany he would find himself repeating all week.

For instance, when he launched his campaign autobiography (which he apparently wrote on his BlackBerry, amazingly) in Toronto on Monday, the book-signing was interrupted by anti-pipeline activists who briefly shut the event down before they were escorted out. Speaking to reporters about the incident, Mulcair had this to say: Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: Tar sands fever heats up, the press attacks Harper, and nobody talks about poverty

As a voracious reader of news, and as a blogger, I’m of two minds about the ridiculously long election campaign that we’ve just embarked upon.

On the one hand, I find myself wanting on an almost daily basis to throw in my two cents on the latest scandal or outrage or prime ministerial press conference. There’s a natural drama to a campaign that makes continuous running commentary both easy and lazily compelling; like the dramatic twists of a five-day-a-week soap opera, each juicy detail and revelation leaves you wanting more, even though the plot only creeps forward incrementally each day and the overall story arc going forward is pretty obvious to anybody who’s watched this sort of thing happen before.

And that’s what’s on the other hand – I don’t want to get too sucked into the petty drama of the whole orchestrated spectacle. As I noted last Friday in my coverage of the first leaders’ debate, electioneering in our current system is little more than well-organized propaganda and manipulation. The goal of party messaging is not to inform voters, but to persuade them, largely on a subconscious level. To engage seriously with such a process is, in many respects, to legitimize it, and that I do not wish to do.

All that being said, however, it is an important event, and it has the potential to be extremely revealing in terms of the actual functioning of the broken party system and the business-captured political class. I would be remiss to ignore it entirely.

So my compromise with myself is this: each Sunday, I’m going to be writing up the week that was in the election. This will, hopefully, undercut my impulse towards gossipy commentary, result in more insightful and thoughtful coverage, and allow me to focus more on broad trends than the frenzied daily news cycle. Continue Reading

Vote if you must, but set yourself some standards and don’t settle!

This is the final entry in a series on the question of voting and whether it’s a worthwhile exercise. Parts one, two, three, four, five, and six 

It’s the summer election campaign that nobody wanted and everybody’s going to get subjected to.

This morning, our Fearless Leader visited the Governor-General to ask for the Queen’s permission to dissolve Parliament, which of course he got, the whole ridiculous monarchistic ritual being a meaningless and banal anachronism that gets right under my skin but which isn’t the subject of this post and which therefore I’m going to tie to a balloon and let go.

*Deep breath*

Harper didn’t get to make the triumphant declaration he’d been hoping for today, as TPP talks broke down badly over the weekend. He’d planned on launching the campaign by boasting about how he’d signed Canada on to the “biggest trade deal in history”, but instead trade envoys left Hawaii with little more than some upbeat spin – and no date set for the next round of talks. Rumour has it they won’t meet again until at least November, setting this up to be a campaign issue, which is actually so exciting for me.

Instead, the campaign immediately devolved into an argument about money, which is probably the worst and most crass kind of argument there is. Harper’s claims that the new form of campaign financing instituted by his party’s widely panned “Fair” Elections Act mean that parties, not taxpayers, will be on the hook for election expenses – a statement which, as Elizabeth May quickly pointed out, is a blatant falsehood. The former Chief Electoral Officer for Elections Canada estimated that the extra costs to taxpayers would run in the tens of millions.

These extra costs are being incurred, of course, because the election campaign we’re staring down is set to be the longest in nearly a century. And that only happened because Harper thought it would be to his advantage, because a longer campaign means he can spend more money – an extra $675 000/day. As the Globe and Mail put it, “If the election can be bought, the Tories will win easily.”

Fortunately, there are other factors at play here, including a strong and earnest desire on the part of many many Canadians for change in government. And for what it’s worth, The Alfalfafield’s official long-range prediction, from eleven weeks out, is a narrow NDP majority, a massive collapse in Liberal support, and an election-night resignation from Stephen Harper. (This will be followed by four years of resigned disappointment on the part of long-standing and principled Dippers, who aren’t much going to like the spectre of an NDP government.)

The question we’ve been considering in this space for the past six weeks is whether or not this whole election drama matters, and it’s fitting that our series concludes as the election opens. For some context, let’s return to the problem as it was posed in our initial entry: Continue Reading

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