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The Morning After: Nanaimo-Ladysmith Edition

Yesterday we saw the last by-election of the 42nd Parliament take place on Vancouver Island in the riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith. This seat became open when New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson stepped down to run to become MLA, to replace Leonard Krog who stepped down as MLA to become the Mayor of Nanaimo. So, for the good folks of this riding, this was a third vote in a span of six months. Also, this by-election vote came with a few months left in the life of this Parliament, which made it a unique situation for sure. And with a unique situation, we ended up with a unique result:

For the Greens, this marks the second Federal seat they have ever one and despite that, it’s not a huge shock. For a few years now the Greens strongest region anywhere has bee Vancouver Island and after Elizabeth May’s seat and Victoria, Nanaimo-Ladysmith was surely their next target. In the 2015 campaign, the Greens came fourth with close to 20% of the vote, the strongest fourth place result in the country and one of the Greens best results period. So, when this seat came open, it stood to reason that they would pour everything they had into it.

Another factor in this Green win, the largest factor I would argue, was the candidate himself. Paul Manly ran here in 2015 for the Greens after being rejected as an NDP candidate. Paul is also the son of former NDP MP Jim Manly, so the Manly name does hold some power in that area. When Manly jumped to the Greens, this riding rose up their target list because of that factor so I would argue that this is just as much a “Manly” win as it is a Green win.

For the New Democrats, I would keep that last piece in mind; this wasn’t a Green wave sweeping the country so there is no need to overreact to this result. Finishing third is a difficult pill to swallow, but this wasn’t some massive repudiation of the New Democrats. If anything, this was the result you get in a by-election where the voters have gone to the polls a lot lately and there is a full-on general election coming a few months away. If you told me that this seat flipped back into the NDP column in the Fall, I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked.

For the Liberals, while their expectations for the riding weren’t that great, but to finish a distance fourth is never good for a government at any time, especially when that fourth place is a worse result when compared the last fourth place finishers in 2015. But for them too, this is not the result to panic over; the Liberals were not going to win this riding, so this wasn’t the referendum on the government that some would want it to be.

And for the Conservatives, they must be happy with the percentage of their vote, which rose from 2015, but also seeing the splintering of the other parties. One of the hallmarks that I will believe you will see in the 2019 election is crazy vote splits and three, four and in Quebec, five-way races. That will make for some crazy, unpredictable results that will have a big effect on the formation of the next government. We can’t point to an example of that in the past where we’ve seen so many ridings that could have that experience, which will make for a very competitive race on many levels.

Finally though, if I was to put on my most partisan hat, I’m happy to see that the second Green to ever be elected in Paul Manly. Elizabeth May is the Green Party and with her hard work and approach, she’s built a solid reputation and name for herself, one that has become the Green Party’s reputation. Paul Manly isn’t as known for being calm, level-headed on many issues. Remember this is the guy who attacked Paul Dewar of all people for not being strong enough on Israel. There weren’t many tears shed when he was rejected from the NDP nomination in 2015 and now that he’ll be in Ottawa, Elizabeth May will likely have her first caucus management issues to deal with, especially if he lasts beyond the next few months. As I said a while ago about the Greens on PEI, now they are building a track record, with warts and all. If I was being uber partisan and had to choose the next person to be in the Green caucus, he would be straight from central casting.

But in the end, this by-election will be noted for the second Green win ever on the Federal scene, but that will be about it. This by-election result is much more about local situations and characters than it is about any national trend, no matter how much anyone wants to try to spin it to their advantage as such. The most important thing about this by-election is that it’s now over and done; that means the next time that Canadians cast a vote in a federal riding it will be in the Fall for the big one. And there are many more things that will happen between now and then that will affect that Fall vote than this by-election result will.

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For Which People?

Since the Ford Conservatives in Ontario released their first budget a few weeks ago, we’ve seen trickles and trickles of news come out about either details from that budget buried deep in the document or about the fall out from the announcements in it. Some of these details have been disturbing and difficult to watch, as they are the kinds of things that many people were expecting when this party was elected. Yet there have been other details that have slowly come out that have been so jarring, mostly because they are the kinds of things that you wouldn’t expect any government to touch for very good reasons. This weekend we heard of another such detail, one that’s left many wondering about the morals of this government at Queen’s Park:

To put this cut in proper perspective, you need to look back at a section in the Ontario budget where the Ford Conservatives announced that they were going to allow casinos to give free alcohol to patrons. Then you add to the picture the fact that this government wants to expand online gaming options. With that all together, now you start to see a fuller, and more disturbing picture.

For most of the moves that this government has made so far you could make a philosophical or partisan argument for them, even though I don’t agree with them. But this decision falls into a far different category. What exactly is the rationale for this? Why make gambling so much more accessible, allow casinos to liquor up their patrons (because many people know, we all make our best decisions while sloppy drunk, especially when it comes to money, right?) and then take away the agency that “provides resources to prevent problem gambling”? What seriously public good does that serve?

Now some might argue, maybe the Ford Conservatives themselves, that this is about giving adults the freedom to make adult choices, but there is a big problem with that logic when it comes to this story; you can give people the freedom to drink, smoke or gamble how they please, but taking away the options to help those who have addictions problems with those same things does nothing to increase that freedom. It only serves to push more people to be entrapped by their addictions.

And all to save $2.5 million? Come on, that’s not right. So, the organization that provides the resources and research that helps people deal with their gambling addictions will be gone by mid-July, with their offices closed, their staff fired and those needing help having one less major venue to get the help they need.

All this still leaves the question of “why?” open to discussion. Why is the government taking this step, one that seems morally craven and bankrupt? I am only left with one conclusion that seems to make any sense; to goose the revenues of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, there by goosing the revenues the Province of Ontario takes it. If you make it easier to gamble (which isn’t hard today to be honest), then ply those who are more likely to gamble with free booze, making them less susceptible to making sober decisions, and then take away the help from those who have gambling problems, who might get help to face their demons and stop gambling, you’ll probably end up with more people gambling, therefore more money coming in. Other that this, what else really makes sense at this point?

It’s one thing for the government to give adults more access to adult choices, but it’s a very different thing to take away the help of those that need it and take advantage of their addictions. That is a new kind of low, one that any amount of new revenue brought in can’t justify, especially given the costs to our society and the provincial government of the fall out from those addictions. Again, all for $2.5 million. The moral repugnance of this decision is one that bothers me in a way that many other bad decisions from this government haven’t yet. It’s cold, it’s callous and it’s the kind of behaviour that is just cruel and greedy. And given the family history of the Premier and the trials they have faced with addictions, you’d think that this government would be a bit more sensitive to that. But obviously that doesn’t seem to be the case here. This doesn’t seem to be a case of political conviction or partisan belief in action; the only explanation that is left that makes sense is a much darker one, one that does not justify the ends that this government seems to believe it will bring. It leaves me to wonder which people this move is for exactly.

No More “Real Change” For Organized Labour???

In the 2015 Election the Liberals made many promises that would help mark the “Real Change” that they were running on, that would mark a big difference from the Stephen Harper years. Among those promises was better relations with the workforce of the Federal government and better relationships with organized labour. In theory, that was probably one of the easiest problems for the Liberals to keep because the relationship between the Federal civil service and the Harper government was simply bad. Between the muzzling of scientists and bureaucrats, the closure of offices and cut backs to services and their general world view of those who choose to work in the service of the government, it was far from a match made in Heaven. And that was all without going into the whole fiasco that still is the Phoenix pay system.

The Liberals had made a big point of trying to eat into the traditional New Democrat bases of support, and one of those biggest targets was organized labour. They were having great success in that way, with many labour leaders becoming important validators for policies and approaches. So after their election, the promise of a better relationship was one that seemed to be getting delivered on. The first year or so seemed to be a breath of fresh air compared to the Harper years. It seemed better, but the question remained an open one if that would continue.

But as the years have gone on and the Liberals have seemed to be pivoting in other directions, this might have started to change. For the Federal civil service, whose collective agreements are now in re-negotiation, one of the biggest remaining issues has been Phoenix, which is totally understandable. Imagine not getting paid for months on end, or not getting paid properly for months on end, or getting proper pay this week, to not get it at all in the next pay period. Also imagine being one of the “lucky ones”, counting yourself lucky that you haven’t had problems yet, but worrying if you’ll be among the next group to deal with problems. Imagine if your maternity or paternity leave was botched because of this problem, or if your retirement was ruined because of it. It’s a huge problem that has already cost the federal government over $1.2 billion trying to fix, without any seeming end in sight.

In what workplace in Canada would that situation be acceptable? I would submit there isn’t one where it would be. But as the Federal government negotiations these collective agreements with the public sector unions, this is a huge issue on the table and with an election coming, you’d think that the government would be motivated to get these negotiations wrapped up with a positive result long before the election. So it was with that in mind that I saw this piece of news come out yesterday, news that made me stand up and take notice:

When you look at the details in the press release from PSAC, there are some details there that I find very striking and surprising coming from this Liberal government. For starters, the fact that the Liberals started by trying to get a two-year wage freeze out of the public service; that’s quite the insult when so many have gone without proper pay for years, isn’t it? Eventually they came back with a 1.5% pay raise offer, but as the release points out, that’s not just below inflation, but that’s under the 2% raise that MPs just gave themselves. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander too, right? And then to top that off, the Liberals wants these employees to wait for up to 18 months after the new contract is signed to get their retroactive pay; by a point of comparison, currently rules state that retro pay paid within 5 months. So why would the Liberals be trying to force civil servants, ones who haven’t been getting their proper pay for years, to have to wait a year and a half to get the retroactive pay that they are owed when they sign their new agreement? What in the Hell is the rationale for delaying that by so long? Not even Harper’s team tried to do that. And to top if off, as compensation for all the grief that Phoenix has caused people for years (and still is), the government is offering a couple days off. That led PSAC to say that they “will not return to the table until the government shows a genuine willingness to deliver the fair deal our members deserve.”

But that’s not the end of this folks, there’s more here that I found very surprising. Currently the government has a Memorandum of Understanding with the unions on mental health. The union has proposed to replace it with an updated framework, which given the emphasis on mental health by this government would seem to make sense. But nope, instead the Liberals want to do away with the MOU all together, put it on the scrap heap and walk away. On top of that, the Liberals are refusing to implement recommendations stemming from a previous MOU on child care and is even resisting PSAC’s proposal to allow nursing women breastfeeding breaks. You’d think that these proposals would be right up the ally of the “Sunny Ways” Liberals, but here we have the rubber hitting the road and that seems not to be true. Not only do these moves seem to run totally counter to the Liberals campaign promises in so many areas, this breastfeeding piece actually goes against the right to breastfeed in exists in the Canada Labour Code. Imagine what the Liberals reaction would have been if the Harper Conservatives had tried to go against the Labour Code in such a way? Yet here in an election year, they are the ones doing it.

All of this has led PSAC to declare an impasse in negotiations and “start the process that will lead to strike preparations.” I spent a few years working in the Federal civil service in the Harper years and even with how bad things got then, the word “strike” never really came up. Coming into the public service from the teaching profession and from unions that were more political, this was something that I noticed right away. PSAC wasn’t that way, and it made sense given the non-partisan roles that civil servants play. They take that role seriously, protect it, and don’t go towards work actions lightly. So to see that word used here, months before a federal election where the Liberals were expecting labour to be a bigger ally than usual, really struck me. That is not an idle comment from PSAC, one that the government should take seriously.

But this whole episode will also be on the mind of those union voters come the Fall election, especially in cities and ridings where you have high portions of federal civil servants living and working there. Those are ridings where the Liberals tend to do very well, and are seats that they simply cannot afford to lose. This also gives the New Democrats at chance to re-establish those strong ties with labour, ties that have arguably slipped a bit as the Liberal have made such a strong play for them.

For the Liberals, you also have to wonder about the strategy of this for them; it would make all the sense in the world to get those negotiations done and dusted earlier, to deliver on that promise, to keep labour onside, to undercut the New Democrats and to avoid the potential of a federal civil service strike in the middle of the next election. Yet that is where we find ourselves now, with that prospect growing, with the time almost all gone to get it done before the House of Commons rises while putting further strain on the relationship over mostly issues that simply don’t uphold their brand. Do Liberal MPs really want to go to the wall over fighting to stripping back mental health initiatives, trying to disallow young mothers breastfeeding breaks, refusing to improve child care provisions and forcing civil servants to wait a year and a half to get their back pay? Those fights don’t scream “Sunny Ways” or “Real Change” at all. If anything, they sound more like “For the People” or “We’re better off with Harper”. Either way, it sounds like something that people didn’t vote for and marks a striking change from 2015, just in time for the Fall election.

Reading the Polling Tea Leaves

Yesterday I wrote about how the signs of the Fall election are starting to be seen. Well another sign of an upcoming election is an uptick in polling and the release of more and more polls. All of the firms are in the field more and more and all start putting out their results on a more regular basis. This has been true for about a month now and the results have mostly been relatively stable in regard to the state of play.

Everyone seems to have their own pollsters that they trust and others that they always find suspect. But there are few pollsters out there who hold a general amount of respect amongst a majority of Canadians. When one of those firms puts out a poll, it tends to get noticed and talked about. And when one of those firms comes back with a big finding, it gets everyone talking. Today Angus Reid, a firm who I count amongst that group of the broadly respected, put out a poll that has got tongues wagging, as much for its headline numbers as the details inside:

Source: Angusreid.org

For starters, the Conservative number is very similar to what we’ve seen in other polls, so no shockers there. What’s striking is to see the Liberal number falling, all the way to 25%. When was the last time we saw a Liberal number so low? Probably the pre-writ period in 2015. On top of that, the New Democrats and Greens are on the rise, with only 7% separating the NDP from the Liberals for second overall. But it’s when you look at the regional breakdowns where things get really wild:

Source: Angusreid.org

As usual, the Conservative number is goosed by running up the margins in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and while they lead in BC and Ontario, those are not insurmountable leads. That’s especially true in Ontario, where the Doug Ford effect will surely come to bite at some point. The Liberals only lead in one province, Quebec, where they only have 28%. That’s it. In Quebec there are five parties with over 10% of the vote, which is crazy. If that kind of pattern holds, that will make for some crazy results all over the place. And if you thought that was crazy, look at Atlantic Canada: four parties have at least 22% with only 6% separating 1st and 4th. Of course, that region has a small sample size, so that could very well be the culprit here but still, it’s striking to see that number and what that might actually look like come election time.

For the Liberals, there are many warning signs here that should make the PMO nervous. The Liberals are only first or second in two provinces, Ontario and Quebec, and in both cases, not with strong margins. Everywhere else in the country, the Liberals are running a weak third, pretty solidly behind the NDP, with the Green gaining strength. This is true in BC, the Prairies and the Atlantic region. The next bit of bad news for the Liberals comes here:

Source: Angusreid.org

Look at that graph people; in this poll the Liberals are only holding onto 49% of their vote from 2015. 51% is looking to vote elsewhere, with the New Democrats being the biggest beneficiaries. Add to that figure that this poll also says 44% who voted for Liberals in 2015 now disapprove of the Prime Minister. Now that number could and will move over time but the over sign here is clear; many former Liberal voters are shopping around and looking for another option. If that were to ever coalesce around a single option, that could be huge. And in a campaign where the Liberals have seemingly wanted to make this a binary choice between the Conservatives and a progressive champion they assumed would be them, this could push people to get around a single party, one that is not the Liberals, and could accelerate this.

If I’m the Liberals, this poll should scare the living heck out of me for many reasons. For one, it confirms something that many have postulated for a while; while Justin Trudeau was the biggest reason for their win in 2015, he has become the biggest drag on his party in 2019. This poll proves that, showing him with 28%  approval versus 67% disapproval. That’s a devastating number. Can that turn around? I never say never to these things, but I would argue it isn’t very likely. Also, this poll confirms that progressive voters who are not happy with the current government and are looking at their options. This gives the NDP and Greens a gold chance to make their case to the people, which is a stark different from six months ago when this upcoming election looked to be baked in as a Conservative/Liberal fight. It seems that the whole SNC/PMO might have been the straw that broke the camels back for progressives. And add to this that both Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott haven’t made their decisions where to go yet. Their decisions about their political futures could further goose these figures, helping to send more progressives in a direction thanks to their credibility and how well the public views them.

Finally, if I were in the PMO, I would be asking myself if a change of course is due or if it’s too late to do that. The Prime Minister has found himself offside with half of those who voted for him last time, which is so striking to see. Can they correct that course in a way that will be believed? That’s harder to picture. One sole scandal didn’t bring the Prime Ministers approval numbers to that point; it had been building over time and was waiting for something to break it all free. That came with the SNC scandal. I’ve always been of the view that you can’t undo that kind of damage with a simple 180% change of political direction, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be tried. To pull that off, you need to have credibility in the eyes of the voting public, and right now this Prime Minister is serious lacking that. We’ll see where this all leads but this poll is sure to give a shot of energy to some parties, while should lead one in particular to ask itself some serious, introspective questions.

May 2nd, 2011

It was eight years ago tonight, one of the most amazing nights of my life. It was the end of a wild weeks long ride, and the start of another. It’s was one of those nights I will never forget for the rest of my life.

That night, I worked in a campaign office in a small strip mall in Thunder Bay, at the corners of Arthur St. East and Archibald St. South, as we received the vote totals coming in from scrutineers all over the riding of Thunder Bay-Rainy River. It was exciting, euphoric and after about 45 minutes of taking in numbers, we knew we had it. We all rushed over the Chicago Joes, the restaurant and bar located in the Victoria Inn closer to the Thunder Bay Airport, to take in the results and celebrate with the volunteers.

And what a celebration it was. In was only a few weeks before that that things were looking grim. The NDP was struggling nationally and we were in a three-way dogfight in our riding. I remember spending some time late in the evenings with my wife on the phone, honestly worrying about being out of a job soon and that we wouldn’t pull it out. Stephen Harper came to our riding, then Michael Ignatieff came to our riding. The blood was in the water and we knew we had a hard job ahead of us.

Then that debate night happened. Hashtag fail happened. Michael Ignatieff’s voting attendance record happened too. It was an electric night that turned everything on its head. Then later we had Jack Layton on “Tout le monde en parle”, and a chord was struck. The Orange Wave started to build. In our riding, before that point, Jack Layton was not very popular. The party gave every campaign big signs that said “Jack Layton at the ________ Team” on them in Orange, White and Green; ours sat in a barn in a farm outside of Thunder Bay, where we stored our signs. Those “Jack Layton and the Northern Ontario Team” signs were not wanted.

But after those events, it all changed. I remember the big rally we held in Thunder Bay in the weeks after, packed to the rafters, everyone chanting Jack’s name with such passion, as he held his cane high in a triumphant manner. Those big team signs, they went out the door so fast and people wanted them. It was a euphoric time for sure. We had gone from worrying about the worst to now thinking about maybe being in government, reaching the goal we had always reached for.

So, on that night when we got together, we were watching the results coming in. For one of my colleagues from Ottawa and I, we were watching the results from Quebec to see who these new MPs were going to be. Some were people that we knew of, like Romeo Saganash and Guy Caron, who to that point was an Economist with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, someone our office worked on the forestry file with. There were new names and faces too, watching people like Hélène Laverdière defeat Gilles Duceppe, and others taking out long-time MPs. It was a crazy night.

Of course, that was all tempered by the fact that the Harper Conservatives got a majority, but only steeled our resolve to do what we could when we got back to Ottawa and keep up the good fight. And of course, on that night, none of us knew what would come over the next few months and how that part of this story would end. But it was a night full of potential, promise, love and hope for the future.

So, on this day, eight years later, I still remember that night, those days, that experience and think back on it all with such fondness. While the days that came after were surely hard, and 2015 was also hard, those facts do not diminish that night when the Orange Wave lifted the Orange Team to new heights. We listened to Jack, not letting people tells us what couldn’t be done and followed his example. Good memories indeed of what was and hopes for what could still be someday.

Source: Globe and Mail