With the return of the House of Commons coming tomorrow, I’m happy to say that Episode 2 of the Magpie Brûlé podcast is now up and live. In this episode, I discuss the return of the House of Commons this week, I have an in-depth take on the weeks events regarding the NDP and I look ahead to probably the most important by-election we’ve seen in a long time in Canadian politics. You can listen it to the episode here or you can now download it on iTunes, just search for “Magpie Brûlé”.
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Next week the House of Commons will return for the final five months of sitting before this fall’s election. As MPs come back to take their seats they will be coming back to some big changes, none smaller than where those seats themselves will be. MPs will be starting to use the new “temporary” chamber located in the West Block, where our elected members will be debating and voting for the next decade at least while the Centre Block is being renovated.
As for the Senate, they will be enjoying their new space in the former Government Conference Centre (aka the former Ottawa Train Station) and taking a big step into the present at the same time. As soon as all the bugs are worked out, the proceedings taking place Red Chamber will now be televised. Forty-two years after Canadians from coast to coast to coast were able to watch the action taking place in the House of Commons, we will finally be able to do the same with the Senate.
Given the events that have happened since they last convened before the Holidays, it will be very interesting to follow the happenings that will take place under the new glass dome of the Commons. There are story lines for all the parties in the House as we enter the session, but what will be most interesting to follow is a certain big event that will come in the first half of this session. That event is the presentation of the Federal Budget.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau will table his budget at some point this spring, a budget that will lay the groundwork for not only what the Liberals plan to run on but will set the baseline for what the opposition parties will eventually put on the table. This budget will offer the government a big chance to set the direction they will go in 2019, whether if it’s a change of course or doubling-down on the path they’ve already set.
One piece of information that came out in the news today does offer an interesting potential wrinkle into what might happen. It came out today that the federal government only ran a $2.2 billion deficit in November, which is down from a $9.5 billion deficit that they ran in the same month last year. That’s an interesting turn of events given that Minister Morneau’s most recent fall update projected that this year’s deficit was going to be bigger than the last.
Being $7.3 billion ahead of your deficit number compared to the same time last year is an interesting place to find yourself in, especially in an election year. You do have to wonder how they got to this point but today its hard to say exactly what. But it if this trend continues, it could make the last budget before the 2019 election more interesting.
This offers the Liberals opportunities and some flexibility to maneuver either left or right, depending on where they want to go. Which way will they go? Will they use that extra capacity to increase spending in areas of interest, or take on a new policy initiative that will undercut a proposal or idea from the NDP to their left? Could that be money for the start of a pharma care program, for more child care spaces, to create more affordable housing, for more transit or for rural broadband? It could be any or all of those to some degree and would undercut the NDP’s chances of competing in the Fall in the process.
Or will they use that extra capacity to simply reduce the deficit, and undercut the Conservative attacks on the government for their years of deficit spending? Getting ahead of reducing the deficit and getting closer to budget balance could help to reinforce the Liberals economic credentials with Red Tory/Blue Liberal swing voters, while also helping to undercut the Conservative argument that the Liberals have no intention of ever balancing a budget again. They could take more space on the centre/centre-right of the spectrum and either undercut part of the Conservative message or force them further to the right.
Or will they use that space to do a bit of both? Invest a bit more here, lower the deficit a bit more there, and speak to all sides of the spectrum. That could be a way to hedge their bets but also could be a good approach given the relative strength or weakness of the opposition parties when. If Maxime Berner is eating away at the Conservative vote or the NDP vote isn’t rebounding by budget time, maybe the Liberals won’t feel the need to adjust too hard in one direction or the other.
Regardless of the choice they eventually make, the Liberals should be glad because they are in a position to actually have choices at their disposal thanks to this turn of events. If those figures showed that the deficit was on the same track or even a worse one than last year, that would take a lot of off the table for the government and leave them with fewer options, ones that would be less palatable and with greater political costs. We’ll see how it all plays out when the time comes but Budget 2019 will be the first big card to be played in this year’s election. It will have a lot to say about what the next nine months will look like and tonight it seems that the government has been dealt a better hand than they might have expected.
Tonight a story is making the rounds about comments made by former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair that more NDP MPs will not be running than have already said won’t. The comments from Tom are strong and needless to say, there are many in NDP circles who are not too happy to hear them. Frankly, many of those same people haven’t been happy to hear to much of what he’s had to say since he left the House of Commons this summer. Some have pointed out that former NDP leaders have traditionally stayed quiet about the current leadership when stepping aside, and that this is just wrong on Tom’s part.
Well, tonight I want to take this up and come to the defence of Tom Mulcair in this moment. Tom’s a good leader and doesn’t need me to defend him, but I feel compelled to do so because of the circumstances that we find ourselves in today. For starters, I would point out that while most former NDP leaders have stayed away from attacking current leaders or staying out of leadership races all together, Tom’s not the first to break that tradition. Remember back during the race to replace Jack Layton, no less that Ed Broadbent went public with is criticisms of Tom in the weeks before the vote. He told people to look at who was supporting Tom, noting that most people who had been in the caucus before 2011 were supporting someone else, as a kind of backhanded comment. Later Ed defended those comments by saying that he had a “responsibility” to raise his concerns and that they were no personal vendetta against Tom. So let’s keep our history in perspective here.
Now when it comes to Tom, I will openly confess that I didn’t want to see him tossed as leader. He had my support to comeback and put in the work to do better next time. Yes, the campaign that was run in 2015 was not the best but I believe that he deserved another chance to run, just as Ontario NDP (and now Official Opposition Leader) Andrea Horwath did. I had the chance to work in the caucus under all of the years of Tom’s leadership and he’s someone who I enjoyed working with and while I disagreed with him on some thing, I found there was space to voice that and try to move the debate.
But when it comes to what I saw over the years of Tom’s leadership, one thing was very clear; some members and supporters never accepted his win as leader or accepted him as leader. Some people always looked at him with a suspicious eye, said he wasn’t a real New Democrat and never gave him the chances they had given other leaders. To me that was sadly ironic because policy wise, Tom didn’t take the NDP in any direction other than the one that Jack Layton took us. In fact, the platform that the NDP ran on in 2015 was very similar to 2011, and similar again to 2008; many of the principles were the same and the things that people attacked Tom for (the promise of balanced budgets as one example) were also there in Jack’s previous platforms. At the end of the day, even though after the leadership race Ed buried the hatchet and did what he could to help Tom and the team going forward, Ed’s attacks on Tom left a mark, one that never left.
We also have to remember the full arc of the Mulcair story within the NDP, starting with his by-election win in Outremont. When it came to building the party in Quebec, it was people like Tom and Françoise Boivin who did a lot of the heavy lifting in those pre-2011 years. While Jack got and deserved a lot of the credit for 2011, he wasn’t shy to put the spotlight on others like Tom who deserved it for their hard work to make that happen.
So you can just imagine how it must be for him, a proud person who made a career out of doing things that no one said he could, to not only be dispatched like he was, like no other leader in Canadian history had, but then be forced to watch that decade of hard work to build a beachhead in Quebec for the NDP start to crumble and be on the verge of disappearing if things happen the way public commentary believes it will.
That isn’t easy to sit back and watch silently and I know that because he’s not the only one feeling that way. There are many of us, former and current MPs, former staff like myself, some current staff who are still there, volunteers, donors, people who have sacrificed and poured themselves into this party trying to form government and make a better country, watching it all slip away. So yes, that’s very hard for Tom to stay quiet and rightfully so.
Now while some are pointing to Tom saying he’s being vindictive and trying to settle scores, I see this a different way. What I see is someone who is watching from a distance as something he built falters. I see someone who cares deeply about the institution, the party and those involved in it and watching it all start to go under the waves. I see someone who can’t stay quiet, in the hope that by speaking up it will shake something loose and help right the ship. And let’s be clear, the NDP ship needs some righting right now.
Some will say that Tom shouldn’t say anything now, should wait until the by-election in Burnaby is done before point this out and that’s a fair comment. But to that I would only retort that maybe there isn’t enough time to wait to say it. 9 times out of 10 I would agree with the “wait until after” approach, but from everything I’m seeing, this is that one time to speak up.
So in defence of Tom, maybe this isn’t someone throwing knives at their successor but instead maybe this is Tom channelling his inner Ed Broadbent, feeling the responsibility to speak up now. That’s how I see it, as someone who voted for both Tom Mulcair and Jagmeet Singh in leadership races and worked in both of their caucuses. I want to see Jagmeet be his best. I’m hoping that Jagmeet grows, improves and becomes the leader that we all hope he can be. And I just don’t believe that can happen if we ignore what we see.
With a cold, snowy weekend coming down on us here in Eastern Ontario, today made a great chance to make some headway on the second part of this project called “Magpie Brûlé”: the podcast. Yes I’m happy to say that the first episode of the first season of the Magpie Brûlé Podcast is done, in the metaphorical can and ready. If you’d like to visit the podcasts site you can find it at http://magpiebrule.libsyn.com/. And soon the podcasts will be available on iTunes and other services as we get them set up and running.
For the first episode, I discuss the week that’s was in Canadian politics, the current state of play in the Canadian political scene as we start 2019 and a story about a different approach being floated by an East Coast MLA. If you’d like to check it out, you can listen to it below here. Enjoy.
Election years always bring a fair bit of excitement, as everyone starts to ramp up their campaigns, raise funds, nominate candidates and draw up platforms to run on. But in 2019 we have a bit of business to take care of before we get to that point. Earlier in January we saw the government call three by-elections in Outremont, York-Simcoe and Burnaby South, with another one to be called in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in a few weeks.
While each by-election called as importance all its own, it’s the race in Burnaby South that’s topped the list in that regard for one big reason: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is trying to win his way into the House of Commons and as I wrote about last night, there is a lot riding on this race. With the stakes being what they are, you would expect more attention and more energy to be around this race, and we’ve gotten some of that so far.
But on top of the usual, we’ve also seen a series of events that have been quite the thing to watch from a distance. “What’s happened so far?” you might ask. Well here is a short list of what’s happened so far:
- The NDP Leader spends a few months calling on the government to call the by-elections, accusing the Prime Minister of denying these ridings representation
- The Prime Minister finally calls the by-elections on January 9th, later than expected, but not before getting his wrists slapped in editorials about his delaying.
- Maxime Bernier named his first every candidate, who will run in the by-election, but the media soon discovered that she has said many intolerant things before about the LGBT community, gender fluidity and other topics.
- The Liberal candidate goes after Singh for not being from Burnaby
- The Conservative candidate, a lawyer, attacks Singh for being the “wrong kind of lawyer”, a defense lawyer. The Conservative candidate tried to back track saying defense lawyers are good people, play an important role, but then tries to still say that there is something insidious about Singh being a defense lawyer. Singh replies by saying he should go back to law school.
- Jagmeet Singh has a notably bad interview on CTV’s Question Period, which sets out a series of commentary from across the board that ranged from “that was rough” to “Gah!!! What the hell?!?!?!”
- Mainstreet released their first poll of the by-election campaign period for the riding, showing Singh with a good lead, the Liberals 2nd, and Bernier’s People Party getting to 9% at the expense of the Conservatives
Until yesterday, the only party who seemed to be having a good campaign in Burnaby was the Greens, and that was only because they aren’t running a candidate. No one has gotten off to a clean start, but no one was wounded to the point that they couldn’t hope to catch up, especially with the extra couple of weeks the Prime Minister tagged onto this by-election. But oh, then came yesterday, did it ever. So, what’s happened in the last 36 hours or so? Well….
- The Star reported that on social media, Liberal candidate Karen Wang suggested that as the only Chinese candidate, she could beat Jagmeet Singh, who she noted is of “Indian descent.”
- Later in the day, Wang resigned as Liberal candidate, apologizing for her comments
- After that, news came out that Wang had previous approached the Conservatives about running for them before seeking the Liberal nomination and was actually rejected by the party
- Then a story came out that members of the local Liberal riding association warned the national party with concerns they had about Wang as a potential candidate
- Wang goes to the media, saying that she wants to take back her resignation, saying that she still wanted to be the Liberal candidate and that she wasn’t a racist
- The Liberal Party said “no backsies”, said that she would not be their candidate and informed everyone that Elections Canada had already accepted her resignation
- According again to the Star, Wang may now seek an independent candidacy
- Then finally at the end of the day Wang held a press conference, claiming that a campaign volunteer was responsible for the post in question, but ultimately she took ultimate responsibility for it.
Wow…. That’s a lot, isn’t it. Round and round and round we go. What to say about all of this? Well, for starters it really changes the state of play, regardless if Karen Wang decides to try to run as an independent or not. We’ll have to see if the Liberals decide to field another candidate, but they have until February 4th to decide that; given the view of many that the Liberals don’t want to see Mr. Singh lose this race, they might all of a sudden discover the virtue in “Leaders Courtesy”.
For Singh and the New Democrats, this week is ending a lot better than it started; they have some wind in their sails, with either a new main opponent or no Liberal replacement, and the Conservatives getting a decent share of vote eaten up by the People’s Party. If you’re on Team “Love & Courage”, you take this and keep on keeping on, get to those doors and making the best of this chance.
For those who are seeing conspiracies everywhere in all of this or believe that some parties are playing 3D chess while the rest play checkers, I would suggest that they pump their breaks a bit. The events of the past 36 hours are far from being planned or welcomed by the government in my opinion. Yes, it’s pretty clear the Liberals want Mr. Singh to win, but they didn’t concoct all this to try to help him over the finish line. You wouldn’t open yourself up to accusations of using that kind of language or using those kinds of tactics, accusations that are so counter to your brand and the same kind of thing you accuse others of doing, in some Machiavellian plan to try to “own the dippers”. The risks of it backfiring on you are too great, and that risk is nowhere near worth whatever reward would come from it.
If I have learned anything while working in politics and running campaigns, I can point to one very simple rule: Don’t credit to strategic genius something that can most easily be credited to human error, vanity or simply screwing up. And in my view, that’s exactly what we have here, a rather spectacular example of just that; someone doing something that they didn’t think through or thought they could do without getting caught, then getting caught. We’ll see how the next couple of weeks of this by-election go but something tells me that because of this energetic burst of action over the past two days, this race may have come a lot closer to being decided. Jagmeet Singh hasn’t won it yet and still has a lot of work to do, but tonight as I write this, the question of “if” he wins seems to be much closer to be settled in the positive for the NDP than it was when the race was called. Events have intervened this week, as they tend to do during campaigns. Will more of them come before February 25th and voting day in Burnaby? Time will tell but one thing we can say for sure is that this by-election hasn’t been a boring one so far.