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Bad Omens

In this day and age, we tend to parse every single new piece of information and what we hear to see if there is more in there than meets the naked eye. It’s a feature of our political environment too, which means sometimes we get stories in the media that make you wonder aloud “how did that become a story?”. It’s not that the information or the story is bad, it’s just that the story tells us something that is very obvious that you wouldn’t think would warrant the time to write it.

But sometimes when we see such a story, it makes us reflect on the fact that the story was even written. Sometimes it says a lot about the state of things when there is a story out there that states such simple, obvious facts. Last week we saw one such story in Canadian politics, one that isn’t a good one to be out there a few months from a Federal election campaign:

Stating that a major political party in Canada these days will have a chartered plane and bus is an odd thing for sure; those are things that are a given in modern campaigning. They aren’t extras in a modern campaign, they are an expected part of the basic campaign. That’s why over a decade ago whole situation with Stéphane Dion and the Liberals issues getting a plane made such a splash and didn’t help that campaign get any momentum.

But honestly when I first saw this story about the New Democrats and travel plans, I didn’t give it much thought beyond an eye roll. Things have been rough for the Orange Team, but even this story seemed like a bit of a stretch. The party even went on the record saying the party would have the usual charter and bus combo. So that should have ended the story, right? Normally it would, but then yesterday I received the following email in my inbox:

Okay, that’s probably nothing, right? Maybe, but then this morning I received this in my inbox:

Hmmmm….. okay, this may be something, or may be nothing. It’s not abnormal for parties to bombard their supporters with fundraising emails and one thing I’ve always been taught about fundraising is the best way to motivate people to give is to point to tangible things that their donation will go towards. So asking people to give to help pay for the bus and plane could very well fit into that mould. That would make sense.

But I have to admit that putting all of these things together raises questions for me. This could be nothing in the end, but it put up enough flags for me to think more about it. In my opinion, it’s not a good thing to put out multiple fundraising emails, asking for money to pay for a plane and bus, just one week after a national media outlet writes a story about how you might not be able to afford a plane or a bus for a campaign. It’s could be total coincidence, but it’s bad messaging and frankly undoes the work that was done the week before trying to put what should have been a non-story to bed. Yet now you can honestly ask the following question; does asking supporters for money to pay for a plane and bus prove that the NDP is struggling to pay for a plane or bus? That’s not so clear and straightforward anymore.

In this end, this could be something or could totally be nothing, I’m not making any judgement either way. But like what happened in 2008 with the Liberals ill-fated jet, it can become a part of the narrative of the campaign and a bit of a running joke. Remember the Liberal Plane getting a birthday cake from the NDP? That whole story hung around and didn’t help the Liberals at all. Taken all together I just had to note this, not because it’s the end of the World, but because it’s just not a good omen for the Orange Team. Right now they could use every good omen and sign possible, and while this isn’t major, it’s still another drip that adds to all the others that are falling on the NDP. It’s not helpful, but I guess it is what it is.


A Preview of Life Under a Scheer Government? – Part 2

Last week I wrote a piece laying out more of the cuts made by Conservatives in Ontario and Alberta and put forth the thought about how this could be a preview of what we might see under a Scheer Conservative government in Ottawa. I didn’t plan on it to be a series, but the Ford Conservatives are busy beavers when it comes to cutting services left, right and centre, which is especially noteworthy for a leader who said that not one single job would be lost in Ontario in his attempts to balance the budget. On that note, here are some details from just the past twenty-four hours:

I know that it’s fashionable to repeat that “not one job loss” line each time we see new stories like these, but at this point it’s becoming more morbid than a “I told you so” kind of throw away line. Looking at these newest cuts, it’s hard not to see the personal face on it. Seeing over 800 positions eliminated and 400 layoffs in various health departments is a devastating cut to those who just lost their jobs this morning and their families.

Then to see the start of the roll out of the cuts to autism services, with nearly 300 people out the door at just one centre, you can’t help but feel for those autistic children and their families that are having their lives torn apart. And then on top of it to make it all worse, seeing a Ford government official daring to call this an “adjustment” and then dumping salt on the wound by saying that the “market will right itself” is just too tone deaf for words. Guess what is not supposed to be subject to “market adjustments”? Important government services like autism care.

The Ford Conservatives obviously have shown no compulsion about breaking and trashing everything they’ve touched so far, as if that was the only way to make improvements or find efficiencies in anything. They’ve created crises all across Ontario’s government, and then dared to gripe when Ontarians call them out on it. It’s not just ugliness that smacks of petty behaviour, it’s also very bad for the province and the bottom line. Or at least that’s what Moody’s is saying this morning:

Yep, shocker of shockers, Moody’s is telling the Ford Conservatives that those magical efficiencies that he says that municipalities need to find simply don’t exist and that their cuts to municipalities will leave them over $2 billion short for the next decade. This is a prime example of when ideology smacks into a wall made up of reality, facts and basic math. And as a result, the report states that local governments will likely have to raise taxes, cut services or some combination of both. Yeah, that’s respect for taxpayers, right?

And just in case we wanted to assume this was just limited to Ontario, let’s check in on Alberta to see what’s going on out there with that new Conservative government. Surely this is all a one-off and everything is fine out there, right? Right?

200 teachers and 100 educational assistants might be lost because the Kenney Conservatives are leaving the Calgary Board of Education hanging over what their funding will actually be for the next school year. We saw this same story play out last year after the election of the Ford Conservatives in Ontario, and here we are again with a repeat in Alberta. Coincidence I’m sure.

With more than three months to go until the Federal election, we’re guaranteed to see more and more of these kinds of stories out there, and with the likes of Jason Kenney and members of the Ford cabinet hitting the campaign trail for Andrew Scheer, it will be more than fair to ask just how far that apple falls from the tree. Given that Scheer takes his lead from his provincial counterparts, it’s fair to see that applies in other areas too. It’s a safe assumption to make until proven otherwise, and that’s part of the burden that the Scheer Conservatives have to bear. We’ll see what cuts come next, but every one that comes not only hurts voters in provinces like Ontario, it reminds them what life under a Conservative government means. That could make a huge difference in the result of the Fall vote.

Oh No!

These are hard days to be a New Democrat on the Federal scene, without a doubt, and as the Fall election gets closer, it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. An EKOS poll came out today that had the Orange Team in 4th place nationally, well behind the Greens in British Columbia, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. The party’s platform launch hasn’t been overly well received by the media. And despite there being opportunities to make up ground on their opponents, it doesn’t seem to get any better.

Folks, it’s rough right now, the roughest it’s been for almost a couple of decades. So in moments like these it makes sense to cast around to look for help, for ideas, or maybe a bit of inspiration. That’s a totally normally thing to do. Today something came across my Twitter that seemed to fit that sentiment, but was probably the best/worst example of how this normal activity can go so wrong:

In by gone eras it wouldn’t be a shocking or problematic thing to see an NDP Leader reaching out and comparing notes with a UK Labour Leader. Labour MPs are known to attend NDP conventions and both the New Democrats and Labour are members of Socialists International. There is a long standing relationship between the two parties, so under normal circumstances seeing a Tweet like that wouldn’t raise many eyebrows.

But folks this is 2019, and if anything can be said about this year and period for both the New Democrats and Labour, it is most certainly that these are not normal circumstances. Not even close to that. Jagmeet Singh is struggling and the NDP are having their issues, but you know who is having them even worse? Effing Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour party. Here is just a taste of life under Mr. Corbyn’s “leadership”:

It’s hard to explain to most lay people how unpopular Jeremy Corbyn is these days. This is a guy, as Opposition Leader, who is facing a minority Conservative government, propped up by a far-right minor party from Northern Ireland, that is single-handedly managing to blow the United Kingdom up. Between the entire Brexit episode, the “leadership” of Theresa May, her recent resignation and now the real potential of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, all that Corbyn should need to do to win a huge majority government is role out of bed in the morning and not spill his oatmeal in his beard. But folks, somehow when faced with an unprecedently unpopular government, Corbyn himself is even more unpopular. Labour is sinking in the polls, now behind Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats, and also finished behind both of those parties in the recent European elections.

Long story short, by any objective measure, Jeremy Corbyn has been an unmitigated disaster for his party and I would argue in these hard times, for the United Kingdom. But Corbyn has his hardcore constituency, and some on the far-left of the NDP look at him as a “model”. The fact that the man hasn’t won a general election and is now facing complete obliteration whenever the next General Election is called in the UK doesn’t seem to bother these people at all.

Corbyn is the last person that any credible progressive leader should be reaching out to in any way to compare notes on anything, or at least should be if that leader wants to be seen as credible. Yet that Tweet went out into the World, getting re-Tweeted and snickered at all over, the sure sign that you’re getting seen as a credible potential Prime Minister in Waiting. I couldn’t possibly think of a worst time to have this conversation, but given everything that’s been happening, maybe it seems all too fitting that this would happen now.

Either way I’m gobsmacked by this and I’m shaking my head. This is the kind of thing that makes many wonder what the heck is going on. This is just bad judgement, plain and simple. I don’t expect the New Democrats to formally shun Corbyn and his team but I would expect them to keep a respectful distance. But yet, here we are. It’s 2019, yada, yada, yada. I continue to hope and pray that my party turns this around and gets it right, but as we get closer and closer to the Fall the cliff seems to just get closer and closer. Maybe it will take a “Thelma and Louise” kind of run over that cliff for things to finally get better, but you have to survive that fall in order for that to happen. I still hold out up that it doesn’t come to that, but episodes like this don’t leave me feeling great about those odds.

Not-so-Full House

A while back I wrote about the importance of the Parliamentary watchdogs that we have in Canada and why they need to be defended. These officers of Parliament do very important work, work that Canadians depend on. For my money, the officer that probably rises to the top of that list in importance these days is the Parliamentary Budget Officer. This position is relatively new, created at the beginning of the Harper government, that basically studies anything and everything that’s asked of them or they wish to investigate. The first Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page became somewhat legendary in Ottawa for his persistence and enlightening reports on the very government that appointed him.

The PBO brings great transparency to our politics and will continue to do so this Fall as they will actually report on party platforms for the first time ever, which will be fascinating to see from the outside. But around official Ottawa, PBO releases have become something to watch. Today the PBO made one release, looking specifically at “Federal Program Spending on Housing Affordability”. And the results? Not very good:

“It is not clear that the National Housing Strategy will reduce the prevalence of housing need relative to 2017 levels”…. “Canada’s National Housing Strategy largely maintains current funding levels for current activities and slightly reduces targeted funding for households in core housing need”….. Ouch, that’s not a good report for the government, especially going into an election where affordability of housing is going to be a key issue in many parts of the country, but especially in Ontario and British Columbia, places where the Liberals need to hold seats.

What makes this worse is what the report says about how the Liberals are following through on their spending promises to fund this strategy. The report points out they have spent only $16 billion on this program, versus the $55 billion that the Liberals say they have spent. For some quick math folks, that’s less than a third of what they claimed to be spending on housing. 33%. Yikes, that’s very bad and raises a lot of realistic questions that need to be answered.

This is the kind of report that shows the importance of this kind of position. In the past, this is the kind of research and information that would have been buried or torqued in all kinds of ways. But thanks to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, we get an unbiased, fact-based analysis of these questions and issues, leaving it to the Canadian public to decide for themselves. What more could we ask for, right?

In the meantime, this report will serve as fodder for some of the Opposition parties as they go at the government for their failures on this important topic. The issue of housing and affordability is one that has big potential to impact the upcoming campaign, and to find out that the Liberals are failing on this account is sure to feed into the potential of that issue. We’ll see how this develops but thanks to the work of the PBO, we all have more information to determine what is happening and what is not.

Last Minute Decisions

It was way back at the beginning of May I wrote a piece talking about the state of the Liberal Party, but specifically about the number of Liberal MPs who were decided not to run again. The resignation of Andrew Leslie in particular stood out, not just because of his stature but because of the timing. That made me ask aloud what that said about their position, and I wrote the following to that point:

“But then I have to come back to that timing thing. How does the announcement of an MP walking away on May 1st compare to someone who decided long before this? You could easily argue is speaks more loudly. And I will say that while I didn’t agree with the chatter and narrative that formed for a while around Singh and MPs not re-offering, I do agree when you hit a certain threshold it becomes harder and harder to ignore. For the governing Liberals, the resignation of Andrew Leslie feels like that threshold being hit, and there are rumours floating around that he won’t be the last to make a similar announcement. So maybe now is the time to ask the question about why so many solid, hard working MPs are walking away. Hey, at least the timing would demand it because MPs don’t tend to make these decisions this late in the game if things are all hunky dory.”

This comment was true when I wrote it back on May 1st and is one that only gets truer as we get closer to the campaign. That’s what made these two pieces of news from the Red Team jump out at me today, Monday on the last scheduled sitting week of the House of Commons:

Okay, this is an interesting turn of events folks. First of all, announcing on June 17th that you’re not running is odd by itself. Having two MPs announce the same thing on that same day? Also, quite odd. But when you add to that the fact that both are already nominated to run for re-election in the Fall? This all goes beyond “odd” and starts to send up some warning flares that draw attention. How is it that both of these MPs decided to do this now, of all times?

Both Mr. Tan and Mr. Baylis are rookie MPs and both represent ridings (in the GTA and Montreal) that are relatively safe, especially when compared to other members of their caucus. While the news of Mr. Baylis’ decision is just coming out with no details, Mr. Tan said on Facebook that he had “come to conclusion that time has now come to spend more time with family and pursue other careers.” I don’t doubt Mr. Tan’s sincerity, as I got to know him a bit while working in the Natural Resources committee of the House of Commons, where he was a member. But I do believe that the timing of this decision, combined with the fact that was already nominated to run again, do make it fair to ask “what is going on here?”

Regardless of the reasons, I will come back to that quote from the piece I wrote back in May: MPs don’t tend to make these decisions this late in the game if things are all hunky dory. So what gives? Things had seemed to have settled for the Liberals and they seemed to be rebounding from the whole SNC/PMO Scandal. Things seemed to be better, but these two resignations are not signs of better; they are signs of quite the opposite actually. Losing two incumbents in seats that the Liberals will be counting on holding is not a good thing. Having to have new names on those ballots will make it harder to hold onto those seats, especially given the late timing. Anyway, we’ll see if anything more comes out about these decisions but if anything, these two resignations do force us to pay more attention to the state of the government and ask more questions. We thought maybe the rough time had passed, but maybe this is a sign that they aren’t done yet. Time will tell.