Saturday, May 16, 2015

Vanity Videos and the Morphing of the Tories

Mister 100 Percent Satisified
Move aside, YouTube: here come the new, improved Harper Tories’ Vanity Videos, made especially for every Canadian voter:

Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre won't apologize for using taxpayer dollars to produce YouTube videos of himself promoting the universal child care benefit.
Poilievre insisted Friday that he's simply using innovative ways to inform Canadians about the newly enriched and expanded child benefit.
But opposition MPs denounced the "vanity videos" as a new low for a government that has a penchant for producing partisan advertising on the public dime.
And the Canadian Taxpayers Federation agreed.

The Cat has been given a brown envelope by the Cat's informant, Deep Throat, with the Conservative speaking points for next week’s Question Period. They explain that the Vanity Vidoes are in the interests of one hundred percent of Canadians, and not just the 30% or so who vote for the Tories, because they are an “innovative Action Plan” that shows exactly how the Conservative Government is listening to Canadians, and doing its best to transform itself into what Canadians expect.
Deep Throat

At the same time, a new Vanity Video will be shown on YouTube that shows the Prime Minister morphing into Prancing Pierre, and then into Tango Tom, and finally into Heidi Klum.

Here are some stills from the Vanity Video to accompany the above Talking Points memo (the morphing takes place from top left to top right, then on to bottom left and ends at bottom right image):

There you have it. Yet another scoop from the Cat’s Deep Throat.

Latest poll: Opposition 206 seats, Harper Conservatives 131 seats

Prime Minister Mulcair?
A logjam in our politics has been broken by a string of elections over the past two years. Things that were unheard of before, now are reality. Parties that conventional wisdom assumed could not widen their base throughout the country, suddenly are sending dynasties to the trash heap.

And based on this week’s snapshot Forum poll, we are headed for a new government come October, with the old Tory one unable to win a confidence vote:

"It is clear the Notley victory in Alberta has shaken up the federal political scene,'' Bozinoff said in a statement.
"Conservatives (and Liberals), who used to park their disaffected votes with the Greens have now been given 'permission' to vote for the NDP if they are unhappy with their own party, and it appears many of them are," Bozinoff added.
In Ontario, one of the anticipated battleground provinces for October's vote, the Conservatives have a slight lead with 36 per cent support, compared to the Liberals at 34 per cent and the NDP at 26 per cent.

If these results are projected up to seats in a 338-seat House of Commons, the Conservatives would capture a minority with 131 seats. The NDP would remain the official opposition with 111 seats and the Liberals would see 95 seats, Forum says. 

If those results hold through the election, and the parties win roughly those same numbers of seats, then we will have an NDP government headed by Prime Minister Thomas Mulcair, supported in a vote of confidence by the Liberal Party.

And Stephen Harper can then clear out his desk and retire, leaving the Tories to decide who should replace him.

The country will benefit from a fresh government in Ottawa.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Perils of the Welcome Change in the 2015 Election Debates

Good news: the Conservative Party has refused to debate the other opposition leaders before the traditional news broadcasters, and have suggested a dramatically different – and very welcome – change of format.

But this decision by Harper's election brains trust might prove to be the first major blunder in their campaign. 

Unlike the kneejerk reactions from some pundits that this change plays to Harper's strengths, and kneecaps Justin Trudau, the odds are that Harper is the one who will lose in the new style debates.

Stephen Maher in the National Post describes the surprise change in the debate rules this way:
The Tories surprised everybody Tuesday morning when they announced that instead of participating in debates traditionally organized by a consortium of broadcasters, they plan to do an English debate hosted by Maclean’s in August — aired on CityTV, Omni and CPAC — and a French debate hosted by Quebec’s TVA.

The NDP has also accepted those invitations. The Greens will participate in the Maclean’s debate but have not been invited to TVA.The Liberals complained that the Tories rejected the consortium bid, but voters are unlikely to be swayed, in part because of consortium failings.

The consortium held a secret all-party meeting at CBC headquarters in Toronto last month, laying out its secret plan for four debates, two in English, two in French, to be moderated by its stars: Global’s Dawna Friesen, CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme and CBC’s Peter Mansbridge.  In previous campaigns, the parties meekly agreed to the consortium’s secret plans. On Tuesday, Conservative campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke, until recently the boss of the (suddenly defunct) Sun News Network, made it clear that this time the Conservatives will not go along with the consortium, denouncing it as a “cabal.”

Mahler thinks he knows the reason for the proposed changes:

Harper is seeking every possible advantage in the election that will make or break his career, just as he was when he rewrote the Elections Act.

Jame Watt, in the Globe & Mail, best describes the proposed change, in my view:

Mr. Harper is offering to make live debates much more dramatic and interesting. No matter their preference, voters should welcome the opportunity to be engaged by the participants themselves, rather than controlled by the outmoded rules and referees of the past.

Watt goes on to describe why he thinks the changes give Harper the edge:
For too long now, election debates have been run by a moderator juggling a series of arcane rules that often seemed designed to ensure any real exchanges ended before they got interesting. Monologues were the order of the day, interspersed with bouts of partisan heckling by opponents desperate to score points with viewers.
Now, that game is changing thanks to the Tory’s demand that debates be precisely that. And in doing so, they have also found a way to exploit the format to its greatest advantage and spicing up the drudgery of a lengthy, live event. 

The new Tory-endorsed debate format – with one each in both official languages, and the possibility of up to three more – will feature spontaneous interchanges and end the time-controlled, subject-specific discussions that have prevailed. This overhaul gives much more control to the incumbent. Stephen Harper is the most experienced of the leaders in a live debate format so he can sit back, choose his words carefully and watch his rivals shout and grimace while he appears as the controlled elder statesmen.

My view

I agree that the debates as held in the past have been boring events, without any true exchanges between the debaters.

They seem to have been designed to suck any spontaneity out of the exercise, and to avoid any real clash of opinions; the decorum seems to have weighed the most, rather than the invigorating discussion of ideas.

Truth be told, they have been crushingly boring, with the moderators acting like traffic cops: Move along now, nothing to see here. Their real role should have been to hold the politicians’ feet to the fire, but this seldom happened.

Maher thinks the choice of Paul Wells as moderator favours Harper:

Harper might be glad that Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells, who has written two (excellent) books about him, will moderate, rather than network stars that he distrusts. And he might be glad that the first debate will be in August, before the opposition release their platforms.

Pitfalls in previous debates:

Presidential debates in the USA have often surprised viewers with clangers dropped by contenders.

President Ford sounded like an ignoramus in 1975 by claiming that "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration."

In 1980 Reagan framed the ballot box question beautifully in his debate against President Carter, with this little elevator speech:

"Ask yourself, 'Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?”

And he floored Carter with his little chuckle in response to a Carter point, and his devastating put down: "There you go again."

In the Republican presidential debate in 2011, Texas governor Rick Perry highlighted the main fear of many politicians: that they would fumble badly by forgetting a key fact, and look like an idiot who lacks the gravitas to become president. He forget the third of three points he was going to make:

He said that as president he'd eliminate three government agencies, and when he attempted to list them, he could only remember two: Commerce and Education. He spent the next 53 seconds uncomfortably trying to come up with the third. Finally, he gave up and uttered, "Sorry. Oops." Several minutes later he remembered the third, "By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago."

Hints for debaters:

There’s no shortage of these. Klain in the WSJ blog has several useful ones.

I like this one especially, given Harper’s belief that he is the best debater in the country:

Prepare to attack, but also to counterattack, by preparing zippy responses to your opponent’s favorite lines.

And if Mulcair or Trudeau follow this advice, they will seem more open than Harper, who seldom answers questions this way:

Begin answers with “no” or “yes,” and then explain further. Voters don’t like it when candidates appear to be evading the question.

Even David Gergen gets into the act with his 20 tips for preparing for a debate

I like his points 3, 4 and 5:

3. Settle upon 3 or 4 key points to drive home:
·       About your qualifications vs. your opponent’s
·       About the emotions you wish to arouse
·       About your philosophy vs. opponent’s
·       About your policy position vs. opponent’s

4. Always remember that your main audience is on the other side of the television camera, not in the studio. Even as you engage with the moderator and your opponent, make sure you are always reaching your main audience.

5. Preparation and sound bites:

The sound bite will be repeated endlessly and will shape memories long after the debate is over.

So, gather thee bites whilst thou can!

Practice, practice, practice, and have some Zingers:

Preparation is key. In 2000, George Bush had 10 or more full mock debate sessions, mostly at his Texas ranch, while preparing for his debates with Al Gore. Given his relative lack of debating experience, Justin Trudeau would be an idiot if he did not have at least 10 mock debate sessions before entering the ring with the more seasoned Harper and Mulcair. And, as that article says, the preparation of sharp zingers is a must.

The Achilles heel in Harper’s assumptions:

It is clear that the Tories are frustrated by their relative inability to lay a glove on Trudeau, despite all their talking points and attack ads and buffoonery in Parliament. 

This change in debate style is designed to give Harper an edge, because, I believe, the Harper strategy team think that in a one-on-one contest, Harper will be the top dog.

In Parliament, Harper has seemed, to Tories, to come out on top most of the time.

But this is the fatal weakness in the Tory strategy of debate. Trudeau has been under estimated in the past, and this is another case of that happening.
The Harper History

Harper enters a proper debate with the huge disadvantage that he has been protected in a bubble for years, both in and out of Parliament. 

He has seldom been questioned and seldom answered questions. 

He has carefully removed himself from the hurly burly of public debate, and even in Parliament, has relied on his ability to deflect questions by not answering serious ones and immediately pivoting to attach the opposition. All this to the accompaniment of the trained-seal-like roars of approval from his side of the house.

A proper debate format will remove that from Harper. 

The bubble will be burst, and the tenacious Mulcair will be on him, like a terrier with a rat in its grip. Don’t expect any Queensbury Rules from Mulcair in the debate Harper is proposing!

Worse still, Harper comes to this fight like a champion heavyweight boxer, who has won the championship, and since then only fought against carefully selected opponents, of lesser caliber.

That won’t work in the new debate style. 

Harper will be on unfamiliar ground, and will be the one most likely to lose it. 

His off-putting attitude during Question Period in Parliament will come across as totally negative in a real debate. Remember the older Bush’s checking his watch because he seemed bored, and how this hurt him? And Al Gores repeated sighs of exasperation while debating the younger Bush? 

Harper’s unwillingness to give honest and direct answers to inconvenient questions and points, will hurt him in this new style of debate. He runs the risk of coming across as arrogant, dismissive, evasive and unprepared.

And trying to change that during any mock debates he undertakes will be difficult. He will be off his stride: what has worked so well during his tightly-scripted, controlled bubble of a prime ministership could make him sink like a stone in a real debate.

That’s what I expect to happen during these debates: an ugly implosion of the Prime Minister, visible to millions of viewers.

Oh, and picked up and repeated in attack ads during the rest of the year.

After all, the Conservative / Harper record during the past decade has dozens and dozens of examples of juicy items for a real debate!

Like these, for example:

Friday, May 08, 2015


The Man who smote Miliband
Who says strategy is not paramount? Cameron’s Conservatives had their course set for them by strategist Crosby, and it carried them to a victory that has surprised pollsters, decapitated three opposition parties, and divided the UK into Tory England and Scottish nationalists’ Scotland:
While strategists had been privately confident of doing better than the election polls predicted they were none-the-less taken aback by the size of the swing away from Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

A senior Tory source said private polling carried out by the party’s election supremo Lynton Crosby had them on just over 300 seats “for several weeks” before polling day.

“What we couldn’t understand was the discrepancy. But Lynton was always confident that our polling was correct,” they said.
Lynton Crosby had long predicted the Tories taking 300 seats (AFP)

Another Tory aide added: “The impressive thing about Lynton was that he set the strategy and stuck rigidly to it even when we were in the firing line. He basically said I’m in charge and if this doesn’t work out I’ll shoulder the blame.”

Under the plan set out by Crosby the Conservatives would attempt to squeeze Ukip and Lib Dem votes by playing on fears of the SNP while highlighting David Cameron’s leadership and fears of economic “chaos” under Labour. All the messages had been extensively tested on focus groups in key marginals. But even he was surprised by the extent of the Labour collapse.

Now the stage is set for two monumental conflicts: the battle to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, and the battle to take the United Kingdom (or part of it, anyways) out of the European Union.

Cameron has his majority, albeit a slim one, and the Labour Party has been taken behind the outhouse and soundly spanked by the majority of British voters, who did not like its drift away from the mainstream charted by Tony Blair.

So far Cameron has shown less than sterling ability in dealing with the demands of Scottish nationalists, nor has be displayed much finesse in negotiating the transfer of powers back from the EU to the UK.

The tactics in these two monumental battles for Britain’s soul will be strikingly similar, although used by two different groups. Cameron’s Tories will use the threat of Brexit (Britain’s exist from the EU) to try to negotiate better terms for the UK to stay in the EU.

At the same time, Cameron’s Tories will be facing exactly the same blackmail demands from the SNP, demanding major powers to be devolved to Scotland as a price for not holding another independence referendum.

Right now, the SNP has decided that Cameron was duplicitous when he agreed to The Vow taken by the LibDems, Tories and Labourites just prior to the first independence referendum to grant substantial powers to Scotland if the vote was No to independence.

Cameron will have to take giant strides to hand power to Scotland if he wants to avoid going down in history as the Man who Lost the Kingdom.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Latest in the Drip-Drip-Duffy saga: Going Squirrelly

Here’s the latest revelations in the Drip-Drip-Duffy saga:

Plan to prevent Duffy 'from going squirrelly'

During the course of the interviews, the RCMP also cited a February 2013 email from Wright that said he had been on the phone with Duffy, Tkachuk and Senator Marjory LeBreton, the former government leader in the Senate.
According to Wright's email, the plan was to announce in a statement that the expense cases of Harb, Brazeau and Duffy were being referred to an external auditor but at same time issue a separate release stating external legal advice was being sought on the meaning of primary residency.

"A purpose of this is to put Mike in a different bucket and to prevent him from going squirrelly in a bunch of weekend panel shows," Wright wrote.

Wait until Senator Duffy steps into the witness box, after his counsel has rigorously cross-examined or examined (perhaps as a hostile witness for the defence) each person mentioned in this revelation.

You aint seen squirrelly unti Drip-Drip-Duffy takes the stand!


Lords punter Lord Steel
They will, if this Lord has his way:

Steel does not rule out cooperation with a minority Labour government in a constitutional convention or commission to secure specific reforms. Those reforms would include home rule for Scotland within the UK; an English grand committee for the Commons to ensure English-only legislation was handled in the Commons only by English MPs and finally the creation of a smaller democratic Senate to replace the House of Lords, elected by the component parts of the UK.

Labour has said it backs a constitutional convention and would agree the three issues raised by Lord Steel to be included. However it is likely that Labour would prefer the Liberal Democrats to join it in a coalition if that was possible.

Imagine that: all those old dodderers in the House of Lords replaced by a body elected by ethnic and geographic regions!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015


Courtesy nod to The Telegraph, whose raw photos I have adapted slightly to give my view of the essence of the election just half an hour before voting starts.

Now, GOTV.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Stephen Harper


Congratulations, Alberta!

You have shaken off the tyranny of group-think and dared to venture into the public space of democracy, where vigorous debate is expected, minds are changed by reasoning, and politics belongs to the people.

To you. To every Albertan.

Your provincial and federal leaders have not served you well this past decade.

When they should have been stashing cash into a rainy day fund, like Norway has done, because such a big part of your economy is driven by one commodity, they have acted as if what goes up must always go up.

When they should have been building for the future, money has been misspent.

When they should have been out in the public spaces, really talking to ordinary people, they have chosen to behave as if they are protecting you from the threat of anarchy and dissolution, which would happen if people actually spoke to people.

Calgary led the way, by electing a mayor who actually reveled in ideas, and who not only spoke of listening to the people but did that.

And now you have had your very own Arab Spring.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Four Unusual Men & The UK Election

The Mayor waits patiently ...
The political fate of four men might be determined by this week’s UK general election. Two of the men have fluffed their campaigning in parts, while one man has a chance to rise, Lazarus-like, and change the rules of future elections; the fourth man is circling, with vulture-like feigned indifference, waiting for a chance to tear into the carrion-corpse of his party’s leader.

Cameron’s view of the importance of the election:

This week Prime Minister Cameron dropped a Freudian Slip when talking about the election:

After Mr. Cameron misspoke on Friday and called the election “career-defining” rather than “country-defining,” Mr. Miliband joked that Mr. Cameron has “finally found something he’s passionate about — it’s his own career.”

Labour’s Leader more cautious now:

Miliband used to wing it but now has had a makeover and uses a prompter:

Mr. Miliband, who fluffed a major speech to his party conference in September when he did it from a few notes, now uses a white lectern nearly everywhere he goes, with a teleprompter for speeches, to look more prime ministerial. He has worked on his voice and delivery with a debate coach and is wearing noticeably more expensive suits. And he only very rarely pairs them with a traditionally red Labour necktie, favoring midgray, blue and purple, just like Mr. Cameron…
If Mr. Cameron is too quick to decide, Mr. Miliband is said to be indecisive, getting down into the weeds of every policy. But during the campaign, he has tried to suppress his inner wonkiness, has stopped using phrases like “predatory capitalism” and even survived a Madonna-like stumble over a platform during a live television question-and-answer show.

Who’s on First right now?
The Mayor is not everyone's cup of tea ...

It seems that the new suit and the teleprompter might be working, after all:

Based on the latest polling, Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party is widely expected to win the most seats nationwide in Parliament, but fall well short of a majority. Mr. Miliband is expected to have the most options for cobbling together a coalition with smaller parties, and so may end up prime minister anyway, after a tricky dance with the Scottish nationalists.

The Price of Pandering:

The biggest sleeper in the whole election is Cameron’s promise to his deeply divided party to hold a referendum on continued EU membership if he is re-elected. Cameron made this promise when a big chunk of his MPs threatened to toss him out if he did not do something to set the clock back and remove the UK from the EU. Waffling a bit, Cameron finally punted the issue down the road, but this might have cost him his re-election, because it opened the road for a nutty party, the UKIPs:

If Mr. Miliband’s hopes for victory have been undermined by his party’s collapse in Scotland, Mr. Cameron’s have been damaged by the rise of the U.K. Independence Party, which wants to leave the European Union and put strict controls on immigration. UKIP will win only a few seats, but might come in second in many constituencies, which could deny victory to Tory candidates and re-election to Mr. Cameron.

So what happens later this week?

A recent change in election laws of the UK has given Labour a chance to form a government if Cameron cannot cobble one together:

The Mayor's favourite negotiation technique ...
Mr. Cameron’s party could well end up with the most votes (constitutionally irrelevant in Britain, as in the American presidential election) and the most seats in Parliament. He could certainly argue in that case that with the most seats, he has the moral right, at least, to try to form a government.
He also has a powerful platform from which to conduct his post-election wheeling and dealing: He remains prime minister until the new Parliament votes to throw him out or he chooses to resign.
In any case, there will be no formal vote on a new government until the queen’s speech on May 27.
So Cameron has time to do some frantic negotiating:
The British system is silent on which party gets to try to form a government first, and there are numerous examples of minority governments holding on, for a time, with deals of one kind or another with other parties on major legislation.
Under legislation passed in 2011, there can be no new election, even if a vote of no-confidence is passed by a majority of sitting legislators, until the opposition leader has had 14 days to form a government and have it approved by Parliament.
Two-thirds of Parliament can vote to dissolve it. But the prospect of a government replaced by one or more others in succession without a new election remains a possibility.
While Mayor Boris Johnson circles around, vulture-like, waiting for the chance to replace Cameron if he is ousted as PM:
As Prime Minister David Cameron campaigns to keep his job, Boris Johnson, the voluble mayor of London, lurks in the wings, professing loyalty — at least until Mr. Cameron fails.
“My chances of being P.M. are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive,’’ Mr. Johnson likes to say. But he has increased those chances by running for a safe Conservative seat in Parliament. By doing so, he broke a pledge to the voters of London, but in his blustery way, he now says he can do both jobs until the end of his mayoral term a year from now.
Unless, of course, he is reincarnated as head of the Conservative Party, which could happen by the fall if things go badly for Mr. Cameron.
The Mayor’s take on Labour’s Leader:

Not too positive, it seems:
Mr. Johnson told The Sunday Times of London, “People are looking at Ed Miliband and they’re getting bad visuals of him popping out of Alex Salmond’s sporran like a baffled baby kangaroo.’’
The Mayor’s take on Nick Clegg:
Also not too uplifting:
He compared Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, whose popularity has plummeted, to a slug that gets squashed in the garden. “You do feel a spasm when any creature reaches the end of its mortal span at your hand or foot,’’ Mr. Johnson said. “I have trodden on many slugs in my life. There’s a terrible pop if you do it in bare feet.’’
Clegg’s Second Chance:

There is now renewed talk that Clegg might cut a deal with Labour to prop up a minority Labour government, reduce Miliband’s need to rely on the surging nationalist party in Scotland.
The Lazarus-Man

Miliband is reticent to discuss any such cooperation talks right now, but the rumours indicate that Clegg has told Cameron that he is open to propping up Labour as well as the Tories.

This gives Clegg a chance to go down in history as the man who changed British politics for the good. He fluffed it last time, when he let the smooth-talking Cameron offer him a bowl of porridge rather than meaningful electoral reform.

This time around, Clegg might hold out for some form of proportional representation as the quid pro quo for supporting Miliband. This is probably Miliband’s last chance to become prime minister (his brother is still lurking around somewhere, and brotherly ambitions are not foreign to that merry  little island), and it is in the interests of the Labour Party to have proportional representation as well, given the stunning events in Scotland and Labour’s wipeout there.

Interesting times ahead for all of these men, and for us.

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