A funny way to run a country

Signs outside a Jeb Bush event in Bedford, New Hampshire.
Signs outside a Jeb Bush event in Bedford, New Hampshire.

When Hillary Clinton took the stage in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday to pump up a room full of volunteers, she was joined by the “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits” — eight female politicians — senators and a governor.
Clinton needs the help. She looks sure to lose Tuesday’s crucial New Hampshire primary vote to Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist from neighboring Vermont.
Clinton’s pant-suited backers take turns pointing to her experience, her ability to get things done, in contrast with the much-less distinguished record of her opponent.
But Sanders tied her in Iowa. If he beats her convincingly here and then does better than expected in South Carolina, he could do what Barack Obama did in 2008, and win the Democratic nomination.
This still seems unlikely, since the southern blacks who rallied to Obama in 2008 have so far not taken to Sanders, but Clinton looks worried, and she is bringing out her allies.
There was a PTA quality to their pitch, a dull, lecturey tone that is not going to win over the young people feeling the Bern.
One by one, Clinton’s allies pointed to practical things that Clinton has done in politics. They are right. Clinton is much better qualified for the job, and much more likely to beat whoever the Republicans nominate, but it is a dull message, and they are not as exciting as the revolutionary socialist.
They underlined that by concluding the event by dancing to Rachel Platten’s Fight Song, eight middle-aged women in pant suits awkwardly swaying to a cheesy pop tune.
In the street across town, outside the rink where Clinton and Sanders spoke later Friday, a small group of pumped-up young Sanders supporte


Bernie Sanders supporters rally outside a rink in Manchester, New Hampshire.

rs were waving signs at passing cars in a snow storm.
When I snapped a picture, a young guy with long blonde hair asked me where I was from.
“Canada,” I said.
“They say we’re crazy because we want what you have,” he said.
In the rink that night, as I listened to Sanders, it occurred to me that his biggest applause lines are for things that we have in Canada: single-payer socialized health care, limits on political spending by corporations, affordable university tuition.
For a Canadian, it’s hard to think those are radical. And when Sanders hit those lines, thousands of people on both sides of the rink — Hillary’s supporters and his — cheered and waved their signs.
But Sanders doesn’t say how he can deliver, for example, socialized health care, given that Republicans, who control Congress and 34 state governments, have shown themselves willing to shut down the federal government rather than support Obamacare.
Sanders can’t even convince his congressional Democratic colleagues to back his plan. How’s he going to get Republicans to support it?
And he sounds, as Stephen Colbert put it, like a “guy in front of you at the deli trying to return salami.”
Listening to him, you think: I agree. Nobody should have to pay for bad salami, but, buddy, give it a break. They’re not going to give you your money back.
Sanders’ speech was followed by several from prominent New Hampshire Democrats in pant suits — a senator, a would-be senator and the governor — who all made it clear that they support Clinton.
When she took to the stage, she argued persuasively that she has got a lot done over the years and is ready for the job in a way that Sanders will never be, and if people want her to talk about inequality, well, it turns out that she can do that, too.
Whatever her ethical lapses, her cozy relationship with the corporate elite, which suddenly looks as awkward as a group of middle-aged politicians dancing to Fight Song, she is qualified for the job and Sanders isn’t.
He’s a one-note politician — an appealing advocate — but he has never shown the kind of political skill the presidency demands.
And most Americans don’t want to buy the salami he’s selling. It’s hard to imagine him beating a Republican, although it’s possible, since the GOP is careening through Iowa and New Hampshire like a burning garbage truck.
The two candidates who look like they could mop the floor with a radical like Sanders — former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former Ohio governor John Kasich — are at the bottom of the pack, trailing Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, as odious a trio of candidates as ever dominated a political race.
Trump, with his trash mouth, lies and weird hair, has been grabbing all the attention, but Cruz and Rubio are also awful to a degree that should require their immediate disqualification.
During Saturday night’s Republican debate in New Hampshire, for instance, Cruz said that he would bring peace to the Middle East with carpet bombing, not nation building, a psychotically dim-witted prescription for misery and war.
And in the evening’s best moment, Rubio was revealed to be badly programmed robot when, to defend himself when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accused him of using memorized soundbites, he repeated the same memorized soundbite.
Iowan Republicans, who have had months to really get to know these characters, gave 75 per cent of their support to these three, followed by nine per cent for Ben Carson, an oddball brain surgeon who repeatedly failed to follow stage directions to his podium at the beginning of Saturday’s debate.
It’s enough to make you wonder if the presidential system is sustainable.
American politics is insanely polarized and becoming ever more so, the result of gerrymandering, massive amounts of dark money and an increasingly fragmented media environment. The debates taking place in both parties aren’t even vaguely related to one another.
Primary voters could yet veer toward the centre, but if they don’t, voters in November could have to choose between Trump and Sanders, radicals far from the natural sweet spot of American politics, and then one of them would get to run the most powerful country in the world.
The more I learn about it, the happier I am to live in a parliamentary democracy.

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Less amusing translation of Brazilian article on Harper bathroom tiff

On August 9, the Brazilian newspaper Fohla published a story about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apparently undiplomatic behavior during his visit to that country on a trade mission.

Canadians had a bit of fun on Twitter with the awkward machine translation from Google.

A Brazilian friend translated the story for me. It’s not as much fun this way, but the meaning is clearer:

Canadian Prime Minister goes to bathroom and comes out only when requirement met

Natuza Nery


Eliane Cantanhêde

Folha columnist

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper put Brazilian diplomats in a difficult (embarrassing) position this Monday, demanding a change in the Brazilian diplomatic protocol and only accepted to come out for lunch after his request had been accepted.

The official speeches and toasts can take place before or after lunch. Dilma (Rouseff, Brazil’s president) prefers to have these after lunch, so this is what is being done during her presidency. But Harper was adamant that it should take place before lunch. He did not explain why.

Harper had already irked Dilma’s advisors and diplomats when he announced that he wished to speak to journalists at the Palacio do Planalto (the Presidential Palace) when the protocol is generally that foreign dignitaries talk to the press at the Itamaraty (the Foreign Affairs palace).

Since Brazilian diplomats denied his request to speak to the press at the Presidential palace, Harper was already in a bad mood when he arrived for lunch. He demanded the shift in protocol at the lunch event, and locked himself in the private bathroom of ministro Antonio Patriota (Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Minister) while he waited for a reply.

Brazilian diplomats were taken aback and did not know what to do – if they should listen to Dilma’s request or to Harper. Harper arrived at the room (in the Foreign Affairs ministry) where the lunch was taking place only when Brazilian diplomats confirmed that the speeches and toasts would take place before lunch, as he had demanded.

The Canadian Embassy in Brasilia does not confirm this version of events, but the Folha has confirmed with diplomats present at the event.

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Delay sought, opposed

On Thursday, the Public Works Department announced that it had received a request for a deadline extension in the federal government’s $35-billion shipbuilding procurement process:

Request to Extend the Bid Period for the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy

June 23, 2011

The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy Secretariat has received two requests from eligible bidders to extend the bid period to September 12, 2011, for the Request for Proposals (RFP) to build large vessels for Canada.

Requests for bid extensions are not unusual or extraordinary, particularly for complex requirements, and each case is examined on its own merits.

The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy Deputy Ministers’ Governance Committee will make the final decision regarding whether an extension will be granted. Given the current stage of the procurement process, the decision will be made as expeditiously as possible.

Canada will not respond to enquiries regarding the bid extension request until the decision is announced.

Until further notice, the RFP bid closing date remains July 7, 2011.


On Friday, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter wrote a letter to the department, asking that the government refuse the request:


JUN 2 4 2011

Tom Ring Assistant Deputy Minister

Acquisitions Branch Place du Portage, Phase III, lIAI-I13

11 Laurier Street

Gatineau, Que, KIA OSS

Dear Mr. Ring,

I am writing regarding the posting on the NSPS website, stating, “The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy Secretariat” has received two requests from eligible bidders to extend the bid period to September 12, 2011, for the Request for Proposals (RFP) to build large vessels for Canada. ”

I am aware that Irving Shi pbuilding is not one ofthe bidders making this request. In accordance with the well-established National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy timelines, Irving Shipyard’s comprehensive proposal is currently in production in order to be ready to meet the July 7, 2011 deadline.

There has been one extension already. Since June 2010, each qualified yard has been given an equal and reasonable opportunity to submit their bid by the deadline of July 7, 2011.

I know the committee is dedicated to ensuring a transparent and fair process. A further extension at this time could create the impression that the process is being adjusted to favour some bids over others.

Sincerely, Darrell Dexter, QC

Premier of Nova Scotia

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Alfred Apps has come down with a case of cognitive dissonance

Alfred Apps, president of the Liberal Party of Canada, went on CBC’s Power and Politics Tuesday, May 3, 2011, to call for a period of reflection for the party, after it was reduced to 34 seats, and third place in the House of Commons.

He said something curious: “I don’t buy for a minute that there’s been a fundamental realignment here.”

I think this is classic example of how an intelligent, greatly accomplished person can succumb to cognitive dissonance.

One never knows what will happen in politics, but one often thinks one does. People in the Ottawa bubble often express unwarranted certainty about events, creating a kind of group think that is comforting, since it creates a shared reality, even if it later turns out to have been baseless. When that happens, everyone just quietly forgets their earlier certainty and adopts a new consensus.

A classic example is the near universal belief that Paul Martin would win a massive majority government after he took over the Liberal party.

I remember, with some embarrassment, scoffing at some optimistic claim from NDP national director Brad Lavigne over beers, I think on the night of the budget lockup. I think I may have been a bit pompous about the impossibility of Jack Layton becoming prime minister or leader of the Opposition. Sorry, Brad.

I was not as certain as many of my colleagues, though, about the grim fate facing the NDP going into this election. The conventional wisdom was that they were fools to vote against the budget, and would be punished by angry voters.

Similarly, Ottawa was full of people before this election, as before the 2006 election, predicting that nothing would change.

It’s one thing, though, to fail to predict an event that has yet to happen, and another to fail to accept it after it has, which I think is the case with Mr. Apps.

On April 25, I described what was happening as a realingment in column I wrote for The Chronicle Herald.

A week later, which, as they say, is a lifetime in politics, I think it accurately portrays the shift that was taking place in our political system and the reason it was happening.

My Twitter headline for it was: #elxn41 could lead to permanent structural realignment:

The Bloc Quebecois brought out Jacques Parizeau for a speech to rally the sovereigntist base in Montreal on Monday.
“It has been a strange campaign,” said Parizeau, as sharp and wry as ever. “For a while, the problem consisted of knowing whether a coalition consisted of a mortal or a venial sin.”
It has been unlike other campaigns, and there is reason to believe the outcome will also be different.
As the last week begins, the polls show two significant shifts taking place: one an extension of an existing trend and the other without precedent.
In Ontario, polls show the Conservatives poised to continue a decade-long pattern of gains.
In 2000, in Jean Chretien’s last election, the Liberals won 51 per cent of the vote in Ontario, which was good enough for 100 of 103 seats.
In 2004, Stephen Harper’s newly merged party took 24 Ontario seats with 31.5 per cent of the vote, pushing Paul Martin’s Liberals into a minority. In 2006, the Tories took 40 seats, with 35 per cent of the vote. In 2008, the Conservatives won 51, with 39 per cent of the vote.
Step by step, Harper’s team has moved in from the white, Protestant countryside, which by long tradition gravitates to the Tories, toward the multi-hued suburbs of Toronto, where significant numbers of immigrants and their children are embracing a modern Conservative message that has been carefully calibrated for them.
The Liberal MPs of the GTA — many of whom won their seats in the days when winning the nomination battle was the real challenge — are now running scared, fighting to hold formerly safe turf.
The most recent polls show Conservatives in the 40s, which would be good enough for a Conservative majority.
Voters in Quebec, in contrast, have mostly turned their backs to Harper’s stern warnings, shocking everybody by warming up to Jack Layton.
After a strong French-language debate performance, Layton’s party is now leading the Bloc Quebecois. With his folksy Montreal street French and a policy book that has been carefully shaped over the years to reduce friction with nationalist Quebecers, Layton can now hope for a real harvest of MPs on Monday.
He has been preparing the ground for years. With little hope for immediate gains, he worked hard to make the NDP electoral effort in Quebec more than symbolic. The first seedling to sprout was the election of Thomas Mulcair, giving the party, for the first time, a talented bilingual spokesman.
Then, in the middle of this campaign, a Parti Quebecois convention adopted aggressive policies on language and sovereignty, reminding Quebecers that Pauline Marois is likely to be the next premier.
In the debate, Layton’s positions on just about everything but the future of Quebec lined up with Duceppe’s, and suddenly he had serious momentum among francophone voters, to the point that Duceppe brought out Parizeau to firm up the support of the base.
Parizeau’s appeal is unlikely to resonate with voters who have already decided to vote NDP, and Duceppe looks really rattled, so it seems likely the NDP will win seats in Quebec on Monday, although their candidates are green and they have no machine.
These developments in Quebec and Ontario are terrible news for the Liberals. Some national polls now show the Grits behind the NDP. I don’t believe, given the weight of tradition and the power of incumbency, that the NDP can surpass the Liberals on election day, but who knows?
As the election began, I thought Michael Ignatieff had a good chance of connecting with Canadian voters. Until the debates, when he failed to make a persuasive case for a Liberal government, it looked like his energetic and free-wheeling rally performances might give Canadians cause to reconsider him, setting up a momentum-building redemption narrative.
Instead, in the final days of the campaign, voters on the left are evenly divided between the Liberals and New Democrats, which is ideal for the Conservatives, since strategic voters may not know how to vote to block a Tory majority.
Preston Manning’s father, Ernest, dreamed of a political realignment in Canada, with a right-wing party and a left-wing party, rather than two parties of the mushy middle.
The goal of the movement, for decades, has been to squeeze the Liberals. By framing this election around the question of whether a coalition is a venial or a mortal sin, Harper is moving closer to realizing the Manning dream.


Of course, I don’t really know whether this is a permanent structural realigment of the Canadian political system. The NDP will have to raise its game if it is to negotiate around the many obstacles in its path. In particular, I think the party needs to take policy formation more seriously. The costing in the NDP’s most recent platform seems to have arrived via Unicorn Express from Candy Mountain. The party must be more rigorous if it is to present itself as a government in waiting, in part because it is tough for left wing ideas to get a fair hearing from the right-leaning bank economists who serve as de facto referees in our economic arguments.

The NDP also has a tremendous challenge in managing the brutal nationalist political realities in Quebec. In a sense, their real competition there is Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois, who will be hoping to show that Gilles Duceppe was right when he said that NDP would always side with Canada against Quebec.

But as Harper sets about implementing his majority agenda — which is likely to involve deep cuts to federal spending — opposition to those changes should coalesce around Layton’s NDP, no matter how many teenagers he has in his caucus.

If it does, then the NDP will be ahead of the Liberals as we head into the 2015 election, and Mr. Apps will have no choice but to buy it.

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Terrible Orange Dawn

Stephen Taylor, director of the conservative National Citizens Coalition, sent out an urgent email to supporters on Friday, calling on them to donate for an advertising campaign to stop the NDP from taking power:

I couldn’t believe this could happen

Days before Canadians go to vote, I am shocked by the latest poll numbers. Apparently, the socialist NDP is surging in various parts of the country and may indeed spoil a Conservative majority.  Even worse, Jack Layton has suggested that he would share power with the separatist Bloc Québécois and reopen Canada’s constitution.  Pair this with an economic agenda that was written in Candyland, and Canada could be facing a generation of political and fiscal turmoil.

I remember Bob Rae’s Ontario and the accidental election of the socialist NDP in the 90s. Many Canadians are looking to the socialist NDP as a protest vote, but the time is critical to bring everyone back to the sobering reality.  We must protect this fragile economic recovery that has now become uncertain with the rise of the socialists.

I’ve let you know of our plan to run these ads in the weekend editions of the Globe and Mail and National Post.  We’re spreading a wakeup call to Canadians to remind them of the consequences of a terrible Orange Dawn that may come next Tuesday after election night. If you agree with me that this is a critical time to remind Canadians of what is at stake under the socialists and separatists please help us run these ads by contributing $35, $145, $250 or as much as you can afford at this time.

This is it… Let’s fight this together.  We can save this election.

Thank you,
Stephen Taylor
Fellow Rallier
Director, National Citizens Coalition

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Coalition warning

The Conservative war room sent out a release Wednesday afternoon warning that an NDP candidate’s resignation is proof that the NDP and Liberals are scheming together to take power after the May 2 election.

Earlier Wednesday, Ryan Dolby, the NDP candidate in Elgin-Middlesex-London, had dropped out because he fears a Conservative majority. The move seems unlikely to threaten Tory incumbent Joe Preston, who won more votes than the New Democrat and Liberal combined last time, but it was quickly greeted with pleasure by Liberals, who hope that New Democrat supporters will flee their party to support the Liberals as the campaign goes along.

Layton shrugged off the news, but New Democrats expressed anger.

For the Conservatives, though, it isn’t a sign of competition between the two other parties, but a sign of their secret plan. Their subsequent release has an almost tongue-in-cheek quality:

Conservative Party of Canada


March 30, 2011

For Immediate Release

BREAKING NEWS More Proof of the coalition

Further evidence was revealed today with confirmation that Jack Layton’s candidate in Elgin-Middlesex-London has dropped out to support his Coalition partner, the Liberal candidate.

With the Liberals and the NDP helping to help each other in ridings across Canada, what further proof is needed? The Coalition plan is now secretly at work on the ground. That is why the choice in this election is clear: A stable, national, Conservative government or an Ignatieff-led Coalition with the NDP and the Bloc Québécois.

Ignatieff-led Liberal-NDP Bloc Québécois Coalition plan revealed Despite his denials, Michael Ignatieff’s secret plan to form a Coalition with the NDP and the Bloc Québécois is now part of the official Coalition platform.

While Michael Ignatieff won’t come clean about his secret plan during the election, the plan has been revealed by Section 1.4.11 of the Bloc Québécois’s platform which reads: “In the event of a Parliament with no majority, the Bloc Québécois reserves the right to support a coalition of political parties, as long as the respect of Quebec values is guaranteed.” (p. 39)

– 30 –

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Lobbyists warned off campaigns

Karen E. Shepherd, the federal lobbying commissioner, sent registered lobbyists an email today warning them to take care to avoid violating the Lobbying Act by participating in the federal election campaign.

Lobbyists, many of whom came to Ottawa as political staffers, complain that the vagueness of the warning is preventing them from exercising their democratic right to participate in the process.

Text of the letter:


Reminder concerning the participation of lobbyists in political activities
Dear Sir/Madam:
Following the recent announcement of the federal election, I wish to
take this opportunity to remind lobbyists to be mindful that political
activities may place a public office holder in a real or apparent
conflict of interest.
Subsection 10.3 of the Lobbying Act (the Act) states that lobbyists
are required to comply with the requirements of the Lobbyists’ Code of
Conduct (the Code). More specifically, Rule 8 of the Code provides
Lobbyists shall not place public office holders in a conflict of
interest by proposing or undertaking any action that would constitute
an improper influence on a public office holder.
During this current election campaign, lobbyists should keep in mind
the following:
•Working on a political campaign to support the election of a public
office holder is, in my opinion, advancing the private interest of
that public office holder.
•A real or apparent conflict of interest can be created when a
lobbyist engages in political activities that advance the private
interest of a public office holder, while at the same time, or
subsequently, seeking to lobby that public office holder.
•In the case of a Minister or Minister of State, a real or apparent
conflict of interest can be created when a lobbyist engages in
political activities that advance the private interest of the Minister
or Minister of State, while at the same time, or subsequently, seeking
to lobby public office holders working in the department for which the
Minister or Minister of State is responsible.
•Temporary deregistration during the election campaign may not be
sufficient to avoid creating a real or apparent conflict of interest.
In November 2009 I issued Guidance on Conflict of Interest — Rule 8
and in August 2010 I issued Clarifications about political activities
in the context of Rule 8, which explain my interpretation of the Code
with respect to the intersection of political and lobbying activities.
In my Clarifications, I give examples of activities that I would see
as advancing the private interest of a public office holder to a high
degree as: (1) being a member of the board of directors of a public
office holder’s constituency association; (2) organizing a fundraising
activity for the benefit of the public office holder or their
constituency association; or (3) chairing a campaign for the election
of the public office holder.
For more information, please refer to these and other documents on the
Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying website at http://www.ocl-cal.gc.ca.
You can also directly contact my office at 613-957-2760 or
Sincerely yours,
Karen E. Shepherd
Commissioner of Lobbying

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