Monthly Archives: September 2009

For now, at least

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Well, we aren’t going to see an election call (this week, at least). The Bloc Quebecois announced Tuesday that it would support the government on Friday’s budget vote, and Wednesday the NDP said that it would support the Conservatives’ changes to EI. And this probably serves everyone well- the Tories, the Liberals, NDPs, and Bloquistes, and, most of all, the voters.

For Stephen Harper, this is good news. As much as he talks about wanting a majority government, the odds of his winning one are slim, if the latest polls are to be believed. The biggest problem the Conservatives have is that everyone knows Stephen Harper and many people have decided they don’t like him. The party’s ability to grow its support in a federal election, which is a must if the party is going to form a majority, is severely limited. In fact, if these poll results hold true in a federal election, likely the Conservatives would have a weakened minority. Making the current situation work – even if they have to soften their policies for the benefit of “the separatists and the socialists-” is not only the best way for the Conservatives to stay in power, but is also the best way to prove that they can be trusted with power – which may, conversely, help them inch towards majority territory.

The Liberals, meanwhile, have finally figured out the “opposition” part of this Official Opposition business. While blindly opposing any future confidence motion isn’t the most responsible thing to do in a minority situation, it beats the hell out officially opposing such motions, but mostly abstaining from the vote, which was the Liberal strategy under Stephane Dion. Michael Ignatieff is trying to walk a delicate tightrope: his party needs him to take a firm stand against the government (see the Bloc Quebecois ad below), but his party is in no shape, politically or financially, to fight an election right now – much less an election the party would probably get blamed for. The NDP and Bloc have, in a way, let Iggy off the hook.

The Bloc's strategy: Harper and Iggy are the same person. From the Bloc Quebecois website.

The Bloc's strategy: Harper and Iggy are the same person. From the Bloc Quebecois website.

The Bloc Quebecois is the party that would be harmed the least by an election. On the other hand, Quebecers really like the home renovation tax credit, which is the crux of the budget bill the party will support on Friday. Many Quebecers (like many Canadians) have undertaken home renovations this summer and would be rather irked if this thing wasn’t passed. Consequentially, the Bloc likes the home renovation tax credit and will vote for it. This is not a case of the Tories tailoring a bill to the Bloc’s taste, but of the Tories creating a bill the Bloc just happens to like. Besides, do you think the Bloc really wants to fight the Conservatives for voters in Quebec City on this issue?

Meanwhile, the NDP is using its position in Parliament to extract some concessions out of the Conservatives. Really, do you think the Conservatives would offer Jack Layton’s party that billion dollar Employment Insurance plan if it didn’t need the NDP’s support this fall? The unstated goal of any third party is to have leverage, to be in a position to use its standing in the house to influence government policy. It is not to mindlessly oppose the government because of ideology. Critics on the left can say the NDP’s sold out, that it could have done more, but I have to believe that 1-5 months more EI for 190,000 workers, in this economic climate, is a decent deal and probably the best the NDP is going to get out of the Tories right now. Considering the alternative is $300-million election campaign nobody wants, a possibly serious case of voter backlash, and that extra unemployment relief not being there, Jack Layton would have to be a fool not to make the deal.

Which brings us, finally, to us, the voters. We get to see how minority government is supposed to work – for now, at least. We get to see our men and women in Ottawa do their jobs instead of bickering over an election campaign – for now, at least. And we are spared the charade of an election campaign nobody really wants – for now, at least. Actually, that’s a bit harsh. If our friends on Parliament Hill continue to work together, though, this government can survive until at least winter – which can only be a good thing.

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Poll Position, Part I

Since this poll was published last week, most interested parties probably already know about it. But there’s still a few of pertinent points to be gleaned out.

  1. Getting Kelly Lamrock out of the education portfolio, replacing him with a far less stubborn minister, Roland Hache,  and reversing (for the most part) cuts to school support staff seems to have pulled Graham’s Liberals out of an almost-certain death spiral. The premier’s chair has to be a little more comfortable considering this is the first quarterly poll since March 2008 which has not seen a drop in Liberal support. The party, though, needs, not only to better define its vision and its path to self-sufficiency, it also needs no make itself likable again – Graham’s government has alienated quite a few voters over the last three years, and will need to expand its base over the next 9 months to feel comfortable during the election campaign.
  2. David Alward and the PCs can oppose all they want, and good on them for doing so. Their health critic, Margaret Ann Blaney, has been far more visible on the doctors’ wage freeze controversy than Health Minister Mary Schryer, and the party as a whole has vehemently fought most of the changes and cuts carried out by the government. The problem they have – and that many New  Brunswickers have with the Progressive Conservative Party – is that they don’t seem to have any answers, they don’t seem to have a plan. Nobody really expects that cutting taxes deeper and not cutting services at all (it’s an oversimplification, but not by much) will help New Brunswick get through the recession any better.  The PCs have been spending the summer going across the province, supposedly finding out from New Brunswickers hat their priorities are. It remains to be seen if these priorities will be well reflected when the party releases its policy this fall.
  3. Good golly, are things looking up for the NDP. While I’ll explain in a minute why their 22% support isn’t really 22% support, and also while the NDP reached these lofty heights between elections under Elizabeth Weir’s leadership, this poll marks a full recovery for a party which achieved barely 5% of the vote in the last election. If these numbers hold until the election campaign, the NDP has a very good chance of returning to the legislature with one or two seats. And if the new NDP government in Nova Scotia runs a tight (and popular) ship for the next 12 months, things should only continue to look up for the NDP in this province.
  4. For me, though, the most important number in these polls is the percentage of undecided voters: 43%. That number is not reflected in the much-publicized percentages, mainly because undecided votes usually split close enough to the figures for decided voters that it hardly makes much of a difference. Then, however, you get elections like this province had in 1999. At the election call, Camille Theriault’s Liberals had a huge lead over the Bernard Lord’s reeling PC’s, but there were still a large number of undecided voters. Lord thoroughly dominated the stagnant Liberals, the undecided vote practically all broke in the PCs’ favour, and the Tories romped to their greatest electoral success ever. With that in mind, here’s my breakdown of the poll, with the undecided voters factored in. All possible errors in math are my own, but the numbers should work out.

Party……………………………..% of decided vote………………………% of all polled

Liberals……………………………………41………………………………………23.37

PCs………………………………………….35………………………………………19.95

NDP…………………………………………22………………………………………12.54

Undecided…………………………………0………………………………………..43

These numbers really speak to bedrock support, the kind of political support that likely won’t wane before the next election. Any party that wants to win the next election will have to take at least half of that undecided number. It’ll be a treat to see how these numbers move in three months.

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Mary Schryer has no sweet clue.

I just listened to Hance Colburne’s interview with Health Minister Mary Schryer and was  utterly appalled by her total ignorance of the underlying issue is the doctor’s dispute. It’s not state-of-the-art equipment, medical schools, or the tax rate. Those are all good things for doctor recruitment and retention and government should continue to invest in those areas. No, the real issue, the sticking point in this whole disagreement, is trust.

Schryer’s government came to a tentative agreement with the Medical Society in December and, after the doctors ratified it, it then unilaterally threw it in the trash can. It passed a law that took away the doctors’ right (under the Canada Health Act) to arbitration, declared any previous tentative agreements null and void, and took away the doctors’ right to challenge any of this law in court (though this hasn’t kept them from trying and, if precedent can be believed, won’t keep them from succeeding). It has wage freeze regulations sitting on the Lieutenant-Governor’s desk waiting to be ratified. And Minister Schyrer honestly believes that doctors will take her invitation to renegotiate their deal  seriously, with that Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads?

If you didn’t trust your boss, you’d want to get a new job as soon as you bloody well could, and there’s no reason to think doctors are any different from you and me in that regard. If Mary Schryer is serious about renegotiating with the doctors, and if she wants to continue to recruit a good number of physicians to this province, she needs to give her head a shake and scrap this utterly inane law, at least. If she can’t or won’t, she should get out of the way and let somebody competent run the department. Otherwise, patients and taxpayers will be the big losers.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to this morning’s interview, as aired on CBC Fredericton’s Information Morning program, so you can judge whether the health minister has a point or is just spinning her wheels. I also added the paragraph breaks to make the post more readable.

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