Here we go!

Welcome back!
We've just returned from Greenville, South Carolina where Laura and I did a seminar. Although the weather was unseasonably cool, we nevertheless enjoyed the beautiful town and people.

The Federal Election Campaign is Underway 
The party leaders are out of the gate quickly - if not entirely cleanly. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff instantly hit a roadblock when he refused to cleanly disavow the possibility that he would form a coalition government with Jack Layton's NDP. It took him several news cycles to finally get off the fence and state clearly that he is ruling out such a possibility. It does beg the question, "what was he thinking?" My view is he didn't think fully through what, in effect, he was asking voters to do? "Vote for me and I may/may not run the government with Jack Layton and a few NDP'ers in my Cabinet." Instead he didn't seem to realize that all he needed to say was, "If I am asked by the Governor General to form a government which can meet the confidence of the House, I would attempt to do so on an issue-by-issue basis. Mr. Harper himself has done this, as Paul Martin before him did, as Pierre Trudeau and Lester Pearson before them did. I absolutely rule out a coalition government." In effect, that's what he ended up saying, but  why the agony in getting there?

For the Tories part, Stephen Harper spent the first few days hammering the Liberals over the "C" word, but once it settled down have turned their attention to their economic policies, which they know must be the ballot question if they are going to get a majority government.

Jack Layton and the NDP are having trouble getting traction through the noise between the Liberals and Conservatives. They are clearly targeting small business owners and consumers with their policies as they hit hard at the corporate tax cuts of the Harper government. His broken hip appears not to be too much of an impediment, even though he has clearly cut down on the number of appearances and has stopped worrying about photos and videos of him with his cane.

I will be appearing weekly during the campaign on CTV's Power Play with Don Martin. during the campaign. My second appearance is this evening at 8:15 p.m EDT, so I hope you can tune in. Last week's appearance can be found here  where pollster Nik Nanos and I examined the communications challenges facing the leaders.

Anatomy of a Runaway 'News' Story
During the election campaign I will occasionally be looking at some of the more egregious news stories that fail the test of fairness. Exhibit 'A' is a Global News Winnipeg item which managed to insert its own interpretation into a story about Conservative MP Shelly Glover's comments about the Liberal MP Anita Neville who is running in a neighbouring riding. The National Post did an excellent job dissecting the  'non-gaffe' . Actually, the reporter missed the real news in the piece, in which Shelly Glover, after telling the reporter that she wasn't going to reveal the name of Neville's opposing Tory candidate as there was no 'candidate of record' at that point, ended up revealing his name anyway. Also Glover declined an opportunity to do a Global Winnipeg interview to respond to the 'story' and waited until the next morning to clarify her remarks on CJOB radio. She should have known to move immediately to set the record straight.

What should be noted in the story is that the Global Winnipeg reporter and the news anchor Peter Chura introduced the word 'age' into the story in the first place - interpreting Glover's comment, "she's passed her expiry date" as referring to her "age" and "too old for the job".  This was low-hanging fruit for the Global news team and they were determined to pluck it. They also made a feast of it the next day by constructing a phoney 'poll' of its viewers on Global Winnipeg's  website, misrepresenting her remarks, as follows:

What do you think of Glover’s comments toward Neville?

So this is a perfect media-generated news story that is a win/win for the media outlet in question. Even if they've mischievously hyped a non-story they benefit by milking it for days to come. Perfect!

It's still early days with lots of mud to be slung and real or imagined 'gaffes'. In other words, it's politics as usual. Let's hope that there is still room for real issues to be debated.

Barack Obama's Statement on Libya
After nine days of taking a 'shellacking' in the media over his Administration's actions in Libya, President Obama finally came forward with a speech to the nation making the case for getting involved in the Qaddafi horror show. How did he do? Great optics by delivering the speech with numerous flags as a backdrop at Fort McNair. He clearly wanted to present himself as the Commander-in-Chief and to that extent it was a compelling visual.

In substance, it bought him some time, but was not entirely satisfying for those looking for a clear set of principles. Clearly the President does not want to follow the Bush Iraq policy and yet wanted to be seen as taking strong action to protect innocent civilians. He continually pressed the point that the U.S. would only be involved in concert with other nations - which Canada, the U.K., France and others are contributing through NATO. The fact that the NATO mission is led by Canada's Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard is helpful to the case that he made. He took a swipe at the Clinton Administration's failure to move on the Rwanda genocide issue until it was too late, and he took a shot at George W. Bush's Iraq policies. What will he do about the Ivory Coast, Bahrain or Sudan? Those, apparently, will be decided on a case-by-case basis. 

So what is the end game in Libya? Well, that's still up in the air. It's clear Obama wants Qaddafi gone - preferably by imitating Egypt's Hosni Mubarek and quitting. But that won't happen. Mubarek is a realist, while Qaddafi is a crazed extremist. More than a minor difference, there. So then what? Stay tuned.  

Until next time......


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

PMOWelcome back!
Hope you had a grand St. Patrick's Day!
Here we are on St. Patrick's Day and I am in Philadelphia, the city that loves you back on a week-long seminar tour. So no real celebrating on my own here (no tears please) as Philly is always an enjoyable town to visit - especially when the weather is hitting the high sixties. The week began in Orlando, Florida where I was doing a seminar...and where all week it's in the high 70s and low 80s. Now I can take that anytime! I was sorry I couldn't get any golf squeezed in, but managed to enjoy a visit to Universal Studios. Every time I see it, they seem to be expanding. I will admit it here...I enjoyed the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
There I've said it and they say the first step of being able to move on is to face up to your weaknesses. So that's mine! One more day in Philly before heading back to Ottawa and turning around on Monday to fly to Atlanta. And the following week, it will be Greenville, South Carolina. So March Madness is well underway. [That's my excuse for the long delay since my last blog post..]
Japan's Disaster
The earthquake in Japan was almost too horrible to imagine and our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people as they struggle with this disaster. The nuclear reactor radiation emissions has revived the anti-nuclear forces and puts increasing pressure on the nuclear industry - and on politicians - to reassure the public about the implications for the aging nuclear power plants in Canada and the United States. This, in turn, puts increasing pressure on political leaders to position themselves on the issue.
Libya's Impending Disaster
Now that Gadhafi is moving to crush the rebels in his home-sweet-repressive-home of Libya, the U.N. Security Council is finally reacting with a much tougher set of measures - declaring Libya to be a no-fly zone and for member states to 'take all necessary measures' to protect civilians. After weeks of refusing to take such a position, the Obama Administration is moving quickly to make up for the West's mis-placed confidence in the rebels' chances of success.  A fulsome forceful attack on Libyan forces by land,sea and air will be necessary now in order to drive Libyan jets from the air.
Although risking a larger scale event, Gadhafi, IMHO is unworthy of further consideration, given his terrorist attacks on civilians in the past (Lockerbie being the most obvious and disgraceful). Canada is moving six CF-18 fighter jets into position as is the U.S. with greater firepower. No doubt Britain will move quickly also. So, this latest Middle East eruption may only be a prelude to much wider action involving Western Allied nations. The trick will be not to escalate it beyond what the intervention needs to be. There is now little question that this will be a huge test for President Obama's international leadership. Much more to come...and keep checking those oil prices!

Which brings us to....another impending event.....a Canadian election.
It looks now almost certain - barring a miracle - that the government will fall next week. If the Liberals have their way it will be on a confidence vote the day before the planned release of the Budget. If the Conservatives have their way, and fail to construct a deal with the NDP on the Budget, then they will be happy to have the election on a Budget vote - but not on the non-confidence vote the day before.

With the increasing accusations and tension in the House - the latest being an attack upon former Deputy Chief of Staff to the PM, Bruce Carson - it is clear that the status quo cannot continue. Although the Carson allegations don't seem to amount to "a scandal", however the allegation can outlive the facts in the run-up to an election. The government appears to have erred on the side of caution by asking the RCMP to investigate the matter. It looks like a case of 'overkill' at this stage, but they can't afford to look like they're doing nothing. With fairly strong poll numbers putting him within reach of a majority government, it may well be that Stephen Harper has reached the limits of his tolerance zone. Even though the public doesn't want an election (and they rarely do, it seems), nevertheless when one is underway that issue quickly falls by the wayside.

So what's going to happen?
I'm so glad you asked. With the caveat that anything can happen during an election, an election at this time is clearly Stephen Harper's to lose. At the least it will be a minority Conservative government. Deep down, the Liberals hope to increase their seats. That is all they can reasonably aim for. If the Tories can keep control of the ballot question - which in the Tories' case must be "which leader do you trust to strengthen Canada's economy, cut taxes and create jobs?"If that is the ballot question at the end of the campaign, then it's hard to imagine that he will lose. However, if Michael Ignatieff can make the ballot question about the Government's 'secrecy' and 'ethics' issues, then it could be closer than one might think. That, of course, is why the all-out Liberal effort to bring down the Government on those issues is critical to their strategy.
The key for Jack Layton and the NDP is to position themselves as a clear alternative to the two traditional parties - read 'politics as usual'. They will have a chance to solidify or strengthen their recent rise in the polls. If he can't point to clear aspects of the Budget that he can claim responsibility for, then it's off to the polls he will go - even with his recent hip surgery. [Whoever said politics is a pain will be proved correct in Jack's case.]
Soooooo although prognosticating is almost always a mug's game in politics, right now it looks like there is no strong wave out there to give the Conservatives or the Liberals a majority government; however it is within the reach of the Conservatives with a well-run error-free campaign.
And that's it from me. Until next time....


Commenting on Campaign Ads

Hi there! I thought you might be interested in my comments yesterday on CTV's Power Play on the latest TV commercials by the NDP and Conservatives in this pre-campaign period. As an aside, it's looking more and more like an election is in the offing in Canada.   Barry on CTV's Power Play .