Liberal candidate of record is a Conservative on the books

Meet Louise Boulanger, the Liberal candidate for the Quebec by-election in the riding of Roberval–Lac-St-Jean.

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Here is a picture of Jean-Pierre Blackburn, the Conservative federal government’s minister of labour:

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Here is a picture of Denis Lebel, the Conservative candidate for the same by-election for the riding of Roberval–Lac-St-Jean:

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Here is a picture of Louise Boulanger, Denis Lebel, and Jean-Pierre Blackburn from the photo gallery of Denis Lebel’s website.

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The photo shows Lebel and Boulanger embracing with Blackburn in the foreground. Nothing too out of the ordinary, no?

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of friendly exchange between Conservative and a Liberal, of course. However, Boulanger is actually a Conservative Party member as suggested by the cover of La Presse this morning which contains the headline “ELECTION PARTIELLE: Louise Belanger, la candidate libéale dans Roberval est membre en règle du Parti… conservateur (By-election: Louise Belanger, the Liberal candidate in Roberval is technically a member of the Conservative Party)”

If true, Boulanger would have signed a form that includes the statement that she “actively support[s] the founding principles of the CPC” which are listed here.

However, Stephane Dion later “nominated” Boulanger to contest the riding of Roberval–Lac-St-Jean for the upcoming by-election, as a Liberal!.

Consider this quote from Boulanger concerning the Liberal Party having its affairs in order:

Je suis contente d’arriver à ce moment-ci parce que le ménage a été fait. Le parti est plus rigoureux sur la sélection des candidats. Notre chef Stéphane Dion est exigeant envers lui-même et exigeant envers les autres. Il désire s’entourer de gens fonceurs. Le Parti libeacute;ral est à son meilleur pour servir la population

(I am happy to have come to this moment here because the cleanup has been done. The party is more rigorous in the selection of candidates. Our leader Stephane Dion is demanding of himself and of others. He wants to be surrounded by go-getters. The Liberal Party is at its best to serve the population.)

If Boulanger is a member of the Conservative Party, that rigorous selection process must be in need of review.

Does the Liberal Party Constitution forbid members of other parties from contesting elections for the Liberal Party?

Republican story from ’72

Take a look at the following video from CBS’ evening news from 1972. There should be a few interesting elements for any viewer, no matter their political leanings.

First, we notice that the topic of election strategy has always been good fodder for news reporters. Often, the horse race and how it’s run can be more compelling than the policies or platforms forwarded by the candidates.

Of course, there is also the gem of a Dan Rather piece from 1972. Rather’s thesis on the Republicans this time? That they’ve set up a front operation for show. The purpose? To demonstrate that Nixon isn’t running too hard for re-election. Possible, I suppose. After all, news media was hardly as ubiquitous in those days and perhaps such deliberate steps were taken to fool Rather. But, thankfully, he’s not fooled.

Next, at the RNC, envelope cutters are opening cheques from a quarter of a million people for $2.5 million. The ‘grassroots’ ma ‘n pa cheques that come in is a strategy employed by today’s Conservative Party in Canada. The direct mail lists and personal greetings customized by computer based on issue is interesting and it’s fascinating to know the sophistication of the operation involving these tools back to 1972. Some American politicians still bank heavily on direct mail appeals. Once, when describing blogging to a senior republican, I told him it was like the next version of direct mail. Thankfully, he didn’t press me further on the comparison, but I felt that the generational analogy was cogent enough, if on some levels not at all.

Next, in the report we see, by today’s standards, laughable privacy concerns which may well have enraged people watching Rather back in ’72. A ‘computer’ stores the names of mail-order Idaho steak customers? Most definitely a frightful thought to more than a few back in the early 70s.

Robert Odell Jr. is interviewed and describes these methods as the way of the future for campaign finance, and while we can forgive him for not foreseeing the netroots appeals of Howard Dean and those that would follow in the use of blogs and social media in this first decade of the 21st century, Odell could be a certified futurist.

We then see an obligatory note to show that the broad ma ‘n pa appeal isn’t exactly perfect yet as ‘fat cats’ still pay hundreds of dollars for Nixon fundraising dinners.

And then those that went home early will be sorely disappointed as we see a chance interview between Dan Rather and a 21-year old Karl Rove who holds up a bumper sticker for the GOP reading Generation of Peace. At the time of the interview, Rove was charged with “embarrassing pundits” and to help the Republican Party appeal to youth. It’s interesting to see how small a family of political operatives can exist, even in countries like the US.

All in all, a fascinating story about the ‘future’ of political financing from direct mail, to personalized letters aimed at specific constituents based on targeted issues. One wonders how the current cutting-edge methods of voter identification, fundraising and media balancing will be viewed 35 years from now.

CBC’s ‘B Team’

Many months after the this unfortunate report from CBC concerning the Prime Minister’s caucus retreat in Cornwall, Ontario last August, I had the random chance of sitting down and have a couple of drinks with a senior CBC staffer. Introducing myself and expecting to duck soon after, the nice fellow instead recalled my involvement in the aforementioned report and ombudsman review that followed and we had a friendly and quite forthright conversation about blogging, the national broadcaster, and what exactly was it that happened that could have led to such a botched report. Of course, regarding the CBC, conservatives describe the personal and institutional biases of the state-run broadcaster against the Tories. While at times conservatives have a case, other times a number of other factors may be at play.

Nobody is entirely sure exactly what went wrong in that report whether it was unconscious (or potentially conscious) bias on behalf of the reporter, rushed and sloppy production/reporting or even institutional bias of the broadcaster to be blind to such an error through the various levels of approval before the piece went to air. In fact, it could be one or more of the above.

In my friendly discussion with the senior CBC staffer, he didn’t discount bias but he did seemed to mention poor standards when he described the CBC phenomena of the ‘B team’ that tends to work in the last couple of months of summer.

I had forgotten about our discussion until I read a post today by Ouimet at The Tea Makers blog. Tea Makers is a blog written anonymously by a CBC insider and often offers internal criticism of the institution. Here’s an excerpt of the post:

Have you ever watched CBC-TV and said to yourself “WTF?”

Or listened to CBC Radio. Or watched CBC Newsworld. Next time it happens look at the calendar and you’ll find that it’s July or August. Probably August.

Because the summertime is when the A-Team takes a much-needed vacation and leaves the reigns to the B-Team, a rag-tag band of not ready for prime-timers who finally get their chance to be in charge. This happens from the top down, from the “on-air personalities” to the lady who doles out the money through the petty cash wicket.

In fact, some of your favourite CBC stars go on UI in the summertime, waiting for their shows to be renewed. It’s true!

So, the ‘B team’ phenomenon is actually part of the common lexicon at the CBC. Should it be an excuse for the sub-standard quality of broadcasting?

As for the caucus report last August, was it a matter of poor standards in reporting and/or production? Using Windows Movie Maker and Youtube, I was able to cut a more accurate representation of what went on in a few hours and I wasn’t even in Cornwall. So was it various levels of bias, the B-team, or both?

Whatever the reason, let’s continue to insist that the CBC sorts it out and raises its game.

Israeli helicopter ride

Shalom, blog readers! I’m in Tel Aviv right now trying to find a strong WiFi signal in order to bring you a promise of a huge update later on about my travels in Israel. I’m supposed to catch a ride down to the Dead Sea in about 10 minutes so I thought I’d post this video of my helicopter ride yesterday across Israel (and back).

Clip 1: Take off from airfield in Tel Aviv
Clip 2: Shot of Security Fence
Clip 3: Wingman copter flyby
Clip 4: Jerusalem (Temple Mount / Dome of the Rock / Old Jerusalem)
Clip 5: Return to the Tel Aviv along the coast.

My thanks to the Canada Israel Committee for their hospitality in Israel.

New Cabinet

The cabinet has been shuffled.

Solberg is at Rideau Hall to accompany his good friend Chuck Strahl. Monte will not be getting a new portfolio. He will remain in HRSDC.

Monte’s pal Strahl goes to Indian Affairs. A good upgrade especially as a BC minister.

MacKay goes to defense and keeps ACOA. The higher visibility should help the Tories regain some ground in Atlantic Canada.

O’Connor to revenue. As the most obvious prediction of a portfolio change, some thought O’Connor would go to Veterens Affairs. The former defense minister now goes to a largely administrative portfolio.

Oda to international cooperation. Oda replaces Josee Verner in this portfolio. Some say she was a poor communicator in Heritage, lacking the ability to speak French, she now takes over the CIDA portfolio.

Jim Prentice goes to Industry taking over for Maxime Bernier. Prentice is said to be the hardest working minister in Harper’s cabinet and will bring his work ethic to this new portfolio.

Maxime Bernier is tapped for foreign affairs. Such a move will have both the effect of raising Bernier’s portfolio and gives Quebec a minister in a more elite department. Further, as Quebec’s Van Doos soldiers are in Afghanistan, having a good communicator in this portfolio from the province.

Josee Verner to Canadian Heritage/Women/Languages. An Oda/Vernier swap. Vernier gets promoted and Oda demoted. Verner will be well positioned to celebrate Quebec City’s 400th anniversary.

Gerry Ritz to Agriculture/Wheat Board. A promotion for the Saskatchewan MP was pretty much assured when fellow Saskatchewan MP Skelton announced her retirement. Skelton being that province’s sole representation in cabinet, her resignation created an opening for a Saskatchewan MP. I’ve heard that Ritz will press forward on market choice and fight against the Wheat Board.

And, Diane Ablonczy finally gets her due as Secretary of State for Small Business and Tourism…

…which puts a wee blotch on my cabinet prediction! I predicted that no backbencher would be promoted to cabinet. Perhaps this was an 11th hour decision?

But, as I predicted, nobody lost their job and it was a significant shuffle. Cabinet did not grow in size. Also, as predicted, Day and Baird stay in their portfolios.

Further, Bernier was shuffled, but not to defense nor finance as some predicted.

So, is this Canada’s New New Government? What are your thoughts? Does this put a new face on the Conservative government? Cheers, Jeers? Did Harper make a good shuffle today? The Globe reported that Harper would be decreasing the size of cabinet in order to prepare for an election. However, the usual knowledge is that cabinet in fact grows prior to an election to promote seats and as many faces as possible.

The Prime Minister is likely to prorogue Parliament and go ahead with a throne speech this fall. This shuffle is also timed to give ministers enough time to process their MCs and move forward before the fall. The PM will also draw thoughts from his new ministers for the expected throne speech.

The language of energy politics

Consider this news item that aired on Citytv (Toronto) on August 11th. It concerns the Ontario NDP’s energy plan going into the next election.

A couple of things about this video made me want to highlight it here.

First, the obvious laughs including bongos at an NDP rally and Jack Layton’s boastful speaking style (Maclean’s recently highlighted a study that had Canadians comparing Layton to a friendly dog if he were an animal. If Layton were a musical instrument, I think he’d be a weathered trumpet).

Moving away from musical analogies to those of energy and power (which during the piece were interesting and sometimes clever), the second item I wanted to highlight was this awkward phrase which caught my attention:

“[The NDP’s plans aims] to dramatically reduce hydro consumption here in Ontario while promoting renewable energy sources”

The last time I checked hydro electricity meant electricity derived from moving water and this form of energy production is certainly a “renewable energy source”.

Of course, the true meaning is probably closer to the reality that “hydro” has become something of common parlance in Ontario, a slang replacement for “electricity”; when we talk our electricity use, we talk about the “hydro bill”.

On closer inspection however, if we look at Ontario’s electricity mix, we discover that 22.3% of our energy comes from hydro electricity, while the lion’s share (54.1%) comes from “clean”, non-renewable but abundant nuclear energy. In fact, if we don’t include “other” (1.2%), Ontario’s GHG-emitting electricity production (from coal and gas) amounts to 22.4%. So, when we talk about “hydro consumption” as an interchangeable term for “electricity consumption”, the substitution lacks a bit of parity.

If we combine nuclear and hydro, we get 76.4% “clean” and “green” energy mix in Ontario.

How can we increase the proportion of “green” energy to Ontario’s mix? We can increase nuclear output, tap a few more rivers/waterfalls and we can focus on increasing the “other” category which includes building more windmills and solar farms to take that 1.2% to, well, more.

Originally thinking that the NDP had made a gaffe by calling for the reduction of “hydro” in place for “renewable sources”, I checked their website to discover that their “green” energy plan actually rails against nuclear energy in favour for “publicly owned and publicly controlled electricity”. Oh, and renewable? Yes, they eventually talk about the need for that too.

But what is “renewable”? Concerning what we’ll discover to be a positive but ambiguous word, on “renewable” the Ontario government states:

“The Ontario government is committed to the development of new renewable sources of electricity generation. The government has set a goal of five per cent of all generating capacity in the province to come from renewable sources by 2007 and 10 per cent by 2010.”

Is hydro not a “renewable” source of energy?

I certainly can understand the need for overall reduction of consumption (ie. a decrease in “hydro” electricity consumption), but Ontario’s electricity generation mix is quite healthy and the plan to bring more nuclear energy online is an efficient and positive one when it comes to cost and benefit to the environment and the people of Ontario, respectively.

Is nuclear not a “green” form of energy?

Massive amounts of energy are derived from the nanoscopic scale of a nuclear fission reaction. In fact, it’s among the reasons why the discovery was so revolutionary. Worries of meltdown are virtually a thing of the past with CANDU reactors being specifically designed with critical fail-safes. The storage of the waste material produced is on a much smaller scale, yet detractors of nuclear energy will describe the production method as “unclean” whereas promoters might be quick to correct and call it “clean but imperfectly so”. Solar energy is still at a point where the energy vs. the cost of implementing the technology is break-even over a solar-cell lifetime (production and use) of 25 years. Granted, investment is needed to drive down the production cost (via economies of scale). Comparatively, wind power requires large use of materials, over long periods of time to derive comparatively paltry levels of electricity.

Nuclear is efficient has little environmental impact. Why do self-proclaimed environmental activists rally against it?

From an engineering perspective, we want select methods of energy production that maximizes output, minimizes cost and minimizes waste. From a political perspective, politicians balance the minimization of cost with that of waste, depending on the perspectives of the electorate to which they pontificate.

On this point therefore, success is in communication, but unfortunately the language of energy politics can be redundant and even misleading when it comes to “renewable” sources of energy, “green” and “clean” electricity and even when it comes to the word “hydro”. I imagine that as we get closer to October’s provincial election, while the facts of energy production will remain the same, the language of political communication will gather more smog.

Cabinet Speculation*

Ottawa is abuzz with cabinet speculation this week as the summer starts to wind down and there’s no election in sight. Between elections, I’m told, the parliamentary press gallery’s second favourite fix is speculating how the front bench of the government will change. Since the days are hot, and while filing stories about the arctic might cool some off it is still viewed as playing into the man’s hands, and since there are only so many grumble pieces that can be written, cabinet speculation will have to do.

I’ve been chatting with a few friends and sources about the topic and here’s what I’ve deciphered with a high level of confidence.

Ottawa staffers can breathe a bit of relief (just a bit though) because while Carol Skelton is retiring from politics, no other cabinet minister will be shuffled out of cabinet. There will be promotions and demotions within the cabinet structure, but no current cabinet minister will find themselves without a chauffeured car next week. Thus, contrary to some reports, Oda will remain in cabinet.

On the flipside, no back-bencher is to be promoted to cabinet this time around.

Therefore, besides Skelton, the cabinet will neither grow nor shrink.

The shuffle within cabinet itself will be substantial enough that it’ll make a few headlines. I previously speculated (but didn’t write) that a shuffle could be quite surgical and we’d see a trading of two or three portfolios without making other waves, but now I’m hearing that there will be more than a few ministers with new titles. The government might say that such a switch affords new experience to already very capable ministers. Most of us might acknowledge this while recognizing that some fine tuning is due.

Specifically, Maxime Bernier may be shuffled out of Industry (not entirely sure about this) but I can say with certainty that he will not be shuffled into defence or finance.

Security minister Stockwell Day will stay in his current portfolio as most Hill people (including press) have found him to be very capable in his current role.

John Baird is also staying in environment.

I can also say with a certain degree of confidence that there will be a throne speech this fall and that the government is not likely to be shocking the country’s system with a brand new set of priorities as there is a lot of the current agenda that still needs attention.

Ontario by-elections

Two by-elections are upcoming this fall in Ontario and I’ve got a bit of info on these individuals and the timing of the contest to be called by the Prime Minister.

Maureen Harquail will be taking on Martha Hall Finley from the Liberals in Willowdale and Mark Warner will be appealing for votes in Toronto-Centre as he battles against former Liberal leadership contender and NDP Premier of Ontario Bob Rae.

Harquail has completed reserve duty with the Canadian armed forces and was an environmental prosecutor. She also happens to be the cousin of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty. The cousin connection has already come in handy as the Tories are said to be packing their war-chest for the riding pre-writ by bringing in some highly visible cabinet minsters for fundraisers. Peter MacKay has already been seen in the riding pitching for Harquail, and besides cousin Jim, environmental minister John Baird is also expected to raise some funds for the Tories in Willowdale. Willowdale consists of significant jewish, korean, persian and japanese communities among others. Retiring Liberal MP Jim Peterson won the riding last time for the Grits by 14,000 votes, however, a significant portion of that support rested in Peterson’s popular personality rather than the Liberal Party. Yet, Willowdale should be a challenging riding for the Tories to pick up. At this point, the NDP have yet to forward a candidate and Harquail would only benefit from a strong NDP effort in that riding against the Grits.

Mark Warner will be challenging for Toronto Centre. Warner is a lawyer will some impressive credentials that include lecturing in law and practicing for the OECD internationally. In the riding, Warner will have a bit of work to do as the Tories only secured 18% of the vote in the last election. We may, however, see some split with the “progressive” side of the spectrum with NDP voters showing up to vote against Rae, and a relatively stronger Green presence there. Plus as Warner is running for the incumbent government, this may produce a small boost. Warner was acclaimed February 9th and has already hosted a couple of successful fundraisers including one with justice minister Rob Nicholson and popular Ontario candidate Tim Hudak. Despite the good fundraising start, Warner is still a bit of a long shot in this realist’s opinion.

I’ve heard from a couple of senior Tories that the by-elections will be called after the provincial election. Former Toronto city councillor David Shiner, the provincial challenger in Willowdale is likely to be a bellwether for Harquail’s success in that same riding federally. The Tories may be angling to hold the federal contests after the provincial election in order not to be seen as interfering in provincial politics and to tap into the mood of the electorate after the provincial contest (whether to balance a McGuinty win, or buttress a breakthrough by John Tory)