Michael Ignatieff is a control freak!

…and other opinions we won’t hear from the Ottawa Parliamentary Press Gallery anytime soon.

Jane Taber:

Ian Davey is Michael Ignatieff’s principal secretary and he admires Stephen Harper’s steely control over the national media and the Conservative caucus.

More than once, Mr. Davey has dismissed a reporter’s attempt to get behind the scenes of a Liberal decision, noting the Harper Tories do not allow the media that kind of access.

Tearing a page from the Harper playbook is revolutionary for a Liberal. For years the Grits have suffered from very public in-fighting – battles which landed on the front pages of newspapers, aiding and abetting the party’s demise – while not a peep has been heard from the Tory caucus since Mr. Harper became leader.

“It’s worked for Harper,” Mr. Davey said, suggesting that iron discipline over caucus members and keeping the media at arm’s-length are the keys to victory.

Cue Don Newman!

Cue Bruce Campion-Smith!

Cue Tonda McCharles!

Cue Chris Cobb!

Cue Bruce Cheadle!

So, we’re conservatives and we didn’t like the budget. What are we going to do about it?

“Well, what the hell else do you expect us to do with a gun to our head” remarked one ministerial staffer at Hy’s last night when I delivered the verdict of conservative ideologues to a budget which increased special project spending, established an ugly deficit, and indicated that hopes of small government would be shelved, at least for the foreseeable future.

A minority government is like a constant job interview, and the employer right now is a glutton. Pass the antacid and bring more pork; 62% of Canadians voted for those without a predisposition to sound economic sense, while the rest voted for those that know better.

If they know better, something else holds them back. “You have no idea how much I bled for this budget… this made me sick” another staffer told me. It was certainly a policy delivered in the context of a deficit pushing $1 trillion in the US, where every other government in the industrialized world is running deficits and whereas Canada is a rare exception in that we’re one of those jurisdictions that is receiving permanent tax relief. But for ideologues who moonlight as paid partisans in government, this budget policy is as much dyspeptic for their stomachs as it read dyslexic to their instincts.

A political party’s first and last job is to get elected. If you thought that the Conservative Party should have held its ground, flipped off the opposition, delivered $30 billion in tax cuts and went out in a blaze of glory then you have the benefit of layering fantasy on a wholly incongruent political landscape where the pragmatists thrive. A political party, in practice, is not much more than a marketing machine to sell ideas to an electorate looking to buy them. However, elections span a meager 36 days and unless a voter is conditioned to think conservatively, they won’t vote Conservative. If a Conservative party does form government — especially a minority government — the long term goal is the same: keep the upper hand, survive when strategically beneficial, and win elections.

Let’s be clear. A majority Conservative government would implement a conservative agenda that would satiate the conservative base. In such fortunate circumstances, government action would unreservedly reflect conservative principles because this government would act comfortably without violating objective #1 — re-election from a plurality of conservative-minded voters. The underlying ideology would fortuitously overlap with winnable conditions.

How is a sustainable conservative majority-government-electing voter base in Canada achieved? While the party is focused on doing their job to win elections and form policies that are within Canada’s (ie. its electorate’s) interests, those of us who aren’t pre-occupied by such distractions must look at change as a long-term goal rather than a short-term fix. If the Conservative party is the election-winning machine, the conservative movement must be the one to give it a meaningful mandate.

By all means, we need a strong Conservative party because it is our vehicle. Do not punish the party for doing its job. However, we must also have a strong conservative movement. It is foolish to depend on an organization to change the ideological culture of Canada when its current success is inextricably bound to it as it presently exists. The political party that wins the election will always reflect the plurality of Canadian voter intent. Whether the blue team or red team wins, success is simply a jersey switched by the same central swing voters. In every election, the ideological and purist cynic bemoans the pragmatic and victory-focused party strategist that moves to capture the centre. Leave the party to appeal to the most voters and win elections, it is the job of the conservative movement to move the centre to the right.

We can lament the budget delivered by our Conservative Party and complain that it goes against our instincts as conservatives. But yesterday, the Conservative government did its job, it presented a survivable budget in the current political climate. However, the conservative movement failed because it was unsuccessful in creating the conditions of ideological survivability for what should have been a sincerely conservative budget.

So what are we going to do about it?

UPDATE: Some are reading this as a condemnation of the conservative movement. It is rather a call to action. The Conservative party is what we make of it; our model is bottom-up, not top-down. Let’s get to work at making more Canadians conservative.

Name the budget!

The annual federal budget in previous years has had bland, generic corp- gov-speak titles applied to their card stock-bound covers. In 2006, scoring another shot at Paul Martin post-election and seeking to underscore their main election theme (those 5 priorities), the Conservatives named the budget (drumroll) “Focusing on Priorities” and in 2007 the budget plan was titled “A stronger, safer, better Canada“, which the Liberals promptly paraphrased in their messaging by labeling their campaign “a richer, fairer, greener Canada.” In 2008, the budget was called “Responsible Leadership“.

With President Obama plunging the US deficit into the range of a trillion dollars, and Canada being dragged along the same path by the elephant projecting a 64 billion deficit over two years, what should we name this budget? Here are a few proposals:

– Yes We Can (Too)
– Welcome to the economic Obamalypse
– For God’s sake, give us a majority already
– Canada’s doomed, we couldn’t even cut $1.95
– Turning the corner… into your livingroom
– Stimulate this
– If you think this is budget’s bad, imagine a Liberal-NDP one

Post yours in the comments.

The inauguration of the 44th President of the United States

I’ve been back in Ottawa for about 36 hours after making the trip to Washington DC to observe the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.  It goes without saying that the inauguration was a historic event as the United States turned a page on centuries of troubled history as the first African-American ascended to assume the highest office in the nation.  I write this blog to report on the news, to offer opinion, and to give an account of my experiences.  I’ve never been to a Presidential inauguration and I’d like to share some of my observations of those couple of days in DC.

After going through an unusually thorough screening with Homeland security, I boarded my Air Canada flight with a number of Canadians and Americans heading to Washington.  When traveling, one often see travelers reflecting, in a clichéd way, their departure point or arrival.  On a trip to Hawaii, for example, you might see an inordinate number of leis and cheap plastic “grass” skirts on fellow passengers, in Vegas, empty plastic souvenir ‘hurricane’ margarita cups.  On this trip to DC, a number of Canadians and Americans were decked out in the colours of the American flag.  Minister Peter Kent was on my flight, on his way to represent Canada in DC as minister of state for the Americas.

Landing in at Reagan national airport, I was immediately struck by the shops which had switched from generic Americana to 99% Obama merchandise.  One t-shirt I saw had a mock headline that read something along the lines of “Now is our time” with a photoshopped image of Obama’s head on Michael Jordan’s body going for a slam dunk from the top of the key wearing a Superman outfit.  I immediately became determined to find the most tacky and absurd Obama memorabilia during my trip and if this was a location as mainstream as the airport, I’d hold my greenbacks for the streets of DC.

I took the metro to the Capitol and after fighting the lines leaving the metro, I found the line that snaked around the buildings which held the congressional offices.  As I had a ticket set aside for me, I joined the queue.  After making my way inside and after having picked up my ticket, I crashed a mid-western pre-inaugural party in the congressional district.  It wouldn’t be the last party I crashed on my trip, but for the main event, I had my golden ticket.

Next up, I made my way over to a party held by the British mission in DC.  On the way, in Dupont Circle BDS-afflicted revellers were tossing shoes at an 30-foot tall inflated cartoon effigy of George W. Bush.  In 24 hours, what would these people have to do with themselves?  After the British party, I made my way over to Clarendon with some GOP friends to attend a leftwing netroots blogger party sponsored by big labour, netroots nation, blue state digital, and a host of well-read “progressive” blogs.  With drink tickets, guitar hero, and a live band, the festivities certainly had a hobbyist-gone-mainstream feel.  I met some very talented people working on social media the Obama side of the partisan divide.

Next day was inauguration day and the common wisdom was to show up at the metro as early as possible to make one’s way to the Capitol.  Despite my best efforts, I arrived to the metro station to find it packed with people.  Apparently, record ridership was recorded on the previous day with 600,000 people passing the DC metro gates.  It’s a bit harrowing standing on a platform packed 20 rows deep with anxious DC residents and inauguration tourists when one indeed has to “mind the gap” between a packed station and the tracks.  On the train, however, people were in good spirits despite the overcrowding.

I eventually made my way from the metro to the ticketed checkpoint area.  On my way, more Obama kitsch tempted me as spontaneous capitalists popped up everywhere to hawk everything from Barack Obama action figures to Michelle Obama t-shirts.  The ticketed area in front of the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol building had rows of seats for a few thousand people.  Looking back at the national mall towards the Washington monument, we could see millions of people.  On television, it was reported that 3-4 million people were packed in to see Obama take the oath of office.  Looking across the mall, when the motorcade drove up the street, it was a shimmering sea of red white and blue as people waved their flags.

Sitting and waiting for the ceremony to begin, I spotted New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg sitting a few rows ahead.  Bloomberg was considering a run at the presidency this cycle and would have contested as an independent versus Obama and McCain.  I made my way over to Bloomberg to say hello.  The mayor was a registered Republican, however would have run as an independent.  Some speculated that his run would have made him a viable candidate for a running mate to the Republican or Democratic nominee seeking the presidency through the independent swing vote.

The inauguration ceremony went off fairly well with only the Roberts/Obama oath blunder as the only notable exception.  Obama’s speech was adequate at best and I don’t think it met the oratorical expectations that people have expected; “ask not what your country can do for you”, Obama’s speech was not.  I believe that this presidency will be about managing and decreasing expectations that have been built up during the campaign.  After the wrap up of the inauguration, Obama made his way to the other side of the Capitol building to see President Bush and his wife off in a marine helicopter.  We saw the events on a big screen on our side of the building and a few seconds later saw the helicopter pass over the roof of the Capitol and over our heads.  Everyone waved at the helicopter, though while some gave a warm wave goodbye, others were not so friendly.  The helicopter passed over the national mall and Canadian embassy.  The embassy would be my next stop.

The Canadian embassy is located on some of the best real estate in DC.  The building is about a stone’s throw away from the Capitol and had a great view for guests of the Canadian ambassador.  Party guests at the embassy included former ambassador Frank McKenna, Jason Kenney, Peter Kent, Michael J. Fox, Newt Gingrich and… for some reason… er… Star Jones?

After taking a bit of a break from inauguration festivities, a few of us on the right headed over to David Frum’s to mark the launch of his new website New Majority.  While inaugural balls were going on elsewhere in the city, I had a couple of invites for the post-inaugural Google party.  The party was downtown by the Reagan Center and was the media/Washington insider gathering was well-attended by CNN, MSNBC, DNC and RNC people.

The inauguration of Barack Obama was about the closest thing I think I’ll see to a coronation.  To be sure, Obama was elected through the democratic process, however, the fanfare, ceremony, celebrity, commemorative-plate-esque atmosphere and the millions of people caught up in it was certainly something I don’t expect to see again.

Barack Obama inspired many, from Democrats in the primaries to electors during the campaign.  He was an incredible campaigner.  Now comes the hard part: he has to govern.  With a worsening economic crisis and an ill-advised and massive economic bailout coming, transformational is bound to become transactional and we’ll need more than hope to pay off the interest.

More photos (click any photo on this page to enlarge):


The Obamas wave to the crowd on the National Mall


Joe Biden is sworn in as VPOTUS


John Kerry imagines what might have been


At the inauguration of President Barack Obama


The inaugural band packs up below the inaugural platform


President Obama’s limosine drives by the Canadian embassy


As for Obama kitsch, this hand puppet was too good to pass up


What that Barack? You’re pro-death-penalty, pro-Afghan-mission, anti-same-sex-marriage, and for private healthcare?

Bill Ayers denied entry into Canada. So why the shock?

Today, American radical William Ayers was denied entry to Canada.  Here’s the an excerpt from the article on the story in the Globe and Mail:

William Ayers, a distinguished education professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago, said he was perplexed and disappointed when the Canada Border Services Agency declared him inadmissible at the Toronto City Centre Airport on Sunday evening.

He said he has travelled to Canada more than a dozen times in the past.

“It seems very arbitrary,” he said. “The border agent said I had a conviction for a felony from 1969. I have several arrests for misdemeanours, but not for felonies.”

According to the Canadian Immigration and Citizenship website, a decision to keep Ayers out of Canada would not have been made arbitrarily,

“Some people are inadmissible—they are not allowed to come to Canada. Several things can make you inadmissible, including involvement in criminal activity, in human rights violations or in organized crime. You can also be inadmissible for security, health or financial reasons.”

Just in case you’re wondering about the sort of criminal activity Ayers has been involved with, look no further than a New York Times piece coincidentally published on September 11th 2001,

”I don’t regret setting bombs,” Bill Ayers said. ”I feel we didn’t do enough.” Mr. Ayers, who spent the 1970’s as a fugitive in the Weather Underground, was sitting in the kitchen of his big turn-of-the-19th-century stone house in the Hyde Park district of Chicago. The long curly locks in his Wanted poster are shorn, though he wears earrings. He still has tattooed on his neck the rainbow-and-lightning Weathermen logo that appeared on letters taking responsibility for bombings.

In his book Fugitive Days, Ayers writes about bombings he participated in which included the US Capitol Building and the Pentagon.  So, now that we have reviewed a partial record of criminal activity of Mr. Ayers, why would he be so “perplexed” at CBSA’s refusal to admit him to Canada. In fact, in a blog posting by Ayers, the former leader of the Weather Underground writes of a similar experience with Canadian border service officials when he was previously denied entry to Canada,

[The CBSA official] handed me a form called “Allowed to Leave Canada” and asked me to sign under, “I hereby voluntarily withdraw my application to enter Canada. . . .” I, of course, refused.

After an hour in a holding area, he fetched me and escorted me back through security and US customs, where agents from both sides of the border shared a collegial laugh. As we made our way to the next plane to the US, officer 1767 assured me: “I’m not denying entry into Canada on the basis of your membership in Students for a Democratic Society.” I thought of the chorus from Leonard Cohen’s “The Patriot”: “Ah the wind, the wind is blowing.”

I was first on the plane, seen to my seat by my escort, and my passport returned. The times they are a’changing

Ayers’ trouble with CBSA officials seems to be a common occurrence according to his blog post,

“This has become a common-place for me whenever I travel to Canada — I’m always diverted and delayed, always questioned about my anticipated length of stay and the nature of my business, always double-checked. Whenever I’ve asked why I’m being subjected to this special treatment, the reply has always been the same: ‘Just a routine check.'”

Note that this rejected entry into Canada that he describes in his blog post happened in 1995, long before Barack Obama had been suggested to have links with Ayers, long before Obama’s political campaign and long before GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin suggested that Ayers was a “terrorist”. Therefore, this accusation by the man who arranged for Ayers to come to Canada today is moot,

Jeffrey Kugler, executive director of the Centre for Urban Schooling, is deeply disappointed in the turn of events. For him it’s a question of academic freedom. “It’s kind of ironic the day before Barack Obama is going to become president this is what the Canadian border security has done,” said Kugler. “It seems ridiculous that one university can’t have a professor from another university to come and give a lecture on an important educational topic.”

In a CBC interview today on As It Happens, Ayers was interviewed and he was unapologetic for his “illegal actions” during his time in the Weather Underground and to this day calls his acts “appropriate”.

What were his “appropriate” acts? In his own words,

“The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.”

Seems fairly clear, doesn’t it? Though Ayers was never convicted of any crime, he has admitted to having committed criminal activity. The CBSA has previously denied Ayers. However, if you see this as open and shut, you don’t share the bizarre logic of the NDP. Here is Olivia Chow’s press release on today’s events,

New Democrat Citizenship and Immigration Critic Olivia Chow calls on the Minister of Immigration and Minister of Public Safety to allow educational theorist, Bill Ayers entry into Canada.

Bill Ayers was denied entry into Canada Monday where he was scheduled to speak on education reform at the University of Toronto.

“Canada must respect academic freedom and allow Bill Ayers to share his insights on reforming our education system” said Olivia Chow. “At-risk children deserve policies that produce equality in academic outcomes and deserve to gain high academic achievements. The decision to ban Bill Ayers must be reversed.”

When Bill Ayers became a household name during the last election and after his criminal acts were described to the American electorate, Barack Obama wouldn’t touch the man with a ten foot pole. Now, the NDP goes out of their way to speak out against the Canadian rule of law barring the admittance of a self-declared domestic terrorist.

Five years of StephenTaylor.ca

It was five years ago today that I started this blog.  I started writing on this site as a tool to compliment my nomination campaign in Kingston prior to the 2004 general election.  I wasn’t successful in that nomination campaign as my blog at the time was read by a handful of people nationally rather than a handful of people locally.  But really, nominations are won by signing up new members and turning them out to the meeting.  Who knew? Oh, the things I’ve learned in the last five years!

This blog grew from that nomination battle to cover the Conservative leadership race, to three general elections, a number of by-elections and all of the drama in between.  Political blogging was a relatively new phenomenon five years ago and I was lucky to be an early adopter of a medium that would become useful in the 2006 election and a misplaced media obsession in 2008.  In late 2004, I put together a site called Blogging Tories that brought together like-minded bloggers to form a community around right-of-centre politics.  I remember that the earliest version of the blogroll had only five blogs on it! Now the blogroll spans 300 members and is read by tens of thousands of people daily.

As the practice of self-publishing continues and evolves into new formats beyond the blog into micro-blogging formats such as twitter, more people will become involved in the national political conversation.  Blogging has also evolved on different platforms such as Facebook with Facebook Notes and micro-blogging with Facebook status updates.  Politics is a social and new media has created the potential for the dialogue between political practitioners and political stakeholders to become a real two-way conversation rather than a disjointed series of action and reaction separated by long periods of time spanning from days to weeks.

I’ve enjoyed blogging as it provides an outlet for my views and lets me connect with Canadians who either share or don’t share my perspective.  I’ve met a lot of interesting people online and offline as a result of this blog and I’ve found that most have been sincere and genuine in their respective views on how to make Canada a better place for Canadians, no matter their prescription for that outcome.

I look forward to continuing our conversation.

New worldclass laboratory to be included in the federal budget?

In 2008, I had the opportunity to tour the level 4 laboratory in Winnipeg Manitoba with my boss Preston Manning.  In my day job, I am the science policy and communications adviser for the Manning Centre for Building Democracy and part of our mandate at the Centre is to track policy initiatives that move Canada forward on the science, technology and innovation front.

During our visit, we were briefed on the national integrated network of research facilities and the technology which innervates it all to rapidly respond to biological hotspots as they emerge in Canada and around the world.  For example, rapid genotyping of pathogens to trace origin and spread is but one function of tracking function of the national lab in Winnipeg.  Communication is critical to rapid assessment and control of biological threats and we were treated to a glimpse of where outbreaks are monitored in the state-of-the-art “war-room” of the facility complete with banks of LCD televisions, situation desks and and digital maps with epidemiological data overlays.  While the facility serves to track and address global infectious disease, the research of level four biosafety pathogens such as the Marburg and Ebola viruses are at the foundation of the facility’s work.

Recently, I learned that the International Centre for Infectious Diseases and the University of Manitoba among others have forwarded an ambitious proposal for the upcoming federal budget which is getting a lot of buzz in the corridors of power in Ottawa.  A level 5 laboratory (L5L) has been proposed for the Winnipeg facility and such an infrastructure development would make it the facility the only one of its kind in the world.  The facility would continue to study biosafety level 4 pathogens but would do so in a sophisticated and unparalleled environment which would include a realistic hospital-like training facility, simulation facilities and a containment hospital ward replete with multiple airlocks.

Of course, Marburg and Ebola are of periodic global concern.  From a Canadian public policy perspective, the greatest sustained value of the facility would be tracking, research and containment of hospital acquired infections such as C. difficile, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus.  Hospital patients that acquire surgical infections find their survivability halved.

The proponents of the new facility project a 20% reduction in cases of hospital acquired infections by 2019.  They suggest that over 30 years of innovation and subsequent intervention accomplished through work at the facility, over $40 billion (healthcare costs and would-be lost wages) would be saved.

I know that this proposal has been presented to the ministers of industry, health, transport (infrastructure) and the minister of state for science and technology.  It has been well-received by many of them and I know that the proposal is being seriously considered.  If the budget this month is to include significant infrastructure development, such a world-class project would solidify Canada’s position as a leader in the research and treatment of infectious disease.  The $300 million facility would create highly skilled jobs, retain high value workers in Canada, export skills training to the US and overseas, provide testing facilities for commericial research and products and provide extensive support for the health services sector.

Rally for Canada budget consultation survey results

On Friday, I sent out an email to the tens of thousands on the Rally for Canada email list asking them to participate in a small survey concerning the upcoming federal budget.  I asked people four questions concerning the government spending and their public policy priorities.  Over three thousand people responded on Friday and over the weekend.  I will be passing on the results to the office of the Minister of Finance as promised.

Q: On the question of Canada’s upcoming federal budget to get us through the economic crisis, which balance within the following options do you think is best for the government to implement? (n=3003)

Q: Which issues are most important to you from a government policy point of view? (n=3051)

Here is the same graph sorted in descending order (n=3051):

Q: What should be done with the Senate? (n=3007)

Q: What should be done with funding for the CBC? (n=2998)

Some notes: “n” is the number of respondents to each question.  Data was gathered from 8am Friday through midnight Sunday night.  Sample data is gathered from a population set that registered on the anti-coalition website RallyforCanada.ca between December 4th 2008 and January 9th 2009.  Answers were not randomly cycled.

That said, this data gives us insight into the priorities of Canadians who are against the concept of a Bloc-supported NDP-Liberal coalition government.  The first question was a careful balance on both sides of the spending vs. taxes debate.  On one hand, the answer set does not include an option to decrease spending and on the other, four out of five answers prompt at least some tax relief.  Most analysts believe that the federal budget will include some tax relief and stimulus in the form of government spending.  The largest group believed a balance spending/tax relief approach would be best while the second largest group favours substantial tax relief and no new spending (given the options presented).

The second question had 24 options.  Each option was a yes/no checkbox to pick public policy priorities.  There was little surprise on the distribution of public policy interests as the generally right-of-centre respondents selected jobs, economy, crime, tax cuts, healthcare choice, and military spending as priorities while passing on foreign aid, culture and arts, and native affairs.  Wheat board reform is generally a conservative priority yet this question is likely too regional for a national survey.

On the specific questions, it is of particular interest that 90% of respondents believe that the Senate in it’s current form must change.  Only 10% of respondents thought that the Senate ought to be left as it is.  On the question of spending for a particular budget item, respondents indicated that funding for the CBC should be decreased (61%) while only 6% thought it should be increased.