Categories for Musings

In Tuesday’s Sun: ch-ch-ch-changes

OTTAWA – At a get-together here over the weekend, Barack Obama’s fabled spokesman guy, Robert Gibbs popped by.

When Gibbs spoke, the room went quiet, like it did in that old commercial where people lean in to hear advice from some financial advisor. You could hear a proverbial pin drop.

Gibbs was Obama’s White House voice from 2009 to 2011 – and, before that, he was one part of the triumvirate that helped the Chicago Senator win the presidency. He’s smart, among other things.

He’s asked about the Democrat’s chances in 2016, after eight years in the White House.

“It’s hard,” he says. “After eight years, after that much time, you’re in a change cycle. And change is a powerful theme.”

Indeed it is: Brian Mulroney rode it to a huge victory in 1984. Jean Chretien did likewise in 1993. Bill Clinton in ’92, George W. Bush in 2000. And Stephen Harper won with change, too, in 2006. But the people gave him a minority first, to ensure that his desired changes weren’t too radical.

Year 2014 is another change year. Harper has been there for almost a decade. In provinces like Ontario, provincial Liberals have been in power for more than a decade, and they look it.

Challengers in change cycles need to embody new, to be sure. But as Gibbs says, the “change” candidate needs to represent a clear alternative.

So, in 2008, Hilary Clinton had supported the Iraq war. Barack Obama didn’t. Apart from that one critical difference, their policy differences were mostly miniscule.

It isn’t enough, however, for the change candidate to merely say that being the first black president – or the first female president, or the first openly-gay Premier – is the change on offer. The change has to represent a risk.

Justin Trudeau takes risks. In the year and a bit since he became Liberal leader, in fact, Trudeau has taken plenty of risks.

Pot and pipelines. Open nominations that aren’t open. Ukraine jokes. Admiring dictatorships. And, last week, saying he won’t let his caucus to vote their consciences anymore.

By the usual standards, Trudeau should be politically dead. And the mistakes enumerated above – which, coincidentally enough, form the basis of a series of Conservative attack ads – should have ended his ambitions, long ago.

But he remains standing and strong. Forty plus polls have been taken since he became federal Liberal leader – and he has led in almost every one.

Why? It’s possible, perhaps, that the Con ads are serving Trudeau’s purposes. That is, by endlessly reminding voters that Trudeau represents radical change, they also remind Canadians that Trudeau – really, truly – is a real change.

They may even agree that he is radical change. But they are prepared to accept the radical stuff – the risks – in exchange for true change.

Trudeau, clearly, doesn’t intend to change his change-y ways. He’s out there on the tightrope, and he kind of likes the view.

Harper and Tom Mulcair, meanwhile, are down below, watching the Liberal leader do things they never would. They’ll never say it out loud, of course, but their entire strategy seems to revolve around waiting for Justin Trudeau to hit terra firma.

As strategies go, it’s not much of one.


Your morning Ontario election news (updated)

This is all you need to know.  Oh, and Hudak is doing a lot better after his two initial flubs. Prediction for next few days: Harper PMO are going to come up with an embarrassing bit of news to payback Wynne for her recent swings in their direction. It’ll be nasty, because they do nasty well.

 UPDATE: Well, so much for my view that Hudak has done okay in the past few days – with his announcement that he plans to cut 20 per cent of the jobs/services in government, his Million Job Plan has undergone drastic weight reduction.  And this election is now officially between Wynne and Horwath alone, methinks.


Not in Sunday’s Sun: Trudeau and abortion – early!

In political terms, the best – and safest – line on abortion is the one Bill Clinton came up with, some years ago.

“Abortion should not only be safe and legal,” said the former president, “it should be rare.”

That, pretty much, sums up the position on abortion of the three main Canadian political parties. Everyone aspires to live in a world where abortions are unnecessary, but everyone also accepts that we do not presently live in that world.

Not so long ago, the Liberals and the Conservatives were of a different view. They mostly opposed abortion, and they passed laws to reflect that view. Even the New Democrats had caucus members who were resolutely opposed to abortion.

Times changed. The courts pronounced, the politicians reversed. Nowadays, the law and the law-makers have come around to the Clinton line: safe, legal, rare.

The journey of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ruling Conservatives, in this regard, has been revealing. Not so long ago, Harper and his party were proudly, and loudly, pro-life. That was their position.

Once they achieved a Parliamentary majority, they abruptly changed course: while the Tories (per Clinton) didn’t like abortion, they weren’t going to “reopen” the most divisive social issue of modern times. Over and over, that is what Harper and his people have said: abortion won’t be on the agenda while he is in charge.

Harper hasn’t wavered, in that regard. He has crushed any and all attempts to revisit the abortion debate – most of which have emerged from his own backbench. He has been true to his word.

Which brings us, in a circuitous fashion, to Justin Trudeau. On Wednesday, the Liberal leader pronounced on abortion. In a scrum on the Hill, he mainly said what Clinton – and Harper, and Jean Chretien, and Paul Martin, and even his father, Pierre Trudeau – had previously said.

“Our position as a party is we do not reopen that debate,” Trudeau said, sounding a bit like Harper.

But then, he went a bit further. “We are steadfast in our belief [in the Liberal Party], it is not for any government to legislate what a woman chooses to do with her body. And that is the bottom line.”

Not quite. There was another bottom line to come, and it immediately became news.

Said Trudeau: “I have made it clear that future candidates need to be completely understanding that they will be expected to vote pro-choice on any bills.”

And, with that, Trudeau did two things. One, he disposed of any lingering hope that he still favours so-called “open nominations.” In his Liberal Party, if you want to be a candidate, you must vote pro-choice. Or you’re out.

Two, by seeking to close the abortion issue, he has effectively re-opened it. Chretien, Martin and Trudeau’s father all knew that Catholics have historically tended to be Liberals. By moving well past the Clinton line – by making one’s position on abortion an actual condition of membership in the Liberal caucus – Trudeau risks dividing his party, and losing votes.

Personally, I always thought Justin Trudeau’s open nominations promise was rash – ironically enough, because it would make the party vulnerable to pro-life riding takeovers, as happened in 1990. But Trudeau made the promise, all on his own, and he needed to stick by it. He didn’t.

Personally, too, I favour the Clinton line, as do many other Liberal Catholics. Liberals have always made room for pro-life folks, and thereby not allowed the issue to tear us apart. It was smart politics, among other things.

So, what, then, is Justin Trudeau’s vision for the Liberal Party? What is his plan? I honestly don’t know.

And, on days like these, I don’t think he does, either.


Laura Miller’s legal guy responds

I like it.  Hope it ruins your day, Ms. MacLeod.

“Today, Lisa MacLeod sent a letter to the OPP implying that Laura Miller was somehow involved in impropriety related to the cancelled gas plants.  Her allegations are false and defamatory. Ms. Macleod has a track record of such conduct. In a co-ordinated effort, her party then released the letter to the media. Ms. MacLeod and her party are not interested in the truth. Ms. MacLeod is a political opportunist who has no grasp of or interest in the facts. Her attack on Ms. Miller is nothing more than a ploy aimed at trying to right a sinking ship that is the PC election campaign. Had Ms. MacLeod’s party supported the budget, Ms. Miller would be testifying tomorrow and answering any questions posed by Ms. MacLeod.”