The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace with in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Monday, May 31, 2004


Week 1: Slow Start

The first week of the federal election campaign is over. Andrew Coyne's calling it "Canada Held Hostage." I'm leaning more toward "Canada Held Hostile." Some thoughts and reflections, all off-the-cuff:

LIBERALS: Apparently, they want you to "choose your Canada." We're still trying to figure out exactly what kind of Canada the Grits are talking about. Seems like the Canada as it exists, with a bit more money sent to the local level for health care and transportation projects.

Their attacks on the Conservatives' plans for an "American-style" tax and social service regime have been vague at best and puerile at worst, which partly explains why the Liberals were getting far more negative than positive coverage in the McGill election news survey. Liberal bright spots: they announced that Ottawa would transfer $2-billion of fuel taxes to local governments to fund transportation improvements, and while their health-care "fix" might have been derided as too modest, it wasn't tagged as being a budget-buster, and made the front page of every major newspaper. All told, not a great week.

CONSERVATIVES: Bo-ring. Stephen Harper hammered away, as expected, on the issues of corruption and accountability, getting quite sanctimonious in the process. The Conservative campaign is still unwilling either to get their leader out from friendly settings" or to adapt their game plan to the other parties' moves. The Star's Chantal Hebert compared the Harper tour to watching paint dry; Paul Wells criticized him for running a timid and incurious campaign reflecting the unsteady foundations of his new party.

Despite the Liberals' announcement of gas tax transfers or new health spending initiatives, neither Stephen Harper nor his team would respond directly, preferring to release their platform as scheduled. Such a, well, ah... conservative strategy is what you typically see from a front-runner trying to hold their lead, not a party that is still behind.

To Harper's chagrin, party language policy critic Scott Reid brought up bilingualism this week when he said that Conservatives would severely scale back French-language government services in areas with small Francophone populations. Harper immediately gassed Reid. The message was clear: even if Reid was the party point man, he isn't if he's not going to speak the official, new, warm, fuzzy Conservative party line. In English Canada, it was a 2-day wonder; it might hurt Harper in Atlantic ridings with substantial French-speaking populations. If, however, other Conservative notables talk of a government more radical than the official, new, warm, fuzzy message, the Liberal suggestion that the Conservatives are a radical Republican Party North will gain traction.

NDP: Hot and cold. Starting the campaign in Vancouver and addressing urban affairs was a solid move, as was the bilingual stroll through Vancouver's Chinatown. The NDP was also first to release their full platform (PDF, 478 kb), and were unapologetic about promising more social-welfare spending and increasing taxes on high-income Canadians and businesses. Whatever you think about their agenda, you can't call it hidden.

Smartest policy changes: first, raising the basic personal income tax exemption to $15,000, which would save a full-time worker about $1,000 annually regardless of income; second, dropping that NDP's longstanding commitment to drop out of NATO; now, they favour rejuvenating the alliance. Dumbest move: it wasn't the inheritance tax, but rather announcing that an NDP government would repeal the Clarity Act, before later backing down. The Clarity Act is popular in Western Canada, and the odds of this move costing the NDP critical support in the West are much better than those of it winning Pierre Ducasse a seat in Manicouagan.

The NDP's attacks were split between the Liberals and Conservatives which, according to Mount Royal College poli-sci prof Keith Brownsey, diluted the NDP campaign's effectiveness. Brownsey said that Layton's fist week on the trail was "awful." Layton also got into trouble for blaming the deaths of homeless people on Liberal cutbacks, but once again stood by his statements, getting quite emotional in the process. Give Layton credit, though, for putting the lack of affordable housing -- mostly concentrated in cities where people are moving to find work -- onto the national agenda instead of letting it stay buried beneath the Medicare/Adscam behemoth. The week ended fittingly with Jack Layton's wifelife partner, Olivia Chow, and Layton's Liberal rival, Dennis Mills, getting into a shouting match in Toronto.

SPIN MACHINE: Surprise, surprise! The Conservatives and Liberals accused the other parties off gaffe-fests. According to the Conservatives, the Liberals were sending mixed messages on the gun registry, equalization, and fisheries, while attacking a right-wing think tank that happens to have a Liberal on its board of directors. Meantime, the Liberals were tossing barbs in both directions: Jack Layton is a loose cannon, while the Conservatives have a hidden agenda -- that of the old Reform Party. Naturally, both parties claimed victory...

POLL VAULT: Only two nationwide polls were publicly released this week. A La Presse/Toronto Star/EKOS poll (May 25-27, n=1306, +/-2.7%, 19/20) has the Grits leading the Tories among decided voters by a margin of 38% to 30%, with the NDP at 18%. Les Bloquistes were down at 11. SES Research's daily tracking poll for CPAC (n=600, +/- 4.1%) puts the Liberals in a statistical dead heat with the Conservatives as of May 29th.

CONCLUSION: No party came close to a winning week. Paul Martin was simultaneously saying that you can only have one priority while rabbiting on equally on a half-dozen others, the Conservatives were timid and unresponsive, while the NDP's scores were matched by both gaffes and uncertainty. Give this one to the Conservatives by default, but let's be clear what kind of "win" this is: one where a pair of nines beats three hands with nothing.

NEXT WEEK: Stephen Harper is going to be working Ontario, and only Ontario, from west to east all week; he won't bother with the Liberal/NDP-leaning north. CP reports that the Conservatives will use the week to take down incumbent Liberal MPs in marginal ridings. He'll also unveil his party's full budgetary platform, so policy wonks will have something to chew on and dissect. Jack Layton bounces from town to town, but will be visiting both Saskatchewan and Vancouver Island; both places where the NDP are hoping to make serious gains, as well as Edmonton. Similarly, Paul Martin swings back into Western Canada, hitting Saskatoon on Monday and returns to Vancouver on Tuesday before jetting off to Winnipeg, arguably the most Liberal city in Western Canada. Will he announce any new policies or (just as good of a vote-getter) goodies while he's here? Stay tuned!
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