Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Norquay quits

Ottawa — Stephen Harper's communications team will be stripped to the bone after two key members announced they will leave their posts. Their departures follow those of two other senior PR staffers who quit in recent weeks.

Geoff Norquay, the affable and accessible director of communications, and Yaroslav Baran, the strategic communications director, announced Wednesday that this would be the last day.

"I've decided for personal reasons to move on. I'm not going to discuss those reasons," said Mr. Norquay.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Comuzzi should be praised, not criticized, for resigning

Many have no doubt already noticed the story that Joe Comuzzi has resigned his cabinet post rather than voting for same-sex marriage (see here).

I have not much engaged with the question of the ssm on this site, but I doubt if many will be surprised that I disagree with Comuzzi over ssm. Nevertheless, I think Comuzzi has done the right thing. As many have pointed out before, more free votes for parliamentarians would be a good thing. But in our system of government, cabinet solidarity is important: any government bill is by its nature a bill that cabinet has accepted collective responsibility to promote. If a cabinet minister disagrees with a bill to the extent that he cannot support it, he should resign.

Thus, I would argue, Comuzzi should be praised for what he has done, not criticized. (Of course, I might feel differently about this if ssm were to lose by a vote because of this.)

KMG: Accentuate the Contradictions

Over at the Ambler, Kevin Michael Grace eviscerates Harper in his Accentuate the Contradictions, which includes what I think is the best paragraph I've seen summarizing the contradictions:
Back on May 19, the Conservatives got the confidence motion the Liberals had long denied them. They stood shoulder to shoulder with the Bloc Québécois that day and lost by a single vote. Five weeks later, the Liberals faced another confidence vote, again precipitated by the desire the Conservatives share (or shared) with the Bloc to force an election. This time they came up five votes short, after falling victim to the same "counting problem" that brought down Joe Clark's Conservative government in 1980. Instead of sacking his House leadership, Stephen Harper decided to blame the Bloc for forcing a vote he'd demanded repeatedly.
"When push comes to shove, the Liberals will make any deal with anybody," Harper said after the vote. "And it doesn't matter whether it's with the socialists or with the separatists or any bunch of crooks they can find. That's how they govern the country."

Monday, June 27, 2005

The problem with Harper's math

As many have already noted, Steven Harper stuck his foot in it this afternoon by suggesting that the law that is about to grant marriage rights to gays is somehow less valid because it is being supported by the Bloc (see here). As it is, the vote will probably be 166-142 (see here). Let's look at the breakdown.

ROC 101 132
Quebec (Bloc) 47 7
Quebec (Liberal) 18 3
Total 166 142
If the Bloc were not voting, he points out, ssm-marriage would not pass. But if the Bloc did not exist, there would be other MPs in their place, and given that support for ssm-marriage is higher in Quebec than in any other province, we can assume that these notional MPs would have voted not much differently than the Bloc did.

And this, of course, is the other irony. Many of the Bloc are old Tories--part of the Mulroney coalition that went so disastrously wrong. If the Bloc did not exist, the Conservative vote on ssm would not be so one-sided. Indeed, it probably would more closely reflect the division in the country as a whole. But that itself is a problem. Most polls on this legislation suggest that Canadians are split 50-50 on the law. The Conservatives are 95-3.

Hypocrisy, thy name is politics!

I'm not quite sure what to make of this story:
OTTAWA (CP) - Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says most Canadians won't think the same-sex marriage law is legitimate because it will only pass with support from the separatist Bloc Quebecois. The bill legalizing same-sex marriage is set to pass in the Commons this week.

The other three parties in the Commons jumped on Harper's remarks. Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe says his party has as much legitimacy as the Tories in Parliament, and that it's called democracy. NDP Leader Jack Layton says the Conservative leader's latest outburst is further proof of why his party's popularity is in decline. Justice Minister Irwin Cotler says the Bloc is a legitimate party in Parliament.
What is going on in this guy's head? Sure, many of us wish that the BQ didn't exist. But as long as it does, and as long as Bloquistes have seats in Parliament, they will have a role in making our laws. That doesn't impact the validity of those laws.

(And for those who follow such things: Harper didn't seem to think that BQ votes were any less valid when it came to voting for his non-confidence motions. But this is surely the politicians disease--condemn today what you embraced yesterday. Hypocrisy, they name is politics.)

Harper appeals to socially conservative immigrants

Over at The Amazing Wonderdog, Skippy notes that Harper's choice to be in Toronto on Pride weekend, but avoid the parade and instead went to a Muslim convention where he spoke in defence of traditional marriage.

For the newsstory, see here):
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper told a Muslim convention in Mississauga that the Liberals are in league with the NDP and Bloc Québécois to erase the traditional concept of marriage.

"You believe, I believe, most Canadians believe that the traditional institution of marriage should be recognized and respected in law," Mr. Harper said. "Unfortunately, the Liberal government doesn't believe this. It is working with their allies in the NDP and the separatists to attack these beliefs and to abolish the traditional institution of marriage."
This makes some strategic sense: the ssm-marriage issue at least theoretically provided Harper with the opportunity of improving their share of the immigrant vote in Ontario.

But all signs are this hasn't worked. Why? In the comments to Skippy's post, Greg of Sinister Thoughts makes a perspicacious observation:
Harper got a polite reception [at the Muslim convention] but his message was not overwhelmingly endorsed. In fact the crowd seemed to have agreed more with Joe Volpe's message of group rights and tolerance.
And here, I suspect, is the rub. A country that will give equal rights to homosexuals is a country where every minority has a chance at equal rights. If we refuse to tolerate gays--a member of any other minority might ask--whose rights will be compromised next?

In addition, I think that this dynamic has special resonance in the post-9/11 world. There was an anti-Muslim backlash following September 11th, and many Muslims were made to feel insecure about their place here. This insecurity, I suspect, decreases any desire on their part to undermine the rights of others.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Tories in no hurry to vote on same-sex bill

The G&M (see the link above) reports that many Conservatives will want to speak against the same-sex marriage bill, the idea being to stretch out the process as much as possible. Neither the Liberals or the NDP seem keen on cutting-off the debate or forcing an immediate vote. So it'll be a long, hot couple weeks for MPs.

Update. A slightly different emphasis this morning in the Globe (see here): fewer Conservatives will speak against the bill than did at second reading.

Did a Conservative nominee call Layton a Nazi?

For those who missed it, the Conservative nominee in Edmonton-Centre (which is currently represented by Anne McLellan), Laurie Hawn has a blog in which he shares his thoughts on life and politics. Most of what he says is the sort of stuff that one would expect. His party's positions are advanced, those of the other parties criticized. That is only to be expected, and I think this new phenomenon of creating direct access to politicians is a good thing.

In a recent entry, A Conflict of Hypocrisies, Mr. Hawn accuses Jack Layton of hypocrisy:
Okay everyone, hands up all who think that the Duty National Socialist Leader, Jack Layton, would put himself at the back of the queue if he (or his wife) needed an MRI. I didn't think so.
This is, of course, a cheap shot. I have no idea what I would do in such circumstances, much less Mr. Layton. But politics is full of cheap shots. One might fire back that it is hypocritical to condemn others for doing something that you yourself advocate. But once we start that style of argument, we'd pretty quickly all be convicted of hypocrisy on some score.

So, what is the problem with this post? Hawn calls Jack Layton "the Duty National Socialist Leader". The National Socialists, in case you missed high school history and never watched the History Channel, were Hitler's party, and National Socialism his philosophy. The shortened form of 'National Socialist' is Nazi.

Admittedly, we have to put up with a lot of name calling in Canadian politics. We have recently heard a cabinet minister likened the conservative party to the Klu Klux Klan (he apologized); we've also heard the Liberal party likened to fictional serial killer, Hannibal Lector. But calling someone a Nazi--for failing some strange hypothetical hypocrisy test--is a new low.

Update. Mr. Hawn responds:
For the benefit of those who get their exercise jumping to conclusions and making leaps of logic, please allow me to clarify something from my blog "A Conflict of Hypocrisies". I refered to Jack Layton as the Duty National Socialist Leader. For those who like to "exercise", that meant that I was calling Jack Layton a Nazi, and that I was disrespecting all those who died at Hitler's hands.

Please settle down and park your misplaced indignation. "National" refers to Canada and "Socialist" refers to a political philosophy. Period. Dot. Stop. In no way did I intend those words to mean anything else. I'm sorry if capital letters confused some people. I have de-capitalized the description of Jack and changed the word "Duty" to "Canada's" to help them out.

For those who lectured me on history and defending democracy, back off. I spent more than thirty years and buried more than forty friends defending your right to yell at me. I hope that you enjoyed it, even though you are way off base. Now get back to work or go to the gym for some real exercise.

Update2 Here is my exchange with Mr. Hawn in his comments. As far as I'm concerned, this ends the matter.
buckets said...
Mr. Hawn, thank-you for your clarification. It seems to me, however, that you should be more careful with your choice of words in the future. How, really, could you have expect people to interpret your words in any other way? National Socialism is a historical phenomenon; it only means one thing. The NDP/CCF have been called socialists since the thirties; they've been a national party the whole time. But in my recollection no one has ever called them National Socialists. Why? Because those words, when put together, mean more than the sum of the parts.

Laurie Hawn said...
Point taken, buckets. Thanks.

Dryden on SSM and the dangers of passionate certainty

Flash Point Canada links to Ken Dryden's piece, Why I support gay marriage bill, in the Toronto Star.

Dryden has always had a gift of using 100 words where 20 would do, as this piece shows. Much is worth repeating, but especially interesting, I think, is this paragraph:
In the midst of this heated debate, it is hard not to be swayed, usually in the reverse direction, by the words and tone of the advocates who scream their certainty, who tell the rest of us that we surely must be stupid or at least depraved if we aren't as certain as they are. It's okay to be 60-40 or 70-30 on this. As the debate more and more attempts to polarize us, it is important to know that on one side of the question or the other most of us have more in common than it seems. It is important to know, because it will help us immensely to get along again when all this is done.
This puts its finger on something important. That it is not merely arguments that sway people, but their tone, too. There are many people who are uncomfortable with gay unions of any kind; there are many who would prefer to create some kind of separate-but-equal civil unions for gays. But I suspect that come the next election, most of these people will decide not to vote for anti-ssm candidates. Why? Someone who is 60-40 against ssm will be less comfortable with a 100-0 anti-ssm candidate than a 60-40 pro-ssm. There is something about the passionate certainty of a black-and-white world that alienates those who see more shades of gray in the world.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

In that moment of humiliation, the last vestiges of civility remain

In the G&M, Ibbitson reports (google link, here) on one of the few moments of decency to be heard in Ottawa recently:
Stephen Harper approached Paul Martin and the two spoke briefly. Then they went their separate ways.

What did the Conservative Leader say in that moment of humiliation? Did he offer a quiet, deadly vow of revenge, or a stiff-upper-lipped word of congratulations on a contest fairly won? The mind races.

Sadly, reality was more prosaic. Mr. Harper was asking a favour: It being midnight, no more commercial flights were leaving Ottawa that day for Edmonton or Calgary. But Conservative MP Lee Richardson was scheduled to tour flood-damaged areas in Alberta yesterday, as was Mr. Martin, who was flying out on the government jet. Mr. Harper wanted to know whether Mr. Richardson could hitch a ride. Of course, the Prime Minister replied.

Better to be dishonest than out-manouevred?

Just to add another point about why it is that the Conservatives were so upset at being out-manouevred Thursday night.

An awful lot of it has to do with Stephen Harper and his strengths and weaknesses. Many have mentioned that he is a bit too aloof and cerebrial to succeed in politics. Maybe true, maybe not. But one thing that commentators allow is that Harper is a good tactician and strategist.

I think part of the reason that the Conservative MPs blew up the other night is that they have been bested on what they had thought was their leader's strong suit. Tactically, the Liberals snookered the PCs. But probably strategically now, too. There may be fireworks about same-sex marriage in Parliament, but from this point forward being strongly anti-ssm will be an increasingly losing position as ssm locks itself into being the Canadian status quo.

For the PCs it is the equivalent of losing a very close hand in poker over one misplayed card. They not only lost the hand, but it did enough damage to their capital that it will be an uphill struggle from here.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Dancing with whackos

Politblogo (here and here) engages with crypto-separatist the Monarchist, dissecting the latter's argument and exposing its logical missteps and rhetorical excesses. For those who missed it, the Monarchist argued that because Ontario has not (to judge from recent polls) abandoned the Liberals despite their obvious failings, 'the West' has reached a 'tipping point' that will lead it into separatism.

Now I suspect that all progressive and non-partisan bloggers are highly grateful to Politblogo for undertaking this unpleasant task. But are western separatists our problem? Shouldn't the argument about separatism be taking place among Conservatives? It is, after all, the failure of the Conservative Party that is motivating the Monarchist's outrage. He seems to think that he can work for the Conservatives and advocate separatism at the same time. (He is a member of Blogging Tories, who seem to have no problem having him in their number.) So, too, members of the CPC Caucus. When asked about separatism recently, MP Myron Thomson said : "I reserve my opinion till later". Over at FreeDominion, a site that describes itself as "the voice of principled conservatism" and is populated by conservative activists, a poll asking "do you support Western separatism" had 42% year, 24% no, and 28% "if the Liberals win the next election" (here). Rather than coddle separatists, the CPC should be expelling them and denouncing them.