Monday, September 21, 2009

Fall Break! (Updated)

So begins another week in Ottawa, and another season. It's autumn! Soon the leaves will be changing colours, the temperatures will be pleasantly dropping (I loathe the heat), and our government will get back to work. After all, nothing says fall like the sitting of Parliament.

Except this week, that is. Parliament is taking a brief week-long recess to recover from the huffing-and-puffing of last week. Actually, I'm not really sure why Parliament is on break this week. I'm thinking it has more to do with the G-20 meeting and less to do with Rosh Hashanah, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were either one. An internet search could not reveal the answer - if you know, please comment.

The Prime Minister will be using this week to strut his stuff at the G20. It certainly isn't as glamorous as the G8, but pretty good nevertheless. I just hope he makes it on time for the group photo. A few handshakes with President Barack Obama, a couple pats on the back from Silvio Berlusconi, and maybe some useful talks with India and China. A few good photo ops, a little less pressure from the situation in Ottawa. Could be a good week.

Meanwhile, Michael Ignatieff will be taking the opportunity to expound on his economic plans for Canada. The Toronto Star has reported a little on the speech he is supposed to make today. Apparently he is giving some time to growing markets in India and China, something he touched upon in his foreign policy speech from last week and has mentioned in his TV ads. I'm guessing he won't go into specifics - it is a speech after all - but it should give us some indication as to what will be in the Liberal electoral platform.

Jack Layton will undoubtedly use this week to patch up some of the holes his plan to support the government has created. This about-face cannot have occurred without repercussions, and the week-off will give Layton and his caucus time to figure out what to do when Parliament resumes next week. Will the NDP support the government long enough to pass the EI-reform bill? Will they vote confidence or not on the Liberal motion? We're hearing things about how labour groups across the country are coming out against the proposed reforms, which will certainly make it more difficult for the NDP to continue supporting the government.

Gilles Duceppe will bide his time, as he is in the most comfortable position of all the leaders. His party is doing well (enough) in the polls and he is on solid footing evaluating each motion and bill one at a time. He doesn't have too much manoeuvering to do, except maybe to turn the screws on the NDP who is a competitor for a few votes in Montreal.

Speaking of which, there is a provincial by-election in Rousseau today, a Quebec riding northeast of Montreal. It has been held by François Legault since 1999, and has been held by the Parti Québécois since 1994. It's a sovereigntist region, having voting 63% in favour of independence in 1995, and as far as I can tell shares some of the same territory as the federal ridings of Rivière-du-Nord, Montcalm, Joliette, and Repentigny. Those are ridings all held by the Bloc Quebecois, though it would be too much to consider this election as a test or an indicator of Bloc support.

The race is between the PQ's Nicolas Marceau and the Liberal Michel Fafard. As the PQ got 57% of the vote in 2008 to the Liberals' 22%, a PQ victory is expected. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether the Liberals improve their total and how the ADQ does. Also worth watching is Guy Rainville, the leader of the Parti Vert.

23:21 UPDATE - The PQ held on to the seat, maintaining their support level. The PLQ picked up eight points while the ADQ lost 12, to end up at a dismal 4%. Quebec Solidaire and the PVQ both improved a tiny bit, but nothing significant.


  1. I believe the Break Week was part of the "negotiations" last June which created the EI Task Force. As I recall, the House was to come back earlier than the Parliamentary Calendar would have required (i.e. last week). I believe the thinking was that there would be an EI report in advance of the next "report card". The government probably wanted this week off for G20 an so it was part of the deal.

  2. Ignatieff is taking a huge gamble going back to environmental topics. All of this talk of not choosing between the environment and the economy and creating green jobs raises a fair and valid question - does Mr. Ignatieff support the "green shift" (aka carbon tax).

    I mean this is a guy who ran to the left of Stephane Dion on environmental issues "we didn't get it done" and had a carbon tax in his 2006 leadership platform.

    I wouldn't be surprised if we saw new attack ads on this front and then Ignatieff having to declare that he does not and will not bring in any form of carbon taxation.

  3. There might be some usefulness in attacking some sort of environmental tax, but attacking the idea of environmentalism would be dangerous. People are still concerned about the environment.

  4. I think everybody wants a clean environment, just like everyone wants world peace. The devil is in the details.

    My problem with Ignatieff's new green jobs ad is that he says we don't have to choose between the environment and the economy.

    Every serious person understands that carbon reduction schemes will cost a lot of money and consequently reduce economic activity.

    From a policy perspective he really hasn't told us anything yet. His speech today and the one a few days ago were supposed to counter growing media criticism that he hasn't communicated any policy ideas.

    But green jobs, clean energy, more trade with China and India aren't new policy ideas. They are things that every government says they support. So far its the same old, same old.

    Either he's planning a boring, non-controversial government that's only superficially different then Harper's or, more likely, he's refusing to tell us what he plans to do and how much money it would cost.

  5. I don't think there's any need to be so cynical. I'm sure it's as simple as the Liberals still deciding upon what will be their electoral platform and what, specifically, they plan to do.

    Remember, all parties wait until the middle of the campaign to release a party platform. It takes awhile to put together specific policies (no party currently has an electoral platform) and it is difficult to decide upon economic targets because things change so drastically. A fiscal programme put together today could very well be obsolete in three months.

  6. Those are good points, one can see the difficulty of having fully costed proposals ready to go when you don't have a finance department to run numbers by.

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to cut the money used for public funding of political parties and redirect it towards hiring more staff for the parliementary budget officer, allowing him a much greater role in helping parties determine the economic and budgetary impact of their proposals.

    But I still maintain that there is something more at play, a deliberate strategy to speak in general terms and stay vague on policy specifics.

    I believe it stems from wanting to avoid what Dion did - releasing the central plank of his platform, the "green shift", months and months before an election. As we all know, this allowed it to come under sustained fire for a prolonged period of time until it became unpopular.

    Its an understandable worry but I think Ignatieff is over correcting here. I just can't take him seriously until I know what he plans to do differently if elected.

    Simply attacking everything the government does without offering constructive ideas of your own strikes me as the very kind of politics Ignatieff supposedly rejects.

  7. Understood. Once we are in an election campaign, however, it will be incumbent upon all party leaders to put their plans to the people so that they can decide who to support. You're not being asked to decide yet!


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