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THE SALON

The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - Rick Anderson, Kathleen Monk and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.


Richard Mahoney:

I'd like to say that Yvonne Jones' by-election win in Labrador is completely due to the popularity of the new Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau. But I think there is more going on here. Former MP Peter Penashue lost his seat for a couple of other reasons. He is the latest Harper cabinet minister to get caught breaking election rules - they've had a number of incidents, starting with the conviction on "in and out" overspending in 2006, misuse of government advertising, charges laid in the robo-call scenario... It leaves an overall impression that there is some nasty business going on. Secondly, the Harper government has little to offer Canadians in Labrador and elsewhere with their economic struggles. $100 million plus on hockey ads telling folks how great the government is does not make an economic plan.

 

Kathleen Monk:

First a big congrats to Yvonne Jones. I am pleased that we have added another female MP to the House of Commons. And it is important to note that Ms. Jones – not Mr. Trudeau - is responsible for that win. She worked hard in that riding and has years and years of name recognition and experience. The riding has only left the Liberal party twice since NL joined Canada: in 1968 and 2011. And the only reason the Conservatives got it last time is that they broke the rules.  

 

Rick Anderson:

Nice of Kathleen to acknowledge and congratulate the winner, despite the fact Yvonne Jones is not from Kathleen's party. Nice to see. Also the accurate history lesson about the deep-red Liberal constituency is a welcome respite from the windy opening to this discussion, most of which had next to nothing to do with what has gone on in Labrador. Yes, Mr. Penashue was forced to resign, a bad start for any candidate running for re-election, to be sure. ... And, he ended up running against a well-known five-term provincial MHA, who is also a former mayor and a former leader of the provincial Liberals. Despite all that, the Liberal vote was still lower than it has been most elections in that riding. The Liberals almost always receive over 50% of the vote in Labrador - and often over 70%. Not yesterday. What should we take from that?  

 

Kathleen Monk:

I think it is important to crunch the numbers that Rick points out. And on that, it’s significant that the NDP managed to increased their vote over 75% in this by-election - when compared to the average last five elections in that riding – despite all of the recent media attention to the new Liberal leader. So the NDP can be pleased with its 2,273 votes. That said, the Conservatives need to worry about how these ongoing scandals hurt their brand long term.

 

Richard Mahoney:

Windy? Ouch! But a game response from Rick after a Conservative minister goes down to defeat. Mr. Harper claimed Mr. Penashue was the "best MP Labrador ever had." That was after Mr. Penashue was caught breaking election laws. It's clear that Yvonne Jones' hard work, Mr. Trudeau's visits and an unpopular government gave the Liberals an important win. I think that is what most will take away from this.  

 

Rick Anderson:

I think students of the calculated compliment might recognize that being called your riding's finest MP when your party has only ever elected two MPs there in 64 years of history is one of those faint praise things. Anyway, and speaking of faint praise, still enjoying a chuckle from the NDP talking point that their vote had increased by 75%. Fact check: back in the day, the NDP used to get about 9-10% of the Labrador vote, year after year. In 2008 it suddenly grew to 18%, then to 20% in 2011. ... Sadly, this year it slipped a bit, to just under 19%. It takes a mathematical contortionist to turn that into a "75% increase."

 

Kathleen Monk:

Let's not talk creative numbers or calculations or we will have to re-visit Penashue's election return and how he fudged the numbers there. POT MEET KETTLE.

 

Rick Anderson:

Hello, kettle:

http://www.soundgator.com/audios/390/tea-kettle-whistle-01-sound-effect

(Tea Kettle Whistle Sound Effect)

 

Richard Mahoney:

Speaking of political change, former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson is widely credited with the aphorism "a week is a long time in politics." It seems like just a few weeks ago that Conservative pundits and some sympathetic journalists were still writing how this country had moved to the right, how the Liberal Party was in the middle of a long decline and that we were set for a long run of Conservative rule. Now, we see the Conservatives diving badly in public opinion polls, and folks speculating that the Prime Minister will soon have to resign to pave the way for a successor. A little premature, I would think. Mr. Harper is the least popular Prime Minister since Brian Mulroney, but he will be THE Prime Minister until the fall of 2015. I am sure he will shuffle his Cabinet soon and we will see if he can renew a tired government.

 

Kathleen Monk:

Certainly I think that Harper needs to hit the re-fresh button on his government. A cabinet shuffle and a new throne speech will be his “Hail Mary” shot at doing just that. But I doubt he will sink the ball. The clock is ticking down on this government and no matter what Harper does, I feel progressive Canadians want his Conservative government out. Also I can’t imagine who would replace Harper? His part-time Finance Minister – Jim Flaherty – who rarely shows up to the House of Commons? (Not that Justin Trudeau shows up very often either.) But who else? Kent or Oliver? Not likely. And Kenney – once touted as the heir apparent - is now dealing with the problems with the temporary foreign worker issue. I don’t think Harper will leave. He likes governing and would relish a run against Mulcair and Trudeau. Bring on 2015.  

 

Rick Anderson:

Ahh, yes, the opposition parties merrily predicting the demise of the government; this must be what, a month with a vowel in its name? If we are going to quote Harold Wilson, let's try another of his: "May I say, for the benefit of those who have been carried away by the gossip of the last few days, that I know what's going on. [pause] I'm going on, and the Labour government's going on."

Yes, the government is planning a midterm cabinet refresh - they've said so. Beyond that, those things are always a case of "those that know, don't talk" and "those that talk, don't know."  Which is why they are fascinating...

 

Richard Mahoney:

Nice second Harold Wilson reference, Rick. Soon we will be quoting Disraeli and Gladstone! I don't think Mr. Harper is going anywhere. But I do think he and his government have lost their way. It is stunning to see how many non-partisan observers are saying just that and talking, prematurely in my view, about his departure. Mr. Harper is many things. A sharp political operator is one of them. He no doubt has some more tricks, and government advertising, up his sleeve. What he needs to do is convince Canadians that he is on their side, and will run a government that helps them. That won't be easy.  

 

Kathleen Monk:

Let’s ask the Ontario Newswatchers what they think. If Dalton McGuinty resigned as Ontario Premier as a result of Ornge scandal, Bill 115, OLG scandal and the gas plant fiasco… maybe Harper should as well. Considering the $3.1 billion disappearing act, the latest scandal in the Senate, the resignation of two of his ministers, and the loss of the Labrador seat… maybe he should step down. I think Harper resigning isn’t out of the realm of possibility but I wouldn’t put money on it. Like Richard says, I would never underestimate Harper’s ability as a strategist. But I do think Canadians want change. They want a cleaner environment, less scandal and a government that works for them -- not for Conservative Insiders.


Rick Anderson:

Harper's partisan opponents have discounted him election after election, and election after election he has outperformed their dismal projections. In 2004, Harper gained support of 29.6% of Canadians. In 2006 he increased that to 36%, winning his first minority. In 2008, he increased it to 37.6%, with a second minority. In 2011, he earned the support of 39.6%, and his first majority... Between elections, poll after poll, and pundit after pundit, said this would not happen. And here they are again, saying it again. We'll see. I think he another election win, or two, in his sails. 


You can follow The Salon's strategists on Twitter:

Rick Anderson: @RickAnderson

Richard Mahoney: @RicMahoney

Kathleen Monk: @Kathleenmonk


About The Salon

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Kathleen Monk is Senior Advisor at the Broadbent Institute and was the Institute’s founding Executive Director. Prior to this, she was Director of Strategic Communi- cations for NDP Leader Jack Layton; and Richard Mahoney was former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : May 15, 2013

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