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


Anne McGrath

There has been a lot of chatter about the announcement of federal funding for Toronto's subway. Not surprising given the role Toronto plays in the Canadian zeitgeist.

However, the funding is necessary, justified, and entirely legitimate.

What is disturbing is the one-off and off-hand approach to such critical infrastructure needs.

The response of the Finance Minister to questions about "why Toronto"? Answer: "because they asked" was cavalier enough to accelerate and heighten opposition, and does nothing to relieve the impression that this is ad hoc and quite possibly partisan politically motivated.

Not helpful to the cause of planned, sustainable transit infrastructure.

Rick Anderson

I guess it is a sad-but-true rule of politics that when the federal government does what is asked of it by the governments of the country's largest city and largest province, people start questioning why you did that. Seems strange, though.

In any event, as far as the "ad hoc" comment goes, it is hard to think of an infrastructure project anywhere in Canada which has been more studied for more years than Toronto's transit expansion.

(Well, I guess I could think of two other long hoped-for infrastructure projects: Ottawa's oft-delayed LRT system, and of course, the Northern Gateway pipeline. both of which, by the way, the federal government has long supported.)

Richard Mahoney

Actually Rick, the federal government is not doing what it is asked by the province, or the City of Toronto for that matter.

While funding for the Scarborough subway extension is welcome, federal funding for transit in Ontario has dropped from the principle established by the Martin Liberal government of 1/3 funding by each level of government, to a very small amount.

The Ontario government is funding the Scarborough subway extension - their commitment is clear, and is more than $1 billion.

What we need is clarity from other governments so we can get on with building this project, and many others.

Traffic and transit gridlock are costing the province $6 billion a year. That is a huge drain on the economy.

The federal government needs to come to the table with dedicated transit funding so this issue can be dealt with properly.

Anne McGrath

And of course the one-off nature of the announcement runs the risk of exacerbating rivalries as other cities face similar challenges.

While the announcement is welcome news what's needed is stable, long-term, dedicated and predictable funding that reaches into the whole country and does the job of easing gridlock, reducing emissions, and creating livable cities with good jobs.

Rick Anderson

Maybe we live in different countries.

The one I live in has a federal government which has, since 2007, been "providing $33 billion in stable, flexible and predictable funding to provinces, territories and municipalities, allowing them to plan for the longer-term and address their ongoing infrastructure needs."

Infrastructure Canada - Building Canada plan

And, in federal Budget 2013, the Harper government increased that to $53 billion over the next ten years, "to build roads, bridges, subways, commuter rail, and other public infrastructure in cooperation with provinces, territories, and municipalities."

Infrastructure Canada - The New Building Canada Plan: $53 billion, including over $47 billion in new funding, over the next 10 years

Now, that sounds to me quite a bit like what you are both saying the federal government should do, isn't it?

Richard Mahoney

Sounds like it, but isn't. Good effort, though, Rick.

But have a look at what the feds are actually doing, or not doing on transit in the GTA.

There is very little federal funding committed yet - it is small, almost pitiful.

The announcement this week had no funding attached, and it is not part of a planned approach - or a stable commitment of funds.

Meeting the funding challenge for GTA Transit as outlined by Metrolinx would require billions every year if the feds were to commit their share.

We are the only developed country in the world without a national transit strategy - getting rid of that approach was a deliberate choice by the Harper Conservatives.

To build a modern economy we need investment in people, we need to support job creation through business growth and we need to invest in infrastructure.

The federal government is largely absent from the effort being lead by the province, to the detriment of the people who need that investment to get to work, to allow the economy to grow.


Anne McGrath

The election results in BC have resulted in a lot of soul-searching amongst New Democrats, not just in BC, but also across the country.

One key contribution to the review process has been the report (which I participated in drafting) from campaign manager Brian Topp.

It details the campaign brief, and decisions that flowed from it in part, as an unwillingness or inability to effectively prosecute the BC Liberals and Premier Christy Clark.

The framing of this debate as negative or positive campaigning is not adequately descriptive.

A campaign must highlight the key weaknesses of the opponents and have a clear sense of the main target.

So, for instance, even though the 2011 federal NDP campaign has been classified as positive, it nonetheless clearly prosecuted the Conservatives and skillfully pointed out the weaknesses of the Liberals.

It is too easy to talk positive/negative and miss the point that in any campaign we are appealing to voters to both vote for and vote against.  

Rick Anderson

I find this an interesting discussion, and encouraging.

As far as BC is concerned, I chuckled to myself when I read that campaign manager Brian Topp was chalking up the NDP's unexpected defeat in BC to tactical campaign questions such as a shortage of negative advertising.

No doubt, as Anne mentions, there is more to it than that, both in the report and in reality.

Many observers, including me, think that Adrian Dix torpedoed his campaign with poor policy choices.

First among them: his decision to let British Columbians know how comprehensively the NDP oppose resource development projects, almost regardless of their merits, and in the case of the Trans Mountain pipeline, before an application is even filed.

People could grasp this isn't a policy of finding the right way to proceed with sensible development, but rather a prescription for shutting down economic growth.

But to the point about "negative" campaigning raised in the Topp report, and also addressed recently by federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, some good and honest things are being said.

We have made an error in Canada by lumping together many different kinds of advertising as "negative" and therefore "bad."

In my view we should discourage ads that are premised on personal attacks, rumour-mongering, and dredging up often minor incidents from years earlier.

We should also demand a higher degree of honesty in political advertising.

But, to my mid, political ads which accurately show the difference between party A and party B on important issues - these ads are not only welcome, but essential, so long as they are honest.

Assuming that is what he means, good for Mr. Mulcair for stepping up and saying he will not shy away from an aggressive campaign.

Richard Mahoney

I read Brian Topp's lucid and literate post-mortem of the recent NDP campaign in BC.

Anne makes a very good point - any good campaign highlights the key weaknesses of the opponent and sets out a positive agenda that people can vote for.

In my experience, the NDP has generally run tough campaigns that "prosecute," to use Topp's term, their opponents, often mercilessly.

In 2004, they blamed the deaths of homeless people on the recently elected Prime Minister Paul Martin.

That was pretty tough, albeit unfair and below the belt.

So I don’t think the lesson of the BC campaign is that the NDP generally run campaigns that are too positive. There are lots of examples that disprove that thesis.

Topp’s analysis does say they should have done a better job of that in BC, and I assume he is right on that.

I do think there are a couple of issues that Brian Topp mentions that are key learning's for the NDP.

First is the point Rick brings up: the campaign turned against the NDP on the economy the day they came out against the Kinder Morgan pipeline, under any condition, simply because it was a pipeline.

That undermined all their efforts to appear responsible stewards of economic growth.

The second lesson is both easier and tougher: Christy Clark's breezy, optimistic and sunny personality was gold on the campaign trail.

And Adrian Dix seemed sour, dour, and generally less likable.

Mix that cocktail up with vulnerability on the economy and you have a recipe for defeat.

Lastly, let's talk polling.

The industry is taking a hit these days for failing to accurately predict the outcome of the horse race.

This could be a topic in and of itself but two things: first - the Liberals knew they were winning with a week to go, so not all polling is wrong.

Secondly, Topp himself points out their own research showed a tighter race than the public polls, which are often done on the cheap, or aren't random samples at all, and so therefore should not be taken too seriously.

Anne McGrath

The BCNDP have some big decisions ahead, and not just about leadership.

The tendency after a loss like this is to direct our anger and disappointment inward.

There is no doubt plenty of blame to go around.

As the report notes, former Premier Allan Blakeney once remarked on a similar loss that a result this disappointing requires a team effort.

The campaign needs to be dissected and lessons will be learned, but the party has to come together and provide solid opposition, rebuild in the ridings, develop an agenda for government, unite behind the new leadership in the party and caucus and widen its support.

That can't happen if the licking of wounds goes on too long.

There is much more to be said about this campaign including the unveiling of the inordinately detailed platform, the weakness of the Conservative campaign, the belief that voters care about process and changing the way politics are practiced (they don't) and much else that is all laid out in the report.

But we've had devastating losses before and recovered. The NDP in BC has deep roots and a solid brand. There is a strong desire to learn, to grow, and to win.

Richard Mahoney

Anne's points are well taken, as are many of Brian Topp's.

I have had the, um, "privilege" of authoring a similar post-mortem, after an unsuccessful Ontario election. It can be tough to be honest about where you fell short, and where your leader and your colleagues fell short, knowing many will read your thoughts.

That searing experience of loss can sometimes cripple a party, as everyone, eager to avoid the mistakes of the past, focuses on avoiding those mistakes, and fights the last campaign, instead of dealing with the one in front of them.

We have seen leaders get elected promising "no negative advertising" because in any given campaign, some ads work, others don't. Simply concluding that these ads therefore never work is wrong, and illogical.

Rick Anderson

The takeaway that is interesting here is the way this has opened up a discussion that will play into the upcoming Ontario election, whenever it happens, and into the federal election scheduled for October 2015.

I think both of these will be highly competitive three-way elections, in which any one of the three could plausibly win.

"Progressives" have always had a certain sense of entitlement, used these days as a rallying cry against the other parties.

In particular, they have a very harsh way of talking about Stephen Harper, always have had, and that will be even sharper this time.

So it shall be interesting to see if they can keep it to the issues, or descend into personal vitriol.  

About The Salon (Anderson, Mcgrath, Mahoney)

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Anne McGrath was Chief of Staff to the late NDP leader Jack Layton; and Richard Mahoney, former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : September 25, 2013

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