The Sausage Factory
with Dan Lett
- I suggested the cuts were bad strategy for the Tories, a policy that would re-affirm all the negative stereotypes about the Alberta-based Tory rednecks. The Hack eloquently suggested I was out to lunch, and that cutting arts funding only affected a small group of fringe voters who do not support the Tories anyway. I think many blog readers agreed with the Hack, but I think that was because he wrote WAY MORE than I did. Quantity does tend to sway public opinion, IMHO. Seriously though, it was a vigorous debate with both of us trying to forecast what, if any, impact this policy would have on the electorate.It's way too early for anyone to say "I told you so" but there is some evidence that the arts cuts are hurting the Tories. Maybe not across the board, but in at least one key battleground - Quebec. The Globe's Adam Radwanski makes this observation today, and references a steady slide in support for the Tories in Quebec, as reported by polling's It-Firm, Nanos Research. The arts cuts are big news in Quebec, as witnessed by the rising up of a group of Canada's most famous screen, stage and television actors. Will this translate into problems on e-day? That is the question the aforementioned Hack and I are hashing out.First, if all it took was an endorsement from a bunch of overpaid actors to win an election, the Democrats would have a lock on the White House. But the issue being debated here is whether this convinces voters who have traditionally rejected the Reform/Alliance/Conservative brand, and thus kept them from the promised land of a majority government. Many pundits smarter than me (and by that I mean they write more than me, too) believe a majority is only possible with a breakthrough in Quebec. Certainly, it was thus for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.If the Conservative campaign remains stalled with the support of about 38 per cent of decided voters, which is just short of what is needed to form a majority, the question should be asked about what it could have done (or not done) to get over that magic hump. By election day, we'll know for sure whether a combination of policies including the arts funding cuts doomed the Tories in Quebec. And then we'll know for sure whether it was decisive or not.UPDATE: The Globe's strategist panel weighs in on the arts funding issue. I added to this post because, frankly, they all agree with me. I am mostly ignoring opinions that conflict with my own. That is, after all, the beauty of a blog, no?. :)-30-
- comments translated into some hard questions from the Tory war room, and resulted in Reid deciding to withdraw from the race.It's not clear why the Tory Death Star was concerned about Reid's posts. Was it because he was gay, because he advocated that women and gays carry concealed handguns for safety, because he accused community leaders from Toronto's Gay Ghetto (which is in in his riding) of tolerating promiscuity and prostitution, or because he ranted and raved about the failure of passengers to stop the Tim McLean beheading on a Greyhound bus?Either way, he was naked, on the front lawn and performing his rendition of River Dance.Reid was not the only political naturist to get exposed on the weekend. It was reported that NDP candidate Julian West (Saanich-Gulf Islands), who went skinny dipping in front of a bunch of teeanagers more than a decade ago. West apologized for the incident but so far, the NDP hasn't asked for, nor has he offered, a resignation.West's naked on the front lawn and apparently doesn't care who sees him. How refreshing.-30-
- tasteless jokes about the listeriosis crisis. He suggested the food crisis was the "death of a thousand cold cuts." When told there was another death in Atlantic Canada, Ritz asked jokingly if it was Wayne Easter, the federal Liberal ag critic who has dogged Ritz on the listeriosis crisis.Gerry Ritz - buck naked on the front lawn.Then of course there was Dana Larsen, a NDP candidate from British Columbia who previously had been co-owner of a store that sold, among other things, coco seeds. Seeds that theoretically you could use to make cocaine. Turns out he was also a former marijuana party candidate, and someone had produced video of him dropping acid and driving under the influence of drugs. Since this information became known, the party has asked him to step down as a candidate.Ladies and gentlemen, Dana Larsen and the candidate selection staff at the NDP, all buck naked on the front lawn.From now till the end of the election, I'll try to pay tribute to other political naturists.-30-
I've used this line before - it was overheard at a news conference in Ottawa years ago when a bunch of race car drivers covered in Players logos tried to tell reporters they weren't promoting tobacco use. Many of us could not believe they actually believed what they were saying.
- notaleader.ca, a long-running website that basically does everything it can to portray Dion as a misguided nerd.There is no doubt that Dion's personal style suggests he isn't the kind of guy who dated the captain of the cheerleading squad in high school, but the unbridled character assassination contained in notaleader is way over the top. Among the facts that the Tories want voters to know about Dion - he continues to eat his hotdogs with a knife and fork in plain view of "regular people and the media." What's next - drinking tea with a spoon? Clearly, anyone incapable of stuffing a tube steak directly into their mouths without utensils is unqualified to be prime minister.On the same day, Dion told reporters he has a hereditary hearing defect that explains in part why his grasp of English is so poor. On-line Tory chat boards screamed foul, accusing the Grit leader of manufacturing a handicap to defuse their effusive attacks on his character.The Liberals are hardly innocent. The frat boys and girls in the Liberal war room have come up with Scandalpedia, a saucy site that consolidates all kinds of information about a raft of controversies that have dogged the Tories since winning a minority government in 2006. The dark webmasters in the Grit bunker no doubt laughed so hard they pissed their pants when they came up with this one. Although Scandalpedia lacks some of the unfettered hostility of notaleader, it's all part of the same web motif. That is to say, it's primarily sophomoric humour that has little resonance with non-partisans.Campaign E-ttacks are probably the clearest example that some key staff in most of the mainstream party campaigns lack character. The party websites themselves are pretty sober affairs, but the spin off sites are starting to look less like genuine campaign literatures and more like the student newspaper from the faculty of engineering. And in the best traditions of blogging trolls and flamethrowers, the authors of the material operate anonymously and below grade, known only to the leaders and their strategists.What I'm having trouble figuring out is what the Tories and Liberals hope to accomplish with these E-ttacks. Clearly, the only thing that's going to save Dion now is a groundswell of sympathy. Isn't it a fairly safe bet that a goodly number of uncommitted voters would look at notaleader.ca and gag a bit at the sheer nastiness it represents? How is that going to affect voting decisions on e-day?There is no evidence that the internet and content such as this is effective. Politicians have for nearly a decade been trying to harness the enormous potential of the internet as a tool for political organization and electioneering. Although more and more people are getting their news from on-line sources, and traffic is no doubt off the charts at the E-ttack sites (loading notaleader is a 50-50 proposition these days), it seems foolish to be experimenting with volatile personal attacks on line until someone comes up with a theory about how it affects the electorate.The technology that allows people to instantly communicate and comment and connect is quite often dominated by character assassins that use the immediacy and anonymity of the internet to grind axes, push unaccountable special interests and polish the chips on their shoulders. What these subterranean bullies don't realize is that even if it turns off as many people as it turns on, it will be a losing strategy. E-ttacks will surely backfire on the Tories and Liberals as it only serves to debase, lowering expectations and faith in politicians and politics.NOTE: Read more on the painfully low standards of this campaign in my column in tomorrow’s dead-tree FP.*****The decision to exclude Green Party leader Elizabeth May from the televised debates is just dumb, dumb, dumb. Forget the debate over democracy, fairness and transparency. A leader who clearly would have been struggling to keep up had she been allowed to participate is now a martyr. What possible benefit is there in that for the Tories, Liberals and NDP?UPDATE (1:45 PM PT/3:45 CT): What's the one thing worse for the Libs, Tories and NDP than making May a martyr? Making her a martyr, then backing down and letting her participate, and in so doing making that martyr a champion of professional women everywhere.First Jack Layton, and now Stephen Harper, clarify their positions to say that they are willing to appear with May at the debates. As I write this, the TV consortium has yet to confirm they are going to offer an invitation, although it seems unthinakable they won't.The Greens must be wondering which God has bestowed upon them such providence.For interesting background on the complicity of the TV networks in this mess, read Tony Burman's column in the Globe and Mail. It raises an important question about the whole debate flap:Why didn't the TV networks TELL the parties who was participating in the debates, and then let them decide whether they wanted to participate? There seems to be a sense that Harper, as Burman puts it, had a veto. Really, would Harper have run the risk of skipping the debates? I think his cave on this shows that if the networks called his bluff, he would have folded this hand quite a bit earlier.I'm just saying.-30-
- $8.8-billion pre-election spending spree. Previously, I thought it was just the Liberal and NDP governments that suffered the sting of the CTF's ham-handed accounting. Thankfully, the CTF knows no fear or favor when it comes to manipulating the numbers.The pre-election spending spree is, really, a misnomer. Governments that call elections often time spending announcements to give them a lift. But the gross majority of that money - most times, all of the money - is already accounted for in the budget they delivered in the spring. So, while the timing is affected, the money is still the same. So it's not like the Conservatives decided to spend $9 billion more than they budgeted for in the lead up to an election.There may some exceptions to that general rule. The several hundred million dollars lavished on General Motors to save assembly plants in Ontario had to come from somewhere. And given the Conservative government didn't like the idea of corporate welfare for GM just a few months ago, it's not likely in the budget per se. So, I'll wait until I find out exactly where that money came from (some involved forgiving federal government loans made in 2005) before passing final judgement.Those of you who read the link will note that the CTF found program spending was up in the first quarter of this fiscal year by more than eight per cent. Evidence of a pre-election spending spree? Remember that any government that actually wanted to get re-elected would probably massage spending announcements to get as much of the good stuff out as possible before a writ is dropped. (Governments cannot make announcements during election periods, so if you've got money to spend, you have to make the announcement prior.)I'll stick by my guns that the CTF is unfair in criticizing the Tories for pre-election spending, just as they were unfair to do it to the Liberals, or the Manitoba NDP. On the other hand, I applaud their sense of fairness. Pain and suffering for all politicians - that's the ticket.I'd love to talk more about cool election stuff like this, but I have decided my hotel smells like the back of a restaurant - a bit putrified actually. So I'm scouting out new digs for tomorrow night and getting ready to see the PM in action.Release the hounds.-30-
- poll from Harris Decima asking Canadians who they would vote for if they could vote in the US election. I found it surpeising that 66 per cent of respondents would vote for Democratic hopeful Barack Obama. My question is whether this has any bearing on our election, or whether this is just a bunch of Canadians jumping on a bandwagon without regard to ideology. Must think more about this.-30-
- the second wave of Conservative election ads. It's still the warm and fuzzy Prime Minister Stephen Harper motif, all cardigans and vaseline all over the lens. The tag line for the ad was the thing that really caught my attention:"We're better off with Harper."I understand the need to play the leadership card, especially when your party has the leader that more people want to lead. But I found the ads, and the tag line, clumsy and obvious. In fact, it's hard to get away from a feeling that the motto is telling me, "things are pretty bad and while you may not trust me, you're better off voting for me than the other guy." Somehow, it just doesn't sound like a call to arms.How about "Harper: strong leadership when we need it the most." Or, "Harper: Vision, Strength, Courage." Tell us why we should vote for Harper, not that he's the best of a bad lot.Effective advertising not only drives home its point, but does it in a way that doesn't make the customer feel as if they are being buried in rhetoric. There is a lot of hokey symbolism in these ads and it seems a bit of a stretch that people who fear Harper for his inflexibility and social conservative views will be numbed by the warm and fuzzy.It wasn't so long ago that Harper was the leader who was playing catch up to his competitors on the leadership issue. However, since overcoming that hurdle, the Tories have been masterful in forging an image of Harper as the iron-fisted, iron-willed commander and chief. And based on poll results, the Tories have created an image that appeals to more Canadians than any other leader. National polls are showing Liberal Leader Stephane Dion running third in some areas of the country.However, I think it's pretty obvious that Harper is not as popular a leader nationally as, say, Premier Gary Doer is in Manitoba. Doer's personal popularity does carry his team. I'm not convinced yet that Harper's personal appeal is enough to drag the Tories to a majority. More people have warmed to Harper's image, but he remains a politician that polarizes the electorate.What is clear, however, is that the Conservative Party is going to hop on Harper's coat tails for this one. It will be fascinating to see if he can carry them over the finish line.This is going to be a great election.-30-
- Hack makes some good points. Without going over old ground, he does raise the issue of the Bloc Quebecois participating in the national debates. I have never understood why the Bloc did not demand Quebec debates - held in Quebec primarily to debate Quebec issues. En Francais, of course. Quebec is such an important battleground, if the Bloc issued the challenge, the other parties would have to agree. And then we could be free of the absurdity of listenign to Gilles Duceppe debating national at the English debates. Just a thought, but perhaps one that the Hack and I would agree upon?-30-
- Hack is not supportive of a plan to let the Green Party participate in televised debates. Not surprising. Having said that, his argument is quite succinct and more than just a little convincing. In fact, I have been gripped by concerns that Green support is not entirely genuine. Even supporters of fair political play might suspect the Greens merely "purchased" their level of support with the sudden wealth bestowed upon the party by overly generous federal electoral rebate rules that sets the eligibility hurdle profoundly low.On a major philosophical point, however, the Hack and the SF disagree. Also not surprising.The Hack indicates that only those parties with a real shot at winning should participate in debates. I would humbly suggest that is not the issue here. When the Greens are threatening double-digit support in opinion polls, I think the overriding principle is democracy, not winning potential. One of the things that makes democracy such a rocking good philosophy is the idea that it is open to everyone from the average joe to the captain of industry. We all know the inherent fallacy in that statement; politics remains a hobby of the rich and powerful. However, we shouldn't be tailoring our elections to be even more of a exclusive process. It must remain as inclusive as possible. And that means giving Green Leader Elizabeth May a shot at the other three parties in debates.We should face facts here. The Liberals and Conservatives don't want the Greens involved because everytime you involve another player in a debate, there is another chance someone is going to land the body blow that ends your campaign, and perhaps your political career. Knockout punches are rare in electoral debates, but campaign strategists and handlers continue to treat them like nuclear warheads that could blow up their candidates at any time. If the Greens are anything, they are earnest and well-informed. Perhaps we should ask the political establishment why they fear a showdown with a passionate, intelligent foe? Hum?And as the headline of my piece suggests, I liked the Hack's first headline much better. But then, I'm a huge Jon Stewart fan.-30-
- televised debates. The continued refusal to allow them to participate is only making Canada's established political parties look old and foolish.Get it done.-30-
- poll by the Strategic Counsel showing the Conservative Party within striking distance of a majority government. The poll gives the Tories the support of 37 per cent of respondents, with the Liberals trailing at 29 per cent and the NDP (17) and Greens (9) bringing up the rear.This poll came as a bit of a surprise really as surveys performed late last week reinforced the statistical tie that has reigned over the Liberals and Tories. Certainly, more than a few election junkies I talked to yesterday considered the possibility this was a rogue survey. It's happened before.It certainly could be that Strategic Counsel has captured the beginning of a new trend line. I am interested, however, that the survey was done August 25-31, which took it directly into the prelude and teeth of the long weekend. I wonder who was at home to answer the phone?Still, it is always safe to consider that the party that calls an election knows something the rest of us don't know about the public opinion numbers. And it's not unusual for a quick and decisive shift in parking lot support early in a campaign, even prior to a campaign being called.This latest poll must be doing quite a bit to put lead in the Tories' pencils, if you know what I mean. At 37 per cent support, the Tories are agonizingly close to the magic 40 per cent threshold - the accepted standard for parties to consider forming a majority government. In the low 40s usually translates into an easy majority; high 40s can translate into a landslide.Keep tuned for more polling excitement.-30-
- first, published Thursday from Canadian Press/Harris-Decima painted a picture of an electorate that does not fear an election, does not dislike where the Tories have taken the country, but one where at least one in two voters would vote for change. In terms of party standings, the Liberals (33) and Tories (32) remain in a statistical dead heat.Sheesh.The second poll, available today from Nanos (formerly SES Research), shows the Liberals at 35 per cent and the Tories at 33 per cent. Interestingly, the Liberals are gaining ground in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, and holding firm in Quebec, where the only movement is with the NDP which appears to be picking up support that is leaking from the Bloc Quebecois.What does it all mean? If Harper follows through with his promise to call an election, this could be the biggest electoral gamble in Canadian political history. Although I will rely on readers to point out other equally risky, or more risky, election calls.UPDATE: Another close poll. The intrigue builds.-30-
About Dan Lett
Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.
Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.
In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.
He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.
In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.
Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.
Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.
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