|Gearing up for Election 2007
Liberals Vs Conservatives
The Canada eZine - Canadian Politics
Tories scramble to play green game
OTTAWA–The Tories have launched the first act in a weeklong play to gain the upper hand on the environment and ward off opposition parties plotting their strategy before the House of Commons returns.
Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn yesterday said a $238 million green science fund, to be distributed over four years, will help pay for the research and development of technologies such as clean coal, hydrogen fuel cells and nuclear energy.
The government's new three-pronged strategy also includes cleaning up existing energy sources, like the oil sands and Ontario's coal-fired generators, and boosting energy efficiency in homes, he said.
"We need to focus on where the potential gains can be made and direct our energies there," said Lunn, adding that the new strategy will put a sharper focus on efforts to cut emissions.
"We must not just become an energy superpower. We must become a clean energy superpower."
Opposition parties and environmental groups said upcoming government announcements – on wind energy tomorrow and efficient home heating on Sunday – provide no immediate measures to halt the growth of greenhouse gases.
"It's certainly not short-term activity, and it in no way makes up the gap that was lost by suspending programs that were working," said Toronto Liberal MP John Godfrey, who has been the party's environment critic.
When MPs return to the Commons in a little over a week the focus will be on a special committee struck to rewrite the government's Clean Air Act. In advance of that, the Liberals and New Democrats are taking pains to point out the shortcomings of what they have cast as the Conservatives' recent conversion to green policies.
The Conservatives appeared caught short by both the rising importance of the environment in national polls and by the election as federal Liberal leader in December of Stéphane Dion, who came to the job with a good reputation on green issues.
The Tories signalled their renewed interest in the environment early this month with the replacement of Rona Ambrose as environment minister by the more combative John Baird.
Baird flanked Lunn at the announcement but left before it had ended. Before leaving, he said he would be announcing targets for mandatory emission reductions, an essential beachhead from which to fight climate change, "in short order."
"The scientific evidence is real and it's conclusive. It's time for the world and, more importantly, it's time for Canada to take real action," he said.
Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute said the government's focus should be on harnessing the technologies already available in order to reduce greenhouse gases rather than waiting a decade or more for new technologies to develop.
To make the immediate reductions, the government must impose strong regulations and strong financial incentives, he said.
The Tory reversal on the environment includes plans to launch an overhauled EnerGuide program to encourage home-heating efficiency, and cash to quadruple the amount of energy produced from wind power. Both were initiatives launched by the previous Liberal government but shelved by a departmental review early into the Tory mandate.
Lunn said the climate-change program review found more than 100 programs, many providing limited benefit or no results. He said the previous Liberal government lacked the focus and direction now being applied to the environment file.
"It's recommitted me to how much work we have to do at the ... committee," said NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen, adding what is known about the series of upcoming announcements suggest the Tories have a "hodgepodge" strategy.
"On and on it will go, but a plan it will not make," he said. "If the minister really wanted to announce something bold, he would have announced an end to the oil-and-gas subsidies in Alberta. That would have been progressive, courageous and something that's required."
The money for the new technology fund was part of a $2-billion promise on environmental spending contained in the 2006 budget, but Lunn admitted some of the money may have come from the programs that were frozen or cut last year. The government has not yet allotted money to any projects, and will not begin doing so until April.
Pierre Alvarez, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said from Calgary this week that government's focus on energy technology and sustainability is welcome in Alberta's oil patch.
"The technology to substantially reduce emissions in the short term is not available," he said. "The focus on technology is absolutely critical."
Liberal leader Dion said yesterday's announcement was ripped from the 2005 federal budget in which the previous government put aside $200 million over four years to develop a technology strategy to promote sustainable development.
"It's nice to see that the first thing that they did when they realized that the Canadian public is demanding action on climate change was to read the 2005 Liberal budget," Dion said in a written statement, claiming that the Grits are two years ahead of the Conservatives.
Poll not good news for Tories
OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives are flying high in Alberta but appear to be grounded just about everywhere else, a new poll suggests.
That’s not good news for the governing party on the eve of the first anniversary of its election victory.
The survey by Decima Research, provided Thursday to The Canadian Press, puts the Conservatives and Liberals in a statistical dead heat in national support among decided and leaning voters.
But when Alberta respondents — where Tory support is running four times that of the Liberals — are taken out of the poll, the Liberals are seven percentage points ahead of the Conservatives in the rest of the country.
“As the one-year anniversary of its election approaches, the Conservative party’s challenge is becoming clear,” said Bruce Anderson, Decima’s CEO.
“Their support in Alberta is massive, and actually growing . . . . Their competitiveness in many parts of the rest of the country is what is under real pressure.”
The national numbers break down this way: Liberal support, 33 per cent; Conservatives 32; NDP 13, and the Green Party nine per cent.
In Alberta, Decima’s three-week rolling average puts Tory support at 63 per cent and the Liberals at 14 — almost 50 percentage points back.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s party swept all 28 Alberta seats in the election last Jan. 23 en route to a minority government, so blanket public support in the province cannot translate into more parliamentary heft the next time around.
And outside Alberta, Anderson says his recent surveys paint a troubling picture for the government.
In Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois leads with 44 per cent, followed by the Liberals at 26, Conservatives 15, the NDP at seven per cent and the Green Party at five.
The Liberals enjoy 44 per cent support in Ontario, compared to 31 per cent for the Tories, 14 per cent for New Democrats and 10 per cent for the Greens.
Decima’s most recent survey of more than 1,025 respondents was conducted last Thursday through Monday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Decima compared the poll numbers to its surveys from last January and found Conservative slippage in several demographic groupings.
Last year at this time, the Tories led the Liberals by six percentage points among women voters. Over the past three weeks of polling, Decima has found the Liberals up an average nine per cent among women.
Among urban voters last January, the Conservatives enjoyed a six-point advantage. Now Decima has the Liberals six percentage points ahead of the Tories in urban areas.
Older voters, those 50 and up, favoured the Conservatives by 14 percentage points last year, but Decima’s surveys now suggest the Tory lead over the Liberals has been cut to three points. That’s within the poll’s margin of error.
One year ago, Conservative support outside Alberta was nine percentage points higher than Liberal support. According to three-week rolling averages from the last three Decima surveys, Tory support outside Alberta sits at 28 per cent, compared to 35 per cent for the Liberals.
Tax break for going green popular in poll
Dennis Bueckert - January 14th 2007.
OTTAWA – Canadians are more likely to support tax cuts tied to good environmental behaviour than tax cuts with no strings attached, a new poll suggests.
Decima Research asked people to choose between two hypothetical election promises – a $1,000 Conservative tax break for every household and a $1,000 Liberal break limited to households that took pro-environment action.
Fifty-one per cent of respondents said they would prefer the Liberal promise versus 28 per cent who preferred the Conservative pledge, say the survey results provided to The Canadian Press. Twenty-one per cent were unsure.
"I think what we're seeing here is a signal that's really about what kind of policies people want," Decima CEO Bruce Anderson said in an interview.
"While they appreciate the idea of tax cuts they also appreciate that policy should be increasingly directed towards achieving environmental improvement. That's what that 51 per cent are telling us they think."
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion has advocated tax breaks tied to green behaviour, such as the purchase of energy-efficient appliances or the installation of home energy generation systems.
The Conservatives have avoided any linkage between tax policy and environmental reform.
The hypothetical Liberal promise that was put to poll participants by Decima outperformed the Conservative promise in every part of the country except Alberta. In that province there was a 46 per cent versus 37 per cent preference for the no-strings option.
Nationwide, 50 per cent of men and 52 per cent of women preferred the Liberal promise. It was preferred by every age, income and education group and by urban (54 per cent) as well as rural (46 per cent) voters.
"Tying the appeal of tax cuts to improvements in environmental behaviour is an idea with clear potential," said Anderson.
The Decima results were based on a sample of 1,028 Canadians polled Jan. 4-8. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Dion names shadow cabinet
OTTAWA — Stephane Dion unveiled a restructured parliamentary team Thursday aimed at ensuring the Liberals are in fighting form for an election as early as this spring.
“This team will have the enormous responsibility of offering Canadians a constructive, effective Opposition and to pave the way for an election that could come up at any time,” the new Liberal leader told a news conference.
“We’re not hoping for it but we have to be ready for it,” Dion added.
Nevertheless, Dion said it’s hard to imagine initiatives undertaken by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “far right” minority government that Liberals would be comfortable supporting, including the coming budget. If the Bloc and NDP also balked at the budget, the government would fall.
“There are many scenarios where we may be in an election in the next two months or in the next two years. Who knows?” Dion said.
“So our duty is to be ready for an election.”
Dion was flanked by former leadership rival Michael Ignatieff, whom he named deputy leader before Christmas, as he unveiled the 53 MPs who will make up his so-called shadow cabinet.
He found key roles for other former rivals, including Scott Brison as industry critic, Joe Volpe as transport critic and Ken Dryden as chair of the caucus’s newly created social justice committee.
Dion created four other committees to ensure all 101 Liberal MPs are kept busy. In addition to social justice, he created caucus policy committees on economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and Canada and the world.
He also set up a “mentorship” committee of MPs who will be in charge of advising new candidates who are recruited to run in the next election. Gerard Kennedy, one of three former leadership contenders without a seat in the Commons, will chair the mentorship committee, in addition to advising Dion on election readiness.
Last month, Dion put former rival Bob Rae in charge of developing the election platform, along with Brison, and put Martha Hall Findlay to work consulting party grassroots on policy.
Only 10 of the Liberals’ 101 MPs supported Dion’s candidacy and several of them, including Bonnie Brown in Health and Marlene Jennings in justice, were handed high-profile critic roles.
Almost 40 MPs backed Ignatieff and several were given big jobs, including David McGuinty in environment, a crucial role, given Dion’s emphasis on green issues.
MPs backing Kennedy, who ultimately threw his support to Dion and helped secure his victory, were particularly well rewarded, including Mark Holland in natural resources, Navdeep Bains in international trade and Bernard Patry in intergovernmental affairs.
Ralph Goodale retains his job as Opposition House leader despite declaring for Rae in the final days of the leadership campaign. Several other Rae backers got prominent roles, including Ujjal Dosanjh in foreign affairs.
Dion said his restructured team strikes a balance between ``continuity and renewal.” And he asserted that no other Opposition leader has ever been able to boast of having 29 former cabinet ministers in caucus.
Dion has promised to boost the role of women in politics, vowing that at least 33 per cent of Liberal candidates in the next election will be female. But he fell slightly short of that mark in his shadow cabinet and miles short in the new caucus committees.
Thirty per cent of the new Liberal critics are women. But only 10 per cent of the 40 MPs on the four new policy committees are women.
Green party turns its focus to poverty fight
OTTAWA–Now that all the major political parties seem to be latched on to the environment, the Green Party of Canada is turning its sights on the green stuff – or lack of it – in Canadians' wallets.
The Greens, holding a poverty conference this weekend, are considering a call for a guaranteed annual income in Canada – an idea that was pushed more than 20 years ago by the Macdonald royal commission on the economy, which also paved the way for Canada-U.S. free trade.
The guaranteed-income idea has been rattling around discussions of social-safety-net reform for many decades, but with the Greens and even some long-time Conservatives taking a new look at it, the concept could enjoy a resurgence in this highly political year.
In its simplest terms, it means a system in which all Canadians are entitled to a certain "floor" income. Some see it as an all-purpose, lump-sum replacement for all the other forms of subsidized social assistance – from child care to employment insurance.
Halton MP Garth Turner, ousted from the Conservatives, has recently posted a call for a guaranteed annual income on his website. "It's time," Turner wrote.
In an interview with the Toronto Star yesterday, Turner said this is an idea that blurs party boundaries, with left-wing advocates arguing for it on fairness and compassion grounds, while right-wing politicians such as Turner see it in terms of efficiency and individual rights.
Senator Hugh Segal, who has called himself a "lonely Conservative proponent" of the guaranteed annual income for nearly three decades, tried to revive the debate in the pages of the Star last fall.
"Surely the time has finally come to seriously consider a guaranteed income, financed by the money now in innumerable other programs. It is time to simply recognize that to be a Canadian should mean to be free of the fear that inadequate food, shelter, clothing, recreation and basic necessities of life cannot but impart," Segal wrote after a National Welfare Council report said that people were worse off now on state assistance than they were 20 years ago.
Now it's the Greens' turn. The Green Party is holding a major policy conference in Vancouver this weekend, titled: "A conversation on poverty and guaranteed income."
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is personally in favour of a guaranteed annual income. But it is not part of the Greens' platform – at least, not yet.
"A guaranteed annual income would eliminate poverty," May said, somewhat sweepingly, in a reply to an all-candidates' survey in last year's by-election in London, Ont.
University of Waterloo professor Richard Needham, in a paper he's prepared for presentation at the gathering, talks about a "universal basic income" or UBI. As he envisions it, every citizen would be given a base income, which would not be taxed – any income on top of it would be subject to taxes. The main motivation is democracy, Needham writes, since it is organized around citizens rather than the market or social outcomes.
"UBI is not a panacea but it is a necessary ingredient to restore a semblance of democracy."
The other political parties have approached guaranteed annual income more gingerly. Though Conservatives were in power when the idea was recommended in the 1985 royal commission report by Donald Macdonald, they took no steps to implement it.
When Liberals came to power in 1993, they carried out a social-policy review and issued a discussion paper that called guaranteed annual income impractical. It was floated again when then-prime minister Jean Chrétien declared his own war on poverty after the 2000 election, but nothing came of it.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, favour a guaranteed annual income in principle, but most of its focus in recent years has been on income for seniors.
Voting system `must be changed'
Ontario's electoral system is failing the people it supposedly serves by not proportionally representing them, a citizens' panel studying reforms has heard.
Speaker after speaker testified at the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform hearing last night at Ryerson University that it is time to radically change the way Ontarians pick their MPPs.
"Ontario's first-past-the-post system has been a serious impediment for us to nurture a better informed, more engaged citizenry," Leah Casselman, departing president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, told the more than 100 people in attendance.
"I am convinced that the way we elect MPPs must be changed. Otherwise, our electoral system will remain a roadblock to greater equality and political fairness rather than the democratic cornerstone it could be," said Casselman.
The Citizens' Assembly, a panel of 104 Ontarians representing all 103 provincial ridings plus chair George Thomson, a former judge – has been holding hearings to gauge public sentiment on how MPPs are elected.
The assembly will deliver a report on its findings to Democratic Renewal Minister Marie Bountrogianni by May 15.
If the panel suggests changes, the government will put a referendum question on the Oct. 4 provincial election ballot.
But any change would require a 60 per cent "super majority" and be endorsed by more than 50 per cent of the ballots cast in at least 64 of the 107 ridings being contested this fall.
Should the referendum pass, the new system would be in place for the 2011 election.
MPPs are now chosen using the first-past-the-post method, meaning the candidate with the most votes in a riding wins the seat regardless of whether he or she garners the majority of ballots cast.
Boosters of proportional representation – or PR – argue the current "winner take all" model is unfair and want Ontario to adopt a more equitable system that would elect candidates to the Legislature in proportion to their party's share of the popular vote.
Larry Gordon, executive director of Fair Vote Canada, a leading PR advocacy group, noted the present system dates back to the 12th century.
"Back in the Dark Ages, this was a tremendous leap forward because it was replacing no voting at all," said Gordon.
"It was good in its time but the centuries have rolled by. Here we are in the 21st century using the world's most primitive voting system. It's obviously not democratic."
For example, in the 2003 Ontario election, New Democrats won 14.7 per cent of the vote, but took just 6.8 per cent of the seats. Similarly, the Progressive Conservatives received 34.6 per cent of the vote and 23.3 per cent of seats.
In contrast, the Liberals' 46.6 per cent of the popular vote gave them a massive majority with 69.9 per cent of the seats.
Veteran political activist Judy Rebick said a voting change would mean legislatures that more accurately reflect the electorate's wishes and, as a consequence, increase voter turnout.
"If people's vote counts the system is fairer. If a party gets 20 per cent of the vote, they get 20 per cent of the seats, the system is fairer," said Rebick.
But lawyer Bruce McEachern, one of the few backers of the status quo last night, warned against the change, arguing it would encourage "one-issue" protest parties and mean endless minority governments.
"The existing system is actually the best we can ask for because the members are chosen for the Legislature by the people in their community," he said.