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End of year At Issue panel

Last night's National had the end-of-season At Issue panel. Here are my answers to the same questions, though with a far more Liberal-party biased bent than the actual At Issue panel had.

Best Political Play?

There is a lot of talk about Kennedy's move to Dion being the best political play, but, sticking to the convention, I think there is one thing that overshadowed even that.

Bob Rae dropped off after the third ballot and had three options. He could support his friend of 40 years and one-time roommate Michael Ignatieff, he could back Stéphane Dion, or he could remain neutral. Had he supported Ignatieff, Ignatieff may well have won by the thinest of margins.

By refusing to support one or the other candidate, he did the best thing possible for party unity and for the future of the party. His supporters were already divided between Dion and Ignatieff, and a move to either one may well have offended many of his supporters, particularly those accumulated from other candidates over the course of the campaign. What he did meant the race could end with a minimum of open wounds.

I also suspect that had he endorsed Ignatieff, the margin would have been very close to 50-50 and the optics of a 50.1-49.9 win are quite bad and would almost certainly result in a divided party whichever candidate had won in that scenario. What he did was very significant.

Worst Political Play?

Stephen Harper and Rona Ambrose went out West to make an announcement on the environment. The announcement was, in effect, that there would be an announcement on the environment. The subsequent announcement was, in effect, that climate change exists but if we have twice as many cars that each put out only 2/3 the amount of CO2, we would be making an improvement, or what they call Intensity Targets.

This hammered it home to Canadians that the Harper government does not take the issue seriously and was probably a contributing factor to Dion's victory at the convention a few months later. Had the Conservatives taken the environment file seriously from the outset, it would be a non-issue as all parties would be in agreement that it must be addressed.

Most Significant Political Event This Fall?

As Coyne said on last night's panel, the decapitation of the Liberal party establishment was the most significant event this fall.

Stéphane Dion's victory over Ignatieff and Rae who were party outsiders yet ironically perceived to be the establishment candidates will have far reaching consequences for the Liberal party and probably for the country. A renewed and rejuvenated Liberal party with new leadership at all levels of the party will be difficult to combat in an election, as, simply put, mud from other parties will have difficulty sticking.

Most under-reported or overlooked political event?

Like others, I will again agree with Andrew Coyne on this point.

The Ontario Commission on Electoral Reform existed. This was news to me on the At Issue panel. I have very strong opinions on electoral reform and would have made sure to have had my voice heard by the Commission had I been aware of it.

It is significant that this event was not made a bigger deal, especially as it will be resulting in a referendum question in less than a year and could have very far reaching consequences for both the population and governance of Ontario and for other provinces which will watch the results of a change in Ontario's system very carefully.

Most underrated politician?

Martha Hall Findlay came from nowhere at the start of the leadership race. Her main claim to fame was that she was first defeated by, then had to step aside for Belinda Stronach. I believe by the end of the leadership race most Liberals were scratching their heads wondering why it was we had Belinda and not Martha in Ottawa.

Findlay has become very popular in the Liberal party, but I don't know that the country has taken notice of her yet. Time will tell.

If her phenomenal growth in popularity in the party can be translated onto the national scene, there is a very good chance that she could eventually become the first female leader of the Liberal party in the future.

Most overrated politician?

Michael Ignatieff was touted early on as the heir apparent to the Liberal throne. His worldly experience and background were seen by many to make him the obvious candidate to lead the party. Had the leadership race been shorter or taken place later, he would almost certainly have won it. As time marched on, he made rookie mistakes and treated the race as both an entitlement ('I don't think anything is wrong with my approach - I'm the frontrunner') and as an academic discussion rather than a political competition. While Canada is in dire need of more in-depth discussions on all of our issues, it cost him the respect of many people in the party as, particularly in the case of the Nation debate, his machinations opened Canadian wounds that had he been in the country for, he would have known were highly volatile and not safe to open.

Ultimately, he could have won over the support of many people in the party, possibly including myself, had he simply appeared to make an effort to understand Canada and current domestic Canadian issues before seeking to lead the country. That problem, however, was not of his own making. He almost certainly expected to spend several years in cabinet before being faced with a leadership race which would have given him an enormous advantage when he would inevitably run.

With Martin having been leader for just over two years, things have not changed terribly much in the Liberal party from the perspective of joining it earlier this year with the hope of eventually leading it, and while others seem to believe he will return to an academic life, I have little doubt that he will retain his organisation and stick it out in the hopes of running for leadership again at some point in the future, especially as in party tradition it will be an Anglo's turn to lead. Provided he does it in a way where the mantra of 'tous ensemble' is actually maintained, I will have no objection and would be likely to give him a serious look next time if he does indeed stick around.

Fate of the Afghanistan Mission?

I believe that the mission in Afghanistan will result in a total withdrawal in 2009-2010 with the country's infrastructure a mess and a decreased quality of life for its citizens from today, unless all NATO countries take it more seriously and put as much time, money, and effort into infrastructure and economic construction as they do into combat.

As I pointed out in my above-linked entry, Germany and Japan, the main recipients of the Marshall plan after the second world war have both gone on to be world economic powers who have never again gone to war. If the West put the tens of billions of dollars into reconstruction in Afghanistan, I believe it could become a democratic regional powerhouse and important ally. Of course there is a war taking place, and by extension there will be casualties, but they will be for nothing if we do not make it our collective mission to rebuild the country, not just subdue it.

Election timing?

The government will force its own demise in the late spring of next year, with a campaign timed to coincide with spring final exams in universities across the country. With the environment set to be a major issue, preventing students from organising is a must for Stephen Harper, and waiting any longer will allow the Liberals to organise too much for the current government's tastes.

I don't know if the government will fall on the Afghanistan vote being brought in by the Bloc in February, but the tories could still elect to have the date of the election at the end of April to ensure the above-noted scenario even if it does.

Who is this woman?

In spite of watching question period most days, I had no idea who the woman Peter Mansbridge asked his panel to identify was. Apparently she's the minister of national revenue.

Posted at 07:37 on December 15, 2006

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