Short Term Gain, long Term Pain

When you hear that the KKK is planning a victory march to celebrate Donald Trump’s election win, it does make you wonder whether or not it was the right move for a candidate to align herself with some of his immigration policies even if there was an attempt to “Canadianize” them.

No doubt this was a move to gather support, donations and votes from individual members. In other words it looks like a short term attempt to position for a leadership vote, not for a future election campaign. Certainly there will be an element of the party that wants to see tighter screening of immigrants and there will be leadership votes to be gained with this whole Canadian values issue. While this might play well in some parts of the country, one only has to look at the urban results last election to see what happens when the multicultural vote walks to the other parties.

The problem with niche political marketing in a leadership campaign is that while you might win the contest, you haven’t won the war. The real battle takes place in the next election.

The other parties will have research teams dedicated to mining the media for every morsel of negative comment, they will be looking for every verbal mistake and watching how the media and population at large reacts to platform positions of leadership candidates. All of this information will be combined to help shape the political attacks of the next campaign. Every one of these items will find a use some time during the next campaign even if that campaign is a couple of years away.

Short term gain with long term pain can be the results. The Liberals must be enjoying this one.


The Dirty Dozen Plus...

So here we are in late fall with just 28 sitting days left for the House of Commons before the Christmas/New Year’s  break.

At last count we had 12 people who have entered the Conservative leadership race or who have said they will enter it, all believing in their own mind that they can be the next Prime Minister of Canada, assuming of course they win the next federal election. There are also a few who are supposedly/maybe/considering/possibly going to run from outside of the party and one other former minister, Lisa Raitt, who is said to be considering a bid. There are probably others out there as well.

When you look at all of those above, it’s an interesting bunch:

·        Some who insist on running on policies that cost us the election and helped to decimate the party in urban centers

·        some who feel they can win a national campaign when they couldn’t even win their own seat

·        some who think they can win a national election by refighting social policy issues of the 70s and 80s

·        and people who have never run for anything, but somehow feel they can win a national campaign.

If you believe all of their rhetoric every one of them is the only “true conservative” running.

Within the list of those declared or thinking about it, there are some serious candidates for party members to view, judge and cast their vote for, but right now much of what they say is buried in the media with some of the comments coming out of the mouths of other candidates.

Sadly the public (read voters) will eventually hear a lot more of these negative comments and in some cases stupid ones, as the days and weeks move forward towards May 27, 2017. Both the public and party members will eventually see some serious policy positions put forward and the party membership will have a chance to review and pronounce on them. Party members, the media and voters will also get a chance to judge the candidates and see which one has what it takes and also who has let their ego take them into this leadership campaign.

In the meantime there will be three primary factors which will limit who stays in the race and weed out the wannabees.

1. Money- who can raise it for a long campaign and who can’t. Tony Clement, who is a pretty decent guy, found that out the hard way that it will be a lot tougher than most think, as will a few others in the days ahead.

2. Their ground game. I agree with Georganne Burke that it can’t be just an air war; you need people on the ground in every riding to ensure that your candidate wins a significant percentage of the vote.

3. The team you can put in place, senior advisors, communication specialists, speech writers, policy wonks, advance people, issues management, rapid response teams and the list goes on. There are only so many talented people to go around and as things get serious, it will be interesting to see which candidate or candidates attracts the best and the brightest.

If you are presently a party member and on one of their email lists, you will be receiving press releases and letters from very few candidates at this time. If only a few in that large group above have received their lists from the party after paying up the needed funds to run, what does that say about their fundraising ability, their organization or lack of one, or their ability to attract staff capable of fundraising and putting a serious campaign in place?

Until the fundraising campaign, organizational work and staffing is completed the party membership will have to put up with this nonsense and all of these supposed candidates. Unfortunately so will the public who will be judging each candidate not only on their merits, but also on their comments and their policy positions. The public and many of them will be voters in the next election; will also be labeling the Conservative Party with all of them- both the good and the bad.

In the end that is where the damage will be done to the Conservative brand and its chances of winning the next election.

NOTE: a day after this article was published on this page, Lisa Raitt declared her intention to enter the Conservative Leadership race.


Trudeau rates a "C" for year one

Last week when on CTV’s True North Political Panel I was asked to give Trudeau a rating for his first year in office. I gave him a “C” not because I am so partisan, that I can’t say anything positive about him, but because the jury is still out on promises kept or not kept etc.

I saw one article that said he has only kept about 16% of his promises to date. To be fair no government can deliver on everything in their first year. As the Trudeau Liberals are finding out, promises cost money and even free spending Liberals have to draw a line on what gets spent now and what gets pushed further down the road.  Some of that is hidden under the guise of “consultation.”

In his first few months in office all he had to do was show up for work and not trip going up the stairs and the media would give him rave reviews. We are finally seeing more reporters beginning to question the action and also the inaction of the government on various files. As we saw with the limousine scandal ministers are under closer scrutiny and some of the shine has come off of the Liberal government.

When you make a lot of promises, you have a lot of voters and special interest groups waiting for you to deliver on them. They can become very impatient with a government very quickly. His recent waffling on electoral reform is but one example of a file that can blow up in his face. His lack of action on moving forward with files that are crucial for the First Nations and the lack of funding set aside to address their issues is another one.

You may recall that back on February 16th I wrote in the Huffington Post about Trudeau’s spending in his first 100 days in office. He spent a total of $5.3 billion of which $4.3 billion was spent outside of Canada. I predicted then that the needs of First Nations would be pushed aside. While the Liberals made a show at funding, a lot of it was pushed to after the next election. Recently a report was released by bureaucrats in Ottawa that it would cost $2 billion to bring 115 schools up to standard. Of course the money isn’t there now to do so. It was spent to look good in Paris and elsewhere. This is one more file that has the potential to go sideways on Trudeau.

We have the ongoing war in Syria and the war in Iraq and some of our troops are assisting the Kurds. It’s a risky and dangerous mission, one that this “open and transparent” government has gone strangely silent on. This is another file that they can have little control over on a day to day basis.

New governments always find that files that the previous government rejected get dusted off by departments and they are presented again to the new government. Back in April of 2010 I was blogging about the rumours that Canada would be sending troops on an UN African mission. At that time the speculation was the Congo and that General Leslie who has since been elected to the House of Commons, was to be the mission commander. It didn’t happen but here we are in 2016 and there is renewed talk of a UN African mission. This is one more file that can quickly become a mess for this government.

Decisions that are pushed off in the first year or two of a mandate inevitably come to a “yea” or “nay” point in your last two years. With all the promises made and all of the ones not kept to date that is a lot of voters who will be unhappy as the Liberals move into election mode. Until Trudeau starts to deliver on his promises he rates a “C”.


To Claim Or Not To Claim

There has been lots of controversy and quite a few accusations thrown around about various individuals moving expenses. This is politics and mud throwing and making your opponent look bad is definitely the name of the game. Liberal rhetoric in the last campaign- “open and accountable”, a new way of doing things, sunny ways etc. has made this type of issue a perfect one for the opposition parties. More importantly the Liberals have forgotten that in politics perception is everything and some of their moving expense claims appear to the public to be outrageous and out of line.

In reality they have followed the guidelines, hence their standard answer in Question Period. The Conservatives have had a lot of fun with this issue because simply put- some of the expense claims are more than most Canadians can ever hope to earn in salary in a year. The voting public gets this one and they don’t like it. Let us not forget that MPs are also subsidized for their expenses while living in Ottawa, as are our senators. I know quite a few former political staff who accepted jobs and moved to Ottawa knowing none of their expenses would be picked up.

We even have Brad Trost going after a former Conservative Chief of Staff wanting to have him pay back fees etc. It does get a bit ridiculous- if someone who is no longer in the government is fair game, how far back should we go- should we ask Martin and Chretien and maybe Mulroney era staffers to pay back fees?

This does however give parliamentarians a perfect opportunity to look at the guidelines, perhaps this should be a topic for one of the Standing Committees to review and task the committee to come up with new and acceptable guidelines.

Most Canadians don’t get their expenses covered when they move, although you can claim some expenses on your income tax if you moved over a minimum distance to a new job. I wonder what moving expenses media types get covered if they leave Ottawa and move to another city?

It all boils down to what decisions a political staffer makes and based on those very personal decisions, should the taxpayer have to pay for the results of their decision?

First decision- do I accept the job? If you know in advance that only a minimum amount of your moving expenses will be covered, then that will be factored into your decision.

Second decision- should I sell my home? If you were making that decison today, you know in advance that you will be paying real estate fees (government moves get much reduced rates) and you know you will have to pay lawyer’s fees. You could also keep your home, perhaps rent it out. Not a bad idea considering how volatile political life is and how easy it is to lose your job on the Hill. In a hot real estate market such as in Toronto, this is also something to consider as the value of your home is steadily increasing during your short stay in Ottawa.

Should the taxpayer have to pick up the costs of your personal decision to sell?

Third decision- Should I buy or rent in Ottawa? That is another personal decision. No one tells you that you have to buy a home. You can rent some pretty nice apartments on a senior PMO staff salary. You can also rent some pretty nice homes and still be close to your office. It is a personal decision when you choose to buy a home here. Before you decide to buy, you know that you will be paying our infamous welcome tax. You know in advance that you will pay legal fees. Should taxpayers be on the hook because you made the personal decision to buy and not rent?

Your actual moving expenses IE having a company pack your things up and move them to Ottawa and then unpack them different is a different decision. You have only a few choices in moving companies and you won’t find that much difference in rates. It is not unreasonable to see those expenses covered and the general public IE voters understand those costs.

There is an argument to be made that the costs that are currently covered apply to the civil service, military, RCMP etc. All true, but let us keep in mind that those personnel don’t have a choice when they move. They are told where they are going and when they are going- a big difference.

Going forward, should senior political staff be treated differently when it comes to moving expenses? Now is a good time for our parliamentarians to sit down and look at the process and the cost to the taxpayer. Let us see what they decide to do; after all it is our money that they are spending.


Perception is Everything

I remember reading some comments from Liberal Senator Keith Davies, otherwise known as the “Rain Maker” for his successful stewardship of several Liberal election campaigns. He stressed that in politics, perception was everything- something this latest generation of Liberals seems to have forgotten.

Arrogance and entitlement have always been the downfall of the Liberals, whether it was Justin’s father giving the “Salmon Arm” salute to voters or David Dingwall’s expensing a package of gum, they have left a lasting impression with voters. Now it is quite true that when voters get fed up with the Conservatives they can overlook this Liberal failing- but it doesn’t take much to remind them about what they don’t like about Liberals.

Politicians need to keep in mind that it is the small things that add up over time and it is the small things that get them booted out of office. It’s the continual picking away by the opposition of the day and the media that eventually sours voters on a government.

What was Trudeau thinking when he suggested to his top two staffers in their letter of employment that they could access this relocation program in its entirety? Did he not stop and think this through; did he not pause and wonder what “regular” Canadians might think? Did he just rubber stamp a letter offered to him by a staffer to sign? Clearly someone wasn’t thinking (especially his two top aides).

Now I am not saying that Telford and Butts didn’t follow the rules. All the evidence says that they did. Following the rules is the song they all sing when it blows up in their face. Bev Oda’s $16 orange juice was within the guidelines, but that didn’t matter to voters. Nor does the fact that Telford and Butts followed the guidelines matter- what matters is the perception of what the voters interpret as going on. If the voters feel it is inappropriate, then in their mind it is and they don’t give a damn if you followed the rules or if it was within the guidelines or not.

Voters can be boondoggled on policy matters, but there are some things they understand- especially if it things they also do. People have paid for a glass of orange juice, people have sold homes and moved, and people have paid moving expenses, real estate fees and lawyer’s fees out of their own pocket- they really do get it. Did no one in the Liberal brain trust (especially his top two advisors) not stop to ask the “what if” question? What if this goes public- how will the media and voters react to my claims? Did no one give any thought as to public reaction?

The median family income in Canada is $76,000, median salary around $50,000. Voters look at Butts claiming in expenses close to the yearly income of two entire families, or 2.5 workers’ salaries just for a move to accept a high paying job in Ottawa. These are the same families that would have to shoulder all moving costs on their own. Telford charged more than an entire family’s year income as well. Do you think staff charging over $207,000 to move the short distance from Toronto to Ottawa impressed Canadian voters? What does this say about Trudeau’s promise to do things differently?

If perception in politics as Keith Davies maintained was everything, so far we have seen-

-a media blow up over Trudeau trying to charge his two nannies salaries to his office budget

-Sophie wanting extra staff to support her work

-ministers trying to pretend that they didn’t use limousines

-extravagant moving expenses charges

The old Liberal narrative is being refreshed in the voters mind and once again “they are entitled to their entitlements” rings true. It is time for them to come out of their ivory tower and time for them to start asking the “what if” questions and give voters a break- if they don’t voters can even the score at election time.

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