Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, The Other America, Trillium (Monday March 26, 2007 at 11:45 am)

Warmed by recent polls which hint at a positive response to last week’s budget, Prime Minister Harper has taken the unusual step of broadcasting his next strategic move: a swing through Latin America and the Caribbean.

Canada has a longstanding and powerful connection with the Caribbean, largely as the dominant hemispheric member of the British Empire and Commonwealth. The Caribbean presence in Canada remains strong. Roughly 600,000 immigrants have come from the region since 1961, a significant portion of whom have settled in and around Toronto. The City of Toronto proper was home to nearly 170,000 new immigrants from the Caribbean as recently as 1996, and the city’s annual Caribana festival is the largest in North America.

Canada’s foreign relations record will certainly be bolstered by the trip, as has been duly noted:

“There are opportunities for people to engage,” said Mr. Dade, who has worked for the U.S. government and the World Bank in the region.

“People want to see alternatives, and we’ve got a strong alternative to the States. Now is a time more than ever where that’s popular and of interest to people.”

But the real force of the trip will be the local direction; and that’s why it’s so important.

Throughout the region, Harper will encounter governments who are eager for a good relationship with Canada and who share his vision of government. Caribbean society tends to be more socially conservative and religious than Canadian, but just as devoted to public programmes for health care and education. This combination means a warm response from political and ideological allies throughout the region, boosting the Prime Minister’s international reputation while contrasting him favorably with Bush’s protested tour of Latin America.

The importance of an improved diplomatic image for a government which dissappointed many with its previous international efforts should not be understated. But foreign trips aren’t enough to sway the public. At best, buffing the government’s diplomatic credentials is a defensive action — fortifying it against criticism on that front. Its positive purpose lies elsewhere.

That elsewhere is Toronto. The population of 170,000 Caribbean expatriates in Toronto in 1996 constituted 5% of the population, while most estimates put the proportionate population in Toronto at over 8%. Historically, Caribbeans have voted together with most other immigrant communities — for the Liberals; and the magnitude of immigrant populations in the Toronto area has as much to do with the Liberals’ successes there as it does with their selection of candidates who represent local ethnic communities. But the weakening of the diplomatic connection with the region is evident in the stalled state of trade negotiations, even as the Caribbean strengthens its integrated community and regional role with overtures to Haiti and Cuba.

A shower of attention on the region will be welcomed by Canadians of Caribbean descent. If that group can be swayed to their side, the Tories will have successfully attacked a significant bastion of Liberal support. A mere shift from, say, a 30%-50% split of such support with the Liberals (NDP etc. gets the rest) to a 40%-40% split could constitute movement of 1.5-2% of votes in the Toronto area — taking a big bite out of the Liberals’ lead for a minor investment of time and nearly no investment of budget spending. That’s an sound strategic move against a City which represents the last major Liberal fortress of support.

Which leaves only one question: why pre-announce?

For some, it might be the surest sign yet of the government’s willingness to go to an election. Consider: if an election is called before the trip, there’s no electoral payoff unless the public already knows about it. By announcing it well in advance (beginning of spring for a summer trip), the Tories secure at least some of the trip’s benefits even if it is pre-empted.

Of course, this advance notice also gives the Liberals plenty of opportunities to shore up their support in the community. With the exit of their only Caribbean-born politician in Ontario (Jean Augustine), they will have to depend on local workers and the unpredictable Hedy Fry, a Vancouverite. But given recent Liberal tactics, the Conservatives may be skeptical of Liberal strength. That would make this an excellent time for the Liberals to move to secure a strategic constituency. Failing to do so may only lead to openings on more fronts.

And absent that, Harper’s move to warmer climates will succeed, and the Tories will hot up their chances in Ontario’s seat-rich capital.

The West-East Connection0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Trillium, Rocky Waters (Tuesday March 13, 2007 at 12:09 pm)

As coverage of the Air India bombing in 1985 suggests, South Asians are a significant and growing group within Canada. British Columbia and Ontario have benefitted greatly from this influx, with hundreds of thousands of South Asians moving into their major cities and the surrounding suburbs.

Against that backdrop, both the government’s attention to the ongoing inquiry and a new proposal to improve trade relations with India make a great deal of sense.

After all, those two provinces are exactly where the Conservative government underperformed in the last election. They lost five seats in British Columbia, four of which were in the Vancouver area, and failed to make a real dent in suburban Toronto.

Regardless, then, of the policy merits of the government’s recent conduct, its political purposes are clear: an international bridge from East to West may build a partisan bridge from West to East.

Crystal Gazing 20070

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, The Elephant, A House Divided, Trillium, Crossroads of Culture (Sunday December 31, 2006 at 6:06 pm)

The Flash-Frozen Wonk isn’t really in the prediction racket. This is a house of analysis, not divination. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to think about it.

What that means is watching stories; and there are a few big ones in the coming year:

Tack to the Middle
Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper shift to dealing with middle-class ambitions in the coming year? Will that be enough to contain the opposition in a ring of suburban Tory strongholds?
Middle East
Does the US Democratic party have any way to impact the Iraqi situation? Will they bother to try, given the possibility that any improvement could still be claimed as a victory by the Republican administration?
East of Ontario
Will Quebec’s Premier get something worthwhile out of a federal government eager to secure its inroads in La Belle Province? Will the recent boost in Liberal fortunes prove as temporary as the economic boost from their convention?
Ontario at the Hustings
A government whose blunders (Health Premium) are long-behind them is headed to the polls. Will any issue large enough to rile Ontarians crop up to ruin Premier Dalton McGuinty’s hopes of a second majority?

That’s more than enough for one year, and far too much for one night. Here’s looking to the future, and a great New Year.

Inchworm, Inchworm0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Vague Check, Trillium, Full-Timers (Tuesday April 11, 2006 at 10:03 am)

What do you get when newspapers and opposition politicians alike have poorer math skills than your garden-variety invertebrate?

This report from the National Post.

Hoping to seize on public anxiety after the recent case of multiple murders in Ontario, the aptly named Leader of the Opposition, John Tory, has questioned the provincial Government’s plans to add police officers to the provincial force.

The GTA, Mr. Tory suggests, is getting more than its fair share of the 1,000 new officers to be funded by the Government. While the area around Toronto will receive 25% of the new officers, OPP detachments outside the GTA will receive only 5% of the new officers.

Wondering why that only adds up to 30%? It’s because of a few clever distinctions. Tory is counting all officers going to the GTA, but only officers going to OPP detachments outside the GTA. The comparison is as pointless as apple consumption to fruit consumption, and given that, according to the government, most of the officers will be going to community police services, it utterly fails to reflect the real distribution of officers.

Consider that, according to this announcement, 51 of the 1,000 officers (that’s 5% for the journalists and opposition politicians) will be stationed in the Northern Ontario region. Since that still leaves a considerable area outside the GTA, it’s hard to believe that the region outside will be underserviced.

But take a look at things another way. In the last Canadian Census, the GTA was stated to contain 44.5% of the population of Ontario.

Reviewing the numbers, then:

  • Population of GTA: 44.5% of provincial total
  • Share of new officers: 25% of provincial total
  • Population of non-GTA: 55.5% of provincial total
  • Share of new officers: 75% of provincial total

So what, you might ask, is Mr. Tory complaining about? Equally questionable is the media’s presentation of his claims without any context whatsoever. The statement is clearly designed to mislead the public — does’t the press, that valiant defender of the public’s right and need for knowledge, have any duty to inform the public, or is that entirely at their discretion? Is there really no standard to hold them both to, or will we inch along to the truth instead of getting it in full measure?

The Last Boy Scout0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, A House Divided, Trillium (Thursday January 5, 2006 at 6:20 pm)

Tough, sometimes, being Ontario. Perhaps no other province identifies itself as Canadian first and foremost, without requital. Fearful of a breakup of the country, strong talk about separatists always seems a prudent strategy to reassure Ontarians of one’s electoral credentials (that’s why those words are always delivered in English).

Which is the most interesting thing about the recent release of a new poll.

The poll shows the Tories ahead nationwide, but that may be nothing more than people roused from their Christmas stupor to pay attention to what was an excellent December campaign by the Conservatives and a lacklustre one by the Liberals. Now that the Liberals are putting out policy statements, they may well attract a few stragglers back into the fold.

The interesting thing isn’t the nationwide spread. It’s the movement apparent in the numbers in Quebec. There, the Conservatives have squeaked over 20%, apparently wholly at the expense of the Bloc Quebecois. The last time that happened, for perspective (even if Tory and Reform votes are combined), was in 1997, under the leadership of current Quebec Premier Jean Charest. For such a change to have taken place while the party is led by an Anglophone hailing from Toronto and Alberta is hard to understand.

If it’s not a terrible polling mistake, it points to a dramatic conclusion: that some soft-core Quebec nationalists see a viable political option in the federal Conservatives.

Remember, if you will, that the Bloc Quebecois emerged largely as a splinter group of Quebec conservatives, who had been successfully wooed by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. That some of their supporters might return to the fold at this point means a great deal for both Quebec and, perhaps more curiously, Ontario.

In Quebec, it raises the prospect of three-way races in which the Liberals will no longer stand as the natural alternative to the BQ. The Liberals will no longer be able to take their position in Quebec for granted, and must quickly refocus their campaign in that province if this poll represents a real trend.

But the effect on Ontario will be just as politically interesting. In a province where obstinate (and often heartless) attacks on sovereigntists prove the leader worthy of Canada, the emergence of legitimacy for a second party in that province could throw political choice into chaos. Ontarians fighting for their vision of Canada (as surely as they swarmed buses for Montreal in 1995) will suddenly be offered more than one way to fight.

Will they trust Conservatives to preserve national unity? Will they fear Conservatives’ policy of renegotiating relationships between the federal government and the provinces? If the former, it may support this poll’s movement towards the Liberals. If the latter, it may reverse the poll without the Liberals’ lifting a finger.

Hard to gauge. But the truth is, given that outcome, Harper, too, could stand to refocus his efforts in these two provinces. Because however they vote, Ontarians will be want to believe that they’re doing their duty to Crown and Country.

No News is good news for some0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Trillium (Friday November 25, 2005 at 10:07 am)

The Ontario Liberal Party has won a by-election in Scarborough-Rouge River, an eastern Toronto riding formerly held by now-Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Alvin Curling.

Former city councillor Bas Balkissoon took nearly 58% of the vote in what has historically been a secure Liberal riding. Federally, it has been held by Liberals since its creation in 1988, and provincially, since 1999. It includes large portions of the former riding of Scarborough North, where Ambassador Curling had set a provincial record for total votes in his 1985 victory.

Notwithstanding the low voter turnout of 18% in this election, it seems clear that the seat remains safe for the Liberals. There’s no reason to believe that their voters were less likely to be affected by yesterday’s snows in Toronto than those of the other parties.

For the provincial Liberals, then, they’ve likely found a suitable replacement for Alvin Curling. But the by-election tells us nothing about the government’s current level of support.

For the federal Liberals, looking towards a January election, there is the fair certainty of this seat remaining in their hands.