Sunday, May 01, 2005

Election Fever Hits Ottawa

What a difference a month and a half makes. At the beginning of March I was in Ottawa on business. The weather was cold minus 15C and was relieved only by the warm self assurances emanating from the federal Liberal Convention that Canada’s naturally governing party would likely not face an election until at least 2006.

Then came the bombshell testimony from the Gomery Inquiry that made headlines across Canada. It confirmed our worst suspicions about the way things are done in Ottawa and the way politics operates in Quebec. It then sent support for the federal Liberals tumbling while Conservative, Bloc Quebecois and NDP polling numbers have been on the upswing.

So it was a very different Ottawa that I returned to in late April. First of all the weather was warm, hitting over 20C and breaking temperature records in our nation’s capital. Instead of thick coats and boots women were relishing the opportunity to walk around in open toed sandals and summer dresses while men smiled and swiveled their heads at such an early display of summer scenery.

Also smiling was the Conservative Caucus and the prospect of bringing down Paul Martin’s government on May 19th with voting day happening on June 27th. Also catching election fever was the Bloc Quebecois who see an opportunity to sweep the Liberals from Quebec and hold the balance of power after the next federal election.

But if the Conservatives learn from the mistakes they made last time, they do have an opportunity to actually win a majority government. As I have stated in a previous column, the Liberal Party of Canada campaigned last time on the basis of fear, (e.g. Stephen Harper’s Hidden Agenda) while the Conservatives campaigned on the basis of anger (e.g. bumbling bureaucracy, over-taxation, same sex marriages, etc).

Thanks to the Gomery Inquiry anger is now triumphing fear. It has been said that governments are like a baby’s diaper, they both have to regularly changed and for the same reason. The smell emanating from the Sponsorship scandal has substantially increased the number of Canadians who believe it is time the Liberal Party of Canada spent some time on the opposition benches cleaning up their act.

This has created for the first time since the Mulroney era a real opportunity for the Conservatives to win the next federal election. To do so will mean that leader Stephen Harper will have to tightly discipline his caucus and candidates so that they focus in on reducing taxes and government red tape, rebuilding our nation’s rusted out military, canceling the gun registry program and improving our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

This also means getting Conservatives not to blather on about their views on same sex marriage, abortion or any of a myriad of other socially conservative issues. To do so will only drive swing voters back to the Liberals and cause greatly increased tensions between the Reform and Progressive Conservative factions within the party.

Also since Stephen Harper has all the charisma of a mortician, it would also help if he gave people like Peter McKay and Belinda Stronach high profile roles within the campaign and made it clear that both will hold senior portfolios within his administration.

I also believe that if it looks clear midway through the election campaign that the Conservatives are headed for a minority government that Canadians who would otherwise vote Liberal will swing towards the Conservatives in order to prevent the Bloc Quebecois from holding the balance of power. I for one would much rather see a Conservative majority government than a minority where the BQ was able to utilize its position to hold the rest of the country to ransom.

Jumping from federal to provincial politics, by the time you read this column the provincial election will likely already be over. At the time of writing this column it has just begun and the Liberals are eight points ahead of the NDP. Barring any major catastrophes I expect that the BC Liberals will be handily re-elected with a comfortable majority.

The NDP after being reduced to just two seats in the last provincial election will likely see 20 to 30 of their candidates elected as MLAs. Most British Columbians would agree that the BC Liberals have done a good job of managing the province’s economy. Campbell has also finally come to understand that it’s the centre of the political spectrum and not the far right that determines who gets to be government here in BC.

So what about the Greens and that upstart political party Democratic Reform BC? With the re-election of the BC Liberal government a virtual certainty, and Carol James lackluster performance as NDP leader becoming more of an issue, voters in certain ridings may even choose to look for an alternative to the NDP to send an opposition MLA to Victoria. Thus at this point I see both the Greens and even DR BC doing more to siphon support from the NDP than the BC Liberals.

Also in case you missed it columnist Bill Tielman, who used to write for the Georgia Straight now writes for the new 24hours daily newspaper in Vancouver. In mid-April Tielman broke the story that Liberal lobbyist Erik Bornman has become a key Crown witness against former BC Ministerial Assistants David Basi and Bob Virk in the RCMP’s on-going investigation, the highlight of which was the dramatic and unprecedented raid on the BC legislature in December of 2003.

According to Tielman, Bornman has also been given immunity from prosecution. As Tielman pointed out in his column why this was so critical to Bornman is that he is studying law at the University of B.C. But if he had been charged or worse yet convicted of a crime such as influence peddling or bribing a government official any chance of a thriving career as a lawyer would have come to a permanent end.

Until heading off to law school, Bornman was a lobbyist with Pilothouse Communications, a firm headed by former Province political columnist Brian Kieran. Prior to that he served as a political assistant to Paul Martin when Martin was Minister of Finance. Bornman also attended the recent federal Liberal convention that was held at the beginning of March in Ottawa, which may indicate he is still doing some behind the scenes lobbying work.

Not to be outdone Vancouver Sun columnist Sean Holman revealed in one of his articles that one of the lead RCMP investigators in the Basi, Virk investigation, Corporal Andrew Cowan, bought the house in which he currently resides off of none other than David Basi. If nothing else it proves once and for all that Victoria really is a small town!