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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Harper's Big Election Gamble

With Wednesday’s announcement of a compromise deal over the Atlantic Accord, Stephen Harper sent another clear signal he plans to force an election in the coming weeks. The question is whether the gamble to shore up support in Atlantic Canada will actually help him or cost him in the long run.

Although the deal will provide additional funds to the province, the amount will be far less than Nova Scotia had been fighting for. The move could, and likely will, be seen as an attempt by Harper to buy off the province before an election and to shore up a weak Conservative governemnt in that province.

Some analysts believe Harper wants to continue to govern but based on recent events it’s far more likely that, even with less than perfect polling numbers, the PM sees the time as ripe to make his move and force an election.

All sorts of scenarios are being tossed around by strategists and party insiders. Anything and everything that could possibly help or hinder the party’s election chances are being examined. Correction, almost everything. Clearly something has been overlooked in Harper's quest for glory.

What has not been considered is a factor outside the control of Stephen Harper and his party. An intangible that has the potential to do some serious damage to the Conservatives in light of recent events, and one that has once again moved to the forefront with Wednesday’s announcement.

That uncontrollable and indefinable factor is none other than the outspoken Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams.

It may sound a little odd that the Premier of one of Canada’s smallest and poorest provinces, one with only 7 federal seats, might somehow be able to throw a monkey wrench into the PM’s chances for re-election, but odd or not, the possibility exists and Stephen Harper is not giving that possiblity the attention it deserves. It's an oversight that could prove far more expensive than he knows.

Williams has already verbally attacked the PM over back peddling on equalization promises and for making unilateral changes to the bi-lateral Atlantic Accord agreement. At the time of those changes Williams complaints were easily brushed aside as those of a premier with limited political experience but my how times have changed.

Today the Premier is viewed in many parts of Canada as a bit of a giant killer, a leader who isn’t afraid to fight with anyone standing in the way of his province’s future. Simply put, he's a street fighter that Stephen Harper has just poked with a very big stick.

Williams has already told the people of Canada that the PM can’t be trusted to keep his word. He warned them that by breaking a written promise to Newfoundland and Labrador Harper proved he was not above doing the same thing to them. Now, with the Nova Scotia agreement in place, Harper has done just that.

The PM would have been better off if he had simply done an about face, for whatever "technical" reason, and honored the Atlantic Accord. At least then he could have claimed he was bound by a contract signed by the preceding Liberal government and that his hands were tied. Instead he has opted to do something he told the Country he would never do.

Whether you support the fight over equalization or not, yesterday’s agreement, with Nova Scotia, is clearly a new side deal for that province. When Harper brought down the equalization formula in March, the one that got him into this mess in the first place, he told the Canadian people there would be, “No more side deals”.

All Williams has to do now is lock and load for an attack that will surely resonate with Canadian voters. On Wednesday Stephen Harper provided the ammunition he needed and he also gained the scrappy Premier an even more emboldened ally in the form of the normally reserved Saskatchewan Premier, Lorne Calvert.

The Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is often accused of picking fights for the sake of fighting but that’s a misperception that has come back to haunt several of his opponents. In reality he more often picks fights he feels he should, and can, win. Stephen Harper is aligned squarely in his crosshairs and Williams' finger is poised on the trigger.

Since first elected Williams took on former PM Paul Martin over the very same Atlantic Accord contract. He won.

He fought big oil over an improved royalty regime and a provincial equity position. Big oil closed up shop and moved away. A year and a half later they quietly returned and agreed to an enhanced royalty regime and the very equity position he wanted. He won.

Williams, while in his first term, took a hard line by legislating over 40,000 public sector employees back to work, laid off highway staff after shutting down a number of depots, sent the provincial oil industry association into hysterics by walking away from Hebron development talks and completely alienated two federal governments. This week he sought re-election from just over 300,000 voters, most of which were impacted in some way by his previous actions. He won in a landslide vicory with the largest percentage of popular vote in the province’s history.

Williams is now much more widely recognized across Canada than he was even a few short months ago. His exploits have led to a re-evaluation of oil royalties by the Alberta government. He has emboldened provinces like Saskatchewan - which is now tackling the federal government in court and threatening to campaign against Harper- and his fighting persona has even led some in Nova Scotia to jokingly muse about him leading their province as well.

When he walked out on meetings with Paul Martin and he proved he doesn’t pull his punches.

When he waved goodbye to oil companies, as they packed up and left the province over stalled negotiations, he proved he doesn’t pull his punches.

When he went on a media tour and took out full page ads across the Country criticizing Stephen Harper he proved he doesn’t pull his punches.

When he told the electorate in Newfoundland and Labrador to vote “ABC” (Anyone but Conservative) during the next federal election he proved he doesn’t pull his punches.

And when he won his second mandate on the day before Harper's Accord announcement, with a majority that even the first Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador and late father of Confederation, Joey Smallwood, would have been envious of, Williams greeted the crowds by saying,

"There's a message here, Steve. If you want to take me and my team on, you have to take on all the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."

Once again, he proved he doesn’t pull his punches.

Any federal election will naturally center on the issues and personalities directly involved but who really knows what kind of chaos one very determined premier can create when he puts his mind to it.

It’s one thing to force an election when you’re sporting minority level numbers but are in control of the agenda. It’s a completely different game when you're faced with an unknown and volotile variable like the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Unfortunately for the PM he has no control over which issues the public ultimately decide to latch onto, especially when a wild card like Williams is waiting in the wings stockpiling his ammunition and patiently preparing to fire.

I don’t know about Stephen Harper, but if I were planning to go to the polls any time soon I’d sure as hell be looking for some way to neutralize the Williams factor first.

Editor's Note: As an aside, Both Harper and MacDonald claim this deal was in the works for months (and not just a quickly engineered election ploy) there may be some evidence to the contrary.

The announcement of this deal (also offered to Newfoundland and Labrador) was made on October 10th, but as late as October 5th someone at the department of finance in Ottawa was spending a little time investigating the numbers involved. Check out the following link to another article on my site a few days ago:



Anonymous said...

MP Bill Casey says new offshore deal won't win back trust of N.S. voters.

Canadian Press

HALIFAX - Maverick Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey says new offshore deal or not, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has broken the trust of Nova Scotians.

Casey, who was thrown out of the federal Conservative caucus for voting against a spring budget he maintains changed the 2005 Atlantic Accord, says he's still not sure about the details of the new deal.

But he says it appears Harper did something he said he wouldn't do in agreeing to enrich the equalization formula Nova Scotia chooses in order to make up for clawbacks on offshore revenue.

Casey says that would "fly completely in the face" of Ottawa's intent to have one equalization system for the whole country.

He says while he hopes the new deal proves lucrative for Nova Scotia, the federal Conservatives are mistaken if they think bringing a "truckload of money" will win back the trust of voters in the province.

Casey, who will not be welcomed back into the Tory fold despite the new deal, says he still intends to run as an Independent candidate in his riding of Cumberland-Colchester Muquodoboit Valley.

Anonymous said...

United we stand.

Hell, Harper is already treating us like some third world dictatorship by quietly enforcing some sort of federal "embargo" on us over this and not addressing the problem. We might as well go all the way.

Win, lose or draw, keep standing to the very last man!

Anonymous said...

Myles, you’ve shown the factors supporting your position but have not considered those that override any concerns that Williams may be able to raise including:

- Despite what Williams may think, not all of the country agrees that Harper broke his promise. Amongst those that believe that he did, I've heard a lot of rationalization for his doing so as being in the best interest of the country. Broken promise or not, the provinces that are declining economically or are recipients of equalization do not share Williams view that natural resources should be excluded. People see us as able to support ourselves and for that reason, should not be rely on payments from the have provinces to further improve our economic health.

- Quebec and Ontario are the two key provinces for Harper to win. Williams has little if any credibility in those provinces and is seen as an upstart who is being too aggressive in his tactics. Ontario sees themselves as forced to support NL’s healthy economy despite theirs being in decline, and Quebec clearly only considers their own interests and may view Williams’ demand for continued equalization as a threat to their own equalization revenues.

- I can't count how many of my fellow Canadians I've personally spoken to that lost all respect for Williams when he took down the Canadian flag. Many will not see beyond that, and Harper will likely capitalize on that event.

- Harper is expected to announce significant tax breaks across the board. Nothing buys votes like decreased taxes and an improved fiscal situation. Harper has demonstrated that government has the surplus to deliver.

- The opposition, to use Williams' words, have not "earned" the vote. The Liberals are still very much tainted by the actions of their previous administration, are without a strong leader, and hold little appeal in their platform compared to the results delivered by the Conservatives. Think of the impact that had on the provincial election. Many of the Liberal supporters stayed home on election day. I can easily see that happening in a federal election.

- Ontario managed to pull around 50% of eligible voters to the polling booths yesterday. Our own election gave a clear indication that a negative message such as the one Williams is delivering is not sufficient to incite the complacent voter to vote against a government that is performing in a fiscally responsible manner.

- N.S. and the feds have managed to reach an agreement. This could indicate to the common voter that a mutual compromise is reachable, and lead to Williams being viewed as an extremist maverick who is pushing for too much.

- Fear. The provincial PC’s exploited the fear of being “left out” as a reason to support their party as one of their platform staples. As dirty as it is, the tactic works. Governments are not overthrown without significant cause. Harper has not created that environment yet. For those voters that follow the polls, the greed for political pork is a significant factor, and may make the difference to the swing vote.

I believe that Harper will be around for some time yet. The federal climate is very much like Newfoundland’s was leading up to the provincial election. There were plenty of negative things that were pointed out about by the Williams government, many missteps along the way, and a few broken promises. In the end, Williams represented the most viable option for the voter and secured an overwhelming majority. I would be very surprised if Harper fails to win a majority should we go to the polls in the near term. I’m no Harper supporter, but the performance of his government is far less frustrating that the previous Liberal administration.
Simply put, people need something to vote for, not against. There is not a viable alternative.

NL-ExPatriate said...

I'm patiently waiting to join in the ABC campaign here in Kelowna BC.

Someone once said there are somewhere in the range of 5,000,000.00 Million economic/refugee Newfoundlanders Labradorians dispersed throughout this federation. All hoping waiting and wishing to one day be able to return home.

This is our time, our chance, and our opportunity to achieve what was promised to us in the confederation campaign leading up to 1949.

ABC, Anyone but CRAP. Conservative Reform, Alliance, Party. Lets not forget the NCC National Citizens Coalition. Not much of a hidden agenda there it is all spelled out in black and white what Harper intends on doing with this federation.

Patriot said...

Interesting points anon and I don't fully disagree with all of them.

I'm sure Harper will pull out all the stops but it isn't you or I that will be waging this war of public perception, it will be the PM and the Premier. I'm sure Harper can spin the truth but I also believe Williams can get his message out if he frames it correctly.

Either way it should make for some interesting times.

As for your comment that places like Ontario or Quebec don't like the province fighting for equalization, I ask you, will they like Harper making yet another "side deal" with N.S.

Can you say broken committment? In fact a breaking of the very committment he made when he brought down the new equalization plan.

Also, it makes no sense to compare Williams winning with 70% of the popular vote to Harper in the polls at somewhere less than 40%.

In NL the people voted for a popular leader (like him or not) and even if the Liberal party hadn't been in such tatters here as it is in Ottawa, it would have lost anyway. Perhaps done better but still lost.

Harper on the other hand is not popular by any stretch of the imagination. He is, at the moment anyway, a livable option. That isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for a PM and his numbers prove it.

The question now is how much it will take to tip the scales in another direction and unseat him or at least weaken him.

He may indeed win the next election, in fact it's likley, but there is no timetable on what's right and eventually Harper, like all PM's before him, will go away. The people here have a long memory and have learned to have a lot of patience when it comes to waiting on Ottawa to wake up.

I'll play the waiting game myself. Would you prefer that our provincial government do what N.S. did and simply sell out its principles and your's (and my) province for the sake of a few extra bucks that fall far short of A: what should have come this way and B: allows Harper to skate away from a moral obligation?

No insult intended but that sounds like givaway thinking to me.

I know where I stand, do you?

Glenn said...

I see the same indicators as the ANON @ 1:08 mentioned. People I talk with are mostly ill informed with regards to equalization and the intent of the Accords as an economic development plan. All they see is a handout and "they want their cake and eat it too" position. We haven't made any solid arguements aginst those beliefs.

With the ON election over and the Libs elected there it bodes well for the CPC in ON. If Calvert loses in SK and the Sack Stelmach movement gains momentum here in AB and with, the results of the Quebec by-election, lookout. NL and Toronto will be the only parts of Canada shut out, maybe Kamloops will also be with us.


Anonymous said...

I agree Harper will probably win an election but I also agree with Miles that having a loose cannon roaming around while your on the campaign trail can't be a very comforting feeling.

Anonymous said...

Myles, Anon 1:08 again :)
No insult taken. I'm all for maximizing our returns on all of our resources, but I do believe in taking pragmatic approach to issues such as this one. Williams has had no success with his usual tactics and I have no reason to believe continuing them that will change the outcome.

I haven't had the opportunity to review the N.S. deal in detail but from what I can gather, it did sweeten the pot and was a compromise between the initial promise and what was offered. The national electorate would likely see this as an acceptable means to address the wants of Atlantic Canada and pass Williams’ stance off as unreasonable given that one premier has already accepted. At a high level, it would appear that Harper has successfully negotiated away some of the concerns. Williams task of swaying opinion his way may be more difficult as a result. Shrewd move on Harper’s behalf and timed to his advantage.

Harper enjoys a very split opposition vote and does not have to capture a majority to get his candidates elected - another strike.

I do believe that we are on a timetable. The existing agreement has an expiration date (2012?) and once we become a "have" province do we not start losing equalization according to the cap? Drag it on long enough and it becomes a moot point - revenues will decline and the opportunity for additional funding lost. Williams himself has stated that he has a limited career span. Thus far, his campaign has had no drastic affect on the national mood. The feds may simply wait him out. Strike 3.

If Williams is going to succeed he will have to exploit a very different sales approach than the one currently used. Nationalistic rhetoric works at home but unfortunately, we're not the ones that need convincing. The entitlement card does not play well with anyone outside of NL. We really need to demonstrate to the nation that the short term investment on Canada's behalf will result in NL permanently being a net contributor to equalization rather than a recipient. Detailing how the money would be invested, the long term implications, and even how Canada will benefit from the resulting recurring revenues over the short, medium and long terms. Show them the numbers and projections (assuming that they exist) in terms that most Canadians will understand, and compare it to the path that we will take should we not have our requests granted. Use national ads, a speaking tour, and all other tactics suggested and lose the “Steve lied” act. It’s insulting to many and retracts from the message that we should be sending.

It’s a very simple, effective and positive approach. Win the favor of the voters and we will gain credibility. Gain credibility and the politicians can incorporate it into a platform that supports the vision.

That’s not giveaway mentality, just good statesmanship. It’s time to change course and outmaneuver those who oppose it. The question is, is Williams capable of taking such an approach, or will he stubbornly remain on the current path that has been been tried by many before him? Perhaps he has a better plan in mind. If so, I’ve yet to see it.

Ussr said...

"the provinces that are declining economically or are recipients of equalization do not share Williams view that natural resources should be excluded"

Just what i love to see Patriot,a Canadain that doesn't believe in his own Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Is this not protected.I must have read the "RAG" wrong!!!

Anonymous said...

Newfies will never learn. You are incapable of figuring this out:

You choose a hero, elect him over and over, make him into a demi-God, and give him the keys to the kingdom.

Then when he falls (and they always do), you curse the day he was born and you lament about poor Newfoundland's fate in the universe.

No wonder nothing good ever happens down there. Try leaping into the 21st century and working with "mainlanders"---not against.

Your tactics are old and tiresome.

just another anon said...

quoting anon: "I can't count how many of my fellow Canadians I've personally spoken to that lost all respect for Williams when he took down the Canadian flag. Many will not see beyond that, and Harper will likely capitalize on that event."

how do your fellow canadians like it when canadiEns don't want to raise that flag in their province.

Anonymous said...

ussr, care to detail what section of the Charter that you feel has been violated and why you feel that way?

Ussr said...

"how do your fellow canadians like it when canadiEns don't want to raise that flag in their province."

How do you think they acted when thousand upon thousands of them poured upon Montreal to show support,and then we found out that Ottawa in-deed did Fix said such election!!!

How do they Feel!!!

Ask them not us how they had thier sovereignty stolen,YET AGAIN!!!!Quebec has the right to be carefull,as they watch Newfoundland and Labrador being "PLUCKED" to death by Canada!!!

Go ASK Canada why we have a separation movement in each regoin!!!HIC,Hic!!!

ussr said...

October 13, 2007 6:37 PM


I think I'm making referance here!!!maybe you can take the time to explain it too me how I'm reading it wrong!!!Thank-You!!!

Anonymous said...

USSR, you've referenced a news article reporting that Saskatchewan is has filed a suit requesting that the court rule "if" the cap on equalization is unconstitutional. There has been no decision. Until there is a decision, you cannot state that the charter has been violated. A claim does not equate to fact.
NL, as you know, is not participating in the case and has not filed a suit of their own.
I can only guess they do not share Saskatchewan's claim that rights have been violated.

Anonymous said...

just another anon said:
how do your fellow canadians like it when canadiEns don't want to raise that flag in their province.

Don't want? There is no comparison between citizens "not wanting" to fly the national flag and government ordering that all Canadian flags be removed from government buildings due to a dispute.

Anonymous said...

ussr said:
"Ask them not us how they had thier sovereignty stolen,YET AGAIN!!!!Quebec has the right to be carefull,as they watch Newfoundland and Labrador being "PLUCKED" to death by Canada!!!"

What does that have to do with the article or the the futility of WIlliams' strategy? Are you comparing the Canada / Newfoundland and Labrador balance to that of Labrador being plucked to death by Newfoundland? Our forests being plucked to death by Corner Brook and Grand Falls? How about our rural population being plucked to death by St. John's? I could even say St. John's tax payers being plucked to death to support less efficient services in rural NL. Hypocritical.

"Go ASK Canada why we have a separation movement in each regoin!!!HIC,Hic!!!"

The reason that they exist is that Political ideoligies differ. Why don't you go ask them why those movements have never succeeded in gaining the support of the majority?

Let me guess, it's somebody else's fault.

My original points stand. Williams is on a dead end path.

Ussr said...

Liberalism is a mental disorder.Go de-bunk somebody else "EDDY"your not worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

ussr said: Liberalism is a mental disorder.Go de-bunk somebody else "EDDY"your not worth the effort.

From Wikipedia:

Liberalism refers to a broad array of related ideas and theories of government that consider individual liberty to be the most important political goal. Broadly speaking, liberalism emphasizes individual rights and equality of opportunity. Different forms of liberalism may propose very different policies, but they are generally united by their support for a number of principles, including extensive freedom of thought and speech, limitations on the power of governments, the rule of law, the free exchange of ideas, a market or mixed economy, and a transparent system of government.

Individual liberty
Individual rights
Equality of opportunity
Free thought and speech
Free exchange of ideas
Market or mixed economy
Transparent government.

Which of these ideals do you find to be related to mental illness?

I quite enjoy debating on forums such as Myles' blog. The information shared has helped shape my thoughts, discover new ideas, gain a better understanding of why people think as they do, and explore alternate views to traditional media sources. While I may not agree with everthing posted, when I take issue, it is in a polite and respectful manner and I do my best to dispute the idea, not the individual posting it.
I am not Ed Hollett, or any of the other prominant bloggers that have taken issue with your thoughts in the past, and I have no affiations with any political party.

"In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing." Mark Twain

Anonymous said...

After Harper shut the door on Bill Casey running for the Conservatives in N.S. Williams said he would help the abandoned MP by campaigning with him in the next federal election.

That probably didn't go over well with Stephen Harper but now he has another problem with Bill Casey.

This out of N.S. today:

The Conservative riding association in northern Nova Scotia is defying Stephen Harper and standing behind renegade MP Bill Casey, leaving the prime minister with the choice to either reverse course or brush aside the wishes of local Tories.

Harper has said Casey, who was booted from the Conservative caucus in June for voting against the federal budget because of changes to the equalization formula, would not be allowed to run for the party in the next federal election.

But the Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley riding association's board voted Sunday to reinforce Casey's nomination, putting the longtime MP's future as a Conservative candidate back in Harper's hands.

"There is a democratic process in place, they nominated me once, they reinforced that tonight," Casey said in an interview following riding association's two-hour meeting in Truro, N.S.

I guess the federal Liberals aren't the only party with a crap load of infighting going on.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Patriot said...

The previous comment was deleted as it was a duplicate of the one preceding it. Normally I would have just not published at all but my finger slipped on the mouse (D'oh)

Anonymous said...

Surprise, surprise. Read on:

Halifax - Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald is distancing himself from a dispute between one of the province's MPs and the prime minister.

The Conservative association in Bill Casey's riding voted Sunday to defy Stephen Harper and stand behind the Independent MP, who was expelled from the Conservative caucus in June for voting against the federal budget.

MacDonald had urged Nova Scotia's MPs to take a stand against the fiscal plan, which he argued gutted a 2005 deal that protected natural resource revenues from clawbacks.

Casey was the only MP who took the premier's advice.

Now, MacDonald says he does not want to meddle in the affairs of the federal Tory caucus, and he has no plans to get involved with Casey's riding.

NL-ExPatriate said...

We could always do what Manitoba and Quebec does sidestep the D-Equalization claw back.