In his own words: Layton's "winds of change" speech

A new poll came out Tuesday from Angus Reid that shows NDP support nationally at 30 per cent, behind the Conservatives at 35 per cent and well ahead of the Liberals at 22 per cent. And here are some excerpts from NDP Leader Jack Layton's speech this morning in Winnipeg:

Can you feel the winds of change blowing here in Manitoba?

Well you are not alone. Spring is here.  And I am feeling the winds of change all across this great country of ours.

They’re blowing in from BC, from Alberta and Saskatchewan, through Manitoba and Ontario. From Newfoundland and Labrador.  New Brunswick.  And Nova Scotia. From the great North of our country.

And my friends the winds of change are blowing strongly in Quebec.

Now, the old parties are spending the last week on the attack. Hoping to drown out the voices for change in Canada. Well, in the final days of this campaign, New Democrats will launch a few attacks of our own.

My friends, I will attack health care wait times. I will attack doctor shortages. I will attack seniors’ poverty ….

The Layton tour will finish the day in Edmonton where it not only hopes to defend the one seat it holds in Edmonton-Srathcona is hopeful of winning two others in that city.


Tory ridings lead in advance poll turnout

Glen McGregor does all political junkies a favour by crunching the numbers on the advance poll turnout. The turnout was way up over 2008 and Glen ranks all 308 ridings based on the difference in advance poll turnout in 2008 compared to 2011.

I sliced Glen's chart a little differently and attached a party affiliation based on which party held the riding at dissolution and then sorted the same list based simply on the number of ballots cast at advance polls in 2011.

Here's the top 20 ridings in the country based on that sort.

Top 20

Just as in 2008, ridings held by the Conservatives appear to rank much higher on this list. That's incumbent Conservative Pierre Poilievre in the top spot.

The Conservatives, by most observers' reckoning, have the best ground game of the major parties, followed by the NDP. A well-organized ground game means you get your supporters to the ballot box at the earliest opportunity. The Conservatives have done that before and appear to be doing that again. Eleven of the 20 highest turnouts are Tory ridings.

I find it notable that Simcoe-Grey, where independent Helena Guergis is trying to hold on has a very high turnout. Her Conservative opponent Kellie Leitch is a long-time Ontario and federal party activist and worker and, presumably, she has inherited a strong GOTV (get out the vote) organization. Or, interestingly enough, did Guergis hold on to some of that  GOTV swagger she used to enjoy?

I note also that Bramalea-Gore-Malton has a very high turnout — one of of only three ridings were a Liberal is an incumbent to show up on this top 20. In this riding, Liberal Gurbax Malhi is trying to fight off a fierce assault by the Tories. Does a high advance poll turnout here suggest the Tories are aggressively working the riding and have already locked in a pile of votes?

One could ask the same question about Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, a riding held by Liberal Keith Martin, but, with his retirement, it's very much up in the air. Same thing in Kingston and the Islands, which the Conservatives are eyeing with the retirement of Peter Milliken.

The only other Liberal-held riding to place in this list is Ottawa South where David McGuinty, one thinks, should hold.

I chalk up Ottawa South's presence on this list to an overall trend that a lot of ridings on the Ontario side in the national capital region are on this list. In fact, four Ottawa ridings are on this top 20 list. Perhaps government workers, journos in Ottawa, etc. are heavy advance poll users because of their jobs?

J-School prof (and former top Hill journo) Christopher Waddell makes an interesting point: If the Liberals, Conservatives, and BQ were able to lock in a pile of votes in advance polls, they shield themselves considerably from this late-campaign surge by the New Democrats. One might infer from these charts, that the Conservatives may have done that — but did the Liberals innoculate themselves against the NDP in time?

Meanwhile, here's the bottom 20 ridings for advance poll ballots:

Bottom 20

On this list, we find the countries most northern and some of its most remote ridings. These ridings have small electorates and, it seems to me, this is not surprising where they show on this.

But I am surprised to find that in York West, where Liberal incumbent Judy Sgro seeks re-election, just 2,410 people voted in an advance poll. (And that, as Glen pointed out, was a 33 per cent improvement on 2008!) Similarly, in the populous riding of Calgary East, where Conservative Deepak Obhrai is the incumbent, there just over 2,719 advance ballots.

The very scared Bloc Quebecois

In the last desperate weeks of the 2006 campaign and in the last desperate week of the current campaign the Liberal Party of Canada has reached for a favourite — and often effective — bogeyman: Charges that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives secretly harbour an anti-abortion agenda.

The Bloc Quebecois have never, in a federal election, been in the desperate straits that the Liberals are in now and were in in 2006. But they have reacted in a similar fashion, reaching for a favourite — and often effective scare tactic: Falling back to the tribal “divide-and-conquer” politics in which the Bloc frames the election as “a struggle” between Canada or Quebec.

The aide who writes Gilles Duceppe's tweets has said earlier on Twitter that even though Duceppe himself may not actually write and post the tweets, he has signed off on all that go out under his name. With Jack Layton and the NDP now more popular than Duceppe and the BQ, this is what went out on Twitter this morning under Duceppe's name:

@GillesDuceppe: élection n’est pas lutte gauche-droite mais lutte entre fédéralistes-souverainistes, entre le Canada et le Québec

Minutes later, after many on Twitter reacted in disgust to the suggestion, the “struggle”  tweet was deleted and replaced with:


And than tweeted out this kicker:


Which prompted Maclean's national editor Andrew Coyne to tweet:




Meanwhile, just as the Liberals have called in Jean Chretien to help Michael Ignatieff out on the campaign trail in the upcoming week, the BQ have Jacques Parizeau set to give a speech to the BQ faithful tomorrow in St. Lambert.

For the Bloc, this is all about the threat from — in Duceppe's phrase – “The NDP of Canada!” (cue bogeyman music here):



Let the seat projection silly season begin!

As all the campaigns hunker down this long weekend and prepare for the final push to election day on May 2, we are starting to see some seat projections pop up. I must confess: I find it difficult to put a lot of faith in seat projection projects simply because I believe it difficult to trust some of the underlying regional and metropolitan data upon which such seat projections are based. For example: Has anybody got a really good poll sample for Saskatchewan? I think many pundits and campaigns themselves are assuming that, except for Ralph Goodale in Regina, it's likely going to a Tory wash through that province. My gut though tells that some Conservatives are going to find themselves in some very tough battles with the NDP in that province particularly if the Liberal vote in that province collapses. If you look at vote totals in past elections for many races there, particularly around Saskatoon, the Conservatives have benefitted from coming up the middle between a split Liberal-NDP vote. If opposition to the Conservatives coalesces around the NDP, I'd say watch out …

Still, seat projections are a kind of catnip to political junkies. So with that preamble, here's a few.

The Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy has a strengthened minority Conservative government:

  1. Conservative: 149
  2. Liberal: 68
  3. NDP: 52
  4. Bloc Quebecois: 39
  5. Green/Other 0

Here's the calculations from Fair Vote Canada, which has a whopping Conservative majority and a wholesale diminution of the BQ, published this morning on the front page of The Ottawa Citizen:

  1. Conservative: 201
  2. Liberal: 53
  3. NDP: 48
  4. Bloc Quebecois: 4
  5. Green/Other: 0

Eric Grenier's (fascinating) ongoing project at ThreeHundredEight.Com also has a strengthened Conservative minority today:

  1. Conservative: 150
  2. Liberal: 76
  3. Bloc Quebecois: 45
  4. NDP: 36
  5. Green/Other: 0

For your reference here's the seat total at dissolution of the 40th Parliament:

  1. Conservative: 143
  2. Liberal: 77
  3. Bloc Quebecois: 47
  4. NDP: 36
  5. Independent: 2

Judge calls journalist "character assassin" while 22-year-old spends 2 years in jail for getting caught with 2 painkillers

The title for this blog post seemed to be the best way I could convince you to click through so that I could point you to what I think is a tremendous piece of long-form journalism by Ira Glass of the radio program This American Life. Earlier this year, Glass aired a major investigative piece into the “drug court” of Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams (left) in Glyn County, Georgia.

I don' think we have “drug courts” in Canada (please, reader, enlighten me if we do though We have them here in Canada too, readers write to tellme, and they are experimenting with them in the UK) but the premise here is that those accused of drug offences can choose to go through the system the old-fashioned way where they have to post a bond to get out of jail while awaiting their trial and then they face peril of being sentenced to a prison term if they are convicted. Of course, they have a chance at a “not guilty” verdict and have built-in appeals processes and the U.S. Constitution which, presumably helps with a fair trial. The “old-fashioned way” also does not provide built-in help for the offender with addiction, education, mental health and so on.

But there's another option in many U.S. counties: The drug court. There are more than 2,500 in the U.S. Here, the defendant essentially admits right off the top to being guilty and signs away rights of appeal in exchange for, the offenders hope, avoiding jail. Judges are given tremendous power and leeway all in the name of trying to rehabilitate or cure the offender of any addiction. Offenders must submit to mandatory drug testing and the court often insists the offender use all sorts of social services while in “drug court”. The approach is one supported by both parties in the U.S. and, apparently, has become an effective way to rehabilitate drug offenders and is a whole lot cheaper than incarceration.

But, as Glass reports, in Judge Williams drug court, the absence of any checks or balances on the judge's power over an offender can lead to some terrible travesties:

We hear the story of Lindsey Dills, who forges two checks on her parents' checking account when she's 17, one for $40 and one for $60, and ends up in drug court for five and a half years, including 14 months behind bars, and then she serves another five years after that—six months of it in Arrendale State Prison, the other four and a half on probation. The average drug court program in the U.S. lasts 15 months. But one main way that Judge Williams' drug court is different from most is how punitive it is. Such long jail sentences are contrary to the philosophy of drug court, as well as the guidelines of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. For violating drug court rules, Lindsey not only does jail terms of 51 days, 90 days and 104 days, Judge Williams sends her on what she calls an “indefinite sentence,” where she did not specify when Lindsey would get out.

And then there's the case of 22-year-old Brandi Byrd. She got caught by police with two Darvoset pills, a painkiller. She told police they were her mother's and that her mother had given them to her because, without health insurance, Byrd could not afford any painkillers after she had an operation to remove some pre-cancerous cells that could have turned into cervical cancer. She was charged with two felony counts – one for each pill. Darvoset is a schedule four drug under Georgia law. It's her first offense. After spending six days in jail before, Byrd is ready for her first appearance before a judge – Judge Williams.  Byrd is told by the public defender and by the drug court's drug counsellors that she will likely be sentenced to between one and five years in prison — for holding two pills — or she can sign her rights away and go into the “drug court” program Williams runs where she'll be out on the street but required to attend counselling and behave according to a strict court-supervised code of conduct. She picks drug court, finds the program a farce, violates its rules — and gets sentenced to two years in jail. Remember: Her original offence was being caught with two painkiller pills. Glass quotes one defense attorney: “I would say in most courtrooms that that would be dismissed either through an affidavit or testimony of the mother saying she gave it to the daughter.” Glass talks to a district attorney about Byrd's case: “if the person didn’t go into drug court, then it would probably be a probation case.” Judge Williams put her in the can for two years.

While you can click through to read the transcript, I encourage you to throw it on the iPod or find someway to listen to it — you need to hear Lindsey Dills, Brandi Byrd and Judge Williams in their own voices.

And even if you're part of the “tough on crime” crowd, I think you might find Judge Williams to be a little too tough on crime.

Judge Williams didn't think so, though. (And she's got a recent re-election in her county to back her claim up.) So the judge, despite repeated requests for interviews and information from Glass while he researched the story, fired off a 14-page letter [pdf] and a press release [pdf] accusing Glass of engaging in “libel masquerading as journalism.”

The judge, though her lawyer, also makes the claim that:

“Glass [left] is an admitted character assassin who’s not above using his national radio platform for partisan political purposes in the national debate about drug courts, meanwhile trashing a local official whose major offense was to succeed at helping people to get off of drugs, keep off drugs, and survive.”

It's a ridiculous claim as anyone who is a fan of Glass' show knows. His whole schtick is to be the very opposite of a character assassin. He's quiet, sympathetic and bends over backwards to avoid being judgemental. There is a certainly a narrative or a through-line to his pieces which often lead a listener to make some conclusions or judgements but the hallmark of the stories on This American Life is that there is enough those stories that you and I might reach different conclusions — and be able to have a good discussion about them based on those stories. It's precisely the reason This American Life is so widely well-regarded

So Glass writes:

Let me state here unequivocally: I do not admit to being a character assassin. Also: I am not a character assassin. Further: I have no idea what “partisan political purposes” would be in the national debate over drug courts since, as I point out in my story, both major parties support drug courts.

I point all this out in the hope that you'll take the time to first, to listen to Glass' report and then watch the rather remarkable and rare counter-attack by a sitting judge on a journalist. Glass' initial response to that attack is here.


Abortion and hidden agendas: Brad Trost set to be this year's Cheryl Gallant

It is just coming up to 1 a.m. in Ottawa as I write this and, out in St. John's, NF where the Conservative leader's campaign tour finds itself bedding down for the night, Dimitri Soudas, Stephen Harper's chief spokesman, has just finished a rush midnight briefing with the reporters on that tour.

Soudas called the briefing to respond to stories that appeared in The Toronto Star and Le Devoir who were given a tape recording of Saskatoon MP Brad Trost — who proudly boasts that there is no one to the right of him in the Conservative caucus — in which Trost bragged that his government had cut funding to Planned Parenthood – but couldn't yet announce that cut. When asked about the cut earlier this evening, party spokesman gave no answer. (See the story). Soudas, late in the evening, is telling reporters that no decision has been made.

It was an exquisitely timed leak — likely from Liberal sources  — to the Star and Le Devoir as, with a little over a week to go, it puts abortion into the middle of the election campaign and gives Harper's opponents the chance to yell “A-ha! So-Con Hidden Agenda!”. This tactic, unfair as it might have been, turned many female voters away from the Tories in 2006 and almost cost them that election. Now, with the Liberal campaign unable to find much traction, the old bogeyman that Harper will gut abortion access in Canada is about to be trotted out.

I say it was unfair to have done this in 2006 and 2008 for two reasons: The Conservative Party, at its first policy convention, took a grassroots decision — with a lot of yelling and screaming — that it would not touch abortion laws in Canada. Harper has said in those two earlier campaigns and has said again in this campaign that he would not take action on abortion. In five years leading a minority government he has walked the walked (for better or worse, depending on your point of view) and even voted against a private members bill from an MP in his own caucus that would have nudged the dial slightly towards the anti-abortion folks.

But in this campaign, Harper is actively and openly seeking a majority government. And with Trost now saying Planned Parenthood is not getting any funding but we can't tell you about it … well, it gives the Conservatives' opponents an easy swing at the plate: If Harper does this with a minority, what changes won't he even tell you about with a majority?


So the Conservatives — or rather Soudas in his midnight briefing — now have to stuff the toothpaste back in the tube because of the Trost remarks, in much the same way they tried to do so (unsuccesfully) in 2004 when Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant compared abortion to the beheading of an Iraq war hostage.

And yet: Too many politicians won't stand up for their own convictions on this issue — it's an issue that does not follow partisan lines no matter what any Tory-hater tells you — but will be quick to criticize any of their opponents who do. (Watch what happens to Trost Thursday). In the 2006 campaign, I thought it tremendously hypocritical of Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin to try, at the end of the campaign he would lose, to use the abortion bogeyman to attack the Conservatives from a stage filled with several of the Toronto-area Liberal MPs who actually took fundraising dollars from anti-abortion groups. Believe me: You will find a healthy percentage of Liberal MPs who are not comfortable with abortion laws.

Of course, there are many in the Liberal caucus that believe that the right to abortion access ought to be strengthened in law. (Legal beagles will te

Meanwhile, there are many small-c conservatives in the country who wonder why it was they elected a Big-C Conservative government if not for taking action on restricting or limiting abortion. They are as frustrated as the small-l liberals who want a government that will lock-in abortion access rights.

But, as any professional politician will tell you: The issue is simply not a vote winner. It's a polarizing issue where consensus is difficult if not impossible. Kudos to Brad Trost for standing up in front of his constituents and laying it on the line. I would say the same thing to any politician who stood up to campaign as hard for the opposite view — for the simple reason that we ought to be able to find politicians who will not frankly discuss their views on these difficult, troublesome but tremendously important topics.


Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall weighs in on the federal election and post-election scenarios

Just out from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall:

Statement from Premier Wall:

I am deeply troubled by Mr. Ignatieff’s assertion that he may choose to overturn the democratic result of the federal election.

While I understand that the scenario spelled out by Mr. Ignatieff is within the conventions of our Parliamentary tradition, the last thing our country and our still fragile economic recovery need right now is a period of instability caused by a constitutional dispute over who should be the government.

Morever, Canada is poised to solidify its position as an economic leader in a world that needs the food security and the energy security we can provide.  How can we take full advantage of this reality if we are distracted by interminable national political machinations and constitutional wrangling?

The party that wins the most seats on May 2 should be recognized as the government, period.  If that were to be the Liberals, I would join with other Canadians in accepting this result and recognizing Mr. Ignatieff as our next Prime Minister.  However, if the Conservatives win the most seats but come up short of a majority, I would expect Mr. Ignatieff and his party to accept that result.

The notion that Mr. Ignatieff may choose to not recognize the democratic result of the election and may try to seize power with the support of the other parties, including a party dedicated to the breakup of Canada, is offensive to me and I believe, to most fair-minded Canadians. Voters should choose the government, not separatist MPs.

Ironically, this election was caused by a confidence vote over “contempt for Parliament.”  I can think of no greater contempt for Parliament or for Canadian voters than the spectre of a party leader refusing to recognize the democratic outcome of the election.

The no-win proposition of being a talking head

I, like all of my colleagues at Sun News Network, are now into our third day of broadcasts and, so far, for me, at least, it's been both terrifying and exciting. Startups in the media business are pretty rare and I've been fortunate to be in on the ground floor of two now: I was there at the creation when the National Post launched in 1998.

On Sun News Network, I'm hosting a show called the Daily Brief. It's a Monday-to-Friday hour-long news-and-politics show. Because we're based in Ottawa and because of our time slot (6-7 ET), I suspect there will be inevitable comparisons to CBC's 2-hour Power and Politics and CTV's 1-hour Power Play though we are trying, in terms of format and story selection, to offer viewers something a bit different.

The hosts of those other two shows, Evan Solomon and Don Martin, are both good guys — Don is a former colleague — and we've all grumbled amongst each other that some weeks there's no winning with viewers and readers no matter what you do — and all too often it's for what you don't say. Why didn't you ask so-and-so this? Why did you ignore Factoid X? I'm not complaining (and I'm pretty sure those guys weren't whenever we've mentioned this to each other). I'm just sayin' is all. And,in fact, if you're getting shot at from all sides, most journalists will tell you, you're probably doing something right.

Case in point: on Tuesday's Daily Brief , my first guest was Liberal MP Bob Rae. My last was Sun Media columnist and national editorial writer Mark Bonokoski. These two men, I think it safe to say, would likely have opposing views on any number of issues. And that's why, I think, it's great to hear from them. And in In e-mail feedback, on Twitter, and elsewhere, some viewers took issue with what each man said on the program.

But, interestingly enough, the criticism aimed at me was largely similar: I was being taken to task for what I failed to say.

Here's a representative tweet from “Joanne TrueBlue”, a Conservative blogger:


and here's a representative tweet from Alheli Picazo, who is blogging a “(Sun) Media Watch” column at the left-leaning site


Oh well. As always: Appreciate the feedback.

The Daily Brief Show Notes: Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Election Issues


Public Transit and Commuting

Refugee fights deportation

Brief Word:

The Daily Brief: Show notes for Monday, April 18, 2010

Some background reading for the conversations today on the Daily Brief: Airing 6 pm ET/3 pm PT and again at 11 pm ET/8 pm PT on Sun News Network. (Find it in your dial by clicking here)

Canada's Healthcare system


B.C. Politics

The U.S. Budget Battle


Brief Word