It’s time to call off Duffy prosecution

Published Oct. 26, 2015, in The Waterloo Region Record.

With the change of government, what happens to the trial of Senator Mike Duffy?

Back in August, in the early days of the federal election, the daily drip-drip of testimony from the trial knocked Stephen Harper off message. He faced an inquisition at every stop: who in the Prime Minister’s Office knew what, when did they know it, and how much did they tell Harper about the infamous $90,000 cheque that his chief of staff wrote to the suspended senator?

Then, to the immense relief of the Conservatives, the trial adjourned and the Duffy questions dried up as the campaign focus turned to recession, Syrian refugees and (bizarrely) the niqab worn by some Muslim women. Continue reading

But now the Duffy trial, which has already consumed 46 days of court time, is about to come out of hibernation. It is scheduled to resume on Nov. 18, run to Dec. 18, then in all likelihood extend into 2016.

To what end?

Everything the judge has heard so far has been from the prosecution side – 46 days of testimony from Crown witnesses and their cross-examination by Duffy’s lawyer. The Crown will still be at bat on day 47; the defence has not had its innings yet.

To put it charitably, the Crown’s case has been less than overwhelming. It has done more to help the defence than the prosecution. We have learned that Harper appointed Duffy in late 2008 as a senator from Prince Edward Island knowing full well that he had been resident in Ontario for years. We learned that the Senate expense rules were flexible enough that no one blew the whistle when Duffy declared his cottage in P.E.I. to be his principal residence and claimed accommodation expenses for his true home in suburban Ottawa.

We learned that the Conservatives valued “Old Duff” for his status as a media celebrity and his efforts as a cheerleader and fundraiser at party events; he regarded that as part of his job as a Tory senator, and some of his travel costs were charged to the upper house. Although Duffy certainly pushed the envelope, he was not the only senator whose expense claims, while accepted by the Senate, did not pass muster with the auditors.

Of the 31 charges Duffy faces, the key one is bribery – the $90,000 personal cheque Nigel Wright wrote to enable Duffy to repay expenses that auditors had determined he should not have claimed. Yet the central question remains: how can Duffy be convicted of accepting a bribe when no one is charged with offering the bribe?

From the outset, the Duffy trial has been two prosecutions in one – a political trial inside a criminal trial, or vice versa. The criminal prosecution is weak. The chances of a conviction appear remote. Under other circumstances, charges would never have been laid. Under other circumstances, they would have been withdrawn by now.

The “other circumstances” were the political considerations. Bent on pursuing his “tough-on-crime,” Stephen Harper could not afford to allow presumed fraud to go unprosecuted when it appeared just down the hallway in the Senate chamber. Mike Duffy being the most egregious offender identified by the auditors, he became the target in a show trial that, as it transpired, would reveal more about the PMO’s frantic efforts (hundreds upon hundreds of emails) to cover up its involvement than it would about the ethical sins of senators.

Justin Trudeau doesn’t need this Harper government mess. He has already cut Liberal senators loose from the party caucus. He has promised to begin a process of Senate reform by replacing patronage with a system of merit-based appointments.

Common sense would suggest he call off the Duffy prosecution, or arrange to have Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne call off the Ontario government lawyers who have been handling the Crown’s case.

The election is over. Harper is gone. Let the Senate get its act together and deal with Mike Duffy itself, as it should have from the beginning.

As Election Day unfolds, exhausted political organizers move from changing minds to moving bodies

Published on Oct. 18, 2015, in the National Post

Early in his career, former Ontario premier Ernie Eves won an election by just six votes and the nickname “Landslide Ernie” stuck with him, despite decades of electoral success that followed. The only person more annoyed by that narrow margin was his challenger who lost.

Landslide Ernie is often noted among Conservatives preparing for the frenzy of Election Day — the finale of a campaign where everything is laid bare and every vote is wrestled and fought for, not so much by changing minds, but by moving bodies.

It is the day when the political parties unleash their machinery to motivate their supporters to close the deal and actually cast a ballot.

Every major party has their Landslide Ernie.

Read more. 

Minority government almost guaranteed, say experts

Published on Oct. 18, 2015, on Global News.

As the longest federal election campaign in recent memory draws to a close, experts say a minority government in Ottawa is almost guaranteed come Monday night.

Barry Kay of the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Polling has been churning out seat projections in the final weeks of the race, and told The West Block‘s Tom Clark that the growth in support for the Liberals has been substantial, but seems to have slowed as the parties approach the finish line.

“The Liberals have stopped growing in Ontario,” Kay said.

Read more. 

Liberals slip slightly, maintain clear lead in seat projections

Published on Oct. 17, 2015, on Global News.

The latest seat projections suggest there’s a strong probability that Canada will have a minority Liberal government when the ballots are tallied on Monday, Oct. 19.

After overtaking the Conservatives in seat projections last week, the Liberals are now projected to win 138 seats to the Tories’ 115. That’s a drop of four seats for the Liberals since Thursday and an increase of three for the Conservatives.

The NDP gains two seats in the latest projection while the Bloc Quebecois slips from four seats to three. The Green Party is projected to win one seat in B.C.

“Momentum for the Liberal party in Ontario seems to have finally abated, but in the last three weeks the party has turned around a one percentage-point deficit to the Conservative party in the province to an 11-point lead,” Wilfrid Laurier University politics professor Barry Kay said.

Read more. 

Will Waterloo Region remain a federal bellwether?

Published Oct. 16, 2015, in The Waterloo Region Record.

WATERLOO REGION — As goes Waterloo Region, so goes the rest of Ontario.

Pollsters and politicians have been paying close attention to the mood of voters in Waterloo Region’s five ridings for weeks, knowing the region’s track record as a key bellwether area in provincial and federal elections.

After a prolonged 11-week campaign, one veteran political observer is predicting there could be multiple Liberal victories Monday night in a region that has been exclusively Conservative territory since 2008.

With polls suggesting the Grits are widening their lead in Ontario, Barry Kay is expecting support to swing in Kitchener-Waterloo and Kitchener Centre, where MPs Stephen Woodworth and Peter Braid are in dogfights to keep their jobs.

Read more. 

Kitchener Centre a true bellwether

Published on Oct. 16, 2015, in The Waterloo Region Record

KITCHENER — If you want to know how Ontario is likely to vote in next Monday’s federal election, all you have to do is look at Kitchener Centre.

“Kitchener Centre is the best bellwether riding in the province,” declares Barry Kay, a political-science professor and member of Lispop, the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy.

For the past nine federal and provincial elections, Kitchener Centre has been the only riding in the province to consistently back the party that won the most Ontario seats. “That usually means it backs the winning party in the country, too,” Kay said. The only recent exception was in 2006, when Liberal Karen Redman won the riding, the Liberals won the most Ontario seats, but the Conservatives won nationally.

The riding’s tendency to reflect the provincial trend means that incumbent Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, who has held the riding since 2008, is working hard to retain the seat. While polls aren’t as accurate as they used to be, the clear trend in Ontario is a move toward the Liberals, and polls suggest the Liberals could Kitchener Centre.

Read more. 

Brantford-Brant a sprint to the finish

Published on Oct. 15, 2015, in Brant News.

The final days of the federal election campaign in Brantford-Brant have come down to a fierce two-way race.

Between incumbent Conservative Phil McColeman and which challenger, depends on who you ask.

“My campaign is in a tight two-way race with the Conservatives for Brantford-Brant. We will need every single Liberal supporter to come out and vote,” said Liberal Danielle Takacs.

“We have internal polls that show it’s a two-way race, that we’re neck and neck,” said the NDP’s Marc Laferriere.

None of the candidates was willing to share inside polling data, however.

The Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Polling (LISPOP), which released new seat projections on Tuesday, listed Brantford-Brant as too close to call.

Read more. 

Liberals continue to surge, widen lead in seat projections

Published Oct. 15, 2015, on Global News.

The gap between Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives is widening by the day, with the latest seat projections showing an excellent chance of a Liberal minority government come Oct. 19.

After overtaking the Conservatives in seat projections last week, the Liberals have gathered momentum in the campaign’s final stretch and are now projected to win 142 seats, up 14 from the last projection just a few days ago.

The Conservatives, who stood at 122 projected seats last week, have fallen to 112, and the NDP, once the campaign front-runners, have also dipped from 84 to 80 seats, continuing a slide that began over a month ago.

Read more.

Strategic voting hits the campaign trail: Porter

Published Oct. 14, 2015, in the Toronto Star.

I went out door-knocking Tuesday night in Lawrence Park with two volunteers. They were asking people to vote Liberal — not because they think Marco Mendicino is the best candidate, but because they think he’s got the best chance to beat Joe Oliver, the Conservative finance minister.

They were strategic voting lobbyists with the non-partisan, grassroots group called Leadnow.

“You have to think of the long term outcome, versus the short-term pay-off,” explained Kelly Graham, a 26-year-old urban planning student.

Her partner-in-crime was Norm Beach, a 61-year-old ESL teacher who likes the Green Party best, but won’t vote for them again this election. “The only way the Green party has any chance in Canada, is if we reform the voting system,” he said. “And for that, we need to get Harper out.”

Read more. 

Waterloo Region wide open but Liberals making big strides: analyst

Published on Oct. 13, 2015, on CTV News Kitchener.

Liberal Party candidates are pulling away with the lead in two key ridings in Waterloo Region, a local expert on polling data says.

Barry Kay is a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and a member of the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Polling (LISPOP).

New LISPOP seat projections released Tuesday show the Liberals with a slight lead over the Conservatives on a national level.

In Ontario, that lead is more substantial – 61 seats to 44, with the NDP holding the remaining 16 seats.

Prior to the election, the Conservatives held 73 of Ontario’s seats in Parliament, with the NDP taking up 22 and the Liberals occupying 11.

Read more. 

Waterloo Region emerges as campaign battleground as election nears

Published on Oct. 13, 2015 on 570 News.

First Harper, now Trudeau.

Get used to seeing the federal party leaders in Waterloo Region in the lead-up to the election.

With a tight race, and an especially tight race in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge, there’s a reason why party leaders are coming to town so often, according to Dr. Barry Kay, an associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“It’s full of swing ridings,” says Kay, “and indeed, that’s not really a surprise for people who are familiar with the voting history of the riding[s]. Kitchener Centre in particular is probably the best bellwether in the province.”

Read more. 

Liberals lead latest seat projections, slightly ahead of Tories

Published on Oct. 13, 2015, on Global News.

The Liberal Party could be poised to win a minority government, according to seat projections from the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy.

The Liberals, who started the election in third place, have overtaken the Conservatives in seat projections, with 128 seats to the Conservatives’ 122. The NDP, once the front-runner, is trailing with 84 seats.

“The momentum has been particularly in Ontario,” said Barry Kay, Wilfrid Laurier University politics professor.

Liberal support in Canada’s most populous province has been steadily growing, though not at the expense of the Conservatives.

“What’s really happening in Ontario is the NDP vote is shifting to the Liberals while the Conservatives basically stand still.”

Read more. 

Tories move ahead of Liberals, NDP in latest seat projections

Published on Sept. 29, 2015, on Global News.

It was a good week for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives as the latest aggregate of polls gives them a 20-seat lead over the NDP.

But they’re still a long way away from the 170-seat target of a majority government, and without that, Canada may be left with a tenuous, minority government that the two major opposition parties have said they won’t support.

The latest seat projections by the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (Lispop) used eight polls, including approximately 12,000 respondents to come up with the projections which suggest the Conservatives could pick up 126 seats – 20 more than the NDP, and 22 more than the Liberals. Both the Bloc Quebecois, and the Green Party, pick up one seat each.

Read more.

Focus on economy a distraction

Published Sept. 21, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Forget that dreadful Globe and Mail debate last week. Yes, it was embarrassingly poorly conceived, badly organized and staged, and ineptly moderated. Worse, it served to reinforce the misconception being peddled by the Harper Conservatives that the economy is the only important issue in this election.

It isn’t. Continue reading

I thought a newspaper reader, Bill Phipps from Calgary, hit the nail squarely on the head the other day in a letter to the editor of the Globe. “Contrary to what the media would have us believe, the economy is not the only election issue,” Phipps wrote. “More important and deeper concerns are honesty, integrity, openness, respect for Parliament and MPs, for Canadian institutions such as the Supreme Court, respect for the democratic process, for honouring science and public servants. “Issues by which our compassion and justice will be judged are murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls, and the state of our criminal justice system, including prisons. Finally, the embracing reality of our time is climate change. All these matters are what is really at stake in this election.”


He’s right. All the campaign rhetoric about deficits or surpluses of a few billion dollars – relatively insignificant amounts in a $2 trillion economy – simply distracts voters from more vital causes. The state of our democracy is fundamental. Do our leaders respect Parliament, the courts and the principles enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Are they open and honest with the people, or do they cover up, mislead and at times lie to protect their own hides? Do they really care about the murder of aboriginal women or the plight of Syrian refugees?

We need to talk about these values. Are the parties committed to making Canada a better, fairer place to live, work and raise a family? Or are they satisfied with the country as it is? Have they listened to the majority of citizens who keep telling pollsters that they want change?

“Change” is four-letter word to Stephen Harper. He is satisfied with his management over the past 10 years. He is content that, to his eyes, the Canadian economy has outperformed other industrialized countries. “Where would you rather have been but in Canada?” he asked in the debate. “Looking forward, where would you want to be but Canada?”

Both opposition leaders advocate change. Thomas Mulcair, wary of being labelled a radical while he tries to manoeuvre the NDP into the safety of the political centre, is no Tommy Douglas. He does not call for sweeping change. His Canada sounds pretty much like Harper’s – deficit-free, but with higher corporate taxes, an increased minimum wage and a stronger social safety net. He would introduce his $15-a-day child-care program and, with the provinces, a national pharmacare program to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.

At least Justin Trudeau is bringing some passion to the campaign. He interrupted his opponents repeatedly during the debate. “If you think things are great, then Harper is your guy,” he said at one point.

His message: Canada would be better under a Trudeau Liberal government, but just how it would be different from the Harper Conservatives – aside from massive federal investment in the nation’s infrastructure – remains unclear.

Trudeau’s passion may help in Ontario where voters are still trying to make up their minds. Seat projections put the Liberals well ahead in the province, but the race remains a three-way deadlock nationally.

It is going to take more than dreary quibbles over economic statistics to break the deadlock. It is going to take a vision from one of the leaders. If Trudeau or Mulcair cannot come up with something more compelling than they have so far – a vision that the 70 per cent of the electorate who say they want change can buy into – they will have only themselves to blame if they split the vote and Harper wins a fourth term.

Is it too much to ask: a vision based on Canadian values?