- Jamie Watt, Robin Sears, Richard Mahoney
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Jamie Watt: How Mr. Harper sees the outcome of the election. The challenges of even a stronger minority government. Several important milestones reached in the campaign just finished. The significance and the challenges that must now be confronted. Meeting expectations of voters. Mr. Harper now as an incumbent returned to office. Other factors that will affect the challenges. Cross pressures as the story of the outcome of the election and of the road ahead. Some examples. Exploring some questions. What the researchers and consultants from Ensight found since the polls closed. A plug for Porter Airlines. Determining why Canadians voted as they did, what it means, and what they expect. One commonality. The negative reaction to the election and other reactions. Something new that emerged with regard to female voters. Research highlights of what lies ahead. The difference two years makes. Canadians still haunted by the spectre of the National Energy Program and what that means now. Insights across the provinces. A paradox. What Harper has to do. Financial concerns. Comments on Harper’s skills and challenges. The year ahead and what that will reveal about Mr. Harper and his government.
Robin Sears: Picking up from where the previous speaker left on the issue of “country first.” Mr. Harper not getting the message.
Richard Mahoney: Response to Robin Sears’ comments.
Robin Sears: The Liberal Party now in a really challenging dilemma. Circumstances of the unfolding leadership transition.
Richard Mahoney: Learning about the near unanimity on Afghanistan. The true test of the difference between this Parliament and the other ones. Considering applications for support of Canadian business. The Nixon-to-China thing. Expecting some tough regulatory scrutiny in all sectors.
Robin Sears: Echoing the point just made by Richard. Our general impression of the scepticism of Canadian today. The new atmosphere of scepticism and high expectation.
Richard Mahoney: The style of the next Parliament. Canadians’ belief about Canadian banks.
Jamie Watt: A call for 30-second wrap-ups.
Robin Sears: Two verbatims from discussions.
The panel ends with a question from Jamie Watt for each speaker, and their responses to them.
- Date of Original
- Oct 17 2008
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- Full Text
October 17, 2008
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
Jamie Watt Chair, Navigator Ltd.
Robin Sears Principal, Ensight Canada
Richard Mahoney Principal, Ensight Canada
Post Election Panel
Chairman: Helen Burstyn, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto
Head Table Guests
Jo-Ann McArthur: Principal, fisheye, and President, The Empire Club of Canada
Robert Granatstein: Firm Managing Partner, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP; Robert Deluce, President and CEO, Porter Airlines Inc.
Lorna Counsell: Director, Legal and Regulatory Affairs, Porter Airlines Inc.
John Weir: Principal, Ensight Canada
Martha Durdin: Principal, Ensight Canada.
Introduction by Helen Burstyn
I would now like to introduce today’s guest panel. Please join me in welcoming Jamie Watt, Robin Sears and Richard Mahoney.
Jamie Watt was the senior communications advisor for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in the landmark 1995 and 1999 elections and held the same position in the Office of the Premier. He has chaired several campaigns and is a highly regarded speaker and political panelist and I can’t go through everything on his resume because we don’t have enough time today.
Robin Sears has over three decades of public policy and public affairs experience. He is a former national director of the New Democratic Party and served as chief of staff to then-premier Bob Rae. He was also Ontario’s senior diplomatic representative in Asia Pacific in the early nineties.
Richard Mahoney was executive assistant to the Right Honourable Paul Martin and has advised politicians at all levels of government in Canada. He is a former president of the Ontario Liberal Party, former candidate, and a frequent media commentator on Canadian politics and public policy.
Welcome to our panelists.
Good afternoon everyone and thank you for taking time out of busy calendars to be with us today. We’re excited about what we have to chat with you about today and hope that you will find it as interesting and perhaps, more importantly, useful as we’ve done.
On Tuesday, Canadians made Stephen’s Harper’s life and his task as Prime Minister much more complicated. Even with the stronger minority government that we gave him, the challenge of managing Canadians’ expectations of him and his government is manifestly more complex today than it was in 2006. The way Prime Minister Harper sees the outcome of Tuesday’s election and the way some other participants—the media and perhaps some of you in this room—see it is quite different. As Mr. Harper has said on many occasions he views the path to a stable, durable, Conservative majority government replacing the Liberals as Canada’s natural governing party as a long march; as a marathon as opposed to a sprint.
In the campaign just finished, he achieved several important milestones. He broke through Ontario’s resistance. He won new levels of support amongst Canada’s ethnic communities and new Canadians and he began to make urban inroads. It also looks like he has bridged the gender gap with important groups of women and significantly he held Quebec, held his beach-head in Quebec, in the face of very strong political crosswinds. At the same time, Monsieur Duceppe had some success in frightening Quebeckers about the prospect of a Harper government. Those very same claims had no impact in English Canada.
So whether you accept Mr. Harper’s view of his achievements or whether you prefer the conventional wisdom that he fell short, there isn’t any question he did make significant political gains. The significance of these gains, however, is matched by the challenges his new government must now confront.
Having been elected the first time in the midst of a booming economy, spending and resource allocation choices were relatively easy. This time his voters face diminished economic prospects and increased worries about their retirement savings, their pensions, and their jobs. This time frankly their expectations will be much harder to meet. They will be harder to meet when you consider a stretched budget pantry and demand far greater than any government’s ability to deliver. Mr. Harper is now an incumbent returned to office. No longer is he able to point backwards or across the aisle as reasons for failing to perform. A strengthened New Democratic Party in Ottawa and increasingly skeptical provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec limit his political freedom to manoeuvre. And of course there is Danny Williams.
Cross pressures are the story not only of the outcome of election 2008, cross pressures are the story of the road ahead. And the list of those pressures is a long one—failing Ontario manufacturers, declining government revenues, an unhappy Quebec, conflicting environmental expectations among his supporters, and Canadians who want strong economic measures at a time of global economic crisis—and all to be delivered with the finesse required to avoid political bloodshed. Juggling these competing demands will test this Prime Minister’s ability to lead Canada in uncertain times.
To explore these questions, to get under last Tuesday’s results, Ensight talked to Canadians. In the 60 hours since the polls closed, our team of 20 researchers and consultants have travelled from coast to coast and analyzed and assessed what we heard. We were in Ottawa this morning for breakfast. We are here for lunch today and I should pause for a moment to say the only way we could have done that is with the help of our good friend Bob Deluce from Porter Airlines. I know I’m not supposed to do a commercial but I’m going to do one anyway. Not only was Porter the only one that logistically could get us here in their downtown-to-downtown service, but I can tell you the way they whisked us through the airport you would have thought we were travelling with the President of the United States. The service was amazing. We are also here today because of the great support we have from Blakes. I would like to thank Rob as well. Blakes understands how business impacts government and how government impacts business. We are very grateful to Blakes for the enormous support they have given us in this project across the country. We will have the privilege of being in Calgary for them on Monday morning.
So for the second time in as many elections, we at Ensight have been the first to determine why Canadians voted as they did, what it means, and crucially what they expect. In our work this week, if there was one commonality, it was this: this election was a complete waste of time and money. In some quarters, particularly here in Toronto, feelings verged on anger. In others like Calgary, participants were ambivalent. Importantly though, there was a widespread consensus that the election had come at a price of more than just money, that the election had prevented meaningful action from being taken to protect Canadians and to protect our economy amidst a financial crisis that had become apparent mid-campaign.
For the five weeks of the election nothing got done. And now the Harper government needs to play catch-up. It needs to get to work right away to appoint a cabinet. The runway is short and the takeoff should be swift. One man in Halifax complained that the news of the crisis itself and its implications would have emerged earlier and been understood earlier but for the election. Now in this election Canadians were looking for a reason to vote. They were actually looking for a clear vision or program, something on which to galvanize themselves and frankly they were disappointed. There was a level of disengagement and frustration with all of the parties’ lack of ability to present a compelling message. This directly contributed to the historically low voter turnout we saw on Tuesday and was reflected back to us in our work this week. What’s more, there was broad dissatisfaction with the choices on offer. One woman spoke for many when she said, “I held my nose and voted.” The participants clearly identified Stephen Harper as by far the best choice for uncertain times.
They did though yearn for some more empathy in the economic recovery messages and, while they certainly thought he was up to the job, their enthusiasm was distinctly muted even amongst his own voters. Whenever participants discussed whom they saw as Harper’s opponents, even when they turned to the future, they mentioned Duceppe, they mentioned Layton, they mentioned the media. Tellingly, apart from a few in Quebec, one person was almost never mentioned—Stéphane Dion. Canadians’ relationship with Mr. Dion was over before the election began. More in sorrow than in anger, Canadians had, in the terms of a modern relationship, simply moved on. Conservative attacks on Dion’s leadership eventually came to be seen as unnecessary and fortuitous. Voters had already closed that chapter and even among life-long Liberals Dion was seen as barely votable. And that’s why there is such widespread expectation that he will be gone as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada before the new year. Among the names that enlisted some excitement were Ignatieff, Rae, Kennedy, McKenna, and, interestingly, Justin Trudeau. We heard our friends in the media confidently proclaim three truths. One: Canadians deliberately chose a minority government. Two: every party and every leader lost. Three: each party suffered gaff damage. In our view, Canadians disagree. Outside Quebec, participants weren’t scared of a Tory majority and it was not a factor in the way they voted. There was of course in Quebec a different story. Almost every voter told us that they voted strategically. Some wanted to stop a Conservative majority and many just couldn’t bring themselves to vote Liberal. Quebeckers were glad to have a minority. Quebeckers want the Harper government on a short leash. Now, as always in elections, there were winners and losers, but at the end of the day people were clear. Stephen Harper won and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been given a mandate. We found the people, those so-called ordinary Canadians that Sarah Palin likes to talk about, understood the difference between a substantive policy misstep and a so-called puffin-poop gaff.
We heard something new in our work this week; something that needs to be explored over a longer period, but something that we wanted to highlight and share with you today. There’s emerging evidence that Stephen Harper is making significant inroads with an important segment of female voters. We found women were in tune with Harper on issues like fiscal management and the role of government in the economy. The television ad that Conservatives ran in the campaign’s final week, you might have seen it, the one that showcased a mother concerned about the economy, placing her trust in Stephen Harper, now not only makes a lot of sense but was clearly a clever move.
Cross pressures, tensions, even paradoxes, are research highlights of what lies ahead. Canadians very much continued to vote with regional interests in mind. Conflict between these interests will continue to present challenges for the new government. Quebeckers voted for those seen best to defend their interests whether it be in culture, or crime, or values or who they believed understood them. When asked why they didn’t support Harper the universal response was, you can predict it, cuts to the arts. We peeled away at that though and we found something more profound and indeed more challenging for Harper. It is undeniable that the Conservatives’ approach to young offenders and arts funding was unpopular and out of sync with Quebec, but, that said, Monsieur Duceppe was very skilful, clever even, in using these issues to light a fuse. And while it could have been safe injection sites or immigration or a host of other policy areas for that matter, those choices gave Duceppe the ability to reawaken that deep and abiding sense amongst Quebeckers that Harper still does not understand us.
What a difference two years makes. In our study conducted after the last election, Harper got points from Quebec participants not only for his efforts to learn and subsequently master French, but for his effort to understand their issues. And now, however, despite the attention lavished on Quebec by the Harper Conservatives, the culture and crime policies appear to have erased almost all of this hard-earned goodwill. And as prime ministers before him have discovered, courting Quebec inspires resentment in other parts of the country. Many participants said, “Enough is enough.” In Halifax, “the Maritimes want in” was the frustration voice. Atlantic Canadians see the West awash with oil money, they watch as the federal government lavishes money on struggling sectors in Central Canada, and they see themselves left behind. There was a hint of sadness amongst Maritimers that their neighbours, friends and family had to pack up and leave for work elsewhere. “It’s time,” they say, “that off-shore revenue deals are redone.”
Calgarians are still haunted by the spectre of the National Energy Program all these years later, a powerful memory reawakened and triggered by Dion’s green shift plan. Interestingly, while Calgary men demonstrated a high degree of concern about the environment, the carbon tax was the non-starter in the home of the oilsands. But they are as concerned about the environment as anyone else in the country. British Columbians are keenly aware of their diversity. They see it as a source of tension with the traditional English-French duality in Quebec and the federal government.
And, as always, we Ontarians see ourselves as Canadians first, but we’ve changed a bit and we feel that our province is no longer being treated fairly by the federal government. And alas, at the end of the day regional tensions and considerations still drive our votes.
Paradoxically, Canadians want to see consensus and action at the same time. What a Canadian proposition! Canadians’ conflicting demands on Mr. Harper place him in a really unenviable position on a whole range of issues. It is not that you can say that he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, but his path of political manoeuvre, his path forward, really has become a tricky one. Canadians expect decisiveness and action from their leaders especially in these uncertain times. But they also want to see Harper build consensus with the other parties. And the difficulties here for Harper were on view as soon as this week when on Wednesday he announced his six-point economic plan. The people didn’t hear much about the plan because it was announced the day that we were chatting with folks, but we did have a chance to explain the plan to them. There was mild approval. They thought that this was the kind of quick action that would be needed from a seasoned economist, but there was a problem for Harper because as soon as he announced the six-point plan up pops Mr. Layton to say, “Hold your horses. Who told you that you have a mandate to do this?” It is a challenge that Harper will have to contend with over and over again in this new Parliament. When it comes to the economy there was a real mood, to borrow an American phrase, a John McCain phrase, of country first. The participants want all the parties, every last one of them, to grow up. They want an end to partisan bickering. They expect the parties to deliver what the country needs to get through these times. They expect the Prime Minister to do something. They gave him wide latitude to ram through a tough economic package through the House of Commons. In particular, men said, “Just get it done.” Stephen Harper, as I said earlier, is a Prime Minister with a mandate to lead.
Now, because this is Canada, he has to do that in a co-operative nice way with the Opposition. His tone needs to be different. Participants want him to adopt good ideas when they come from the Opposition. They would even be happy if he would consider an alternate point of view and would welcome that approach. They want him to listen and to be respectful of those with whom he disagrees and those who disagree with him. A little bit of honest consensus would go a long way with the voters. There was a time when calling for tax cuts and eliminating deficits was a controversial, even extreme, approach. We assumed that argument had been settled long ago. And yet, for the first time in more than a decade, we are beginning to see the view that the federal government can run deficits under certain circumstances. Global economic headwinds have softened the public to the possibility that the era of surpluses is over at least for the time being. No alarm bells went off when we raised the suggestion of deficits. There is no question, however, that these participants remember the previous deficit era and the lessons learned and have no tolerance for ad hoc or partisan deficit games. Were the government to go into deficit for strategic reasons, the participants expect the government to have a plan to return to a balanced budget and to do so quickly. Deficit spending is not something they are prepared to consider normal and it cannot be permanent.
Now I don’t want to overstate this. These are the beginnings of a fissure. But as the economy worsens, these fissures could become cracks and we don’t really see any reason why other fiscal or economic dogmas, however sacrosanct they may have seemed, would not be off-limit for debates. If deficits are touchable, then what isn’t? This, of course, creates a serious tension between accommodating these concerns, dealing with an economic downturn and Prime Minister Harper’s core voters for whom a deficit is an anathema.
There is a hesitant willingness to allow the government to use fiscal and economic levers to intervene directly in the economy. People recognize that the government may need to make strategic investments; the government must however put country first. That means that if there is a choice between a Canadian interest and a foreign one we must protect the Canadian interest. That proposition is, of course, at odds with Harper’s base, which opposes direct intervention in the economy, and yet the call for a Canada-first economic policy is consistent with the Prime Minister’s national vision and therefore must be a consideration.
Over and over we heard from participants the fundamental belief that Canada’s banking system is strong because it is different and insulated from those in other countries. People believe that it is precisely because our financial institutions have been held back, that they have remained isolated from the financial crisis sweeping the globe. So to those of you who would advocate that our banks should now expand internationally through mergers and acquisitions, or merge and lessen competition, I can tell you you’re not going to find any public support.
During the election we recall Harper hammered repeatedly on the strength of Canada’s financial institutions and regulatory regimes. He harped on that report that came out saying our banks were the best in the world. Well guess what? People listened. His campaign success has now become a governing challenge. Canadians believe that our banks are different and that they are not in any way affected by the global credit market crisis. This of course poses a conundrum. If support for the financial-services sector becomes necessary, it is going to be met with pretty strong resistance from the public. For those measures which might be considered to strengthen our banks—mergers, cross-pillar expansion, foreign investment—there isn’t just skepticism, there’s hostility and this isn’t coming out of old-fashioned bank bashing. It arises from a perception that our financial institutions are strong and profitable. It arises from a perception that we got it right and the rest of the world got it wrong. And don’t even think about asking for anything that could be interpreted as a traditional bale-out or subsidy for a manufacturing business that was going into difficult times. People were clear about that. It is just good money after bad. Mid-campaign Harper announced his pledge to remove all Canadian troops from Afghanistan by 2011 and, when he did it, it was seen as a shrewd, some would say cynical, political move, a manoeuvre intended to neutralize the issue before Canadians got around to casting their ballots. And most polls we have seen over the last while have shown that Canadians are split on the issue of support for our mission, but for a party which had declared that Canada would never, never cut and run, this about face came to many as a surprise. Research showed this week that while Harper’s Afghanistan announcement left many Opposition heads spinning, he actually read the mood of Canadians. Across the country, we heard again and again from both supporters and opponents of the mission, that it was time for us to bring our mission to an end. Halifax was the only exception. As you know it is a community that has historically shown strong support for our military, but apart from Halifax it was unanimous. While participants expressed concern about the costs involved, and Quebec participants were more likely to be opposed in general to foreign military missions, our most surprising finding was that even among supporters of the mission there was a widespread sense that the time was coming when we should wrap things up. They felt we had been there long enough, that we had conducted an honourable mission and it was now time to come home. The release of the Afghan mission’s cost is giving Canadians an acceptable new reason to support withdrawal. It is simply too expensive. As the economy worsens, the cost will continue to stoke the Opposition and in short Canada has nothing to be ashamed of if we bring that mission to an end.
Mr. Harper is justifiably admired for his strategic judgment and skill. As the economy tumbled, he successfully exploited his advantage as both incumbent Prime Minister and respected economist. The challenge of his first term, juggling an unstable minority with a green-horned government, was daunting. His challenge, however this time, infinitely harder—a stretched treasury with exploding demands for financial assistance, defending a possible deficit to a base likely to be furious at the prospect, and expectation that he will deliver tough economic measures to help Canada weather this current storm, but do so nicely, the need to relaunch his effort to support bills in Quebec at a time when many Canadians are getting fed up yet again with his perennial courtship, strengthening financial services when Canadians aren’t really convinced a case has been made for their support, defending his timing for an Afghan exit, when the revelations of the surprising costs have convinced many Canadians that the mission should be over now, and finally managing a minority with a leaderless Liberal Party, an energized New Democratic Party, and a resurgent Bloc Quebecois.
The expectations of this second Harper government will be immeasurably harder to fulfill than the first. The year ahead will reveal that Mr. Harper is the strong leader in difficult times that Canadians somewhat grudgingly chose. Critics are already betting that he will not be able to navigate the stormy winter ahead, that he has not rebuilt a successful Conservative Party, that he has merely presided over a one-term minority government. Since Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney faced similar cruel tests, we have not had such a captivating nail-biting year ahead in Canadian politics. Prime Minister Harper will need to overcome fate, economic gales, the Opposition, and his own combative approach to leadership to prove those critics wrong.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much Jamie. Richard and I are going to do the clean up back here. You may observe that there’s a hidden former blue, orange, and red tinge to the speakers up here and that’s not accidental. I just want to echo what Jamie said about the effort that went into this project on behalf of our two firms. As you know, Navigator and OEB Enterprise are the partners that form Ensight Canada. About 20 people in our two offices worked for the last three days.
I want to pick up where Jamie left on the issue of “country first.” It’s a McCain slogan, yes, but it has seeped into Canadian political consciousness. I think it has at least two implications. The first is that partisan bickering is over. Canadian patience for politicians behaving politically in the worst sense of both those words is over and there will be sharp rebukes and punishment for anybody who doesn’t understand that, whether they are the Prime Minister or an Opposition leader. The country has to come before partisan interests. The second, as Jamie pointed out, is that Canadians have a very deep nationalist pride at the same time as they have an abiding and building economic anxiety about the winter ahead. They want to make sure that politicians govern, rather than bicker, and they want to make sure that they govern with Canadian interests in mind in tough times. I think it is fair to say that at least for a while in the campaign Mr. Harper didn’t get that message.
Not at first Robin. I just want to say on my own behalf I got the message of “country first” a year and a half ago, when I went into partnership in business with a bunch of Conservatives. So I was a little bit ahead of the game in that regard, but in the election Mr. Harper had a bit of a tin ear. He lacked the empathy gene. His former campaign chair Mr. Flanagan said this week, that once he sets on a course, he has thought it through and he finds it difficult to change. I think it’s clear that the empathy question, at least in the election, did cause him some trouble, in part because he thought that if he showed a change in course that would only feed the notion that there was something really wrong. But that failure to get the empathy question probably prevented him from getting a majority, even while international gales and winds were blowing. Jamie mentioned in his presentation how the groups across the country identified the cross pressures bearing on Mr. Harper. So despite the risks, there is also considerable opportunity for Mr. Harper. If Mr. Harper ends up being successful over the next year in bridging the most important of these conflicts, which is on the economic front, it would be seen as a big political win for him. He has a chance really to begin a legacy that will work very well for him.
I think the Liberal Party right now is in a really challenging dilemma. The circumstances of the unfolding leadership transition make it almost impossible for them to benefit by vis-à-vis Mr. Harper. If Mr. Dion were to announce next week that he was going immediately and the starter gun goes off for a leadership campaign, the inevitable partisan bickering will emerge instantly among all the candidates, directed logically at Mr. Harper. That will not resonate well with Canadian voters. If they name an interim leader and try to impose some sense of order and calm over the course of the winter, that will be an improvement. But Harper being Prime Minister has the opportunity to do a leadership gambit involving a tough economic package that still puts them on their back foot. We anticipate that Mr. Harper may well have built up a big bank of goodwill among Canadians if he successfully navigates the challenges ahead. So it is a very tough strategic challenge that the Liberal Party faces in the next months.
While Mr. Harper may be able to jam the Opposition parties on the economy, one of the stunning things that we learned in the groups was the near unanimity on Afghanistan. Canadians have moved on on this question too, as Jamie pointed out in his presentation. So while the Liberals, and New Democrats in particular, may respond with an attack on Mr. Harper about Afghanistan, he has made clear what his timetable is which is to pull out by 2011. What we heard after the election was that people think we’ve done our bit now, that we have more than met our obligation. The costing, as Jamie pointed out coming out in the middle of the election, only furthered this line of thinking. So Mr. Harper is sort of jammed by his timetable. He will probably continue to assert that we are leaving by 2011. He is going to be asked about this, about that, about the cost, can’t you do better, have you given notice, have you given notice in writing? This will be a true test, I think, of the difference between this Parliament and the other ones. This Harper administration is more willing to consider applications for support of Canadian business than it was in its first term. You’ve already seen Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty make this turn in the lead up to the election with assistance to the auto sector. That shows pragmatism towards industrial assistance, which in our view is right on the money. However, there is an important coda here and that is this. Anyone who is applying for assistance for a business project should be very certain that government will require them to offer things like contractual guarantees on specific deliverables limited by very strict conditionality, maybe even a piece of the upside on a project and a likely demand for early payback of any financial support. The upside for Mr. Harper on this again though is a Nixon-to-China thing. Mr. Harper may be more protected than the leaders of the other parties will be on this issue because he’s not seen as a person overly willing to interfere in the economy. But you can expect some tough regulatory scrutiny in all sectors. The deregulation has taken a hit in the last little while. You might even expect, given what we have seen in the groups, a softening of the rules on foreign ownership in other sectors. Canadians have time for that now in a way they might not have one or two years ago, but they don’t have a lot of time for the silliness of politics and the gaffs that we saw during the election.
Yes, just let me echo the point that Richard has just made. I think that our general impression of the skepticism of Canadians today is that anything new that you planned to do last spring or summer for introduction in the fall, you had better look at again, because there is a much more skeptical and hesitant Canadian electorate about anything new. In the banking sector, for example, a new product or a re-branding could elicit the response, “Are you in trouble? Why are you doing that?” as opposed to an interest in whatever the feature or benefit might be. The wasted election we talked about has a consequence for the upcoming Parliament and that is that Canadians expect there should be action soon. Asked when they thought Parliament should return, the answer was tomorrow. Asked what they wanted to see Parliament devoted to, the answer was, “Addressing the economic problems immediately.” The Canadian electorate has now very little patience for any hesitation offered by the government or the Opposition. Let me just quickly say something about the gaff question. There were lots of gaffs in this election. They didn’t seem to make much difference to partisanship choice, but we would encourage Opposition politicians and cabinet ministers especially not to conclude from that that there’s a gaff freedom now in government. In this new atmosphere of skepticism and high expectation, nobody who makes a mistake can expect to get away with it without a fairly heavy price, minister or Opposition politician.
We think that probably also extends to the style of the next Parliament. Jamie went on at some length about what Canadians expect Mr. Harper to behave like. The day of a confidence motion on every single issue is probably past us. There is an expectation out there that he behaves in government and Parliament much like previous minority governments have done which is to compromise, reach out to the other aisle. We have talked a bit about the banking industry here and one of the things that stunned us in the research was that Canadians don’t believe that Canadian banks are in need of government support. So if the occasion arises where that has to happen, there’s a big hill to climb. Neither were they persuaded by the wisdom of bank mergers. Ten years ago I remember being tangentially involved in the merger discussions around the then-Chretien government and Canadians had no stomach for allowing bank mergers. Well 10 years haven’t changed that. So if the occasion arises where banks do require assistance, seek to merge, seek to change things, they are going to have a tough sell.
Twenty hours of research. We could talk to you all afternoon. I’m going to get both Robin and Richard to give us one 30-second wrap up, because I’m going to take a couple of quick questions and get everybody back to work or on their way home.
Let me close with two verbatims from the discussions we had. A woman here in Toronto in the groups that we did on Wednesday night said that she recently invited a friend who bought a GIC from Canadian Tire. Everybody in the group looked at her and wondered why she would do that. It’s not a bank. You buy banking products from banks. There is a new conservatism about who should be doing what with whom in the private sector. And a woman in Vancouver in a group moderated by my colleague Chad Rogers said the only place she felt her money was safe was in the bank, so was not prepared to have the banks do anything except banking. This is a time for a return to stick-to-your-knitting business model.
Questions for Richard.
Just give us a fast answer to this. How much of a factor is Mr. Dion’s leadership debt in the timing of his departure?
I don’t know. Most of the leadership candidates have a debt from last time. The current laws in our country make it very difficult for candidates to raise money after the fact or even during the instance of a leadership race. His campaign does have a debt and that must weigh heavily on him. I haven’t spoken to him about that, but it is a problem. The additional problem is in the laws of Canada. If that debt is not erased over time, the act requires that Elections Canada treat it as a donation. Therefore an illegal donation.
Is Jack Layton locked into attack mode making him the wrong leader for the NDP at this time?
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attendance and your attention today. We appreciated it very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Jo-Ann McArthur, Principal, fisheye, and President, the Empire Club of Canada.