Geoffrey Stevens

Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at the address below. This article appeared in the Waterloo Region Record and the Guelph Mercury.

Mar 252013

Liberals, NDP can't win as long as they split the progressive vote.

by Geoffrey Stevens

The federal Liberals are prisoners of past glories. Only now, as their leadership “race” ambles into its final weeks, are they turning some of their thoughts to their central dilemma — an issue that should have been front and centre since the 2011 election, if not earlier.

Their dilemma: as long as the Harper Conservatives control the right and centre-right — which they will as long as the economy remains the dominant issue among Canadians — there will not be enough room for both the Liberals and New Democrats in the rest of the electoral spectrum, the left and centre-left. Not enough room for two competing alternatives to the Conservatives. Not enough room for the opposition parties to differentiate themselves. Not enough electoral support, when split between two progressive parties, to bring down the powerful Tories, who are richer and better organized — not to mention meaner and tougher.

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Mar 182013

Government phasing out an unwanted and irksome parliamentary watchdog.

by Geoffrey Stevens

Back in 2006, when Stephen Harper was still in opposition and was campaigning for the keys to 24 Sussex Drive, he was all for open government. He was wedded to the principles of transparency and accountability.  Yes, sirree. A Conservative government would be different. The Conservatives would open all the windows; they would expose the entrails of government so that Canadians could see what they were getting for their votes and taxes.

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Mar 112013

Harperites scrambling as public becomes aware of competitive prices for better planes.

by Geoffrey Stevens

That horrible grinding, smashing noise you may have heard from Ottawa a couple of weeks ago was the sound of the Stephen Harper government’s grand F-35 dream self-destructing.

The controversial plan to equip the Royal Canadian Air Force with 65 of the absurdly costly F-35 fighter jets had been in trouble for nearly three years. The coup de grace came, I believe, in a CBC Television report on Feb. 27. CBC senior political correspondent Terry Milewski reported new information: that Ottawa could save $23 billion over the lifetime of the aircraft if it purchased the F-18 Super Hornet, built by Boeing, rather than the F-35 Lightning from Lockheed Martin.

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Mar 042013

A referendum on the future of Senate is long overdue.

by Geoffrey Stevens

The headline fairly leapt off the front page of the Toronto Star last week: “Senate in crisis.”

A subhead, printed in black and red, declared: “PM backing off support of Wallin as swirling controversies over spending, shocking sexual assault allegations have upper chamber on the defensive.” A separate box invited Star readers to look inside for “in-depth coverage” in four additional stories.

Wow! Swirling controversies and shocking allegations! Senators on the defensive!

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Feb 252013

Twenty-first century Senate doesn't fit historic rules.

by Geoffrey Stevens

The Senate of Canada, that venerable and mostly irrelevant appendage, is much in the news of late. Teapot tempests over residency rules and senators’ travel and living expenses are impeding a more important debate: do we need a senate and, if so, what do we want it to do?  

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Feb 102013
Patrick Brazeau.

Stephen Harper's Senate plans seem to have gone astray.

by Geoffrey Stevens

A case can be made that the prime minister of Canada, when armed with a majority, is more powerful politically than the president of the United States. As long as he keeps his caucus on side, he can do pretty much anything he wants.

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Feb 042013

Nothing is predictable beyond Kathleen Wynne being sworn in as Premier.

by Geoffrey Stevens

Surely everyone has heard of the ancient Chinese curse that translated loosely says “May you live in interesting times.”  In fact, the curse may actually be of English, not Chinese, origin and it may have started out as a proverb rather than a curse. But no matter.

Everyone has heard of it — certainly, everyone at Queen’s Park these days. Ontario politics have a reputation for being somewhat predictable. Some might describe them as an especially boring shade of grey. But no longer.

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Jan 282013
Kathleen Wynne.

New Liberal leader looks to wheel and deal with the NDP for survival.

by Geoffrey Stevens

There’s an old saying in politics that new leaders are never stronger than on the day they take over. If they are going to make changes, they should make them quickly, while the goodwill lasts and before their opponents get dug in.

Kathleen Wynne understands. Fresh from her victory at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention, she announced she will recall the Legislature, prorogued since last fall, on February 19. Between now and then, she will appoint a cabinet, prepare a throne speech and meet with the opposition party leaders in the hope of winning their cooperation to avoid an election this spring.

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Jan 212013
US President Barack Obama is sworn in for a second term.

Barack Obama's second term will be as contentious as his first.

by Geoffrey Stevens

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office formally today, he may reflect on the reality that the job of being president is a good deal more complicated than it seemed in the euphoria of his first swearing-in four years ago.

Back then, he was a junior senator from Illinois who had propelled himself to the highest office in the land. "Who'd have thought that the war in Iraq would be the least of my worries?" he joked in a 60 Minutes interview that reviewed events in his first year, including  the meltdown on Wall Street and a global recession. He made climate change a priority, but wasn’t able to do anything significant about it. He tried to inject a measure of fairness into the tax code, but had to settle for a minuscule increase in taxes on the super-wealthy.

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Jan 132013
Kathleen Wynne.


Leadership candidates have yet to break a sweat. 

by Geoffray Stevens
This Ontario Liberal leadership contest is a curious affair.
You would think it would be an exciting, even thrilling competition. After all, the winner will become premier of Ontario, making her or him the second most powerful leader in the land, next to Prime Minister Harper.
Six candidates covet the job (down from seven with the withdrawal of Glen Murray last week). You would think they would be scrapping furiously as each tries to gain an edge, to demonstrate that he or she is the most competent, has the brightest ideas or the most compelling personality, and is the best bet to lead the Liberals back to the promised land of majority government.

With only two weeks to go, we have (at the risk of sounding uncharitable) six zombies sleepwalking to the finish line.

But where’s the excitement? Where’s the drama? The last time the Ontario Grits chose a leader, it was won by a candidate, Dalton McGuinty, who came from fourth place on the early ballots. Now that was exciting!
This time, with only two weeks to go, we have (at the risk of sounding uncharitable) six zombies sleepwalking to the finish line. The policy differences among them are so minuscule as be indiscernible.
If they bring any passion to their candidacies, they do a fine job of hiding it. If they possess any charisma, they are careful not to display it. If they would lead Ontario in a direction different from McGuinty’s, it is not apparent from their public utterances. 
You might think that after 17 years of McGuinty leadership, 10 of them in charge at Queen’s Park, the Liberals would be ready for something new, for someone who would appeal to all those Ontarians to have come of voting age since the Liberals last changed leaders in 1996 (when the youngest members of this year’s electorate were in diapers). 

Where are the 30-year-olds who burn with idealism and could inspire students on campuses across Ontario?

But no. Dalton McGuinty is 57 years old. The candidates to succeed him are all from his generation. They range in age from 50 (Sandra Pupatello) to 62 (Harinder Takhar).
Where are the 30-year-olds who burn with idealism and could inspire students on campuses across Ontario? Where, for that matter, are the energetic 40-year-olds with an urge to change the government and shake up the province? Why are they all AWOL?
Out there, somewhere, is a lost generation of Liberals. They may vote for the party, or they may not, but they not interested in the game of political leadership.
There are reasons, of course, for this limited interest. It’s not going to be a whole lot of fun being Liberal leader or premier in 2013. 
Whoever wins is going to have to face the mess at Queen’s Park where the Legislature has been prorogued since October. Prorogation hasn’t made the provincial deficit go away; it’s $14 billion and counting.
Nor has it made the opposition go away. The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats still have voting control. No matter how accommodating the new leader may try to be, he or she will be a wounded deer in the opposition’s sights. They will bring the government down whenever it suits them.
The new leader will go into the election at the helm of a party that has lost its credibility to govern. That loss was evident in the 2011 election results, in the crucial Kitchener-Waterloo by-election last fall (when the NDP won and the Liberals ran third), and in the opinion polls that put the Tories first and the Liberals third or, at best, a weak second.

Insiders predict the new leader will be one of the two women candidates, either Kathleen Wynne, of Toronto, or Sandra Pupatello, from Windsor.

Insiders predict the new leader will be one of the two women candidates, either Kathleen Wynne, whose strength is in Toronto, or Sandra Pupatello, from Windsor, who is favoured by much of party establishment and by delegates from ROO (rest of Ontario).
It came down to that back in 1996 when the candidate from ROO (Ottawa’s McGuinty) won a fifth-ballot victory over Toronto’s Gerard Kennedy, who, yes, is running again, 17 years later.
Meanwhile, outsiders wonder how whoever wins this sleepwalking contest will be able to breathe new life into Ontario’s Liberals.