Thursday, July 27, 2006

THE JOE VOLPE CAMPAIGN: THE BEST ENTERTAINMENT IN CANADIAN POLITICS

A long-overdue Liberal leadership post coming up. Things have happened this week that have been pretty big. What's basically happened is that the wheels have completely fallen off the comical Joe Volpe leadership campaign.

Really, is there a bigger train wreck of a campaign out there than this one? I can't recall a leadership campaign in the history of this country that has been a more complete disaster than this one. I mean, there are campaigns that went badly where people lost, but at least those candidates went down honorably. They were people who fought the good fight and came up short. But these guys, these fools--- the Volpe campaign has been the biggest laughingstock in Canadian history. Stories about Volpe have dominated the race and all the news coverage. His campaign is so bad that it's a joke.

I've never seen anything like it at the national level, with campaign managers quitting and people fighting over who should get access to the list of people recruited to the party, and kids getting recruited to the party and so on. I've seen lots of campaigns and lots of craziness in Canadian politics. This ranks down there with all that floor-crossing nonsense from last year, with Belinda and everything else. I've also seen craziness from across the border, too, from the likes of Howard Dean, Gary Hart, and these other jokers in American politics. But this Volpe business takes the cake, it really does. All that's missing is Volpe doing the "scream" speech.

The first thing the Volpe campaign did wrong was sell a bunch of memberships to 11-year olds. They had to return $27,000 that they raised and Volpe was roasted in the press for what had happened. He should have quit the race right then and there, but Volpe pressed on. Of course, his campaign manager up until now was none other than M.P. Jim Karygiannis of Scarborough-Agincourt, and he's been the key guy recruiting supporters for Volpe in a ton of ridings.

Then came the July 4 membership deadline for new recruits for the party and it turned out that Volpe had recruited over 30,000 new members, including reportedly a large number in Quebec. The Toronto Star was going around saying that Gerard Kennedy had shocked the party, too, and was supposed to be ahead, based on his excellent totals as well. But these new recruits were clearly a boost for Volpe.

Now, in the space of a couple of weeks, Volpe's campaign has completely imploded. Seems that the whole problem sprang from the contentious issue of the Israel-Lebanon conflict. Volpe, quite rightly in my view, came out defending Israel's actions and Israel's right to defend itself. He represents a heavily-Jewish riding from what I understand, so he's reflecting what his constituents want. But that stance didn't sit well with Jim Karygiannis. He quit last weekend as the campaign manager for Volpe! This was really bad news for this reason: Karygiannis had recruited all these people for Volpe. And it was well known that most of the people Karygiannis had recruited came from ethnic communities that, ahem, do not agree with Volpe's pro-Israel position. So if Karygiannis walked, the fear was he'd take this bloc of supporters with him.

Now comes this strange news. It seems that Karygiannis may be thinking of mounting a leadership bid of his own! You know that list of 36,000-odd new Liberal recruits signed up by Karygiannis for Volpe? Well, seems that instead of handing this list over to the Volpe campaign that he just quit, it's alleged that Karygiannis has decided to keep this list of 36,000 or so recruits for himself. Well, this is highway robbery, isn't it!? Talk about stealing another candidate's supporters. I'll bet the Volpe people feel they've been completely double-crossed by Karygiannis.

In fact, the Toronto Star reported that Karygiannis even had to call the police to prevent a Volpe campaign official from seizing the computers that stored all these lists of names on them. And for the record, Karygiannis is denying that he took anyone's lists. I think he probably thinks this list was his to begin with. Anyway, there's a big fight over this list, and I don't see how in hell Volpe expects to win if he doesn't even have access to the list of new members who were recruited for him in his name. He needs to contact them all to get them out to vote in late September for slates of delegates! But if he doesn't have these names how can he do that? Talk about a campaign in chaos.

Truth be told, though, these recruits were never really Joe Volpe people to begin with. These were actually Jim Karygiannis people; their first loyalty was to Karygiannis, not Volpe. And in all likelihood all these folks that Karygiannis recruited to the party probably don't agree with Volpe's Israel stance anyway. In fact I'll bet that Karygiannis took a lot of grief from a lot of his own supporters over Volpe's position. I'll bet Karygiannis wants to stay in good graces with these people; after all, they're his power base! So the bottom line is the Volpe campaign has been reduced to rubble as far as I'm concerned. All these Karygiannis folks have quit the Volpe campaign. They are all going to take their marching orders from Karygiannis and these community leaders telling them how to vote, and will allow themselves to be herded in whatever direction Karygiannis wants them to go: in all likelihood, to himself. Or at least so goes the plan.

This kind of stuff looks really bad. Karygiannis looks like Boss Tweed or somebody like that by doing this, with all these reports out there of him looking to be the big kingmaker and horse-trade all these "votes" he has in his back pocket to the highest bidder. He's going to apparently try and deliver them to somebody who opposes what Israel is doing in Lebanon: definitely not Michael Ignatieff. So these votes will all be hand-delivered to whoever will stop Ignatieff at the convention. Good grief, this is machine politics at its worst! These new recruits look like people being herded around like cattle! I saw this kind of stuff go on at leadership conventions in the past. This sort of reminds me of the 2003 PC convention where David Orchard had his delegates, and he was able to play power-broker and order his people around on the floor so he could be the big kingmaker. It was disgraceful machine politics and a disgrace to the old PC party. It was a big reason why the merger ultimately went through with the Canadian Alliance, because PC party members were angry and embarrassed at all the horse-trading that went on at that convention and the deals being cut behind closed doors without their input. Me, I hate when it happens in any political party, Conservative or Liberal.

If I were one of these new Liberal recruits, I'd be pretty insulted by the way all these supposed "bosses" are acting. These guys - Volpe's people, Karygiannis's people, all of them- are fighting over membership lists as if these votes are a captive audience. How dare they take people's votes for granted and then try and put them up for auction on the convention floor! These new Liberal recruits need to know that they're free to do whatever they want, that they can go ahead and vote for someone else. They aren't bound to cast their votes based on what Jim Karygiannis or anyone else thinks, the rules allow them to vote in a secret ballot! In fact, I'll bet you they don't even show up at the delegate selection meetings, many of them.

Anyway, bottom line is the Joe Volpe campaign has grabbed all the headlines early on in this Liberal leadership race, and for all the wrong reasons. I don't think Karygiannis has a hope in heck of doing well in the leadership race, if he runs. (I believe he has until September 30th to file his papers.) I'm sure many of these "recruits" won't even bother to show up to vote, or will vote instead for Gerard Kennedy or Bob Rae or somebody else. But regardless of what happens Karygiannis will still be able to get quite a few of his "people" elected as delegates all over Scarborough, and he'll be able to order them around at the convention in December! I know how some of these Scarborough ridings operate and boy oh boy, it's a bad scene there. We're talking about too many local players involved in politics in order to wield power and herd people around like cattle--- and not just in the Liberal party, either. It's terrible. Which is why I agree with Belinda Stronach's desire to have these leadership races decided by one-person-one-vote, it cuts down on all this machine-politics nonsense. Though it does increase the instant-Liberal problem. But overall it's still better.

If I sound cynical and bitter about what I see going on in the Liberal leadership race with this Karygiannis membership list nonsense, know that I've seen this kind of stuff first-hand from my side of the fence, too. I've seen the exact same membership recruiting nonsense, with these phony bosses and supposed bigshots behind the scenes trying to order people around and make deals behind closed doors. It's a big reason why I'm cynical about politics. This isn't what politics is supposed to be about. This is not the type of thing that will attract good people to public life.

Anyway that's the latest on the Liberal leadership race. It should really heat up come September as the race for delegates comes to a head. Expect more political coverage as the American election races heat up and the Ontario municipal vote comes up as well.

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