Friday, May 04, 2007

Light blogging ahead

Expect few to no posts between now and Sunday - though hopefully the last one will give commenters ample material to chew on in the meantime. Enjoy the weekend, and I'll be back soon.

From principle to practice

As a follow-up to my suggested principles for cooperation among Canada's left-to-centre parties, here's my suggestion as to the type of deal I'd think would meet the principles. Once again, this is simply a personal take as to the type of deal which would be most palatable - and there are some significant caveats as I'll discuss below.

The Process

In keeping with the need for democratic approval, I'll start by setting out what I'd think each party should want to do in order to secure approval for the substantive terms.

Once a deal is reached, each party should submit the deal to as strong an internal voting process as is feasible - but in any event no less than required by any party's constitution to formally approve the deal. Once a party had signed on, it would be formally entitled to end its participation in the deal either through the same process by which the deal was approved, or by a vote of a specified number of riding associations as a measure of grassroots disapproval.

Electoral Cooperation

In order to maximize the possibility of reaching the core goal of toppling the Cons, here's the structure I'd suggest:

- One candidate in each federal riding would be designated the "preferred candidate" as among the participating parties.

- Each incumbent MP from a participating party would be a "preferred candidate" by default. (This would both make sense in ensuring that the coalition doesn't go backwards from where it stands now, and would likely be an absolute requirement for current MPs to buy in - though I'd certainly be sympathetic to the idea of removing the default provision.) All other ridings would then be selected in turns by the participating parties.

*Based on Lib/NDP/Green cooperation with 85 incumbent Lib MPs (which I believe is close to the mark) and 28 incumbent NDP MPs, this would result in 150 seats having a preferred Lib candidate, 93 seats having a preferred NDP candidate, and 65 seats having a preferred Green candidate.*

- No party within the coalition would endorse any other coalition party to form government, or any other leader to be voted Prime Minister.

- No riding association would be prevented from running a candidate against a preferred candidate. However, the participating national parties would agree not to provide support to non-"preferred" candidates, aside from allowing them to participate in multi-candidate events and providing them with generic national materials.

- The participating parties would agree to coordinate messaging on a national level on the issues agreed to be addressed by the coalition government. In addition, the national parties and leaders would agree to avoid "low-blow" messages in opposing the other participating parties. This agreement would not be binding on individual riding candidates in establishing their own materials and messages, though they'd be encouraged to follow the deal's principles.

- The participating parties would agree to reassess whether any "preferred" designations should be changed to improve the chances of defeating the Cons. Any changes would be by agreement of all participating parties, and would be designed not to result in any one party forming a majority government (so as to ensure the deal remains enforceable).

Coalition Government

In addition to merely toppling the Cons, any deal should also include some discussion as to what party members (and Canadians at large) can expect. I'd see the following as the bare essentials for cooperation following an election:

- The participating parties would agree to form a coalition government. All coalition parties which win seats would receive cabinet positions in proportion to their number of seats won, in an arrangement to be agreed.

- The coalition's top priority would be passage of an environmental plan in substantially the same form as the currently-amended Bill C-30. Any further amendments would be only to strengthen the plan as agreed by all coalition parties. (This assumes of course that the efforts to pass C-30 in the current Parliament won't bear fruit.)

- The coalition would also immediately begin a Citizens' Assembly process to review possible federal electoral reforms. The parties would agree to maintain the coalition at least until this process is complete, such that a referendum on any selected change would form part of the next federal election.

- All budgets and similar general policy documents would be drafted by agreement among the coalition parties. At the time the deal is first reached, the parties would agree to baselines as to the minimum focus to be put into specific policy areas such as health care, child care, First Nations funding, education and social housing; these would be included within the coalition's budget and legislative priorities.


Beyond the questions of whether it's a plus for parties to be looking to make this kind of deal in the first place, there would still be serious issues about how the deal would be carried out. For one, I'm not sure what the parties' respective constitutions would require to allow for such a deal; I'm presuming that the voting processes would cover it, but it may be that there simply isn't a way to validly reach and approve this kind of agreement.

I'd also have some concerns about the effect of the Canada Elections Act on any type of substantial cooperation. Given the limit on party spending, there might be some argument that cooperation between parties serves as a wrongful means of getting around the spending caps. And I wouldn't want to see a deal either leave the parties involved on the wrong side of the law, or encourage a long-term adaptation from the Cons (either by taking up an NCC-style call to remove caps on spending, or by splitting into multiple linked parties to get full use out of their money each election.)

And, there's always the question of what additional details would be brought up which could undermine the purposes I'd outlined earlier. I won't speculate too much as to those, but please bring up in the comments any which seem obvious.

I'm not sure who, if anybody, would be prepared to push for this type of arrangement. And indeed, I can't say that I'd be at the point of supporting it immediately, even if I'd consider it about the best format for cooperation if any is to be found. But I'm interested to see how much taste there is among other progressives for something along these lines - or whether deals like the current Red Green deal (for all its glaring flaws) make for as much cooperation as others are prepared to stand.

A heritage embarrassment

There's another strong entry in the Least Competent Con contest, as Bev Oda manages to supply two highly dubious stories in one day.

First, the Globe and Mail follows up on last fall's story about a media-industry fund-raiser which was conveniently timed two weeks before a review of broadcasting rules. And while Oda was eventually pushed to cancel the event, it doesn't look like the money stopped flowing:
Heritage Minister Bev Oda cancelled a Bay Street fundraiser last November over bad optics, but new records show her riding association still cashed donations from a who's who of Canadian broadcasting executives.

Ms. Oda was accused last November of mixing government work and political fundraising because of a Nov. 15 event in the Toronto financial district that was to feature the Heritage Minister and Industry Minister Maxime Bernier.

Questions were raised because the invitations to the $250-a-head event were circulated in early October by Charlotte Bell, a long-time friend of Ms. Oda's who now lobbies Canadian Heritage on behalf of CanWest MediaWorks.

Critics also attacked the timing of the event, considering that it was two weeks before a major federal review of Canada's broadcasting rules. The minister cancelled the event "to avoid any negative perception," her spokesman said at the time, and the government promised that the fundraising cheques were returned.

However, newly released records from Elections Canada reveal that of 20 individuals who donated to Ms. Oda's riding association last year, at least nine have senior roles in Canada's broadcast industry. Eleven of the donations were made within five weeks of the cancelled fundraiser.

Among the names listed as individual contributors are Astral Media board chairman André Bureau, who gave $250 on Oct. 16; TVO CEO Lisa De Wilde, who gave $500 on Oct. 16; CHUM president and CEO Jay Switzer, who donated $500 on Oct. 12; Standard Radio president and CEO Gary Slaight, who gave $500 on Oct. 13; and Rogers Radio CEO Gary Miles, who gave $250 on Oct. 12.
While at least one of the apparent donors denies any link to the cancelled fund-raiser, it surely can't be a coincidence that so many donations in multiples of the fund-raiser's ticket price were received from exactly the people whose potential presence at the fund-raiser looked so suspicious.

What's more, Oda's office is seemingly trying to defend the concept of the fund-raiser as part of its claim that nothing was done wrong:
Ms. Oda's spokesman, Jean-Luc Benoît, insisted yesterday that none of the donations were related to the fundraiser. He added that the broadcast review was at arm's length from the minister's office.
It's hard to see why the latter part would be added in except to preserve deniability in case the first part gets proven wrong. But such a claim surely seems to contradict Oda's implicit acceptance of the fact that the fund-raiser was problematic to begin with.

If issues about Oda's honesty weren't enough, though, there's also reason to doubt whether she has even the most basic understanding of what her portfolio includes. The Ottawa Citizen reports on Oda's idea of a cultural event worthy of federal funding:
Heritage Minister Bev Oda came under fire yesterday for polling the town council in her riding for festivals eligible for $30 million in federal funding, and suggesting a "Midnight Madness" sale organized by area businesses qualifies as an arts and heritage festival.
At this point, it's hard not to wonder whether Oda's tenure in cabinet is itself an elaborate form of performance art - perhaps designed to show the absurdity of the political scene in general, and the kinds of defences that a government will put up with in particular.

But with so many of her colleagues seemingly matching her gaffe for gaffe, the more likely answer is that she simply reflects the general level of merit (or lack thereof) within the Cons' cabinet. And based on examples like these, the closing of the Cons' living museum of incompetence can't come soon enough.

Update: Oda's office's second response was apparently to plead incompetence. But while it's hard not to grant them a very high degree of cluelessness, surely it's still a problem when a cabinet minister isn't concerned with submitting accurate information to Elections Canada.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Double duty

The Ottawa Citizen reports that Lib MP Marcel Proulx has been named Stephane Dion's provincial lieutenant for Quebec. But it's worth noting that not only did Proulx only win Hull-Aylmer by the skin of his teeth in the 2006 election, but one of his new competitors in the riding is longtime NDP Quebec stalwart Pierre Ducasse. And of course the Bloc and Cons also figure to remain in the mix, especially with the added motivation of making Dion's life more difficult.

It remains to be seen how the riding will play out...and prior to 2004 Hull-Aylmer was a rather safe-looking riding for the Libs. But for now, it looks like Dion has given a major coordinating role to somebody who may need to use a large amount of resources just to save his own seat - which may toss one more monkey wrench into the Libs' attempt to rebuild their Quebec organization.

Now that takes nerve

After two separate missions to the Middle East at public expense, one would think Wajid Khan would at least have the sense not to direct attention toward his broken promise to make any reports public. But his statement in the House of Commons yesterday can't be taken as anything but a deliberate decision to do just that:
Mr. Speaker, I am dismayed by the accusations and innuendoes of the opposition parties about our mission in Afghanistan. It is time for them to stop using this mission for their own political purposes.

The situation in Afghanistan is far more complex than is generally understood. The government is taking a realistic, multidimensional approach.
Let's note that responsibility for the statement doesn't lie with Khan alone. Remember that the Cons' Statements by Members are included in the materials which require preapproval from the PMO. As a result, the statement reflects a joint decision between Khan and Harper to complain that Canadians shouldn't discuss an important subject based on their refusal to provide background information about it.

Of course, if there really is something about Afghanistan and the region generally that's misunderstood by the general public, the logical way to fix that would be for Khan (and others) to deliver more information to Canadians...for example, any reports which Khan may actually have completed.

But apparently Khan and the Cons have not only bought into a Bush-style strategy of saying "we're right - and if we could tell you why, you'd agree", but see it as worth their while to actively turn discussion in that direction. Which, in light of the complete lack of a factual basis behind the similar claims of Harper's southern ally, offers just one more reason why the Cons shouldn't be trusted for a second.

All options

The Star reports that both the NDP and the Bloc are looking at ways to get the bulk of the amended C-30 to a vote in Parliament even if the Cons won't move the original bill any further:
Opposition parties are putting together a last-ditch effort to force the minority Conservative government into line with the majority of the House of Commons on the environment.

The New Democrats are quietly exploring whether they can make changes to a private member's bill on the environment introduced by party leader Jack Layton, known as the Climate Change Accountability Act. They want to include in that legislation some of the main features of the Clean Air Act, a government bill rewritten recently by opposition members on a parliamentary committee.

"The government is unwilling to do the right thing. They've brought forward their own plan and it's been derided by the people who follow this," said NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley). "They have no backing and we need to not throw away this Parliament in terms of doing something serious for the environment."...

Meanwhile, the Bloc Québécois is considering using its opposition day Tuesday to call on the government to bring the Clean Air Act before the House for a vote by all MPs.

Bloc environment critic Bernard Bigras (Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie) said a decision will be made today.
It'll only take one successful strategic move to ensure that a real emission reduction plan gets put into place - and the NDP's and Bloc's efforts each look to have a positive effect. But while the immediate efforts seem to reflect the best chance to pass the amended C-30 in the least time, I'm surprised to see that nobody appears to have yet introduced a new private member's bill consisting substantially of the amended C-30 as a backup plan in case the other processes don't work out.

That said, it's undoubtedly for the best that at least two opposition parties are working to win a Commons vote on a sorely-needed climate change plan. And hopefully the Libs will join in as well to make sure that an effective bill gets passed before the Cons are able to change the subject.

Your representative at work

I strongly hope this story merely came out a month late for April Fool's. But would it be much surprise for the Cons to be more interested in protecting mythical species than real ones?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Selective outrage

Shorter Rick Hillier on Canada's sad excuse for an Afghan detainee transfer agreement:
So you won't accept my non-answer as to why I approved signing the deal? In that case, you're insulting the troops by asking the question.

On misleadership

One has to figure Harper is now wishing he'd either cut Gordon O'Connor loose by now, or at least let O'Connor keep answering for his own department's failings rather than bringing himself and other Con figures into the issue. Today, word comes out that Harper himself has been caught making false claims in an attempt to defuse the Afghan detainee scandal - resulting in the spectacle of Harper trying to spin an offhand comment by Stockwell Day about leg irons as a full disclosure of the allegations of torture.

What's especially striking is that Harper managed to get caught apparently misleading Parliament despite how frequently he and the other Cons have failed to even pretend to answer questions lately. And while we can figure on seeing a lot more Con diversions as they try even harder to avoid issues where they're not willing to deal with the truth, there's now all the less reason to think the Cons can get away with pretending that the rot stops anywhere short of the top.

Reaching out

It's already been mentioned elsewhere, but I'll take a moment to point out the NDP's redesigned website - featuring what appears to be the only blogger-oriented resource page of any of the major federal parties.*

I've suggested before that the NDP should be the most eager of all parties to encourage its supporters in making their voices heard. And while I hope the page will build on its current base in the future, it's great to see the NDP taking the lead for now.

*This is based on a quick look at the "Multimedia" and "Take Action" sections of the Libs' site, the "Multimedia" section of the Cons', and the Greens' Blogs section which appears to be limited to blogs from party insiders. Let me know if I've missed something.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Distorting the story

The CP's story on federal party fund-raising has received plenty of attention. But one element that's largely gone unnoticed is that the article reflects an all-too-familiar example of the media focusing on the Con/Lib dichotomy even where the effect is to confuse how the story is reported.

After all, based on the actual fund-raising standings (which see the Cons well ahead of the pack, followed by the NDP, Libs, Greens and Bloc in that order), one would figure the NDP would receive the second mention within the article, along with at least as much discussion of its methods as is given to the Libs and Cons. But instead, the headline, lead-in and article text all give first priority to the Cons and Libs - with the NDP (and its total more than double the Libs') mentioned only as a relative afterthought:
Stephen Harper's Conservatives raised almost 10 times more money from 10 times more donors than the Liberals in the first three months of 2007.

Even the NDP — historically the poorest of the three main national parties — managed to raise twice as much money as the once-mighty Grits.

According to quarterly fundraising results, posted Tuesday by Elections Canada, the Liberals managed to raise only $531,141 from 4,365 donors.

By contrast, the Tories vacuumed up almost $5.2 million from more than 45,000 contributors. The NDP scooped up $1.2 million from almost 15,000 donors.
For those looking for another problematic part of the article, the same scenario arises between the Greens and Bloc - as the Greens' fivefold advantage in fund-raising still only earns them mention after that given to the Bloc's numbers.

Now, it would be fair enough to say that the amount of money raised in any given quarter likely won't have much direct impact on future election results. But rather than even making that case to justify the shape of the article, the CP seems to take as a given that the reporting has to reflect the media's usual order of party discussion - even if that order makes no sense in light of the issue being reported on.

And that only hints at just what both the NDP and Greens are fighting in their respective efforts to move up in the federal party matter how much money they can raise compared to their competitors.

More sorry excuses

Apparently the Cons are backtracking at least slightly from their insulting attempt to minimize the federal government's responsibility for residential school abuses. But they're seemingly moving instead to an utterly incoherent policy (and equally baffling explanation) as to who should apologize and under what circumstances:
Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice signalled a change in course on Tuesday when he expressed support for the idea of apologizing to residential school survivors.

A Liberal motion that calls on the House of Commons to apologize for the trauma suffered by aboriginal students at residential schools was debated for much of the morning and early afternoon and Mr. Prentice said the Conservatives would support it when it comes to a vote. The non-binding motion was expected to pass with or without the government’s support, but until now the government has been resisting all calls by the opposition and aboriginal groups for an apology.

“The House should apologize and I am confident at the end of the day that the House will apologize,” he said during the debate.

But Mr. Prentice did not issue an actual apology, instead suggesting that one might flow from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is currently being established...

He said when South Africa completed its own reconciliation commission after apartheid ended, it recommended the government apologize, and Canada’s commission might produce the same result.

But Mr. Prentice insisted that Canada’s commission must do its work first and then the government will then review its recommendations.

“My hope is that through the work of that commission, we will better understand what needs to be done. The government will look forward to receiving the recommendations of those parties of the commission after they have completed their work, and to be fair, only at that time, once the full facts are known, can the full response from the government of Canada, at the executive branch, be offered,” Mr. Prentice said.

Mr. Prentice did not say whether the government would then issue an apology if that is what is eventually recommended by the commission.
Just so we're clear:

The Cons support, and have voted for, an immediate apology from the House of Commons.

And the Cons claim to support an apology from the government as well. But they want to avoid providing it until (and unless) a commission says such an apology should be given. And even then, they won't commit to acting on a commission recommendation...although a "full response" would presumably include at least some apology, unless the Cons want to revert to their previous excuses.

Hopefully, today's shift in position will ultimately represent the Cons' appropriate abandonment of those past attempts to minimize the harms of the residential school system. But it's hard to see the new delay tactics as any more plausible or reasonable. And residential school survivors will be entirely justified in continuing to hold the Cons accountable for looking to delay an eventual apology which now looks inevitable.

An inconvenient question

Alison has already brought the snark about the Cons' habit of blacking out documents. But yesterday's Question Period offered another revelation about a document which the Cons are refusing to release publicly - and this one looks to have the potential to add another front to the detainee treatment scandal:
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):...

Since 2003, Canada has been sending warships to the Arabian Sea to participate in the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom. We learn now, due to documents that we have obtained, that the government signed, on October 12, an agreement regarding the transfer of prisoners taken during these operations. We tried to find out what the terms of the agreement are but the Department of National Defence has blackened out all the terms.

Where are the detainees going, Guantanamo?
It's a sure sign of an unwanted question that Harper could only respond by changing the subject entirely in order to become the latest politician to claim his party has gained a meaningful advantage through the support of Buzz Hargrove. (And we all know how well that strategy has worked out for others.)

But the new Middle Eastern detainee question figures to be a source of major problems. After all, in this case, the agreement would lie on the Cons' shoulders alone. And the issue will be doubly damning if the Cons continue to try to hide the documentation - in contrast to the Afghan agreements, which were at least made public when they were signed.

We'll see whether Harper simply hopes to ignore the question going forward, or whether the Cons will at least offer some transparency to what they've signed onto. But either way, the answers figure to tie the Cons further into the U.S.' foreign policy, in addition to highlighting Harper's continuing culture of secrecy. And that building reputation figures to do far more damage to the Cons than almost anything the agreement itself would figure to contain.

On principled dealings

Elizabeth May has been in the news plenty the last couple of days over her weekend implosion. But while there's plenty to wonder about her leadership based on her newfound role as a prophet, she does seem to have managed to figure out at least some of the problems with the Red Green pact, suggesting in the Hill Times that any further decisions not to run Green candidates will originate at the riding level.

Needless to say, it's for the best that May now seems to realize that riding associations can't and shouldn't be taken for granted. But in the interest of seeing whether it's possible to reach some consensus on the principles which should apply to any cooperative electoral effort, I'll take a few minutes to suggest what principles would be needed for this Dipper (and this Dipper alone, as I don't purport to speak for anybody else) to back any formal deal involving the NDP.

1. Likelihood of success - Presumably the purpose of any arrangement among the Libs, NDP and Greens would be to ensure that Harper doesn't remain in power. With that in mind, any deal is a non-starter if it doesn't both involve enough seats to result in a change in government, and stand a strong chance of winning public support.

2. Democracy - While the leaders may well want to be on the forefront of deal-making, that doesn't justify their trampling on the interests of their riding associations and party members. No deal should take effect without formal approval from a party's national council, and any deal should allow both individual riding associations to continue to run a candidate (even if without the usual national-party resources), and a sufficiently large number of riding associations nationally to override the deal if they express disapproval.

3. Flexibility - In keeping with the purpose of toppling the Cons, any deal has to allow for multiple ways of accomplishing that goal - not focus on a single option as a replacement, which could then undermine the entire process based on a single party's failures.

4. Specificity - Any deal on policy in particular should set out specific areas of agreement as well as concrete measures to get there, rather than vague statements about potential cooperation which can easily be interpreted differently by different parties.

5. Enforceability - To the extent that any part of a deal involves policy agreement following an election, the deal should ensure that enough leverage exists to force the parties involved to live up to their commitments.

6. Reciprocity - Any deal should treat the parties involved as equals and provide substantially similar benefits to them, rather than resulting in any one party agreeing to make its interests subordinate to any other's.

To repeat in case there's any doubt, the above is purely my take on the principles which I'd need to see embodied in any deal that I'd be prepared to support personally. And even then it would depend on the specific structure of any deal (particularly since the principles may conflict in some cases), as well as some factors beyond the control of the parties.

I'll post later with a suggestion as to how these principles could be put into practice. In the meantime, though, I'm curious to find out whether other progressives would see this as a framework that can work in a joint effort.

Monday, April 30, 2007

On self-parody

The CP reveal the profound message sent from a spokeswoman for Gordon O'Connor - apparently reflecting the department's line sent to MPs discussing O'Connor's future:
"If any of you give credit to the rumour that MND (minister of national defence) will resign, will look studip (sic). It is not true he will NOT resign."
I can only presume that O'Connor has surrounded himself with such bright lights in an effort to seem more eloquent and competent than the people around him. But this may be the most frightening indication yet of just what kind of dull minds the Cons are happy to put in positions of responsibility if accompanied by fealty to the party line...and one more strong example of why they shouldn't be in a position to choose the people responsible for managing the country for long.

A lack of dissent

There wasn't much doubt going in that the NDP's Afghanistan motion would be defeated - and today that's what happened. But it's interesting to note the margin of the vote and what it apparently says about the other two opposition parties:
The House of Commons has overwhelmingly rejected an NDP motion calling for an immediate end to Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan.

Conservative, Liberal and Bloc Québécois MPs joined forces Monday to defeat the motion by a vote of 225 to 28.

New Democrats were alone in calling for an immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from the counter-insurgency campaign in Kandahar province.
Now, I'm not sure whether the Libs and Bloc whipped their respective parties against the motion. But whether or not each did, there seems to be reason to wonder about how the vote turned out.

Remember how many MPs from the two parties voted against the 2009 extension in the first place: about 2/3 of the Libs and every Bloc MP were against the extension initially. Based on that track record, it would seem a huge shift in position for every single one of those MPs to see the earlier vote as completely precluding any earlier withdrawal.

At the same time, though, there wouldn't figure to have been much risk in a free vote given the likelihood of the motion being defeated (not to mention the lack of immediate consequences if it passed). And the political benefits to the NDP from the vote would presumably have been diluted if anybody from the other parties had preserved any opposition to the mission as it stands.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely that there will be much followup. But the vote figures to have said a lot about either the party leaders or the MPs for the Libs and Bloc. And while it'll be a shame if Canadian voters don't find out who's most directly responsible, both parties figure to have plenty to answer for from those who want to see Canada's combat role come to an end.

Decision made

As a follow-up to the question of whether or not to force an election now over the environment, let's note that Stephane Dion has also chimed in on the side of getting something done in the current Parliament rather than going straight to the polls:
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said he would do everything in his power to get the minority Conservative government to reverse course on its environmental policies, but he hoped it wouldn’t lead to an election.

"I hope the indignation from Canadians and the international community will be enough to get government to (fix) its plan," Dion said in a phone interview. "The reaction of Mr. Gore will be a reaction that will be very frequent, unfortunately."
If Dion is indeed onside and willing to put his weight behind a movement to pass the amended C-30, and with the Bloc both onside on the environment and too busy sorting out its identity crisis to want to face an election, the odds look good that the Cons will indeed face a push that they can't afford to ignore. And hopefully Dion's supporters will bolster the effort by joining in - even if their preference may be to go to the polls first.

Strategic decisions

I'll weigh in somewhat late on the question of how the opposition parties can best deal with the Cons' seeming repudiation of the rewritten C-30. From what I've seen, the debate has largely evolved into two camps: the "bring 'em down now!" camp, and the one looking to pressure the Cons into changing their mind; it shouldn't come as much surprise that I'm in the latter group.

But I'm not sure anybody's quite put into detail how the options break down. So let's take a few minutes to review the possible outcomes.

If the opposition parties team up to bring down the Cons immediately, the obvious result is to bring to an end the legislative process which has produced the current C-30. And what's worse, the election itself could also weaken the opposition's hand in trying to push for improved legislation: the Cons would far too likely simply declare the issue dead based on a claim that voters had endorsed their existing "plan".

So what about trying to work within the current Parliament instead? The best possible outcome would be for the Cons to decide to put C-30 forward in its current amended form. And while it's far from certain, such an outcome is easily more likely to come about if the opposition parties put up a united front as they did in agreeing to the bill to begin with.

Even if the Cons refuse to deal with all of C-30 as currently amended, there's also the option of working to try to win Con agreement on the most important parts of it. And the Cons are already sending some signals in that direction:
"Well obviously our preference would be to move forward with the clean air act. One of the challenges is that the Liberals put a plan, put an amendment in it that would basically allow industry an unlimited license to pollute," Baird said.

He hoped the government could work with the opposition parties and "salvage big chunks" of the bill.
Of course, this being Baird, he couldn't demonstrate any interest in cooperation without misrepresenting the nature of the opposition's existing work. But the opposition parties should be able to pressure the Cons to go public with the "big chunks" of the bill that they still agree with, and suggest wording to toughen the legislation if they honestly think genuinely tougher measures are needed.

It's worth noting the threat of an imminent confidence vote might eventually be needed to get the Cons to play along with either of the two above scenarios. And if the Cons refused to blink at that point, then the downside result would be exactly what the "bring-'em-down" side is advocating as the first and only option.

Moreover, there's no reason why even a successful effort to pass C-30 (whether as currently or amended or with additional small tweaks) couldn't then be followed by a confidence motion on another issue. The result then would be to achieve every benefit of bringing down the Cons, with the added bonus that the opposition parties would have won a much-needed victory on the environmental front first.

Naturally, there's bound to be some difference of opinion on the left as to when it's most appropriate to bring down the Cons - just as different Cons presumably have differing calculations about when to seek a majority. But for those looking for the best option to get something done on the environment, there's no reason to throw out all the work that's been done on C-30 in order to roll the dice at the polls.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Somewhat short of ideal

Peter MacKay is claiming that now is an "ideal" time to talk with China about Huseyin Celil's life sentence among other issues. And it's hard to argue with the suggestion - after all, what reason would we have to believe that China is anything short of entirely pleased with the Cons?

Never enough now

Shorter Paul Jackson:
The only thing more unfair and devious than an opposition party not willing to cater to the government's every whim is one which actually helps to pass a government bill.

On opportunities

The Gazette discusses the NDP's push for a Quebec breakthrough, noting that Thomas Mulcair's arrival in the party may coincide with a particularly strong political scene for the NDP:
Once again there is a buzz of anticipation in the diehard ranks of Quebec New Democrats, a stirring of belief that this next election might be the one that ends differently.

The party got its biggest credibility boost in years April 20 when former Liberal MNA and provincial cabinet minister Thomas Mulcair announced he was joining the NDP and would run for the party in the coming election.

Getting himself dumped as Jean Charest's environment minister last year for standing against the Orford Park land selloff was perhaps not the worst of political career moves. Charest wound up looking like a heel and Mulcair came off as an environmental hero.

He brings to the NDP both experience in the corridors of power and street cred on the hot-button political issue of the day.

And now he's an NDP believer...

NDP hopes are fuelled by more than Mulcair's conversion.

They are in tune with majority Quebec sentiment on current wedge issues - Kyoto, gun control, Afghanistan - on which the Conservatives are offside. The Liberals are stalled under Stephane Dion's shaky leadership. Last month's provincial election put the separatist movement in limbo, making it much harder for the Bloc Quebecois to justify its existence.

Historically, the NDP's fundamental problem in Quebec has been that its inception coincided with the rise of the province's separatist movement. The clientele to which it appeals in the rest of the country, social democrats, unionists, environmentalists, economic nationalists and such are abundant in Quebec, but here they are typically sovereignist in the bargain.

As much as the party needs a Mulcair, it needs a Bloc meltdown.

Pierre Ducasse, another of the party's bright-hope candidates, believes that's coming about.

"The Bloc was a comfortable place for people to park their votes," he said. "It was in large part a protest vote, but I think people are ready for a change there. Quebecers today are looking more for solutions than for confrontation. That opens doors for us."
It's far from sure that the Bloc will indeed cede enough territory to make the NDP's road a lot easier. But it still bears mentioning that even in the last trip to the polls the NDP already managed to run third or higher in more than just a few Quebec ridings, and a strong fourth in numerous others.

As a result, even a Bloc collapse doesn't look to be a precondition to NDP success if the right dynamics play out between the Libs and Cons in Quebec. And while the NDP will certainly be looking to make Mulcair's arrival only one of many strong additions for the next election cycle, it doesn't figure to take much more to push the NDP over the top in a riding or two.