Saturday, December 29, 2007

On limits

There's been plenty of talk about the federal election spending limits lately - with the NDP joining the other national parties in Parliament in planning to spend to the national maximum, while the Libs argue that the limits themselves will help to rein in the Cons during the course of an election campaign. Let's note however that while the national limit caps the amount which can be centrally controlled, the Cons could still use their cash on hand to have a significant advantage - if they're willing to either risk a major campaign scandal, or cede some control to their riding-level campaigns.

Remember that the current system allows a party to freely transfer funds from the national party to riding associations, and to spend substantially more funds on the riding level than the national level. And while the recent talk has focused on the national limits, no party has yet come close to maximizing the amount of spending allowed on the riding level.

Mind you, the closest any party has yet come was the Cons in 2006. And they've already found themselves saddled with a scandal based on their attempt to count federally-funded, centrally-ordered ad campaigns as riding-level expenses. Which should mean that the Cons will be under heavy scrutiny as to how their federal money is used in any upcoming campaign.

Based on that background and the Cons' large amount of reserve cash, the most important funding story in any upcoming federal election may well be the Cons' decision as to how to handle their excess federal money. From what I can tell, they basically have three choices to try to use that money to influence a federal campaign:
- spend as much as they can to influence public opinion before the writ drops in order to avoid any limits altogether;
- run another Conadscam on a larger scale to try to use their permitted riding-level expenses as a conduit for their national campaign; or
- transfer money to Con riding associations without the type of strings associated with Conadscam, to give the riding campaigns an advantage over their competition while avoiding the danger of a national scandal.

It would seem that a party with any trust in its grassroots would be happy to go with option #3, which would allow for the maximum amount of campaign spending while also permitting riding campaigns to target their spending to local issues and/or tactics.

But based on the Cons' protestations that there was nothing wrong with their smaller-scale scam in 2006, I have to wonder whether Harper and Finley really have so much contempt for riding-level activity as to want to run a campaign which takes option #2 to the most extreme possible level. If so, the result would seem to be all-or-nothing strategy: the Cons would accept the risk of having a campaign focused on their own shady operations and distrust of their own grassroots in exchange for the possibility of overwhelming the political scene with their central message.

Of course, it remains to be seen which choice the Cons will make. But it's worth keeping in mind the options which are open to a party with money to burn - and reflecting on what the eventual choice says about the party.

Friday, December 28, 2007

On depth

The Star reports on the federal NDP's outlook for 2008. And while there aren't many surprises in Jack Layton's year-end message, one of the NDP's plans for early next year is worthy of note:
The federal New Democrats are planning a "leaders' summit" in early January to bring together provincial and federal party brass. The meeting, which will include former Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert, is a bid by the party to sell its governing credentials.

Layton said the party will be touting the experience of its MPs. The caucus includes former cabinet ministers from several provinces, including David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre), Penny Priddy (Surrey North) and Mulcair, as well as MPs with municipal experience, like Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina) and Denise Savoie (Victoria.)

"We have a lot of people ... who are ready to take on the responsibility," he said.

That will be followed by a caucus retreat in Montebello, Que., to plot strategy for the parliamentary session that begins Jan. 28 – "and what appears to be an increasingly likely election," Layton said.
The summit and retreat figure to offer an important side benefit, creating a reason for the national media to grant the NDP some of the coverage which is so often lacking.

But more importantly, the efforts should also send an important message both inside and outside the party: rather than relying on a single leader either to serve as its face or to micromanage the party, the federal NDP can take pride in the depth and experience of its candidate pool, and has plenty of governing experience just waiting for the opportunity on the federal scene. And the more Canadian voters become aware of that fact, the more likely the opportunity is to materialize.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Uncertain progress

There's some potentially good news today in the fight against global warming, as Gary Doer has announced that Manitoba will join Quebec in establishing emission reduction requirements for vehicles. But the promising sign also raises an important question: will Harper follow in Bushco's footsteps by overruling provincial emission standards in favour of less stringent federal rules?


Shorter Jim Flaherty:
Tough times are coming soon. Which means that everybody in Canada needs to pitch in to further benefit those who already have the most.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On deflection

Jeff covers Deceivin' Stephen's direct insult to Canadians in his interview on Afghanistan. But it's worth pointing out as well Harper's equally obvious indirect insult to the intelligence of the CP and its readers, as his answer to allegations that the Liebermanley panel's report is a foregone conclusion conspicuously fails to answer the actual concern:
Some critics have argued that Mr. Harper could have found no more hawkish a Liberal than Mr. Manley to lead the non-partisan panel. They suggest the panel has been rigged to give the Conservatives the answers they want to hear.

The Prime Minister bluntly dismissed the notion.

“We will get the report and look at it.”

He said he hopes Mr. Manley comes forward with a clear, immediate recommendation for the future of the mission. Beyond that, Mr. Harper wants to see a sense from the panel of where it sees Afghanistan going in general, regardless of the length of the Canadian deployment.
Not surprisingly, I have yet to see a single commentator express the slightest concern that the Cons wouldn't want to read Liebermanley's report or follow its recommendations. The problem which has been pointed out all along - and which has caused some of the leading critics of Canada's current role to decline to participate - is that the panel itself is obviously biased toward Harper's own position, meaning that the end product is meaningless from the standpoint of actually providing a thorough or balanced outlook on Canada's future role.

It seems highly unlikely that Harper is so clueless as to fail to recognize the distinction. Which means that his poor attempt to change the subject only highlights the fact that even he can't pretend to defend his cherry-picking of panel members - and offers yet another reason why Canadians have no reason to take seriously either the panel or the government which appointed it.

On familiar tunes

Shorter Peter MacKay:
I always like to celebrate this season of peace and goodwill in song. All together now: "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb-bomb Iran..."

For more substantive commentary, pretty shaved ape and Dave have it covered.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Take your pick

Are the Cons playing their base for suckers by bashing the CBC in their latest fund-raising appeal while planning to do nothing to change it? Or are they playing the rest of the country for fools by avoiding more direct interference in the CBC only as long as they're in the minority?

Access restrictions

Canada's Information Commissioner Robert Marleau has weighed in on the Cons' pattern of withholding access to information. And it seems clear that the problem starts at the top:
Public requests for documents are being slowed by lengthy reviews in the central department that reports to the prime minister, the Information Commissioner says.

While Stephen Harper's Conservatives campaigned on opening up the access-to-information system, Information Commissioner Robert Marleau said the government's own statistics show that responses to the public's requests for information are slowing down "across the board."

Access-to-Information and Privacy co-ordinators in federal departments are grumbling that efforts to answer requests are being delayed by lengthy consultations with other departments, and especially the Privy Council Office, which serves the prime minister...

The number of complaints from the public has shot up dramatically in 2007, doubling since April 1 over the same period last year, he said. There were 1,257 complaints to the commissioner's office in 2006-2007...

Almost two years later...the Conservative government has failed to table the bill they promised to reform the access system.

And the Conservatives are now using the same excuse for refusing to release documents that they railed against in opposition: the assertion that a minister's office, including the Prime Minister's Office, is not covered by the access law. Mr. Marleau's predecessor, John Reid, took the previous Liberal government to court to contest that claim, and Mr. Marleau is continuing the case.
It's particularly interesting that for all the Cons' efforts to paint the federal civil service as opaque, the co-ordinators responsible for departmental compliance with access to information laws are themselves unhappy with the PCO for preventing them from doing their jobs. As a result, it's clear that the problem is neither a lack of resources to properly respond to public requests, nor any unwillingness on the part of federal departments to have their work properly made public.

Instead, it's the Cons who have chosen to control and delay the process. Which leaves only the question of whether the Cons will end up facing the scrutiny they deserve for that type of choice.

For now, matters only figure to get worse: based on both the increased complaints and the slowing flow of information, it looks like the Cons are cracking down all the more on any escaping truth as time goes by. But enough attention to the Cons' choice to suppress information could well help to highlight the difference between actual leadership and the Cons' brand of toxic unaccountability - which is exactly the kind of information which can help to ensure that Deceivin' Stephen isn't in power any longer than can be avoided.

Update: Once again Steve V tackles the same topic, while James Laxer documents the lack of information he's received in response to multiple access requests.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pop Quiz

A quick test of your knowledge about the upcoming Toronto Centre by-election - and how it compares to the national media covering the contest.

1. Which federal party was the Libs' closest competition in the riding in 2006, and in three of the past four general elections?

2. Which federal party has had a highly-qualified candidate in place for months, rather than recently appointing a dubious second-choice candidate because its original nominee was too concerned with issues affecting the riding?

3. Based on your answers to 1 and 2, which federal party would logically be mentioned as the main competition to the Liberal candidate in the March by-election?

If you answered "NDP", "NDP" and "Conservative", respectively, then you'd fit right in at both the CP and CanWest.

(Edit: typo.)