Saturday, July 05, 2008

A deepening pool

Scott Piatkowski adds one more name to the list of star NDP candidates named this week. But what may be more interesting than the addition of actor/writer/producer David Sparrow to the slate is the type of riding where Layton has been able to recruit the latest wave of additions.

In particular, Don Valley West looks to make for fairly difficult terrain for any NDP candidate. Not only did the NDP rank third in 2006 with under 10% of the vote, but the history of the riding shows nothing but distant third- and fourth-place finishes. But even with that, the NDP has managed to recruit a candidate whose resume looks to stack up nicely against his competitors.

And while Edmonton East is easily the NDP's second-best target in Alberta (and a riding where Ray Martin managed to triple the NDP's general Alberta support in his last run in 2000), it's still probably not a riding which figured to be much of a magnet for a top candidate absent a strong recruiting effort.

Of course, the bigger-name candidates like Michael Byers and Anne Lagacé-Dowson will be making their runs in ridings with obvious pickup opportunities. But it isn't only the NDP's main targets that appear to be enjoying an influx of new talent. And as a result, if the NDP is able to move its national numbers enough to start putting more ridings in play, its candidates should be more than up to the task of making the most of the opportunity.

No improvement

Of all the criticisms levelled at Sandra Buckler during her stint as Deceivin' Stephen's communications direction, I don't recall "insufficiently partisan" ever coming up. But apparently that's the issue the Cons were most concerned with in naming Corn Cob Kory as her replacement and otherwise revamping the PMO:
Sources say Mr. Giorno has already promoted or fired some staff in an effort to gear up the PMO for the next federal election, which could come as early as this fall. The objective has been to replace "bureaucratic" aides with more overtly political staff, said one Conservative source.

The government is expected to be more proactive at hammering home its political message under Mr. Teneycke, who is believed to have played a major role in the government's recent attacks on Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's plans for a carbon tax. Relations with the parliamentary press gallery might not necessarily become more friendly, but reporters will no longer receive little or no response to requests for comment, said the source.

"The PMO's going to become a lot more political. It's going to be a lot more aggressive . . . Every single story, we're going to try to get our say in."
Now, there were certainly problems with the previous strategy of simply stonewalling any request for comment. But it's difficult to see how the new plan of attack will do much other than to make the Cons seem ever more petty and self-absorbed.

After all, if the media wanted the Cons' spin on an issue (as distinct from what would presumably be a more official response from the PMO), wouldn't it make sense that it would be seeking that information from the party office rather than Canada's executive branch? And does anybody but the most deluded of Harper cult followers think that the same old spin will be better received coming from the PMO instead?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Duly named

There's little reason to think Kory Teneycke's appointment as Stephen Harper's communications director will result in his being seen any more positively than the now-departed Sandra Buckler. But it would be a shame if his future battles with the press resulted in anybody forgetting about his stint lobbying his partymates on behalf of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association.

So to ensure that his trip through the lobbying revolving door doesn't get lost as he takes up his new role keeping meaningful information out of the hands of the media, I hereby dub him Corn Cob Kory.

Worth a thousand words

The Ottawa Sun reports on the ridiculous degree of secrecy cloaking the selection of a location for the National Portrait Gallery. As noted by NDP MP Paul Dewar, the Cons have gone so far as to refuse to publicly name the members of the committee responsible for choosing a location - making for even more extreme steps than usual to ensure that nobody is able to get a word in other than the Cons and their hand-picked cronies.

Which isn't to say there's a total lack of good news: thanks to being unburdened with any need to deal with input from the public, the committee has also had time to put together the gallery's first special exhibit. Watch for A History of Conservative Transparency wherever the gallery ends up.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Spin cycles

It's been awhile since the NDP unveiled a high-profile candidate outside Quebec. But the news that Michael Byers will seek the NDP's nomination in Vancouver Centre offers yet another indication that Layton and company are doing extremely well in the candidate recruitment department - as can be seen from the Libs' desperate attempts to spin away its impact.

To listen to part of the Libs' response, Byers is a terribly controversial candidate who will prove toxic in Toronto if one takes a couple of lines out of context from a 2006 interview. Which is presumably why the Libs themselves tried multiple times to recruit him, including through a personal plea from Stephane Dion.

Mind you, the Libs do have an excuse up their sleeve as to why that effort failed: according to them, Byers wanted the Libs to "remove any competition" for a riding nomination. Which would be a heck of a lot more plausible if he hadn't chosen to run for a party which doesn't even have a candidate appointment process to offer that kind of non-competition.

In sum, while the Libs are trying to minimize both their previous desire to have Byers run for them and his future impact, it seems clear that Layton and the NDP have once again won out in a direct contest for a star candidate. And that success may only hint at the NDP's ability to similarly win over voters when the next election rolls around.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Predicting the inevitable

David Akin notes another interesting Con response to Henry Morgentaler's appointment to the Order of Canada, as MP Rod Bruinooge is complaining that he no longer wants to bother with the institution.

Let's see...right-wingers declaring that since an obviously apolitical institution fails to adequately reflect their prejudices, they plan to take their ball and go home. Can the Conservatorder of Canada be far behind? And will it manage to be even more entertaining than the last such effort?

Hypothetically speaking

Dr. Dawg points out that the list of Con MPs piping up about Henry Morgentaler's appointment to the Order of Canada includes Ken Epp. But it's worth noting just what Epp had to say:
However, Tory MP Ken Epp (Edmonton-Sherwood Park) said the pro-choice supporters have "gone too far."

"As far as I'm concerned it is indeed controversial," said Epp, who has a private member's bill before the House of Commons that would allow criminal charges to be laid in the death or injury of an unborn child when the child's mother is the victim of a crime.

Epp also questioned the objectivity of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin as head of the Order of Canada advisory council. "Is she now totally out of impartiality because of the fact she has weighed into this? I am concerned about all of those things," he said.
Now, from my perspective Epp's argument raises a couple of fairly significant questions - which essentially need to be directed at Harper in light of his well-known message control.

First, is Epp really claiming that the mere fact that an Order of Canada appointee is associated with an issue renders the Chief Justice of Canada too biased to deal with that issue? If that interpretation is correct, then the full list of appointees would seemingly result in McLachlin C.J.C. being unable to rule on anything more significant than a parking ticket.

Of course, it doesn't stand to reason that Morgentaler's appointment affects judicial impartiality any more than Buzz Hargrove's appointment disqualifies McLachlin from hearing labour law cases. But even if one grants Epp the charitable interpretation that he knows he's wrong, it's still noteworthy that the Cons' message is once again centred on inflammatory and patently ridiculous arguments against the fairness and impartiality of independent bodies.

Second, and more significantly, there's the question of just when Epp anticipates a case which raises abortion issues coming before the Supreme Court of Canada.

I'll note in that respect that Dr. Dawg focuses in on how Epp's new message casts ever more doubt on his honesty in claiming that his C-484 has nothing to do with abortion. But let's take the analysis a step further and grant Epp his own claim for now.

After all, since there's currently no outstanding legal conflict involving abortion, the only way it figures to find its way in front of the Supreme Court of Canada is if new legislation is passed in the meantime. If Epp is right in claiming that C-484 doesn't actually involve abortion, then what do he and the Cons know about other plans for legislation that would bring the issue back before the courts?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Shorter Gary Mason:
Don't let politicians do your thinking for you. After all, that's my job.

If you're after substantive discussion about the options available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (in stark contrast to Mason's column), Devin has what you're looking for.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Simple answers to flawed questions, bargaining table edition

From Norman Spector:
Who best can defend Canadian interests in negotiating a successor agreement to Kyoto that would include China, India and the United States: hard-ass Stephen Harper (as Foreign Minister David Emerson has called him), or dreamy-eyed Stéphane Dion (who named his dog Kyoto)?
On behalf of those of us who are more interested in Harper's track record than the spin from his underlings, a hearty "neither of the above".

Building anger

Earlier this year, word came out that the Cons' much-ballyhooed infrastructure program was serving only to keep Regina's IPSCO Place renovations on hold, as the Harper government was evidently too busy trumpeting its own "accomplishments" to get around to actually funding projects once the photo ops were out of the way.

It took another month for the Cons to actually get around to approving that particular project. But today, the Star reports that every other municipality which has relied on federal funding is being punished even more for trusting the Cons:
In his 2007 budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty promised a windfall for Ontario towns and cities – $3.1 billion to help pay for highways, water projects and public transit.

Fifteen months later, municipalities have yet to see a dime.

The money, part of Ottawa's Building Canada Fund that earmarks $8.8 billion for infrastructure nationwide, has been tied up while the federal government negotiates the details with Queen's Park.

Ontario cities aren't alone in waiting. Money from the Building Canada Fund has yet to go to cities in Quebec, Alberta or Manitoba because Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon is still negotiating the required framework agreements with those provincial governments as well.

Municipal officials say they've now lost two construction seasons because of funding delays and some fear next season could be in jeopardy, too, unless hurdles are soon cleared. That's causing mounting frustration, as the backlog of work grows and project costs rise...

As best the Federation of Canadian Municipalities can figure, only one municipality in Canada has actually had a project approved for funding under the program – a $20 million commitment for an arena complex in Regina.

Consultations with the provinces and cities over how the fund should be managed actually began two summers ago, according to federal officials. And money for the fund, to be doled out over seven years, was formally announced in the March 2007 federal budget...

Pat Vanini, executive director of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, cautioned that even once the framework agreement is signed with the province, other sub-agreements must be hammered out as well, including deals on how funding will be split between big and small communities.
Obviously a significant part of the story is the Cons' continued devotion to government by press conference, with no interest in doing the work to actually deliver what they've taken credit for. And it's particularly striking that the IPSCO Place debacle itself apparently didn't push anybody to try to get anything moving elsewhere.

However, it's also worth noting how much of the delay seems to have been built into the process by the Cons themselves.

In principle, there's no reason why a province-wide framework to divide up seven years worth of funding would be needed before a dime can flow to a project which has already been agreed to by all three levels of government. But the Cons have instead chosen to hold each project hostage until far larger and thornier questions are dealt with. And that choice, combined with the lack of federal movement in resolving those same questions, virtually ensures that funding won't start moving anytime soon.

In addition, a process which requires a broad-reaching agreement with any province also invites the Cons to play favourites as to which provinces will see their agreements completed first...though at least one can largely say that nobody's yet receiving much preferential treatment.

It remains to be seen how long it'll take before frustrated provinces and municipalities start taking matters into their own hands and simply deciding that promised federal funding isn't worth waiting for. But for now, it seems beyond doubt that the Cons' refusal to make good on their promises and announcements is the single most important obstacle to much-needed infrastructure renewal.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Shorter Jim Flaherty:
If I'm willing to put my unprovoked attacks on Ontario behind us and pretend to be nice, surely that's a good enough reason for the province to take my orders now.