Saturday, May 30, 2009

On one-sided dealing

Shorter Stockwell Day:

Good news: if we're willing to rewrite NAFTA to favour U.S. businesses even more by handcuffing Canadian provinces and municipalities, they'll consider holding up their end of the current deal!

On milestones

I'll be curious to see when the next updates comes from the Meili campaign on the success of its "money bomb" fund-raiser. But judging from where it stood yesterday morning (at $9,870 less than a week after the first announcement), it seems highly probable that Meili easily cleared its $10,000 goal during the course of the day. And given the tendency of some donors to wait until a deadline before following through, it wouldn't seem out of the question that a revised target and renewed appeal over the next couple of days might get Meili to the full $20,000 total he hoped to raise for the rest of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Meili's Facebook group also hit a key number yesterday, topping 500 supporters for the first time (to now sit at 503).

In both cases, Meili is still well behind Dwain Lingenfelter in terms of raw numbers over the course of the campaign. But Meili's consistent supporter growth and now-proven ability to raise a substantial amount of money in a hurry would seem to offer a strong signal that his model for building support is one that the party as a whole should be seeking to match - and there's plenty of time for him to pass a few more milestones before the contest is over.

Update: Malcolm confirms that the money bomb has "surpassed its $10,000 goal".

On alienation

Murray Mandryk's profile of Dwain Lingenfelter is definitely worth a read. But from my standpoint at least, Mandryk largely misses the most important question for a lot of NDP members as to what a Lingenfelter victory would mean:
With dwindling hopes of NDP victory in 2011 and perhaps even less chance of mentoring the current younger New Democrats he's alienated during this leadership contest, some worry Lingenfelter will leave the 20-member NDP caucus in worse shape.

- What he needs to do to win: He must convince those who aren't already his first-ballot supporters to look past the membership embarrassment and believe that Brad Wall does have reason to fear this veteran political warrior.
Of course, it was at the start of the same profile that Mandryk made the entirely accurate point that Wall's public posturing about preferring to face Lingenfelter than other leadership contenders has to be taken with a truckload of salt. Combined with the disruption which Lingenfelter has already caused for Wall's government, there seems to be little reason for doubt that Wall has some reason for concern about facing off against Lingenfelter. And to the extent anybody thought there was any doubt that Lingenfelter would indeed offer a hard-nosed alternative to Wall, he's made that clear throughout the leadership race.

The more important question, though, it what kind of party Lingenfelter would end up leading into that battle. And throughout the leadership contest, the main concern I've heard surrounding "younger New Democrats" outside Link's camp hasn't been that they'd choose not to be mentored by him, but instead that they'd be marginalized within the party in favour of those who demonstrated earlier loyalty to Lingenfelter. (And it may be a similar line of thinking that explains Mandryk's observation about left-leaning unions and other groups who have joined Lingenfelter's camp: the motivation could easily be far less one of ideological affinity than a perception that they need to be at the front of the line for the front-runner's attention.)

In that respect, the major question for Lingenfelter over the next week or so isn't whether he'll be tough on Wall, but whether he'll demonstrate his willingness to listen to and work with the other leadership camps - regardless of how the leadership race turns out.

If he puts forward that message, then there will be every reason for optimism that the convention can be followed up in short order by an effort to bring together the best of what all the leadership camps have had to offer. But if Lingenfelter and his camp instead push party members need to declare that they're either with him or against him - or worse yet, lapse back into Lingenfelter's occasional position that the other candidates' presence in the leadership race doesn't matter - then it can't come as much surprise if his campaign controversies drive a large number of members to decide they need to oppose Lingenfelter in the interest of the broader party.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Musical interlude

Wild Strawberries - Trampoline

Photo finishing

A couple of followup notes on the Dwain Lingenfelter photo story from last night.

First, the Lingenfelter campaign's response may raise more questions than it answers:
A First Nations chief is upset that his picture has appeared on the online social network Facebook as a supporter of Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidate Dwain Lingenfelter.

Wally Burns, chief of the James Smith Cree Nation, told CBC News on Wednesday he recently discovered his image in an online photo album associated with Lingenfelter's campaign.
Burns said he is not a Lingenfelter supporter. He told CBC News that Lingenfelter simply asked to have a picture taken with chiefs at a recent gathering of the Prince Albert Grand Council.
The online album page has since been altered. By Thursday afternoon the site did not contain any photographs of Lingenfelter alongside any chiefs from the Prince Albert area.
Now, I may be missing some compelling reason why a concern from Burns in particular would result in Lingenfelter's campaign removing photos of all "chiefs from the Prince Albert area" based simply on their attending the same gathering as Burns. But it would seem to me that the more logical response would be either to deal with Burns' photo alone or to take a more general look at all claimed supporters in the album - rather than drawing a seemingly arbitrary line at First Nations leaders only from one area of the province.

Meanwhile, if the Lingenfelter campaign does bother going through and double-check whether it's accurate in its claimed support, this would figure to be one of the first to come under question. And it's worth wondering whether Lingenfelter's claim to a picture with Lorne Calvert as an endorsement might lead Calvert to be less constrained by any custom about not affecting the outcome of the race.

(H/t to a reader on the Calvert photo.)


For the most part, the Sask Party cabinet shuffle looks to be mostly a matter of a government shuffling deck chairs for lack of anything useful to do. But there's one change which does look to be highly significant.

In Brad Wall's first cabinet, Lyle Stewart was entrusted with the job of overseeing the Wall government's top apparent priority (the establishment of Enterprise Saskatchewan). And in that role, he was also one of the regular points of contact between the Sask Party and Bruce Power on nuclear development issues while also holding responsibility for the Uranium Development Partnership.

Now, by now removing Stewart from cabinet entirely, Wall has sent the message that he (a) doesn't see Stewart as deserving of a continued place in cabinet, and (b) doesn't want Stewart having to answer opposition questions about what's happened to date as the Sask Party's nuclear strongarming continues. But while the shuffle will surely be used as an excuse for the new cabinet to claim ignorance while rushing through an approval process, it should also signal that Wall himself doesn't apparently have confidence in how the issue has been handled so far - giving the province even less reason to give the Sask Party the benefit of any doubt.

On red ink

Just in case we need another reminder as to how Deficit Jim Flaherty earned his name, today's report that the Cons officially drove Canada into the red for the 2008-2009 fiscal year is worth highlighting.

And that goes doubly since today's report means that the Cons' deficit is confirmed in a year:
- where the Cons spent more than half of the fiscal year claiming that neither a recession nor a deficit was possible;
- where the Cons enjoyed a $4 billion windfall in the form of a spectrum rights auction; and
- where the Cons didn't put a dime into new economic stimulus even after they couldn't deny the existence of a recession any longer.

Of course, it may be true that there's relatively little point in blaming Flaherty personally when he enjoys approximately the same freedom of action as a sock puppet. But that only highlights the fact that Stephen Harper and every Con (and Lib) supporting his continued mismanagement deserve to be held accountable - and hopefully it won't be long before the opportunity arises to make that happen.

On lectures

Shorter Ian Brodie:

When trying to figure out what type of political party is most responsible with public money, the first place one should look is a focus group. Followed, of course, by anywhere else other than financial statements or factual data.

On shortcomings

Needless to say, I'll be interested to see what Murray Mandryk has to say in the rest of his series profiling the Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidates. But it's interesting to note that at least part of his analysis of Deb Higgins as a candidate seems to me to be lacking in foundation (even if it matches a message from a push-poll):
It may seem poor form to bring up a candidate's education or relative intellect, but that hasn't stopped some in the NDP ranks from doing just that. Rumours of push polls (a polling question framed in a negative or possible untrue context) asking members if they would be less willing to vote for Higgins if they were aware of her lack of education are rampant in NDP ranks. Certainly, it's an issue Higgins has had to address at leadership forums.

Of course, education (the former Safeway cashier has little post-secondary education) is not always a prerequisite to leadership, but even during her cabinet tenure (Remember her struggle selling the ill-conceived available-hours legislation for part-time workers?) she struggled to demonstrate her intellectual cache.
Now, one can argue that the push poll gives Mandryk some license to discuss whatever supposed questions there might be about education or intellectual heft. (Though it's certainly to nobody's credit that the race is being defined to any meaningful degree by such negative tactics.)

Even if one assumes that the issue is worth discussing, though, surely it needs to be analyzed in the context of what party members have actually seen during the course of the leadership campaign. And as I've noted before, Higgins' performance at the debates themselves has been at least on par with her competitors when it comes to command of policy. Which makes it odd that Mandryk spreads an "intellectual shortcomings" meme based on rumours and organizational issues rather than assessing at all whether they have any basis in reality.

Of course, there are indeed questions about Higgins' campaign choices - which is where she seems to me to run into the most trouble. But there's a massive difference between a perfectly intelligent candidate proceeding with undue caution, and somebody who lacks the underlying intellect to serve as a credible candidate in the first place. And the contrast between Higgins' strong performance when she's in the same room as her competitors and her otherwise bland campaign seems to me a strong indication as to which one actually applies.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Claim your image

CBC reports on the latest head-scratcher from the Lingenfelter campaign, which has been forced to remove photos which had been placed in its "Support for Dwain" album without anybody apparently asking whether the subjects actually supported Lingenfelter.

But while at least some photos have been removed, it's worth noting that Lingenfelter's "support" photo albums still include plenty of shots which presumably don't reflect individual backing (remarkably including some crowd shots from the leadership debates). So now might be a good time to see if you're being claimed among Lingenfelter's supporters.

On recall

Apparently the Conference Board of Canada can be shamed into withdrawing a report if it gets enough attention for shoddy work. So who wants to see if it's too late to take another look at its work on TILMA?

Continued emissions

Your Conservative government: proudly unveiling greenhouse gas emission regulations "next year" since 2006.

The takeaway line

The Prince Albert Daily Herald reports on the ongoing nuclear power debate - this time as set out by Jim Harding and Chary Rangacharyulu. But the most important point to be drawn from the discussion is one which doesn't appear to be in dispute:
Both men seemed to agree that if citizens took energy conservation as seriously as society claims to at times, nuclear power wouldn't even be on the table.
Which raises obvious questions as to why anybody should pretend - as the Wall government seems so determined to assume - that a nuclear reactor should be seen as the default choice rather than a concerted effort to avoid wasteful consumption in the first place. And the fact that the Sask Party is trying to strongarm the province into a megaproject rather than asking whether it's actually needed should send an obvious signal as to whose interests are ultimately being put first.

Inconvenient truths

Somebody went and looked at the evidence rather than taking the usual trumped-up claims about Canadians buying health care in the U.S. for granted. And those looking for excuses to gut Canada's public health care system aren't going to like the results:
This study was undertaken to quantify the nature and extent of use by Canadians of medical services provided in the United States. It is frequently claimed, by critics of single-payer public health insurance on both sides of the border, that such use is large and that it reflects Canadian patients’ dissatisfaction with their inadequate health care system. All of the evidence we have, however, indicates that the anecdotal reports of Medicare refugees from Canada are not the tip of a southbound iceberg but a small number of scattered cubes. The cross-border flow of care-seeking patients appears to be very small.

Our telephone survey of likely U.S. providers of wait-listed services such as advanced imaging and eye procedures strongly suggested that very few Canadians sought care for these services south of the border. Relative to the large volume of these procedures provided to Canadians within adjacent provinces, the numbers are almost indetectable. Hospital administrative data from states bordering Canadian population centers reinforce this picture. State inpatient discharge data show that most Canadian admissions to these hospitals were unrelated to waiting time or to leading-edge-technology scenarios commonly associated with cross-border care-seeking arguments. The vast majority of services provided to Canadians were emergency or urgent care, presumably coincidental with travel to the United States for other purposes. They were clearly unrelated either to advanced technologies or to waiting times north of the border.
H/t to Paul Krugman, who also notes that the real southern flow of patients seeking care they can't get at home is from Americans seeking lower-cost care in Mexico.

(Edit: fixed link.)

Following up

While there continues to be surprisingly little headline news about the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, there have been a couple of interesting developments from what I've discussed in earlier posts.

First, I noted last week that at the time, Ryan Meili's endorsement page was the only one to feature comments from individuals who couldn't easily be classified as prominent Saskatchewan NDPers.

In the time since then, Dwain Lingenfelter's range of listed endorsements has been expanded to include a broader range of party members, including Jason Miller, Kent Lindgren, and the McGrath family (whose support was already fairly apparent in the fund-raising numbers). Which is definitely a positive sign in sending the message that it isn't just unions and current or former MLAs whose views should be taken into account.

That said, though, it's worth noting that the new Lingenfelter endorsements are generally no less clinical than the earlier ones (or other recent ones from former MLAs). And that still makes for a contrast with Meili's endorsements which tend to reproduce the endorsers' own voices rather than consisting of press-release-speak.

Second, the leadership donation numbers for May 20 have undergone yet another revision. The only apparent difference is the correction of one donation to Meili, as what was originally listed (and discussed here) as a $5,000 donation from Breanna Davis was in fact only $500. That revision apparently doesn't affect the overall total disclosed by Meili shortly after the party donation lists were released.

The reviews are in

Lawrence Martin:
The opposition is getting pointed. The surplus Mr. Flaherty forecast last fall has, as of this week, turned into a projected $50-billion deficit. In the annals of Finance Department flip-flops, hairpin turns and staggering reversals, nothing quite compares.

The last time this country spilled this much red ink was in 1993, when the deficit reached $42-billion. It had taken the better part of two decades to get it jacked that high. Under these Tories, it has happened in the space of months.
What grates, however, is what the Conservatives did to get us here. Even by modern standards of cynicism, the degree to which sound public policy was sacrificed at the altar of crass, exploitative politics has been something to behold.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On needing to raise taxes

Devin and Greg, among others, have already commented on Stephen Harper's "need to raise taxes" soundbite and the likely aftermath. But it's worth pointing out that the Libs' response could have two radically different outcomes.

On the one hand, the Cons may conclude that Harper's statement leaves them with a far more difficult task in trying to use "raise taxes" messages against Michael Ignatieff. From there, their logical next step would be to turn to the next on their list of talking points ("no plan", I presume?) as their core message in branding Ignatieff. Which would seem to at least push federal-level debates toward topics less likely to affect what gets done in the future.

But it seems at least as likely that the Cons will barrel ahead with their current messaging in hopes that the theme sticks to Ignatieff more than it does to Harper. And if - as seems to be the case - the Libs respond by making exactly the same bet in reverse, then the combined effect of two parties harping mindlessly about how the mere contemplation of tax increases is an unforgivable sin for the competing party's leader figures to only further narrow the range of policy options needed to turn Canada's financial picture around once the recession is over with.

Of course, we've already seen how that type of situation can change in a hurry, as the 2008 campaign consensus that nobody would consider a deficit under any circumstances was overtaken by reality. But unlike a balance-sheet shift which happened due to outside forces as well as the Cons' own policy, future tax increases (however necessary they may be to get $50 Billion Deficit Jim's sea of red ink back under control) would actually require some active steps from the government of the day. And the more time Ignatieff and Harper spend now blathering that raising taxes at any point and for any reason would be the end of the world, the more difficult it will be for either to act even remotely responsibly later.

Hot potato

The RCMP has provided its first response to the Lingenfelter membership controversy. But it's hard to see how the RCMP's position makes much sense as a means of doing anything but throwing responsibility for followup elsewhere:
Sargeant Carole Raymond maintains in order for the matter to move forward a complaint is needed.

"We would want someone who would come forward with a complaint and with evidence and we would look at it at that point. There are numerous other complaints and matters and criminal acts that we don't need to have someone come forward but in this case we would need supporting evidence in a complaint.

Raymond insists the decision isn't because this matter is of a political nature.

But she states the political arena is often surrounded by rumours and innuendo and a complaint needs to be backed up with facts, dates and other supporting evidence in order to be investigated.
Now, it's certainly understandable that the RCMP would be hesitant to initiate an investigation in the political arena if there were some real concern as to whether any evidence existed at all. But not only has the membership controversy been subject to an investigation and public report, the NDP has made clear that the evidence which seems most significant - i.e. the membership forms involved - is available to be turned over at any time. So the real issue clearly isn't anything to do with an absence of "supporting evidence".

Instead, the RCMP is apparently looking to avoid deciding one way or another as to whether the issue merits further investigation by saying that a precondition to any decision hasn't been met. But while that may seem like the path of least resistance for the moment, it seems likely only to guarantee that some "complaints" get put forward later - forcing the RCMP to make exactly the same choice which it's trying to avoid for now. And it's hard to see who other than those looking to drag out the issue can stand to benefit from that outcome.

Conventional wisdom

While the leadership race will naturally make for the most-discussed part of the Saskatchewan NDP's convention next month, there's plenty more on the agenda as well. So let's note a couple of other points worth watching.

First, the policy resolutions (warning: PDF) to be discussed include more than a few which figure to be part of NDP discussions for the future. Alongside competing resolutions as to what to do about the nuclear industry, NDP delegates will be discussing a province-wide public transportation strategy, anti-discrimination provisions for gender identity and gender expression, a guaranteed income plan, public access to greater amounts of medical information, and outright dropping property tax funding for education.

Second, the leadership race isn't the only election being held at the convention, as the leadership vote on Saturday will be followed by executive votes on Sunday. And it'll be interesting to see both which leadership campaigns will have their own preferred candidates ready to serve on the executive, and whether the delegates who vote on those positions will have a different take on the party's direction than the members voting for the leadership.

On loopholes

Impolitical is right to criticize Steven Fletcher's over-the-top response to Senator Dennis Dawson's bill to make pre-election advertising fall under a party's election expense limit if it takes place within three months of the drop of the writ.

But there's a grain of truth to at least part of Fletcher's complaint. Any system where one or more political parties can change the effect of another party's actions after the fact would seem to be ripe for abuse. And that would be exactly the situation if an election call (whether due to a government seeking dissolution or opposition parties voting it down) can change how advertising purchased months earlier affects a party's ability to plan for an election.

Fortunately, though, there's an easy fix: eliminate the time limit altogether, such that all advertising expenses by a political party are considered part of its expenses for the next election campaign.

On its face, that might seem likely to prevent between-election advertising. But in practice, it could easily have just the opposite effect.

Since advertising would be subject to exactly the same rules - including election rebates - regardless of when it's incurred, the question for political parties would be when they're best off using a fixed amount of capacity to advertise. And it seems entirely plausible that a party could get more value purchasing advertising at a time when it can frame its own desired message without too much competition with an eye toward influencing the direction of a campaign well in advance, rather than forming only one part of the usual election-period bombardment.

Moreover, counting all advertising under election spending limits might even reduce the stigma of advertising outside of an election campaign. Rather than being seen as an unnecessary and unusual intrusion, any ads between elections could be perceived as a down payment which reduces the amount of advertising people will be subjected to during the next election campaign.

Either way, the parties involved would know in advance exactly how their spending between elections would affect their ability to advertise during the election campaign. Which would serve to put everybody on an equal footing, rather than creating a new set of bizarre incentives for parties to try to trap each others' pre-election advertising under an election spending limit.

In sum, rather than opening up a new set of loopholes through an artificial time provision, Dawson and the Libs would be well served to close the loop by making all party advertising subject to the same rules and incentives.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On party development

Following up on this morning's post, let's note what the outside consultation on (and support for) Ryan Meili's recently-announced policies may say within the stages of a political party's development (which I recall reading several times from either Andrew Steele or Robert Silver in posts which have apparently been wiped out in the Globe and Mail's recent site renovation).

As I've mentioned before, Dwain Lingenfelter's campaign seems to have been planned from the beginning as an opposition movement. And there isn't much doubt that Lingenfelter's leadership campaign has been the most focused on putting forward the image of a forceful leader of the opposition.

But as I recall the stages, there's another step up from merely being the main opposition: namely, presenting one's party as a government-in-waiting. That seems to be exactly the image that Meili is offering by taking steps toward outside approval for his policies - and it figures to be an appealing one for a party which surely doesn't intend to be limited to opposition for long.

A modest proposal

For unexplained reasons, one of the main talking points from the pro-nuclear side in Saskatchewan has involved the amount of nuclear waste generated by nuclear reactors - with the claim being that the amount of waste generated to date "can be stored in an area the size of football field one metre deep".

But then, football fields have appeared elsewhere in recent Regina news - with the current assumption being that someone needs to foot a significant part of the bill for a new stadium based on the amounts the city, province and 'Riders are each willing to put in.

Which would seem to make for an ideal fit with where the Wall government is headed on the nuclear file. After all, according to the Sask Party's Uranium Development Partnership, the province should be eager to encourage any community willing to take on the risk of nuclear waste disposal in order to pick up an anticipated cash investment from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization. And given how gung-ho Fiacco is about a stadium, Regina looks to be as likely a candidate as any to take up the offer.

So let's see if we can't tie the stories together with a creative suggestion: why not store nuclear waste underneath a brand-new NukeDome as part of Regina's downtown revitalization effort?

Sure, the nay-sayers will probably say "nay" - due to such trifles as Regina not falling into the geographic formations best suited for waste storage, or the sheer lunacy of endangering a major population centre with a type of storage which hasn't been done before in Canada.

But as long as we're being asked to take for granted that nuclear development is risk-free, those types of considerations should be easily outweighed by a shiny new bauble. And if the stadium can promote the 'Riders' colours with an eerie green glow, then so much the better.

On validation

With the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race nearing its conclusion - and with at least three of the camps making regular media appearances as a result - I've fallen out of the habit of trying to document every endorsement or policy announcement. But it's worth noting one fairly striking pattern that's emerged in the policy releases from the respective camps.

For both Dwain Lingenfelter and Yens Pedersen, policy announcements have consisted entirely of a statement of the candidate's position. Lingenfelter has released more detailed written policy statements which sometimes feature examples from abroad or Saskatchewan's history (along with liberal doses of criticism of the Wall government), while Pedersen has mostly worked through news conferences where he's looked to inject a soundbite or two into the public consciousness on his preferred issues. But neither has given any indication of third-party endorsements for their plans.

Meanwhile, as I've noted before, Deb Higgins' policies tend to be ones which find outside validation either in their current use elsewhere, or in previous reports within the Saskatchewan NDP such as Warren McCall's on post-secondary education and Peter Prebble's on the environment.

In contrast, Ryan Meili's last few announcements have included an added feature. Rather than merely announcing his SaskPharm idea on its own, Meili's press release also featured direct endorsements of the policy itself from two Saskatchewan professors, including former Deputy Minister to the Premier and Executive Director of the Romanow Commission Dr. Greg Marchildon. Likewise, the launch of his rural and agricultural policy featured Nettie Wiebe endorsing not only Meili personally, but his plan as well. (And even his news release on the use of social networking - though not related to a specific policy - was paired with a statement from an Alberta political scientist praising Meili's strategy.)

Based on that trend, Meili's campaign seems to have taken a subtle but important step past any of his competitors. And notwithstanding Meili's talk about evidence-based policy, it's not one that I would necessarily have seen coming from a candidate whose first, second and third priority throughout the campaign has simply been to get his name known.

But apparently Meili has found time to work some successful outside policy consultation into his agenda. Which means that while all of the candidates have put forward a set of ideas and argued in favour of them throughout the campaign, Meili looks to be the only one actively consulting outside experts about his policies - and is apparently receiving a positive response in the process. And that in turn both signals his commitment to seeing the policies through to implementation, and gives him a potential head start in actually doing so.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Deep thought

If the International Intellectual Property Alliance really wants to prove its dedication to defending copyrights, we should expect a claim against the Conference Board of Canada any day now.

Shooting blanks

It's no great surprise that Garry Breitkreuz' gun registry bill now looks to be a thing of the past. But what's more surprising is how that came to be - as rather than forcing the other parties in Parliament to vote and down, Breitkreuz (presumably under orders from the Cons) decided not to show up when given the opportunity to advance it:
Garry Breitkreuz, who represents a riding in rural Saskatchewan, had introduced a private member's bill in the House of Commons aimed at scrapping the controversial registry and the bill was to be debated in the House of Commons Monday morning. But Mr. Breitkreuz failed to show up for the debate and, according to rules of procedure in the House, that meant his private member's bill now falls to the bottom of the priority list. MPs have introduced more than 190 private member's bills and must count on a lottery system to have their bill advanced.
Mr. Breitkreuz was not available for comment but an aide said that he allowed his bill, C-301, to die in favour of a similar bill, C-391, put forward by Manitoba Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner.
As recently as March 21, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a speech to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, was urging supporters of Breitkreuz's bill to pressure their MPs to get behind that bill.
Now, I've been critical of the opposition parties before for not looking to put the gun registry behind them. But with Breitkreuz' move, it looks like the Cons have managed to fritter away much of the advantage they could possibly have held on the issue.

After all, Breitkeuz has staked much of his political reputation on his supposed commitment to abolishing the registry. But by abandoning his own bill on the subject - actually failing to show up to speak to it, rather than at least doing everything in his power to push it forward and letting the opposition parties vote it down - he's leaving the door wide open for opponents to slam him as failing to stand up for either his beliefs or his constituents. Which is an extremely surprising step for a party which has otherwise been obsessed with not showing weakness, and which figures to be relying heavily on Breitkreuz' fans for fund-raising purposes.

Meanwhile, the Hoeppner bill doesn't appear likely to help either Breitkreuz or his party to regain any lost ground. Based on the opposition parties' position, the new bill won't have any greater likelihood of becoming law than Breitkreuz'. And by putting their support behind that effort as well as the Senate bill which they're happily leaving at a standstill, the Cons figure to undo whatever pretense of moderation they could otherwise have won by stopping the progress of C-301.

Now, it could be that the Cons have some strategy to at least neutralize the obvious damage done to their ability to keep pretending that they're doing all they can (or indeed anything) to act on what was once one of the core issues behind Reform's rise. But it's hard to see how the Cons plan on finessing their way out of some serious discontent - and Breitkreuz may not be the only rural MP whose future looks a lot more cloudy as a result.

On revised estimates

Sure, it might seem to be an embarrassment for the Cons' press conference today to offer nothing more than a more optimistic guess as to how many laid-off workers they'll reach with previously-announced funding. But just think how silly the opposition parties will look when the Cons are able to boldly declare that their slow trickle of stimulus funding will create INFINITY SQUARED PLUS ONE! new jobs.

Indicators of support

Writing about the Ontario PC leadership race, Calgary Grit offers up an interesting idea in measuring leadership race outcomes:
Those who have followed this blog since the days of Bart Ramson will remember I did first ballot projections back during the 2006 Liberal leadership race, and hit fairly close to the mark. Back in the fall, when I thought we'd have an actual Liberal leadership race again, I dug up the old projections in an effort to tweak the formula, and found that the total number of donors was the best indication of first ballot support - ahead of things like total dollars raised, MP endorsements, ex-officio support, or media attention. Obviously the dynamics of this abbreviated PC race are different, but this isn't a good sign for Tim (Hudak).
From that starting point, let's take a look at the current Saskatchewan donation lists. The number of total listed donors so far is as follows (counting those who donated to more than one campaign as listed here):

Dwain Lingenfelter: 60
Ryan Meili: 20
Deb Higgins: 13
Yens Pedersen: 10

Those party-reported numbers are limited to donations of $250 and up. But we also have some additional information from Ryan Meili's camp about his total number of donors of all amounts:
As of May 21, 2009, the Meili campaign has raised a total of $36,858.36. This includes $34,988.00 from 172 individual donors as well as $1,870.36 in cash raised in financial appeals at Meili campaign events. These figures include the $22,315.00 previously reported in donations of $250 or more.
Of course, none of the other candidates has reported the number of individual donations received. So that measure can't be used directly to compare the candidates' relative levels of support - at least, unless the other candidates decide to follow Meili's lead.

But from Meili's total, it appears clear that a lot more people are donating under the radar than offering up amounts that get caught by the campaign disclosure requirements. Which means that to extent the total number of individual donations may actually serve as the best indicators of success, the currently-listed numbers tell only a small part of the story.

Moreover, the theory makes Meili's money bomb strategy look particularly well-placed to build up another easily-reported show of support before the end of the month. While the other campaigns have been less direct in seeking individual donations, Meili's public call for support would figure to improve what already looks to be a fairly strong position in the number of individual members with a stake in his campaign. Which may be just what Meili needs to put up the first-ballot performance he'll need to emerge on top in the end.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Leadership 2009 Week in Review - May 24

I've noted in several previous posts that in my view, a candidate's endorsements will tend to have a diminishing rate of return. The first few well-known figures to back a challenger may have a substantial impact on momentum, while somebody with exactly the same position or name recognition within a party probably won't be seen as changing much by becoming only one of many endorsers for a particular candidate. But this week in the Saskatchewan NDP race may serve as a vivid illustration of one of the exceptions to that rule.

For the previous couple of weeks, Dwain Lingenfelter's campaign had been on the defensive due to the membership controversy. But among the other questions raised was a question of support for his campaign: while earlier supporters probably wouldn't jump ship as long as Lingenfelter stayed in the race, would the incident cause others to hesitate to join?

Based on Lingenfelter's new endorsements this week, including MLA Sandra Morin, former MLA Doreen Hamilton, former MP Lorne Nystrom among others, that doesn't figure to be much of a concern. Indeed, there's little room for doubt that the membership controversy has fallen short of derailing the institutional support that Lingenfelter figured to enjoy going into the convention. And with the Internet and telephone voting period set to start this week and the convention looming just a couple of weeks down the road, any span of time where Lingenfelter isn't obviously losing ground figures to improve his chances of coming out ahead.

This week, Ryan Meili is likely the only challenger who can claim any particular positive development, as he's benefited from media commentary joining in on the view that he's the closest competitor to Lingenfelter. But that will only be enough for Meili to tread water as long as the other two candidates' position is deteriorating, as Meili's path to victory is still largely predicated on Higgins and Pedersen holding enough early support to hold Lingenfelter short of a first-ballot win.

So where does that leave the race, again based on nothing more than my personal guess as to the numbers involved?

Candidate 1st Ballot Win Final Ballot Final Ballot Win 4th on 1st Total Win
Dwain Lingenfelter 44 (38) 42 (43) 9 (10) 0 (1) 53 (48)
Ryan Meili 2 (3) 36 (34) 24 (23) 4 (6) 26 (26)
Deb Higgins 0 (2) 25 (29) 19 (22) 4 (3) 19 (24)
Yens Pedersen 0 (0) 5 (8) 2 (2) 46 (47) 2 (2)

On trends

It's been awhile since I've updated the Facebook support trends in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, largely since Jason had taken on the task for awhile at least in tracking the two top numbers. But now that he's just starting an extended series of posts headed in another direction on the race, let's take a look at where the candidates now stand compared to where they were a month ago and in Jason's last update:

Dwain Lingenfelter - 665 fans (639 as of April 25; 660 as of May 5)
Ryan Meili - 487 supporters (404 as of April 25; 434 as of May 5)
Yens Pedersen Campaign - 242 members (227 as of April 25)
Deb Higgins for Sask NDP Leader - 94 members (96 as of April 25)

It's worth noting that within the one-month time period, there have been a couple of individual trends which may not be obvious from the above. For a time, Yens Pedersen's numbers had actually dropped into the low 220s, but he's built some momentum back up over the last couple of weeks. In contrast, Dwain Lingenfelter's total has ranged up to 667 before dropping slightly over the last week.

Aside from already-announced endorsements, there don't seem to be too many household names among the new supporters. About the most significant may be the appearance of federal NDP strategist Brian Topp among Lingenfelter's fans, representing another well-known link back to the Romanow years; and prominent union lawyer Larry Kowalchuk in Meili's supporter list, which could signal a bridge between Meili and organized labour which hasn't otherwise been apparent.

As always, the Facebook indicators need to be taken with a heavy grain of salt. But it's interesting to note that the two veteran politicians who would seem to have had more left to learn about social networking have seen their results flatline throughout May, while Meili and Pedersen have both kept building up their list of supporters. And particularly with Meili narrowing the gap on Lingenfelter, it's worth wondering to what extent the Facebook numbers might reflect the state of the race in general.

Worth discussing

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about one effort to bring broad discussions of a social democratic vision for Saskatchewan to the forefront of the NDP leadership race. And with the campaign having taken a seeming turn toward finger-pointing over the last week or so, it's worth taking a moment to bring the conversation back toward a more positive direction.

So of the 48 more targeted questions raised in the Sowing the Seeds document, I'll highlight 10 which seem to me to particularly deserve some attention in the rest of the leadership race and beyond:
A. Governance and Citizenship

2. How can government be less partisan, more inclusive, open-minded, and reflective? How can long-range thinking be reconciled with short-term political imperatives and the realities of electioneering?

3. How do we open governance and government to more talent, and make public service more appealing? How does government tap the expertise and wisdom of citizens and community leaders more effectively?

B. Building an Economically Coherent Platform

1. Where should revenues come from and in what proportions (personal and corporate taxation, sales tax, royalties, dividends from investments, state-owned enterprises)?

3. Where does the province have the latitude to chart its own course and where are its options constrained by external realities?

C. Food Production, Food Security, Rural Development

1. What principles should guide food production, land use policy, environmentally sustainable practices, etc.? What investments need to be made to build models, incorporate scientific knowledge, and promote innovation? How should the province situate itself in international discussions of food policy?

E. Building a Smarter Saskatchewan

6. How do (sic) support continuing and life long education among the population? Can we build on our already advanced internet infrastructure to foster an educated and engaged citizenry?

F. Health

3. How should we overhaul incentive and funding systems to encourage health care practitioners and organizations to pursue efficiencies, improve quality, and achieve goals?

G. Justice

1. How do we increase social justice in our society, promoting a sense of fairness and inclusiveness, and reducing inequities in social participation by gender, race and economic position?

H. Energy – Between Past and Future

1. How do we develop the principles for determining whether and how to exploit our energy-based natural resources? What criteria should guide decision-making?

I. The Workforce of Tomorrow

5. What can be done to create positive alternatives to adversarial labour relations and the entrenchment of an us-them mentality?
Most of these have been dealt with to some extent in at least some of the leadership candidates' platforms. And there's plenty of room to differentiate between the candidates on their stated principles and policies on some issues - not to mention to ask whether any one candidate's solution is exactly right, or whether a combination of the ideas offered up in the leadership race is needed.

Of course, there will be plenty more discussion of the camp-based view of the race to come - and I can't say I won't be following and posting on new developments in that department. But I'll encourage everybody following the race to take some time to ask and discuss questions along the lines of the above both for themselves and in conversations with other NDP supporters - lest the race be completely overtaken by the cynicism which Sowing the Seeds seeks to move beyond.