Saturday, September 19, 2009

On impact assessments

Shorter TD Economics HST analysis:

On its face, tax harmonization thoroughly screws over consumers in order to give money to business. But if one pointlessly takes into accounts goods and services not covered by the harmonization, the screwing looks much smaller. And the actual screwing decreases even more in theory once one assumes that businesses will return some of the giveaway to consumers, though the net result does indeed remain a screwing. So what's not to like?

'Rider Tidbit of the Day

It doesn't seem to have received much notice so far, but let's point out that one of the Saskatchewan Roughriders' strengths this season has been the sheer number of effective receivers. In the team's 10 games so far the 'Riders have had 7 different leading receivers, including Weston Dressler (games 1, 2 and 8), Andy Fantuz (game 3), Rob Bagg (games 4 and 6), Chris Getzlaf (game 5), Jason Clermont (game 7), Wes Cates (game 9) and Gerran Walker (game 10). And it's not out of the question that a few more names could find their way onto the list by the end of the season: Stu Foord, Hugh Charles, Jason Armstead, Johnny Quinn, Eric Morris and Adam Nicolson all have the potential to put up a high-double-digit yardage total or more given the opportunity to make some catches, and of course Matt Dominguez is still waiting in the wings.

All of which means that the 'Riders had no trouble making teams pay for playing off any of their receivers. And that only figures to make it easier for the players like Dressler, Fantuz and Cates who normally demand extra attention to find openings that the 'Riders' opponents can't afford to give them.

So now what?

The last few days have seen numerous twists and turns in the apparent course of events in the House of Commons - with the latest appearing to be a conclusion that the EI legislation which the NDP wants to work with will be held up by the Bloc. And there are still plenty of ways in which either the EI bill or other matters in Parliament could shift again to move Canada back toward the fall election which seemed inevitable just a couple of weeks ago.

But with the NDP having generally set itself up on a track to avoid an election, there's one serious question now facing the party which the Libs never bothered to answer when in a relatively similar stance. Namely, what exactly will the party be doing to improve its position while prolonging the current Parliament? Or if the NDP's goal is to avoid an election now, what's the plan to make sure that it's better placed for an election later?

I've mentioned a couple of opportunities which the NDP will presumably want to pursue. But those are dependent on at least one of the other parties in Parliament recognizing common interests and working with the NDP - and while it would be a plus if those came to fruition, it's obviously impossible to plan based on matters beyond a party's control. (Again, this is one of the lessons that the Libs never seemed to figure out.)

Of course I'll be mooting some more suggestions of my own, and I'll invite readers to do the same. But the most important answers will have to come from those within the NDP who concluded that the party's best choice was to buy time now rather than seeking to take advantage of the opportunities from a fall election: what return are we expecting to get on the investment?

Municipal roundup

The Leader-Post updates a couple more entries into Regina's council races this fall. Incumbent Fred Clipsham will jump right in to the four-candidate pileup in Ward 3, while Danny Berehula will try again in Ward 7 after losing to incumbent Sharron Bryce in 2006.

While Regina doesn't figure to suffer from any lack of competitive council races, Saskatoon is apparently lamenting the fact that over half of its incumbents currently appear to be unopposed. But it's worth noting that the Star-Phoenix isn't exactly being subtle in pointing out which candidates it wants to see elected.

While progressive candidates Sean Shaw and Derek Rope don't get either any political identifiers or policy proposals mentioned in the Star-Phoenix' coverage, right-wing candidates Carol Reynolds and Mark Horseman are actually identified as such. And what's more, Horseman receives an opportunity to complain about city spending which is then reinforced by former councillor Owen Fortosky - meaning that even non-candidates spreading a message of spending cuts are being offered more attention by the Star-Phoenix than actual candidates who actually want their municipal government to be useful.

Friday, September 18, 2009

On selective patriotism

Shorter Kelly McParland, on learning that a single U.S. administration official had proposed treating Canada similarly to Mexico in terms of border issues:

Oh noes!!! We must drop everything and run - nay, SPRINT!!! - to the nearest megaphone and shout at the top of our lungs to defend our honour on border management and security, lest the slightest inaccuracy or unfair portrayal of Canada affect U.S. policy!!!! SHRIEEEEEK!!!!

Shorter Kelly McParland on the suggestion that it might be a good idea to point out a few of the inaccuracies being spread about Canada's health care system within the U.S. health care debate:

Meh. Why should anybody care whether one of the U.S.' major political parties uses every moment available to it on airwaves which cut through both countries to fabricate conspiracy theories about our health care system? After all, it's not as if it matters what they do anyway.

(Edit: added label & fixed wording.)

Musical interlude

Watchmen - Holiday (Slow it Down)

On closed minds

Shorter corporate Saskatchewan on the province's overwhelming rejection of nuclear development through the UDP consultation process:

If the lowly general public has the nerve to disagree with what we've heard in our well-sealed echo chamber, that just proves that it isn't worth listening to.

On foolish games

Never mind Omar Alghabra, it looks like Michael Ignatieff may want to have a word with Michael Ignatieff over his political games. Ignatieff today:
Mr. Ignatieff at first told reporters Friday that he did not want to play “games” by criticizing the NDP's position, but did later poke fun at his rivals on the opposition benches.
Now, the statement that Ignatieff doesn't want to play games looks odd enough based on the quote which follows. But it looks downright ridiculous compared to Ignatieff's public position yesterday:
The Liberals have offered to speed passage of Tory EI legislation, hoping to rob the NDP of its rationale for propping up the Harper government.
"We don't want to give Mr. Layton any alibis," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.
Of course, it remains to be seen how many more "games" Ignatieff and his party continue to play by their own definition. But it should be abundantly clear that Ignatieff isn't interested in trying to do much other than dig himself down to Stephen Harper's level of complete disconnection between what he claims to aspire to and how he actually acts. And that's unlikely to be a winning angle when Canadians prepared to put up with that kind of duplicity already figure to be in Harper's camp.

The reset button

The Libs evidently think they've managed to accomplish some great feat by basing their entire Parliamentary strategy on a desire to embarrass the NDP. But the end result may be the opposite of what they're expecting.

Keep in mind that the Cons' current habit in government has been to push ahead with its agenda with absolutely no need to negotiate or take into account the policy goals of other parties. But that doesn't mean such an outcome was ever inevitable; instead, it was brought about by opposition parties (first the Bloc, then the Libs) who didn't bother trying to get any policy results in exchange for their backing.

Now, circumstances have already changed enough for the Cons to have felt a need to introduce EI improvements beyond their existing budget plans. And the Libs' effort to speed up the process of passing that set of changes may only make it easier for the NDP to get more of its priorities passed into law.

After all, there's no indication that the NDP's position that it'll need the Cons to offer reasons for any future support will change - and indeed Layton has already presented that as his bottom line.

So suppose the EI bill does pass in the next two weeks before the Libs' next scheduled confidence vote. At that point, Layton will have another opening to declare that Harper needs to give the NDP some reason to support the government.

Now, Harper could refuse to offer anything at that point. But the fact that Harper put the current EI expansion on the table suggests that he perceives some significant risk in being seen to have precipitated an election by offering absolutely nothing to a party who's willing to work within the current Parliament. So it's more likely that he'd then turn to another item on the NDP's list of policy priorities - pensions? credit card regulation? - and make a public overture to the NDP on that in order to try to get Layton's vote on the next confidence motion.

From there, I doubt the Libs would bother trying the expedited process gambit again on their own. But once it's been used once, there would seem to be little reason not to apply it to issues that cut far enough across ideological lines to be seen as desirable by both the NDP and the Cons. And as each NDP priority passes, the cycle figures to begin again - creating a new baseline expectation where the Cons have to first accommodate and eventually negotiate with the NDP to stay in power, as well as a list of concrete accomplishments the NDP can point to in the next federal election campaign.

In sum, rather than allowing the NDP twist in the wind for several months over a single EI bill, Ignatieff may instead have created the conditions for the NDP's best-case scenario under the current Parliament: a government looking to it for support, and a Parliament with no roadblocks to getting those agreed measures passed. So after two years of ensuring that their confidence votes would count for nothing, the Libs may have just set up the NDP's votes to generate the greatest possible return.

Burning question

As unseemly as it is that the Ontario government is threatening to release a "document on the negative impact of management fees for investors" as retaliation for the mutual fund industry's campaign against the HST, isn't it at least as problematic that it's withheld that information from the public in the first place?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On systemic issues

Kudos to the CCPA for its effort in putting together a comprehensive list of the Campbell government's public service cuts. But isn't it a sure sign of a broken political system that the government's own reporting is too opaque for anybody to tell what's been given the axe without that kind of effort?

(h/t to the Tyee.)

L'Affaire Jaffer

I wasn't planning to post on Rahim Jaffer's arrest initially. But now that it's given rise to a media lovefest which is eager to present him as the lone victim of his own apparent offences, I'd think there's a need to ask some serious questions about Jaffer's actual IOKIYAC treatment by the media and his potential treatment by the justice system.

Shouldn't those now going out of their way to paint Jaffer as a "decent person who was an inspiration to young political hopefuls" whose arrest was merely the result of his being "too human" also be spending at least a bit of time pointing out that Jaffer's party is doing its utmost to make sure that our justice system isn't equipped to take those kinds of factors into account in sentencing?

Of course, there's another way around that in terms of the types of charges which prosecutors may choose to pursue. And I wonder if there's a serious question on that point as well: will minimum-sentence laws premised on the claim that nobody committing a particular offence can possibly deserve to avoid jail time simply lead to the Crown choosing not to pursue the maximum charges properly applicable to "respectable" offenders like Jaffer?

On glass houses

Omar Alghabra might want to have a word with his party's leader - or vice versa. Omar Alghabra:
The EI debate: Canadians are being deprived a meaningful debate

It is almost impossible to have a meaningful debate with the Conservatives and Stephen Harper. They are more interested in one upmanship games than articulating what it is that they stand for.
Michael Ignatieff:
Although Liberals believe the EI bill "falls radically short of serious employment insurance reform," Ignatieff said they want to expedite its passage.
It appears that the Conservatives have no vision and don’t know what they believe in. They are mostly interested in humiliating their opponents rather than engage in policy debates.
The Liberals have offered to speed passage of Tory EI legislation, hoping to rob the NDP of its rationale for propping up the Harper government.
The move is clearly designed to embarrass NDP Leader Jack Layton, who has said his party will prop up the government at least until the EI reforms are implemented.

"We don't want to give Mr. Layton any alibis," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.
And in case there's any doubt, I'd fully agree with the strategy of seeking to pass the bill quickly as a means of getting help to workers. But shouldn't the Libs have at least some shame about using their criticisms of the Cons as a blueprint for their own actions?

(Edit: fixed wording and link.)

Too costly

It's definitely for the best that the overwhelming public outcry over the Sask Party's nuclear agenda has forced even Brad Wall to acknowledge some of the main problems with nuclear power. But considering that Wall still doesn't apparently see those as reasons to stop pushing ahead, there's still plenty of work to be done:
Nuclear power may be too large and too costly for a province like Saskatchewan, which needs to keep its energy options open, Premier Brad Wall said Wednesday.
In an interview before Wednesday's cabinet meeting at the legislature, Wall did not close the door on nuclear power, saying it was still on the agenda.

But while the high costs of nuclear reactor construction are nothing new, he said there are factors that have led to the increased concern over price.

Those include the cost of upgrading the province's transmission system to accommodate the large scale of a reactor, uncertainty around the ability to export the power generated and the increasing potential of electricity generation from natural gas that could remain cheap for some time to come.
"That is one of the challenges of nuclear power. . . . The cost is significant enough that it may just, on a de facto basis, rule out pursuing some of the rest of the envelope, the rest of the options, including clean coal, which is not an inexpensive technology," said Wall.

The premier said it would be a mistake for a government-owned electrical utility such as SaskPower to be reliant on a single source of power. The government envisions a mix of energy sources -- including clean coal, natural gas and renewables such as wind power -- in the province's power supply.
Needless to say, the problem with Wall's seeming recognition of the problems with nuclear power is that it's contradicted by his actions. Even ignoring the other issues which Wall downplays, there's no apparent reason to think that the actual cost of nuclear construction will drop before the end of the year when Wall wants to be able to commit Saskatchewan to reactor construction. And there's absolutely no way around the fact that the proposals floated so far would make Saskatchewan almost entirely dependent on nuclear power.

So Wall seems to have accepted all the premises behind the NDP's position that the only decision he can validly make is to nix the idea of nuclear power - while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the resulting conclusion. Which means there's reason for suspicion that he's looking for little more than excuses to falsely declare the cost issue resolved (presumably through the Sask Party's usual creative accounting) rather than actually dealing with the obvious concerns of Saskatchewan's citizens.

On reasonable expectations

It's rare for the Harper government to come up with a new form of government secrecy that they haven't yet trotted out many times before. But the Cons' response to the news that they hadn't bothered answering an e-mail from the NDP looks to have managed the feat:
For the record, the Prime Minister’s spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, responded late yesterday to a Globe and Mail story published online that morning. The story quoted New Democrat spokesman Karl Belanger saying that it was “telling” that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Guy Giorno, has yet to respond to an email sent to him several days ago by NDP Leader Jack Layton’s chief of staff, Anne McGrath.

The NDP said the email was to follow up on questions the Conservatives had raised about NDP policies during an Aug. 25 meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mr. Layton, attended by both Ms. McGrath and Mr. Giorno.

Mr. Soudas offered this response.

“Why would we reply to people who leak e-mail correspondence?” he wrote in an email.
Leaving aside the NDP's absolutely correct point that it's the Cons who have gone out of their way to leak actual private conversations, let's keep in mind what the "correspondence" actually involved: an e-mail from the NDP to the Cons, period. Which means that no information could possibly have been "leaked" from the government because...well, it didn't actually provide any information capable of being leaked in any meaningful sense of the word.

But apparently the Cons are managing to claim that their failure to respond somehow constitutes a confidential non-communication. So as far as the Cons are concerned, their government's silence on the NDP's policy proposals - or presumably any other issue - is nobody's business but their own.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Now that's responsiveness

When I suggested that the Saskatchewan NDP should work toward developing a news aggregator as part of a strategy to turn its website into a hub for news about the province, I didn't think they'd be able to put a first version online in a matter of days. So far the News and Views page includes a collection of Saskatchewan-focused blog posts and news stories from fairly familiar sources, which is itself a handy enough addition to the NDP's caucus site. But if the party is able to take the next step and start incorporating sources which don't otherwise get much online exposure, then it should be well on its way to ensuring that anybody looking for the best collection of information on Saskatchewan politics looks to the NDP first.

On possibilities

Not surprisingly given my earlier posts on NDP strategy, I'm with pogge in not seeing a lot of upside to the NDP's declaration that it will support the Cons until EI changes are passed - particularly since that announcement wasn't paired with any particular urgency to actually pass the new EI bill. But I do wonder whether the fact that the NDP signed on to vote in favour of Friday's ways and means motion - even after the Bloc had already indicated that the Con government wouldn't be toppled - might be a sign of potential or actual cooperation between the NDP and the Bloc along the lines of what I mooted earlier this year.

After all, there's been a fairly clear line drawn between the Con/Lib and NDP/Bloc groupings within the House of Commons over the past few months. Both Harper and Ignatieff have publicly declared that they have no intention of working with either of the latter two parties - which means that in order to increase their influence, both the NDP and the Bloc have a strong interest in improving the share of seats taken out of those two parties' hands. And of course the NDP and the Bloc also share a common strategy of painting the Cons and Libs as mirror images of each other.

So might the NDP's decision to give the Bloc some political cover on its vote with the Cons be a first step toward the two parties working together more often - giving them an effective voting bloc larger than the Libs in the current Parliament, with an eye toward applying joint pressure on the Cons as matters stand now and developing a governing alternative in the future?

Well said

Liberals quite frankly don't care whether the NDP votes with the Conservatives or not, in the real world. In their hearts, the NDP always votes with the Conservatives, because they, the NDP, are not Liberals. Whereas although Liberals do vote regularly with the Conservatives, that is entirely different. After all, they are Liberals. It is the difference that makes all the difference.

On poor judgment

In response to Dr. Dawg's challenge, there's one Lib blogger willing to try to defend the Cons' free trade agreement with Colombia. But this one leads to a follow-up test: try to find a word of Bionic Liberal's post which wouldn't be equally applicable as an argument in favour of expanded trade with, say, apartheid-era South Africa. (If not more so, given that the obvious problems in Canada which BL claims should disqualify us from trying to take any action to preserve human rights anywhere were actually the model for the regime which Canada boycotted.)

So the rallying cry has gone up from the Libs: "we are all Rob Anders now".

On levels of support

It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Libs, the Cons and their media buddies doing their utmost to strongarm the NDP into backing the Cons even while concern trolling about how disastrous that move would be. And there's no doubt that the NDP's response needs to be based on its own assessment of how matters stand rather than on those external forces.

But just as that means not being goaded by the taunts coming from the Cons and Libs, it also means resisting the pressure to knuckle under and offer more support than the Cons deserve for too little return. And with that in mind, here's how I'd see the path forward from this Friday's confidence vote.

In general, the NDP needs to differentiate between two different types of cooperation which current seem to be getting mixed up. Take in particular this line from CBC:
NDP Leader Jack Layton had signalled he could support the government after the Tories announced a proposal to extend employment insurance for long-tenured workers. Layton said the EI plan was a "step in the right direction."

For the EI changes to proceed, the NDP feels it would have to support the government on Friday.
Now, there might be some circumstances where the NDP should be willing to declare that a substantial enough set of policy proposals from the Cons could justify supporting the government more broadly to make sure they get implemented. If by some chance Harper were to adopt wholesale some combination of the NDP's proposals on EI, its climate change bill (with reinforcements based on the ability to pass a money bill) or pension protection, that's the point where the NDP should take a serious look at backing the Cons even on unrelated confidence votes - as the tangible gains from those specific policies would be seen to outweigh the costs of keeping the Cons in power long enough to get them passed.

But one set of EI adjustments which falls far short of the NDP's own proposals shouldn't be seen as anywhere near meeting that standard. And that in turn leads to a far different set of calculations.

The NDP should make it clear that it supports the EI bill itself (depending on its contents), and that to the extent the EI bill is seen as a confidence matter the NDP will vote in favour of it. But it should also place the onus squarely on the Cons to act responsibly enough in how they act generally to shift the NDP from its entirely justified lack of confidence in the Harper government. And that should start with a vote against the Cons on Friday to make it clear that Harper has to demonstrate he's willing to govern in a way that the NDP can support - or declare otherwise and justify that refusal to Canada's voters.

Particularly in light of Harper's recent combination of taunting and unresponsiveness, the starting point needs to be that the Cons still have everything to prove - both in being serious about passing the EI reforms which have been floated so far, and in governing responsibly enough not to be brought down while the EI bill works its way through Parliament. (That should be paired with the unanimous consent strategy on the EI bill itself, which if the Libs play along would have the added bonus of raising the expectation that the changes will happen regardless of whether or not an election happens in the meantime.)

And if as seems likely the Cons choose to force the country to the polls rather than doing their job of working with anybody in Parliament, then there can't be much room for doubt that the NDP and the country would be even worse off in the long run if Harper were allowed to keep power rather than being called out on his stubbornness.

The unhelpful truth

It isn't exactly news that after spending several years shouting from the rooftops about tax harmonization - and throwing billions of public dollars at provinces to pay them off - Deficit Jim Flaherty has suddenly gone quiet now that the resulting tax increases are proving unpopular. But it's noteworthy that the Cons themselves are apparently admitting to having told Flaherty to shut up about the HST:
In the past, Flaherty has publicly pushed provinces to harmonize their sales taxes with Ottawa's, calling the two-tier tax system a "direct burden" on businesses.

In March, he praised Ontario, saying the move would save business about $500 million in administrative costs, and noted that, in a few years, "hopefully we will have a harmonized system across Canada."

But federal Conservative sources have told the Star that earlier in the summer, officials in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office ordered Flaherty to tone it down.

"They asked Jim to stop talking about (the tax) so much because it's not helpful," said one insider.
Of course, it's worth highlighting that the PMO doesn't appear to have shown any interest in actually revisiting whether it's a good idea to spend billions of federal dollars pushing toward tax harmonization in the first place. And the fact that Harper's orders were simply to try to hide from responsibility for his government's actions rather than to do something about them should leave no room for doubt that the Cons remain fully behind the effort to shift tax burdens from businesses to individuals - no matter how much they pretend otherwise in order to deflect blame.

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk:
For however much Dan Perrins's report on the Uranium Development Partnership's (UDP) public consultation did or didn't reflect Saskatchewan's true feelings on nuclear development, one thing should be learned from this process.

Don't let Energy Minister Bill Boyd teach you how to drive.
(I)t might have been Boyd's motoring analogy that was the real car wreck Tuesday. To be begin with, a yellow light doesn't mean "proceed with caution". It means "prepare to stop". (Let us all hope and pray that Premier Brad Wall opts for the safer option of teaching his own kids to drive on the province's back roads, rather than assign the task to Boyd).

Second, even "prepare to stop" would be an exceedingly understated interpretation of the submissions delivered to Perrins that screamed at the government to slam on the brakes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On ideological attacks

Let's not be too hasty in suggesting that Scott Brison's attempt to paint a free trade agreement which rewards Colombia's anti-worker violence as a necessary bulwark against a Commie menace reflects any deeply-ingrained reactionary ideology in either of the two largest national parties. After all, I'm sure we'll be seeing Con and Lib support for a monument to the victims of totalitarian corporatism any day now...

A Sorely-Needed Math Lesson for Deficit Jim Flaherty

Since Jim Flaherty's Question Period answers on the HST suggest that he's either a bit unclear on the concepts of "raising" and "reducing" or having trouble with basic integers, let's help him out in figuring out what his government has done for the citizens of B.C. and Ontario.

7% (GST starting point) - 2% (GST cuts) + 7% (increase as PST-exempt goods are harmonized) = 12%. 7% < 12%. Therefore, sales taxes in British Columbia have been raised, not reduced, on goods and services subject to harmonization.

7% (GST starting point) - 2% (GST cuts) + 8% (increase as PST-exempt goods are harmonized) = 13%. 7% < 13%. Therefore, sales taxes in Ontario have been raised, not reduced, on goods and services subject to harmonization.

And since Deficit Jim was the one who paid off the provinces to carry out the increase linked to harmonization, that would make his a "party that raises taxes".

Hopefully this at least gives Flaherty a slightly better idea how numbers work. But one would think it might have been a good idea to start learning sooner than three and a half years into his stay as federal Finance Minister.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Hate to spoil a good fabrication, but...

...for all the attempts from the Libs to project two years of mostly-suppressed self-loathing onto another party, the NDP's message still makes far more sense in terms of laying responsibility for an election with the Cons than as a sign of any shift in the likelihood of actually getting there. And it'll be particularly happy to be able to link Harper's refusal to even discuss whether there's any way to salvage some positive results from the current Parliament with Ignatieff's message that cooperation is beneath him.

The Harper/Ignatieff Sales Tax

So Michael Ignatieff has made it official: even as his party tries to capitalize off public frustration with the nicely-branded Harper Sales Tax, he has every intention of doing exactly the same thing as long as he gets to put his name on it. Which should leave no room for doubt that for all the Libs' insincere bluster, it's the NDP alone which doesn't want to use federal money to pay British Columbia and Ontario to increase taxes on their citizens.

Sask Party Plans to Run a Red Light

Bill Boyd desperately wants to pretend that Dan Perrins' report on public opinions about uranium development in Saskatchewan was anything but a clear repudiation of the Wall government's determination to build a nuke-dependent Saskatchewan:
"When I look at this report, it's neither a green light nor a red light for future uranium development," said Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd in a news release.

"It's more like a yellow light — take any next steps with caution. Saskatchewan people are saying — take your time, get it right, consider all the options. I think that's wise counsel."
So what kind of language does Boyd consider to be an instruction to keep forcing nuclear development on the province? Let's take a look at some highlights from the report...
Theme 1: Opposition to Nuclear Power Generation
Overall, while there is some support for nuclear power generation, the overwhelming response to this public consultation was that nuclear power generation should not be a choice for Saskatchewan, whether it is intended to serve the needs of Saskatchewan people only, or for a combination of Saskatchewan people and other provinces or states.
Now, it may be worth following up to determine whether Boyd was sheltered from the actual outcome of the consultations in order to be able to make that kind of statement with a straight face. But it's hard to see how a document that explicitly says the overwhelming response wants to rule out nuclear development can be taken as evidence that it should be pursued by anybody who isn't either utterly clueless, or determinedly dishonest.

What about the other pieces of the Wall government's nuclear agenda? The other live issue is Wall's proposal to slap up a reactor to produce nuclear isotopes - but that too was rejected by a wide margin as citizens pointed out that isotopes can be generated through other means:
Most people were opposed to uranium research, development, and training. They pointed to opportunities in alternative energies, to the desire to avoid non-green technologies including uranium, and to the costs of doing research (including opportunity costs) in this field.

People were interested in the topic of medical isotopes and expressed a need for more information on isotope production and use. Responses were divided on this issue. In fact, many people who expressed support for the production of medical isotopes stipulated it should occur without the use of nuclear fission.
In fact, exactly twice as many respondents expressed support for producing isotopes by means other than fission than for producing isotopes generally (a margin of 54-27) - reflecting the greater number of opponents than supporters on the "research/isotope" section in general.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is Perrins' chart of the common themes within submissions received (page 32 of the report). Of the 2,263 submissions, well over 60% (1401 in total) set out opposition to nuclear power [see update below], with the next most common themes being concern about health, safety and the environment; opposition to nuclear waste storage; concern about the costs of uranium development; support for renewal energy sources; concern about the UDP report itself; and opposition to mining and exploration.

That was the last theme listed with the total number of mentions at 519. But Perrins' text includes nine more themes presumably based on the same type of ranking process, and none of those were actually supportive of nuclear development either.

That's particularly noteworthy in light of the best efforts of the business community to hijack the process before throwing a tantrum over the fact that people were actually being heard. Indeed, I'm surprised that there wasn't enough of an astroturfing effort to at least push some nuclear propaganda into the top 16 messages taken from the consultation process.

But in the final result, it's hard to imagine the consultation process producing a more clear signal to the Sask Party that they need to stop trying to foist the nuclear industry on Saskatchewan. And the fact that they're so blatantly ignoring what Saskatchewan's citizens have had to say should speak volumes as to how likely they are to "get it right" given any opening to pursue their nuclear agenda.

Update/correction: On further review, I note that the numbers listed within each theme in Perrins' summary don't necessarily fit the heading: for example, the 1,401 listed under "opposition to nuclear power" actually include submissions in favour of nuclear power. But the strength of opposition to nuclear power is even more striking when that breakdown (84%-14% within the 1,401) is taken into consideration: an absolute majority of all submissions made stated their opposition to nuclear power, while a paltry 8% offered support for it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On self-destruction

My first reaction to Michael Ignatieff's declaration that meetings with other party leaders are beneath him was to look at the event as an unforced error. But on further reflection, that's probably a serious understatement: instead, this is roughly the equivalent of Ignatieff rearing back, taking a mighty but ill-aimed swing, and knocking himself unconscious with his own racket while a set point sails merrily past him.

After all, one of the weaknesses which the Cons have tried to attach to Ignatieff has been an inflated ego coupled with a detachment from the reality facing most Canadians. Needless to say, that reputation will only be bolstered by his becoming probably the first Canadian political leader ever to declare that he has no intention of working with his peers. (Even Harper has regularly met with the opposition leaders - if only for show before he goes about doing what he planned to do anyway.)

And the image will only get worse when it's applied to more specific situations. The Bloc in particular has to be gleeful about sending the message that Ignatieff has publicly ruled out listening to Quebec (or at least the majority of the province's ridings that it represents) - and the NDP too figures to have some opportunity to pull votes from the Libs by pointing out a need to force Ignatieff to listen when he doesn't plan to do so if he can avoid it.

But then, Ignatieff can't exactly afford to backtrack from the statement either. However ill-advised it's been for him to make coalition-bashing into his preferred hobby, he'll only undermine his own credibility on that point if he backtracks from his current statement of unwillingness to work with the NDP and the Bloc. Which means that one way or another, Ignatieff's declaration that his fellow opposition leaders are unworthy of his time figures to open him up to nothing but trouble.

Your new cooperative politics at work

Yessiree, Michael Ignatieff sure is showing them how it's done when it comes to a more positive and respectful brand of politics rather than an insular, party-only focus:
As for the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition of late last year, Ignatieff has said that's off the table.

In fact, he says he has not spoken to Layton and Duceppe about the fall session and has no plans to.
Which, for those playing along at home, means that Ignatieff has declared his intention to reflexively vote against the government in Parliament - but also to refuse to work with the other opposition parties to actually mount any effective challenges to that government. So what exactly do the Libs expect to accomplish on Parliament Hill that couldn't be done equally well by cardboard cutouts?

On responses

Following up on this post, I'll put on my armchair strategist hat to suggest what the NDP should do in response to the Cons' EI benefit extension proposal. The first step is of course to wait for the bill to be introduced: if any EI reform is tied to a poison pill, then that should be taken as further evidence that Harper's government isn't interested in doing anything but poking the opposition with sharp sticks. (And yes, that's what the NDP did with the Cons' previous confidence bills as well, while expressing appropriate skepticism about the likelihood of their justifying a vote in the Cons' favour.)

Assuming the Cons bring forward a clean bill with reasonable EI improvements, that's where the decision point comes for the NDP. But I don't see any path forward which involves the NDP voting alone alongside the Cons.

Instead, the NDP's next move should then be to talk to the other parties and to the public to see if it's possible to pass the EI bill with unanimous consent - which would of course remove the dangers associated with the Cons delaying the bill and demanding votes to prop themselves up in the meantime. If all parties agree, then something positive would get done due largely to the NDP's contributions - giving Layton an ideal position going into an election campaign which can then start from the next confidence vote.

Of course, the idea that all of the parties will go along with even the most desirable of reforms probably deserves a laugh track. But a public effort to round up unanimous consent would still create some positive results for the NDP.

The most likely outcome would see the Cons refusing to pass their own bill immediately as they did when the Libs tried a similar gambit with previous crime bills. But that would thoroughly undermine the Cons' effort to win over the support of workers who would see the changes as a plus. And moreover, it would give the opposition parties a powerful argument to claim that the Cons saw the bill purely as a political calculation rather than something which they actually cared about passing - laying the blame entirely on the Cons for continued political games as a non-confidence vote takes place.

Equally plausibly, the Libs might choose to withhold their consent to passing an EI bill quickly, calculating that their desire to avoid being seen working with the NDP and Bloc outweighs both good policy and the desire to take EI away from the Cons as an issue. But from the NDP's standpoint, that would present some opportunities as well: they'd be able to point to the Libs' plan to obstruct any progress as evidence that it's indeed time for an election, and make a case that the Libs both failed to get anything done while supporting the Cons, then prevented the other parties from generating positive results once they came around to the NDP's point of view.

And if by some chance both the Libs and Cons balk? I'd think the incentive would be for at least one to take advantage of the other's holding the measure up by claiming to have wanted to get the measures passed. But as another piece of the "same old story" puzzle, that too would be just fine for the NDP.

Again, the crucial point is that there's little apparent reason why the NDP would allow an EI reform bill to get introduced and put in the legislative pipeline without moving the debate toward whether to pass it immediately. Either it passes before it's put at risk by another confidence vote, or the system isn't working and it won't pass anyway - and either way, the next contentious confidence vote should see the NDP voting down the Harper government.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

One more voice in the mix

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm often critical of the corporate media for failing to give NDP voices a chance to be heard. So let's note one major positive development on that front, as Brian Topp has been added to the Globe and Mail's list of bloggers. But what will Douglas Bell do for material now that Topp's writings figure to appear on his own blog instead?

A good start, but...'s hard to see how the Cons' proposed EI benefit extension for long-term employees can make much difference in the current path toward an election. If the benefit is passed quickly on its own, then there's still plenty of potential to go to the polls on a non-confidence motion in the near future; if the Cons try to extend their stay in power by delaying its passage (or attach it to anything contentious), then it doesn't look to be anywhere near enough to justify support from any opposition party.

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

It's not very often that a team comes away with a 45-point win. It's even less common to win by that margin while still managing to leave plenty of points on the field as the Saskatchewan Roughriders did yesterday. So what happened in yesterday's Banjo Bowl doesn't figure to be a repeatable result for the 'Riders - especially given how dependent the outcome was on the Bombers' propensity for self-destruction.

That said, the game looks to have been a potential watershed moment for the 'Riders in one important way. Throughout the 2009 season, the team has normally had little trouble staking itself to first-half leads, but has struggled to hold on in the second half.

Yesterday was the first time the 'Riders have substantially broken that pattern. Rather than letting up or making mistakes of their own after taking the lead, the 'Riders managed to keep going in the right direction throughout the game - playing safely enough to avoid giving Winnipeg any easy points, while at the same time staying aggressive enough to pull away until the game was out of reach.

On offence, full credit goes to Darien Durant for a steady game where his final numbers didn't match the positive results the offence was able to generate. In the midst of a season where he's seemed to try several different patterns of game management, Durant's performance yesterday was straight out of the Kerry Joseph 2007 playbook: loads of scrambling to extend plays combined with a willingness to throw the ball away rather than taking unnecessary risks, enough big plays to keep the defence on its heels, and enough ability to capitalize on short fields to put the game solidly in the win column. Which was exactly what the team needed for this game - and probably makes for a model which it can keep up for the rest of the season.

Of course, that does count on the defence continuing to generate turnovers. Yesterday's count was largely the result of the Bombers' own mistakes, but the 'Riders have previously shown they can get the job done on that front under somewhat more challenging circumstances. And the fact that the 'Riders' secondary was good enough to largely shut down the pass yesterday even while the team loaded up against the Bombers' running attack should give Gary Etcheverry even more flexibility to send pressure at opposing quarterbacks.

We'll find out next week how that strategy works against a quarterback who isn't quite as gaffe-prone as Michael Bishop. But for now, all indications are that the 'Riders have managed to at least partially fix their biggest issues while continuing to build on their early-season strengths - and it's hard not to like where the team is positioned for the rest of the CFL season.

On targets

With a federal election likely around the corner, one of the main questions for the NDP is how effectively it can build on the inroads it's made in historically barren terrain. And Norman Spector notes that the party's Quebec strategy may not be what one might have expected based on its 2008 results:
(B)efore you forget about an imminent election so as to get on with your life, you should note that La Presse is reporting that “An election is inevitable. … An NDP source indicated last night that there have been no discussions with emissaries of the Harper government to find common ground. 'This leads us to believe that they, too, want an election.'" And, behind its fire-wall, Le Devoir is carrying a report this morning that suggests that NDP planning in Québec is proceeding full speed ahead:

“Strategists have set four ridings as their priorities, and those ridings will have greater resources during the campaign: Gatineau, Outremont, Sherbrooke and Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup. … New Democrats will be reinforcing the Bloc message, which is attempting to demonstrate that Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper are one in the same for Québec. The NDP will hammer home the fact that the Liberals have voted 79 times to save the Conservatives from being defeated in the Commons."
Of course it isn't the NDP's message that figures to come as news, as the opportunity to have the party's traditional "same old story" line of attack reinforced by the strongest party on the Quebec political scene makes for an opening far too valuable to miss. But it's worth noting where that message is apparently going to be focused.

Outremont and Gatineau are obviously the NDP's two strongest ridings in Quebec. But while there are some points in favour of each of the other two priority ridings as being potentially favourable territory, neither would jump out as potential targets based on their recent results.

In Sherbrooke, the NDP ran a respectable fourth with 13.1% of the vote in 2008. But one could say the same for dozens of Quebec ridings which aren't apparently being promoted to the top of the NDP's list of targets as a result. Which means that the riding will likely serve as a test case for the NDP's ability to find demographic factors aside from voting results alone which can bring a riding into play.

Meanwhile, Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup was actually one of the NDP's weaker Quebec ridings, with the party taking only 5.7% of the vote compared to 12.2% province-wide. Mind you, there is one obvious reason why the riding would be its target: its former MP (the Bloc's Paul Crete) resigned giving rise to a by-election campaign, and the combination of no incumbent and the resources put in during the by-election campaign might well create an ideal set of conditions for a breakthrough.

Still, the NDP's current position includes a seemingly more promising base in ridings where it has already moved up in the party standings and substantially closed the vote gap such as Hull-Aylmer, Drummond and Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, as well as ridings where it took second place like Westmount-Ville-Marie, Rivière-du-Nord and Repentigny. And we'll likely find out before long whether the ridings which surprisingly made the party's shortlist ahead of those better-developed options will actually offer more fertile territory.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A few municipal notes

For those looking for reason to be excited about the possibilities in this fall's municipal elections, look no further than Heather McIntyre's run to unseat Jocelyn Hutchinson in Regina's Ward 2 (first publicly announced on Kent Peterson's blog). McIntyre was one of the main forces behind the scenes of Yens Pedersen's remarkably successful leadership campaign, and her candidacy looks to be in great shape due to the enthusiasm that's built among Regina's NDP supporters since the leadership race ended.

For those looking out for an old favourite in a new role, longtime MLA Glenn Hagel has formally declared his intention to run for mayor of Moose Jaw. So far there are two other candidates in the race, but neither with much political profile that I'm aware of - making Hagel the early frontrunner.

And for those looking for a multi-candidate pileup, look no further than Regina's Ward 3, where Don Young's announcement that he'll once again join the perpetually-crowded race leaves him facing off against John Conway, Shirley Dixon and possibly incumbent Fred Clipsham (who still hasn't formally announced his intentions).

We'll find out before too long who will emerge from the pack to win the council seat this fall. But barring some unexpected influx of challengers elsewhere, there may be as many nominally left-wing candidates finishing as also-rans in Ward 3 as there are similarly progressive candidates mounting serious challenges in all of Regina's other wards combined. And I have to wonder if the city as a whole would be better served if the big names looked at using their greater visibility either to take aim at some of council's more reactionary members, or better yet to take on Pat Fiacco in the mayoral vote - rather than adding more names to the ballot in a ward whose representative is bound to be a comparatively progressive vote on council no matter who wins.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Alberta NDP Convention Liveblogging - DRP Resolution

11:08 AM The room has been fairly well involved through the proceedings this morning, but it wasn't hard to tell which issue figures to inspire the most passionate views, as lines including dozens of people formed once the resolution was called. And while the first speaker of course gets to speak in favour in trying to talk down the NDP's chances on its own, the overwhelming majority of the speakers are (as expected) set to speak against the resolution.

11:09 AM Brian Mason is the first speaker against the resolution and gets a strong round of applause. He discusses some of the history the DRP's previously-rejected efforts as raising the potential for a split within the NDP itself, and asks the DRP's proponents to respect the decision of the convention if it does vote against the resolution.

11:12 AM That answers my question - one of the DRP backers lists the 10% number in the resolution as a typo which should read "40%". He goes on to make a case which interestingly mirrors some of the focus on "winning" vs. "principle" which has arisen in various was at both the Saskatchewan and federal NDP conventions.

11:15 AM One of the apeakers against the resolutions takes on the question of strategy head-on by noting the dangers for candidate recruitment and development, as well as the federal party's chances of being sufficiently organized to add to its seat total.

11:17 AM The third "pro" speaker paints the DRP strategy as a path toward PR in contrast to the present strategy playing to an FPTP system, stating that the time to be "NDPers plain and simple" would be after a change in electoral systems.

11:18 AM A Labour Caucus member takes to one of the "con" microphones to emphasize labour's respectful opposition - recognizing some frustration within the DRP and indeed in the labour movement as reasonable motivation, but rejecting the proposal as making it less likely that a progressive government would actually emerge (while appealing to other opponents of the DRP to work with its members).

11:21 AM The next "pro" speaker launches into a laundry list of concerns about the state of Alberta politics based on voter turnout and party membership and says "something has to change" based on the assumption that Albertans generally are not partisans. He mentions precedents of other NDP provincial branches in Manitoba and Nova Scotia which once didn't run full slates, but I'm not sure how the analogy is supposed to apply unless either of them actually reduced their scope from province-wide to a more limited focus rather than merely building up from less ridings to more.

11:24 AM The next "con" speaker paints the NDP's position as being the "voice of the people" as distinct from the PCs and the Liberals who remain "the voice of business", and the Greens with their "ultra-ring-wing politics".

11:26 AM A "pro" speaker paints the issue as being about the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few - with the former best served by cooperating with other parties to take down the PCs and implement PR. This seems to be a common theme - but is there any indication that the Alberta Liberals in particular are favourable toward PR?

11:28 AM A point of personal privilege is raised about the proceedings being videotaped; the chair needs to take some time to consult, but the issue is quickly resolved as the camera operator agrees not to film any more.

11:30 AM A "con" speaker notes that the political scene is already looking more favourable with the Wildrose Alliance splitting votes on the right and the Greens out of the picture, and expresses concerns about trading away the ability to run a campaign in Edmonton Gold Bar (getting huge applause by stating he won't vote Liberal under any circumstances).

11:32 AM Alvin Finkel speaks up in favour of the resolution and criticizes the idea of "needing to work harder" as being a solution, and speaks in favour of working with the Liberals to avoid backlash for rejecting an expected appeal from David Swann.

11:35 AM Rachel Notley speaks against the resolution, pointing to research showing that voter splits don't actually figure to favour the NDP in ridings where Liberals aren't an option - such that an arrangement wouldn't actually solve any of the problems, and would stop candidates like Linda Duncan from ever running (let alone winning).

11:38 AM A "pro" speaker says he was threatened while campaigning and thrown off of a reserve while trying to win a seat to improve living conditions in MacLeod.

11:40 AM The blog's good friend Idealistic Pragmatist speaks to her disillusionment in the U.S. which made her a Canadian by choice, criticizing the idea that a choice of only two options can make for a healthy democracy and pointing out that the motion doesn't reflect the desire for PR that many people share on both sides.

11:42 AM The "pro" speaker notes an increase in involvement on her side of the question - and it does seem fair to point out that as quickly as the DRP has sometimes been dismissed, it does seem to have a reasonable number of speakers on its side. The speaker also points to the prospect of a coalition at the federal level, and notes right-wing coalitions in other provinces like Saskatchewan and B.C. which have managed to remove NDP governments from office.

11:45 AM The "con" speaker characterizes the resolution as "desperate", leading to the NDP being perceived as disenfranchising its supporters and volunteers and failing to speak for the province as a whole.

11:47 AM A "pro" speaker expresses concern about the amount of time required to get the NDP to power in comparison to the damage being done in the meantime, citing her history working with the NDP in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and stating that Alberta's situation is fundamentally different based on longstanding public support for the PCs.

11:49 AM The Chair tests the view of the room as to whether to continue with the debate - and surprisingly there's still a strong vote in favour of continued debate.

11:52 AM David Eggen speaks on the "con" side - approving of the effort at meaningful democratic engagement on both sides of the debate, and pointing to that as an example for trying to get the public involved as well. He then points to his own experience in Edmonton Calder as an example of how efforts to remove choices can backfire - as the Liberal campaign's weakness allowed the PCs to siphon off votes on the soft right and take back the seat.

11:53 AM A "pro" speaker notes the support for Parliamentary cooperation on both the provincial and federal levels, and suggests it should be reasonable to do the same an electoral level.

11:56 AM On the "con" side, a former candidate comments on her experience knocking on doors in a riding where the NDP hadn't done that in 25 years, and expresses concern about giving voters the opportunity to be heard.

11:58 AM Talk of conciliation on the "pro" side, as a speaker expresses her desire to continue working with all sides of the party before criticizing the province's current governance by "oil barons" and pointing out shared policies with the Libs which might improve matters on the environmental front.

12:00 PM A UFCW speaker wonders exactly how much interest there will be from the other parties, and argues that any alliance will have long-term ramifications even if it's intended to be only temporary while expressing her gratitude for the NDP's support for the union (and criticizing the Liberals' failure to support labour priorities).

12:02 PM "Reluctant" support for the motion from a Leduc supporter: "what attracted me to the NDP wasn't the brand, but the need to build socialism in my province and my country". The speaker notes that the NDP itself is effectively a coalition in Manitoba, while Alberta's political culture includes a division between the centre and centre-left.

12:05 PM A "con" speaker discusses the dangers of the "thin edge of the wedge", as the means to a recognized end may become harmful in the ultimate effort. In this case, her concern is that a two-party system won't actually work, and that the attempt to get there will prove divisive.

12:08 PM Another test of the floor as to whether to continue debate, and this time a motion passes to call the question.

And the vote goes strongly against the resolution, as the "pro" side's strength in speeches doesn't appear to have made much headway within the broader crowd. The final count is announced as 123-27.

Alberta NDP Convention - Resolutions

The resolution from the DRP which figures to give rise to the most interesting debate this morning is as follows:
Whereas many Albertans firmly believe that Alberta Progressive Conservatives can be defeated if the Alberta NDP, Alberta Liberals, and the Greens form a tactical electoral alliance; and
Whereas the combined support of these poarties committed to a greener economy and greater social justice is already about 10%, and an electoral alliance will attrac many currently disillusioned non-voters.

Therefore, be it resolved that this Convention direct the party leader to initiate a public negotiation with the leaders of the Alberta Liberals and the Green Party to conclude a tactical electoral alliance and to specify a procedure to allocate seats to each of the three parties for exclusive nominations in the next provincial election.
I'm not sure where some pieces of the resolution come from (in particular the combined share of the three parties' votes was about 40% - though if one squints hard enough it's not that far from 10% short of the PCs' share of the vote), and other parts of it may require some significant updating based on the deregistration of the Alberta Greens. But the larger issues still remain even if some of the details aren't quite right.

The resolution is fourth from the beginning of the list today - and with the first one passing without discussion and the second not taking too long, it looks like we'll have time for at least some discussion.

Alberta NDP Convention - Jack Layton Speech

Jack Layton's speech starts off focusing on local accomplishments and concerns, then segues into a theme of "anything is possible" linked to the enthusiasm behind the campaigns to get Lewis Cardinal and Ray Martin elected.

On the national scene, the speech is consistent with his recent message - describing us as being "on the brink" of an election, while demanding that Harper work together with other parties to avoid forcing one. Layton's "what he's hearing" discussion talks about the difficulties of a worker who's just lost a longtime job and is perceived as too old to start a new career or a student whose difficulty finding a job over the summer results in a lack of resources to get back to school, and targets Harper to ask that their concerns be dealt with. In principle those appear to be areas where the Cons might be willing to make some small moves, though we'll have to see whether the current speculation amounts to anything.

That's then followed by some areas where the Cons aren't so likely to want to listen: an environmental message surrounding the NDP's current climate change bill, sharp criticism of the Cons' two-tiered citizenship, a call for Canada to be a voice for peace internationally, a discussion of the merits of pursuing a balanced economic approach with both a broad base of development and proper regulation, and an appeal for a national pharmacare program leading into a crowd-rallying call to build a better world.

All in all, there isn't too much surprising in Layton's speech. That's said, it's worth noting that the vast majority of it looks to have been focused on firing up the crowd in advance of an immediate election rather than laying much groundwork to avoid one - and that appears to have been in tune with the the mood of the room.

Alberta NDP Convention Liveblogging

For those wondering what type of liveblogging I has hinted at last week, my travels have taken me to Edmonton just in time for the Alberta NDP's provincial convention. And I'll be posting on what look to be some interesting proceedings today - including both a speech from Jack Layton, and the possibility of a lively debate over the Democratic Renewal Project. So stay tuned...