Saturday, September 26, 2009

As planned

When Daniel Paille was first announced as the Bloc's likely candidate in Hochelaga, I noted how a split in the Bloc's usual combination of sovereigntist and progressive voters might significantly improve the chances of the NDP's Jean-Claude Rocheleau. Now, it looks like events are playing out about as well as the NDP could possibly have hoped:
While one prospective Bloc Québécois nomination candidate has stepped aside in favour of Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe's preferred candidate, Daniel Paillé, another one is not going anywhere, reports Les Nouvelles Hochelaga-Maissonneuve. Former aide to former Bloc M.P. Réal Ménard, Benoît Demuy, had been selling memberships since June, but after meeting with Duceppe on September 4, decided to withdraw from the race. Not so for Jean Baribeau, a 25-year resident of the riding and math teacher who describes himself as a "sovereignist and confirmed social democrat" who "has politics in his blood" and thinks people in his community don't want a "parachute candidate". Baribeau had been seeking a meeting with Duceppe all summer while he was selling membership cards, he says, but never got any reply. Meanwhile the Bloc has brought in veteran organizer Patrick Marais to help Paillé with his nomination campaign, according to Le Devoir. Thus there will be at least two candidates for the Bloc nomination meeting, whenever it is held. No word on any prospective Liberal, Conservative or Green candidates as yet, but nominated NDP candidate Jean-Claude Rocheleau has evidently been following the Bloc race, and recently highlighted his own local roots to Les Nouvelles as well.
In light of Demuy's apparent head start in selling memberships, it would seem highly likely that the Bloc's party apparatus will enable Paille to take the nomination. But the prospect of Baribeau spending a contentious nomination battle spreading two themes ("parachute candidate" as a criticism and "social democrat" as an ideological identity) which mirror the NDP's preferred messages for the by-election campaign should help make many Bloc voters far more receptive to Rocheleau once the by-election takes place than they might have been otherwise. And that could present exactly the opening the NDP needs to establish itself as Hochelaga's leading alternative to the Bloc in the coming campaign and beyond.


Back onto the subject of the the general sliminess associated with a government entering into a controversial and ill-advised deal without public input then claiming that it's too late to change anything, it's odd enough that SaskPower's announcement that it's locked itself into a 25-year contract to have Northland Power spend $145 million to build a natural gas power plant took two days to get reported on CBC (and appears to have been completely swept under the rug by CanWest). But it's even more strange that a few other threads to the story still don't seem to have surfaced in the media.

For example...

1. SaskPower is contracting out a significant amount of power generation without any explanation as to why that function is being privatized.

2. The Sask Party rushed to lock SaskPower into the contract just before what's supposed to be a thorough public review of its power options.

3. While Northland Power advertises its role operating wind and co-generation plants, there's no indication that it has any experience operating a stand-alone natural gas facility - making #1 look all the more problematic given that the task is being contracted out to a company with less experience than SaskPower.

4. While I haven't yet tracked down any definitive pricing lists, the construction cost looks to be out of whack with the cost of building natural gas facilities elsewhere: $145 million for an 86-MW plant, compared to recent costs (using the first two examples I found elsewhere) of $200 million US for a 150-MW facility in Montana and $479 million US for a 300-MW facility in Florida. Even allowing for exchange rates and other cost differences, the sticker price for the Spy Hill project looks to be well on the high side based on those comparators - and no, the fact that Northland Power is paying that price up front doesn't offer any comfort when SaskPower is on the hook to pay enough to make that initial cost profitable for Northland.

Now, it may be that there are at least relatively reasonable answers to these issues. But is there any possible explanation as to why they apparently haven't even been raised in the wake of SaskPower's announcement, particularly when projects in relatively similar price ranges have received front-page placement in both CanWest papers?

(Edit: fixed wording.)

The reviews are in

Ralph Surette:
(S)econd thoughts have kicked in about the worth of Layton and his works, showing that maybe even the media are marginally redeemable. There’s the obvious, of course: that Layton spared the country an election it doesn’t want, and that there will be some improvements to EI.

But deeper down, there’s this awkward twist that doesn’t fit in the storyline. Layton, and Alexa McDonough before him, were mostly right about Afghanistan — at least if we can go by what top generals are now saying: that we’re on the wrong track. And about the missile defence system that the Harper government cheerfully supported and the NDP opposed and that now has been scratched by President Obama. And about the need for financial regulation, for an auto-sector strategy, an alternative plan for pensions, more economic stimulation, and more.

Further, there’s this: proclaiming that minority government must be made to work and voting against the Tories is not contradictory. Co-operating with Harper is like trying to hug a porcupine. Harper only "co-operates" when he’s hit between the eyeballs. So now he’s hit and Layton is co-operating. Good for him, sanctimonious or not. The question here is why Layton’s the target and not Harper. Has the latter successfully intimidated, or at least bamboozled, the media?
(W)e have the NDP as the only party in the Commons giving any evidence of having done any long-term thinking, and having turned out to be right in much of it besides, but with little hope of being rewarded for it. Indeed, beset by the Greens on one side and the Liberals on the other, they might even be punished for it. Yet, reading through the second thoughts, this may be the most useful and responsible party we have.

On embarrassments

In fairness to Diane Ablonczy, Jane Taber's column today omits the obvious explanation as to why she insulted a crowd of travel writers by wasting their time with such insights as the observation that Ontario is "quite a bit east" of Whistler. But let this be a lesson to Ablonczy: it's a bad idea to talk down to better-informed crowds as if they were Conservative supporters.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Musical interlude

JPL - Whenever I May Find Her

Just wondering, but... the extent the Libs' Outremont nomination is seen as a proxy battle between Denis Coderre and Martin Cauchon, does Michael Ignatieff's flip-flop today actually resolve anything?

Not that I'd see the decision to hold an open nomination as anything but a massive improvement over an appointment. But surely if Coderre is determined to eliminate a perceived competitor for the mantle of leader-in-waiting, he'll have both the opportunity and the incentive to try to find somebody else to challenge Cauchon for the nomination.

On progressive choices

Thankfully, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy's call for a flat tax was so bizarre and ill-timed that even the Sask Party couldn't use it as an excuse to move in that direction. But it's still worth pointing out part of the position taken by the Frontier Centre's David Seymour which deserves notice as a novel (if completely ill-founded) angle on the issue:
Seymour added that income is often a function of age, arguing that putting higher tax rates on higher income is just shifting the taxpaying to different stages of life rather than between people with different life fortunes.
Of course, Seymour doesn't appear interested in dealing with the cumulative impact of all taxes which results in an overall system that's barely if at all progressive. And on its face, there's ample reason for doubt about the argument that progressive taxes won't have some redistributive effect among individuals. But let's ignore those glaring problems with the argument and deal with income taxes alone on Seymour's footing.

Let's assume that an individual has the choice as to when to pay a fixed amount of income taxes during the course of his or her lifetime, but will have a "standard" income progression consisting of escalating income through his or her working life, followed by retirement at a lower income level.

From that starting point, which of the following seems like a more plausible statement?
(a) The individual would be best off paying a constant rate of income tax regardless of his or her income at any given time.
(b) The individual would be best off paying income tax at a rate which varies based on income, such as to pay a lower rate when money is tighter (early in his/her career and on retirement), and a higher rate when more money is available.

In effect, Seymour's argument relies on the premise that the population at large would take (a) as a given and prefer a flat tax as a result. But doesn't (b) actually make far more sense as a matter of rational self-interest?

(Edit: added link.)


I posted yesterday on how Dalton McGuinty is at best presenting a misleading historical picture in pretending that there's no precedent for reversing a decision to move toward a harmonized sales tax. But let's take a look at the more important issue: leaving aside the general sliminess associated with a government entering into a controversial and ill-advised deal without public input then claiming that it's too late to change anything, what are the actual prospects of reversing the decision to harmonize?

McGuinty's argument that nothing can be done is based largely on the terms of the agreement signed between Ontario and the federal government. And it's accurate enough to say that as long as the agreement is in force, Ontario is bound to push ahead with the HST. But what McGuinty conveniently leaves out is that agreements can be changed or ended by the parties involved - and there's little reason to think that either Ontario or B.C. would have trouble getting out of the current agreements if they made a public decision to do so.

To see why that's so, consider the circumstances in which McGuinty or Gordon Campbell would make a request to terminate their HST agreements. Presumably that would come after public outrage grows to the point where the province concluded that the HST simply wasn't going to be politically palatable - based on the size of protests, the volume of public commentary, continued polls slamming the tax and perhaps a recall movement in B.C. At that point, the premier involved would likely have little choice but to make a public appeal to the federal government to release it from its commitments.

So how would the federal government respond at that point? Keep in mind that Stephen Harper has apparently already decided that the HST isn't something he wants associated with his government, which is why he's issued a gag order on Deficit Jim Flaherty and set up a party message that the provinces are responsible for the decision.

Needless to say, that position would become completely untenable if the Cons received a public request to reverse an HST agreement and ordered either B.C. or Ontario to push ahead anyway. At that point, every single major political party in the affected province on both the provincial and federal levels would be aligned in one direction on an issue which would form the main topic of political conversation. And given the choice between either going along or trying to fight the current alone while facing the likelihood of being swamped in the process, the only sensible course of action for the Cons would be to go along with the province's request.

And if they didn't? Well, that's where the Cons' minority government would become particularly significant. Presumably any attempt to stand as the lone defender of a massively unpopular tax would take a substantial bite out of the Cons' standing with the public - leading to exactly the type of situation where the federal opposition parties could all agree that a trip to the polls is in order. And a resulting change in government in an election fought on the issue would almost certainly mean the end of the HST, since the federal Libs' position that they don't want to break a deal with the provinces wouldn't make much sense after the provinces have already declared they want out.

Of course, McGuinty's hope is apparently that people won't think through the above scenario, and will instead buy his argument that it's not worth bothering to protest since nothing can be done. But the reality is that there's an obvious path to reverse course - and he and Gordon Campbell are exactly the pressure points which the public needs to hit in order to make that happen.

Friday Morning Link Blast

Apparently it's been a busy week, as plenty of good material hasn't yet found its way into post form. So here it is for your weekend reading:

- Erin's take on EI improvements is definitely worth a read in pointing out the relative impacts of the proposals made by the opposition parties and the one now likely to be passed.

- One NDP nomination which probably deserves more attention than it's received is that of Jasbir Sandhu in Surrey North. The combination of a riding recently held by the NDP under Penny Priddy and a candidate with a strong public profile would seem to suggest that the seat is once again one of the party's top priorities. And while the Cons will obviously be fighting tooth and nail for every seat possible, the fact that incumbent Dona Cadman has repeatedly broken with her party may make the Cons slightly less eager to defend this seat than those occupied by their less-independent MPs.

- The fact that the Western Climate Initiative - including the governments of Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba - has criticized the Cons' attempt to set "intensity" targets rather than actual caps on emissions from the tar sands has received plenty of attention. But the Pembina Institute's framing of the problem is worth emphasizing:
"It's also significant that provinces are once again pointing out the problems that will occur if the federal government sets intensity targets for entire sectors like the oilsands. That would amount to providing a production subsidy to a sector that doesn't need it, and invite retaliation from our trading partners."

- Finally, while the scathing report about the Cons' plan for a more harsh but less effective prison system has received plenty of attention primarily for its similarity to policies which have failed in the U.S., it's worth highlighting what the plan figures to do compared to Canadian standards:
In addition to constructing super prisons and implementing work programs, the program will eliminate gradual release and deny inmates rights that are now entrenched in the Constitution.
Needless to say, that raises a serious question as to whether the Cons have any clue as to the relative importance of constitutional documents and department-level policies. But would it be much of a shock if they're deliberately planning to put programs in place which are unconstitutional now in the hope that court rulings which properly recognize the constitutional rights of inmates will help them rail against judges in the future?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Compare and contrast

Dalton McGuinty, trying to make excuses as to why it's too late to have any actual debate over the HST:
"In no jurisdiction that they have put this into place have they ever repealed it."
Harmonizing Saskatchewan's taxes may have been the death blow that forced Grant Devine from office in 1991, said David McGrane, assistant professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

"If the experience in Saskatchewan tells us anything it's that McGuinty should be stepping very warily when it comes to harmonization, it is something that can be extremely unpopular," McGrane said.

Harmonization became one of New Democrat Roy Romanow's key issues as he campaigned successfully to overtake Devine as premier and it was promptly abolished after the election.

Just so we're clear...

...when I suggested that the Cons couldn't plausibly distance themselves from the HST without also cutting loose any credit or responsibility for their infrastructure spending, that wasn't intended as an invitation to the Cons to do just that.

But as long as Baird is looking to claim (in the face of thoroughly damning evidence) that the Cons haven't had any role in deciding where federal money is spent, I'm sure we'd all be interested to see just how many municipalities and provinces in fact had projects rejected through the Cons' various infrastructure schemes - and whether they'd agree with Baird's insinuation that their "competence" and "ability" are called into question by the Cons' failure to support their plans.

Municipal roundup

Needless to say, the biggest news on the municipal front is the not-unexpected announcement that Jim Elliott will challenge Pat Fiacco for the position of mayor of Regina.

Of course, Elliott's previous electoral results haven't been overwhelming. But he's achieved a public profile as one of the leading skeptics about a downtown domed stadium. And while the odds of Elliott beating out Fiacco figure to be long, he should be in an excellent position to start setting up the narrative which could lead to more visible change down the road.

Meanwhile, the Leader-Post has reported on two additional entrants in Regina's municipal races.

In the Ward 5 council seat, John Findura is running again after placing second in 2006. But while it's always a plus to see additional entrants participating in municipal elections, Findura's 2006 profile focusing on traffic, crime and taxes may leave little room for optimism that he'd be an improvement over incumbent Bill Gray (who hasn't yet announced his intentions) or any other competitor.

And in Subdivision 3, former FNUC Vice President and Canadian Education Association councillor Shauneen Pete has announced her candidacy. On paper, it's remarkable that a candidate with Pete's resume would launch herself into an already-contested school board race - but it certainly speaks well for Pete that she's looking to put her experience to work at the school board level.

On qualifiers

It isn't just the Sask Party government which is having to backtrack on its pro-nuclear jingoism, as even the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce is now trying to pretend that its constant stream of pro-reactor messages was always subject to concern about the cost involved:
The Chamber believes uranium development can be a major contributor to helping our province achieve its long-hoped-for potential. However, development in any business has to be economic, and that has always be the key qualifier of our support.
So let's take a look at the Chamber's helpful set of nuclear industry talking points masquerading as an FAQ (warning: PDF) to see how careful they've been to suggest that cost might be a problem:
Nuclear power is cost competitive with other forms of electricity generation. Nuclear energy is competitive with fossil fuel for electricity generation, despite relatively high capital costs and the need to internalize all waste disposal and decommissioning costs. If the social, health and environmental costs of fossil fuels are taken into account, nuclear is outstanding...(W)hen all of these issues are given careful consideration, nuclear energy still costs considerably less than renewable energy...Other drivers of this resurgent interest in nuclear energy include: the growing global demand for electricity; nuclear power’s cost competitiveness over the full life cycle...Nuclear power is cost competitive with other forms of electricity generation, except where there is direct access to low-cost fossil fuels.
Now, am I the only one seeing a lot of "nuclear = cheap!!!" to go with the Chamber's general "nuclear = magic rainbow sparkle ponies!!!" PR campaign, rather than any actual recognition that costs might offer some reason to qualify its cheerleading?

Update: In fairness, it's worth noting that the Chamber of Commerce's FAQ does mention the possibility of cost overruns - but not as a reason to avoid building the reactor which might give rise to them:

Capital cost overruns and schedule delays are key risks in any new nuclear build project, and they would need to be carefully mitigated in the project development process. To date, the cumulative risks of a new nuclear build have been too large for the private sector to bear alone and governments have played some form of facilitation in the implementation of nuclear power projects in all jurisdictions.

Historically, the requirement for significant upfront capital investment, the long development timelines, and the uncertainties of licensing and cost overruns have resulted in the need for cooperation between public and private sector players to ensure nuclear new build projects are successfully executed. The most important roles of government are to provide strong and effective regulation of the nuclear power industry to ensure public safety and to provide policy stability to allow efficient licensing, construction, and operation.

Saskatchewan could reduce licensing and first-of-a-kind risks by drawing on the recent experiences of other Canadian provinces that have developed nuclear generation capacity.
So contrary to McLellan's message now, the Chamber's position hasn't been "build nuclear only if we determine that it's cheap", but "build nuclear because we believe it's cheap - and if we're wrong, we can skip over regulatory steps and stick the public with any remaining bill".

The reviews are in

Lawrence Martin:
What party is getting it right? Not on the political scoreboard, which is the journalistic obsession, but on the criteria that really count – policies that affect the country.

On that note, the question of track record, has anyone been looking at the NDP's performance?
They have been the most vocal opponents of foreign takeovers of Canadian companies. That got them labelled as antediluvian nationalists. But as our crown jewels continue to be sold off, you don't hear that criticism as much. Even some Conservatives are now wondering if the hollowing-out trend has gone too far.

The Dippers were early environmental warriors. Their warnings on income inequality – check the ugly stats on the current gap between rich and poor – have turned out to be highly credible. On the native peoples file, they were the ones who pressed the government to make the emotional residential schools apology.

Politically, the New Democrats are not getting much traction. It's tough when you have no control of the airwaves. They are still stereotyped by an image tethered to decades past. But they can take comfort in knowing that on many of the vital issues, they've been on the mark. Never mind the political score. On what really matters, vindication has come their way.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On diverted traffic

Kady is hard at work digging into the question of how the heavily self-promotional Action Plan site is funded and administered. But I haven't yet seen any followup on a great point raised by @joshstuart yesterday: whatever the Cons' excuses for using political terms and images on what's supposed to be a government site, how can it not be a serious issue for the site's social network links to go to personal sites for Stephen Harper rather than anything which even pretends to be official government material?

On competing visions

I'll echo Greg in mentioning that Brian Topp's latest is a must-read. But the most noteworthy part from my standpoint was Topp's willingness to point to the progressive coalition as a positive example of the NDP's vision and strategy:
Jack Layton's vision used to be that 163 Members of Parliament were elected from parties who claim to be progressive or centrist, versus 143 Conservatives. We are coming up on the first anniversary of Layton's attempt to have the government of Canada reflect that fact. Having been thwarted in this by the current leadership team in the Liberal Party, Layton and the New Democrats have reverted to type, and are seeking to achieve progress file-by-file (as Layton did on Toronto city council and in the Canadian Federation of Municipalities) in a Parliament where, you would think, progressives might have some leverage over a government dependent on them to survive.
In contrast to messages like the above, the NDP's strategy for too much of this year has involved at best a position that the coalition was a necessary evil, and at worst a failure to rebut the Cons' patently wrong view that it somehow represented an attack on democratic outcomes rather than an expression of them.

But with one of the NDP's public faces taking a step in the direction of explicitly defending and promoting the idea of coalition politics, it would stand to reason that the party can't be far behind. And that looks to position the NDP beautifully whenever the next federal election takes place.

After all, it's no secret that Stephen Harper's plan is to run against the idea of a coalition among the other parties - which makes sense for them given the hope that an election framed in those terms can give the Cons a couple of extra points which they're never going to pick up based on their own record in office. And equally obviously, the Libs' response is to deny that they're even remotely interested in that result while trying to change the subject - which can at least be rationally explained as an effort not to lose centre-right votes to the Cons, though I'm still far from sure it's ultimately a smart choice.

But let's not forget that the polls which are now wrongly cited as evidence that the coalition was radioactive actually showed support in the range of 30-50% - obviously providing for a significant pool of voters beyond the NDP's usual reach. And the demonstrations in favour of the coalition likely made for the greatest collaboration among diverse left-of-centre voices that Canada has seen for quite some time, hinting at exactly the type of potential energy that the NDP needs to tap into.

As a result, if the NDP positions itself to attack the Cons' anti-cooperation stance head on, it could find itself in the electoral sweet spot of being the clear alternative to the Cons on the ultimate ballot question, with a strong network of like-minded Canadians ready to offer their support to the principles at stake. And while there's a long way to go in challenging the false conventional wisdom that's taken root, it has to be a good sign that Topp appears to be setting the NDP up for exactly that type of message.

"We chose not to" Photoshops - #3

"We chose not to" Photoshops - #2

"We chose not to" Photoshops - #1

Let's follow up on this post with a new set of Photoshops from the Libs' slogan that keeps on giving. Here's the first:

The reviews are in

Jeffrey Simpson:
Strip away the rhetoric from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's recent speeches and two conclusions emerge.

First, there isn't much to them. Second, most of what there is does not differ markedly from what Stephen Harper's Conservative government is doing.

Again, rhetoric aside, a convergence between the two parties is noticeable, as the Conservatives become big-spending middle-of-the-roaders and learn more about foreign policy, and the Liberals seem incapable or unwilling to present anything terribly arresting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Deep thought

Somewhere, at this very moment, Lisa Raitt is lobbying to be appointed Fisheries Minister.

On hollow messages

Granted, the Libs are apparently in the midst of their usual attempt to make themselves look far more progressive than they actually are. But surely Andrew Steele knows better than to think they'd ever translate that into actual policy proposals rather than content-free drivel.

On perfect storms

Among loads of other interesting information in her latest nomination roundup, Alice at Pundits' Guide points out why Sherbrooke indeed makes loads of sense as one of the NDP's Quebec targets:
Sherbrooke, QC - NDP Leader Jack Layton will be in Austin, Qué. next Wednesday to attend a fundraiser for his star candidate in this riding, TV host Yves Mondoux, reports the Sherbrooke Tribune. Mondoux was substituted in as NDP candidate very late in the 2008 campaign, when Bishops University professor Cheryl Gosselin had had to step down, and yet he still achieved 13% of the vote with few resources, said NDP Québec Lieutenant Tom Mulcair, who has promised the riding a much higher level of support this time around, and indeed it was named one of the Québec target seats by newly-appointed NDP campaign chair Brad Lavigne last week. 2008 Conservative candidate André Bachand has accepted a government appointment with UNESCO, while 2008 Liberal candidate Nathalie Goguen has elected to run municipally this fall instead, and no replacement has been identified as yet. Mondoux does not underestimate his remaining opponent, five-term Bloc Québécois M.P. Serge Cardin, but notes that "M. Cardin ne sera pas éternel". "Il faut préparer le changement," he says. No word on when the NDP nomination meeting is expected to be held, and Cardin has not been renominated for the Bloc in this riding as yet either.
Needless to say, there's probably no better opening for the NDP to make the jump from a competitive fourth to a serious contender than to combine a high-profile candidate of its own with a sudden dropoff in interest from the Libs and the Cons.

Which isn't to say that the other parties are wrong if they've concluded that their effort is better placed elsewhere: after all, fully-funded campaigns from the Libs in 2004 and the Cons in 2006 fell roughly 14,000 and 16,500 votes short of Cardin's total respectively. But Mondoux' early start and high profile should establish him as the main challenger to Cardin - and if the Bloc decides to move its resources elsewhere as well based on a perception that Cardin is in less dire straits than candidates facing challenges from the Libs or Cons, then it's not out of the question that Mondoux could take advantage of that opening to push Sherbrooke into NDP hands.

By-election aftermath

Obviously the most important result of last night's by-elections was the fact that both Saskatoon Riversdale and Regina Douglas Park stayed in NDP hands. But let's take a closer look at last night's results to see what they may mean for each of the parties involved.

For the NDP, the percentages are probably close to the best that could have been expected. With all parties focused entirely on the by-elections, the outcome figured to be closer than would normally be the case in a general election setting. And indeed the percentages narrowed far less in both of the ridings decided last night than in the 2008 Cumberland by-election - signalling that the NDP has managed to substantially improve its lock on traditional party turf compared to just a year ago.

That said, there seems to have been at least some disconnect between the NDP's expectations and the actual outcome. In Regina Douglas Park in particular, the Lingenfelter campaign spent much of the latter part of the campaign trumpeting record numbers of signs and identified votes. But those obviously didn't translate entirely into votes when it counted - and in fact the latter number actually exceeded the NDP's final tally at the polls.

So there are a couple of lessons to be taken from last night's results. First, the NDP needs to stay focused on the final result rather than taking too much pride in side projects like sign totals. And second, the voter identification process could probably use some tuning up - likely including both additional verification of identified supporters, and a stronger push to ensure that identified voters are kept involved throughout the campaign.

For the Sask Party, the by-elections served primarily as a test as to whether a combination of any remaining honeymoon period for the Wall government and a fairly negative air campaign against Dwain Lingenfelter could create enough of a head start to make up for the NDP's advantage in feet on the ground. And the answer there was a resounding "no", even with the Sask Party able to focus on only a single riding in each of Regina and Saskatoon.

But that doesn't mean the by-elections were a total waste for the Sask Party. Presumably the anti-Lingenfelter ads will serve Wall's purposes in framing the NDP for future elections even if it wasn't enough to put either of its candidates over the top this time out. And the absence of any meaningful Lib vote (by choice in Regina Douglas Park, but not in Saskatoon Riversdale) looks to have operated to the Sask Party's favour in both ridings, hinting at some changes in the dynamics likely to affect Saskatchewan's urban results in 2011.

To the extent any candidate could claim a stronger performance than expected, that honour would have to go to the Greens' Victor Lau in Regina Douglas Park, who increased his raw vote total from 2007 and nearly doubled his share of the vote. But even that result leaves Lau far from any serious contention for the seat - and it's doubtful that circumstances will get any better for the Greens in 2011, particularly if the nuclear question has been decided one way or the other by then. (Meanwhile, the Greens' campaign in Saskatoon Riversdale was a fairly thorough flop, as Tobi-Dawne Smith took a lower share of the vote than the previous Green candidate.)

Finally, there are the Liberals - or what's left of them. On paper, they seemed to have an opportunity to put themselves back on the political map in Saskatoon Riversdale: for their first by-election under a reasonably well-hyped leader, they managed to recruit a candidate who won over 34% of the vote in an adjacent riding under the Sask Party's banner in 2007. And of course most of the Libs' seeming strength should have been in Saskatoon, where former leader David Karwacki was the only Lib candidate to top 16% in a riding which featured a full slate of opponents.

But instead of building on any combination of her own history and any Lib machinery in Saskatoon, Eileen Gelowitz barely nosed ahead of Smith for a distant third place with 2.6% of the vote. And that complete absence of a party capable of assembling even a minimally successful campaign even under the most friendly of conditions would figure to make it next to impossible for the Libs to recruit similar candidates in the future.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The results are in

Congratulations to Dwain Lingenfelter and Danielle Chartier on their by-election victories. And RIP Saskatchewan Liberal Party, 1905-2009.

(Edit: fixed wording.)


...Michael Ignatieff now says he won't do anything about the HST (which he still purports to oppose) due to his firm belief in the sanctity of written agreements.

No, seriously.

Worse than nothing

One of the main rallying points for the NDP in its decision to try to get results out of the current Parliament rather than forcing an election has been to compare $1 billion in EI improvements from the NDP's anticipated votes this fall to zero in benefits arising from the Libs' 79 votes to prop up the Harper government. But it's worth pointing out that while that may make for an easily-repeated message, it's actually far too generous to the Libs when one compares the starting point for the votes.

After all, the NDP's votes are coming at a time when the alternative to passing an EI bill is a certain election. Once a campaign starts, the baseline expected result would almost certainly involve the Cons winning another minority government - and a Harper majority (which would surely take the opportunity to start attacking "fringe groups" like women and minorities with far less restraint than they've had to show so far) would loom as a more likely outcome than a victory for any other party or combination thereof. And even if one generously assumes that the heightened risk of a Con majority through an election is balanced out by the potential for change, the net benefit from votes actually is still $1 billion more than would be provided otherwise.

In contrast, the Libs' confidence votes included the most important ones of all - being those at the start of 2009 when there was a coalition ready, able and poised to offer an alternative government.

That's where any attempt to claim credit for the Cons' initial stimulus breaks down. The difference then wasn't between the Cons' stimulus and nothing, but between continued Con government and any superior stimulus plan which could and should have been provided by Ignatieff and his party in a coalition with the NDP. And based on the opposition parties' common criticisms of the Cons, the latter choice would have meant more money flowing directly to municipalities to get a recovery started faster, and a plan designed based on what the NDP and Libs jointly saw as best for Canada rather than on what the Cons saw as best to buy themselves votes.

In sum, Ignatieff's decision to leave Harper at the controls when there was actually an immediate alternative resulted in a far worse outcome than a mere zero. And it shouldn't be forgotten that the party which now claims it can do better is the party which chose not to.

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Needless to say, yesterday's game was a painful one for the 'Riders. Of course Saskatchewan managed a remarkable comeback after seeming to have no answers for the Edmonton offence in the first half. But curiously, the team seemed to figure that it could coast through the latter half of the fourth quarter once it had both the lead and the wind - and while the Eskimos' route to a game-winning touchdown may have been surprising, it shouldn't have been a shock to anybody that they rediscovered their ability to score points when they needed to.

As a result, the obvious priority going into next week's rematch has to be figuring out some way to stop the Esks' offence - and preferably without relying on receivers to drop catchable passes.

Most of the season, opponents have had their greatest success both pressuring Ricky Ray and tipping passes at the line. And while the former wasn't much of option given how quickly Ray was getting rid of the ball yesterday, the 'Riders weren't far away from getting their hands on enough passes to cause problems for the Esks. Which means that the key may simply be a matter of figuring out how the angles in Kevin Strasser's offensive scheme might differ from those under Rick Worman.

And of course, while the 'Riders managed to force one key fumble yesterday, they'll almost certainly need to up the turnover count - which shouldn't seem all that unrealistic considering how much trouble most of the Eskimos' skill players have had in hanging onto the ball.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' offence was roughly on par with expectations. Wes Cates was shut down a bit more than usual, but that was counterbalanced by some effective running from Durant as well as an effective distribution of passes (five different receivers posted 35+ yards, with four of those catching 5 passes in the process).

As for the special teams, the main issue yesterday was one of strategy rather than execution. Counting Jamie Boreham's successful fake punt, the 'Riders chose three times to punt from well within Edmonton's zone with a brisk wind at their back in the fourth quarter - the last two with a three-point lead. And while one wouldn't want to count on Luca Congi being a lock to convert from 50+ yards, the value of even a single point in that situation would seem to have offered reason to let him test his range.

Having once again found a way to lose on their home turf, the 'Riders will face plenty of pressure to repay the Eskimos' favour next week in order to avoid falling to the back of the West standings. And while all aspects of the game seem to be functioning well enough to keep the 'Riders competitive against anybody, it has to be cause for concern that they've had trouble building and holding a lead against any team other than the Bombers.


Today's the day for voters in Regina Douglas Park and Saskatoon Riversdale to have their say in two provincial by-elections, with polls opening at 9 AM and closing at 8 PM.

Both NDP candidates have apparently shattered previous records for sign locations, signalling that a strong volunteer effort has translated into plenty of public support. But the count that matters comes today - so I'll encourage voters in both ridings to make sure their voices are heard, and anybody interested in volunteering to stop by the NDP's campaign headquarters (Tommy Douglas House in Regina, 1030 Avenue L South in Saskatoon) to pitch in.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Behind closed doors

I'll have plenty more to say in a follow-up post. But for now, it's worth highlighting Joe Kuchta's research showing that the Wall government looks to have abandoned the TILMA in name only - and that while public outcry about the original agreement between B.C. and Alberta may have forced the Sask Party to back down, it seems eager to sign a virtually identical agreement following exactly the same zero-consultation process which gave rise to the TILMA.

On transformed strategy

The CP offers at least some answers to my questions as to what the NDP is hoping to accomplish by prolonging the current Parliament. But while it's right to note that the strategy seems to be based at least in part on precedents which led the party to power in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, there are some key distinctions which seem to have been glossed over:
(T)here is more to the transformed NDP strategy than the EI bill and Liberal tactics, say party insiders and analysts. The seeds were planted at the annual convention in Halifax in mid-August.

There, party members focused intently on how to win. They talked about putting an end to the political games and voting for things that they actually wanted to happen. And they took a hard look at how provincial NDP Leader Darrell Dexter managed to work his way up to be premier of Nova Scotia.

The events of the last week "are an example of Jack Layton trying to take a page from Darrell Dexter," said Anthony Salloum, program director at the Rideau Institute think-tank and a former staffer for Alexa McDonough when she led the NDP.

Salloum, who is also close to Dexter, said the Nova Scotia premier had a patient, pragmatic approach to politics when he was in opposition. He didn’t oppose for opposition’s sake, and would hold his nose and support measures that made sense. Gradually, he expanded his base that way, developing a reputation for being practical rather than partisan.
The CP's account is absolutely right about the message sent in Halifax, as speakers from Manitoba and Nova Scotia alike made pointed mention of the party's having voted with Conservative governments at times on the way to power. But what's missing is the context for those votes.

In Manitoba, in advance of an election which was set to take place that fall regardless of what happened on the budget vote, the Filmon government presented a budget which boosted health care spending by roughly 10% after the NDP had focused on health care as its main issue for the previous four years. As a result, the NDP's support for the budget provided both a vote for substantially the policies it had been advocating since the previous election, and a form of immunization in advance of an election which would happen regardless of the outcome of the budget vote.

In Nova Scotia, the NDP's votes actually were essential to support a PC government. But they too were readily explained as being based on the governing party having actually adopted planks from the NDP's platform.

Of course, $1 billion in improvements to EI for long-term workers as currently on offer from the Cons is certainly better than nothing. But the federal NDP has rightly criticized the Cons' bill as falling short of even the Cons' spin (which itself didn't promise anything close to what the NDP has long been seeking on EI). And combined with the Harper government's continued stance of refusing to cooperate with other parties, that makes it a much more difficult sell to claim that NDP support can be grounded in the governing party having adopted its values and proposals.

Which means that unless Layton has some reason to expect that the Cons will radically change course, the NDP's message will be based on compromising for the sake of being seen as willing to compromise, rather than much expectation of substantially advancing the NDP's vision for Canada in its voting choices. And there's reason to question whether that will accomplish any more as a matter of pragmatism than it will as a matter of principle.

Someday, this could all be ours...

While one would like to think the overwhelming public opposition to nuclear power in Saskachewan would lead to the "demise" of any plans for reactor construction as theorized by Murray Mandryk, I'm still far from convinced that the Wall government won't try to find some excuse to ignore the province's input. So let's look to New Brunswick's Point Lepreau reactor for a reminder as to just how accurate nuclear backers tend to be in describing the costs and time frames involved:
New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham is ratcheting up the pressure on the federal government to get a firm completion date for the Point Lepreau refurbishment project.

Graham announced Thursday that he has sent a second letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking that the federal Department of Natural Resources, which is responsible for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., provide an update on the nuclear reactor refurbishment project — which is months behind schedule.
In Graham's letter Tuesday to Harper, the premier warned the prime minister about the financial implications about any significant delays at the nuclear plant.

"The losses occasioned by these delays are extremely costly for both AECL and NB Power. AECL and NB Power have a fixed-price contract with various damage formulas," Graham's letter said.

"No doubt our respective counsel could advise on the implications for each of the parties. I am writing in the same vein as my January, to request that the federal government keep NB Power whole for these losses. We did not contract for failure and damage claims. We contracted for success."

The reactor was originally intended to begin generating electricity again on Oct. 1.

NB Power has not released an up-to-date estimate of the project's delay. However, CBC News reported earlier in September that the refurbishment is at least nine months behind schedule.

For every day that Point Lepreau remains offline, it costs the New Brunswick government roughly $1 million upfront, though that should eventually be mitigated somewhat. Before the refurbishment project started, NB Power bought insurance just in case the reactor fell behind schedule. Additionally, NB Power renegotiated a series of contracts in 2005 to include stiffer penalties on AECL if the project was not completed on time.

If the penalties and insurance funds are fully recouped, the monthly cost to NB Power would be about $20 million.

NB Power would still be on the hook for the entire cost of the delays in the month of October, which isn't covered by the insurance or penalties.