Saturday, November 14, 2009

The reviews are in

Bruce Johnstone:
If you believe Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer, Saskatchewan just had the fastest recession in history.

Asked by Saskatoon StarPhoenix legislative reporter James Wood earlier this week whether Saskatchewan was in a recession, Gantefoer responded: "No. Well, the country's in a recession, North America is probably in a recession ... While our positive growth is pretty minuscule, it's still positive. So technically we're not."

By Tuesday, Gantefoer was in full retreat: "By the end of the year, we will be in a recession," he told reporters.

By Thursday, Gantefoer had done a complete about-face and was back on the offensive. "Saskatchewan is not going into a recession, we're coming out of one," Gantefoer said in question period.

Let me get this straight.

In the space of a week, Saskatchewan went from being technically not in a recession, to being in a recession by year-end, to coming out of a recession.
For Gantefoer to claim that Saskatchewan was "technically not in recession'' as late as this week is disingenuous, at best, and misleading, at worst.
I'm sympathetic to Gantefoer's plight as the guy who's left holding the bag when the promised flood of potash revenues turns to a trickle.

But I have little or no sympathy for a finance minister who tries to keep the public in the dark about the true state of the province's economy -- and its fiscal health -- for months at a time.

Compare and contrast

A couple more Shorters from the Con government's adventures abroad. First, their stance on climate change:

The U.S.' overwhelming dominance makes it pointless for us to even try to take a separate position. So we'll do exactly what they force us to, and no more.
But it's a different shorter story when it comes to corporate interests in attacking Buy American policies:

All we need to do is work together with our international allies, and we're sure we can convince the U.S. to see the light!

On holdouts

Shorter Stephen Harper:

There's no hope of making meaningful progress on climate change unless everybody pitches in and does their part. And since I have no intention of doing anything of the sort, the rest of you might as well just give up.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Musical interlude

Tara MacLean - If I Fall

It all makes sense

Sure, at first glance it might seem like Shelly Glover is speaking absolute nonsense in claiming she can't conceive of any way to promote French immersion other than by distributing Con propaganda. But after some reflection, the statement may not be quite as far-fetched as it seems.

After all, as a Con MP under Stephen Harper, Glover long since signed away her own ability to think for herself. So it would make sense that she doesn't have any ideas beyond what her party gives her.

And it's equally well-documented that the Cons themselves can't think of anything other than pure partisan advantage. So even if Glover asked for some idea as to what she could give students that didn't have the Cons' logo on it, they too would probably draw a blank.

So let's not look at Glover as an offender. Instead, let's just politely point out that it's indeed possible to offer congratulations - and even accompanying tokens of appreciation - without slapping a partisan logo on them. And hopefully Glover and her partymates can then take today's events as a learning experience.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

On lost capacity

Last night I noted the disconnect between the Libs' layoffs and their fund-raising rhetoric over the past year. But there's another angle on the Libs' staff cuts that looks even more telling about the party's fortunes.

There doesn't seem to be much room for doubt that over the course of the fall, the Libs have fallen short of what would seem to be their goals as a party - presumably including countering the Cons' attacks on Michael Ignatieff, developing and promoting their own policy, and building electoral machinery for future elections. At best, one can give them partial marks for developing and sticking to a couple of consistent lines of attack against the Cons, but it's hard to see any payoff yet in the impressions of Canadians toward the respective parties - particularly with both polls and by-election results looking weak for the Libs.

Now, one might see those failings as reason to replace staff who haven't performed to expectations, as seems to be the case with Ignatieff's original cadre. But it strikes me as an entirely different step to be cutting exactly the staff capacity which the Libs will ultimately need to try to turn things around.

In effect, having already failed to counter the Cons' messaging machine with the extra 30 workers on hand, the Libs will now be making less of an effort to try; having done little work toward their supposed 308-riding strategy as evidenced by their mediocre by-election results, they'll now have fewer staff working on picking up the slack.

Under the circumstances, the Libs' choice only makes sense if they that they were running a larger organization than they could afford in the first place. But it hardly speaks well for the Libs' potential to reverse their decline if even an unsustainably large operation can't do any better than keep them around their lowest support levels ever. And there's reason to wonder whether the Libs will take on even more water now that they'll have less hands on deck.

Suddenly lacking urgency

Shorter Doug Finley:

As a recent and high-profile recipient of Senate patronage, I strongly believe that Canadians should be patient with the Senate and its associated patronage. For at least the next 12 years.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Deep thought

I'd have figured that a party which has trumpeted its fund-raising the last four quarters in a row would at least have brought in enough money to avoid massive layoffs. But maybe that's just me.

Far beyond belief

Shorter Tom Flanagan:

To learn the true measure of a leader, one must ignore his instinctual reaction to a perceived crisis in favour of whatever image he now finds it most beneficial to project. (Warning: only applies to Stephen Harper.)

Without regret

The Cons let Canadians in general - and new citizens in particular - know what they really think about Canada's shameful legacy of residential schools:
From the 1800s until the 1980s, the federal government placed many Aboriginal children in residential schools to educate and assimilate them into mainstream Canadian culture. The schools were poorly funded and inflicted hardship on the students; some were physically abused. Aboriginal languages and cultural practices were mostly prohibited. In 2008, Ottawa formally apologized to the former students.
That's right: as far as the Cons are concerned, new Canadians should think that the most notable problem with residential schools was their level of funding - so that if the general goal of eradicating First Nations culture had received more resources, it would have been far less objectionable. And indeed, the concept of assimilation is listed only in direct conjunction with a desire to "educate" students - framing it in an outright positive light.

Now, one might argue that a citizenship manual should be relatively neutral in its description of historical events rather than getting into value judgments. But one can't claim that's the Cons' goal, as the same manual which looks to minimize the horror of residential schools as a matter of insufficient funding isn't anywhere near as shy about using terms like "regrettably" and avoiding any possible positive associations when it comes to wartime internment camps. (There, as an added signal of the Cons' priorities, they manage to phrase the coerced confinement of Japanese Canadians as mere "relocation" while providing a value judgment about the "forcible sale of their property".)

As a result, the only available conclusion is that while the Cons want new Canadians to recognize which past actions we most regret as a country, they don't see residential schools as meeting that standard. Which should offer plenty of reason to doubt both Harper's sincerity in the apology which the Cons are so eager to highlight, and his party's view of how First Nations and other cultures should be treated today.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

An instant classic


On limited exemptions

There's been some attempt to paint the McGuinty government's expected announcement about some more exclusions from its HST plan as a major capitulation - and it's certainly a plus to the extent it signals that the Ontario government's plans aren't set in stone generally. But isn't there reason to wonder just what it says that McGuinty is now setting up the system to favour fast food and fish wrap rather than actual necessities of life which are set to become more expensive due to the HST?

On turnout

Alice has some excellent advice for anybody who wants to focus unduly on cutting into other parties' support as the main growth strategy for the NDP:
Using the per cent of the electorate rather than per cent of the vote allows us to look at the fastest-growing “party” of the last 20 years in British Columbia: non-voters. In fact, if the non-voters were a political party, they would have won every B.C. seat in 2008 except Saanich-Gulf Islands and Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale.

Looking at elections results this way, we notice that Conservative support has remained fairly constant in most B.C. federal ridings since 1988. It’s just that the turnout is down.
NDP support is most likely to drop when turnout drops, since their support correlates with low-income status, and that correlates with lower voter participation. And in 1993 as the NDP vote plummeted in virtually every B.C. riding, about half of the drop could be accounted for by big increases in non-voters. But in 2004, the B.C. seats showing the biggest gains for the NDP were also seats where turnout went up.

So, Byers may want to go back to the drawing board to find a more successful formula, and perhaps a different dance partner.
Of course, the alternatives aren't necessarily mutually exclusive: presumably some of the same messages which may help to win additional voters away from other parties may also get some new participants involved in the political process, and the NDP will likely need a mix of both to continue its recent growth. But to the extent there's a choice to be made, there's more theoretical upside to be found in working to boost turnout overall than in following suit with the Harper Cons' brand of slice-and-dice politics - and it may be that the next possible wave of support for the NDP among regular voters will only surface once it's brought out enough new participants to reshape the current party standings.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that the by-elections themselves provided a strong example of the dangers of low turnout in a riding where the NDP made relatively modest gains compared to what it may have hoped for:
An official with Elections Canada said that based on by-election data they had available dating back to 1960, Monday’s 22.3 per cent turnout in Hochelaga is the lowest.
I've pointed out one side of the equation in the riding, to the effect that a clear cross-party push would be needed to make the NDP the default federalist option for the riding. But with the Bloc taking more than half the riding's votes as it was, it's apparent that no amount of federalist cooperation will flip ridings like Hochelaga unless it's paired with some additional turnout as well.

All of which is to say that for all the differences between Canada's assorted regions, the most important part of the NDP's formula for growth may well be the same across the country. And while it will be difficult to tell before a general election whether the party has made any progress in reversing the recent slide in voter interest, that may be the ultimate measure as to whether the NDP can continue to build from its current position.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Truly the idiocracy is upon us

Apparently Pat Fiacco's continued confusion between the roles of "public official" and "second-rate deejay" is contagious. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for your chance to win when Stephen Harper broadcasts live from a secret mystery location.

The reviews are in

Chantal Hebert's takeaway for the NDP from Monday's by-elections:
(W)ith the Liberals under Michael Ignatieff going nowhere fast in Quebec, federalists are looking at other options. While the Conservatives are the main beneficiaries of the Liberal vacuum outside Montreal, the NDP is picking up support on the island.

Former Liberal minister Martin Cauchon, who has set his sights on winning back his ex-riding of Outremont from NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair in the next election, might want to take note of the 20 per cent NDP score in neighbouring Hochelaga – a riding where the Liberals used to outvote the NDP by a ratio of 5 to 1 only five years ago.

In British Columbia, the NDP scored a hit with its campaign against the province's upcoming harmonized sales tax, holding on to the New Westminster-Coquitlam riding with an increased majority. It remains to be seen whether a protest vote against a provincial tax can be sustained throughout a full-fledged federal campaign but the issue does provide Jack Layton with a unique wedge against both the Liberals and the Conservatives in a crucial province for the three main parties.

By definition, a good by-election night for Harper and Layton means a sleepless one for the Liberals. There could be more to come. This was Ignatieff's first electoral test and the results are comparable to Stéphane Dion's dismal 2008 score. Against all expectations, it may be that the Liberals did not bottom out in the last election.

On sudden reversals

What a difference a day makes. Just this Monday, Saskatchewan Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer was trying to pretend that the province was continuing to experience overall growth rather than facing a recession:
Mr. Wotherspoon:
To the Minister of Finance: why is he the only person in Saskatchewan that does not know there’s a recession going on?
Hon. Mr. Gantefoer: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to stand up in this House and talk about the strength of Saskatchewan’s economy.

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that there has been an unprecedented economic slowdown, not only in Canada, not only in North America, but in indeed the entire world. And
through it all, Saskatchewan has done relatively better than any other jurisdiction in that same environment.

Mr. Speaker, granted that the rate of growth predicted currently for Saskatchewan’s economy is very, very small. But even that small amount in 2009 is the highest number in the country of Canada and is higher than most jurisdictions. And so we do have some satisfaction in those numbers, Mr. Speaker.
And what's more, Gantefoer was trying to stamp out any talk about the mere possibility of a recession:
Hon. Mr. Gantefoer: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I can’t understand why the opposition is so determined to put a negative spin on what is pretty good numbers for the province of Saskatchewan and what is very good numbers in comparison to other jurisdictions.
But by Tuesday, Gantefoer's line had taken a significant turn for the worse:
The Saskatchewan Party government is facing a harsh new reality after two years buoyed by a soaring economy and swelling provincial coffers.

Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer confirmed this week that the provincial economy will shrink in 2009 and the province will likely be in recession by the end of the year.
Going down as well at mid-term will be the government's economic growth projection for the province, which began at 2.1 per cent in the budget and was downgraded to 0.6 per cent at first quarter.

By the end of the year there will likely be two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the province, which means Saskatchewan will be in recession, acknowledged Gantefoer.
Now, it's hardly news that the Sask Party has eagerly taken up the Saskatchewan PCs' legacy of fiscal mismanagement.

But Gantefoer's turn on a dime - from blustering about "growth predicted currently" (with an admonition that nobody should even talk about the reams of evidence to the contrary) to admitting that we're actually in a recession in a matter of a single day - suggests that the Wall government has now combined the economic cluelessness of Grant Devine with the secrecy and dishonesty normally associated with the Harper Cons. And considering how quickly the Harper government's talk of never seeing a recession or running a deficit turned into record-setting seas of red ink, there's every reason to worry that the same is in store if Wall and Gantefoer are left in control of Saskatchewan's public resources any longer than we can avoid.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On disturbing positions

Shorter Leona Aglukkaq:

If we were applying the minimum standards for humane treatment of prisoners set out by the Geneva Conventions to combatants in Afghanistan, that would be a scandal and an outrage. But have no fear, there's no danger of that happening anytime soon.

(via Aaron Wherry.)

The reviews are in

James Travers:
Once there were reasons for the costly, long and deadly Canadian commitment to Afghanistan. Now there are none.
Canada's reasons for its blood and treasure offerings to Afghanistan have never been quite what they seemed or exactly as first Liberal and then Conservative governments explained. Creating a model democracy and civil society from warring factions and feudal customs is a softly engaging narrative that gains veracity through repetition. It's not the hard-headed stuff that persuades prime ministers to put their political hegemony at risk by putting lives in harm's way.
(I)n politics and war, triumphs are fleeting. Bowing to U.S. pressure to continue a losing battle won't appreciably improve cross-border relations now shaped as much by domestic economics as international threats. Any extension of the combat mission beyond 2011 would jeopardize current military success by demanding more than can be sustained by a small force already stretched too thin.

Whatever the motivations for going to Afghanistan, Canada has no compelling reason to stay longer.

On lessons learned

Not surprisingly, last night's by-elections produced no major upsets and only a slight shift in party strength in the House of Commons. Which means that their ultimate impact will likely be reflected more in what the parties are able to take away from the by-elections to help shape their message for the future. And interestingly enough, it's there - not in the actual results - that the Libs look to have lost the most ground.

For the NDP, the general lessons are obvious based on the strategies applied in three of the four ridings contested last night. Fin Donnelly's romp in New Westminster-Coquitlam confirmed that the HST is a winning issue in BC; Jean-Claude Rocheleau's difficulty getting within 30 points of the lead even while jumping into second place offered a fairly compelling signal that the Bloc won't easily be displaced in ridings like Hochelaga; and Mark Austin's moderately distant second in Cumberland – Colchester – Musquodoboit Valley provided an indication of exactly how far the NDP has come (and how far it has left to go) in building strength across Nova Scotia.

Likewise for the Cons, the contrast between a disappointing result from their invisible candidate in New Westminster-Coquitlam and victories for the more opinionated Bernard Genereux and Scott Armstrong would offer some evidence that strong individual candidates who actually speak publicly can sway more voters than party branding alone. And last night also offered a hint at some of the issues which may prove toxic (the HST) and beneficial (timed pork-barrelling) for the Cons down the road.

For the Libs, it's no huge surprise that last night's vote totals weren't all that great - and indeed Jim Burrows' reasonably close third in Cumberland – Colchester – Musquodoboit Valley likely made for a somewhat better outcome than might have been expected. But can anybody actually point to anything the Libs did in the by-elections other than going through the motions? And if not, then doesn't that reflect a failure in planning by a party which desperately needs to move past the realm of habit?

Simply put, it's one thing to lose by-elections while testing out messages and strategies which can be developed (or abandoned) for later - but it's something else entirely to sleepwalk through an opportunity to test in practice what works and what doesn't. And it's hard to escape the conclusion that the Libs were the lone national party in Parliament who faced a lose-lose outcome last night as a result.

Monday, November 09, 2009

By-election Chat

For those who haven't yet found their way to Cameron's by-election chat, stop by to discuss the returns as they come in.

The reviews are in

The Toronto Star:
(I)n Ottawa, the silence is deafening: no plausible policy, no detailed road map for attaining objectives, no statement of the costs – and benefits – of putting a price on carbon. Worse, that uncharacteristic Canadian silence becomes a roar when anyone dares to broach the subject.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice, who has had almost nothing of substance to say on the issue, is quick to shout down any informed debate about the costs of doing something – and the price of doing nothing. Prentice lapsed into hysteria last month after publication of a report by two respected environmental groups that painted a picture of how the government's nominal targets would impact provincial economies in 2020.
(T)here is nothing orderly or remotely coherent about federal Conservative policy on climate change. When the George W. Bush administration stalled, Ottawa idled. Now that the Barack Obama administration is moving forward, Ottawa is standing pat until further notice.

And Ottawa is saying nothing. While heaping abuse on the Pembina/Suzuki report, Prentice has so far hushed up the government's own internal predictions of the economic impacts of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. This is a bizarre case of the minister shooting the messenger, while withholding his own data from the public.
Increasingly, Canada looks like the sick man of the environmental movement, out of sync with the world – and out of touch with its own economic data.

By-election Breakdown

The spinners are out in full force when it comes to today's by-elections. The Cons are presenting a laughably skewed take in order to try to claim some momentous victory if they can eke out a win in territory which has voted for actual or expelled Cons all but once in the past 40 years; the Libs are understandably pointing out that the ridings aren't friendly terrain in order to justify a set of third-place finishes to come; and the NDP and Bloc are playing up their credentials in order to boost morale for election day. But let's put the current spin aside and take a look at the most likely outcomes in each riding.

New Westminster-Coquitlam

It's been well documented that the battle here is between the NDP's Fin Donnelly looking to take over the seat previously held by Dawn Black based on a combination of personal appeal and anger over the HST, while the Cons' Diana Dilworth tries to hide out and hope that the "Conservative" next to her name carries the day. Meanwhile, Lib Ken Beck Lee and Green Rebecca Helps figure to be fairly firmly entrenched in third and fourth place respectively - though it's worth wondering whether the flattening effect of a by-election can push Lee within striking distance of the top two contenders.

X-factor: The HST didn't manage to have much effect on a provincial by-election in Ontario, and today's vote may serve as the primary test of whether or not it'll sway votes in British Columbia.
Outcome Estimates: 65% chance of Donnelly win; 30% chance of Dilworth win; 5% chance of Lee win; 10% chance of Lee 2nd; 25% chance of Helps 3rd or higher


Gilles Duceppe is now looking to downplay his party's all-out attack on the NDP. But all indications are that the NDP has put in place a couple of pieces from its winning formula in Outremont by winning the sign war and positioning itself as one of the two main alternatives in most commentary on the race - leaving the question of whether the final piece (shifting votes from other parties into the NDP's camp once that two-way race is set up) will push Jean-Claude Rocheleau ahead of the Bloc's Daniel Paille. The Libs normally run second in the riding but candidate Robert David hasn't been heard from much, while the Cons' Stephanie Cloutier looks to be even further back.

X-factor: It's been a common phenomenon in Quebec races involving the Bloc for federalist organizers and voters to unite behind one of the national parties. But for all of Rocheleau's strength through the campaign, I haven't heard much indication that he's managed to pull off the feat - and it's hard to see how he can overcome the Bloc's usual margin if not.
Outcome Estimates: 80% chance of Paille win; 15% chance of Rocheleau win; 5% chance of David or Cloutier win; 60% chance of Rocheleau 2nd; 20% chance of David 2nd; 40% chance of Cloutier 3rd or higher

Montmagny – L'Islet – Kamouraska – Rivière-du-Loup

I still have to figure it's a bad sign for the Cons if their star challenger Bernard Genereux is having to run against his own party. But there's at least a fairly plausible set of turnout assumptions which would nonetheless propel him to victory over the Bloc's Nancy Gagnon (particularly with the provincial Lib machine behind him), making this as likely a riding as any to change hands. Further back, while the NDP has done an effective job promoting Francois Lapointe, it'll have to be a pleasant surprise if he can make up a 10-point gap on the Libs to beat out Marcel Catellier for third place.

X-factor: Will the Cons' major highway announcement on Friday tip votes into their column based on Genereux' promise of patronage, or will it simply lead to voter fatigue?
Outcome Estimates: 60% chance of Gagnon win; 40% chance of Genereux win; 20% chance of Catellier 2nd; 30% chance of Lapointe 3rd or higher

Cumberland – Colchester – Musquodoboit Valley

While Bill Casey's old seat is being seen as an extremely close contest (with even the likes of Craig Oliver picking the NDP to win), I'll have to take a slightly less optimistic view of the likely outcomes. Yes, the NDP's Mark Austin is likely to finish a fairly strong second - but the Cons in one incarnation or another (PC, Con or Independent via Casey) have held the seat 36 of the last 40 years, and the safe bet has to be on Scott Armstrong continuing that pattern. With Lib Jim Burrows and Green Jason Blanch likely slotting into 3rd and 4th respectively, the other question to watch in the riding is whether the Christian Heritage Party's Jim Hnatiuk will develop enough traction to pass any of the national parties - but the likely answer there is "no".

X-factor: As much progress as the NDP has made within the riding provincially, the outcome will come down to whether the riding's voters are ready to forgive the Cons for their treatment of Casey now that one of his loyalists is carrying the party's banner. If so, then Armstrong should win in a walk based on the riding's historical tendencies; if not, then Austin figures to be the beneficiary of personal factors which easily trumped partisan identification in 2008.
Outcome Estimates: 70% chance of Armstrong win; 30% chance of Austin win; 25% chance of Burrows 2nd or higher; 20% chance of Hnatiuk 4th or higher.

As always, the above numbers reflect my own (hopefully reasonable educated) guesses rather than any mathematical formula. And it won't be long before we'll have some real results to mull over and analyze - hopefully with at least a couple more NDP MPs to show for the races.

Compare and contrast

It's great to see the Star reporting on the latest invasion of the Cons' Pod People. But there's another interesting new piece of information from the story which nicely highlights the relative priorities of the NDP's MPs compared to those of the Cons.

Remember that when Con MP John Duncan received an e-mail which wasn't intended for him, the result was his party surrepetitously dialling into and then leaking a private telephone call for political gain.

In contrast, the Star reveals that when NDP MP Linda Duncan received an e-mail which wasn't intended for her, the result was...the newfound knowledge being used to help her constituents:
In Edmonton-Strathcona, the only Alberta riding the Conservatives do not hold, local Tory candidate Ryan Hastman has participated in at least five government announcements over the past few months, while the local NDP MP, Linda Duncan, says she has been excluded from all of them. Hastman boasts of his participation in pictures on his Facebook page.

Duncan, who calls the "whole process offensive," says it becomes doubly irritating when a Conservative candidate claims credit for funds she helped to get for the community, as the duly elected MP.

"What I find reprehensible about all this is that they just can't seem to accept the fact that Edmonton-Strathcona voters elected me, not a Conservative," Duncan said.

Hastman was on hand, posing for pictures with Labour Minister Rona Ambrose, when the Conservatives gave a $14.8 million cheque to the GO community sports centre in Edmonton in September, for example.

Duncan had worked with the centre to get the application into the government before the deadline elapsed earlier in the year – and says she only found out about that deadline because someone accidentally sent her an email directed to the Alberta Conservative caucus.
Now, there's plenty of reason for concern about how the Cons themselves apparently tried to keep the funding deadlines to themselves. (And it's probably worth some followup as to whether that might help to explain the glaring gap between stimulus funding for Con-held ridings and that for the rest of the country.)

But Linda Duncan's response also highlights the fact that there are indeed MPs to be found whose main focus is working to serve their constituents rather than taking credit for what others are doing. And the fact that Duncan's main challenger has that set of priorities exactly backwards should give Edmonton-Strathcona voters ample reason to keep Duncan in Parliament.

Update: And lest I forget, you too can help out the cause.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

On headaches

Cameron and impolitical have already picked up on the fact that the Cons' candidate in Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup is effectively running to turn the party into something other than what it is. But I'd think it's worth wondering just where that decision came from, particularly in a party notorious for message control (as epitomized by their refusal to allow a single one of their MPs to talk about the gun registry on national TV today).

Cameron speculates about Bernard Genereux "going rogue". That's certainly one possibility - and if it's true, the Cons may well be hoping for Genereux to merely hold a close second place in the riding rather than becoming an inside voice against their environmental neglect.

But I'd think there's another equally plausible possibility as well. Could it be that the Cons have authorized Genereux to criticize them based on a conclusion that he can only win the by-election as an anti-Conservative? And might that make for a rare crack in the Cons' PR facade which has the potential to weaken the entire structure?

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Needless to say, there's plenty to be satisfied with in the 'Riders' win over Calgary which clinched first place. After two nail-biters in the team's earlier games against Calgary, the 'Riders managed to maintain at least some advantage throughout the game, then pulled away late to the point where the Stamps didn't even bother leaving Henry Burris in the game for their last drive. So let's note what the team did particularly well to win yesterday - and what it will need to work on in case the Stamps are back in town two weeks from now.

The biggest plus for Saskatchewan was the most consistent offensive game the team has put together in some time. While Andy Fantuz seems to have finally broken out as a superstar receiver, the rest of the team's success was once again based on balance between a number of threats, with five receivers and three rushers posting 24 or more yards of production.

About the only time the offense was ever bottled up was in the first quarter after the 'Riders' first touchdown - but by then the Stamps were already on their heels due to the 'Riders' lead. After that point, the 'Riders posted a grand total of one two-and-out the rest of the game to go with no turnovers and few significant losses of yardage (thanks largely to Darien Durant's creativity when the Stamps managed to get pressure on him). And that combination will usually ensure that a team at least stays in any game - or holds a lead once it exists.

What's more, even while winning the game by 16 the 'Riders had more near misses than their opponents when it came to piling up even more points. Several deep passing routes were no more than a stride away from turning into long TDs, while a couple of drives were stopped just short of field goal range (including one where a rare sack may have made the difference between a field goal attempt and a punt). Which offers the 'Riders some obvious room for improvement - but holds out the potential that the 'Riders could blow out their conference final opponent without much change from how they played yesterday.

Meanwhile, the defence was remarkably effective in slowing down Henry Burris. The defensive line surrounded Burris on most plays so that he couldn't generate big gains on the ground, while the secondary did a superb job shutting down deep routes and making quick tackles when Burris was forced to throw short. (In particular, credit has to go to Omarr Morgan, who regularly seemed to be in a better position to catch passes thrown his way than the Stamps' receivers.)

The price of that focus was yet another huge game for Joffrey Reynolds, and one would surely like to see a few more of his first-down runs stopped after 2-3 yards rather than watching another steady stream of 7-10-yard gains following broken initial tackles. But for this game at least, the 'Riders were able to firm up their defence nearly every time the Stampeders were within striking distance of the end zone. And allowing Reynolds some yardage closer to his own end of the field in exchange for limiting the Stamps' passing offence is probably a trade-off which any team will be glad to make.

Finally, special teams were largely a saw-off in yesterday's game, with no game-changing returns and only a few significant kicking plays. The Stamps managed to expose one weakness in when Sandro DeAngelis recovered his own kickoff in the third quarter, but it should be a fairly easy fix for the 'Riders to keep one player in front of the kicker to keep that from being repeated. Meanwhile, the 'Riders greatest strengths were ones which should remain effective for the rest of the season: in particular Louie Sakoda's punting and kicking is turning into a major boon for the team.

We'll find out next week who the 'Riders will end up facing in the West final. But the prospect of adding a few of the team's injured players back into the lineup after a game as strong as yesterday's has to serve as a great sign for the 'Riders' chances of turning a Calgary Grey Cup into an effective home game.