Friday, September 03, 2010

Musical interlude and light blogging warning

Off to an undisclosed location until next weekend, with little or no posting in the meantime. But first, here's...

Armand Van Helden - U Don't Know Me

On nation building

As promised, let's take a closer look at Jack Layton's economic vision speech to the Toronto Rotary Club, with a particular focus on how it frames the role of government.

The first noteworthy point is the extensive use of "infrastructure" as the main priority for government - with the term then expanded to include policies which normally aren't thought of as fitting the definition:
I’d take not just a longer view of infrastructure but a wider one too.

If physical infrastructure is a foundation for economic growth, so is social infrastructure. This century, probably more so. Public health care helps Canada compete for investment and jobs. Affordable child care opens doors for parents to work or to study. Education & training, quality & accessible, is how we’ll build that 21st-century workforce. More affordable housing means a more secure population of workers and consumers.

We need to talk about retirement security. Settlement services. Seniors care. But it’s been years since we’ve seen substantial national leadership to strengthen our social infrastructure. One-off deals with provinces, yes — a little homelessness funding in a crisis, or child care deals that can be axed at a whim. My vision for Ottawa includes a renewed focus on building that social infrastructure — as a matter of sound economic policy.

Let’s build those programs that we know attract new investment, jobs and immigration into our communities. Let’s build those programs that support a more secure, skilled, healthy population — the next generation of workers, consumers, innovators, leaders. Let’s build them strategically, one practical step at a time.
Now, it's not hard to see some path-of-least-resistance value in treating what might otherwise be thought of as a separate class of social programs as being part of "infrastructure". After all, while the Harper Cons never hesitate to attack anything that's labeled as social spending (or even social policy at this point), they'll happily brag about flinging tens of billions of dollars around under the "infrastructure" heading. And to the extent it's possible to put aside a dispute over descriptors to compare the relative value of, say, housing and retirement income as opposed to lawn-bowling greens, there's plenty of opportunity to set up positive comparisons between the NDP's vision and the Cons'.

But it is worth asking whether the phrasing concedes more ground than it should. If the NDP isn't able to transform the public's view of the term "infrastructure" (which will be a difficult task when the Cons have spent so much time and money promoting their pork-based vision), then its framing will result in all sides talking about a term perceived to refer to things rather than people. And that could make it more difficult to build associations between valuable social programs and their human impact in the long term.

On the bright side, though, Layton's message also includes a strong statement that the government's role isn't simply to be a passive observer of the economy:
I’d use infrastructure investment as a means to achieve Pan-Canadian goals. Fuller employment, higher productivity, lower carbon emissions, less gridlock outside... You see that approach embodied in legislation we’ve brought to the House:

* Like our bill launching a 10-year housing strategy
* Another one phasing in a pan-Canadian child care program
* Our bill — now passed in the House! — holding Ottawa accountable to rolling carbon-reduction targets.
But if you believe Ottawa’s real job is to get out of the way, then meeting pan-Canadian goals will never be your priority. Do any of you believe that? I certainly don’t.

I believe our national government has vital a role to play — as the embodiment of our collective capacities as Canadians. I believe sound economic management should be about achieving national goals — like full-time job creation.
The legislative examples listed by Layton go more toward policies than the values which have to define what goals we should aim for - and hopefully we'll see some stronger links between the two as Layton's message evolves. But the underlying message is a vital one: that "collective capacities" matter, and that our democratic system should serve as a forum to discuss and decide exactly what goals we want to pursue as those capacities are harnessed.

Of course, there's still plenty of need to define exactly what collective capacities we should focus on, and I wouldn't take Layton's list as definitive. But it's nonetheless a huge plus to see a wholehearted defence of the role of the federal government in formulating and reaching national goals, particularly in contrast to Harper's determination to demolish it and Ignatieff's willingness to throw it under the bus when it seems convenient. And the more politicians and voters alike start to think about what Ottawa can and should do for the country as a whole rather than defining politics solely in terms of partisan jabs, the better the chances of actually reaching some of our national goals in the longer term.

Well said

While the Wall government is showing its utter contempt for Saskatchewan's citizens on big long-term issues as well, there are plenty of examples that hit far closer to home as well. Which brings us to LRT's apt comment on the Sask Party's inexplicable delay in funding to the Chili for Children school lunch program:
Chili for Children operates in what Maclean's once called "Canada's Worst Neighbourhood", and did enough good works over the last several years that Prince Charles stopped by for a visit in 2001. Yet somehow, the funding for the operation didn't come in on time.

I'd invite anyone who thinks that delaying funding to Chili for Children is acceptable to skip lunch for the next few days.

Friday Morning Links

A few light reads to end your week...

- Yep, this census thingy will blow over any day now for the Harper Cons. Just as soon as those freeloading public health officials stop complaining that "social determinants of health" might be important for their work...

- Meanwhile, to the extent there was any doubt that Guy Giorno would officially be declared responsible for the census debacle among other Con failings, his departure from the PMO should seal the deal.

- Paul Wells' comparison between Stephen Harper and Glenn Beck only seems to be off base in missing the fact that Harper's "politics of venom" is carefully planned rather than delivered in random outbursts. But Wells' discussion of the implications for our political scene dovetails nicely with my take on base motivation:
Throughout that period, writes Perlstein, “America was engulfed in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The only thing was: Americans disagreed radically over which side was which.”

And so it is today in our own politics. Whether it’s the long-form census, the long-gun registry, criminal justice or Canada’s role in the Middle East, our politics has become nasty and hotly accusatory. One noteworthy feature of the acrimony is that each side blames the other for all the ugliness. Another is that, thanks to websites and broadcasts that preach to the converted with pinpoint accuracy (Huffington Post, Beck’s The Blaze), the possibility of consensus collapses further because neither side even hears what the other is talking about.

This is useful to Harper and disorienting to the federal Liberals. The Prime Minister is content with a polarized debate, first because it suits his personality, but also because the Conservatives get all of one side and the Liberals have to fight the Bloc and the NDP for the rest. The Liberals, meanwhile, still hope to straddle a centre that’s increasingly hard even to find.
And instead of recognizing that there's some need to counter Harper's narrowcasting and turnout suppression, the Libs seem to be playing into his hands by painting Canadian politics as a choice in tent colour rather than a subject worth getting fired up about.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert's column on the impending federal by-elections contains one rather surprising statement:
In Quebec, the pattern since 2006 has been that the Conservatives have fared better in by-elections than in general elections.

Local rather than national issues typically dominate by-election campaigns. The benefits of electing a member with the inside track on government largesse are easier to highlight in that context than in a general election.
Let's leave aside the recent pattern in Quebec (where the Bloc doesn't seem to be as successful when it can't get the entire province riled up at once). I'd always thought the conventional wisdom was to the opposite effect: that in the absence of any prospect of changing governments, by-election voters tend to be more willing to cast protest votes - but is there reason to think the opposite holds true other than in the case of the Bloc?

- Update: Let's add Avaaz' sharp response to a few obviously false names included in its petition to uphold the CRTC's decision not to give special status to Fox News North:
There is evidence of a deliberate and illegal effort designed to discredit Avaaz and violate an important form of democratic expression for Canadian citizens. If this is confirmed we will request a full investigation, and help to bring the perpetrators to justice.
It's deeply disturbing that in all Avaaz's years of campaigns against US President George Bush, Burmese, Zimbabwean and Sudanese dictators, irresponsible multinational corporations and corrupt politicians, no one has ever yet stooped to this kind of tactic to undermine our members' right to express their views.

We do not yet have all the facts, but it appears to speak to the poisonous political climate and deeply deceptive tactics that have been bred by the radical right in Canada and its progenitor in the US. It is precisely this kind of bare-knuckled, brazenly deceptive and often hateful political climate that Sun TV's "Fox News North" appears keen to promote.
Of course, it's worth noting that while Avaaz may not yet have encountered these kinds of tactics, the "discrediting by fraud" angle is all too familiar to other progressive organizations south of the border. And the prospect of major Canadian media space being devoted to similar lies in the service of reactionary politics should provide all the more incentive to sign Avaaz' petition.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On notable omissions

It isn't much surprise that the Wall government has decided to put a corporate front group in charge of advising it on a possible potash takeover. But it's remarkable just how brazen the Sask Party is being in declaring that as far as it's concerned, nothing matters but big business:
The Saskatchewan government has commissioned the Conference Board of Canada to complete a report to understand the implications for Saskatchewan of a proposed takeover of PotashCorp.

1. The report will identify general risks to and opportunities for:
- All aspects of potash industry employment in Saskatchewan;
- Revenues of the Government of Saskatchewan including royalty revenue, corporate tax
revenue, indirect revenue;
- Saskatchewan's strategic position in the international potash industry; and
- Saskatchewan's reputation for a positive investment climate.
Now, some of us might think that a provincial government should have some interest in figuring out how a takeover would affect the scope of future policymaking, or that it might be worth considering the interests of Saskatchewan's citizens as the ultimate owner of our potash resources. But instead, the provincial government is mentioned solely from the perspective of "revenue", while the long-term interests of Saskatchewan's people are left out altogether.

But while mere people apparently don't rate a mention in the Sask Party's terms of reference, a "reputation for a positive investment climate" is proclaimed to be an explicit end goal. (Though I suppose the Wall government does tend to see that as the polar opposite of giving people any say in how their province is governed.)

Now, one might want to excuse the Sask Party by suggesting that those questions should be dealt with elsewhere. But the report is supposed to cover the "implications for Saskatchewan", full stop. And based on the Sask Party's track record, there's no reason to think it'll do anything but take a corporate-focused report as the definitive word on the subject.

Which means that the Wall government's hand-picked terms of reference create an inescapable conclusion that it doesn't see Saskatchewan's citizens as having any legitimate interest in how their publicly-owned natural resources are managed.

Thursday Morning Links

An assortment of articles for your perusal...

- Just you wait, the Cons' census vandalism will be forgotten any day now:
Released Thursday morning, the EKOS survey delivers nothing but bad news for the Tories, showing their support reduced to a narrow base of hardcore older Western males. This, as they bleed support from women, young people and university educated Canadians.

Quebec is now “scorched earth” for the Conservatives. The EKOS numbers indicate the party would be reduced to one seat from the 11 they now hold in that province.

It’s all because of the government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census, pollster Frank Graves says.

“The direct testing suggests that the census initiative has gone over with a massive thud,” he said. “It is receiving near universal raspberries from a flummoxed electorate.”
- But of course, there's more to charting Canada's course for the future than simply recognizing the problems with the Cons. And while I'd agree with Jeffrey Simpson that his laundry list of democratic reforms deserves some discussion, there's little indication that the Ignatieff Libs are interested in doing anything but taking over the Harper command centre.

- Meanwhile, Marc Lee has his own set of game-changing policy proposals which are well worth a read.

- Finally, Dan Gardner offers some perspective on the relative risk to Canadians from the terrorism that causes the Cons' base to soil itself daily compared to other everyday dangers. But I worry that his mention of falls from trees will only help the right-wing fringe to turn toward environmentalists as their next target as the supposed terrorist threats come to nothing.

Beyond the echo chamber

It remains to be seen how the rest of New Brunswick's election campaign will play out - and particularly whether either the Libs or the Cons will try (however implausibly) to adopt a theme of responsible management for themselves. But for now, it's hard to imagine the NDP's chosen message fitting more perfectly into the broader campaign.

So far, even the national media is dumbstruck at the Graham/Alward bidding war for votes in a province whose fiscal mismanagement already looks to raise some serious long-term issues. But rather than following suit with its own package of baubles, the NDP is not only promising to hold the line on taxes but even highlighting practical ways to save hundreds of millions of dollars without affecting program delivery.

Which means that New Brunswick's citizens have an obvious choice other than to keep voting for the same old empty promises and irresponsible government. And if enough voters learn that they do have that option, then what already looks to be a potentially historical breakthrough for the NDP may get even bigger.

Update: The Chronicle Herald seems to agree.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

On confirmation

Not that it's particularly surprising that the B.C. Libs were less than honest in claiming to have never thought about imposing the HST until roughly three seconds before they officially declared it a done deal. But for those wondering when the paper trail would emerge, here's the answer: just in time to get the public nice and riled up for a recall campaign.

Defining the possible

I'd have serious reservations about what would likely result if he were to get his wish (and would encourage the Libs' less corporatist members to keep in mind how the party prioritized budget-slashing and tax-cutting over nation-building last time it had the chance). But I won't join those criticizing Michael Ignatieff for suggesting that he's aiming for a Lib majority government in the next election as his primary goal. Indeed, one of the easiest mistakes to make in discussing politics is to ascribe too much permanence to a status quo that can change significantly without warning - and the minority-government games of the past few years have likely made that tendency even worse.

That said, though, it's worth pointing out the implications of Ignatieff's statement and its underlying assumptions as applied to other parties as well.

After all, if it's not implausible for the Libs to boost their electoral fortunes by the double-digit vote share and nearly 80 seats required to get them into majority territory, then it can hardly be out of the question for another opposition party to improve its standing by the same amount. Which raises not just the possibility of the NDP closing the relatively narrow gap with the Libs, but also the prospect of an NDP government as an outcome close enough to reality to be worth publicly discussing and striving for.

(Edit: fixed typos.)

On stagnation

Jim Stanford offers a reminder that it isn't only south of the border that the private sector is pocketing stimulus money rather than making any investments that would actually encourage recovery:
Despite a few signs of life (mostly in the oil and gas industry), overall business investment spending has not bounced back at all. Business capital investment is just 6 per cent higher than it was in the trough of the recession a year ago. Yes, profits shrank during the downturn, but they’re recovering. And businesses aren’t even reinvesting what they get, let alone taking on new debt. Cash flow (profits plus depreciation) continues to outstrip new capital investment by almost 2-to-1.

The odd result of this private-sector passivity is that non-financial firms have actually saved close to $100-billion since the recession began. That about offsets the new debt taken on by our governments over the same period. In other words, governments (and the taxpayers who fund them) are taking on debt to try to restart a sick economy. But for every dollar they put in, private firms take out a dollar – in the form of idle, uninvested cash flow, used to pay down their own debt or, worse yet, to speculate in the paper markets.

Business should be leading economic recovery, borrowing money (from households and banks) to fund new investments and jobs. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work. In today’s lean-and-mean world, however, business is free-riding on the spending efforts of others. Despite tax cuts and other business-friendly policies, the private sector isn’t taking on the risks, and taking on the debt, necessary to fuel broader recovery.

On strategic responses

The latest on the Harper Cons' attempt to run against the idea of cooperative politics includes one good point about what they hope to accomplish. But it's worth clarifying exactly why the Cons want to see the Libs denying the possibility - and what can be done instead:
Bricker said the Tories will be happy merely if Ignatieff is forced to talk about the (coalition) issue.

"They want him denying. They want him to engage in that debate, because it's better than talking about the census, or the gun registry or whatever story of the day is. It's smart strategy. These guys, if anything, are smart and ruthless about how they campaign."
Now, Bricker's thesis is probably true enough on its face: the more time the Libs spend either rejecting the possibility of a coalition (as they did in '08) or obfuscating on the issue (as they're doing now), the easier it'll be for the Cons to boost their electoral fortunes based on a combination of a motivated base and a disheartened opposition. And of course it doesn't help matters that the Libs would once again be inviting voters to match their message that they'd rather keep Harper in power than consider cooperating with anybody else.

But there's an easy way to get back onto stronger ground. It shouldn't take too much effort to answer any questions about a coalition by saying that the Libs don't consider themselves to be above working with others to fix the damage done by the Cons - then turn the conversation back to exactly why Harper needs to be replaced. And the more the Cons' talk of a coalition gets turned into an invitation to talk about exactly why so many parties can agree that they have to go, the more likely they'll be to have to abandon the strategy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On appeals to conscience

The Libs have long since concluded that they can't afford to allow MPs to think for themselves, and are obviously doing their utmost to impose the same standard on the NDP. But it's funny what one can accomplish by actually working with one's MPs rather than simply eliminating their free will:
Speaking on Tuesday in a panel interview on Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, NDP Justice critic Joe Comartin said he was "hopeful" that enough of his colleagues from rural and northern ridings would vote against Hoeppner's bill if the NDP's proposed legislation failed to pass in time.

"At this point … we're very close to having enough of them say to C-391: 'This is not the way to go,' [to] say to the country, 'There's a way of reaching a compromise here that will be acceptable to the vast majority of Canadians'," Comartin said.

"So, I expect that, in fact, we, ultimately, are going to defeat C-391 — unless we can reach the compromise before we reach that stage."
What's more, at least one of the NDP's MPs who voted for C-391 at second reading has signalled his plans in legendary fashion. And all by thinking for himself rather than taking orders from on high.

Of course, we'll have to see whether Comartin proves to be right, as the national debate over the registry plays out within the only party that trusts its MPs to exercise competent judgment. But yes, that sound you hear is the Libs frantically changing their travel plans - lest what they thought would be a chance to score political points over a whipped vote turn all the more obviously into the Epic Fail Express.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your afternoon...

- Douglas Bell slams the Libs for not caring about civil rights in the wake of the G20 police abuses:
In a letter to Vic Toews dated June 29th Mark Holland, the Liberal public safety critic, raises a series of concerns regarding G20 security – not one of which mentions violations of civil liberties.

To wit: “As Canadians now know, Prime Minister Harper made the decision to hold the G20 in downtown Toronto – a decision that led to exorbitant costs and a nearly impossible security situation for police.”

The largest mass arrest of Canadians in history and the Grits primary concern is that the cops were overwhelmed. It would be as if Martin Luther King in his letters from the Birmingham jail wrote to Police Chief “Bull” Connor complaining about the stress he was putting on his department’s German shepherds.
- Barbara Yaffe recognizes that the Cons have no choice but to try to change the channel from health care given their obvious failings in the area. But that only makes it all the more important to make sure the issue stays at the forefront of public discussion.

- Don't worry, Paul Wells: I'm sure Rights and Democracy will make its audit publicly available eventually. Just as soon as the Cons get around to regulating greenhouse gas emissions first.

- Finally, Leftdog points out that the annual Liberal lemming run is in full force. But the truly sad part is that the party genuinely seems to measure success by the number of followers who race off the cliff.

Two can play at that game

Apparently the Saskatchewan Party is trying to avoid responsibility for making off with the PC Trust Fund by arguing that it doesn't have standing to sue or be sued. Just what you'd expect from a terrorist-loving criminal organization.

On values debates

While I'm not entirely in agreement with his suggested examples, I'd think Murray Dobbin is generally on target in noting the need for the NDP to lead the way in opposing the Harper Cons on more than just tactical terms:
More than one commentator has asked in exasperation: who will rid the country of this odious pretender to the office of prime minister? The answer could be the NDP -- if it is up to task. Can it rise above the game playing, and the infantile tactical wars in Ottawa and actually respond to the people of the country who are seeking genuine leadership? So far the answer has been a disappointing no.

The NDP is, given the current political landscape, the only party capable of responding effectively to the stated values of most Canadians outside Quebec. The Greens, until there is proportional representation, are simply not in the game. History is made by those who show up.

I am talking about real leadership here and I don't mean on things like childcare, affordable housing and enhancing Medicare. These are absolutely critical issues and the NDP can be expected to continue to push for them. But this is not bold leadership -- almost everyone thinks we should have childcare and is appalled at our poverty levels -- and Canadians have a love affair with Medicare. This is no-risk leadership -- it doesn't lead at all, it just follows a safe path defined by polls and focus groups.

Leadership is being out in front, challenging people to examine their values and act accordingly; it's taking a chance.
And while Dobbin lets it go without saying, we can't expect any such leadership from the Libs anytime soon. While their summer bus tour may have helped to sell Michael Ignatieff as head of a coalition of the pursuing-power-for-its-own-sake, there's still no indication that they see any need for a clash in values against the Cons when they can instead seek to head up a government which will do little differently.

That means that there's less of an opening for the NDP to emerge as Harper's chief competitor by simply trying to take up space by default, but a better opportunity to actually serve as the face of a genuine contrast in values. And while it's off to a start on that front, there's a good ways yet to go.

Under the knife

The Wall government's health-care privatization plans are proceeding as expected. So let's take a moment to refer back to some of the problems with privatization which have at best been answered with vague and implausible assurances - and ask why the Sask Party doesn't seem to have even considered whether the same surgeries they're so eager to farm out to the private sector could have been carried out within the public system.

(H/t to LRT.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Just so we're clear...

The main area of difference between the NDP's leadership and the Libs' on the gun registry is that Jack Layton actually wants to fix it now, while Michael Ignatieff wants to hold off on doing anything until some indeterminate point in the future. Which is apparently an important enough principle that Ignatieff will stubbornly stand in the way of any attempt to work out an agreement toward the policy he claims to support in the meantime.

No doubt there's a "failure of leadership" in one of these parties. But I'm not sure Ignatieff should be wanting to throw around the phrase lest anybody consider which one it is.

(Edit: fixed wording.)


Who could have guessed that both beneficiaries of an unfair and antiquated electoral system would shoot down any talk of changing it?

On missed opportunities

I'll have more to say later about the broad themes of Jack Layton's speech on economic vision, setting out both an expended view of "infrastructure" and a firm statement that public and social infrastructure should be able to meet public interests. But for now, let's stick to a reminder about the opportunity that the Cons have so eagerly blown in favour of pork-barrel political giveaways:
For me, the deepest lack in Ottawa’s stimulus program has been its failure to invest in tomorrow’s economy. This was our best chance yet to start positioning Canada as a renewable energy and conservation leader. Instead, we’ve lost more ground to our competitors and trading partners.

Less than 9 per cent of Canada’s stimulus was green stimulus. Obama’s US did nearly twice as well. Countries like France, Norway, Australia did three and four times as well.

Ottawa’s stimulus framework left tremendous innovation potential untapped — at the municipal level, among entrepreneurs. With leadership, with vision, we can do so much more to build the foundations for the new economy.

Citation desperately needed

I'm not sure if there's some explanation for Harris MacLeod's attempt to put words in the mouth of the NDP which seems to contradict the historical record. But absent some clarification, it's hard to take much else seriously about his article on the gun registry.

So in the face of the party's history of free votes on government and private members' bills alike, can MacLeod or anybody else say where exactly they're getting the information that "(the) NDP's policy on the gun registry is to keep it, but the party's policy on private member's bills trumps this policy"? (And no, candidate statements from past leadership races don't count.)

Monday Morning Links

An assortment of reading material to start your week...

- Gerald Caplan offers up a suggested Middle East reading list for Cons willing to learn about the true state of the world. Which should come in handy just as soon as they return from the unicorn riding academy.

- Ralph Surette nicely pegs what the Harper Cons mean for Canada:
One thing the vast majority of us are distinctly not waiting for is for the Harper government to actually improve anything, especially not to advance the cause of a properly functioning democracy. On the contrary, the drift is ominous: towards a tyrannical control from the Prime Minister’s Office aimed at dismantling large parts of the Canadian state, punishing anyone who questions its aims, manipulating information, and turning the society into an alloy of right-wing religion and big money.

The truly ill-omened part is that Stephen Harper can do this while in a minority. That is, even if the Conservatives do shoot themselves in the head — and they came close by destroying the census long form as a useful public instrument — they’ll keep governing in zombie form if the opposition remains as fractured as it is.
- Erin offers to sell out to BHP Billiton.

- The CP reports on what would need to be done for B.C. to walk away from the HST. But as ominous as the consequences are made to sound by corporate mouthpieces, they really amount to giving back the bribe offered up by the Harper Cons - meaning that other than having wasted time and effort trying to impose the tax, the province wouldn't be any worse off if it's repealed than if it had never been introduced.

- Finally, the Cons are breaking new ground in claiming that minority governments are entitled to hide all political operations from any opposition or public scrutiny. But once again, the "ministerial responsibility" excuse looks all the more ridiculous when the Cons' side is presented by their Pit Bull In Chief rather than, say, the minister who could possibly be responsible for the information suppression at issue.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On resource management

With at least some of the talk about PCS takeovers raising the possibility that other bidders from China or elsewhere may outbid BHP Billiton, let's take a moment to point out what both takes which have received corporate media placement seem to get wrong.

On the one hand, there's absolutely no reason to accept Derek DeCloet's assumption that China's "form of capitalism" has any bearing on what the provincial and federal governments should be prepared to approve. For all the efforts by the federal Cons and others to pretend that all private investment is positive while all state-owned investment is suspicious, the reality is that substantially the same factors raising concerns about a Chinese bid would be readily apparent no matter which of the rumoured bidders enters the game.

Which is to say that I agree with the Star-Phoenix' take that all bidders should effectively be treated equally. But that doesn't mean simply rubber-stamping any bid and hoping for the best when it comes to the province's ability to manage its own resources, as its column seems to suggest.

Instead, any new owner needs to be subject to a careful assessment to ensure that it won't harm Saskatchewan's ability to set royalty terms - in the long term as well as the short term - that fit the priorities of Saskatchewan's citizens as the owners of the province's potash. And to the extent there's a significant risk of any bidder grinding down royalty rates and depriving the province of the value of its resources, the end result should be a finding that a takeover isn't in the province's interest.

The hope factor

I've previously discussed how the Cons' constant coalition talk may only serve to legitimize any coalition following the next federal election campaign. But it's worth noting as well what impact the talk should have on the campaign itself, even if the Libs thus far seem determined not to let it happen.

By way of comparison, it's worth remembering the mood of the opposition parties and their supporters around the time of the 2008 election campaign.

With Stephane Dion rejecting the possibility of a coalition even as his poll numbers tanked, with the Libs pulling back their national spending while putting in just enough effort to try to stave off the NDP, with Gilles Duceppe publicly stating that nobody but Stephen Harper could be prime minister after the election, the overall mood was broadly one of frustration and resignation. At best, the questions to be decided on election day seemed to involve whether the Cons would win a minority or a majority, and how the opposition parties would be positioned as against each other.

Needless to say, that range of outcomes didn't generate any great amount of hope that even the best election-day effort would produce much worth celebrating on the part of the opposition parties - while the Cons were energized by the prospect of pushing ahead to majority government status. And that combination of a resigned opposition and a galvanized Con majority push figures to have made the end results worse than they had to be.

Now, there's little reason to think that the next campaign will be any different if the opposition parties don't do more to positively portray the possibility of a coalition. Even with the Libs slightly above their historic lows of earlier this year, the normal campaign swing toward the Cons would leave little prospect that any one opposition party will be able to win a plurality of seats. So if that or worse is the standard for a change in government, then the Cons figure to once again enjoy an enthusiasm gap in their favour.

But what if the opposition parties run with the idea that a change in government is possible - or even inevitable - if the Cons fall short of majority status, with the election results then serving to define the relative power within a Lib/NDP coalition (supported by the Bloc only if need be)?

At that point, all opposition parties would have added reason to fight for every seat they can, with a particular focus on flipping Con seats into other parties' columns. There would be every reason to hope that a plausible election outcome could produce an end to the Harper regime, meaning that the campaign for each party could be based at least as much on the realistic prospect of a better government to follow as on frustration with the current one.

And it's not as if taking the step would substantially influence the Cons' enthusiasm level. The Cons have telegraphed that they'll be motivating their base by pitching the need for a majority to stop a coalition - so the only real question is whether the opposition will match that sense of urgency.

Of course, that's where the catch lies so far. The Libs' strategy of pretending that they alone are the opposition coalition might slightly increase the prospect of that actually becoming true. But it also provides ample reason for NDP, Bloc and Green supporters to be suspicious that the Libs will happily keep propping up a Harper minority as long as they have to in order to form the next government on their own. And the resulting need for the opposition parties to spend more time attacking each other only figures to add to the enthusiasm gap in giving the Cons their best possible shot at a majority.

In sum, then, it's ultimately Michael Ignatieff's call as to whether he wants to lead a cooperative effort to form an alternative governemnt, or whether he's willing to torpedo that effort based on a desire to stoke the Libs' belief that they're above their competitors. And internal pressure from the Libs will surely be a major factor in determining whether there's much to hope for next time Canada goes to the polls.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Last night's loss to Edmonton serves to have answered one interesting question: namely, whether the CFL is enough like the low-scoring NFL of the '70s for a team to nurse a two-touchdown lead while its offence takes the rest of the game off. ("No", it would appear.)

Unfortunately, it's not quite clear who wanted to see the question answered in the first place. And the result for the 'Riders was a loss in a game that should have been put out of reach early.

To start off with, let's give full credit to the 'Riders for doing as much as can possibly be done to control a team that's normally explosive both on offence and on special teams.

Yes, Ricky Ray put together a couple of late drives. But normally the mark of a great defensive performance against him is to make sure he can't turn inevitable passing yardage into more than three points at a time, meaning that the worst point in the game for the 'Riders' D was still a success by normal standards. And the defence was even more impressive earlier on, holding one of the CFL's most accurate and efficient quarterbacks to a woeful 2 for 6 for 16 yards and an interception in the first quarter, then taking full advantage of a rookie quarterback toward the middle of the game.

Meanwhile, the cover teams were no less impressive in stifling the normally-explosive Kelly Campbell (as well as Jamaica Rector when Campbell was hurt for a time). So the 'Riders couldn't have done much more to shut down everything Edmonton normally does to put points on the board.

But then there's the offence. On paper, its yardage numbers would be classified as mediocre rather than disastrous. But that falls far short of telling the whole story, as a unit which looked like it was ready to steamroll the CFL early this season suddenly turned completely ineffective when it counted.

And indeed, the 'Riders were at their worst when it mattered most. The story for the first quarter was the team's one touchdown drive; in the second quarter, it was churning up some yardage, but repeatedly falling just short of field-goal range. But in the second half, thanks to a painful combination of weak blocking on running plays and uncoordinated pass attempts, the 'Riders managed only two first downs. And even those required short-yardage plays to move the chains, as the team's only play over 9 yards was a failed attempt to convert on 2nd and 25.

What's truly sad, though, is that even that lack of production need not have been fatal, as the 'Riders might well have been able to hang on if their offence had merely taken care of the ball while doing nothing positive. Unfortunately, the 'Riders' turnover total for the last 32 minutes of the game exceeded their number of first downs, with the last of Darien Durant's interceptions giving Edmonton just enough of a boost to get back into the game. And when the Eskimos did manage to put up enough points to tie the game then take the lead, the 'Riders didn't even show a trace of ability to bounce back, gaining a total of one yard on five plays.

The company line coming out of the game seems to be that the problem was one of execution, which would seem to be an obvious enough issue in the wake of such a dismal performance. But between Durant's running ability and Cates' receiving skills, the 'Riders normally have enough safety valves in their offence to at least move the ball somewhat even when their traditional offence isn't functioning as it should. And the fact that the offence couldn't fire on a single cylinder yesterday cost the 'Riders a game they should have been able to win in a walk.

What's worse, the game may have far more significance for the rest of the season than one would think from the standings going in. Don't look now, but the gap between the 'Riders and the Eskimos for second place is only one game more than the one separating Saskatchewan from first place. And while Edmonton obviously has plenty left to work on, it seems to have enough talent to get its season turned around - particularly since its win yesterday came with its two top offensive threats either absent or playing far below their best.

Needless to say, we'll have to hope for yesterday's game to serve as a wakeup call for the 'Riders. But it could instead turn out to be the end of the have/have-not dynamic that's dominated the West so far this season - especially if other teams can exploit the weaknesses Edmonton was able to find in the 'Riders' offence.