Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Links

For your weekend reading pleasure...

- Dr. Dawg rightly points out that a bill involving far more intrusions on civil liberties than anybody could possibly associate with the long gun registry managed to pass second reading with full Con and Lib support (to go with virtually no public attention).

- Rick Salutin notes that the rise of Rob Ford and other destructive right-wing ideologues has much to do with a serious expectation gap between progressive citizens and the leaders they've managed to elect:
(F)or most people, winning an election changes nothing; that’s when the fight should intensify. Something similar seemed to happen to Barack Obama when he became president, as if his hope was the same as his voters’.

This is partly due to our political system: We get to vote occasionally for leaders, then leave it all in their hands, leading to excessive reliance on “them,” and turning on them when things don’t gel. A political culture of blame and rage is the upshot, rather than shared responsibility and the will to keep going. What could change that? Something more ongoingly, truly democratic, perhaps.
- Meanwhile, James Travers is somewhat more hopeful that those attempting to manipulate citizens' frustration to further press against the public interest will soon face a backlash of its own:
Seasoned politicians recognize that dynamic and its threat to their survival; they just can’t change it much. So many leaders have broken so many promises that only the most naïve or quiescent voter still believes that parties steeped in tradition and hierarchy will act more honourably in the future than in the past.

Lashing out is a familiar and feel-good form of democratic justice: Voters have long used one party as a stick to beat sense into another. What’s changed is that a wider swath is now being cut by those fearful of what lies ahead for them and furious at politicians who are doing just fine while others suffer.

Some incumbents, including Conservatives here, hope to save themselves by aligning with the angry against the elites. Wish them well for they are again trying to play voters for fools and sooner or later will pay the ultimate political price.
- Stockwell Day nearly got away with a profoundly idiotic set of spin about continued tax slashing, claiming it would both pay for itself and eliminate any need for further stimulus. But Erin sets the record straight.

- And finally, Armine Yalnizyan reminds us that there's still plenty of time to fix the census.

On inflexibility

Ralph Surette raises a point that I've been wondering about myself.

It's obvious enough why any talk about compromise on the long gun registry has thus far focused on ways to make the existing system less onerous, as it's originated entirely from leaders who favour keeping the registry. But why wouldn't the Cons even pretend to be interested in a compromise from the anti-registry perspective - i.e. scrapping the registry in exchange for improvements to other aspects of Canada's gun control regime to defuse the arguments for the registry itself?

(That is, aside from the obvious conclusion that they prefer keeping the registry around in its current form as a political football to doing anything that might actually improve matters.)

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Blogger Battle Royale

CBC's Day 6 recruited yours truly for a political bloggers' bout against Dan Arnold and Stephen Taylor. Have a listen.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Musical interlude

Caia - Jericho

Let's nip this in the bud

I'm not sure how Chantal Hebert developed her assumption that the NDP has any interest in propping up the Cons this fall, let alone enough to be willing to accept poison pills to do so. But the theory seems to fit all too well with her argument from lack of information about the NDP in general - including her bizarre assertion that the NDP's much-heralded free vote on the invocation of the War Measures Act somehow serves as evidence that it shouldn't have free votes now.

In any event, there doesn't seem to be any particular evidence that the opposition parties have changed their roles from this spring, with the Libs wanting to appear responsible by avoiding an election and the NDP and Bloc voting against the Cons on confidence matters. And considering how the Libs got burned last time they tried to alter that equilibrium, it'll be a major surprise if we see any changes this fall.

On competing interests

Murray Mandryk is eager to canonize Brad Wall for offering up a "not yet" to BHP Billiton's takeover bid for the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan even as he's set up a corporate-friendly process to tell him what to do. But before we buy Mandryk's claim that Wall's position reflects his first-ever inclination to protect Saskatchewan's interests over those of big business, let's note that there's another obvious explanation which wouldn't reflect so well on Wall.

As I noted from the outset when BHP Billiton's bid was first announced, Wall has already meddled in the potash industry by showering its competitor Mosaic with public money in exchange for a photo-op. And presumably in order to be able to use that "success story" in the 2011 election, Wall will need Mosaic onside. So doesn't it seem at least as likely that Wall's current position merely reflects an entirely predictable choice of crony capitalism over the unfettered free-market version?

On simple choices

Susan Riley's column on Jack Layton as a voice of cooperation and civility is well worth a read. But it's particularly worth highlighting what seems to me to be the greatest weakness in the Cons' anti-coalition hysteria:
(T)here is a larger battle being waged in our politics: between civility and common sense and cynicism and perpetual war. The next election could tell us not just which party wins, but what kind of people we are.

Layton is a natural optimist. He works hard at keeping open channels of communication with other leaders. Harper usually returns his calls. Michael Ignatieff is also talking to him these days, although it took a while. He regularly bumps into Gilles Duceppe at the gym.

"I don't feel animosity to any of those individuals," Layton said in a recent interview. "I try not to personalize things; I try to keep the lines open."
Layton laughs off the (coalition) threat, noting that "the (Conservatives) already have the ads made" no matter what the opposition does. In creating a coalition boogyman, Harper is "running against the notion that political parties should work together."
I've made the point before that if the coalition issue is framed properly as a contest between Con tribalism against cooperative politics, it can turn against the Cons in a hurry - with the main danger for anybody opposed to Harper being the possibility that the Libs might get spooked enough to denounce the prospect of a coalition and do the Cons' work for them.

But Layton's message nicely highlights why the Libs' choice should be an obvious one. Nothing they can say will get the Cons to stop talking incessantly about a coalition; the crucial question is whether a possible coalition will be seen by voters as a positive opportunity for parties to work together in Canada's best interest, or as an abomination against partisan nature as the Cons are arguing. And the longer the Libs try not to talk about the issue (rather than coming to the defence of the idea of cooperative politics), the more likely it is that the "perpetual war" model will win out.

On test cases

There are plenty of questions floating around about what the Harper Cons can possibly think they're doing, whether by launching gratuitous partisan attacks in the least appropriate of venues or doubling down on a complete abandonment of reason on the gun registry. And it's true enough that those types of actions make very little sense from the standpoint of trying to gradually accumulate support toward a level that can win a majority.

But let's not forget that the Cons have seen their overall support stagnate or drop for the bulk of 2010: even when the Libs were collapsing in the spring and summer, the Cons seldom managed to move much past about 30-35% in the polls. And it's hard to see what they could possibly do over the next six months to a year (in which an election seems fairly likely) to substantially improve their underlying support base from an incremental building perspective.

With that in mind, the Cons' strategy at this point looks to be based almost entirely on trying to time an election with a temporary spike in support. And that impression is only reinforced by their coalition fearmongering, which is of course based on the theory that a temporary backlash (which dissipated in a matter of weeks even when based on real events rather than speculation) can be recreated to the Cons' advantage.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties don't seem to have much desire to force an election anytime soon. And that minimizes the potential downside for the Cons in taking some risks to test whether they can set up even a faintly plausible majority scenario this fall.

So one can fairly easily make sense of the Cons' brinksmanship by seeing it less in terms of an expectation of raising support, and more in terms of a shock intended to temporarily increase risk and variance levels in party support - with the upside of temporarily pulling an extra 5% of the vote into the Cons' corner to set up a snap election seen as worth both the risk of producing the opposite effect in the short term, and the damage done to the Cons' self-image of stability in the longer term.

But if that is the Cons' reasoning, then it only makes sense based on an admission that Harper's incremental strategy has failed, such that the Cons have little left to do but go for broke even if it means bleeding away soft support over time. And with the first couple of shocks earning the Cons nothing but criticism so far, we may not be far from the end of Harper's stay in power.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Alone in the world

Lest anybody think Susan Delacourt's damning comparison of the relative international interest in hearing Stephen Harper compared to other leaders is an anomaly, let's not forget that this is far from the first time leaders from around the globe have distanced themselves from the Cons when given the chance. And one has to wonder how much of the rest of the world is waiting for Canada to do the same.

On irrelevant factors

Andrew Coyne points out the political convenience in Scott Simms' personal story - poignant though it is - being leaked to the media before yesterday's gun registry vote.

But I'd think the more important reason for cynicism about the story's leak is its irrelevance to a vote where Simms wasn't allowed to make decisions for himself. If one takes the Libs at their word in having a confirmed whip that was dictated by Michael Ignatieff as far back as April, then wasn't the "reason for (Simms') decision to support the long-gun registry" long since determined regardless of what happened since?

Thursday Morning Links

Assorted content for your perusal...

- Dr. Dawg picks up on a stunningly evasive answer from Gérard Latulippe of Rights and Democracy about the "forensic audit" which was supposed to have been made public six months ago. But I'm not sure that I agree with his description of the answer as "bafflegab": isn't it more of a flat-out declaration that he refuses to talk about the main issue facing his organization?

- Donald Savoie continues to be thoroughly unimpressed with the empty promises coming from Cons and Libs alike in New Brunswick's ongoing election. But while I can understand his not wanting to be seen taking any party's side, wouldn't it be worthwhile to mention the alternative which is actually talking honestly about the province's fiscal mess?

- Meanwhile, the federal NDP's push to make the Cons look completely out of touch with rural Canada seems to be proceeding nicely thanks to a concerted focus on issues that matter more than the long gun registry. Though as I noted yesterday, the especially fun part will come when the Cons get to stand up to try to defend keeping the registry as it stands as the NDP works to improve it.

- Finally, the Cons' distrust of evidence-based government has taken its most extreme form yet: apparently it's too intrusive to bother keeping track of how many health inspectors are actually monitoring livestock transportation.

On failing strategies

The media narrative on the Cons' coalition fearmongering seems to be settling into place - and aside from the usual false assertion that the NDP joined the Libs in promising not to enter a coalition in 2008, the consensus seems to be that the Cons are misfiring badly. Here's the National Post editorial board:
(T)imes have changed. If the Liberals and New Democrats were now to admit that that they are open to coalition talks after the results of the next election are known...then claims that the two are engaged in a "coup d'etat" would fall on deaf ears.
And even Lorne Gunter can't take the Cons' histrionics seriously:
(A)re the Tories guilty of still fighting the last battle, rather than the next one?

There was genuine outrage the last time a coalition reared its head, but conditions have changed enough since then that the outrage likely will not form again this time. It is no longer one month after the last election, for instance, as it was the last time the Liberals and New Democrats tried a coalition. Moreover, last time there was a genuine attempt to form a coalition, with real coalition papers drawn up and everything. Last time, the Libs and NDs were actually trying to pull one off. So far this time all we have are Tory scare stories about possible future coalitions. And fairy tales, while occasionally powerful in politics, as seldom as powerful the real deal.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What comes next

No, the long gun registry isn't done with as an issue by any stretch of the imagination.

But it may get a lot more interesting in the wake of today's vote rejecting a bill to scrap it. With the NDP and Libs both apparently wanting to work on addressing the concerns of registry opponents, will the Cons now fight against efforts to make it less intrusive? And if so, will their donor base start to recognize just how blatantly it's been used on the issue for the past 15 years? Stay tuned...

On healthy outcomes

There's little reason to think Jean Charest's attempt to impose health-care user fees will be the last provincial attack on the Canada Health Act, and plenty of work to be done to improve our health care system at both the provincial and federal levels. But it's still well worth celebrating a victory in preserving a universally accessible system when we get the opportunity. So congratulations to the activists who have now pushed Charest to abandon his scheme.

At long last, an introduction

For over five years I've kept this blog pseudonymous. And I'll stand by my argument that there's no reason why that should affect anybody's ability to enjoy or make use of the information on this or any other blog.

But of course, the pseudonymity has created some limitations on what I've been able to do in linking Accidental Deliberations to the rest of my persona. For example, I've avoided getting into the habit of pet blogging despite ample material to work with:

Now, thanks to an opportunity to participate in an interesting media project this week (more to come on that), I've been asked to put my name in the public domain. And so...

I'm Greg Fingas of Regina, Saskatchewan. I'm an associate at the Regina law firm of MLT, doing general litigation work and also specializing in information and privacy. Outside work, I keep busy with my involvement in the NDP provincially and federally as well as with the Saskatchewan Elocution and Debate Association. (Time for the mandatory disclaimer: this blog represents my opinion alone along with that of any guest contributors, and should not be taken as authorized by or representing the views of MLT, the NDP, SEDA or any other party.)

I'm blissfully married to Brandy, whose thoughtful organization and planning keeps the home fires burning even as she puts in tireless work in the non-profit sector. And the furry friends in the picture above are Wonder (until now the most-publicized member of our family) and Tigger.

I'll leave the post at that for now. Hopefully you'll enjoy the blog as it takes a turn for the more personal - and I'll look forward to being able to interact in new ways with readers and the political system at large.

On oversimplification

Like most Canadian political junkies, I'm a big fan of the work of Eric at Three Hundred Eight in compiling poll results and modeling the possible electoral outcomes. But I'll use one of Eric's recent posts to highlight one of the main problems that arises where analysts oversimplify the effect of a particular seat distribution rather than acknowledging the place of the House of Commons as a whole.

Here's how Eric analyzes a "best-case scenario" (i.e. highest possible seat count) for the Liberals which would result in party standings of 127 Lib, 111 Con, 51 Bloc, 19 NDP:
As for the Liberals, their best case scenario is the thing the party has been hoping for since being defeated in 2006: a return to government.
It's generally the same size of caucus that Paul Martin won in 2004, but the problem is that the Liberals would need to rely on the support of either the Bloc Quebecois or the Conservatives to get legislation passed - something Martin had to deal with as well.
Of course, the problem with that analysis is that it leaves out the question of whether the Libs on their own would have any ability to gain the confidence of the House in the first place. After all, the Cons would formally stay in power following an election until they resigned or lost a confidence vote - and given the measures Stephen Harper has taken to stay in power in the past, would anybody be surprised if he either tries to proclaim that his party should remain in government (with Lib or Bloc support) for the sake of stability, or simply shuts down Ottawa as long as he can in hope of a do-over?

So no, a push to the top of the party standings wouldn't guarantee the Libs a place in government. But then, nor would the Cons be assured of staying in power in a distribution of 148 Con, 87 Lib, 50 Bloc and 23 NDP as Eric suggests:
The Conservatives win 76 seats in the West and North, 55 in Ontario, nine in Atlantic Canada, and eight in Quebec. It ensures that their minority government survives for a few more sessions, but probably tests the patience of the Conservative Party for their three-time minority leader.
Once again, this analysis avoids the question of whether the Cons would be able to secure enough support from another party to actually hold on for "a few more sessions". And as some of us have pointed out, Harper's "our majority or their majority" rhetoric may only be laying the groundwork for a coalition to replace his government to the extent democratic processes are allowed to run their course.

In fact, what Eric's analysis ultimately shows is that even under the most wildly optimistic scenarios based on current polling, no party figures to be in a position to govern without somebody else's support (except to the extent the Cons decide not to face the House). And that means that it's absolutely essential to take into account the possible permutations among the second, third, fourth and potentially fifth parties, rather than assuming that the party with the most seats will be able to form government.

On routine breaches

The bombshell news about regular and glaring breaches of Sean Bruyea's privacy by the Department of Veterans Affairs is obviously an important story in and of itself. But while most of the attention figures to be focused on Bruyea's case in particular, it's worth noting that he seems to be far from the only veteran whose privacy was violated:
Mr. Stogran said he was shocked to learn about what had been written about Mr. Bruyea. He said the security officer at the department told him around the time of his appointment in 2007 that his own file had been accessed at least 400 times.

Mr. Stogran said he thought it was just routine curiosity, but is now wondering.
Of course, one of the purposes of privacy law is to ensure that "routine curiosity" can't be satisfied at the expense of individual rights - meaning that Stogran's example too calls out for a follow-up investigation. And if anybody with a remotely high profile can expect to have been subject to similar intrusions which don't appear to have raised any concerns even when information reached the ministerial or PMO levels, then there's ample reason to wonder just what other personal information has been misused - particularly since the Harper Cons started seeing any Canadian with a dissenting view as an enemy to be crushed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A test of ideology

Today's pop quiz is in essay and proof form:

Explain why private ownership and operation of publicly-funded projects is so innately valuable that the only apparent hope to secure federal funding for a possible Regina stadium is a dedicated P3 fund. Show your work.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On misplaced celebration

Shorter Norman Spector:

Huzzah! We've successfully killed off any global action on climate change! Let's party while we burn!

The four-dimensional chess continues

Sure, at first it might seem like Jim Flaherty's speech today is more a matter of stale hyperpartisan excess than meaningful strategy.

But let's keep in mind that the Pirate Party of Canada exists, and indeed may be running candidates by the next election campaign. Is it completely out of the question that the Cons are so devoid of substance as to have concluded their best chance at a majority is to confuse voters about which party is which, and hope that voters mark the Pirate Party box when meaning to vote for their friendly neighbourhood potential-coalition candidate?

It may be too early to say. But if John Baird starts referring to Michael Ignatieff as a rhinoceros without any apparent explanation, we'll know what he's up to.

Beyond Bay Street

Let's add one final follow-up point to Jack Layton's speech at the NDP's Regina caucus meeting last week. While it's never surprising to hear Layton point out the problems with corporate privilege (and indeed a major plus that he and the NDP continue to do so), it's worth noting that the phrasing of Layton's message seems to have been based more on tapping into past themes than a thorough depiction of current corporate culture:
Stephen Harper isn’t helping out the middle class family. He’s giving breaks to Bay Street bankers.

5 billion dollars worth this year alone.

The very people who need the help the least.
Again, the "Bay Street" language is bound to be well-known in NDP circles. And it's true enough that the largest beneficiaries of the Cons' corporate tax slashing will be the biggest Canadian banks.

At the same time, though, there's some risk in focusing solely on domestic interests when the battle between people and profits is playing out no less obviously on the global stage. While it's useful in some sense to point primarily to examples which will be readily familiar to observers, it's also important not to be seen as addressing only parochial Canadian concerns while ignoring the bigger picture. And indeed, the surest way to lose in a long-term contest between people and profits is to aim solely at national policy questions when capital can flow freely around the world.

What's more, it's not as if there's any lack of material worth pointing out on the global front. Indeed, the Harper Cons have been among the worst offenders in favouring big-money interests around the world, with examples ranging from their efforts to push through free-trade agreements with violent regimes to their cheerleading for gratuitously expensive military procurement to their stonewalling on behalf of the oil industry against any meaningful action to fight climate change.

So while it's well and good to criticize the Cons' corporatism, it may be time to move past targeting Bay Street above the similar battles taking place around the globe.

Tuesday Morning Links

A few items that have come to my attention...

- this magazine points out seven private members' bills that deserve to be enacted - and the list is well worth a read. But let's not forget what may be the most significant private members' bill currently in the pipeline: the Climate Change Accountability Act, which has already managed to pass among Canada's elected representatives but at last notice was being held up by Cons in the Senate.

- Unfortunately, Murray Dobbin's proposed Police State Watch looks like it's sorely needed based on his stark examples of how peaceful dissent is being treated as a matter of criminality or even pathology.

- If anybody thought B.C.'s anti-HST movement would slow down now that Gordon Campbell has offered a vote somewhere down the road on the Libs' preferred terms, that notion has been put to rest. Instead, the recall campaign looks to be moving at full speed ahead - and even having some fun in deciding which MLAs will bear the brunt of citizens' frustration with the Campbell government.

- Brian Topp points out how the PC Trust Fund controversy fits into Brad Wall's wider problems:
(T)he increasingly successful New Democratic opposition, led by former deputy premier Dwain Lingenfelter, have been handed a useful prop to demonstrate the direct link between Mr. Wall's government and Mr. Devine's former administration and record.

Mr. Wall seems to have a problem with money. His government made a $2-billion mistake estimating the province's revenues this year, patched over through a set of desperate expedients. He must be tempted to take the $3-million in that fund and burn it in the parking lot in front of the Legislature -- not unlike what he has done to the provincial finances. Instead, the fund is doing a slow burn inside the "Saskatchewan Party's" carefully-reconstructed brand.
- Finally, the Cons offer yet another example of what they believe deserves funding ahead of democratic diversity - spending a record $130 million to advertise themselves at public expense in 2009. (Which, for those keeping track at home, is four times the amount they want to axe in per-vote funding to political parties as being unnecessary for political promotion.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

On futile efforts

I'm not sure if anybody actually held out hope that the Harper Cons would live up to their perpetual empty promises of civility this fall. But surely any such optimism has to be snuffed out by the news that the Cons can't even mourn a cancer victim without taking shots at their political opponents.

On shared barriers

Naturally, the Globe and Mail tries to spin the issue as being one of bureaucratic "red tape". But let's be more accurate about the real problem faced by the Peace Region Internet Society in its efforts to bring high-speed wireless Internet access to remote parts of British Columbia: it's been told that it can't apply to use a portion of the public wireless spectrum unless it adopts a corporate share structure:
(T)he society was...deemed un-Canadian because it does not issue shares. The organization instead relies upon a structure where any profits are plunged back into providing services to its members in remote areas.

The definition of being Canadian-owned and -controlled requires that Canadians beneficially own 80 per cent of the corporation’s voting shares (issued and outstanding), and the [Peace Region society], being a corporation without share capital, does not issue voting shares and therefore doesn’t meet the requirement,” said an e-mail from an Industry Canada official.
Now, it may not be much of a secret that far too many would see organizing wireless Internet service around a non-profit model as being un-Canadian, as what could possibly motivate action other than the pursuit of corporate gain? But it's remarkable to learn that such an assumption is actually codified into law, serving as an entry barrier against cooperative efforts to solve problems within a community.

Hopefully the group involved will find a way to keep improving its services - whether or not that involves going to the trouble of setting up more formal corporate structures in order to meet the Canadian control requirement. But the fact that federal policy dictates that only corporate formations may make use of public airwaves should serve as yet another example of our culture of corporate privilege, rather than reason to complain about "red tape".

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Taken for granted

Let's quickly pick up on one of the more notable messages developed by the federal NDP during its caucus retreat in Regina. Jack Layton's quote that the Cons have taken Western voters for granted is itself a theme worth focusing on - but it's especially worth noting how the message is being applied to the Cons' main attempt to pursue rural votes:
At the Ottawa news conference, meanwhile, Mr. Angus said his mind was changed, in part, by the aggressive tactics being employed by Mr. Harper and his team to pressure MPs not to change their votes.

The Conservatives have taken our votes for granted. ... They have not addressed our rural concerns,” Mr. Angus said. “They’ve attacked the credibility of our front-line police officers. Now in these last desperate days they have taken to their attack billboards and their radio ads in trying to intimidate MPs into voting for them.”
In effect, Angus' message looks to be identifying the position of NDP MPs with that of rural swing voters who may have supported the Cons in recent elections. Having been willing to look at the Cons' position on the merits, both have then been treated rudely for their trouble, even as the Cons continue to demand their votes.

And what's more, rather than merely suggesting that voters consider changing their minds, it actually sets a precedent for doing so - while avoiding too judgmental a line toward those who have cast votes for the Cons in the past based on the promise of better than the Harper government has been willing to offer. Which makes for an ideal starting point for Layton's extended argument about the need to build bridges rather than bombing them.

Of course, the major question is whether the NDP can make the message stick, particularly in the face of the Cons' big-money ad blitz. But it can never hurt for MPs to send the message that they share voters' concerns in dealing with the governing party. And particularly with the message of cooperation winning plenty of plaudits, it may well turn out that Saskatchewan voters who have probably been taken for granted by the Cons more than any across the country will join Angus and others in deciding they've had enough.


...I can only conclude that Brian Lilley's Fraser Institute contacts just missed his call when he went trolling for government-bashing quotes to fill an article whipped up in a span of 15 minutes. Because how else can one explain the omission of Canada's leading market dogmatists from a piece so obviously devoted to preaching their gospel unquestioned?

On selective outrage

Shorter Kevin Libin:

BREAKING SCANDAL! An organization funded in part by anonymous donors may have attempted to INFLUENCE CANADIAN POLITICS up to three times over a four-year period!!!

More cases of the vapours as this story develops. We now return to our regularly-scheduled parade of guest columns graciously provided by the Manning Centre, the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation...

(Edits: fixed wording; updated link as per comments.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Night Links

This and that to start your week...

- It's worth noting that Jim Prentice's reaction to fish deformities resulting from the tar sands is somewhat out of character for the Cons, consisting more of respectful acknowledgment than of immediate dismissal. But I still won't be holding my breath waiting for the Cons to do anything but stonewall any meaningful study or action.

- Alex Himelfarb comments on the insidious effect of social traps on the course of policy development:
(T)here is a good deal of room to disagree about which priorities merit our tax dollars and which criteria to use to assess what works. This is what politics is all about. But even among those who value a particular program, say public education or medicare, or agree on the value of particular public investments, say greening the economy, there will be tax reluctance if there is no trust. That’s the perfect social trap. We know what is in our shared interest but we do not have sufficient trust to do what is needed. For example, a recent Canadian study demonstrates how much money could be saved through a national pharmacare program, not to mention the benefits to health, productivity and social justice. Some Canadians will of course react with immediate horror at the very idea but, putting this aside for the moment, would those who do embrace the idea be willing to pay more taxes for it? Some will say, yes to the idea but ask, why me for more taxes, why not those who can most afford it or who derive most benefit from the advantages of Canada’s opportunities or who do most damage for example through pollution. Some will say that too many people will exploit the system, overuse it or worse, and I am not going to pay for that. And some will say government simply cannot deliver the goods. No trust. No taxes. Trapped.
And sadly, Colby Cosh is working on ensnaring us all the more thoroughly.

- Michael Geist rightly skewers some "shockingly misleading" copyright propaganda. But aren't we past being shocked by now?

- Rick Salutin's column tracing the Straussian roots of Stephen Harper's political strategy doesn't cover a lot of new ground. But his theory that Canada's political scene might have offered an ideal target is worth some further discussion:
One can see the appeal of Canada to Straussians. The U.S. always had so much fevered religiosity, hypernationalism and paranoid individualism, you hardly needed to seed them there by stealth. Here, though, we still have liberals, Liberals, even social democrats. We may be Straussianism’s happy hunting ground.
And might one add that a relatively civil scene on all sides prior to Harper's ascension made us ripe for manipulation?

- Finally, while the two-party dynamic has once again made it difficult to get traction, the New Brunswick NDP seems to be getting a well-deserved positive reception for its economic plans. And this CBC piece presenting the party's job tax credit is well worth a look - particularly Tony Myatt's closing line:

On systemic responses

A couple of Kady O'Malley's tweets from this morning offer a useful shorthand to describe how to define parliamentary privilege and confidence conventions. But it's worth noting exactly how the Harper Cons have tested the limits of both terms by Kady's definition, and questioning what it means for Canadian parliamentary democracy in years to come:
i personally find it easiest to think of most confidence-related conventions in terms of what options the House has if the PM goes bonkers.
.. and privilege matters in terms of how we would protect parliament against a demented, raging crown bent on its destruction.
So what can we say about how Parliament will function under both of those circumstances based on the time the Harper Cons have spent in office? Sadly, we've had plenty of chances to test both - with most of the movement going in the direction of bolstering the cause of out-of-control executives, and even the limited pushback resulting only from the Cons' efforts to further expand the boundaries of unilateral executive action.

After all, if a future PM does indeed go bonkers, Harper has managed to set the precedent that even the most obviously-insane executive can cling to power indefinitely by refusing to allow the House of Commons to carry out a scheduled vote of non-confidence against it. (Which surely can't be the preferred outcome of anybody looking at the situation from any standpoint other than a current government which has maneuvered itself to the brink of disaster.) And unfortunately, that precedent has been set due to Harper's testing the limits of exactly what a prime minister can do to avoid the will of a majority of elected representatives.

Likewise, parliamentary privilege related to MPs' access to government documents and witnesses has taken a beating over the past few years. And that can be traced directly to the Cons' efforts to ensure the "destruction" of any opposition capacity to find out what its government is up to and hold it to account - even in cases where the apparent cost of allowing Parliamentary access to documents and witnesses wouldn't seem to justify the level of brinksmanship.

In effect, in trying to push the limits of executive power as long as they hold it, the Cons have converted the well-known maxim that "hard cases make bad law" into an invitation rather than a warning - systematically weakening the ability of our democratic system by forcing no-win choices. And while one can argue that there's some value in figuring out exactly where the limits of our democratic system lie, I'd think it's long past time to conclude that we're best off dealing with a few less direct questions about what to do in the face of an out-of-control Prime Minister than we can possibly expect as long as Harper remains in power.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Most of the discussion following the 'Riders' stunning victory over Calgary has revolved around Ken Miller's odd decision to try to win the game with a punt single rather than a 35-yard field goal. But while that choice was certainly an odd one, the bigger story in the game was that the 'Riders were in a position to win to begin with against a team that had been demolishing all comers - and that they did it by adding elements to their offence that had seldom been seen in 2010.

Keep in mind that Calgary's defensive success over the past few years has been based largely on its being willing to trust the Stamps' secondary in regular man-to-man coverage - accepting slightly greater vulnerability to big plays if an offence could beat a top-level defensive back as the price of having more defenders available to load up the line of scrimmage. And Calgary has been more successful than ever this season in making that tradeoff work to their advantage.

Which looked to create serious problems for a Saskatchewan offence which hadn't made effective use of long passes in recent memory, and whose already-porous line seemed likely to let Calgary's defenders get to Darian Durant before he'd have time to set up deep throws. But the 'Riders managed to create just enough time for Durant to get the ball away on plenty of deep routes. And from there, a combination of great plays by the 'Riders' receivers and perfect timing or luck resulted in the 'Riders completing as many long (50-yard) passing plays as they had in their previous 10 games combined - not to mention putting up a total of 12 20+ yard gains based on a combination of passes to four different receivers and runs by Durant and Hugh Charles.

While the 'Riders amassed some yardage with more conventional offence as well, I don't think there's much room to argue that they would have come close to the Stamps if they hadn't put such a constant emphasis on big plays. Durant posted what has to be a remarkably low number of completions (23) and completion percentage (59%) for a 500-yard game, while Wes Cates was once again shut down on the ground. So the 'Riders had little choice but to match the Stamps' high-risk, high-reward defence with an equally aggressive offence - and the gamble obviously paid off.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' defence fared about as well as can be expected against Calgary's high-powered offence. While 30 offensive points (plus a touchdown off a turnover) is normally more than a team can afford to give up, the 'Riders held the Stamps to a thoroughly mediocre ground performance, and managed to stop Henry Burris' passing attack as well when it counted most.

The bad news for the 'Riders is that their plan of attack against Calgary doesn't figure to work all that well against any other CFL team - meaning that if they plan to rely on winning shootouts in the future, they have plenty of work to do adding accuracy to their mid-range offensive game. But it's still a huge plus to see Durant's offence going toe-to-toe with one of the league's elite defences and producing enough long-range fireworks to win - and that looks to be a more important story going forward than the late-game maneuverings that nearly blew the 'Riders' chance to win.