Saturday, November 06, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Links

From the wide world of weekend reading...

- The story of David Rotor and Douglas Tipple is aggravating enough on its face. But does anybody want to guess how many more similar situations didn't get investigated because the workers involved didn't have the same opportunity to set the record straight?

- Boris nicely criticizes the "free rider class" for wanting to pay nothing for vital public services:
Social science uses the term 'free rider problem' for individuals or groups that participate in or use something that others pay for. If you sneak into a show without paying for a ticket, you're free rider.

The Timmies anger crowd, free market fanatics, and Cons among us raise all sorts of noise about this. Free riders are welfare recipents or big government, receiving income and support from their taxes (my hard work you ungrateful bastard! Get a job!), universal healthcare, and all sorts of things where people or groups might be seen to benefit from the collective resources of a society. It's really easy to see how this appeals to the perpetually angry.

But see, here's where they get it wrong. They are compelled by their very existence to participate in the society they live in. They don't have to volunteer at a soup kitchen, but they at the very least must pay taxes and such that provide the basic infrastructure for the collective welfare. The more they argue for lower taxes and this and that, the more they essentially argue for right to be free riders, because somebody still has to pay for all that. Just not them.
But it's worth adding another similar concept into the mix to note an odd contradiction: how is it that the free rider class so frequently makes common cause with the rent seeker class in parties who seek to cut taxes while at the same time directing money toward corporate interests?

- Though maybe the answer is that neither has any appetite for funding actual worthy activities.

- Finally, following up on this post, there's another fascinating result in Ipsos Reid's most recent federal polling:
Harper was also the preferred political leader when Canadians were asked who was most likely to spend tax dollars wisely; three in 10 respondents gave him top marks for this, while NDP leader Jack Layton and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff were virtually tied at 18 and 17 per cent, respectively.
Now, it's noteworthy enough that Harper doesn't seem to have a great deal of trust on the issue compared to his party's standing in the polls. But the positioning of the opposition parties is especially striking: if the Libs are falling behind the NDP in issue terms on what's (however wrongly) seen as an Achilles heel for the New Democrats, then is there anything at all other than inertia keeping them in second place for voter preferences?

On deciders

And speaking of people whose job consists of acting out the part of a comic caricature, Stephen Colbert:
The greatest thing about (George W. Bush) is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will. Peter MacKay:
Rising costs and delays are again plaguing development of the next generation fighter aircraft that the Harper government is buying from the United States – but Canada’s Defence Minister insists this country’s F-35 jet order remains unaffected by these “glitches.”

On elite efficiency

Sure, it's easy enough to criticize Margaret Wente's latest column if one takes it the least bit seriously.

But let's at least give Wente some grudging credit for her unique business model. After all, who among us can produce our required work output merely by looking at what well-informed people are criticizing, then slapping together a caricature of it to go under our byline?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Musical interlude

Armin van Buuren feat. Cathy Burton - Rain

Asked and answered

I'd tend to agree with Norman Spector to the extent that he sees plenty of opportunity for the NDP to generate outrage based on the events of recent days - even if I'd think at least one of the possible targets (Jim Prentice) is probably something less than the best possible example of the principle involved. But I'm at a loss as to how Spector thinks that view was missed in Brian Topp's recent advice.

With the Globe and Mail linking a Conservative MP to Swiss bank accounts this morning (albeit under an improbable headline), where’s the demand for a review of our loophole-filled tax system – the kind of thing you heard even from left-Liberals like Eric Kierans in his day? With a Conservative minister de-camping to Bay Street on the eve of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff arriving from the same square mile, where’s the voice of Main Street that you heard from even Conservatives like John Diefenbaker in his day?
They say it’s “time to stop the gravy train.” We should say good idea! Let's stop the gravy train – starting with the insiders, rich tax cheats, speculators, and all the other geniuses who wrecked the world economy and put millions out of work, while pocketing the bailout money.
And, with the National Post front-paging the latest in medical queue-jumping, where’s the rounding defense of public health care for everyone that you would have heard from Tommy Douglas?
They say it's time to sell off and privatize schools, hospitals and public services. We should say there are some important things best done together – like good public education for our kids and good health care no matter how big your wallet is.
In effect, all Spector has produced is a list of ideal examples of exactly the points Topp suggests making. Add "the insiders like Andrew Saxton and his clients", or "hospitals like the ones reported to be offering private MRIs and CT scans", and the two messages are entirely consistent.

Granted, there's room to question whether the NDP has in fact taken the opportunity to the extent that it can. But there's no reason at all to point to Topp or his suggested messages as somehow falling short of establishing exactly the type of frame that can turn concern over current events into NDP support.

Friday Morning Links

- I've pointed out the glaring problems with the Libs' pension policies before, with the most obvious being the fact that it's utterly useless for anybody who doesn't already have spare money that they don't know what to do with. But their White Paper adds into the mix the radical idea of...holding a meeting. Which will surely have retirees sleeping more soundly at night.

- The CCPA has produced a handy list of claims made under NAFTA. But while its focus is on the number of claims, it's also worth highlighting just how broad a scope of government action has been challenged.

Many of the claims involve environmental issues, ranging from conservation measures to limit the number of caribou hunted and salmon fished, to bans on dumping garbage in lakes, to laws prohibiting bulk water exports. But the scope of NAFTA chill also includes the laws that serve to protect a publicly-funded health care system, the decision to close the income trust tax loophole, and the operation of Canada Post - and there's no telling how many ideas have been squelched in the meantime due to fear of similar claims.

- Andrew Jackson offers his take on the ongoing potash issue:
It is easy to cast the Conservative decision as pure politics, and surely Harper and Clement were pushed into this against their will. But the fact remains that a major crack and division has opened up within the ranks of the conventionally wise, and that a welcome precedent has been set. If a take-over serves only the needs of investors and does not serve the national economic interest, then it should be rejected.

We can and should build on this decision to push for transparent public interest reviews of takeovers, and effective enforcement of any conditions imposed. Some foreign investments do make sense, but most come at a cost - the loss of head office and supplier jobs; the weakening of local economic linkages; loss of corporate tax revenue as higher corporate debt is taken on to finance the transaction; and, often, direct job losses and a deterioration in industrial relations as operations are squeezed to pay for the often excessive take-over premium.
- And finally, we can add another $300 million to the pile of money frittered away by the Cons with nothing of value to show for it.

Well said

Murray Mandryk on the most important lesson learned from the potash debate so far:
(T)he most positive outcome has been the reawakening of western passion for our resources.

Whether the right-wing business community and business media opposing Saskatchewan's position realized it or not, their arguments were remarkably similar to what westerners heard in 1981 from those in the east promoting Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Program.

We were treated to condescending lecture after condescending lecture about how Wall's position was somehow bad for a nation that must abide (at all costs) by free-market principles. Much of what we heard was nonsensical hyperbole -- fear-mongering that we'd somehow instantly turn into Albania if Investment Canada rejected (gasp!) the second of some 1,600 foreign takeovers it has approved in nearly a quarter of a century.

Overnight, we would become protectionists and anti-free traders incapable of ever again raising foreign capital. Obviously, the world would flock to safer investment havens of Russia, China and Venezuela.

Well, so horrific was Wednesday's decision that PotashCorp. shares fell $4.78 to $141.43, meaning that shares are now only $30 more than they were when the takeover bid was announced. Meanwhile, the TSX rose 207.7 points.

Clearly, the sky hasn't fallen.

So perhaps the biggest winner emerging out of Wednesday's announcement will be a nation that finally comes to the realization we shouldn't be so damn scared about safeguarding what is already ours.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

On delay tactics

Much to their chagrin, I'm pretty sure Jim Prentice's resignation means the Cons have to start all the way from the beginning on the greenhouse gas emission regulations they've been promising since 2006. New estimated target date: January 2017, just following the election after next.

The Decision, Part 1

A couple of brief notes on some potash decision or other that was made yesterday.

First off, it's worth being careful not to read too much into the 30-day response period provided to BHP Billiton to submit a reply. That period isn't an indulgence being granted by Tony Clement, but is instead required by section 23(1) of the Investment Canada Act.

Mind you, it says plenty about how our current legislation is set up that an applicant whose bid is rejected is automatically entitled to a do-over, while there's no formal mechanism to challenge a decision to approve a takeover. But at least for now, Clement hasn't done anything more in BHP Billiton's favour than he's required to by law.

Which isn't to say matters can't change in the next 30 days. And I'd keep a closer eye on these numbers than these ones in figuring out whether the Cons will figure it's safe to revert back to their apparent instincts on the bid - meaning that Kory Teneycke may be in for a busy month.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday...

- While I certainly won't agree with the more pointed attacks on the Greens' proposal to ban political TV ads, I'll raise the same point I did when it came to ten-per-centers. With the Cons firmly in control of so many advertising and communication resources, does it really make sense to cut into any of the few media where the opposition parties have any hope of getting their message out?

- Meanwhile, for those looking for useful communications tools, NUPGE's All Together Now site has some handy message suggestions. (Though hopefully it'll evolve to include a full set of value-based words and phrases for use other contexts in addition to the current one-liners.)

- Paul Krugman is all too right in highlighting a comment as to exactly what it is that the markets want. But while the idea might well make for a low-cost way of appeasing the financial sector as it stands, shouldn't it also serve as reason to question whether the market actually is always right?

- I suppose it's for the best that Brian Lilley is willing to report the obvious from Kevin Page. But does it really take the Parliamentary Budget Officer's intervention to get a QMI reporter to acknowledge that tax cuts mean less government revenue?

- Finally, get your popcorn ready: KAIROS isn't taking its funding cuts lying down, and the Cons' response should make for some quality entertainment.

On issue management

It's certainly problematic that the Cons are doing as well as they are when it comes to perceived issue management. But while that may be relatively easily explained as the normal advantage held by a governing party, the positioning of the opposition parties looks to make for a noteworthy story as well:
Forty per cent of Canadians said the Tories are the best choice to manage the economy, compared to 28% for the Liberals; and 40% also said the Tories can best manage the country’s finances, compared to 29% who chose the Liberals.

The NDP was at 18% on both those questions. The Bloc had eight per cent support and the Green party was chosen by six per cent on the question of managing the economy, while the Bloc was at seven per cent and Greens at six per cent on the question of managing the country’s finances.

The Conservatives were also favoured ahead of all the other parties to find the right balance between taxation and providing government services, the poll found. The Conservatives led the pack with 35%, followed by the Liberals at 28%, the NDP at 23% and the Bloc Quebecois and Green party each at seven per cent.
The Conservatives were the first choice of 31% of Canadians who were asked which party would best ensure the sustainability of the health-care system. Twenty-eight per cent said the NDP, while 25% said the Liberal party. The Bloc garnered nine per cent support while the Greens had the backing of seven per cent of those questioned.
The NDP was ahead of all parties, but just barely, on the question of which one is best able to provide the social and government services that are important to Canadians and their families. Thirty-one per cent chose Jack Layton’s party, compared to 30 % for the Conservatives and 24% for the Liberals. Eight per cent of those surveyed selected the Bloc while seven per cent sided with the Green party.
To start off with, it's worth noting that even the NDP's perceived issue weaknesses don't appear to be serving as drags on the party's popularity. For all the Con and Lib efforts to tell fabricated horror stories about how the NDP would manage the economy and the budget, the NDP's score on those issues lands in the middle of the party's normal polling range. And in what can only serve as a reminder that Canadians are by and large willing to pay for the services they expect from the public sector, it does even better in finding the balance between taxes and spending.

And the picture is even more striking on the party's stronger issues. The NDP ranks in the top position when it comes to providing government services and second when it comes to health care, in both cases beating out the Libs - all despite having never run those operations on a national scale, and being perpetually dismissed by its competitors and much of the media as a contender for government.

Of course, the fact that both the NDP's issue perceptions and its leader are apparently polling well above the party does raise questions about what can be done to close the gap. But I don't think there's much doubt that the party would rather go into a campaign looking to build on those strengths as opposed to trying to prop up a party number that isn't backed by issue or leadership support - and the NDP has set itself up to tap into plenty of public trust when the next campaign gets underway.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Well said

Brian Topp highlights the points that progressives need to make in order to compete with the right-wing message machine:
(I)t is time to fight the bad guys on the real battlefield. It is time to take on their big ideas with better big ideas, point for point.

They say government is too big. We should say poverty, unemployment, and injustice are too big.

They say taxes are too high. We should say there are more important things to tackle right now than reducing taxes for rich people.

They say they'll give everyone some of their money back. We should say paying for tax cuts by running deficits is theft from our children.

They say it's time to sell off and privatize schools, hospitals and public services. We should say there are some important things best done together – like good public education for our kids and good health care no matter how big your wallet is.

They say it’s “time to stop the gravy train.” We should say good idea! Let's stop the gravy train – starting with the insiders, rich tax cheats, speculators, and all the other geniuses who wrecked the world economy and put millions out of work, while pocketing the bailout money.

Progressive people sometimes seem bored by their basic values, and take them for granted as givens. But the bad guys run on simple messages about their very different view of what the “givens” are.

One and the same

Edit: Post removed by request.

On strategic considerations

Edit: Post removed by request.

No room for movement

Following up on this post, let's take a high-level look at why left-wing populism has received less attention than its right-wing counterpart in both Canada and the U.S. - and why the Canadian version may face particular challenges.

The first point worth making is that much of the "grassroots" of the Tea Party movement is anything but. I won't go into detail other than to point to Linda McQuaig's latest - but suffice it to say that a movement figures to have a far easier time attracting adherents if it enjoys a virtually endless supply of free money and promotion. In contrast, left-wing movements have generally had to start from scratch - which is why they've normally organized through low-cost media, and done little to keep momentum after a particular unifying event slips out of the headlines.

But in the U.S., the effort to keep an independent left-wing movement afloat is made somewhat easier by the nature of the political parties fighting for power. After all, the lifeblood of a non-party movement figures to be a group of people sufficiently interested in politics to be willing to get involved, but at the same time disgruntled enough with the existing parties not to want to back any of them regularly. And it's not hard to see how that kind of movement can come together in a system where even the lone nominally left-wing party regularly engages in recreational hippie-punching - leading to a strong incentive to want to develop outside voices to influence party direction.

In Canada, on the other hand, the existence of four parties who claim some element of progressivism means that there's a far more shallow pool of unaffiliated voters in the first place. Anybody who wants the easiest path to power in such a party will tend to be attracted to the Libs, while the NDP and Greens each make a strong claim to the status of the principled outsider fighting against the corporate excesses of the Cons and Libs, and the Bloc works to keep its turf as the left-wing alternative to the Cons in Quebec.

Needless to say, the effort involved in maintaining those parties leaves far less time and energy for the development of new alternatives. But it also results in the development of conflicting tribal loyalties which make it more difficult for populists to work together from across party lines - which figures to be a must in developing a sustainable movement independent of existing interests.

Indeed, one can take an instructive example from the Canadians Advocating Political Participation - which, while entirely non-ideological on its face, came together as a response to the Cons' abuses of power. And while Canadian progressives largely supported its work, they also spent plenty of time leveling accusations of party interference rather than seeing all involvement as a plus...with the end result that much less developed than might otherwise have been possible.

Lest there be any doubt, none of the above is to suggest that Canada is worse off for having the multi-party system that it does. And indeed, the comparative political realities in Canada as opposed to the U.S. seem to me to make for a compelling argument in favour of making sure that voters aren't limited to a single non-right option.

But as long as Canadian progressives continue to see that value in maintaining a number of parties as options, there's going to be awfully limited space for anybody to develop an outside movement. And it might well be worth asking what we can do to work across party lines to better focus our efforts without limiting ourselves to the bad-or-worse choice faced regularly by American voters.

Races may be closer than they appear

Eric Grenier's by-election projections certainly make for an interesting read, and it's a plus to see at least some commentary based on voting patterns rather than conjecture. But with two of the three seats projected to be won by 40+ points, I have to wonder whether the nature of a by-election will cause problems for a model developed for general elections.

Without having crunched any numbers myself, it seems that by-elections generally tend to produce closer races - which makes sense as the parties throw everything they have into one riding, eliminating the gap in expenditures and narrowing the difference in manpower necessary for a candidate to run away from the pack. And that would lead me to expect both Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette and Winnipeg North to produce far closer races than projected, even if the projected winners sound about right absent some major change over the course of the campaign.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats feigning innocence.

On legacies

Alice's post has received plenty of attention for highlighting Ruth Hass' $210,000 bequest to the NDP as a major factor in this year's third-quarter fund-raising numbers. But it also highlights a noteworthy trend in how well the federal parties have done in winning estate support:
The Liberals have reported only three bequest contributions over $200 in the period 2004-2010, two in 2008 totalling $7,500, and one in 2009 for $5,000. The Conservatives have reported 11 bequests over $200 during that time frame, including six annual bequests of $1,000 from the estate of one late supporter, and two in 2008 of $3,000 each from two other supporters' estates.

However, it's the NDP that seems most advanced in its planned giving program, reporting 38 different bequests of $200 or more since 2004 — including many of $5,000 or more, and 9 of $10,000 or greater, in addition to the $211K received from Mrs. Hass earlier this fall.
Now, part of the explanation for the NDP's success in bringing in bequests figures to have much to do with its making a concerted effort in the area, as noted by Norma Greenaway. But it's also interesting to wonder how the parties' relative political positions may affect their ability to raise money through estate donations.

After all, it seems fairly safe to say that an estate donation - unlike one made by somebody with any reason to want to curry favour with a party - would be based solely on a desire to make a difference rather than any sense of self-interest. Which means that it shouldn't make for much surprise that a party like the Libs which is branded more as adapting to the political environment than having any particularly strong core beliefs might have trouble bringing in such donations.

But interestingly, the Cons too look to be well behind the NDP in convincing supporters to leave anything to them - notwithstanding both their well-oiled fund-raising machine, and their equally ideological positioning. And it's worth wondering what the comparative willingness of NDP and Con supporters to leave a donation behind might say about their relative belief in the causes underlying the political parties.

Mark your calendar

The Saskatchewan NDP's 2011 nomination season has continued with two more candidates added to the slate: Don Jeworski in Last Mountain-Touchwood, and Cindy Lee Sherban in Saskatoon Silver Springs. But perhaps more surprising than the progress of the ridings which have already nominated is one addition to the list set to pick a nominee soon.

This month's busy nomination schedule now includes a meeting for Regina Wascana Plains on November 23 - with nobody that I know of publicly announced as a candidate yet, though there's been some speculation that one of the defeated candidates in another Regina riding might be invited to pursue the seat.

We'll find out shortly whether or not that possibility comes to pass. But either way, the opportunities to run for the NDP in Regina in the 2011 election are fading quickly - and it'll be interesting to see who can put together a nomination campaign in very little time to challenge for the last riding available.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading...

- The Ottawa Citizen weighs in on the Cons' out-of-control communication costs:
Harper's press secretary Andrew MacDougall defended the increase in communications staff in the Prime Minister's Office, however, by saying government communications are more important than ever because "Canadians are worried about the economy and what their government is doing to address it. So it's important to return every phone call and have the prime minister out there communicating."

Except that is not what the government is doing. Centralizing communications in the PMO does not necessarily mean more communicating; it might just mean that the information that is communicated is more controlled and spun than ever. When it comes to communications, Canadians are getting less for more money and, especially now, that should concern everyone.
- I don't entirely agree with Matt Taibbi's sense of inevitability. But otherwise, it's hard to argue with his take on what's made it more difficult to rally public support behind worthwhile causes:
Common sense sounds great, but if you’re too freaking lazy to penetrate the mysteries of carbon dioxide—if you haven’t mastered the whole concept of breathing by the time you’re old enough to serve in the U.S. Congress—you’re not going to get the credit default swap, the synthetic collateralized debt obligation, the interest rate swap, etc. And understanding these instruments and how they were used (or misused) is the difference between perceiving how Wall Street made its money in the last decades as normal capitalist business and seeing the truth of what it often was instead, which was simple fraud and crime. It’s not an accident that Bachmann emerged in the summer of 2010 (right as she was forming the House of Tea Party Caucus) as one of the fiercest opponents of financial regulatory reform; her primary complaint with the deeply flawed reform bill sponsored by Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank was that it would "end free checking accounts."

Our world isn’t about ideology anymore. It’s about complexity. We live in a complex bureaucratic state with complex laws and complex business practices, and the few organizations with the corporate will power to master these complexities will inevitably own the political power.
- And while the occasional attempt to develop a similar countermessage might be worth a shot, it only makes matters worse to go all out in accepting and even pushing the idea that small, simple, short-term gains in the context of a worsening society are all that really matter. Which brings us to the Libs:
Federal Liberal insiders said on Tuesday the party is shifting strategy in response to the political forces that propelled Mr. Ford into office.
(M)ore specifically, insiders said the Liberals will abandon nanny state proposals like universal child care and put forward boutique proposals that would cost relatively little and target areas where many Canadians are hurting – such as their family-care plan, which would give family caregivers a six-month employment-insurance benefit similar to parental leave and a family-care tax benefit for low- and moderate-income earners modelled on the child tax benefit.
And the framing may be even worse than the policy focus: what exactly do the Libs think they have to gain by deriding public programs in wingnut terms like "nanny state"?

- In fairness, though, at least one NDP MP seems to have his eye off the ball as well.

- And finally, the weirdest part of the potash developments over the last couple of days is the Cons' apparent refusal for anybody to take credit for the recommendation to let BHP Billiton take over PCS. While it's true enough that there's a difference between a departmental recommendation and a final decision, it strikes me as highly implausible that the former wasn't based at least in part on political direction as well - and the fact that Stephen Harper is distancing himself from both sides of the picture looks to suggest that he expects plenty of fallout from the outcome.

Only in it for themselves

Now might be a great time for a reminder as to what corporate Canada has actually done in the face of economic weakness:
Although we have a Conservative government, low deficits and tax cuts, corporations are hoarding cash rather than investing in Canada. So, maybe the Obama administration is not to blame for corporations behaving the same way in the US.

Four months ago, I suggested that low capacity utilization explains sluggish investment. If corporations already have a lot of idle capacity, why invest in adding more capacity? A week ago, Paul Krugman presented the same interpretation for the US.

Corporate tax cuts will be especially ineffective at promoting investment given the overhang of excess capacity. As I argued, it would be better for the government to retain the money and invest it directly.
Which, needless to say, says a lot about what the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is really after in its ad campaign to try to lock in even more corporate tax cuts. Never mind the well-being of the economy, it's all about handing big businesses more cash to hoard - and there's no reason at all why the country at large should agree with that set of priorities.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Bravely defending the poor, downtrodden pharmaceutical giants

In case anybody was worried that a bill to make needed drugs available in Africa might actually pass without being gutted, put your fears to rest, as the Cons and Libs have once again teamed up to make sure that access to medicine is as difficult as possible.

The source of the vacuum

Apparently Rob Ford's mayoral victory has led to plenty of questions about broader populism in Canada, with both Alex Himelfarb and Robert Silver writing noteworthy posts on the subject. I'll deal later with the state of left-wing populism, but let's start with the answer as to why national movements haven't yet popped up on the right.

There, I'd think the answer is a fairly simple one. It's been well documented that one of Stephen Harper's main management strategies within the Cons has been to tear down any internal structures which could allow anybody else to build a power base which might challenge his leadership. And there has been little if any resistance from right-affiliated groups outside the party to Harper's actions either, as the likes of the Fraser Institute and Canadian Taxpayers Federation have been eager to take up the Cons' party line rather than risking any gap between their theoretical values and the party in power (e.g. by applauding the Cons for spending more money to get less results out of the census).

And I'd go a step further in hypothesizing that the country's leading supposedly-independent Con may actually be the best example yet of how Harper has managed to channel right-wing anger toward his party rather than toward outside movements.

While Maxime Bernier has nominally challenged the direction of the Cons' government at times, he's never done so in a way that Harper himself would figure to disagree with - meaning that he's served primarily as a useful ideological counterweight to the opposition parties in trying to frame the Cons' actions. And rather than seeming to assemble any movement behind himself, Bernier has instead made himself available to pitch the Cons' party line on request.

So the simple answer to why there's no popular movement on the right is that Harper has gone to great lengths to prevent one from developing, setting up a magnet for populist frustration within his own party (and in the person of an MP still under his control) rather than risking the formation of any outside groups. And that task has been facilitated by the fact that right-wing groups who might otherwise have figure to lead the charge have instead gone out of their way to avoid harming the interests of a small-c conservative government.

Shut out

We'll hope Brad Wall is right in assuming that the Harper Cons have actually paid attention to Saskatchewan's unequivocal position against a PCS takeover. But it's worth noting that his course of action over the last week doesn't make much sense if so.

After all, if the Wall government figured that Saskatchewan's position had already been heard, then why plan a trip to lobby the federal government in the first place? And what about the Cons' new declaration that they don't much want to hear from anybody can inspire confidence that they're listening?

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Obviously the result of yesterday's game wasn't what Saskatchewan Roughrider fans had hoped for. But there's at least some reason for optimism compared to the path the 'Riders took to defeat in the previous few weeks - even if there's still plenty of room for improvement.

While the 'Riders' point total was one of the team's worst on the season, that wasn't for lack of far more success than usual in moving the ball with a wide variety of offensive plays. Darian Durant was back over 300 yards through the air (with Cary Koch and Andy Fantuz doing particularly well catching passes), both Durant and Wes Cates managed to do at least some damage on the ground, and the 'Riders were mostly able to avoid the Lions' pass rush thanks to a combination of Durant's elusiveness and a fairly strong performance by the offensive line.

The only problem was that while the 'Riders fired on all cylinders moving the ball in their own end, they stalled nearly every time they had a chance to score. So once again, the issue was one of points left on the field rather than a lack of opportunities, with a missed field goal plus two turnovers in field goal range more than making up the Lions' margin of victory.

Of course, by this point in the season one would expect the 'Riders to have figured out how to turn opportunities into touchdowns, especially after their 9-4 start. But it's at least a plus to be doing an effective job chewing up yardage - and there's still time for a reminder how to get the big plays working in the 'Riders' favour again.

Meanwhile, the defence did a better job of bottling up the Lions' offence than it's done in virtually any game this season. The 'Riders limited the Lions to a short passing game that was bound to be difficult for an inexperienced quarterback to execute, and tossed in an effective pass rush to boot. And the end result was that the Lions were held to 268 yards of total offence.

But there was once again a glaring omission from the scoresheet: once again, the turnovers that have been such a big part of the 'Riders' recent success against B.C. were entirely absent (as the Lions' lone fumble came on an interception return). And that's why B.C. could squeak out a win despite being generally outplayed on both sides of the ball.

Of course, the special teams foibles continued for the 'Riders. But at this point in the season, there's no realistic hope that the team will get that part of its game together when it counts - so the real question is whether the offence and defence can make up for the 'Riders' glaring weakness. And while yesterday doesn't provide a lot of confidence that the answer is "yes", it at least suggests that the 'Riders aren't too far away.

Monday Morning Links

Assorted material to start your week...

- The Hill Times' report on pre-budget consultations is all the more sad for the complete lack of any ideas coming from the two main federal parties. Even if there's no much chance of any "ask" coming to fruition under the Cons, it would be for the best for interested groups to at least keep the pressure on as to what could be done if we had a government willing to do its job - but instead it sounds like the Cons' distaste for any original thought is spreading to the groups presenting options directly to Canada's MPs.

That said, it's worth noting that if the Cons indeed plan on using the cost of their photo-ops as an excuse to turn off the taps for essential programs, then the same groups will have absolutely no reason to play nice in the future.

- For those who missed pogge's Quote of the Day from Cenk Uygur, it's worth another look:
If we continue to let special interests, corporate interests and lobbyists buy our politicians, there's no hope on any of the issues. Then Obama is right, the best we could hope for is a little bit of change in the different fields. If you accept that false premise, then Obama did the best he could do within those constraints.

But we didn't elect him to accept that premise, we elected him to change that premise. That was the change we were waiting for - and didn't get.
- For all the effort by the NDP to paint the Libs and Cons as one and the same, the message still doesn't seem to have sunk in far past the New Democratic base. But the Libs' efforts to channel Rob Ford certainly can't hurt matters when it comes to convincing people that there's no difference.

- Finally, Sasha Issenberg's article on behavioural politics is well worth a read.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Of course it speaks poorly of the Cons that they've been misleading Canadians about their participation in Omar Khadr's plea agreement. But the more substantial issue looks to me to involve how little they can be trusted in the future.

Here's the background to the plea deal:
"On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, the Department of State brings to the attention of the Government of Canada Mr. Khadr's agreement to plead guilty to all charges against him," the note said.

"The plea agreement includes various undertakings and conditions, including that duly authorized officials of the United States and Canada exchange diplomatic notes reflecting United States and Canadian Government support for [his] transfer to Canada to serve the remainder of [his] approved sentence after completing no less than one additional year in United States custody … "
In response, the Canadian Embassy conveyed in a note that Canada acknowledged receipt of the State Department's note, that it took note of Khadr's deal to plead guilty to all charges against him and that it shared the U.S.'s view that were Khadr to request a transfer to Canada, such a transfer could be made under the Treaty between Canada and the United States on the Execution of Penal Sentences.

"The Government of Canada is inclined to favourably consider Mr. Khadr's application to be transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence or such portion of the remainder of his sentence as the national Parole Board determines …."
Which looks to me to raise the question of whether the diplomatic notes are actually seen as remotely binding - or whether they'll simply be ignored as much as Khadr's rights as a Canadian citizen have been during his entire stay in Guantanamo. And if the Cons are in a position to change their mind about "favourably considering" Khadr's application once it's officially made, then it's possible that Canada's negligence and embarrassment in dealing with its nationals abroad may be far from over.

Deep thought

It's never been much secret that the Cons are best served if people aren't politically informed and involved. But I didn't know they were quite this brazen about telling people it's futile to bother.

On communication resources

As promised, let's follow up on the MP expense numbers released last week with a closer look at who spent what - and how it fits into the larger picture of public spending on political messaging.

For that purpose, I've put together a quick spreadsheet dividing up listed MP expenses for 2009 by party affiliation. If anybody wants to double-check my data entry or play around with the results, I'll be happy to pass along the raw data (which looks to be a few hundred dollars off the disclosure summary on householder totals, and within a cent on ten percenters).

Here are the party expenses for householders and ten percenters for 2009, along with the percentage of the total expenses in each department by party. The percentages won't correlate perfectly due to the difference between the householder numbers used and the total taken from the official summary, but the broad trends should be fairly clear.

Party Householder $ Householder % Ten Percenter $ Ten Percenter % Overall $ Overall %
Cons $2,085,664.82 45.4% $6,410.979.65 63.0% $8,496,644.47 57.5%
Libs $1,173,004.97 25.5% $1,450,559.81 14.2% $2,623,564.78 17.8%
Bloc $702,598.97 15.3% $1,033,958.73 10.2% $1,736,557.70 11.8%
NDP $628,928.64 13.7% $1,287,209.52 12.6% $1,916,138.16 13.0%

So even in the types of materials available to all parties in Parliament, the Cons have been using up a disproportionate share of the resources put into political messaging. And indeed the above suggests that eliminating ten percenters out of an MP's riding was a smart short-term move by the opposition - though I remain unconvinced the opposition parties shouldn't have instead done more to use the medium themselves.

But wait, there's more! The picture is even more galling when one takes into account the resources at the Cons' disposal as a government out of the $239,577,131 in total expenses generally amounting to actual or potential political communications spending for 2009:

Party Name PMO/Cabinet Advertising MP Party Total Total %
Cons $67,600,000 $130,000,000 $8,496,644.47 $10,351,071 $216,447,715.47 90.3%
Libs n/a n/a $2,623,564.78 $7,219,593 $9,873,157.78 4.1%
Bloc n/a n/a $1,736,557.70 $2,742,215 $4,478,772.70 1.9%
NDP n/a n/a $1,916,138.16 $4,998,192 $6,914,330.16 2.9%
Greens n/a n/a n/a $1,863,155 $1,863,155 0.8%

The above includes the PMO, cabinet and government advertising expenses which have been widely reported in recent days. And while I wouldn't disagree with the view that these amounts shouldn't be used for political purposes, they look to make for a vital part of the picture given how each have been used for direct political messaging by the Harper Cons.

Now, if I'm missing anything that could be included in the "funding for political messages" picture as analogous expenses favouring opposition messages (or otherwise providing a more complete view), I'm open to suggestions.

As the picture looks now, though, a party with 38% of the vote and 47% of the seats in the House of Commons is controlling over 90% of the public money used for political communications. And it actually has the chutzpah to be trying to raise popular outrage over the lone part of that funding which isn't thoroughly biased in the Cons' favour - because apparently Harper and company feel the need to push the number up to 93%97% by further eliminating any direct links between votes and funding.

All of which is to say that there's ample room to make a case that the real problem with public funding for political communications has nothing at all to do with the per-vote subsidy. And the Cons may want to be careful how much outrage they try to build lest it be turned back against their far more appalling amounts spent promoting themselves.

Update/edit: Joe has more on the printing expenses of the Cons' Saskatchewan MPs. And the above end number is fixed based on the Cons' own share of printing expenses - which would be the only factor left to offer any communication resources for the opposition.

Edit II - Fixed reversed columns in second chart.

On unpleasant facts

Munir Sheikh offers an example of the type of information Canadian policymakers will lack if the Cons' choice to gratuitously gut the census is allowed to stand:
Take, for example, the average income levels of groups of immigrants relative to native Canadians from each of the 5-year census cycles beginning with the 1975-79 group and ending with the latest 2000-2004 group.

Data from the long-form census offers two important conclusions. First, economic performance of immigrants, as captured by the earnings of immigrants relative to the native population, is on a downward trend. Second, this gap does not close even after immigrants have been here for up to 20 years. These are unpleasant facts.

A more detailed look at the data indicates some positive recent developments but they appear not to have taken hold. For example, the 1990-94 group of immigrants did marginally better than the 1985-89 group after working for six to 10 years.

Unfortunately, that improvement proved temporary. The 1995-99 group seems to have done better than the 1990-94 group soon after arriving, but their advantage also appears to be slipping away. To make matters worse, the performance of the 2000-04 group has fallen below that of the 1995-99 group.

Governments may look at this long-form census information to monitor the situation and attempt to improve it by changing policies. Some changes have been announced in the recent past, such as those focused on the economic class applicants, the Canada experience class and the provincial nominee programs. Would these changes be effective in improving outcomes and, if yes, by how much?

With the government’s decision to abolish the long-form census, it is not clear how one would get reliable answers to these important questions.