Saturday, June 25, 2011

Layout Changes

You may have noticed that the blog is experiencing a few technical difficulties following a template change to permit posts like this one to display properly. The JS-Kit commenting system should be restored shortly.

Fund-Raising Review By Province - Conservatives

As promised, let's dig into La Presse's party fund-raising data to see what we can conclude about where and how Canada's political parties have raised money over the past few years - starting with the party which has lapped the field in the area.

The numbers are arrived at as follows:
- The full list of donations is sorted by party.
- The party donations are sorted first by province, then by year.
- Once the sorting isolates the donations for a province and year, those amounts are summed and included in the chart below, alongside the percentage of the Cons' annual donations sourced from the province.

Due to some imperfections in the data, some donations aren't classified by province (in the Cons' case totalling $54,199.70) or year (totalling $3,594,456.53), while others included in more authoritative totals seem to be missed entirely. And the 2010 numbers are even more spotty since they're based on quarterly rather than annual data. But assuming there's no systematic reason for particular types of donations being missed, we should still be able to draw some conclusions from the partial data.

Conservative Donations - 2007-2010 (partial)

Prov 2007$ 2007% 2008$ 2008% 2009$ 2009% 2010$ 2010%
AB $2,380,340.42 20.09% $3,716,554.54 20.18% $2,664,881.58 20.00% $1,452,201.50 24.15%
BC $2,019,853.99 17.05% $3,100,353.52 16.83% $2,250,832.69 16.89% $1,038,942.14 17.28%
MB $463,520.5 3.91% $803,726.78 4.36% $664,025.63 4.98% $295,992.94 4.92%
NB $135,870.93 1.15% $262,806.92 1.43% $202,580.19 1.52% $77,061.01 1.28%
NL $20,881.78 0.18% $58,065 0.32% $18,615 0.14% $19,010 0.32%
NS $160,287.36 1.35% $301,036.59 1.63% $241,260.57 1.81% $98,618.29 1.64%
NT $24,711.25 0.21% $29,851.25 0.16% $22,008.50 0.17% $17,459 0.29%
NU $1,750 0.01% $3,735 0.02% $7,330 0.06% $7,100 0.12%
ON $4,891,693.16 41.29% $7,448,196.41 40.44% $5,409,701.47 40.60% $2,405,206.29 40.00%
PE $73,704 0.62% $77,067 0.42% $87,418.49 0.66% $17,290.02 0.29%
QC $1,172,699.74 9.90% $1,804,613.22 9.80% $1,094,044.96 8.21% $261,928.92 4.36%
SK $460,756.01 3.89% $755,387.63 4.10% $623,807.58 4.68% $306,239.01 5.09%
YT $41,450 0.35% $56,270.45 0.31% $38,505 0.29% $16,390 0.27%
Total $11,847,519.14 n/a $18,418,114.31 n/a $13,325,011.66 n/a $6,013,529.12 n/a

So what can we tell from the above? On a first look, there are a few details worth highlighting - keeping in mind that with election years and incomplete data limiting the value of looking at the totals, the most important information figures to lie in the comparison between provinces.

To start with, the most remarkable trend in the few years of data is the Cons' drop-off in Quebec fund-raising.

It's not much of a secret that the Cons' strategy from the end of 2008 onward has largely involved punting on the province aside from their then-current seats. But they didn't seem to have a lot to lose to begin with, having never brought in so much as 10% of their annual fund-raising from a province with 23% of Canada's population. And from that starting point, it's stunning to see how their abandonment of Quebec played out from a fund-raising perspective - with a modest but significant drop in 2009, followed by a dive off a cliff in 2010 to the point where the Cons' Quebec fund-raising rated behind that from each of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Meanwhile, the Cons have found what strikes me as a surprising counterweight to make up for that Quebec decline.

I'd have expected the Cons to have maximized their western fund-raising long ago, while still having some room to grow in Ontario as they've expanded their vote totals there. But La Presse's numbers show exactly the opposite.

In fact, the Ontario haul as a proportion of Con fund-raising has been relatively stable - which seems to signal that the Cons have already tapped the market to the extent reasonably possible. Instead, it's the prairie provinces that have actually increased their relative contribution fairly steadily in recent years - with Saskatchewan increasing each year, Manitoba nearly doing the same, and Alberta seeing a striking jump in 2010, even as all were already contributing well above their share based on their population totals.

Finally, one other note of interest is the effect that Danny Williams' ABC campaign looks to have had on the Cons' fund-raising in Newfoundland and Labrador. Not that they started from much of a position of strength originally - but in both 2007 and 2009, the party actually managed to raise more from each of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories than it was able to bring in from a province with half a million residents and a nominally affiliated provincial government.

On unlikely donations

Since I haven't seen much follow-up on La Presse's fund-raising map and database, I'll be taking a stroll through the data over the weekend - with a particular focus on how Canadian political donations break down geographically. But before I get into the more serious content, let's start with more of a curiosity.

Until this year's election, it wasn't uncommon to hear commentators frustrated with the state of Canadian politics muse that they'd vote for the Bloc if only it ran candidates outside Quebec. But who knew that at least a few put their money where their mouth was?

From 2007 to 2010, the Bloc raised a total of $29,291.19 from donors outside Quebec - a figure which included multiple donations from individuals in Victoria, Ottawa, and Embrun, ON, as well as a single maximum donation in 2009 from St. John's, NL. But apparently the common cause of putting up firewalls around provincial jurisdiction wasn't enough to induce anybody from Alberta to donate to the Bloc's cause over the four-year period.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Tabatha Southey eviscerates the Cons' determination to force Canadians into a state of constant and unregulated online surveillance at their own expense:
Bill C-51 seems to indicate a shift. It makes accessing our most private data easier by essentially conscripting telecom companies and ISPs into operating more sophisticated version of warrantless wiretaps.

At the same time, it allows the private companies that have a virtual lock on the market – a situation that our supposedly pro-competition government seems to be remarkably at peace with, and one that does, coincidentally, make this monitoring relatively simple – to recoup those costs as they see fit.

Perhaps as a result, there has been little opposition to Bill C-51 from the big six ISPs.

It feels a bit like a lighter version of the Stasi, only privatized. The spies send you a monthly bill, but they're endlessly happy to talk to you about bundling.
- Jeffrey Simpson is equally scathing in criticizing the Cons' ugly determination to keep pushing asbestos around the world:
(W)e mine asbestos, we ship it, we make money from it, and we’ll use every diplomatic trick in the book to defend this odious practice. We are the Ugly Canadians.

The Harper government could care less. It vigorously defends mining asbestos because of one little corner of Quebec, near Thetford Mines, where the asbestos is mined and shipped to developing countries, mostly in Asia. Stephen Harper’s top Quebec minister, Christian Paradis, used to head the Thetford Mines chamber of commerce. Mr. Harper campaigned in the area and supported the mining. He spent part of Friday, St. Jean Baptiste Day, in Thetford Mines, thereby reinforcing his government’s political marriage to asbestos.
It’s true that some countries haven’t banned the substance, claiming they monitor how and where it’s used. If anyone believes the myth that developing countries with poor bureaucracies and widespread corruption oversee the substance’s use, then that person is engaging in willful self-deception.

Canada is a curious place when it comes to lecturing others about their bad practices while protecting our own.
- While I'm generally a fan of Susan Delacourt's, her article on the cost of abolishing the Senate looks to avoid or downplay a couple of rather important contextual points.

First, as Delacourt mentions once then omits from all subsequent conmparisons, even the most extreme estimates of possible total severance costs are lower than the cost of operating the Senate for a single year - leaving no plausible argument that abolishing the Senate would be anything but a net plus from a fiscal standpoint on a time frame longer than about 18 months.

And second, Delacourt doesn't mention that allocating one-time spending to buy out current employees elsewhere in the public service is part of the Cons' general austerity plan. In fact, the Cons' supplementary estimates include a total of $1.9 billion ($1.3 billion of it new since March) for purposes including "entitlements on cessation of service or employment" - dwarfing any possible estimate of Senate severance costs, while also highlighting the absurdity of funding the Senate without question while pretending to be interested in identifying and eliminating wasteful expenses.

- Finally, John Geddes' article on Jack Layton is worth a read in full. But it's particularly worth noting Layton's take on the value of collective action:
Layton expounded on his view of urban affairs in “City Politics in Canada,” an essay published in a textbook in 1990. He paints a cityscape rife with class conflict. The business class hires “experts, lobbyists and lawyers” to push its development interests. Community groups dominated by the middle class occasionally face off against business. Poor neighbourhoods “can almost always count on defeat.”

His response is to urge organized community action. He’s aware that his slant raises questions about his perspective on individual liberty. Layton addresses the tension between individual and group interests in the forward he contributed to Trent University lecturer Robert Meynell’s new book, Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom. (Meynell includes Charles Taylor among the seminal idealists.) “The idealist current,” Layton writes, “holds that human society has the potential to achieve liberty when people work together to form a society in which equality means more than negative liberty, the absolute and protected right to run races against each other to determine winners.” He sums up: “Idealists imagine a positive liberty that enables us to build together toward common objectives that fulfill and even surpass our individual goals.”

Friday, June 24, 2011

Musical interlude

Staggered Crossing - Further Again

On self-defeating strategies

I've made the point when it comes to other issues. But apparently there's a need to make a more general statement for the benefit of the Libs. So here goes:

You won't find an inch of viable political ground by proposing right-wing policies that Stephen Harper would be perfectly happy to pursue if he dared, but has avoided so far because he doesn't think he can afford the backlash. Instead, all you'll accomplish is to make sure he can get away with them.

On learning experiences

Let's close this blog's discussion of #vancon2011 with one last post, this time dealing with the NDP's constitutional preamble - which figured to be the convention's main topic of interest until it was deferred for further consultation.

There's no doubt that at least some delegates were prepared to fight hard against the proposed changes. But I'm far from sure that the amendment would have been defeated if it had come to a vote at the plenary: while the new preamble won only a narrow majority in the resolutions panel, that same panel was almost unanimous in beefing up and passing the non-merger resolution which was later defeated in plenary, signaling that the influence of the delegates most averse to change was likely to be much smaller in a full vote than it was at the panel level.

So we shouldn't see the deferral as being based on a conclusion that a vote on the preamble would have faced a foregone conclusion. Instead, it looks to reflect a genuine sense that there's room to improve the revised draft now that the NDP has a bit of breathing room.

Now that the consultation process has been set in motion, though, it may be even more important than one might think at first glance.

After all, one of the major criticisms leveled at the NDP in this spring's election campaign was its willingness to consider constitutional change at the national level. And even with the public much less averse to reopening constitutional talks than Canada's chattering classes, there isn't much room for doubt that some controversy would result.

With that in mind, the NDP will probably be well served to consider the revision of its own constitution - complete with a need to broker compromises among multiple types of supporters in the face of changing party demographics - as a smaller-scale test of the challenges involved in engaging in the same type of project on the national level. And if it can satisfy its internal constituencies and come to agreement with time to spare before the 2015 election, then the experience and end result should provide a ready counter if the same line of attack surfaces again.

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Plenty of observers have noted the Cons' complete lack of a reasonable explanation for standing in the way of a global consensus to at least ensure that asbestos is accurately labeled as a hazardous substance. But you'll find the best examples of sheer, evidence-free spin documented by Sarah Schmidt (on the media side) and Nathan Cullen (on the parliamentary side).

- And Susan Riley discusses how the Cons' asbestos stance conflicts with their self-image when it comes to foreign policy:
(T)here is ample evidence developing countries, like India, pay no heed to safety, and that Indian workers, like the young Chuck Strahl, are being directly compromised. But Harper seems to imply it isn't our concern.

His indifference is strangely at odds with his moral, even moralistic, approach to foreign policy generally. He famously refused to remain silent on China's human rights abuses despite potential trade repercussions, yet is prepared to isolate Canada internationally to prop up a dying industry.
Two Conservative MPs - Mark Warawa and Patricia Davidson - have also been discreetly questioning asbestos exports, which suggests the Harper decision isn't resting easily on every Conservative conscience. Even federal Liberals are belatedly opposed.

Unlike the seal hunt, which harms no one but the seals, or the tarsands, which are environmentally damaging but economically important, there is no justification - moral, political or economic - for continued federal support for the asbestos industry.

But we should never discount one man's stubbornness.
- Terry Milewski points out that as part of its role in helping the Cons to cover up the facts, the now-defunct Afghanistan torture documents panel managed to redact information which was already on the public record. And Greg Weston notes that such an outcome fits perfectly with the Cons' normal modus operandi.

- And finally, while the Cons try to avoid any actual analysis as to how neutering the Canadian Wheat Board will affect farmers and others, the groups who stand to lose out are starting to go public - with the town of Churchill looking like one of the major victims if the Cons decide to push ahead.

On maturing processes

Let's take a look at a couple of final issues from #vancon2011, starting with the series of machinations around resolutions ruling out merger or non-compete agreements with the Liberals.

As I noted at the time, the convention planners gave a prominent place to a resolution ruling out a merger with the Liberals while giving a lower priority to one also ruling out a non-compete agreement - perhaps signalling that at least some within the party saw substantially different issues between the two, and an anti-merger resolution as a more reasonable outcome. But the panel combined the two into a single resolution.

Meanwhile, both resolutions referred specifically to the Libs alone, rather than to a set of general principles to be applied to dealings with other parties. (I'd hoped to amend the resolution in panel to remove the Lib reference so that it would apply to the NDP's dealings with any other party, but the question got called first.)

That left the plenary session to deal with a strongly-worded and restrictive resolution aimed solely at the Libs. And a combination of poorly-received speeches in favour and a strong appeal from Peter Stoffer in opposition resulted in the resolution being defeated.

Of course, that isn't to say that there seemed to be any particular appetite on the part of anybody speaking on either side to approve of merger or non-compete talks. But the plenary vote reflected the willingness of delegates to live up to the party's message of leaving the door open for co-operation where it's possible to do some good in the process.

Which figures to be a plus in the long run. But I'd think the progress of the resolution shows there's still work for the party to do in recognizing and defining its place on the Canadian political scene.

In effect, it seems that at least some delegates were eager to single out the Libs for denigration based on last month's election results. And the focus might have been understandable to a point given the longstanding rivalry between the two parties, as well as the fact that as recently as a couple of months ago the NDP perceived itself as facing an uphill climb to overtake the Libs.

But from my standpoint, the focus of the resolutions only made exactly the same mistake the NDP has criticized in others for so long - ascribing undue importance to the Libs instead of zeroing in on what the NDP has done and can do as a party. And hopefully by the next convention, the respective positioning of the NDP and the Libs (which still seems new now) will have become familiar enough that delegates won't see the need to trumpet it.


Others have already noted how refreshing it is to have an Official Opposition which is willing to take a stand on issues of substance. But it's also worth highlighting another important factor in the NDP's strategy for this week.

One of the main blind spots of the Harper Cons has long been their tendency to underestimate the NDP's commitment to positive policy outcomes.

When they first took office, the Cons tried to strongarm the NDP into supporting them in exchange for continuing funding already promised by the Libs. Instead, they were met with a blizzard of protest that resulted in the NDP getting effectively all of the funding in exchange for nothing.

When they unveiled their 2008 fiscal update, the Cons hoped the NDP would be willing to support a long list of disastrous policies in exchange for the prospect that cutting off the per-vote subsidy would hurt the Libs. That miscalculation would have cost Harper his government if the NDP's response hadn't required the Libs to show a similar amount of backbone.

And now, the Cons seem to have assumed that the NDP would be willing to abandon workers across Canada in order to allow its new Quebec caucus to celebrate St-Jean-Baptiste Day. But instead, the NDP is standing firm - and looks to be on such solid ground in doing so that even the Bloc echoing its position that the Cons deserve the blame for intruding on the holiday.

Of course, it remains to be seen how much the filibuster will be able to do to influence the outcome of the Canada Post labour dispute. But at the very least, there should be no doubt that the NDP's rise to Official Opposition hasn't changed its commitment to putting policy ahead of symbolism. And the more Harper continues to guess wrong on that point, the better the chances of minimizing the damage he's able to do.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Wells is pleased to have received some response about how the Cons claim to be saving money. But it's worth taking a close look at the substance of that response, and particularly highlighting that one of the few general explanations actually looks to signal a plan for privatization and outsourcing rather than actual cost savings:
- Focusing on our core mandate and leveraging the expertise of the private sector – one of our key priorities is to provide opportunities for the private sector, particularly for small and medium enterprises. This means, in some cases, getting out of businesses that can be done by the private sector. By leveraging this expertise, our department will eliminate overhead costs, allow us to better focus on our core mandate, as well as support growth in the private sector.
Of course, how "supporting growth" of particular functions in the private sector is supposed to be desirable even as a government brags about eliminating those functions in the public sector is left as an exercise in corporatist dogmatism.

- Meanwhile, if the Cons were actually interested in eliminating their deficit responsibly, they'd do well to take a look at the list of potential revenue sources developed by Canadians for Tax Fairness.

- Chantal Hebert notes that any premier wanting to start a discussion about Senate abolition can get the ball rolling by passing a resolution which would demand a response from other governments. But I wonder whether that possibility might prove better for potential premiers than current ones: might, say, a platform commitment from the Saskatchewan NDP serve to win populist votes (particularly when compared to the Wall government's broken promises on the Senate issue)?

- Finally, it's worth noting that the NDP's focus on organization isn't limited to the resolution passed at #vancon2011, as pointed out by Jack Layton following his keynote speech:
In a news conference following his speech, Mr. Layton said the party has to strengthen riding associations, especially in those ridings where New Democrats came second, and build riding organizations for new MPs.

“It’s kind of a constant process. It’s like tending to a garden. You can’t sit back and watch. You have to work at it all the time.”

Mr. Layton said fundraising is also part of the exercise especially with the Conservative decision to eliminate subsidies for parties.

“We will be working hard to increase the number of people who give us a little bit of money. We have improved our fundraising dramatically over the last number of years, but we have more of that to do,” he said.

Riding the wave

A couple of weeks ago, I pointed out that the NDP's level of Canada-wide support is in line with other parties who have been seen as national contenders for government, in direct contrast to the Canadian Alliance at the point when it saw a merger as necessary for further progress. But the flip side of the NDP's widespread support as of May 2 was the lack of any region which could be seen as a current stronghold - both as a reliable source of a large number of seats, and as an area where there's enough public consensus in support of the party to make fund-raising and volunteer appeals more likely to succeed.

Which means that CROP's latest Quebec numbers - showing the NDP rising to 53% - may be far more significant than one might think in looking merely at possible seat outcomes.

If the NDP can maintain or build on that level of support, then it won't need to rely on vote splits to keep its current seat count in Quebec. And perhaps more importantly, a province with a true majority of NDP supporters would also figure to offer highly fertile territory for fund-raising and longer-term organizational clout which can help to keep the NDP competitive across the country - much like the Cons' Alberta fortress has enabled that party to spend its way to seats elsewhere.

Mind you, the NDP's task in Quebec organization-building will require even more work if the goal is to establish a base to support operations across Canada, rather than merely assembling a ground game commensurate with the NDP's seat count. But the potential reward would seem to make it well worth the effort to try.

New column day

Here, on how the Wall government's economic strategy is resulting in Saskatchewan paying more to get less out of private-sector development.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Not that it should come as much surprise that the release of the first report (PDF) from the Afghan detainee document panel fits the pattern of delay and distraction from the Cons. But this declaration (italics added) looks to take the stonewalling to a new low:
Status of the Panel’s Review of Cabinet Confidentiality Claims

71. The government provided the Panel only recently with its claims of Cabinet confidences in relation to the documents provided by the government to date. The Panel’s intent has been to complete its review of the redactions based on these claims as expeditiously as possible.
The report isn't clear on how "recently" the Cons bothered to make one of their supposedly vital claims to confidentiality. But it's hard to see how their refusal to so much as present one of the main claims to be evaluated by the panel can be squared with the regular assurances from the Libs and Bloc that the process was humming along to be completed at any moment. And that delay, combined with the complete suppression of the legal advice which lies at the heart of the underlying issue, makes it all the more clear that the NDP was right not to put any faith in a panel process where the Cons never had any incentive to act reasonably.

Update: And in case there was any doubt, the Cons are treating their delay tactics as having permanently ruled out any evaluation of their claims of cabinet privilege. (At least, that's what their repeated message about the process being "over" would seem to want to emphasize.)

On matters of principle

Stephen Harper on how we're supposed to perceive the Cons' foreign policy, as described just weeks ago:
The Prime Minister reflected this new reality in his triumphalist speech to the Conservative party faithful on the weekend, where he articulated Canada’s approach to the world in a single, potent sentence.

“We know where our interests lie and who our friends are,” he declared, “and we take strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.”

He didn’t call it the Harper Doctrine, but we can. It is startling both in its boldness and its utter lack of nuance.
Stephen Harper's government today:
Natural Resources Ministers Joe Oliver had hinted Tuesday the Canadian delegation would remain quiet at the meeting because four other countries had already spoken up against the listing.

But on Wednesday, Ukraine switched positions and indicated it could accept the hazardous listing.

Canada's intervention (to block consensus on the naming of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous material) followed immediately after Ukraine's announcement. It also came just after India, a major importer of Quebec asbestos, announced it, too, would support the listing. As with Canada at past meetings, India either opposed the listing or remained silent.

Unless consensus among countries can be achieved, chrysotile asbestos will remain off Annex III, contrary to the recommendation of the UN convention's scientific expert committee.
So which principle is it that calls for a government to ignore all scientific evidence (including that from its own non-partisan public service) to prevent hazardous materials from being accurately labeled?

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Adam Radwanski points out how Stephen Harper's continuing Senate embarrassment figures to play into the NDP's hands:
If Mr. Harper was looking to signal once and for all that he’s abandoned his populist roots, he could scarcely have done better than Wednesday’s Senate appointments. Little more than two weeks ago, Josée Verner, Larry Smith and Fabian Manning were all rejected by voters in their ridings – the latter two after biding their time with supposedly temporary gigs in the Red Chamber. Now, all three will have the opportunity to serve in Parliament anyway, at what is theoretically a higher level, courtesy of the leader who only a few weeks ago was still extolling the virtues of an elected Senate.
(F)or the New Democrats, this is a dream issue...It will give Mr. Layton, who has argued that the Senate should be abolished altogether, an opportunity to continue positioning himself as the outsider standing up for ordinary Canadians against Ottawa’s culture of entitlement – a message that will be key to any future success west of Ontario.

The Conservatives spent much of the recent campaign enjoying the NDP’s surge, because it mostly came at the expense of the Liberals. But for all that Mr. Harper might relish the prospect of his only national opposition coming from a party firmly to the left of centre, he might enjoy it a little else if that party starts challenging him on what was once safe Conservative turf. A few more announcements like Wednesday’s, and that might start to be a real concern.
- And the NDP looks to be making sure that the Cons can't wriggle their way out of their responsibility for perpetuating a bloated and non-representative upper chamber.

- John Cartwright nicely sums up how our economy is designed to avoid providing good jobs:
With millions of baby boomers retiring in the next decade, one would think that the law of supply and demand for skills would allow new employees to ask for better standards, not worse. But the CEOs already have figured out a response to that. First, the massive increase in the temporary foreign worker program has allowed entire sectors to keep wages low. And second, they have relentlessly attacked collective agreements in both the public and private sectors, resulting in many workers being thankful to keep what they have, let alone improve standards. Nobody mentions that Air Canada agents and Canada Post letter carriers earn less than the average wage in Toronto. The constant, shrill accusations are that these men and women are overpaid and need to accept even less.

That is why the anti-union rhetoric repeated daily by business think-tanks, columnists and politicians is so useful in the CEOs’ strategy. Only unions possess the power to frustrate their plans, and weakening unions is the key to lowering wages and benefits in tomorrow’s economy. The fact is the standard of living that so many take for granted was achieved through struggle. Whether by unionization or other forms of collective action such as the women’s movement, it was always opposed by the elites on Bay Street.

It is the labour movement that has advocated so strongly to improve standards for all working Canadians, as we did with the fight for maternity benefits and to increase the minimum wage. Labour is at the forefront of the efforts to improve retirement security for all. And labour continues to demand that we create a just society and economy that offers good jobs for all.

If you are under the age of 35, pay close attention. Your standard of living, and that of your children, is being decided right now in the boardroom, the workplace and even on the picket line. Sooner rather than later, you will need to pick a side.
- And Jim Stanford highlights the Harper Cons' leading role in attacking workers:
The government has thrown away any guise of neutrality. It has abandoned the principle of leaving free collective bargaining up to the private parties. It invokes phony arguments about the economic recovery, to justify virtually anything it wants to do.

We must also remember that the government could play a more constructive role in resolving the underlying problems that have contributed to theconflicts at Air Canada, Canada Post, and many other bargaining tables.

We need to expand the Canada Pension Plan, which is the most universal, portable, efficient, and secure pension system in the land. We need stable, long-run funding rules for defined-benefit pensions, and an insurance system to backstop pension plans when companies get into trouble.

These are things that government could do to strengthen workers’ pensions, and improve the chances that hard-working Canadians can retire with dignity and security. Instead, this government just jumped right into the middle of collective bargaining, clearly on the side of corporations, to help take pensions away from workers.
- Not that we should expect the Cons to be honest about what they're doing - any more than they're being in hiding their slashing of the public service from the likes of Paul Wells:
(I)t may be a bit ambitious for The Hill Times to put the name “breakout summary of the total reduction in spending” on the information Treasury Board actually provided, because what TBS actually provided was the number “$720 million.” Then they say, if you want to know more, “please” consult the Public Accounts “in the fall.” Handy reminder: it’s June.

But that’s only my third-favourite part. My second-favourite part is where they invite reporters to “contact individual departments or agencies” for more information on their Strategic Review cuts, because boy howdy, that sure has been working well for me so far.

And my first-most-favourite part of this whole email is the little note to me at the bottom where, “for additional information,” they “invite” me “to consult the Budget documentation.” Which made me laugh a long time, because it was the Budget documentation that got me asking these questions in the first place. In March.

Meanwhile Bill Curry at the Globe has been doing excellent work chronicling the real scope and effect of the cuts. He’s not getting a stitch of information from the government, of course; he’s getting it from the public-sector unions, in dribs and drabs as the layoff notices are handed out.

Duly noted. Real information on these cuts will not be coming from the government, at least not before fall.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats under the table.

On institutionalization

Following up on my earlier post, there was one massive piece of news from #vancon2011 on the capacity development front in the unveiling of the Broadbent Institute. But while it's hard to see any circumstances where the creation of a new think tank built around a popular former leader could prove to be anything but a huge plus, I'll toss out a few suggestions to make sure the new institute provides the maximum possible benefit for the NDP and its movement.

First, it's worth making sure that the new institute complements Canada's existing left-wing infrastructure, rather than serving to elbow other organizations out of the picture. That may mean leaving some policy development areas alone where they might otherwise look like an obvious opportunity for a think tank (for example, there would seem to be little point in developing alternative budgets when the CCPA already carries out that work). And hopefully it will also mean finding some new fund-raising capacity in the wake of the NDP's electoral success, rather than competing with both the party and other think tanks for existing pools of money.

Second, the institute may have to walk a fine line in how it relates to the NDP. While I'm open to arguments otherwise, I'd hope that it will serve as a more neutral and less partisan voice than its analogues on the right - but that doesn't mean it shouldn't also serve as a pipeline for developing talent for the NDP, including by establishing a profile for a new generation of commentators to present progressive and NDP positions in the media.

Meanwhile, it would also be a plus to see the institute take on some of the work previously done under the party's banner. In particular, consultation projects like the NDP's past economic town-hall tours would seem to be a natural fit for the institute - allowing MPs and other party figures to participate where convenient, while ensuring that regular citizen engagement goes on even in areas where the party isn't able to use its own resources.

And finally, I'd hope to see the institute (like Broadbent himself) serve as a strong force in pushing the NDP to live up to its progressive principles and opening up space on the left - rather than falling into the trap of merely trying to anticipate and provide messaging support for moves to the centre.

Again, the above is just a first set of impressions as to how to maximize the long-term benefits from the founding of the Broadbent Institute - and I'll very much be looking forward to seeing how the group evolves.

On training opportunities

Naturally, there's plenty to catch up on from #vancon2011 - but before I get into the news from the convention, let's note one relatively surprising omission from the agenda for most of the weekend.

At the NDP's previous convention in Halifax, delegates were offered the option of focusing on their choice of the usual schedule (resolutions and speeches), or a multitude of training sessions to assist in riding association development and election planning. And while I'm not sure exactly what results came of that effort (which did give rise to some scheduling problems as multiple sessions happened at the same time), it would have seemed to make sense to include a substantial training component this time as well - particularly to the extent the post-election period looks to be an ideal time to provide training on longer-term building in the absence of an immediate election threat.

Of course, there's still loads of time to develop riding-level capacity in the lead up to 2015. But there doesn't seem to be much room for doubt that the NDP has plenty of building left to do in order to win the next federal election. And we'll have to hope the Vancouver convention doesn't prove to be a missed opportunity on that front.