Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Walkom discusses how the McGuinty Libs are going beyond imposing immediate pay freezes on the public sector, and instead passing what's better seen as the War on Workers Measures Act - giving Ontario's government the power to dictate labour outcomes by decree without any forum for review:
If approved by the legislature, the Protecting Public Services bill would allow the government to not just freeze the wages it pays to unionized employees — ranging from nurses to home care workers to hydro linemen — but roll them back.

It would give cabinet the power to scrap or modify salary grids — as it has already done with the province’s teachers. The government would also be able to unilaterally change or eliminate any non-wage benefits unionized public sector workers now receive.

And the bill would bar unions from either striking or appealing such decisions to the courts.
For essential services such as hospitals, where workers are already barred from striking, the bill would prevent contract arbitrators from basing their rulings on either the Canadian constitution or the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Indeed, the arbitration section is perhaps the most internally contradictory part of the draft legislation.

Arbitration is based on the notion of having a fair-minded umpire decide issues that management and workers cannot. But this bill would allow that fair-minded umpire’s decision to be overturned by the government, which to all intents and purposes is management.
 - Toby Sanger points out that even the Fraser Institute's latest studies serve to thoroughly undermine blind faith in a corporatist market - at least, if one reads past the heavily-spun headlines to the actual data.

- George Monbiot highlights the social denialism of the uber-rich:
We could call it Romnesia: the ability of the very rich to forget the context in which they made their money. To forget their education, inheritance, family networks, contacts and introductions. To forget the workers whose labour enriched them. To forget the infrastructure and security, the educated workforce, the contracts, subsidies and bailouts the government provided.
As the developed nations succumb to extreme inequality and social immobility, the myth of the self-made man becomes ever more potent. It is used to justify its polar opposite: an unassailable rent-seeking class, deploying its inherited money to finance the seizure of other people's wealth.
The crudest exponent of Romnesia is the Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart. "There is no monopoly on becoming a millionaire," she insists. "If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain; do something to make more money yourselves – spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising and more time working … Remember our roots, and create your own success."

Remembering her roots is what Rinehart fails to do. She forgot to add that if you want to become a millionaire – in her case a billionaire – it helps to inherit an iron ore mine and a fortune from your father and to ride a spectacular commodities boom. Had she spent her life lying in bed and throwing darts at the wall, she would still be stupendously rich.

Rich lists are stuffed with people who either inherited their money or who made it through rent-seeking activities: by means other than innovation and productive effort. They're a catalogue of speculators, property barons, dukes, IT monopolists, loan sharks, bank chiefs, oil sheikhs, mining magnates, oligarchs and chief executives paid out of all proportion to any value they generate. Looters, in short. The richest mining barons are those to whom governments sold natural resources for a song. Russian, Mexican and British oligarchs acquired underpriced public assets through privatisation, and now run a toll-booth economy. Bankers use incomprehensible instruments to fleece their clients and the taxpayer. But as rentiers capture the economy, the opposite story must be told.
- But even as the corporatist worldview is exposed as a sham, Patrick Diamond notes that there's still plenty of need for progressive parties to better describe and defend an alternative.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan responds to the inevitable wave of talk about a Justin Trudeau leadership run by asking a rather pertinent question as to whether the Libs themselves take him seriously based on his roles in the party's caucus.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Musical interlude

Paul van Dyk feat. Plumb - I Don't Deserve You

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Like so many games this season, the 'Riders' most recent win against Calgary ended up closer than it had to. But at least this time, Saskatchewan emerged on top - signalling that the 'Riders are starting to combine the ability to outplay their opponents throughout the game with a late-game killer instinct just when it matters most.

Throughout the game, the 'Riders' offensive line (though still in a state of flux) stood out in providing protection for a hobbled Darian Durant, while also clearing space for a rushing attack featuring both Kory Sheets and Jock Sanders. And the extra bit of time and space was enough to get the entire offence working better than it has through much of the season - a particularly important development late in the game when the Stamps were bound to pressure the 'Riders on every play.

Moreover, Durant finally looks to be managing the play clock and using his snap count against opposing defenders. For ages, his habit has been to let the clock run down on nearly every play, giving the defence time to set and eliminating any doubt about when the ball has to be snapped. But Sunday he drew at least one offside penalty, and generally seemed to keep the Stamps confused as to when plays were starting. Which should make for an extra challenge for defences who are already facing a growing range of different threats.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' defence was stellar through three quarters (giving up its lone touchdown following a failed fake punt). And even after multiple injuries, it was just good enough to shut down the Stamps' late-game comeback attempt.

On that front, I'll give credit to Odell Willis for standing out when it mattered most. No, he hasn't consistently managed to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks after being hailed as a major acquisition: in fact, one of the biggest problems in the 'Riders' previous late-game collapses has been their inability to disrupt opposing offences. But with two defensive linemen injured against Calgary, Willis turned into a one-man pass rush at the end of the game - and the 'Riders can more than afford the occasional drive-extending penalty if Willis can keep the opponent's quarterback from making plays.

Finally, I'll note that yesterday's game likely made for the first time in 2012 the 'Riders were able to beat a tough divisional opponent in a game where plenty could have gone better. The aforementioned fake punt was likely a shrewd call even if it didn't turn out; the injuries on defence forced Saskatchewan to improvise its late-game lineup; and the 'Riders' defence came within inches of several more interceptions than the two that registered in the stat line. Which means that even after an important victory, there's ample room left to grow as the season winds down.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Althia Raj reports on the Cons' concerted effort to undermine organized labour in Canada (along with anybody else who might object to putting the interests of dirty oil and dirty money above the needs of citizens):
Behind the rhetoric about “union bosses” and “transparency” lies a strategy, political observers say, that stokes controversies and throws up red herrings in order to force key opponents on the defensive — in this case, Canada’s labour movement and the NDP.

“The whole approach is not to push your guy but to totally demean and to discredit and to vilify your opponent so that the only person left standing in the ring is your own person,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at University of Toronto.
Critics of the government, such as Sierra Club of Canada executive director John Bennett, see a wider game of political distraction at play — the kind the Tories perfected last winter when they accused environmental groups of being radicals backed by foreign interests.

For months, environmentalists were forced to explain their activities and funding sources while the Harper government crafted a budget that scrapped decades of environmental legislation the groups had fought for.

The campaign began in January, when Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver suggested “radical groups” were out to destroy Canada’s economy. Environment Minister Peter Kent raised the spectre of charitable groups “laundering” foreign funds in Canada. And Conservative senators launched an inquiry into the "interference of foreign foundations in Canada’s domestic affairs and their abuse of Canada’s existing Revenue Canada charitable status.”

“It was a total distraction,” Bennett said. “I think that is what they wanted us to do — to be messaging not the vision of a sustainable future but rather the complaints of an interest group.

“And I think they are doing the same thing to the unions,” he said.
- Meanwhile, Kathryn May highlights the next step in the attack on public-sector workers, as the Cons are trying to impose a two-tier workforce.

- And Adam Radwanski discusses the McGuinty Libs' plans to test the limits as to how many labour rights they can strip away under the Charter. Which would be a dubious enough strategy even if it wasn't based on a false claim that public-sector wages are headed in a different direction than private-sector ones.

- Charmaine Borg stands up for the privacy concerns of Canadians in the wake of Facebook's timeline fiasco. And Megan Leslie calls for an end to the Cons' shredding of environmental standards.

- Finally, Paul Wells catches some major problems in the China trade deal the Cons want to push through without debate:
Why am I dragging you through all this business about dispute-settlement arbitration? Because things are getting crazy out there, and by “out there” I mean “wherever China doesn’t like the way a business deal turns out.” Say hello to Belgium, where on Monday the Chinese insurance company Ping An filed an arbitration claim worth $3 billion. In 2008 a Chinese SOE bought a Belgian bank. The global economy went through the ensuing turmoil and the Chinese firm lost its shirt. Which is, you know, life, but the Chinese firm figures the government of Belgium owes it the $3 billion it lost, and the arbitration mechanism will now consider the claim seriously.

“This might signal the beginning of a wave of Chinese claims if you think about the commodities they’ve been buying, and the investments they’ve made in commodity-related companies around the world,” a British trade lawyer told Reuters, while freaking ominous music played in the background if you’re reading his quote in Canada. ”There are bound to be any number of outward investments they have made in the last five to ten years which may now be starting to run into problems.”

So, you know, good luck. The FIPA, tabled yesterday, is available for consultation at the link above for 21 Parliamentary sitting days, at which point it comes into force without need for a vote in the House of Commons.
That's right: in addition to facilitating a takeover of our natural resources, the Cons may also be committing to have the Canadian public foot the bill for any investments that don't turn out as hoped. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

On healthy choices

It looks like the federal NDP is starting to highlight some of its priorities as an alternative government in order to better frame Canada's political debate. And while its first offering on health care includes some relatively low-hanging fruit (it's truly sad that "not gratuitously boosting drug costs by billions" makes for a genuine point of contrast rather than an obvious consensus view), a focus on the social determinants of health looks like a major step forward in tying the public's concerns about health to broader social issues:
What the federal government should do:
Promote living conditions that support good health through many different initiatives:
  • Decent incomes: making sure every Canadian has access to decent jobs and working conditions;
  • Food: establishing a pan-Canadian strategy for ensuring access to quality food;
  • Housing: working with the provinces to establish a national affordable housing strategy;
  • Strong social safety net: ensuring secure pensions, accessible Employment Insurance and policies to end poverty;
  • Aboriginal living conditions: the federal government has failed in its responsibility to ensure proper health services, education, housing and clean water in aboriginal communities. It is time these communities had the resources they need.
And I'll be particularly curious to see how Canada's other federal parties will respond.

For the Cons, the NDP's health message neatly answers the Harper dodge about jurisdiction: even if health care is a matter of provincial administrative responsibility, there's plenty the federal government could and should be doing to promote a healthier Canada. And the recognition that the Cons will have to respond to an alternative political vision generally figures to limit their ability to control our federal political debate.

Meanwhile, a strong set of policy proposals from the NDP figures to shape the platforms of Lib leadership contenders looking for messages which will be amplified elsewhere on the Canadian political scene. But if too many candidates end up merely echoing ideas already on offer from the official opposition, that may only encourage questions as to whether the Libs serve any useful purpose as a party.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- The CCPA's Christopher Schenk offers up a detailed response to the Sask Party's attacks on workers, featuring this conclusion:
In a period of widening inequality restrictive labour laws are blatantly unnecessary and regressive. Indeed, their consideration is shocking when one considers that 34% of the workforce has neither full-time work nor job security, but occupies jobs that are termed contingent or precarious, including casual employment, irregular part time work, contract work, temporary work and self employment... This growing percentage of the workforce, which generally receives low pay and no benefits, needs an economic lift and unionization, not laws that negatively impact living standards. The literature discussed above strongly suggests that RTW-type laws, contrary to Rand formula-based laws, are both inefficient and serve to slow economic growth. Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada need to move away from austerity policies and weak economic recovery and toward environmentally sustainable economic growth that allows those who need and want to work to do so in a more democratic, equitable society. Unionization contributes to this end and labour laws should respond accordingly.
- Eric Grenier criticizes an increased level of partisanship in Parliamentary statements by members. But I'll note that there's a happy medium to be found between dispensing talking points and Grenier's mention of "(wishing) good luck to the contestants in that year’s edition of Canadian Idol" as an example of civility. And so the better measure of whether MPs are making effective use of their opportunities should probably be how many actually talk about policy, rather than how many use the time for messages that are of little relevance to functions of government.

- pogge comments on how the Cons are going ever further in trying to shut down the flow of any information which might reveal what they're doing while in power - with Kevin Page's Parliamentary Budget Office being frozen out just as thoroughly as the opposition and the public.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk rightly points out some examples of how a lack of investment in needed infrastructure can have direct and disastrous consequences for citizens. And Heather Scoffield reports that investing in housing in particular can save far higher costs of providing emergency services.

New column day

Here, on how Mitt Romney's attacks on 47% of American voters is an all-too-natural consequence of rhetoric about taking citizens "off the tax rolls".

For further reading...
- Chuck Marr and Chye-Ching Huang discuss the real tax rate faced by people who bring in less than the income-tax threshold here.
- For examples of exactly that principle being used in Canada, see here, here, here and here (PDF, at p. 8).
- But while it was far too willing to buy into the message in government, the Saskatchewan NDP isn't far off the mark in responding while in opposition.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Mike McBane and Stuart Trew note that Canada can't afford to sign on to yet another massive giveaway to big pharma:
An Ipsos Reid poll commissioned by the Council and the health coalition and released last week shows that what would normally be high support for a Canada-EU trade deal in principle (81 per cent) bottoms out to only 31 per cent when asked if CETA should extend patent protections for brand name drugs. Canadians clearly recognize the importance of trade to the economy, but they are not comfortable with those parts of CETA that will give more monopoly rights to Big Pharma.

And really, why should they be? This is an industry that can’t seem to make enough money but which consistently spends twice as much (at least) on advertising as it does on new research and development for truly new products. In 2011, according to the Forbes 500 list of richest companies, the top 10 pharmaceuticals makers collected over $74 billion in profits. Pfizer, the richest Big Pharma firm on the list, took home profits of $10 billion.

But as a percentage of sales, brand name R&D funding for innovation is now 5.6 per cent, the lowest rate since 1988, according to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board’s 2012 annual report. This is despite a promise from the brand name drug sector to the Mulroney government way back when to spend 10 per cent of sales consistently on new product development in return for patent extensions and other new protections.

If these firms are not living up to that promise today, should we trust them to live up to it after Canada signs this new trade deal with the EU?
-  Daniel Schwartz figures out how Jason Kenney may have used a privacy loophole to send out his creepy e-mail to LGBT rights supporters: if the petition supporting Alvaro Orozco went to Kenney's parliamentary e-mail address, it wouldn't be subject to the same protection that would apply if it went only to his department.

- Which is to say that much as I agree with her diagnosis that the Harper Cons are undermining democracy, Carol Goar's suggestion to try to get the attention of Con MPs may only provide them with information they can use to harass or manipulate voters as they see fit. (Instead, I'd suggest that the "political activism" option deserves rather more attention than Goar gives it.)

- Meanwhile, Lawrence Martin identifies the same problem while fearing there's not much of a solution to be found.

- Finally, Susan Riley theorizes that the Cons will eventually accept carbon pricing. And while I'm not so optimistic, I'd have to agree with Riley's view as to what it will take for that to happen: if and only if the oil sector itself demands greenhouse gas emission regulation, then the Cons will establish the weakest system anybody is prepared to accept as sufficient.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Playful cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Chris Hayes notes that Mitt Romney's $50,000-a-plate dinner caught on video represents a rare glimpse inside the U.S.' plutocracy - as well as a strong argument as to why we shouldn't allow that group to decide policy affecting the public at large:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

- Meanwhile, Linda McQuaig notes that Mitt Romney's great mistake was to expose a bit too much of what his party has long stood for.

- The CP documents the latest example of the Cons trying to distance themselves from mere commoners - as a much-ballyhooed Tony Clement Twitter town hall actually involved an exercise in underlings delivering pre-determined spin on his behalf.

- But that of course ranks a distant second as the most disturbing story about the Cons' manipulation of online interaction with Canadians, as Glen McGregor posts and writes about Jason Kenney's creepy e-mail to GLBT advocates. And it's well worth noting that the use of e-mail addresses supplied on a petition to a federal department as conduits for talking point delivery looks to be as clear an example as we've seen of the Cons' politicization of every piece of information they can collect - not to mention flagrant disregard for the federal Privacy Act and its protection of personal information.

- Finally, the Mound of Sound notes that income inequality in the U.S. may be worse today than in the era of slavery.

Leadership 2013 Candidate Profile - Cam Broten

As promised, let's start taking a closer look at the four candidates in Saskatchewan's NDP leadership race - starting with Cam Broten as the first to formally announce his candidacy.


To the extent NDP members plan to vote based a checklist of experience and personal traits, Broten is positioned as well as any of the contenders. He's in his second term as an elected MLA; he served as chair of the NDP's most recent policy renewal process; and he has a strong reputation as an opposition critic.

Moreover, Broten has also shown enough organization to shape the race to his advantage. Not only was he the first to launch his campaign, he smartly used that opportunity to get a head start in defining himself while also releasing a fairly detailed platform from day one.


But then, there's a reason why self-definition was a priority for Broten's campaign.To start with, his public presentation so far has been mostly as a member of the NDP's team of candidates rather than as an individual - and the relatively blank slate obviously needs to be filled in.

That said, the greater issue for Broten will be whether he can move past merely reaching the minimum criteria, and win over voters by standing out in any particular area - be it personal appeal, policy or vision. And that will be no easy task in a field where each of his competitors excels in at least one of those areas.

Key Indicator

First-choice support.

Broten should be well positioned to earn final-ballot support regardless of who else stays in the race: on a final ballot against Wotherspoon he should be the favourite to win over the votes of policy- and values-oriented voters from the Meili and Weir camps, while any other final-ballot opponent would likely send a good chunk of Wotherspoon's institutional support into Broten's hands.

But either of those outcomes requires that Broten impress enough voters early on to remain as one of the final two choices.

Key Opponent

And the greatest danger for Broten's campaign on that point looks to come from Ryan Meili. It's still an open question as to how (if at all) we should discount Meili's 2009 level of support based on a different field of candidates. But he looks to have both a reasonable chance of ranking ahead of Broten on the first ballot, and an obvious advantage when it comes to pulling support from Weir voters if Broten doesn't have a substantial lead.

That combination raises a real possibility that Broten's campaign could go the way of Deb Higgins' 2009 run, with a plausible multiple-ballot path to victory as a compromise candidate snuffed out by a lack of early-ballot enthusiasm.

Plausible Outcomes
Best-case: Mid-ballot victory based on moderate lead on multiple ballots
Worst-case: Early-ballot exit if campaign doesn't generate strong personal support base

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- The Economist adds a noteworthy voice to the chorus calling for greater tax enforcement to ensure the corporate elite pays its fair share:
Characterising this steady financing as short-term lending is “the ultimate example of form over substance” and undermines a fundamental tenet of American tax policy, huffed Mr Levin. When an HP executive tried to insist the manoeuvre did not constitute profit repatriation, the senator wielded an internal HP document in which it was discussed—in the repatriation-strategy section. The Senate investigators said they suspected other companies were doing the same thing but couldn’t say how prevalent the practice was.

Who to blame for all this darting through loopholes? To no one’s surprise, Mr Levin pointed the finger mostly at the companies that engage in “tax alchemy”.
The rule-setters and enforcers deserve their share of the blame. It is true that enforcement of arm’s-length deals is tricky because no two intangible assets are quite the same, making it hard to establish a fair price. Moreover, the IRS has to rely in part on the taxpaying company’s own projections of cash flows, risks and so on. But the agency leans too often on the side of leniency. It does not help that transfer-pricing regulations have grown unwieldy. Some experts describe them as unworkable.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board also took some flak at the hearing. Jack Ciesielski, an independent accounting expert, was scathing about a FASB exception that allows firms to avoid reporting and reserving for American tax liabilities for foreign earnings if they plan to invest these “permanently” overseas—a loophole that they continue to exploit even as they lobby for a tax break so they can bring those same profits home.

By focusing on a few striking cases, Mr Levin and his staff have increased their chances of making a splash with an issue that many find mind-numbingly technical. And profit-shifting is, as he put it, doubly problematic today, given the fragility of the economy and the fact that corporate-tax receipts are at historic lows as a percentage of federal revenue. Expect the IRS to take a dimmer view of avoidance schemes going forward. Whether it will prove a match for the multinationals’ phalanxes of lawyers and beancounters is another matter.
- In case there was any doubt how the power imbalance between employers and workers in Canada is being exploited, CJME confirms that gas station attendants in Saskatchewan - as in Ontario and elsewhere - are being encouraged to risk life and limb to avoid being docked pay based on gas theft. And Wendy Stueck reports on the unsafe living conditions facing temporary agricultural workers in British Columbia.

- For those worried that Robocon wasn't being investigated beyond the most glaring case in Guelph, Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor confirm that Elections Canada is looking into plenty more citizens' concerns.

- Dr. Dawg and Colby Cosh tear into the Globe and Mail and its public editor for a pitiful response to compelling concerns about plagiarism.

- Finally, Rick Mercer rants as to why we need to rant more often. But I'll add that while a good rant can help to define a problem, the words don't go far if not paired with some plan to solve it.

Peter Kent's Doomed Lemonade Stand

Aaron Wherry generously debunks Peter Kent's latest farcical spin only within the climate change debate, rather than fitting it into a general governance framework. But while I'll stick with my previous take on what the Cons really hope to accomplish in spinning about climate change, it's worth noting just what Kent would be saying if taken at face value:
Kent acknowledges that the government's system of imposing regulations on polluting sectors of the economy comes with costs too, Kent says none of the money will be collected by the government.

"We have absolutely no revenue generation by our regulation of coal-fire," he said.

The coal rules are not free, however. Federal calculations estimate that the new rules in just that one sector will cost about $16 billion in today’s terms. About half of that is due to increased consumption of natural gas that will be the side-effect of cracking down on coal.

But Kent says there is a big difference between those costs and the NDP's costing of its carbon reduction plan. With the Conservative regulations, the costs are spread out over decades, and none of money goes directly to the government, he explained.
Now, keep in mind that this is a minister within the same government which is shutting down and selling off vital public services - depriving countless Canadians of life, limb or livelihood in the process - in the name of deficit reduction. Or, put another way, in the name of closing a gap between expenses and revenue.

One might then think that any even faintly competent administrator would consider more revenue to be a plus. And that goes doubly if the increased revenue is paired with a more efficient means of reaching another stated policy goal.

But according to Kent, the Cons' overriding principle in making government decisions is the glibertarian theory that "revenue = bad". Which would thoroughly disqualify his party from holding office based on the elementary test of being competent to run a lemonade stand. (Though it isn't exactly news that the Cons are more interested in finding creative ways to flog their workers than demonstrating competent organizational management.)

Moreover, by any reasonable comparison of climate change policies, the Cons would then be choosing to impose higher compliance costs on industry (and ultimately consumers) for the sole purpose of avoiding the "evil" of revenue - even when that revenue would serve to reduce exactly the deficit they claim to be fighting.

In sum, Kent's latest spin looks even worse if taken seriously than if brushed off as just another example of the Cons being willing to say anything to delay doing anything about climate change. And it will be worth challenging him to see just how much truth there is to the possibility the Cons really value nothing more than the opportunity to starve the federal government of the revenue it needs to balance the books.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your weekend.

- Jonathan Bernstein comments on how the U.S.' right-wing echo chamber may be preventing Mitt Romney and other Republicans from recognizing when their spin has no hope of convincing voters:
As Romney rolled out yet another of these insipid, implausible campaign talking points, however, it occurs to me that there's yet another reason that the GOP-aligned media makes it more likely that Romney will do these sorts of things, even if they don't actually move voters. I was thinking earlier that it was a case of the Republican press influencing the campaign: they keep talking about something, and Romney feels pressure to start talking about it too. But there's a laziness to all of this too, which is also a function of how easily influenced Fox News and the rest of them are. In the old days, a campaign would come up with a theme or a line-of-the-day, and then would have to work really hard to insert it into the (neutral) media. Oh, you could do it, but it took message discipline and some real effort.

But that's not true with campaigns right now and the partisan press -- and no question but that it's far more developed on the Republican side, although it certainly exists on both sides. All Romney's campaign has to do is pull out a sentence and call it a gaffe, and it instantly becomes one. It blows up on twitter, it goes straight to Fox News and most of the conservative radio's all over the place. Indeed, if it's in those places, it's also going to be in Politico and Buzzfeed, too. So on the one hand, it must encourage laziness to know that all you have to do is come up with something vaguely appropriate to movement conservatives in order to get that effect; on the other hand, it must just feel as if you're making something happen when you do it. And the more it hits the sort of things that the GOP-aligned media loves, the more you get the immediate effect. Really, for campaign operatives, it must be incredibly temping to do it.

There are even internal bureaucratic incentives. After all, it's never easy to measure whether some campaign line moved voters, but it's easy to measure how much it resonated in the press. And the more it appeals to movement conservatives in the media, the more you'll get that "hit."  So if you're in the Romney press office, it's just incredibly easy to monitor the president's speeches, pull out a "gaffe," turn it into a firestorm, and show your bosses that you've been productive. Sure, it might blow over in 24 hours without actually having any effect at all on voters, but who is going to point that the midst of a campaign, who will even know?
Needless to say, I hope the Cons and their media wing don't take a lesson from the above.

- And there's plenty of reason to suspect that they don't recognize the dangers of feedback loops - such as the connection of a single PR firm to every step of W5's blocked attempts to get information about the Cons' F-35 debacle.

- Meanwhile, Nathan Vanderklippe writes that the Cons' predominant line of spin is running into reality beyond political control, as tar-sands operators are having to question whether constant expansion makes economic sense despite the Cons' efforts to make it their sole economic priority.

- Finally, Alice has unveiled her aggregator/almanac for federal Liberal leadership news. And Scott takes a look at the slogans and logos of Saskatchewan's NDP leadership candidates.

Leadership 2013 - The Basics

Before I start taking an individual look at the candidates in Saskatchewan's 2013 NDP leadership campaign, I'll point out a few areas of discussion from past leadership races which don't look to be matters of great distinction between the candidates this time out.


As I've noted before, I tend to see endorsements as a threshold issue with diminishing returns for a candidate. Aside from a basic level of publicly-stated support required to establish a candidate as a serious presence in a race (and subject to any surprising endorsements against type which help to change perceptions of the candidate), there's relatively little to be gained by listing names of supporters or serving up boilerplate endorsements.

In this campaign, all four of the announced candidates look to have met the basic level of initial support. Cam Broten and Trent Wotherspoon were both able to include multiple prominent MLAs past and present in their launches; Ryan Meili's support base looks to generally parallel his core group from the 2009 campaign; and Erin Weir's combination of MLAs, MPs and even former Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley easily meets the initial threshold.

From that starting point, the main effect of endorsements may be to signal failing campaigns (if endorsers start jumping ship), or to tie candidates to particular issues if prominent activists choose to take a side. But I wouldn't expect to see many endorsements substantially change the complexion of the campaign.


Similarly, I'd consider at least some effective and consistent online presence to be a must. But all four candidates meet that standard easily with neatly-designed and regularly-updated websites.

That said, there is some room for any candidate to stand out by figuring out ways of using the website which serve to better engage potential supporters. And on that front, there are a couple of initiatives worth noting: Weir is holding a digital town hall October 1 to introduce himself to interested observers, while Meili's campaign story looks like a noteworthy development in presenting a single, easily-accessed campaign narrative.

Online Support

Finally, another area of campaign strength combining the two above issues similarly looks to be less than decisive in trying to determine who has an edge.

While Jason has tracked Facebook "likes" so far, there doesn't look to be enough difference in either numbers or type to substantially distinguish the candidates yet. And I'll be hesitant to draw much from the Facebook numbers from here on in unless one candidate can cultivate an influx of new supporters within Saskatchewan who wouldn't otherwise figure to participate in the campaign.

Similarly, the campaigns have naturally taken online polls as an opportunity to show early-campaign support. But the one obvious example so far took multiple turns before Wotherspoon finally jumped to a substantial lead. And while that end result bodes well for Wotherspoon as a show of strength, I'd think it's most significant that all of the campaigns were able to move the needle at various points.

So with those factors looking like they won't serve to distinguish the current contenders, what should we watch for as the campaign develops? Not surprisingly, I'll have a few suggestions involving each candidate in posts to come.