Saturday, February 16, 2013

#skndpldr Roundup

The second-last Saskatchewan NDP leadership debate took place in Moose Jaw this past week, with the most thorough coverage coming from the Times-Herald (and Justin Crann). As usual I'll hold off on commenting until the video is available - though I have a couple of earlier debates to address over the long weekend, as well as the final one being live-streamed at 2 PM today.

Friday also saw the release of the latest financial reports. There, Ryan Meili continues to have the lead both in total money raised and cash on hand, but January saw a noteworthy switch of strategies among two other camps: Cam Broten had by far his best fund-raising month but spent more than he had the entire campaign to date in the process, while Trent Wotherspoon balanced off modest revenues with lowest-spending month so far to bring his campaign as a whole into the black.

On the commentary side, Mark Lemstra evaluated the candidates' health care policies. But it is unfortunate that he limited his review to the candidates' websites: in particular while it's somewhat of a surprise that Erin Weir hasn't released a policy in the area, he's had plenty to contribute when asked about the issue throughout the debates.

And regular commenter Dan Tan put together a noteworthy series of posts on the campaign from an outside perspective, featuring in particular this take on what the CCF and NDP have accomplished in the past:
The foundations & institutions of Saskatchewan - so resented by Wall & the Sask. Party - were built over decades by (small "c") conservative NDP administrations who wisely rejected the proselytization of deluded foreign economists. They rejected the Soviet Union's insistence on utopia through oppressive & invasive totalitarianism. They rejected the United States' insistence on utopia through wild & selective applications of Darwinian savagery. Instead, they fostered the creation of a capitalist system that insured stability (crown ownership), the safety of risk-takers (public insurance), and a tolerable standard of living (social programs).

Saskatchewan needs a professional & focused NDP more than ever. You stand in-defense of what your forefathers so wisely built. You stand in-between carpet-bagging charlatans and the local population they would hustle. You stand against the juvenile anarchists who traded hoodies & explosives for sharp suits & destructive legislation.
But I don't entirely agree with his conclusions - as even if one sees "bullet-proofing" a leader as one's end goal, I view the ability to inspire new people to get involved in actively defending against the inevitable attacks as essential to that end. In contrast, the ability to present as a well-polished "alpha" in the public eye isn't either a necessary or sufficient condition. (See Romney, Mitt.)

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Michael Harris concludes that we're currently stuck in a golden age for political falsehood and deceit:
(T)here are problems with blotting out inconvenient truths with self-serving Newspeak. It’s catchier than a flu-bug in a pup tent. Quite a few pairs of pants are on fire in Ottawa these days because cabinet ministers and senators have learned from the PM that the truth is what you need it to be. It can mutate, transform, even shed its skin. The trick is to say what you need to be true at a given moment.
Perhaps the wider truth here is that we live in an age of deception.

In the banking industry, the global price of money affecting $300 trillion worth of contracts was rigged for years by the collusion of traders and brokers. Crappy mortgages were sold as blue-ribbon investments. Giant hedge funds traded on insider information and even the drug cartels found banks eager to do their monetary laundry.

In big business, accounting firms lied for important customers, companies like SNC Lavalin paid huge bribes to unsavoury but influential characters to win contracts, suppliers sent fake parts to their military customers to boost profits — and mining companies abused workers’ rights in foreign countries in a way they would never try back home.
Parties of all political stripes have had their share of liars and cheaters, just as they have had a goodly number of visionaries and public benefactors. But when lying and cheating morph into a model of governance where citizens not only don’t know, but can’t know what’s going on, democracy becomes what H.L. Mencken called a fancy abstraction for the collective fear and prejudice of an ignorant mob.

It is an old chestnut, this matter of the limits of raw power. Can you really say two and two is five, that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia, that war is peace?
- But of course, a deliberate effort to suppress inconvenient truth makes for an essential part of allowing lies to stand unchallenged. Which brings us to the Cons' orders that Arctic research is to be permitted by DFO scientists only if the government has the ability to hide the results.

- Meanwhile, Hannah McKinnon thoroughly critiques the Cons' dishonesty when it comes to climate change.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg reminds us that Stephen Harper had a wide range of choices in dealing with the Senate, and consciously chose to set a new standard for corruption and patronage. The CP reports on the likelihood that Pamela Wallin and other Con Senators used public money to serve as campaign shills for their prime ministerial puppet-master. And Tyler Sommers is the latest to suggest that abolishing the current upper-chamber monstrosity is a necessary first step to any more democratic system.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Musical interlude

Age of Electric - Remote Control


Unintentional setup...
Ultimately, any evaluation of a government's fiscal responsibility should include its willingness to make effective investments that carry a short-term cost and its prudence in avoiding unnecessary long-term liabilities - not merely any single-year balance sheet. And we'll be left to pay the eventual price if we fail to demand that broader view. unfortunate punchline:
On Friday, the government released its third-quarter financial report, projecting the province will finish the 2012-13 fiscal year with a pre-transfer surplus of $8.8 million in its general revenue fund. However, that’s a decrease of $86.2 million from what was forecast in the budget.

Finance Minister Ken Krawetz called it a balanced budget — despite dipping into coffers other than the general revenue fund. The government will draw an additional $120 million dividend from the Crown Investments Corporation (CIC).

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- Zoe Williams questions when being poor became grounds for deliberate discrimination and ritual public humiliation (h/t to Mound of Sound):
What I cannot help noticing is a failure of normal human respect for the people at the bottom of the heap – Tuesday's ruling in favour of Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson has had its bones picked over for what it does or doesn't say about slavery, and yet the judges were clear: these people were treated dishonestly. They were treated as though, being unemployed, they could be parcelled about at the whim of the secretary of state.

A similar belief pervades the suggestion that those on benefits need to be ritually humiliated every time they go into a shop; or those on low wages, by dint of their low status, need to be monitored like criminals. Across the piece, having a low financial status is now elided, by politicians and by corporations, with being untrustworthy. 
- Meanwhile, Claire Davenport writes that gratuitous austerity is pushing an entire generation of European citizens toward economic ruin. And Yves Smith discusses how inequality has continued to grow since the 2008-2009 crash - with the top 1% taking massive income gains while the bottom 99% have actually lost ground.

- David Climenhaga points out that Alberta's latest budget only confirms what Stephen Harper, Brad Wall and other spokesflacks for the tar sands have tried to deny: both overdependence on resource royalties and a petrodollar have negative impacts for the province's finances. But Climenhaga is even more in point in recognizing how Alison Redford's "bitumen bubble" complaint seems calculated to distract Albertans from the massive social problems being blithely ignored - including the wealthiest city in Canada slashing school service for lack of funding, and refugee-camp conditions in the province's capital.

- Which isn't to say Alberta is alone in its utterly warped priorities: Simon Enoch writes about the City of Regina's obsession with costly P3 projects, while Brian Banks and Paul Gingrich observe that a Sask Party promise to address poverty has produced no substantive plan.

- Finally, Sid Ryan explains why the Cons are so determined to attack union finances:
In his decision, Rand explained that unions also need adequate resources in order to "redress the balance of what is called social justice." This is because, then as now, corporations have all the power in a workplace -- they can hire, fire, discipline and discharge any individual employee. Workers only have leverage if they work together and they should always have the right to do so.

This bargaining table principle applies equally to the halls of government. Concerned about Canada's growing inequality, individual workers recognize the need to work together to counteract well-heeled corporate lobbyists and convince politicians of every stripe to promote the livelihoods of working people and their families. For that reason, workers have increasingly given their unions a mandate to launch campaigns to defend public services, good jobs, the environment, and many other public priorities.

However, when it comes to influencing public policy, workers are again at a great disadvantage. In stark contrast to the paltry five per cent of election financing that came from unions between 2004 and 2011, corporate Canada contributed a whopping 40 percent of all election funds, including $26 million to the Conservative Party.

And what did Canada's corporate elite get in exchange for their generous support for the Harper government? Well, among other things, the passage of a new law allowing employers to pay migrant workers 15 per cent less than the going rate and another forcing employment insurance claimants to compete for lower wages.

It is no wonder that working people across the country are working together to stop Canada's race to the bottom. For every worker in Canada, the Rand Formula is the basis of their democratic rights and promotes fairness in their workplaces. As much as Tories may try to dress up their anti-worker policies as "freedom of choice," they are only offering Canadian workers one choice: lower wages.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On poll dances

Shortly after I posted yesterday's roundup featuring some discussing of Praxis Analytics' Saskatchewan NDP leadership polling, Jordon Cooper chimed in with the results of an internal poll distributed by Cam Broten - which has been treated as somewhere between worthless and gospel depending on the leadership camp commenting on it. So let's take a quick look at the actual significance of internal polls in past NDP leadership races in determining what weight any new ones should carry.

The most recent examples to be considered would come from the 2012 federal race - where virtually all polling confirmed Thomas Mulcair to be the front-runner, but a string of polls (both candidate-based and independent) placed Brian Topp a distant fourth or fifth. Topp's camp declined to make his full numbers public, but said its polling suggested a radically different shape to the race - and it was the candidate who played his cards close to the vest who proved to be correct, as Topp finished a strong second.

But an even better previous example can be found in the 2009 provincial leadership campaign. At that time, this was my attempt to make sense of a poll showing Yens Pedersen running a strong second among a sample of 20% of the NDP's membership at a point when virtually no other data placed him in that position. And I tend to see the theory as largely holding up: an internal poll is likely to be highly inaccurate in telling us about vote shares (as Pedersen's was), but it may also help to set a floor for the polling candidate's raw vote level - and in retrospect I should have placed greater emphasis on that point in ranking the candidates through the balance of the 2009 campaign.

In Broten's case, I don't think there was much doubt that he would hold at least as much first-ballot support as we can plausibly infer from the poll released so far - though more information as to how many votes were actually included would offer a bit more perspective on that point. But for other factors including the relative positioning of the candidates, the safest starting point is to view the noise included in candidate-based polling as far outweighing any signal - particularly in light of the requirement that campaigns identify themselves (thus planting a seed for respondents) before carrying out the poll.

That said, I'll shift gears to a somewhat broader point. The major difficulty in trying to evaluate the state of any leadership race is the fact that all polling faces at least one of two inherent flaws: truly independent pollsters don't have access to the membership list necessary to take a viable sample of voters, while campaigns have an obvious bias in conducting and releasing polls based on an accurate voter list.

But there's another party involved in any leadership campaign with both the necessary information to reach all members (or a fair sample thereof), and at least an arguable incentive to ensure members have better information about the state of the leadership race. So with that in mind, I'll close this post with questions for discussion: should the NDP and other political parties consider commissioning leadership polls for themselves under agreed rules and timelines? Or does the risk of being perceived to interfere in a leadership campaign outweigh the value of what would surely be seen as the authoritative source of polling data?

New column day

Here, on how a narrow focus on balancing budgets misses the more important story as to how our elected officials manage public money.

For further reading...
- Paul Krugman makes a similar point with reference to happiness economics, while highlighting the particular value of stimulus within a depressed U.S. economy.
- Ian Lovett reports on California's proliferation of "capital appreciation bonds" as a prime example of the dangerous buy now, pay later approach, while Douglas Hainks points out that Miami's new baseball stadium will escalate in cost from $91 million to $1.2 billion under a similar scheme.
- And sadly, the City of Regina's wastewater treatment plant looks like it may be added to the list of needless long-term liabilities added to our books in order to avoid an accurate accounting today.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Marc Lee and Iglika Ivanova offer up a framework for a more progressive and fairer tax system.

- Andrew Hanon looks behind the Fraser Institute's labour-bashing and finds that what it's really criticizing is fair pay for women in the public sector.

- Fern Brady notes that conservatives have succeeded in pitting exactly the people with the greatest need for social assistance against each other - with the result being that far too few people are questioning whether cuts serve any useful purpose in the first place:
Logically, I'd expect those on the sharp end of things to be pro-welfare. But if anything, many interviewees had internalised a Thatcherite every-man-for-himself mentality, wanting benefits for themselves but resenting anyone else getting a handout.

There are almost too many examples to list but the kind of attitudes I heard daily went along these lines: the disabled man thinks it's wrong the drug user down the road gets methadone. The drug user is outraged that the large family next door gets a spare room and hopes they are hit by bedroom tax. The large family is sick of elderly people getting big houses they don't need. The elderly woman hopes these large families are forced to stop having kids once the money dries up. On and on it went in a circle, anger constantly directed at other victims of the coalition government's Welfare Reform Act instead of the politicians and policymakers responsible.
The value of influencing attitudes towards social inequality is deeply underestimated. If you manage to persuade everyone that poverty is a moral condition and claiming benefits is the symptom, it's a guaranteed way to ensure those handing out the money treat recipients as guilty until proven innocent. Shame is being employed as an ingenious tool to ensure people feel constantly stigmatised. And if you feel undeserving you're hardly going to be forthcoming about what you're entitled to.

This isn't just about votes. The less people believe they're entitled to this money – and they are entitled – the less likely they are to maximise their income through benefits. It's ideal for the government because it fosters an environment in which people are less likely to appeal when their claim is rejected and less likely to support those around them who may be suffering as a result of the welfare changes.

In a way you have to marvel at it. How do you get people to accept a policy that's inexcusably prejudiced against the most vulnerable in society? Make sure they take on the same mean-spirited, self-serving attitude that influenced that policy in the first place. Genius.
- pogge wonders rhetorically whether the Cons will ever act on a unanimous resolution to strengthen the Canada Elections Act to address robocalls and enforcement issues.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry nicely responds to Justin Trudeau by noting that better patronage isn't a path toward a useful or legitimate Senate. And Andrew Coyne muses that abolishing the current abomination might leave more options open for a less dubious upper chamber in the future.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

#skndpldr Roundup

In the most noteworthy leadership development of the past few days, Praxis Analytics has released the first set of public poll results since last fall - with a couple of interesting findings.

First, there's the fact that nearly two-thirds of respondents (in a poll of the general public) couldn't name any of the candidates. That means that whoever wins the race will be starting nearly from scratch in building a public profile - which isn't without its upside, as it looks to signal that the money the Saskatchewan Party spent attacking the candidates was an utter waste.

Second, there's the suggestion that Ryan Meili, Trent Wotherspoon and Cam Broten are in a tight three-candidate race at the moment. That makes for a somewhat different take than my current impression - but likely offers a useful indicator as to the difference in the polls between the most active members whose preferences are more obvious, and people who haven't publicly identified their support for one candidate or another.

In other news, Ryan Meili released his policy statements on democratic renewal (featuring a goal of doubling the NDP's membership over the next two years) and health care. In addition to the endorsements I've discussed before, other late-campaign declarations of support have included Glenn Hagel's endorsement of Wotherspoon, Sean Shaw's for Broten, and (if I'm reading it correctly) leftdog's approval of Erin Weir.

Finally, the lengthy debate schedule is winding down, with the last two taking place tonight in Moose Jaw and Saturday in Saskatoon (with the debate to be live-streamed for those who can't attend).

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Carol Goar discusses Canada's broken fiscal stabilizers - as unemployment insurance and social programs intended to assure citizens of at least a reasonable standard of living have been cut to well below that level:
Canada’s economic shock absorbers are badly worn.
Employment insurance, which once softened the blow of losing a job, has dwindled to the point that only a minority of the unemployed are eligible for benefits.
Welfare, which once prevented people from hitting rock bottom, now leaves recipients 60 per cent below the poverty line.
The income tax system has become flatter and more rigid. There were 13 income brackets in 1981. Today there are four. This means people’s tax bills don’t go down as quickly when their earnings fall.
While the finance minister holds down the brakes, his colleagues seem bent on yanking the tubes out of Canada’s diminished shock absorbers.
Finley is making it harder to get employment insurance. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is making it harder for new Canadians to rebuild their family support networks in this country. Revenue Minister Gail Shea is making it harder for Canadians without Internet access — typically the poor and the elderly — to claim tax refunds and credits. Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel is making it harder for the provinces and municipalities to plan public works projects and hire workers. And Labour Minister Lisa Raitt is weakening the collective bargaining system.
The problem is not just austerity. It is austerity imposed with no regard for the hardship caused by a stop-and-start, up-and-down, lurch-prone economy.
- Meanwhile, Kev uses the example of Bell's one-day commitment to mental health funding as a reminder that we should be skeptical of corporate charity as a substitute for fair taxes and other public revenue generators.

- Michael Harris pushes back against what looks to be a transparently false claim from the Cons that new restrictions on government-employed scientists are merely a continuation of the status quo, then explains what the new policy means:
The big worry among scientists is that the new policies could be used to make it impossible for government scientists to do any “unmanaged” research in the future. That’s because whatever they do now will be tightly controlled from the onset — from funding applications through to the final step of communicating research findings to the scientific community and the general public.

With the rapid development of the Alberta oilsands a key priority of the Harper government, the need for independent science has never been greater. Under the new DFO policies, government could stop publication of studies like the one recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in the United States. That federally-funded study linked oilsands activity to the deposit of toxic hydrocarbons in Alberta wilderness lakes, closing the door on the claim by industry and government that the pollution could be coming from natural sources.

Question: if scientists wanted to pursue the unfinished business of the oilsands research just published by the National Academy of Science, going beyond hydrocarbons to look at the levels of other contaminants such as heavy metals, mercury or soot, would they get the green light from DFO under the new funding policy?
- Finally, Duncan Cameron suggests that a pre-election cooperation agreement among Canada's opposition parties could include a broad range of issues rather than focusing on electoral reform alone. But the CP points out one of the areas where agreement may be difficult to achieve, as the Libs are joining forces with the Cons to preserve a patronage-based Senate.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Bright-eyed cats.

#skndpldr Candidate Rankings - February 12

As I mentioned in my follow-up notes from Saturday's Saskatchewan NDP leadership debate, the candidates' performance hasn't done much to change my impression as to their relative position. (Which, as a reminder, is different from my personal endorsement.)

But there have been a couple of additional indicators over the past week: the audience response to the candidates at Regina's forum, and the information provided by the few voters who have provided hints as to their down-ballot support. So will any of that affect this week's rankings?

1. Ryan Meili (1)

Well, there's no change at the top, as Meili has continued to keep at least somewhat of an edge over his competition on all visible fronts (including crowd support at the all-candidates debates, public support on social media, and perhaps most important his continued ability to draw crowds for campaign events).

2. Cam Broten (2)

In contrast, Broten seems to be facing some conflicting signals: while he's probably slightly more entrenched ahead of the candidates below than he was some time ago, he's also facing significant obstacles in trying to overtake Meili.

On the upside, Broten has seen a fairly regular stream of declarations of first-ballot support among voters. But he's always figured to need a strong down-ballot showing in order to win - which makes it highly problematic that not a single multi-candidate ballot or announcement that I've seen from a supporter of another candidate has placed Broten above any of his competitors. (Of course, most of those public ballots have been from Meili supporters whose second and third choices may not impact the race anyway - but it does seem to suggest Broten has some distance left to go in reaching out beyond his own camp.)

3. Trent Wotherspoon (3)

Meanwhile, Wotherspoon faces the converse problem. At the outset of the campaign I wouldn't have seen much prospect that any significant number of Meili supporters would list him second, as at least a couple have done already. But those down-ballot successes will only matter if Wotherspoon remains on the final ballot - and a modest showing at the start of the voting period would make it unlikely they'll ever come to light.

4. Erin Weir (4)

And likewise, there isn't much to suggest Weir's position has changed over the last week. While his endorsement from Fred Clipsham offers a helpful late-campaign boost, the more important question for now is at the membership level rather than the endorser level.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Yves Engler discusses the importance of a "social wage" - and how the minimum standard of living we're prepared to tolerate affects the well-being of all kinds of workers:
These attacks against the poor and unemployed should be opposed by anyone who cares about their fellow human beings. But in addition to compassion, working people have another important reason to oppose these cuts to social benefits: a self-interest in maintaining the social wage.

Right-wing pundits often claim that welfare payments or unemployment benefits cost us all. And at one level it is true that welfare benefits cost everyone, though rarely are these costs a significant chunk of public expenditure.

Examined from another perspective, however, social entitlements such as welfare and EI are an important means to protect the wages and conditions of working people. Decent welfare and unemployment benefits provide a security guarantor for wage workers who may fear losing their jobs. When decent social entitlements exist, invariably workers’ bargaining power is improved. In short, the strength of welfare and unemployment benefits helps determine a country’s social wage — its generally accepted minimum pay and benefits.
Lobbyists for wealth-holders certainly understand the relationship between social entitlements and the social wage. Business organizations have ferociously attacked social entitlements over the past 20 years. In doing so, they’ve driven down the social wage and increased the proportion of income going to the relatively small number of wealth-holders.
- And Linda McQuaig notes that the corporatist war against unions fits into the same overall strategy of consolidating wealth to the exclusion of most Canadians:
The real question is: as the country has grown richer, who should benefit? Under the more egalitarian system that prevailed during the early postwar decades, the economic benefits would have been more widely shared and could have been used to actually lower the retirement age (or extend holiday time, such as in Scandinavia, where the norm is six weeks paid vacation).

A few decades ago, North Americans often whimsically posed the question: in the future, what will we do with all our leisure time?
As it turned out, our leisure time shrunk (with two years of it now snatched away by the Harper government).
Indeed, instead of being widely shared, almost all the benefits of economic growth in recent decades have been siphoned off by a small corporate elite.
It’s that same corporate elite, and its political and media supporters, who now assure us that unions are no longer relevant.
 - Canadian for Tax Fairness points out that the OECD has finally noticed the issue of double non-taxation - where corporate tax-avoidance strategies result in multinational businesses paying tax nowhere.

- Finally, Dan Lett comments on the sad connection between Bell's attempt to spark some talk about mental health issues, and the Cons' choice to single out the mentally ill as their latest target for "tough on crime" posturing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Shawn McCarthy discusses the Cons' latest plan to sell Keystone XL to the U.S. - which involves hoping that the best-resourced government on the planet will be suckered into accepting a transparently false pretense that the Cons have the slightest interest in addressing climate change. And Harper cabinet appointee Monte Solberg offers a window into the Cons' environmental mindset, trying to make a case against "thinking globally" on the basis that there are easier votes to be won by focusing on small vacation areas while shredding the rest of the planet.

- The Cons' latest Senate abuses have provoked plenty of discussion as to how in the world we can justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars on an unaccountable set of patronage appointees. Among those calling for (or at least musing about) abolition are Diane Francis, Paul Sullivan and Geoffrey Stevens. Kai Nagata recognizes that we should see Patrick Brazeau as entirely emblematic of the Cons - rather than accepting their spin that it's just bad luck that he's following in so many disgraced footsteps. Murray Dobbin compares Brazeau's abuse of privilege to the genuine movement for change behind Idle No More. Stephen Kimber contrasts Mike Duffy's one-time journalist persona against his current diminished state, while Dan Leger wonders whether Duffy has officially joined Brazeau in being cut loose by the Cons.

But the definitive word goes to Sixth Estate in discussing Duffy:
(W)e’re no longer talking about an issue of merely failing to uphold a few technical rules. We’re talking about fraud here.

The only question is: fraud against whom? Against Ontario taxpayers, for using an Ontario health card when he is really a primary resident of PEI, or against federal taxpayers, for collecting expense fees for his PEI cottage when he is really a primary resident of Ontario?

Either way, I guess we now know why right-wingers are so paranoid that lazy, self-interested gits are ripping off the welfare system. That’s what they think is going on, because it’s exactly what they do when given the opportunity.
- Digby compares the "donor class" of Americans who fund political parties to the wider citizenry - and finds that the U.S. government (like its UK equivalent) is paying far more attention to the frivolous deficit obsession of the former than the job and income security concerns of the latter.

- pogge rightly highlights the Cons' strict party control over private members' bills. But I'll add that the vetting of what's supposed to be the prerogative of individual MPs is far from new, as Garth Turner raised exactly the same concern after he was booted out of the Cons' caucus.

- Finally, CBC reports on the Cons' willingness to fund an anti-gay organization to work in Uganda (home of some of the most obvious homophobic policies on the planet). And Dennis Gruending compares the treatment of Crossroads Christian Communications to that of other groups such as KAIROS and Development and Peace who were de-funded for failing to share the Cons' values.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Ian Lovett reports on the use of "capital appreciation bonds" in California to ensure that future generations pay an inflated price to private-sector developers for infrastructure today.

- Justin Ling's review of Joyce Murray's message about electoral non-competition pacts is well worth a read - but I'll particularly highlight this part:
Do you want Stephen Harper to be defeated in the next federal election?
Alright, we’re already off to a rocky start.

Politics of negation is dangerous, ugly, and unfortunately rears its ugly head very often in leadership campaigns.

“Elect me and I’ll stop [gay marriage/abortion/separatists/Toronto elitists]” has long between a rhetorical sledgehammer that’s good at getting gut reaction from ignorant people. Nothing more.

So when Joyce Murray asks me if I want Stephen Harper to be defeated, my immediate answer is ‘no’ — I want a government that, if possible, is more competent than our current one. Everyone should want that. Murray, like Trudeau or Garneau, should be making a case that she can do that. Not offering an Ocean’s Eleven caper on how to dupe the prime minister.
- But of course, there's loads of room for improvement on the government we're currently stuck with. And on that front, Steven Shrybman points out just the latest example in commenting on Harper's dubious assertion that his party's misleading robocalls weren't in breach of CRTC regulations, while Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault laments the fact that the Cons are trampling on access to information more and more as their stay in office drags on.

- Herbert Gans discusses how the U.S. media can contribute to genuine democratic debate far better than it currently does. And Rick Salutin laments the state of the CBC in having fallen into the same infotainment format as other broadcasters:
The gold standard for anchors was the U.S.’s Walter Cronkite. He was ready to stand up against the state and the flow and was solid as the bronze statue of the American revolutionary minuteman who stood “by the rude bridge that spanned the flood/ His flag to April’s breeze unfurled.” He had rhetoric and a voice to accompany it: “All things are as they were then except — You Are There.” When president Lyndon Johnson heard Cronkite turn against the Vietnam War, he said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the country.” Compared to Cronkite, Mansbridge isn’t an icon, he’s a barometer.
He’s happily gone with the flow — and the pressure. CBC has become numero uno for crime stories, weather coverage (today’s snow), product launches, celebrities and awards gossip. None of this is new, or news, and CBC itself doesn’t contest the point. The penny story was another example but the one that probably propelled me into this anchor obit was their infinite overkill on the new BlackBerry. (To give CBC radio its due, Carol Off did an item about that on As It Happens.) Also, to be clear, the Z10 drowned in pseudo-journalism everywhere. That’s my point: why have a public broadcaster if it duplicates everybody else’s obsessions? Nor do I want to romanticize the old CBC news. It was pompous and often misleading. But at least it distorted stories I cared about.
- Finally, Murray Mandryk rightly recognizes the significance of Jack Mintz' report on Saskatchewan's incoherent potash royalty structure.

#skndpldr - Regina Debate II Notes

Since I was one of many who attended yesterday's leadership debate in person, I won't wait for the video to be posted before discussing it. (For some of the play-by-play, see live-tweeting from SKYoungNewDemocrats in particular, as well as a bevy of others using the #skndpldr hashtag.)

All four candidates' presentations were around the upper end of the range established in previous debates. That makes for a rather impressive result given that the candidates had already participated in a forum in Saskatoon yesterday morning, but it also means the debate wasn't likely to change minds among voters who have been watching the campaign so far.

For Cam Broten, yesterday's showdown was one of his best in quite some time (at least out of the ones I've seen). But he had some help on that front thanks to two of his fellow candidates.

Both Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon used their first round of questioning to challenge Broten about issues which had caused him trouble in previous debates (Meili discussing his previous involvement in social movements, Wotherspoon his position on the Sask Party's corporate tax cuts). But in both cases, Broten was more than ready to answer a question he'd heard before - which seems to have been a fairly regular pattern throughout the leadership debates. And Wotherspoon in particular was left to merely thank Broten for the clarification as his follow-up question.

That said, if Broten showed that he won't be stumped by the same question twice, Meili's strongest moment involved a thorough response to a question which came out of the blue. I don't recall much (if any) discussion in the previous debates along the lines of Weir's question as to whether to pursue large-scale hydroelectric power in order to phase out coal generation - but Meili was able to neatly weigh the conflicting considerations involved in hydro, and then conclude that our options aren't limited to the either-or choice suggested by Weir.

As for Weir, he offered his typical mix of well-timed jokes and incisive challenges to his competitors - with his questions to Wotherspoon about small business taxes serving to particularly highlight his own strengths. But Weir did take some time to circle around to a response to a fairly simple personal question from Broten (as to what advice he'd give potential candidates based on his own experience in 2004), signalling that he's still not as comfortable taking an opportunity to build personal connections to the audience as he is discussing policy.

Finally, Wotherspoon moved well past his first set of talking points on most of the issues discussed, regularly identifying the elements of a question which hadn't yet been answered and adding substantive discussion to the mix. And he offered strong responses both to Broten's familiar question about party structures, and to Meili in ruling out uranium refining in the province (while explaining his continued support for mining). But his closing remarks did leave some room for improvement: Broten's preceding speech covered a substantial number of virtually identical messages, and Wotherspoon didn't change gears or at least comment on the similar themes to distinguish himself.

Again, the main takeaway looks to be that all of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership contenders have developed into stronger candidates as the campaign has progressed. And we'll know before long who came away convinced by what they saw - as well as who's left to be persuaded.

[Edit: fixed wording.]