Saturday, January 14, 2006

On keeping them honest

Phil Fontaine rightly tears into Harper over the Cons' unwillingness to commit to both the Kelowna Accord and the settlement reached on residential school compensation:
Given the complexity of the (residential school) Settlement Agreement, the great difficulty in achieving it, and the terms of the abeyance agreements of the class actions, even the slightest of changes will legally undo the Agreement and send thousands of cases and numerous class actions back into the courts. This will result in severe legal and financial consequences for Canada and untold social and personal consequences for First Nations communities and individual survivors...

(T)he Conservative statement (on the Kelowna accord) says that the Liberals have not budgeted for this expenditure. In fact, the full expenditure is budgeted within the Liberal plan as can be referenced in their platform released on Jan.11, 2006. Likewise, the New Democratic Party has identified how this money would be allocated within their plan. In contrast, when we examine the Conservative spending promises, there is not a single reference to spending for the implementation of the Kelowna agreement. This demonstrates to us that the only way the Conservatives could respect the Kelowna agreement would be to run a deficit.
The current Con position seems to be another manifestation of the party's view that any commitment entered into by the Liberal government becomes immediately void as a result of a change of government. (See also the Kyoto Protocol and the existing child care agreements.) And there shouldn't be much doubt that such a position can only cast suspicion on the Canadian government's ability to live up to its commitments through any transition of power - and thereby cast uncertainty on anybody wanting a fair deal from the federal government.

Fontaine's letter, however, highlights the fact that voters wanting to make sure those commitments are met have a choice. The NDP's platform, unlike the Cons', recognizes and budgets for the existing commitments. And an NDP balance of power could do at least as much to hold the Cons to the existing agreements as the NDP's deal-making ability did to keep the Libs honest during the last Parliament.

Filling in the missing pieces

A quick step away from campaign news for a moment to point out that David Milgaard has apparently agreed to testify at the inquiry into his wrongful conviction:
Hersh Wolch (Milgaard's lawyer) told The Canadian Press that he will ask Justice Edward MacCallum to make special accommodations to minimize any stress on Mr. Milgaard as he tells his story.

"We're just going to ask that David's story be before the commission, but not through him having to stand up in front of the cameras," Mr. Wolch said in an interview from his Calgary office late Friday afternoon...

Mr. Wolch said Mr. Milgaard is open to a number of options, including testifying in another room away from the glare of television cameras or answering questions put to him in writing.
We'll see if an agreement can be reached, and it may not be a good sign that the request has gone through the media first rather than directly to Justice MacCallum. But at the very least, it looks like there's now some reasonable prospect of finding a balance between the need to avoid further harm to Milgaard and the need to get at all the facts behind his conviction.

On beachheads

While CanWest naturally focuses on the Cons gains, the latest Ipsos-Reid numbers suggest that both coasts may hold fertile electoral ground for the NDP.

On the East Coast, Liberal support lost in Atlantic Canada has split roughly evenly between the Cons and the NDP...which means not only that plenty of seats are in play, but that the NDP appears to have the best chance of taking seats away from Harper:
The most dramatic gains for the Tories -- at the expense of the Liberals -- came in Atlantic Canada where they surged nine points to 42% while the Liberals lost their hold on the region plunging 16 points to 26%, since a Jan. 2-5 survey. The NDP also gained seven points at the expense of the Liberals, jumping to 30%, the party's highest showing in any region of the country.
In B.C., meanwhile, the Greens did surprisingly well in the poll, cutting down Lib and Con numbers and bringing the NDP on nearly equal terms:
In British Columbia, a tight three-way race was shaping up between the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP -- all because of substantial gains made by the Green party.

The Conservatives stood at 30%, with Liberals trailing at 28, and the NDP at 25. The Green party surged nine points to 16% -- largely at the expense of the Liberals and Conservatives, each of which dropped five points.
Now, the regional numbers are apparently based on small samples (even the national poll only included 1000 voters). But it's awfully hard to explain away the Libs' drop from virtually sweeping the Atlantic region with provincial numbers between 37% and 53% in 2004, to ranking in third place now. And likewise, the Greens' gains in B.C. look very likely to make more races competitive than might be assumed - even if those actual gains are less strong than those measured in the poll.

Which means that in both regions, there's every indication that the NDP can hold its own with the other two parties...and that swaying just a few additional voters could push the NDP into more seats in B.C. and Atlantic Canada than would ever have been expected.

(Edit: typo.)

Big city lights

With the GTA looking like one of the most important battlegrounds in Canada, it may be a good time to point out the Cons' current position - or lack thereof - with regard to Canadian cities. Stephen Harper has made it clear that cities can't count on him for funding:
(Y)esterday, Harper suggested (any reliance on the existing child care deal) was the city's tough luck.

"I'm not responsible for the City of Toronto budget ... The agreements the federal government signed are only guaranteed funding for one year," Harper said.

Meanwhile, with civic leaders calling for stable funding, even the Cons sent into to try to undo Harper's damage won't do much more than to criticize the Libs:
(Monte Solberg) met with Mayor David Miller yesterday in an attempt to mend fences over the federal party's position on a new deal for cities...

The 45-minute meeting in the mayor's office was requested by the Tories, whose leader, Stephen Harper, has been criticized by Miller for not getting behind a new deal. Miller's office said the mayor had no comment on the meeting...

In April, Miller said the Tories had shown little inclination to adopt policies helpful to cities...

"We're just reminding the mayor that the government's been in power for 12 years, it's announced waterfront projects 20 times. Nothing's ever happened," (Solberg) said. "We're here to tell him we're not just going to commit, we're going to deliver."
It's well and good to point out the Libs' failings, but that doesn't mean the Cons have shown any willingness to commit themselves to the stable funding (as opposed to one-time project funding) that municipalities need in order to be able to plan their own operations. Now should be the time for the NDP to point out both which party did the most to get cities on the agenda in the first place, and who's committed to offering cities the certain funding they need in the future.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The pivot

Now that a minority government looks far less inevitable than through most of this campaign, the NDP's message has shifted toward a message of opposition rather than the balance-of-power strategy from most of the campaign. First, the deserved opposition to the Cons:
The Conservatives want to increase income taxes on people with low incomes, so that they can pay for a cut in the GST. That’s not a tax cut. That’s moonshine. And that’s always the way with Tory tax cuts. They put some dollars in one pocket, and then they pick your other pocket to pay for it.

The Conservatives want to wreck Canada’s chance to have a child care system. Instead they want to send parents with children under six a check for $3.28 a day...
Lest anybody think otherwise, this is far from the first time Layton has made sure to take shots at the Cons. If the new line seems a little better targeted than the earlier one, it's undoubtedly been helped along by some of the obvious drawbacks to the Cons' platform - and the apparent plan to recoup the amount of promised tax breaks is definitely a factor worth exploiting.

While the message toward the Cons has changed mostly based on a response to the Cons' announced policies, the one toward the Libs sees the NDP rightly fighting to be the main anti-Harper party:
More and more Canadians have come to the conclusion that Paul Martin has failed the test of leadership...

I respect some of the Liberal Party’s achievements in the past. Lester Pearson worked with our party to introduce public health care and pensions. Pierre Trudeau brought Canada our charter of rights.

But the Liberal Party under Paul Martin isn’t what it was.

Paul Martin’s Liberal Party needs a time out to heal itself, clean itself up, and decide what it believes.

So this time, in this election, I’m asking you to change your vote.

I’m asking you to vote for the NDP.
My one concern is that this message may give too much credit to the Libs. The message of allowing the Liberal Party to "heal itself" seems to buy into the idea of a natural governing party which will return as a stronger contender an election down the road, when the NDP's message should be designed to marginalize the Libs in future elections as well as the current one.

That said, it's great to see Jack now wielding past visionary Liberal leaders against the current myopic one. And the message should help to keep the NDP positioned as a positive choice for Canadian voters - even if it's less likely to hold the balance of power.

A little too close to home

The big story today is the news that Liberal candidate David Oliver has been disowned by the party for allegedly offering to bribe NDP candidate Jeffery Hansen-Carlson to support the Liberals. It's too early to prejudge the outcome of the investigation (though the race between Oliver and the national party to drop him from the campaign may offer one signal), and at the very least Martin has clearly disassociated the national campaign from Oliver rather than deciding that a bare declaration of innocence should be enough to put the matter in the past.

But what's most interesting to me is context of the bribe: Oliver allegedly told Hansen-Carlson he would be a hero if he helped them stop scary Harper, and that the Libs would make it worth his while if he did. Last I checked, that same message (though with a little more emphasis on "scary Harper" and somewhat less guarantee of personal gain) wasn't all that far off of the Libs' general message for the campaign as a whole. Which begs the question: if sending such a message to an individual candidate forms a reasonable basis to boot Oliver out of the campaign, why would anybody trust a party which is going out of its way to tell the same thing to Canada as a whole?

(Edit: typo.)

Witness protection

I promised earlier this week to take a look at the NDP platform to point out issues where the Dippers set themselves apart from the other two main parties. Today, I'll start that effort with a look at the NDP's promise to ensure the expandsion of Canada's witness protection program.

The NDP has committed to:
Strengthen the RCMP’s Federal Witness Protection and Support Programs. With additional support, the program will encourage witnesses to step forward to put violent offenders behind bars. Such support is necessary to provide the security witnesses and victims need to see cases through the justice system effectively and secure convictions of violent offenders.
In contrast, the Cons' issue page on crime deals mostly with more severe policies toward those convicted of crimes, and doesn't even mention witnesses. The Libs' platform (at p. 63) briefly mentions witnesses, but only with regard to a past reform involving the act of testifying, not with respect to protecting witnesses outside the courtroom.

The NDP's promise fits neatly into Layton's debate commitment to get "tough on crime, (and) tougher on the causes of crime". It's obvious how the promise will get tough on crime itself, in that one would expect more actual crimes to be prosecuted based on witnesses stepping forward and remaining willing to testify. But perhaps more significant, if also more subtle, is the potential effect on the causes of crime.

Keep in mind the old quote that "(t)he only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" - then consider the incentives involved in a citizen making an effort to stop crime (and particularly gang activity). At the moment, it should be beyond dispute that gangs have managed to acquire ever-increasing amounts of control in many areas of Canada, and that such control is based at least in part on fear within the community that any attempt to speak out against the gang will lead to retribution. Putting more officers on the street may help somewhat, but there's only so much added patrolling can do when it only takes one moment for a person to be silenced permanently.

The problem is doubly clear when it comes to gang members who want to end their association with the gang, and might be willing to help the police if there was any chance of living to tell the tale. CBC reported recently on one ex-gang member who died just a week before his release from prison. While the Witness Protection Program may not have covered him in particular, the message that any attempt to act against a gang will be met with violence surely presents a strong incentive for gang members to maintain their affiliation rather than trying to make a change for the better.

As long as potential witnesses perceive that their reporting crime in general, and gang crime in particular, will be more likely to result in personal harm than any real good, it's highly unlikely that crimes will be reported, or that witnesses will come forward when needed to convict precisely the high-ranking gang members who pose the greatest threat. On the flip side, when the government makes a public statement of its commitment to ensuring that a person willing to come forward will be protected against retribution, then it becomes more likely that citizens will react to crime by reporting it and helping to prosecute the guilty party.

The NDP is the only party whose platform includes a necessary step to help both prosecute actual crimes, and to help set a community deterrent to crime once it's known that intimidation tactics will be less effective. While the Libs claim they've done everything that needs to be done on the issue, and the Cons pretend that higher sentences can be equated with better law enforcement, only the NDP has recognized the need to make sure that criminal acts are reported and prosecuted - and that the citizens who take those steps will stay safe in the process.

Willing to listen

A Decima survey conducted last month asked whether people would accept a phone call from one of the current federal leadership contenders. And it shouldn't be a surprise which one the voters surveyed would be most interested in talking to:
A national survey by Internet phone service company Vonage Canada, conducted by Decima Research, found 34 per cent of voters would ignore a caller-identified phone call from Mr. Martin.

Conservative party leader Stephen Harper's call would be the second most ignored, followed by Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe. The New Democratic Party's Jack Layton would have the best chance of success getting on the horn: only one in four Canadians would ignore the NDP leader, and he'd be most welcome in Quebec...

Atlantic Canadians would be the most receptive, with more than 40 per cent answering any of the leaders' calls, while Quebecers would be least interested in political chit chat.
The numbers are too close to indicate a radical difference between the leaders, particularly given the unusual question. But the relative position of the leaders is still worthy of note - particularly in that Quebeckers surveyed were most willing to hear from Layton while being comparatively reluctant to answer calls from the other leaders.

It's tough to guess as to what proportion of the results is based on voters simply not having heard a candidate's message rather than genuinely wanting to hear more of it. But to the extent that the latter is in play, the survey could once again hint at more Canadians being receptive to the NDP's message than to that of any other party. The question now is whether Layton has managed to get through during the course of the campaign.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The better strategy

Hat-tip to Calgary Grit in pointing out the Democratic Space Strategic Voting Guide. What's most striking about the Guide is that even if one planned to vote strategically, the Guide doesn't suggest such a vote in more than 10% of Canadian ridings for voters of any party.

And even some of those very few are based on less-than-clear dividing lines. For example, take a look at the recommended strategic vote in Edmonton-Strathcona, where the third-place NDP (a) has projected ahead of the second-place Libs earlier in the campaign, and (b) is within two or three points of second place now, while the Lib candidate projects to be five-plus points behind the winner.

Obviously a project such as the Guide must be based on somewhat arbitrary distinctions as to who has a chance and who doesn't. But when the system recommends taking strategic votes away from a third-place contender projected to win 27% of the vote, it's apparent that the low number of strategic ridings is despite a system which fairly generously suggests strategic voting, rather than because of one that's biased against strategic votes.

The Guide is certainly interesting information, and I'm glad to see someone make the effort to try to give voters a better look at where their strategic vote might be needed. But more than anything, the Guide simply points out the futility of trying to project the current election based on past numbers - and the concurrent value of voting on principle rather than strategy.

Action and reaction

When a coalition of well-known actors went public to see which parties plan to defend Canadian culture, the NDP made sure to respond:
The NDP Platform includes measures to get results for artists, answering yesterday’s call by Canadian actors for parties to put forward their positions on arts and culture...

The NDP platform gets results for arts and artists by:

- Introducing fair tax treatment for artists through tax averaging and exemption of the first $30,000 copyright and certain royalty income.
- Providing increased funding for the Canada Council for the support of artists.
- Directing the CRTC to require clear, binding, monitored and enforced performance standards for broadcasters, including a significant increase in the production and broadcast of Canadian drama.
- Ensuring that Canadian television networks remain Canadian owned.
- Providing sustained funding for the Canadian Television Fund and Telefilm Canada.
- Enhancing federal film incentives to encourage film and television production and working with film distributors on a strategy to increase distribution of Canadian films.
There are plenty of other groups out there who can also look to the NDP as a party which has already taken into account views which are thought to be overlooked. (Shall we point out FemJEPP's call for "livable incomes, affordable housing, absence of violence, and the presence of quality, public services"?) And if the NDP can spend the rest of the campaign pointing how many of those groups are already included in its policies while the Libs and Cons race to the bottom, the Dippers could appeal to more than enough groups to overcome any concern about the party lacking a chance at government.

Of softness and power

The CP gives a striking example of why politeness and civility are lacking from Canadian politics by implicitly criticizing Jack Layton for sticking to a fair criticism of Stephen Harper rather than vilifying him:
On topics ranging from the Conservative candidate charged with smuggling to Tory positions on private health care and the right of prisoners to vote, Layton refused to take the bait and slam the Tories or Harper...

"I think I've been crystal clear just about everywhere I've gone across this country, in fact everywhere, that we disagree fundamentally with the policies and ideas of Mr. Harper," Layton told reporters.

"We think the values he's bringing forward and on which he bases his policies are not the values of the majority of Canadians."
Granted, Layton's refusal to compare his opponents to bloodthirsty dictators, whether explicitly or implicitly, differentiates him clearly from the other two federal parties and their supporters. But it's certainly not as if Layton failed to oppose Harper; he merely framed that opposition in response to the Harper that Canadians have seen throughout the campaign, not some fabricated caricature like the one the Liberals are apparently campaigning against.

The problem is that in the CP's view, that makes Layton's position "soft" rather than, say, "honest" or "realistic". And as long as the media rewards those who stay above alarmist personal attacks by presenting that fact as a fault rather than a virtue, there's no reason to think the tone of Canadian politics will ever take a turn for the better.

Making the case

Kevin Brennan at Blogs Canada E-Group makes the case for an NDP vote as part of their ongoing series:
In this election, the NDP probably is the party that best represents the views of a majority of Canadians.

Canadians want a united Canada, where the federal government plays a real role. They want a health-care system that will remain publicly funded and provide first-class care. They want a Canada where we have a positive view of the future, not one that's cramped, narrow, and fearful. Most of all, they want to be proud to be Canadians. And we mustn't forget that they were the only party to actually try and accomplish anything useful in the last Parliament. When the other parties embarrassed the country, the NDP reminded us that public service can be something to be proud of...

If Trudeau Liberals have a home today, that home is the NDP. The NDP is the only party left that will stand up and say that the federal government can actually make Canada a better place. We cannot simply rest on our laurels, believing that we've accomplished everything worth doing.
I'll be very curious to see the anticipated rebuttal. The campaign itself certainly doesn't seem to have provided any particular case against the NDP, and the comments on Kevin's post so far don't offer anything other than the usual false claims of fiscal irresponsibility.

But then, the problem for the NDP has never been any genuine reason to vote against the party rather than a lack of public attention to the good reasons to vote for it. Like the debates, the E-Group series of articles helps to make sure that the case at least gets heard. Now if we can just make sure it isn't forgotten 12 days from now...

Costs and benefits

Based on the press yesterday, it's no wonder the NDP (and Libs) waited so long to release a full platform, and it'll be tough to blame the Cons if they decide never to release one. After all, one would think that the full platform would give rise to some focus on the substantive contents - yet CanWest's coverage talks more about price tags than about any of the NDP's or Libs' actual platform planks, while the headline to the CP/Canoe article presents the NDP platform as nothing more than the cost of already-released promises (though the article itself at least deals with some of the policies involved).

While there were obviously other events going on yesterday which were bound to steal some headlines, that's no reason why the actual coverage of the released platforms had to be in such negative terms. And the result could be a perverse incentive for the Cons to avoid releasing the same information in hopes of thereby avoiding similarly-negative coverage - which could send Canadians to the polls without full information about the cost of electing the heavy favourite.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A little reminder

Lest anybody think PMPM has done anywhere near as much as he could have to stop private health care so far, think again:
A private health clinic plans to open for business in Toronto, Ottawa and London this summer, while critics call for government to stop the company.

Copeman Healthcare clinics work on a membership basis. A one-time enrollment fee of $1,200 plus $2,300 per year will provide members with access to family physicians and experts in areas such as cardiology and sports injuries...

A first Copeman clinic opened in Vancouver in Nov. 2005. The company chose Ontario to open in because they expect to receive provincial government approval for the clinics...

Provincial New Democratic health critic Michael Prue said Copeman's clinics will lure resources and physicians away from the publicly-funded system...

Later on Wednesday, Prue told that Copeman Healthcare is exploiting a loophole in federal legislation to make $14 million in membership fees.

Prue said he is "appalled" because Copeman's physicians will still be able to bill the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
We'll find out soon whether or not to add McGuinty (for all his tough talk) to the all-too-long list of premiers failing to do anything to stop privatization. But whatever decision McGuinty makes on licensing, there's no doubt which federal party is responsible for the decay in the public system that has allowed Copeman to set up shop. And likewise, on both the provincial and federal levels, there's no doubt whatsoever which party is working to save the public system before it's too late.

How the NDP overtakes the Libs

Having apparently decided that alienating any voters even remotely concerned with honesty or civility in politics hasn't given him a steep enough hill to climb, PMPM adds to his challenge by making sure that no voter who cares about public health care will vote Liberal:
Question (Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail): What are you going to do if the Supreme Court decides that you have to set up a parallel system [of health care] to protect security of the person?

Prime Minister Paul Martin: I think that quite clearly one is going to fight very hard in front of the Supreme Court...

Question: With all due respect, I don't think you answered my question. If the Supreme Court ruled you had to do that and you have no notwithstanding clause, are you going to do it?

Prime Minister Paul Martin: with all due respect, I have answered your question. If the notwithstanding clause does not exist then the decision of the Supreme Court and its interpretation of the charter is the one that will stand. I can't be much clearer than that.
Now, over the past decade-plus the Libs have done a masterful job of claiming to be defenders of public health care while actually doing nothing at all to preserve it. But today, Martin's position became absolutely clear: in no event will collective values (of which the health-care system is a prime example) ever be allowed to trump an individual court decision - no matter how many individual Canadians stand to lose out from any resulting policy changes.

And in the case of health care, which is already subject to a shot across the bow in the form of Chaoulli, Martin has given Canadians a concrete example of the type of popular and necessary national program which, in his view, is less important than the political ramifications of contradicting a single court decision.

Martin has clearly made his choice out of the options I discussed this morning. And he's squarely on the side of both ignoring the inherent limitations on one Parliament's ability to restrict the freedom of action of future ones, and using that ignorance as an excuse to let important programs die.

Needless to say, Martin's position shouldn't and won't go unopposed. Layton now has his opening to stay in the headlines on the NDP's strongest issue, armed with powerful new evidence that the Libs' policy is radically different from the Dippers'. Which should both give the NDP an unprecedented number of seats after January 23, and help ensure that future Libs don't go as far off the rails as Martin in trying to vilify their opponents.

The stage is set

It may be that policy will be completely ignored the rest of this campaign now that the Libs and the Cons are locked into hysterical accusation mode. But just in case that doesn't happen, the NDP released its full platform today:
Layton, if he is influential in a minority Parliament, is vowing to push for legislation to protect public health care, improve government ethical standards, reduce pollution, set child-care standards, guard workers’ pensions, and protect Canadians with tougher anti-crime measures.

"It's affordable, it's responsible, it fits inside a balanced budget each and every year," Layton told supporters at a rally here.

In addition to previously announced vows to boost spending on child care, health care and seniors, Layton is proposing a $250-million, five-year national cancer strategy, $400 million to fight the Mountain Pine Beetle in Western Canada, a new $50 million fund to compensate Chinese-Canadians hurt by the racist head tax of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and $100 million for a “victims of terror” fund."...

More than half the surplus will be used to pay down the employment insurance fund debt, and to a national infrastructure fund and four (sic) co-operative housing.
I'll take a closer look at some of the individual planks as the campaign continues. For now, the platform (which is available online) reflects a solid balance between current areas of need while keeping spending at a sustainable level. It may have been all the better to see the platform sooner - but the NDP's plan appears to have been worth the wait.

(Edit: Posted too soon; modified first paragraph.)

Nicely put

Idealistic Pragmatist nicely summarizes why the Libs' policy promises aren't enough to deserves another term in government. While I'd put the broken promises first on the list (and possibly second and third as well), the content is well worth a read.

(Edit: typo.)

About that "safeguard"...

I noted yesterday that Martin's attempt to reinforce the notwithstanding clause is ultimately of no effect, since if Parliament holds the power to change its own authority in one direction, it must also hold the authority to reverse the process. But last night, Layton pointed out why it's a good thing that's so...and why we want Parliament to retain some power over the courts:
Oops. It looked like a good idea Monday night when he sprung the idea of eliminating Ottawa's recourse to the notwithstanding clause on an unsuspecting public. Martin portrayed himself as the defender of basic rights. Why give Parliament the chance--the real implication: why give a Conservative Parliament the chance--to override Supreme Court decisions on issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. But in the cool light of the next day, with his opponents given a comeback in tonight's French language debate, the idea loses some of its sheen...

But what if we get a conservative court decision, Layton asks, one that takes away rights. What if a court denies women the right to a safe abortion. Or rules that publicly-run medicare is an outdated concept. Shouldn't Parliament have a voice, a powerful voice if it chooses to override that type of judgment.
An excellent point. And it presumably leaves Martin either feigning defenselessness against such decisions (which again would be wrong in any event) and claiming that's somehow a good thing, or trying to claim that the reversibility of his "safeguard" is really a plus just a night after pretending the change would be permanent.

Of course, Martin seems to have merely changed the subject within the debate itself rather than dealing with the obvious flaws in his big idea. But now that the Libs' ultimate bombshell idea has been exposed as a dud, it's tough to think Canadians will see much reason to pay attention to what's left in PMPM's arsenal.

(Note that I haven't seen a full transcript of this portion of the debate yet, but CBC's coverage seems fairly thorough - if anybody has the full details of Layton's answer, please pass a link along.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Martin's crumbling base

Before PMPM can make any claim at all to try to win swing voters, maybe he should work on getting his own supporters to agree with his policies - as the Charter bombshell from last night hasn't gone over well even in the Liberal camp:
"Nobody discussed it with me prior," said Toronto MP Derek Lee, the longest serving member of the Commons justice committee.

Other Liberal MPs and senators whose support would be necessary to amend the constitutional clause complained that Martin's debate pronouncement "came out of left field," as one MP put it privately.

They were confused about how such a change could be implemented and a number of MPs made it clear they'd oppose it.

"I would support retention of the notwithstanding clause," said Mississauga South MP Paul Szabo.

Lee said he's open to debating the idea but, in general, his view on constitutional matters is: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."...

Senator Jim Munson, Chretien's former communications director, said he couldn't speak for the vacationing former prime minister.

But Munson said his own view is that the clause is "a safety valve and I don't quite understand why we are fiddling" with it.
It's amusing enough to see the policy go over like a lead balloon within Martin's party. But it's all the more striking that the supposed reformer of the Liberal party is now imposing major policy announcements with no notice even to the Liberal MPs most familiar with the topic.

Mind you, there is some good news for Martin now. Any lack of internal consultation shouldn't be much of a problem for him from here on in, as Lib candidates hoping to have a political future have to be positioning themselves as far from PMPM as they can in the weeks leading up to election day.

The Mounties go private

As if there wasn't enough truth to the charge that Harper's platform matches Martin's record, Kelowna will soon have three privately-paid RCMP officers:
Private funds will pay the salaries of some RCMP officers in a B.C. city, in what is being billed as a national first.

The program is being set up in Kelowna, where Crime Stoppers is raising $240,000 a year to pay the salaries of three new officers.

Crime Stoppers says it's a stopgap measure to deal with a critical shortage of police in the Central Okanagan, which left the force unable to follow up on many tips called in to the organization's anonymous hotline...

Kelowna RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon said that, as far as he knows, it is the first time private funding from companies and individual donors has been used to pay for general duty RCMP officers in Canada.
Needless to say, any claim on Martin's behalf to be able to defend against creeping privatization - in health care or elsewhere - should take a major shot from this news. Nothing against Crime Stoppers as an organization, but there's no excuse for the government to have dropped the ball on public protection to such a degree. And all the ranting in the world about an imagined need to re-ban handguns won't help to make up for the lack of resources that's led to today's announcement.

Shill games

Larry Zolf is determined to try to put the NDP/Lib swing vote firmly in Martin's camp - and he won't let facts, logic or the plain meaning of words get in the way:
The right–wing Tories, with their inherent distrust of the state – and the welfare state in particular – are described by Layton as simply wrong. Layton does add that Harper will dismantle the federal government and give Bloc Québécois Leader Giles Duceppe everything he wants. Still, while Tory ideas are bad, the Conservatives, says Layton, are definitely not corrupt.

The NDP thus sees great value in distinguishing itself from the Liberals while failing to really lay a glove on the Tories.
On the facts, a quick search of the transcript reveals no instances of "definitely not corrupt". But you will find statements like this from Layton on Harper:
I notice Mr. Harper chose to mention lobbyists in his remark and we certainly know the Liberal Party has very close relationships with lobbyists, but I think Mr. Harper, what you're saying would be a lot more credible if your war room and your campaign weren't filled with corporate lobbyists as they are.
Sounds like a strong endorsement of Harper's ethics to me. How about one more for good measure?
When we hear Mr. Harper talk about the gas tax transfer, he voted against that very budget and also against his very own measure now that he talks about in terms of a tax credit. So he's just playing games.
Again, not one that Harper's likely to be cite as a character reference. And if there was any part of the debate where Layton said anything to the effect that Harper wasn't corrupt, I didn't notice it either within the debate or in reviewing the transcript.

But let's leave that aside, and note that even if Zolf were right about Layton not attacking Harper on corruption, he still seems to blissfully ignore all Layton attacks on Harper just a paragraph after listing them. Does Zolf consider "simply wrong" to be a compliment? Is it a positive message toward the Cons to say that Harper plans to "dismantle the federal government" and "give Bloc Québécois Leader Giles (sic) Duceppe everything he wants"?

And if not, then how can Zolf even pretend that Layton "(failed) to really lay a glove on the Tories"?

The only apparent conclusion is that Zolf thinks that the only legitimate attack on Harper is whatever line Martin sees fit to push at a given time. Presumably, nothing short of Layton imploring voters to support Martin in an effort to stop big bad Stevie would have satisfied Zolf's expectation for a proper attack on the Cons.

Fortunately, Layton proved in the debate that he'll take on all comers - challenging Harper on his ideology, Martin on his untrustworthiness, and Duceppe on his desire to break up Canada. And if that's not good enough for Larry Zolf, he can feel free to keep cheerleading for Martin long after PMPM has been deposed.

Martin's pump fake

While PMPM's plan to amend the Constitution so as to prevent federal use of the notwithstanding clause made plenty of noise last night, let's not miss the fact that the amendment would be of essentially no practical effect. The same process which Martin would supposedly use to outlaw federal use of the clause (presumably under s. 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982) would be reversible at any time by another vote of Parliament if any government so saw fit.

Moreover, it's hard to see how any vote to overturn the proposed amendment would be substantially more controversial than the use of the notwithstanding clause itself. Which makes the plan just one more empty Liberal symbol masquerading as meaningful policy.

Martin's gambit has done plenty to distract some pundits. But the policy would do nothing at all to advance any practical cause, and it's well past time to redirect our attention to what's actually going on in the game.

(Edit: typo.)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Poll sitting

Huh. Or maybe I overcompensated for my own party sympathies, and Jack knocked this one out of the park. From candle on Babble:
Ipsos has been polling for Global. First results:
Same 2005 people on the internet pre debate and post debate:

Who will win debate
Harper 35$ down to 34%
Martin up from 23% to 31%
Layton up from 11% to 26%
Duceppe steady at 2%
Don't Know from 29% to 6%

Question 2 - who will you vote for:
CPC Pre 43 Post 40
Lib Pre 31 Post 32
NDP Pre 21 Post 24
Green Pre 5 Post 5
That's an awful lot of people seeing Jack as the winner without having planned to, and a decent chunk of undecideds headed to the NDP's column. Now let's see about turning this into some continued momentum...

(Edit: added second poll, a bit more comment.)

(Edit: Typo.)

Debate semi-live blog

And we're done. Instant post-mortem:

Martin looked like he was trying to eliminate any prospect of getting back in the race. Too quick at times, over time at others, angry at Duceppe for awhile as well, and had far more false passion than policy.

Harper won to the extent that he screwed up less than Martin, but he didn't accomplish much either. Anybody who was skeptical going in is still going to have plenty of questions, particularly about Harper's insistence that voters should ignore his record aside from the immediate Con platform.

Bias aside, Layton did well except for a couple of the late questions - plenty of effective attacks, but he also kept the most gravitas while delivering them, yet managed to come off as the most positive of the bunch. And the appeal to bring Quebec into the Constitution, combined with Option Canada weapon wielded against the Libs and Cons, may give the Dippers hope in La Belle Province.

Duceppe was Duceppe, with plenty of well-targeted attacks on the Libs and Cons as well as at least some attempt to appear constructive. But has his English regressed since the 2004 debates? A lot of great lines got lost to stumbling delivery.

Will it change anything? We know debates aren't supposed to, but I think we'll see a Layton boost and Martin drop out of this if Martin's uncomfortability throughout the debate gets the media play that such matters seem to get.

8:58 - Duceppe again points out Conservative involvement in Option Canada. Could this swing federalist support to the Dippers if it takes hold?

8:57 - Very general closing from Layton, no knockout punches.

8:56 - Harper says trust what he's said this campaign, not everything else he's ever said. The order could work to Layton's advantage if he delivers a rebuttal.

8:55 - Martin's closing: "have faith". And it'll have to be very blind faith for anybody to believe Lib promises by this point.

8:54 - In response to Duceppe, Layton sets out the dividing line between federal scandals and Liberal ones.

8:53 - Good line from Duceppe to justify negativity: "the greatest danger is not 'talking about corruption', the greatest danger is 'not talking about corruption'".

8:51 - Martin goes negative in response to the question about too much negativity.

8:49 - Layton wants a positive campaign and a positive Parliament. And then talks about positive measures. That'll work, though again this sounded like a closing statement rather than a response to a question.

8:48 - Layton gets asked which of Martin or Harper he'd prefer to deal with. That's one he had to duck, but he didn't have a strong answer ready.

8:46 - Now the question goes to Layton directly. And he still won't say "prime minister".

8:45 - Harper claims there's a limited amount a party can do in opposition. Will he pretend he couldn't have influenced the budget if he'd wanted to?

8:43 - Layton back to "getting results for people". Not bad, but I'd love to have seen Harper challenged on his unwillingness to state his actual preference.

8:40 - Question to Harper on spooking voters, and on whether he'd rather have a majority than a minority. Harper says it's the peoples' choice, and he won't take sides. Let's see Layton say he'd prefer to have a majority government than any other outcome, and it's a sign of Harper's disconnect with Canadians that he doesn't dare to say the same.

8:38 - Layton slams the Duceppe/Martin bickering, then takes out Harper on child care policy. I wonder if he could have slammed Jim Harris if he'd had another 5 seconds in the rebuttal.

8:37 - Harper claims to be effective on the environment among other issues. We're through the looking glass here.

8:34 - Layton calmly calls the Libs a great recruiter for the Bloc. Nice contrast to Martin's frantic pace.

8:33 - To Martin: "is Canada too fragile to survive a change in government?" This one actually led naturally to Harper-bashing, and PMPM takes the chance, pointing out the Bloc's helplessness against Con policies.

8:30 - Interesting for Layton to talk about getting Quebec to sign the constitution - particularly when Harper's intention to deal "particularly with Charest" left that part out.

8:28 - Layton talks about establishing winning conditions for federalism in Quebec. Good message.

8:27 - "In particular Premier Charest"? Harper's obviously looking strongly for Quebec votes...but isn't Charest's popularity even lower than the federal Libs'?

8:27 - More passion from Martin on national unity, but typically completely devoid of content.

8:25 - The obvious question of resolving issues through one vote to Duceppe. Interesting idea of collective vs. individual rights, but is there any principled basis for differentiating between the two?

8:22 - Another ready-made question for Layton, as he deals with both his municipal experience and the added municipal money in the NDP budget.

8:19 - Tax breaks vs. infrastructure to Harper. Has the Con infrastructure fund proposal been mentioned so far in the campaign? Did it get buried in the policy-a-day pace?

8:18 - Harper goes into policy wonk mode on equalization, Layton goes folksy.

8:14 - Equalization to Duceppe. He sounds willing to look at equalization even if it hurts Quebec, then backs up and points out his approval for a formula which adds to Quebec.

8:12 - Question about common ground between the NDP and the Cons, again Layton won't be pinned down.

8:09 - Martin brings up education policy. Which the NDP can certainly support, but plays into Layton's hands about what's been accomplished already.

8:08 - Harper doesn't believe he has a divine right to rule. Glad that's cleared up. But what about an entitlement?

(And tax cuts would save the auto sector? Does Harper honestly believe that?)

8:06 - A question about the balance of power, but Layton won't be pinned down on what policies need to be in a budget. I'd like to see more about consultation, less about bashing the other parties, but it works.

8:01 - Agriculture, here's your moment. Martin says he's done fine but needs to do much more. Layton goes emotional and name-drops candidates before going to policy. Duceppe points out the Libs' effort to narrow down a motion on supply management. Harper offers half the money the NDP did, and otherwise echoes Martin's answer about continuing the status quo except for criticizing the Wheat Board monopoly.

8:00 - Layton throws down the gauntlet: would Harper cut services in order to cut taxes? That's certainly not the Cons' campaign message, but the seed is worth planting.

7:58 - If Layton's numbers about the Con tax moves are right, Harper has some serious egg on his face.

7:57 - Harper criticizes the Libs for favouring upper-class Canadians.

7:56 - Martin goes over time for the second time in the debate. Sounds passionate trying to defend his record, but there isn't much to defend.

7:53 - It almost seems too convenient that Layton gets to respond to Martin on the poverty question. And he's not disappointing.

7:51 - A direct question on poverty, aimed at Martin's failures. And he's got nothing.

7:50 - And now Martin gets to deal with the gap between anti-American electioneering and integration as a policy. (Too bad he doesn't actually get to answer, that would have been an interesting one.)

7:49 - Layton on dealing with poverty as a value. Nice, though it would have been nice to see that in the first response.

7:47 - Now that the question is about the notwithstanding clause, Martin starts bashing Harper rather than answering. Call it the culture of entitlement to debate whatever he feels like.

7:44 - Question to Layton on the notwithstanding clause...and he hints at the notwithstanding clause to defend public health care. Very interesting.

7:42 - And Layton misses it, though the answer is long on policy.

7:41 - Harper's apparently wilfully blind about what provincial governments are doing on health, claiming none of them are looking at private health care. Which gives Layton a huge opening to talk about Klein, Charest, Campbell, et al.

7:40 - Duceppe takes the credit card/health card line. Does Layton have another line ready in its place?

7:39 - Has there been a question directed at Layton yet? (Since the first one at least...)

7:36 - Harper doesn't think tougher laws will cost more to enforce? Sounds like the Dubya regulatory approach (high sentences, no enforcement) applied to crime...

7:34 - Another nice Layton answer, this time on crime...though the tough question to Harper seems to be long forgotten now.

7:31 - Harper gets asked whether his laws would have prevented any of the high-profile crimes over the last year...but wriggles out nicely by actually having an answer.

7:30 - Layton with a tour de force response on PR, appealing to as many left-out groups as he could name in the time while also pointing out Lib broken promises.

7:29 - Harper appeals for a high general turnout? Seriously?

7:28 - Once again Martin brings Layton back in - this time long after his statement on a need for more women in Parliament.

7:26 - Excellent. A PR question - with the Bloc having to answer for its own distorted representation.

7:23 - Layton very strong on the messages sent by Liberal votes - frankly this answer would have been better as the opening statement than a response within the debate.

7:21 - And there's the counter, as Harper wins the role of defending the current Charter. Did the Libs not see that one coming?

7:18 - Martin goes far off the rails, proposing an impossible policy (removal of the notwithstanding clause for the federal government!?!) without even pretending to respond to the question.

7:16 - Duceppe hammers Harper on a lack of internal accountability. Here comes the NDP's chance to go positive about its own record in comparison...

7:15 - Nice question about Reform's failure to follow through on its commitments - even Harper couldn't deny the truth in it.

7:13 - Layton turns the "personal attacks" question into a positive policy answer. Nice.

7:12 - Martin ignores a moderator's question to respond to Layton. So much for the "ignore the NDP" strategy...

7:09 - Option Canada splashback on the Cons? An interesting idea, but I don't see how it helps the Libs' standing in Quebec or elsewhere.

7:08 - Martin looks utterly defeated looking on at Harper's response.

7:06 - Jack nicely points out the lack of Liberal response on income trusts. Does Martin dare call it a partisan issue now?

7:03 - Duceppe actually mentions Harper in the same sentence as Martin. If that doesn't help the Cons in Quebec, I don't know what would.

7:02 - No surprise that Martin goes right to the lower-income tax cut. Did the Cons really need that extra amount of money so badly as to open themselves up to obvious attacks?

No attempt to cover the debate word by word here, but I'll stop in with observations as warranted.

(Edits: Wording and typos thanks to live-blogging.)

(Final note: This post brought to you in large part by the loving indulgence of my fiancée, who sacrificed myself, the TV and the computer for the evening to allow for live-blogging. I'm still working on getting her interested enough in political minutiae to want to blog along.)

Poor coverage

Poverty issues have been receiving a woeful lack of attention so far this campaign, but Bill Kaufmann gives them some discussion:
Little has been heard from our top political hopefuls on one of the country's dirtiest little pseudo-secrets.

Perhaps too much mention of Canada's destitute would be considered "negative campaigning."

But our politicians of all stripes shouldn't be allowed to escape the fact the Canadian dream continues to evade so many of their captive employees.
Kaufmann reviews some of the facts about increased inequality and a lack of raised lower-end standards of living, in the time since Canada committed to end child poverty by the year 2000. (Which I'm sure are issues that the Libs are nearly done studying, and will act on any year now given the opportunity.)

Kaufmann's column might be even more effective if it compared the small amount of resources put into addressing poverty issues with the amount instead handed out in tax cuts or corporate subsidies. But he at least highlights the reality that many Canadians have seen no benefit at all from the country's oft-trumpeted economic successes - and that neither party claiming to have a chance to form government is interested in changing that fact.

Strategic counsel

The Tyee's Will McMartin runs with the prospect that in B.C., any voters wanting to vote strategically to prevent a Harper government should favour the NDP over the Liberals:
B.C. New Democrats may now credibly claim that their party is at least as well-positioned as the Liberals to prevent a Harper government from being elected; or, at a minimum, stop the Tories from obtaining a majority.

Currently, the New Democrats hold five B.C. seats, and it seems unlikely at this point that the party will see any of its incumbents defeated. The NDP also has a reasonable chance to pick up six ridings currently or previously won by the Conservatives - Vancouver Island North, Nanaimo-Alberni, Surrey North, Newton-North Delta, New Westminster-Coquitlam, and British Columbia Southern Interior - as well as three from the Liberals - Victoria, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca and Vancouver-Kingsway.

Electoral history and current polls do not support the notion that the Liberals, who now have eight B.C. seats, are poised to make gains on January 23. Indeed, in addition to the three Liberal ridings which are vulnerable to the NDP, two more - North Vancouver and Richmond - might be within the grasp of the resurgent Tories.

The New Democrats, therefore, have a chance to 'turn the tables' on the Liberals by claiming that their party is best able to stop Stephen Harper from becoming prime minister.
It's certainly a plus to see the strategic argument running in the NDP's favour. And while I'd much rather see that type of sentiment as merely a secondary reason for voting NDP (and indeed a distant second behind the fact that strategy aside, the NDP simply better represents Canadians), it's tough to complain about any media coverage that doesn't buy PMPM's "horse race" spin this late in an election campaign.

Give me bigotry or give me death

Fred Henry just can't resist making himself heard within the election campaign, and the public attention to one of the Cons' long-time allies may force Harper and company to start coming clean on social issues:
Calgary's Roman Catholic Bishop has cannonballed into the election campaign by suggesting Catholic politicians imitate Sir Thomas More and consider martyrdom before opposing church teaching on issues such as same-sex marriage...

He told Zenit that Canadian Catholic politicians in their public lives cannot be what he called spiritual schizophrenics.

"In undertaking any public initiative, it is morally incoherent to leave out completely one's own fundamental convictions, whether for noble or pragmatic reasons. . . .

"All Catholic politicians would do well to imitate the example of St. Thomas More, who by his life and death taught that man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality," he told Zenit.
The article notes that even More, writing nearly five hundred years ago, spoke out against some of the same archaic practices that Henry seeks to defend. But Henry manages to gloss over both that fact and the likelihood that most Catholic politicians properly consider faith as only one aspect of their decision-making processes, not as the sole ultimate arbiter of right and wrong even where opposed to reason as Henry seems to advocate.

The content of Henry's quote aside, Henry's entry into the campaign evidently means serious trouble for the Cons. While Harper may be able to control his own MPs so far during the campaign, Henry poses a different problem: he's apparently not willing to be muzzled, which leaves the Cons with a choice between either dissociating themselves from him, or risking having his words taken as their own. Taking a quick look at some of the MPs who have taken up common cause with Henry, it'll be interesting to find out whether Maurice Vellacott, Jason Kenney, Art Hanger, Harper himself and others still want to share that association.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The marks are in

I didn't see it receive any substantial coverage, but the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report card on the minority government last week:
One of Canada’s most persistent political myths is that only strong (read “majority”) governments are able to make meaningful change. The reality is frequently the reverse. Minority Parliaments have often been the most effective in terms of achieving real progress for people...

The real message of the Paul Martin/Ralph Goodale Economic and Fiscal Update is that, in their hands, our wealth is a kind of poverty. When a government deliberately and repeatedly understates its fiscal position on the pretence that solutions are unaffordable; when it sets targets to reduce debt and cut corporate tax rates, but none to reduce poverty; when it collects more revenue than it needs, but can’t remember that a $200 tax cut is a poor tradeoff for being unable to drink your tap water — then we are seeing a poverty of vision so profound it has forgotten its purpose.

They don’t need a mandate. They need a counterweight in Parliament to ensure that they don’t keep reneging on their promises to the electorate.

Overall, the Alternative Federal Budget awards the 2004–05 Martin Minority a C grade — for “some progress.”
The report card includes two "F" grades: on "fair taxes", where the NDP did manage to force some change but the fiscal update managed to undo that and more, and "health care privatization", which of course was the issue which brought the minority to a close when the NDP refused to be a party to continued Lib failure. Meanwhile, anybody looking for an "A" will be sorely disappointed.

The CCPA's review reminds us that as much progress as the NDP was able to make within the last Parliament, there's still an awful lot of work left to do to undo the damage of the mid-90s - and we certainly can't take PMPM's word as to any intention to get that work done. While the minority government was better than any of the alternatives, it'll take a much stronger NDP presence after this month's election to force any governing party to remember what policies matter most for Canadians.

A needed stand

Full credit to the Greens for taking a stand on Canada's involvement in Haiti:
The Haiti policy review should consider whether the United States, Canada, and France were openly and strategically involved in supporting the process that led to the coup and exile of a democratically elected president.

The ongoing attempts to cover over the flagrant violation of the Haitian Constitution with new elections, now delayed for a fifth time, have been plagued with brutal violence and abuse of fundamental democratic principles.
The NDP hasn't yet made Haiti a campaign issue despite the party's strong stances in the past, with the result that no parties were yet questioning the continued subversion of Haitian democracy. Hopefully the Greens' focus on Haiti will ensure that the issue is discussed by the parties as well as by protesters.

More number-crunching

Decima releases its poll on which voters are committed to which party - and plenty of votes are still up for grabs:
To sharpen the focus on the uncommitted voters who will likely determine the outcome of the election, Decima broke out the truly undecided and leaning voters from a survey of 4,804 voters outside Quebec, conducted Dec. 29-31.

From that larger survey, which has a margin of error of 1.4 percentage points 19 times out of 20, Decima found 20 per cent were committed to voting Liberal, 20 per cent for the Conservatives and 10 per cent for the New Democratic Party.

It found 47 per cent were uncommitted, including 14.2 per cent who were truly undecided and another 32.4 per cent who said they may yet change their vote, although they were leaning to one of the parties.

In analyzing that 47 per cent, Decima, which is working with Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communications, found two distinct groups: 12 per cent who were torn between the Conservatives and Liberals and 14 per cent who were torn between the Liberals and the NDP.
The article goes on to discuss the apparent traits of the two largest swing groups:
Those torn between the Liberals and NDP were more likely to be female, aged 35-54 and members of a visible minority. They tended to think the Liberals were the best choice to govern and that Martin was the best choice for prime minister. However, they also tended to think the NDP had the best approach to issues they care about most...

Voters torn between the Liberals and Conservatives tended to be female, under 35 or over 55 years of age, and more likely to be on the right of the political spectrum. At the time of the survey, they were leaning equally towards the two parties.

Nevertheless, this group tended to think the Liberals were best to govern and Martin the best choice for prime minister. However, the Conservatives had a slight edge as the party thought to have the best approach on the issues these voters care about most (48 per cent for the Tories versus 42 per cent for the Liberals).
It's particularly interesting to see that swing voters on both sides tend to see the Libs as having a weaker approach to the issues they care most about. Clearly the very swing voters targeted by the Libs' attempts to be all things to all people aren't convinced by the policy of promising everything; the question is to what extent each of the opposition parties can cast doubt on the Libs' qualification as the most capable government.

But what happens if both opposition parties succeed in putting a dent in the Libs' share of the swing vote? Well, let's divide up the numbers if both the NDP and Cons manage to pull in 2/3 of their respective swing votes:

Con = 20 + (2/3)(12) = 28
Lib = 20 + (1/3)(12) + (1/3)(14) = 28 2/3
NDP = 10 + (2/3)(14) = 19 1/3

This breakdown would leave 24% of voters unaccounted for, including the NDP/Con swing (whose numbers aren't listed) along with voters planning to vote for other parties, and the truly uncommitted. Suffice it to say that it's hard to see how any party could take a particularly large advantage within that group - and it would take a landslide among these voters to bring about a majority government.

Note that this assumes that the Libs earn substantially less of the swing votes than they held as of the time of the survey - yet the Libs would still be just behind the Cons in the ROC (figuring that there are enough Con/NDP swing votes to add a bit to the above Con total), to go with their presumed seat advantage in Quebec.

Which means that to the extent that NDP/Lib swing voters may be swayed by concerns of a Harper majority, Decima has given yet one more example of the lack any reason to worry.

The genuinely strategic vote

I've never been hesitant to indicate my distaste for strategic voting as defined by PMPM. But before I discuss the rule as to why the Liberal strategic vote is self-defeating, I'll point out that this election does provide one exception where a strategic vote could make perfect sense. That exception comes in the form of platform planks targeted at democratic reform whose effect could realistically offer one's preferred party enough of a boost down the road as to be worth losing votes in the immediate election.

The prime example, of course, lies in the NDP's support for proportional representation, and potential to push for PR if it receives a solid balance of power. If passed, PR would substantially improve the opportunity of the Greens and other smaller parties to increase their standing - changing the political landscape from one where such parties are unlikely to win a single seat, to one where there's a reasonable prospect of such parties wielding significant power within a governing coalition.

For a smaller-party voter, then, there's a strong incentive to vote for the party whose position in this election will most favour the voter's preferred party down the road. And that's true regardless of whether the smaller-party supporter would normally have any affinity at all for the NDP: the reason for the strategic vote isn't that the NDP is the lesser of a number of evils, but that the NDP vote now can lead to greater influence for the smaller party later.

So what makes for a reasonable vote for a party other than the one that best matches one's own views? Here's how I'd set out the criteria:

1. A reasonable strategic vote should be aimed at effecting positive change, not merely trying to block a given party from power.

2. In turn, the change should improve the influence of one's preferred party in future elections to a degree sufficient to make up for the loss of a vote in the current one.

3. The strategic vote should be on a one-time basis alone if successful: once the party receiving the vote receives the necessary support to achieve the specific reform, the reform should be passed and the issue should cease to be available as a basis for a strategic vote.

I'll grant with respect to a PR-strategic vote that some have claimed that the NDP should have done more to push for PR in the last Parliament, and thus should be considered to have had their chance already. I'd argue that the NDP never secured the balance of power in 2004, and thus wasn't in a position to make a strong push for PR implementation; but if that argument isn't accepted, then I'll readily acknowledge that a strategic vote wouldn't make sense under #3 above.

(In contrast to the reasonable basis for an NDP vote on behalf of a smaller-party supporter depending on how one weighs the above criteria, any Lib claim to strategic votes from the NDP plainly fails on all three grounds.)

There may well be other grounds on which to base a genuine strategic vote in this election - particularly if one sees potential for greater influence through an elected Senate, and thus votes strategically for a Con government on that basis. (That said, I wouldn't see much immediate opportunity for most other parties to win substantial influence that way, so #2 would likely be problematic.)

In any event, the underlying premise is that one should vote so as to ensure that one's own vision for the country is best reflected in future governments. In some exceptional cases which meet the above criteria, that may mean voting for a different party solely for the purpose of better positioning one's own preferred option in the future. For the most part, though, it'll mean voting for the party that best matches one's political vision.

Update: Idealistic Pragmatist notes that the Cons are willing to at least talk about PR as the NDP's price for support in a minority. I'd want to see Harper do much more than just "discuss" the issue before the NDP supported any substantial part of the Cons' platform, but there's definitely an opportunity for a deal if the NDP wins the balance of power.


Having been tagged by Greg, five weird things about me:

1. While I've been an NDP backer as long as I've had any knowledge about politics, most people assume I'm a conservative until they talk politics with me in substantial depth for the first time.
2. When I was 4-5 years old, I made a hobby out of drawing maps of imagined cities. (Despite that, I never seriously considered city planning, engineering or architecture as a career.)
3. My third year of law school, while the vast majority of my classmates were eager to get their degrees over with, I was the lone one in the crowd who enjoyed school enough not to want the program to finish that year.
4. Bananas were one of my favourite foods until I was two years old, but I haven't been able to stand them since.
5. I may be the only drummer I know of who is stronger at virtually every other aspect of drumming (technique, dynamics, improvisation, group interaction) than at keeping a consistent pace.

Tags to: Dale, John, Deron, Candace and Chad. Name five weird things about yourself and tag five other victims.