Saturday, December 23, 2006


Calgary Grit discusses the lessons to be drawn from Paul Wells' new book:
I think the main lesson to be taken from the book is that the Scouts have been on to something with their "Be Prepared" motto. After reading the book, you get the sense is that the Tories lost in 2004 because they just weren't ready to fight a campaign. In 2006, it was the Liberals who weren't prepared for an early election whereas the CPC had a tightly choreographed campaign down to the hour...until the last two weeks when Harper ran out of messaging and things went sour, likely costing him a majority. Liberals eager for a spring non-confidence vote would be wise to remember what happens to parties who are rushed into elections.
Meanwhile, the National Post points out just how effective Stephane Dion's current logistical team looks at the moment:
Reporters arriving at the posh downtown Toronto Club for (Dion's) scheduled meeting with business leaders were informed by a much put-upon concierge that the Liberal leader was in fact meeting them at First Canadian Place, a few blocks away. "On the fourth floor I'm told. We've had some inquiries," he said. The receptionist at the bustling banking centre did not know Mr. Dion's whereabouts and a call to the Liberal leader's office was met with apologetic confusion. "He's not there? That explains why we've been getting calls," said the unidentified staff member...

Mr. Dion's next appearance with Chinese media at a mall in Markham faced similar troubles. A greeting party at the Markham Chinese Cultural Centre waited patiently before sending out a rescue party to find the absent leader, eventually locating him wandering through the mall's labyrinth of Chinese restaurants, knick-knack shops and bubble tea stands looking for the centre's storefront office with a bemused expression on his face. "Who is that?" asked the owner of a small Chinese grocery as Mr. Dion was guided past by local Liberal MP John McCallum. "Fanny? Fanny who?"
The public may indeed see Dion as a blank canvas so far. But the available picture to date doesn't suggest that he and his team are anywhere near ready for presentation - and that may be a tough image for Dion to erase in time for Canada's next trip to the polls.

Patronage: The Gift that Keeps On Giving

It's not as if the Cons' promise to adhere to the rules of the Accountability Act even prior to the acts implementation hadn't been ripped to shreds already. But PMS is apparently out to see just how much patronage he can get away with in the meantime, making over three dozen oversight-free appointments just before a new public appointments commission is due to arrive on the scene:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper slipped through a rash of Conservative patronage appointments after the pre-Christmas exodus from Parliament Hill...

NDP MP Pat Martin was furious about the rush of patronage appointments, noting Harper's new public appointments commission is to take effect on New Year's Day under the much-vaunted Public Accountability Act.

"This is really crass and insulting to the new process they promised to respect," said Martin. "The appointments commission was supposed to mark the end of patronage pork-barrelling."

Martin said Harper may have intentionally filled some of the postings before the deadline for the new appointments panel because "they may not have survived the scrutiny of an independent review."...

Though the round of more than 40 appointments included professional appointments and at least one prominent Liberal former MP Roy MacLaren as an internal trade panellist along with McDougall it was sprinkled liberally with Conservatives.
The article points out at least 8 new appointees with prominent Con ties - meaning that there's certainly a large element of Harper giving a massive holiday gift to well-connected Cons.

But even political affiliation is only a secondary issue compared to Harper's public display of contempt toward the oversight process which they used to claim was needed. And with the Cons going out of their way to sidestep the principles which led them to power, there's no reason for Canadians to trust that they'll follow through on any new set of promises going into another election.

(h/t to Walkswithcoffee.)

Tangible benefits

The Cons' attempt to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board for purely ideological reasons has surfaced as a major issue over the past couple of months. But for those wondering just how what effect the Canadian Wheat Board actually has on farmers, a new study has the answer:
An analysis of the Canadian Wheat Board's marketing of barley says the current system nets farmers $60 million more annually than the alternative.

The report, completed for the wheat board by a team of researchers, including the University of Saskatchewan's Richard Gray, looked at the world trade from 1995 to 2004 for malt and feed barley. It shows consistent benefits for producers under the current single-desk system...

The study, which provides an overview of world barley trade from 1995 though 2004 for malting and feed barley with forecast sales under a multiple-seller system, indicates there would have been a $59-million annual loss in barley producer revenues if a multiple-seller structure had been in place through that time...

An open system would cause the annual average price of barley to decline, Gray said. The study showed that between 1995 and 2004, there would have been a $35.25 per tonne annual average price difference for six-row malting barley and a $40.29 per tonne annual average price difference for two-row between what the wheat board received and what a multiple-seller structure could have earned in that time.
With barley producers soon to vote in their own plebiscite on whether or not to maintain the Board's single-desk status, it's striking to see just how much more value it adds - and just how much more trouble producers would likely face without the benefits of the Board. And that should make rural Canada all the more suspicious of a government which seems eager to demolish those benefits for no reason other than their own ideological whims.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Rightful suspicions

CBC reports that the Cons have put a final touch on the year's Canadian Wheat Board shenanigans by granting unprecedented bonuses to all Board employees. But whether or not the bonuses will succeed in winning friends among the employees, the farmers who'll ultimately decide the Wheat Board's future don't sound particularly impressed:
Ritter said he was disturbed to hear that some critics believe the bonuses are "hush money" and an attempt to buy the silence of employees on the debate over the future of the board...

The bonuses were the talk of farm country Friday, according to one Saskatchewan farmer.

Gordon Wilson said he went to visit his local equipment dealer in Kindersley, Sask., Friday morning, and there were 20 other farmers there — all talking about the Christmas bonuses.

"If the employees deserve a bonus, they should get it, but at Christmas when the federal government and the Canadian Wheat Board are having a fight, I'm not sure if the logisitics (sic) of that seems right to me," Wilson said.
It's tough to say just what ulterior motive was at play: the "hush money" theory could well be the largest part of the motivation, ot maybe the plan is to portray the CWB as inefficient and wasteful by adding a gratuitous cost into the mix. But if it's nearly beyond doubt that there's more to the payout than is being stated up front, it appears to be entirely beyond doubt that farmers don't think the Cons can be taken at face value. Which suggests that the Cons' self-proclaimed reputation for honesty has taken a severe beating due to their attempts to undermine the Wheat Board - and that as a result of their war against a single-desk Board, they won't likely be believed in other areas either.

A growing trend

Last summer's theory appears to have translated into reality, as StatsCan has confirmed that migration from Alberta to Saskatchewan is on the rise:
People who left Saskatchewan for the seemingly greener pastures of Alberta may be starting to come home, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.

The third-quarter preliminary population numbers show Saskatchewan received roughly 3,700 migrants from Alberta between July and September of this year, compared to 2,400 during the same time period in 2005...

Doug Elliott, publisher of Sask Trends Monitor, said the StatsCan report clearly shows people in Alberta are moving back to Saskatchewan -- something that has been talked about for a while but hadn't been evidenced in data. While the province's out-migration rate is roughly the same as a year earlier, the in-migration has increased by 33 per cent over last quarter.

"The bottom line is this will probably be sustainable for a while because it doesn't fluctuate from quarter to quarter," said Elliott.

"We saw an improvement in the first quarter, a little better improvement in the second quarter, a little more improvement in the third quarter. It is unlikely things will suddenly go wrong."
It remains to be seen how long the trend will last - and indeed hopefully this will only be the beginning of a wave toward Saskatchewan as workers realize the value of a location which offers not only job availability, but also the benefits of low-cost and high-convenience living. In any event, though, it's a plus that Saskatchewan's efforts to attract more people are already bearing fruit.

Rewarding failure

The Cons' complete disconnect between positive results and government rewards continues, as CBC reports that the private security firm responsible for a near-complete lack of screening during parts of October had its contract renewed shortly thereafter:
CBC News reported Wednesday that a job dispute in mid-October at Pearson International Airport led to as many as 250,000 people passing through security with minimal checks or none at all.

Transport Canada confirmed there had been a problem; an investigation said the "security screening process was circumvented … in some cases, it was abandoned altogether."

Federal regulations stipulate that at least 25 per cent of carry-on luggage must be searched by hand.

The report said that on Oct. 10, no bags were searched and X-ray images were ignored; the next day, "strollers were allowed through the screening point without being searched."

Garda World Security Corp. holds the security contract at the airport and 27 other Canadian airports, including those in Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton.

Company officials would not comment, but the security contract with CATSA has given the company a big boost.

On Nov. 6 — just three weeks after the problem at Pearson — Garda announced CATSA had extended its contract for two years, from April 1 next year to March 31, 2009...

NDP transport critic Peter Julian said he was troubled that Garda's security contract had been extended: "What is going on? I mean, this is a company that failed at its job and seems to be getting rewarded for a job it's not doing correctly."

Security experts, including Peter St. John, said Canada was lucky to duck an attack during the security lapse.
While Lawrence Cannon has suggested that the government is investigating the screening failure, there's no apparent reason why a final decision on Garda's contract should have been made while a glaring breach of statute (and presumably contract as well) was still under investigation - and even less excuse for CATSA or Cannon not to have known about the breach nearly a month after the fact. And since Garda will have precious little reason to change for the better if its own income is locked in either way, it looks all too likely that Canadian air travel will be far less secure than it should be for at least another two and a half years.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A need for action

Randy Burton makes a good point in noting one of the reasons why new environmental legislation is needed sooner rather than later:
(W)ithout the much-abused Clean Air Act, the $345 million that Ambrose and Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl promised on Wednesday can't begin to flow. The whole program is based on mandating a national five per cent ethanol content in gasoline by 2010, which is part of the Clean Air Act. That's what guarantees the market for renewable fuels, and thus the market for the grain. In short, no Clean Air Act, no bonanza for Saskatchewan farmers...

Industry proponents believe both the Liberals and the NDP are on side with the objectives of biofuels. The trick lies in reaching a compromise on the bill that will allow the Opposition parties to support it.
Of course, there's no reason why the opposition parties shouldn't be able to cooperate to include the biofuel target (and, if possible, any applicable tax incentives as well) within a consensus bill to be fast-tracked before any final decision on next year's budget. But if some agreement can't be reached before the next trip to the polls, the Cons will receive an undeserved chance to further strengthen their rural strongholds - which will make it tougher for both the NDP and the Libs to reach their own electoral goals.


Let's take a closer look at something alluded to in this afternoon's post, as PMS tries to weasel his way out of a question about his micromanagement of his party:
He also responded to the criticism that, despite having once talked about the importance of giving MPs and cabinet ministers more power, he is one of the most controlling prime ministers to hold the job in some time.

"I'm not sure I would agree with that," he said. "I think ministers exercise a fair degree of discretion in their own jurisdictions. What we do try and do is co-ordinate so we know what everyone else is doing."
Now, it's no surprise that ministers have a reasonable amount of control over their own files. But the larger control issues have surrounded Harper's refusal to allow MPs to speak in the House of Commons without vetting from his office - a problem which was obviously encompassed in the question, but conveniently avoided in Harper's answer.

Sadly, the article doesn't call PMS on the non-response. But it's all too likely that any more focused question would simply have been deflected as well - as there's clearly no good reason for the Cons' policy aside from a fundamental distrust of their own MPs. Which leads once again to the question of why Canadians should put their trust in representatives whose own party doesn't see them as worthy to speak or act without preapproval.

Trost Nobody

He may not quite be Stockwellian in terms of sheer detachment from reality. But Brad Trost nonetheless manages to make himself, his party and his presumptive provincial allies look bad in a single letter to the Leader-Post.

Trost opens with this:
In Murray Mandryk's column of Dec. 12, Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert quotes from my spring 2005 newsletter.

To be fair, readers should see the entire quote: "To the province of Saskatchewan this would mean $800 million a year according to Library of Parliament estimates. What could $800 million do for the province of Saskatchewan? What could it do for the people? What is it in practical, concrete terms? Let me give a couple of examples: Saskatchewan could have 260 MRI machines, which perhaps is too many, but the province could have them. It could have 26 four-lane bridges with full cloverleaf entrances. Again it is probably more than we need, but that is how many we could have."

Mandryk implied that I and other Conservative MPs have something to apologize for when we cited the above number ($800 million) as an example of what changes in the equalization formula could do for Saskatchewan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In our election platform, we promised to remove natural resources from equalization and make a formula that was fair to the entire country. We will deliver on those promises. What number that will translate into for Saskatchewan on a year-by-year basis will of course vary -- something any intelligent person would understand.
Now, the context is indeed important - in showing just how implausible Trost's current claim is. In Trost's view, mentioning the "$800 million" figure twice, along with two concrete examples of what could be purchased with precisely $800 million, followed by the statement "that is how many we could have" under the policy change in supposed to add up to a declaration that his quote referred to "some yet-to-be-determined figure other than $800 million".

And in classic Con style, Trost then promptly backs up his nonsensical claim with the time-honoured tradition of insulting the intelligence of anybody who chose to read his previous words according to their actual meaning, rather than whatever interpretation is most favourable to the Cons at any given moment.

Next, Trost seems to want to make a point about the evils of socialism - but instead shows only that the Saskatchewan Party's usual bogeyman couldn't be any further from how the NDP actually governs Saskatchewan:
If the province of Saskatchewan is well managed and becomes one of Canada's wealthiest provinces, the province will not receive large equalization payments. However, if the premier were to follow a policy regime that is purely socialist, I am sure he could create a Saskatchewan recession -- one that would enable the province to receive considerably more than $800 million.
The "socialist" straw man is always a favoured one of the Sask Party as well. But given that the Calvert government currently has the province well on the positive side of the ledger and about as far as possible from a recession, Trost succeeds only in showing just how far the provincial NDP government is from the extreme that the Sask Party usually pretends it's arguing against.

Finally, having finished his attack on language, logic and some unspecified non-NDP socialist party, Trost mounts a full-on assault against reality:
(I)t should be noted that only the Conservatives are fighting for Saskatche-wan to receive the full benefits of its natural resources. The Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois are opposed to Saskatchewan receiving these benefits and the federal NDP has studiously avoided the issue. Calvert should be lobbying federal NDP Leader Jack Layton to support the Conservatives.
I'm not entirely sure just how unstudious Trost himself was and is in setting his frame of reference. But for a leader who's "studiously avoided" the issue of the equalization accord and/or formula sought by Calvert and promised by the Cons, Layton sure has a long history of pushing it in speeches, debates and the House of Commons.

In fairness, Trost's letter may accomplish something positive for his leader at least, showing just why PMS doesn't trust his MPs (and indeed changes the subject when asked about his supposed intention of empowering them). But if Saskatchewan's Con MPs don't have anything remotely useful or plausible to say when asked about their past commitments to the province, then Harper should rightly have a lot less of those sub-par MPs to keep in check after the next federal election.

Update: Saskatchewan's NDP has even more examples of Layton's involvement.

Unimproved relations

Yet another success story in the Cons' attempt to butter up the U.S., as Bushco has publicly responded to the question of why Maher Arar is still on a U.S. watch list with a resounding "none of your business". We'll find out soon whether Sen. Patrick Leahy can get some answers from within the American political system, but it's all the more obvious that the Cons' strategy continues to accomplish nothing when it comes to Canada's interests.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why Canada Needs the NDP

Having started the "Why Canada needs the NDP" discussion topic, I'll take a few minutes to put forward my thoughts on what the NDP offers which sets it apart in Canadian federal politics.

Canada needs a party whose progressive principles don't turn on a dime based on the polls, yet which holds enough clout to get those principles turned into policy.

Canada needs a party which recognizes that the development of social goods enriches the lives of individual Canadians - and conversely that excessive decentralization and delegation leave a void which can't be filled by lower levels of community.

As pointed out by Kenn, Canada needs a party which will fight for minority rights even when victory isn't a foregone conclusion.

Canada needs a party which recognizes that national prosperity isn't measured solely through corporate profits and upper-class incomes.

Canada needs a party which sees democracy and accountability as fundamental values to be applied both internally and in the political system as a whole - not as luxuries to be discarded when inconvenient, or as punishments to be inflicted on others.

Canada needs a party which recognizes that government can do good - and which doesn't see that fact as an excuse to do good for its friends first and the public second.

Ultimately, Canada needs a political conscience. And while I hope to see the NDP keep increasing its stature and eventually form government, that role is one which no other party or group can credibly play anywhere near as well as the NDP - no matter where the NDP sits in the polls or seat count at a given moment.

A call to action

I'm not entirely sure why some Blogging Dippers seem pleased with Kady O'Malley's hack job on both bloggers and the party alike. (At what point did "cranky" or "turning on their own" become compliments?) But it seems clear from my perspective that O'Malley has gone too far in pretending that a push to modernize communications can be linked to an "existential crisis" for the NDP as a whole.

With that link now a significant part of the discussion, there's a need for more than just the consultation process for an improved Internet strategy which a few bloggers have started up - though that too is an important effort.

Instead, we also need to put forward our own views of what the NDP's positive message is and should be - not only what medium to use to get that message out. Which should not only answer O'Malley and others who seem to think that Lib/Green cooperation spells the end of the NDP, but also demonstrate the type of creativity in the blogosphere which can help shape the NDP's future.

So, my call to all Blogging Dippers (and any other bloggers who agree that the NDP plays a vital role in federal politics):

Put up a post today on the topic of "why Canada needs the NDP", and leave a link to that post in the comments.

I'll update this post with links to each one that goes up. And if we can put together a list which the NDP can itself use at the core of a new communications strategy, that should show beyond doubt that while we have to work toward consensus on how best to communicate our shared values, those values are still an essential force in Canadian politics.

Update: Robert theorizes that the coverage isn't really a negative since it'll bring traffic to the Blogging Dippers. The problem, though, is that aside from a single link to the Blogging Dippers site, O'Malley scrupulously linked only to posts critical of the NDP (and the NDP alone). And it's far from clear that many people will bother clicking through the individual post to the main page of any given blog.

The posts so far:
Accidental Deliberations
April Reign
Idealistic Pragmatist*
My journey with AIDS
Northern BC Dipper*

*These posts were written before the actual call, but as pointed out by Deanna they nicely fit into the subject.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Making an example

It certainly isn't news that the head of Canadian Wheat Board president and CEO Adrian Measner was on the chopping block.

But the Cons' decision to follow through on firing him offers the highest-profile example to date of the Cons' all-too-obvious attitude that ideological fealty is a higher priority than competence or knowledge. And now that the Cons have provided such a well-publicized application of their warped mindset, it's not hard to anticipate the fallout extending far beyond CWB supporters to Canadians of all backgrounds who set their own priorities more sensibly.

A qualified positive

It's undoubtedly good news that the Cons have announced plans to extend funding to housing and social services. But in true Con style, they couldn't accomplish anything positive without ataching a couple of significant negatives.

First, there's the change in name from "National Homelessness Initiative" to "Homelessness Partnering Strategy". At best, this could be seen as a petty waste of money, sticking Canadian citizens with the cost of the Cons' effort to wipe out all memory of any meritorious initiatives which may have existed under the Libs. And at worst, it seems like a way to try to attach the "partnering" title to a social good in order to create some positive associations for a couple of highly dubious plans.

Second, it's worth noting that by the Cons' own standards regarding the previously-existing Kelowna Accord and child-care agreements, any federal spending commitment beyond the current year isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Which makes it all too likely that the Cons would renege on the second year's worth of funding in a second if they somehow managed to win a majority in the meantime.

Approaching equalization

It's no great surprise that Lorne Calvert and Danny Williams are working together to get non-renewable resource revenues excluded from the equalization formula. More surprising, though, is that a province which was once onside appears to have backed away from that position:
Other provinces, such as Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, want non-renewable resource revenue included in a new formula, which is used to calculate equalization payments for each of the so-called have-not provinces.
If Ontario is indeed now the main driving force in the opposite direction, that's rather a huge turnaround given what Dalton McGuinty had to say a few months ago:
After meeting with Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert on Thursday, McGuinty said he won't oppose excluding non-renewable resource revenues for the complicated federal revenue-sharing formula.

"I've told Lorne that I certainly will not argue against that," McGuinty told reporters at the Saskatchewan legislature.

"I've come away today with a much better understanding of Saskatchewan's perspective and I also must say that I don't know how the prime minister is going to be able to move away from the commitment he made to exclude non-renewables from the calculations of equalization."
It's not clear now what exactly happened between then and now. But if Calvert and Williams are correct in saying that B.C. and Alberta are also onside, then McGuinty's promised support might well be enough to crystallize a consensus on the issue (subject to suitable accommodations for less resource-rich provinces). Which means that Ontario's government will have a lot of explaining to do if Canadian provinces end up stuck with a Con-imposed structure due to its own change of position.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Political climate change

While the CP does its best to spin the story into a negative, Jack Layton's call for agreement on environmental legislation should nonetheless play a huge part in shaping Parliament on its return - not to mention Canadian political dialogue in the meantime:
Layton, speaking at a year-end news conference Monday, challenged the other federal parties to help him rewrite the (Clean Air Act) that's currently before a Commons committee.

"This Parliament could completely reconstruct - in fact construct anew - legislation that would get the job done," he said.

"I'm in direct touch with the other party leaders to convince them that early not only essential, but it's something that we can do. There's no reason for delay."

Layton maintains it's possible to amend the Tory bill, debate the changes and pass the legislation within weeks once MPs return to work at the end of January. That timetable could make it law before Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivers his next budget.
Given what I wrote a week ago, it shouldn't come as much surprise that I'm glad to see Layton make the move.

Of course there's never a guarantee that the parties will be able to ultimately agree on a bill in the end. (Nor for that matter that the Libs will be interested in paying attention to what can be done now.) But thanks to Layton, there's now a real possibility of effective action on the environment as soon as a couple of months from now - perhaps even with an all-party consensus in Parliament if the Cons are smart enough not to try to challenge an agreed opposition bill. And that surely has to be a far better outcome than waiting for another change in government before moving forward.


Murray Dobbin nicely points out the traditional problem with Lib governments, and the virtual certainty that an unchecked Dion regime will run head-long into the same difficulty:
Dion is a passionate believer in the positive, activist role of government. He ran a leadership campaign based on three pillars: a strong (government guided) economy, sustainable development and social justice.

What we need to keep foremost in our calculations leading into the election is that the only way those three pillars have any chance of ever seeing the light of day is if Dion leads a minority government. If Dion wins a majority, the full weight of the corporate media, Bay Street, the right wing bureaucracy and the conservatives in his caucus will grind down whatever is good in Stephane Dion.
Unfortunately, though, Dobbin takes a wrong turn in analyzing what this means for the NDP:
The NDP needs to engage the public by campaigning on keeping the Liberals honest. They will give Dion the support -- critical, to be sure -- he needs to fight off the reactionary forces that will naturally align against him.

The NDP can, with this strategy, deal directly with the "wasted vote" phenomenon that has plagued them for decades by appealing to voters as a party that will in fact hold real power -- the power to force the Liberals to keep their promises.
It's fair enough to say that an NDP balance of power is the most likely positive outcome of the next federal election. And it's certainly not such a bad idea to reiterate the NDP's willingness to work constructively with the Libs however the race turns out - though it's hard to see how that could be in doubt in any event.

That said, however, the NDP can't afford to fall into the old trap of setting its goals so low as to validate the Libs' implied claim that an election is really a two-party race. And the danger would only be exacerbated if the NDP were to campaign only as the party most likely to ensure implementation of the Libs' platform, rather than one with its own set of principles worthy of support.

Which isn't to say that Dobbin's proposed message can't be adapted to one with both more upside and less downside. But at the very least, such a message needs to emphasize the actual reactionary elements linked to the Libs, along with Dion's willingness to play along with them - not the hope that Dion will ultimately oppose them given the chance (which is presumably a case that Dion should have to make for himself). And even then, it'll still remain essential to point out that the absolute best the Libs might have to offer isn't as positive or progressive a vision as can be supported directly through a vote for the NDP.

A failed revolution

Remember back when Stephane Dion was going to lead a $100 revolution to put an end to "big money campaigns"?

If so, then now may be a good time to remind Mr. Dion of the idea. Which you can do if you're willing and able to spend more on breakfast with him than most Canadians make all day - or if you're one of the "high-profile business executives" deemed worthy of a free lunch.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Leading nowhere

The Cons' international leadership strikes again, as the continued demands for added sacrifices by PMS and others have helped pave the way for...a pullout of French special forces from Afghanistan. Which will presumably allow the Cons to further claim moral superiority for their willingness to force Canadian troops to absorb an ever-increasing proportion of the damage.

Not the way to protect freedom

The CP reports that The Greatest Canadian was treated as a threat to Canada by the RCMP during his time in public life - and, even more laughably, years after he left the national stage:
"(Tommy) Douglas has been known personally by and has associated with leftists, peace movement workers and (Communist Party of Canada) members for years. He has allowed his name to stand publicly on many occasions in relation to support of issues sponsored by leftist groups. On the basis of information contained in this file, it is difficult to determine the full depth of sympathy and involvement or influence, if any, these groups or their philosophies have over him. It is felt, however, there is much we do not know about Douglas and the file should be maintained in order to correlate any additional information that surfaces which might assist in piecing this jigsaw puzzle together." - A late 1970s RCMP memo suggesting Douglas's file be kept active.
A good chunk of the information on Douglas remains sealed, meaning that the full extent of the RCMP's surveillance remains unknown. But it's all too clear that Canada's intelligence service spent an awful lot of time and energy looking for reason to be suspicious of Douglas and others - and it's worth wondering to what extent our current public figures are under similar surveillance now.

On communications

There's been no lack of talk today about the NDP's internal communications structure, with the focus primarily on Communications Director Brad Lavigne. While I agree that there's a need for a significant shift in how the NDP looks at communications, my suspicion is that any problem has more to do with the party's general view of communications than with Lavigne himself - though there are at least some reasons to think the NDP is taking small steps in the right direction.

I'll start by noting that I agree with seemingly all the posts so far to the extent that the NDP has largely failed to recognize the massive potential of citizen media - and that it of all parties can't afford to miss the boat. That said, it's worth taking a slightly different angle as to just what problems need to be addressed.

First of all, I'd suggest that the NDP's problem doesn't lie in a lack of interest in the potential of the Web. In fact, the NDP made use of some effective viral marketing in the last federal election, and continues to do well at times in the top-down communications department.

What about Northern BC Dipper's concern that the party has simply taken its message in the wrong direction in paying loads of attention to Afghanistan rather than domestic issues? While hindsight is 20/20 on that one, it's worth remembering that at the time the NDP started off on that course, Michael Ignatieff still looked like a heavy favourite to win the Lib leadership, making Afghanistan a potential wedge issue to differentiate the NDP from both the Libs and Cons. In contrast, Ignatieff seemed determined to at least talk a big game on progressive economic issues - making those much less promising as a means of setting the NDP apart.

I'd thus chalk the ultimate result up to an effective Lib counterstrategy in choosing a leader who eliminates that wedge by largely agreeing with the NDP's message. And while that certainly poses problems for the NDP now, it doesn't mean the idea was a bad one to begin with - as the NDP could easily have ended up the sole federal party on the right side of a major election issue.

I thus don't agree that the problem is so much either in a complete aversion to any medium, or in the NDP's choice of issues to highlight. That said, let's look at the problems which clearly do need to be addressed - and Northern BC Dipper does highlight a couple of those.

First, there's Lavigne's apparent attempt to criticize the media in lieu of offering a clear statement himself on the NDP's Afghanistan position. I'd certainly agree that the communications director should have a concise statement of the party's own view ready to go under those circumstances - not a diatribe against the media for failing to get an unstated message. I'm not sure to what extent this is a consistent problem rather than a one-time event, but it's certainly something which any communications director should avoid.

The next issue pointed out by NBCD is the question of the NDP's e-mailing strategy. And while NBCD focuses on the content of the Dion e-mail in particular, I'd think the problem goes much deeper. Rather than putting in an effort to determine who's on the party's mailing list and why (which would allow for messages only to go to those likely to be interested in a particular topic), the NDP currently seems to be using e-mail as a broadcast medium to get as much of its message out to as many people as possible - whether or not the recipient is likely to have any affinity to the particular message, and even where there's a real danger of recipients tuning out based on the number of messages received.

Which hints at what I'd see as the ultimate question. Namely, is the NDP looking to use the Internet (along with other media) solely as a conduit for its mass messages? Or is it interested both in presenting content more personal than press releases, and in seeking input from others beyond the party's inner circle?

If the answer to the first question is "yes", then the NDP is plainly missing out on much of the potential of citizen media. But there have been at least a few steps suggesting that the Dippers are at least willing to adopt some of the language: following Lavigne's apparent dismissal of blogs generally, the NDP at least provided room on its site for a few rudimentary blogs about its own convention, then gave MP Nathan Cullen space for instant coverage of the Lib convention. Which could be particularly noteworthy in that it shows the party isn't limiting its coverage to NDP-friendly events.

The problem, of course, is that those blogs have themselves been both entirely one-way, and not particularly personal. And it won't do the NDP much good to pick up on the word "blog" alone without reaching out to its own blogging supporters, providing a mechanism for interested Canadians to themselves participate in an online discussion, or at the very least making use of blogs to present some relatively unique content rather than simply another iteration of the party's usual message.

The good news is that it's not as if the NDP has to start from nothing: it has a substantial group of bloggers already looking to show its support, and probably many other citizens interested in adding their two cents' worth. And while both the Libs and Cons have perhaps done more in reaching out to bloggers to date, both also still seem to maintain complete isolation on their own respective websites. Which means that it's not too late for the NDP to be a trailblazer in putting together an online community to complement its existing party structure.

But that will require the NDP to recognize that the bonds and interest that are built through a public exchange of ideas are more than worth the inevitable costs (both in the need for moderators, and in the loss of total message control). Which strikes me as the ultimate question surrounding any possible communications director: not merely what message the NDP seeks to put forward at any given moment, but rather whether that person is willing to make sure that communications move in both directions. And if Lavigne or any other future director continues to try to present only a one-way conversation, then it's all too likely that less and less Canadians will be willing to listen.

Update: Of the additional discussion that's taken place, Devin Johnston has probably the best suggestion in proposing that the NDP create a new national position to handle online operations separate from the current communications portfolio.

Another update: Having linked to Devin's original post, as a time saver I'll also link to his correction as to the individuals involved.

(Edit: typo and fixed link.)

Still non-binding

Pundits and bloggers alike who should know better have bought into part of PMS' spin on Senate "consultations":
Doubters will point out that without constitutional change, ultimate veto power will still land in the lap of the prime minister.

So what? It would be foolhardy for a prime minister to ignore a senator chosen in a Senate election.
In practice, the Prime Minister would have a hell of a time explaining why he or she didn't choose the populations first choice...
Needless to say, it would come as news to at least five putative Senators-Elect that a federal government wouldn't dare to override the results of any vote aimed at choosing a province's Senate representatives, or would feel the need to spend much time explaining such a choice. And it's hard to see how the mere fact that a voting scheme originated at the federal level would make that much of a difference - particularly when it can so easily be classified as a cynical ploy by a PM notorious for breaking his own promises regarding the Senate.

Ultimately, the question that matters most is whether any Senate vote will be seen as legitimate and/or binding by Canadians as a whole. And given how little support there's been for Harper's scheme aside from those who would have tried to claim just as much legitimacy for Alberta's past votes, it seems likely that even if the plan were to pass, any vote would be ignored far more easily (no matter which party held power) than PMS would like his base to believe.