Saturday, April 21, 2007

On nostalgia

Shorter Fred Langan:
At the moment, Canada doesn't have many glaring tax loopholes. Which is why I miss the good ol' days.

Can't stand it, I know you planned it

Shorter Babbling Brooks:
War is peace. Truth is sabotage. Ignorance is strength.

Political Sabermetrics Part 1: The Big Picture

Last weekend, I mentioned that I'll be taking a look at how Canadian political parties spend their money to see what role money plays in our political scene, and how parties can make better use of it. While most of that discussion will take place at the riding level, it's worth starting off with a look at the national scene to see both how money was spent in the 2006 election, and what kind of return parties received on it.

Let's start with a table of what strikes me as the most relevant data from the election, followed by some discussion of what it means. First off, the basic data from the 2006 election:

PartyElection Expenses$ ReimbursedVotes
Conservative Party of Canada$18,019,179.28$9,009,589.645,374,071
Liberal Party of Canada$17,447,130.00$8,719,845.004,479,415
New Democratic Party$13,524,524.81$6,735,433.462,589,597
Bloc Québécois$4,527,629.97$2,261,702.491,553,201
Green Party of Canada$910,979.08$455,489.54665,940
Christian Heritage Party$63,257.45n/a28,152
Progressive Canadian Party$5,777.38n/a14,446

By way of explanation, the second column features each party's election expenses as declared in its Election Expenses Return (see row 10 of the PDFs at the link). For parties who receive a sufficient amount of a riding or national vote, the amount in the third column represents a roughly 50% reimbursement of its election expenses. To my knowledge this funding isn't yet available to smaller parties, unlike the $1.75/year/vote annual funding which now covers all registered parties.

Let's add in one more chart which helps to interpret the above numbers:

PartyAnnual Funding$/Vote
Conservative Party of Canada$9,404,624.25$3.35
Liberal Party of Canada$7,838,976.25$3.89
New Democratic Party$4,531,794.75$5.22
Bloc Québécois$2,718,101.75$2.92
Green Party of Canada$1,165,395.00$1.37
Christian Heritage Party$49,266.00$2.25
Progressive Canadian Party$25,280.50$0.40
The amount in the second column is determined by multiplying each party's vote total by $1.75. Keep in mind that while all of the other numbers in the table are of one-time application, this one determines federal party funding on an annual basis until the next federal election.

Finally, the third column reflects each party's 2006 election expenses divided by the number of votes received. Note that while parties will generally want to be efficient in allocating their money, that doesn't mean that a low number necessarily reflects good planning: indeed, it may be highly inefficient for a party to choose to spend a low amount of money if it could have won more votes (and resulting funding) by spending more.

Note that I've included a couple of extra parties in the vote standings beyond the ones which contested all ridings nationally or regionally. My purpose in doing so is to provide some indication of how effective funding is for various party sizes...and I suspect I'll end up going back to add more parties to examine those implications in more detail.

So what can we learn from this chart? Let's stick with a couple of general observations for now.

First, the election funding system appears to offer enough money back to make elections at worst cost-neutral for Canadian political parties. Based on the combination of election-spending reimbursements and per-vote funding, every party listed would more than make up its election investment within two years of an election - and some within a matter of months.

Of course, parties would still want to pick up as many donations as possible for non-election spending. But while individual donations still have some significance, a party which spends money well during elections can bring enough money in to get by even if its outside fund-raising is unimpressive.

Second, let's note that there appear to be several possible strategic niches which a Canadian political party may pursue. It's possible for a smaller party to build itself up by spending little money and amassing resources over time. At very low levels of spending, it looks like virtually any additional financial input will turn out to be money well spent based on the per-vote funding. And at a relatively moderate spending level, a party can boost its financial returns again if it reaches the reimbursement thresholds (5% of the vote within a riding or 2% nationally).

In contrast, the cost appears to be significantly higher for the national parties which seriously contest seats. Any party looking to put itself in play for spots in Parliament can expect to spend a lot more money per vote in doing so - and indeed will likely have to spend at or near the overall limits (for a riding at least, and arguably nationally as well except for the Bloc) rather than seeking out the best possible financial return on investment.

I'll leave the discussion there for now. But there'll be lots more worth analyzing from both a systemic and a party level later on.

(Edit: split tables based on formatting.)

Just wondering...

Stephen Harper has taken plenty of well-deserved flak over his use of public money to fund an "image consultant" who doubles as a psychic. But I can't help thinking that this could have been avoided if the Cons had put a bit more systematic thought into what type of help they could get away with hiring.

With that in mind, can it be long before Harper decides to add a new "consultant image consultant" to keep track of the optimal size and composition of PMS' entourage?

(Edit: fixed label.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

An obvious solution

I'd think that after a year of Con government, I'd have seen enough of them not to be surprised by just how blatantly they seek to insult the intelligence of Canadians. But on a review of the Cons' anti-Kyoto temper tantrum, I can't avoid at least some astonishment at just how transparently the Cons' strategy remains based on a poor game of bait and switch. Even as John Baird's bluster about a forced recession has made headlines, the report itself contains an obvious means for Canada to meet its target for a very affordable price - if only the Cons weren't too caught up in their own rhetoric to apply it:
With unlimited access to international trading (regardless of "hot air" risk), the $25 per tonne international credit price assumed for the purposes of this analysis would effectively become the price ceiling for Canadian emitters, making it unnecessary to consider any domestic reductions at a cost above that price.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that this scenario would see international credits becoming the source of reductions for the vast majority of Canada's Kyoto target (the analysis presented above indicated that only a small portion of Canada's domestic emissions reductions could be achieved at a cost below $25 per tonne over the Kyoto period). This would dramatically lower the overall cost of reductions for Canadian emitters, and as a result would carry a much lower economic cost for Canada than presented above...

Assuming that 80% or so of Canada's Kyoto target would be met through international credits, somewhere in the range of $6 billion annually would be required for these purchases...
The Cons present two excuses for rejecting this option. Most prominently, there's their usual whine about "hot air" credits. Which of course remains in blissful ignorance of the fact that in agreeing to a deal, Kyoto's signatories obviously believed that such credits could form a legitimate means of emission management in the context of other action.

Interestingly, the report also relies heavily on a seemingly new claim that the "spirit" of Kyoto demands a focus on domestic reductions rather than international credits. Which means that the Cons are making a public show of using their invented claim about what Kyoto means to say as a justification for refusing to take action according to what the protocol actually says.

Mind you, there might be some real concern if Canada would be stuck purchasing credits in the long term. But it's clear from the report itself that there's no reason to think that to be true. Indeed, the report states in no uncertain terms that a relatively modest amount of longer-term planning is all that's needed for Canada to transition to more substantive domestic reductions:
(I)t is...assumed that there are no breakthroughs in current energy efficiency and other technologies pertaining to GHG emissions, or any dramatic reductions in the cost of access by Canadians to clean energy sources over the 2008 to 2012 period. Unforeseen developments on either of these fronts in the near future could also dramatically change the economic costs of meeting Canada's Kyoto target.

This last assumption is particularly important because, although it is quite reasonable for the purposes of this analysis, it also underscores the real source of the economic costs associated with Canada significantly reducing GHG emissions within the Kyoto period - a lack of time for business and consumers to smoothly transition to the changes required.
Of course, thanks presumably to Baird's direction, the report utterly ignores the obvious means of linking these two concepts, and fails to ask the question of why Canada couldn't meet its obligations in substantial part through purchases of credits to bridge the gap in which regulations can be implemented and necessary research funded. And with good reason from the standpoint of a party desperately looking for excuses for further inaction, as the answer would undercut the entire exercise in scaremongering: the most effective, least costly way of complying with Kyoto is plainly to bridge the gap with credits (including AAUs) while setting the groundwork for the real reductions which the Cons are still unwilling to consider.

What may be interesting to see going forward is whether the Cons' bad joke of an alternate solution to comply with Kyoto's requirements (in the form of a $195/ton carbon tax). If the opposition parties are thinking ahead, they should be emphasizing this assumption in particular: "John Baird thinks Canadians should pay eight times as much for carbon consumption as every other Kyoto country". And when the Cons attempt to respond by claiming there's no other alternative available, there's no lack of ready answers - which can only show all the more just how detached the Cons are from reality in their assumptions.

Ultimately, the only obstacle in the way of an entirely affordable, Kyoto-compliant transition for Canadian industry is the Cons' continued unwillingness to accept the terms that every Kyoto signatory agreed to a decade ago. And no matter how accomplished a blowhard Baird may be, it's hard to think anything but that the Cons are severely overestimating their ability to pull the wool over the eyes of voters who want to see action now.

An important assurance

The Ottawa Citizen reports that with Bill C-31 having unfortunately passed in the House of Commons, the NDP is now pushing the Senate to give another look to the supposed justification for more draconian voter ID rules. And part of the evidence which currently supports the NDP's position is worth keeping in mind for later on:
The NDP is urging the Senate to review tough new requirements for voter photo ID in federal elections after Canada's new chief electoral officer said he has "no evidence" of widespread electoral fraud.

NDP House leader Libby Davies raised the concern after elections chief Marc Mayrand told a Commons committee yesterday the next federal election will cost $275 million even without technological and publicity changes that will be needed once mandatory photo identification is implemented...

When Ms. Davies raised the issue of potential fraud with Mr. Mayrand, he told the committee: "One thing I can assure you is that there is no evidence of systemic fraud" in federal elections.
Remember that Mayrand himself was nominated to the position by Harper earlier this year. As a result, Mayrand presumably can't be counted as a villain by the right-wing fringe as Jean-Pierre Kingsley was.

With no partisan basis for complaint, it should be next to impossible for the Cons to impugn his testimony. And as long as Mayrand's evidence is kept in the public eye, it should help to prevent the Cons from moving any further toward the voter suppression and politically-motivated prosecutions that play such a prominent part in the U.S. Republicans' playbook.

Leading the charge

After more than a month of unconfirmed discussion, the Gazette reports that Thomas Mulcair will indeed run for the NDP in the next federal election - and that Mulcair declined a pitch from the Cons in order to do so:
Jack Layton (will announce today) that former Quebec environment minister Thomas Mulcair has agreed to run as (the NDP's) star candidate in the province, The Gazette has learned.

"We are obviously very excited," said a source close to Layton...

If no general election is held this spring, the party would consider running Mulcair in a by-election in a riding like Outremont, which former Liberal transport minister Jean Lapierre vacated in late January, and where the NDP ran a respectable third in the 2006 election...

While Mulcair had been actively courted behind the scenes by both the NDP and the Conservatives, sources close to him said he chose the NDP because he felt it is best positioned to make a difference when it comes to the environment.

Those sources said the Tories were interested in the ex-minister because they believed he could help improve their image on the environment, but he turned them down once he realized they were more interested in having him toe their line than in adopting his positions...

As environment minister, Mulcair beefed up enforcement of Quebec's environmental laws and was determined that Quebec meet its targets under Kyoto - even if it meant taking on his federal counterparts.
It would have been a significant plus merely for Mulcair to run for the NDP. But his reasons for doing so should do all the more to bolster some themes which the NDP will presumably make central to their campaign in Quebec: that the Cons simply aren't interested in listening to what needs to be done on the environment, and the NDP is in the best position to offer an alternative.

Of course, there remains plenty that needs to be done for the NDP to win one or more Quebec seats. But with the polls (both current and speculative) showing plenty of opportunity for the party, Mulcair's addition to the slate can only help to turn some of the obvious potential into reality.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Folding up the tent

A couple of notes on the news that the Green riding association in St. Catharines is considering dropping out of the race in order to support paleo-Lib Walt Lastewka.

First, it's worth contrasting the process being followed with that applied to the Axis of Ego deal. Whatever one thinks of whether or not the Greens should be abandoning what appears to have been relatively fertile ground in St. Catherines, at the very least the issue is being discussed publicly by the riding's grassroots members before the Greens commit to anything. And that more democratic way of making any accommodations makes the top-down impositions from Dion and May in their respective ridings appear all the less reasonable by comparison.

At the same time, though, it's worth pointing out that the Lib candidate doesn't appear the slightest bit interested in any kind of deal, while the Greens appear to be looking at an endorsement only with conditions:
Lastewka said Wednesday he has had no discussions with Fannon or other local Greens about the issue.

“Obviously anything that is a benefit to my campaign is not a bad thing, but I have not had discussions with anyone,” he said. “I am running on my record and on my experience.”...

“If Mr. Lastewka comes out in favour of proportional representation and pollution taxes, then I think he would get our endorsement,” Fannon said.
Remember again that even Dion didn't commit to anything approaching what the St. Catharines Greens appear to be demanding. Even if Lastewka wanted to commit to the Greens' terms, he'd still be subject to his own party's policies - which don't appear likely to fit the demand for support of proportional representation.

As a result, the Greens appear entirely likely to end up making a public declaration of their willingness to bow out without actually securing a deal. And that would presumably be nearly as much of a boon for Lastewka as a formal endorsement.

Finally, let's note that the cloud of promise-breaking surrounding the Greens is only getting thicker. It's sad enough that Elizabeth May plans to make Peter MacKay's false promises at the final PC leadership convention into an election issue even after herself breaking a clear leadership promise in cutting her deal with Dion. But now, the Greens are plainly putting themselves in a position to have a deal broken by the other side - much like David Orchard whose outrage the Greens are apparently trying to draw on.

After all, if the Greens decide to bow out based on a Lib promise as to their future policy positions, the Greens will lose any real ability to enforce the deal as soon as candidate registration ends in the riding - to say nothing of how powerless they'd be to dictate Lastewka's actions if he were to be elected. And if the Greens really are naive enough to think the Libs can be trusted unconditionally, then they'll only deserve the complete disillusionment that's coming to them.


The Cons' idea of environmental action once again consists of looking for excuses to avoid getting things done - this time in the form of their attempted "validation" of the claim that Canada's Kyoto commitments can't be met. But let's keep in mind why there's plenty of reason for skepticism both about the data itself, and the spin the Cons will presumably try to put on it.

To start with, let's remember what happened last time the Cons looked for outside support in trying to support their fiscal outlook. Shortly after Harper and company started trumpeting a Conference Board of Canada conclusion that their 2006 platform fit into Canada's fiscal means, it was revealed that two of the Cons' largest platform planks had been omitted entirely. As a result, the outside evaluation reflected something other than the Cons' actual plan.

Needless to say, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if the Cons are pulling the same type of trick now, manipulating the assumptions underlying their study to inflate the costs of Kyoto compliance. And it seems entirely likely that the Cons were so eager to leak the study's conclusions in order to win a desired headline before the underpinnings of the study get torn to shreds.

Moreover, the Cons' outside advice has already given indications of some serious problems within the study's assumptions. From the Globe and Mail's article:
(Don Drummond's) only substantial quibble with the Environment Canada study is that he's not sure the carbon tax would have a relatively constant impact in later years.
In other words, the Cons' own internal study is based on the premise that a tax set at a level which would supposedly decimate the economy somehow wouldn't result in substantial adaptation in order to avoid its effects. That isn't a basis for a mere "quibble", it's strong evidence that the Cons' study is utterly detached from reality.

And there's another serious red flag which Drummond unfortunately seems to have missed:
“The policy shock analyzed is massive: a one-third reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for each of the next five years,” Mr. Drummond writes.
It's not clear what baseline is being used for Canada's current emission levels. But I'm not aware of any data more recent than the 2004 National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. And as I've pointed out before, a cut to our Kyoto targets from that level means that Canada's required reductions would be a one-time, 26% drop from 2004 levels.

Of course, it's probably fair enough to say that emissions have risen somewhat in the meantime. But there's no rational basis to claim that in the past three years, emissions have increased to a point would lead to a required cut of a third every single year - which by my math ((2/3)^5), representing emissions being reduced to two-thirds of their former level five consecutive times) would have the effect of reducing emission levels by 87% by the last year. While such reductions would make for a noble goal if achievable, they don't appear to bear even the most basic relationship to Canada's Kyoto targets.

Finally, there's always the overriding issue that Canada's Kyoto commitments can be met through purchasing credits in addition to reducing emissions. And with the Cons supposedly on side with that idea, one more of the the underlying assumptions necessary to conclude that Canada can't comply with Kyoto falls away.

In sum, the Cons appear to be dumping a steaming pile of disinformation in hopes that Canadians won't pay much attention to what's included. But if the Cons aren't willing to be even faintly honest about either the required cuts or the economy's likely reaction to an attempt to meet them, there's every reason to think they know the facts aren't on their side.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A dictatorship would be so much easier

Shorter Con argument in trying (unsuccessfully) to win a stay of the judgment requiring a new nomination process for Rob Anders' riding:
If you force us to follow our rules in Calgary West, they'll expect us to do the same everywhere!

On misrepresentations

In her Globe and Mail chat today, Jane Taber highlights just why the "backroom" nature of the Lib/Green deal matters, as it was Elizabeth May herself who gave public assurances that no such deal existed when she declared her intention to run in Central Nova:
I wrote about this for Friday's paper, mentioning that Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May were to enter into this agreement. In that first article I noted that I interviewed Elizabeth May on CTV's Question Period in mid-March. Ms. May had declared on the show, which I co-host with CTV's Craig Oliver, that she was going to run in Central Nova against Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.

I asked her at the time whether she had made any deals with other political parties, simply because this was an odd choice for a riding. Leaders usually run in ridings that they can win; this riding, given the MacKay's hold on it for so many years, seems unattainable for Ms. May. Anyway, she told me at the time that there were no deals. I mentioned that in my story.

Well, Ed Broadbent, the former NDP leader, read the story and called me the next day. He was incensed about her declaration about not being involved in any backroom deals. He made the point that she had been speaking to Stephen Lewis, the former Canadian Ambassador to the UN, about trying to set up a telephone call with NDP Leader Jack Layton about making some kind of deal.
In sum, the issue is once again one of basic honesty. At the same time that May was proclaiming that there was no backroom deal in the works, she had at least made efforts to secure exactly that kind of deal. And while it's not entirely clear whether or not her deal with the Libs had been finalized at the time, it seems entirely likely that May's choice of riding was influenced by at least the possibility - if not the outright guarantee - that the Libs would be more willing to step aside in Central Nova than elsewhere.

Of course, that side of the story hasn't received much attention with the Libs' propaganda machine revved up fully in May's defence. Which may itself have been another motivator for May all along.

But it's clear that if Layton is indeed declining to speak with May, her basic untrustworthiness may have an awful lot to do with it. And based on May's eagerness to make public statements which were misleading at best and outright false at worst, there's all the more reason to think that the Greens offer nothing more than politics as usual at their worst.

A simple check

Via Dissidence, the Star reports that at the end of a process which was presumably aimed at putting the future of Ontario's electoral system in the hands of voters rather than politicians, the McGuinty cabinet will be responsive to absolutely nobody in drafting the question on MMP to be placed on the ballot this fall:
Premier Dalton McGuinty and his cabinet — and not an all-party legislative committee or a non-partisan outsider — will decide the Oct. 10 referendum question on changing Ontario’s electoral system.

"We'll have a question that is very clear for people to consider on the ballot and we'll take it from there," McGuinty told reporters this morning...

Democratic Renewal Minister Marie Bountrogianni said voters should not be worried that the Liberals will craft a question that favours the governing party in any way.

"Cabinet will frame the question. It will be simple, clear, concise. As the premier has told me, if my mother can’t understand it, we’re not doing it," said Bountrogianni.

But Progressive Conservative MPP Tim Hudak (Erie-Lincoln) and NDP MPP Michael Prue (Beaches-East York) said all parties should be involved in determining the question to ensure it is fair.
Both the article and Dissidence suggest some other means of ensuring a fair question. But from my perspective, the check on any question (whether drafted by cabinet alone or by a multi-party committee) should be obvious.

After all, it's the Citizens Assembly that's made the decision as to what type of system should be considered, and voted to have it put to Ontario's citizens this fall. Given the assembly's role as the final decision-maker in the process to date, is there any reason at all not to put the question itself to another assembly vote to make sure that the ballot question matches the assembly's intentions?


There's been some talk about SES' poll on how Quebec voters would shift their support if the Bloc didn't exist. But it's worth noting that an initial shift would only the beginning of the aftershocks from the Bloc disbanding - and the NDP would seem to be in a position to move further ahead from the Libs as those aftereffects played out.

After all, one of the primary reasons why Stephane Dion appealed to Lib delegates was surely his track record in fighting against separatism. And indeed, on paper he figures to be as well-placed as anybody to lead a charge against the Bloc...even if he's currently failing miserably in any attempt to build support on that (or any other) basis.

But if the Bloc were to disband and effectively remove separatism from the federal political scene, that would change the picture dramatically. While there might be a stronger perceived need for forceful federalists within Quebec's National Assembly if the Bloc's disbanding wasn't accompanied by Quebec ratification of the Constitution, the title would no longer carry as much value in determining who to send to Ottawa. Meanwhile, a track record built on the old federalist/separatist dichotomy could prove to be more of a burden than a benefit if Dion were seen as primarily a product of past arguments rather than current ones.

All of these factors would only add to Dion's difficulty in building Quebec support. Meanwhile, the NDP, whose stance on federalism simply hasn't become a major subject of debate, would be in an ideal position to present itself as the party looking to move Quebec and Canada toward a more productive discussion, rather than framing an entire province's political system around the answer to a single "yes or no" question.

Of course, the whole exercise is indeed a hypothetical one - if one with at least some basis in current discussion. And to the extent that constitutional talks might help precipitate the end result, plenty of care should be taken to ensure that any agreed terms can lead to positive results all around, rather than being based on a Harper/Dumont agreement to make government ineffective at both levels. But one way or another, it appears that the Bloc's probable decline and possible disbanding can do nothing but expand the NDP's opportunities in Quebec.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Closed-door federalism

Saskatchewan Government Relations Minister Harry Van Mulligen testified before the Senate finance committee today, discussing of the problems in federal/provincial relations since Harper took power federally. And beneath all the slogans getting fired back and forth, Van Mulligen makes clear that there are serious substantive problems with the Cons' refusal to deal with many provinces on any level other than a photo op.

Let's start with the prime example of the Cons' unwillingness to do more than try to take credit for others' work:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to meet with Canada's premiers has forced them to resort to megaphone diplomacy, Saskatchewan's government relations minister said Tuesday.

Harper has been prime minister for more than a year. Despite his vow to practice "open federalism," Harry Van Mulligen noted that he has yet to hold a first ministers' meeting with all premiers and territorial leaders.

Harper had intended to meet with all premiers last fall to discuss resolution of the so-called fiscal imbalance. But those plans were abandoned after the provinces failed to achieve consensus on the issue.
In sum, Harper was entirely willing to let the provinces do all the work in brokering a mutually agreeable deal, then convene a formal meeting to take centre stage as praise was meted out. But when the predictable disagreements among the provinces ensured that the Cons would have to contribute some effort (and that success wouldn't be guaranteed), the Cons apparently lost all interest in bringing the country's first ministers together.

And the unsurprising end result is that with most provinces having little opportunity to deal with the Cons directly, they've had to take their cases public instead to have any chance of being heard:
"As there are no multilateral engagements, (provincial) governments are forced to negotiate in public or through ad campaigns and web sites," Van Mulligen told the Senate finance committee.

"This is unhelpful, unproductive and does not serve the interests of the citizens of Canada."
The article goes on to discuss how the Cons' unilaterally-imposed policies ended up hurting Saskatchewan compared to both the Cons' election promises, and a system which would take into consideration obvious differences in the provinces' respective need and capacity to provide services. And it's worth noting that the result of the Cons' choices is to pour large amounts of social funding into both Alberta and Ontario...which should make for no less glaring an attempt to buy votes than Harper's interference in Quebec's provincial election.

But for all the valid concerns put forward by Saskatchewan and other provinces about their particular funding needs, the bigger problem is the Cons' highly selective willingness to interact with their provincial counterparts. And as dangerous as the Cons' bubble has been in their policy-making process so far, it only figures to be all the more so if Harper heeds Mario Dumont's call to attempt changes to Canada's constitution.

When the facts, the law and the table are all against you...

The CP reports on a ruling expected tomorrow which will be the next step in the Cons' Calgary West nomination controversy. And just in case anybody thought things couldn't get any more absurd, Rob Anders seems to honestly expect to be considered a sympathetic figure in trying to argue against a new nomination battle:
(A) lawyer for Anders said his client still has work to do in Ottawa and he'd have to fight another nomination race "with one hand behind his back."
Now, at last notice all indications were that Anders' work in Ottawa could easily be replicated by a cardboard cutout to be propped up for standing votes. And when Anders did get attention, the end result was usually an embarrassment for both himself and his party.

But apparently Anders' lawyer anticipates having a better chance trying to portray Anders as somebody deserving of a break than talking about the actual case. Which says all one needs to know about both the Cons' process which was overturned, and their likelihood of success on the merits.

False responses

The story didn't make the headlines out of yesterday's Question Period. But it's worth highlighting that Tony Clement has explicitly taken the side of the False Creek patient-funded clinic in claiming (with little basis) that it doesn't violate the Canada Health Act:
Ms. Penny Priddy (Surrey North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the False Creek Urgent Care Centre in B.C. is back in business, charging patients hundreds of dollars for basic medical services that should be free. This American style clinic is the exact opposite of what Canadians expect from our health care system. It should be illegal, but the clinic has found a loophole that allows it to stay in business.

Every Canadian has the right to free, universal health care when they need it most, regardless of whether or not they are carrying their chequebooks. Will the Conservatives take action today and put an end to clinics that charge patients for medically necessary urgent care services?

Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, we are reviewing the situation of this clinic, but upon first blush by the minister of health of British Columbia, it is violating no laws in British Columbia, violating no principles of the Canada Health Act...I see no double standard in that.
So let's see what the Canada Health Act actually has to say. First, let's look at the definition of "insured health services", whose importance will become clear shortly:
“insured health services” means hospital services, physician services and surgical-dental services provided to insured persons, but does not include any health services that a person is entitled to and eligible for under any other Act of Parliament or under any Act of the legislature of a province that relates to workers' or workmen’s compensation;
In effect, any and every medically-necessary service rendered to an "insured person" (i.e. resident of the province) is included within the definition, except where payment is provided for under other legislation.

Which is important on a look at one of the Canada Health Act's five core principles, being that of comprehensiveness:
9. In order to satisfy the criterion respecting comprehensiveness, the health care insurance plan of a province must insure all insured health services provided by hospitals, medical practitioners or dentists, and where the law of the province so permits, similar or additional services rendered by other health care practitioners.
The emergency services provided by the False Creek clinic are plainly "insured health services" provided by medical practitioners, and equally plainly not covered by B.C.'s health insurance plan. Which would seem to make for a glaring violation of section 9 of the Canada Health Act.

And the apparent violations don't stop there. Here's the first part of the accessibility principle:
12. (1) In order to satisfy the criterion respecting accessibility, the health care insurance plan of a province

(a) must provide for insured health services on uniform terms and conditions and on a basis that does not impede or preclude, either directly or indirectly whether by charges made to insured persons or otherwise, reasonable access to those services by insured persons;

(b) must provide for payment for insured health services in accordance with a tariff or system of payment authorized by the law of the province;
It should be apparent that the False Creek billing system both isn't on uniform terms and conditions to those applied elsewhere, and isn't one "authorized by the law of the province".

So we have two sections of the Canada Health Act apparently violated - and that's dealing solely with the "principles" part of the act (which Clement appears to have deliberately referred to) rather than the sections which specifically deal with extra-billing and user charges. For added fun, the prohibition against user charges is violated even more clearly:
“user charge” means any charge for an insured health service that is authorized or permitted by a provincial health care insurance plan that is not payable, directly or indirectly, by a provincial health care insurance plan, but does not include any charge imposed by extra-billing.

19. (1) In order that a province may qualify for a full cash contribution referred to in section 5 for a fiscal year, user charges must not be permitted by the province for that fiscal year under the health care insurance plan of the province.
Of course, Clement himself holds the only available means of holding B.C. accountable for the current Canada Health Act violations going on within the province. And Clement has left no doubt that in addition to having prejudged the outcome when it comes to the False Creek clinic, he has zero interest in allowing his department to do its job by holding violators accountable.

That said, the fact that there may be no formal means to force Clement and his department to carry out much-needed enforcement doesn't end the matter. Yesterday's response offers just one more example of the Cons being entirely happy to take the side of privatized health care even while claiming to support the Canada Health Act. And if Canadians are informed of just how dishonest the Cons are being on the health file among others, that can only help the chances of preventing them from holding office for long.

On poor responses

Michael Fortier's office has issued a response to yesterday's concerns about a conflict of interest in a contract that was apparently diverted to a former client of Fortier's. But instead of dealing at all with the issues brought up, the answer only raises new questions about the Cons:
The Harper government dismissed allegations of conflict of interest against Public Works Minister Michael Fortier yesterday, even as the opposition pushed for an investigation into the preliminary award of a $400-million information technology contract to a firm for which Mr. Fortier once provided investment-banking services.

"This minister and this government have been committed to fairness and transparency, and to comment on allegations of that nature -- frankly, it's B.S.," said Jacques Gagnon, Mr. Fortier's director of communications.
The Cons' response essentially consists of two parts. First, there's an odd assertion that a declaration of transparency removes any need to actually be transparent about anything - which doesn't seem likely to satisfy any of the parties concerned, and offers the opposition parties yet another example of the Cons' lack of commitment to their own supposed principles.

Even more curiously, the Cons' next message is to raise a defence of "I don't think anything was done wrong, and that's good enough for me". Now where have we heard that kind of message from a sitting cabinet minister recently?

"I'm glad we're losing support!"

I normally wouldn't dignify Politique Vert with a response, but this post simply can't pass without comment. Let's face it: when you're trying to claim that it's a plus to lose supporters because at least people are noticing which party they're fleeing, that's a sign of both a party with nothing going for it, and a supporter who's consumed so much Kool-Aid as to be oblivious to the fact that it's gone bad.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Still delaying

Shorter Con greenhouse gas emissions plan as leaked to the CP:
Four more years (of accomplishing nothing)!
Four more years (of accomplishing nothing)!

Winners and losers

Angelo Persichilli highlights why the much-discussed Lib/Green attempt to squeeze out the NDP is likely to backfire (note: click on the column link):
The Liberal leader's decision not to run a Liberal candidate in the riding of Nova Scotia in order to support Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, is first of all, a gift to NDP Leader Jack Layton (Toronto-Danforth, Ont.) and another nail in the political coffin of Dion (Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Que.).

The agreement means he's abdicating the duty of his party to defeat Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay (Central Nova, N.S.). It's a concession of defeat even before the vote.

This is unheard of in the history of a national political organization. Basically Dion is telling Liberals, "Sorry folks, we cannot win this one, let others try."...

Ms. May doesn't understand that there's no "green electorate." There are disgruntled voters unhappy with the conventional parties and looking for a new leadership. Most of them are coming exactly from the Liberal Party. Through her agreement with Dion, she's telling disgruntled Liberals–who in the last polls most likely appeared under the "Green Party" support and did not like Dion's leadership, to go and vote for Dion...

The agreement in Central Nova is nothing but a naïve attempt of desperate people who believe they can fool people and reach the top through short cuts and expediency.

There is a good chance that most of the people that thought to go to the Green Party in search for a new leadership, are now having second thoughts and, I'm sure, the name Jack Layton is often coming up in their minds.
Of course, the Libs and Greens who aren't angry about the deal are spinning non-stop trying to claim that they've now managed to re-draw the political lines as Lib/Green against Con/NDP (the latter based of course primarily on a combination of sheer conjecture and a "repeat a lie until it's believed" strategy). But the reality is something else entirely - and the sheer implausibility of the Lib/Green lie looks to play right into the NDP's hands.

After all, the NDP has always been a distinct third national party which isn't willing to be a subsidiary of either of the Libs or Cons. And the NDP can clearly claim a stronger position as the more committed opposition against the Cons based on its continued status as the only party in Parliament not to prop the Cons up on a confidence measure - not to mention the obvious fungibility of Lib and Con MPs in the game of floor-crossing musical chairs over the past few years.

As a result, nobody with even the slightest bit of political knowledge has reason to buy into the Lib/Green spin. And those with even a basic understanding of the facts will only be likely to lose trust in the two parties who can't make an honest argument against the third.

As it stands, the awkward Red Green alliance is thus only strengthening the NDP's position in comparison to both the Libs as an alternative to the Cons, and the Greens as an alternative to politics as usual. And Stephane Dion's cries of "unfair" will seem even more hollow when the Libs' own actions are the cause of their further slide.

On contested titles

The race for the title of Most Embarrassing Con Cabinet Minister has been a hard-fought one from the beginning. Early favourites Rona Ambrose and Vic Toews were moved to lower-profile portfolios, leaving Gordon O'Connor as the current leader.

But there's a new dark horse in the race. Last week, Michael Fortier decided to make a government polling investigation as partisan and untrustworthy as possible by appointing Daniel Paille to the task. And today, word comes out that Fortier is alleged to have rigged a contracting process in order to award a $400 million deal to a former client:
An Ottawa IT contractor is calling for an inquiry into the preliminary award of a $400-million contract to Montreal-based CGI Group Inc., a former client of Public Works Minister Michael Fortier from his days as an investment banker.

TPG Technology Consulting Ltd. of Ottawa will file a request today with the federal Public Sector Integrity Office to investigate whether Mr. Fortier was in a conflict of interest.

Mr. Fortier was an investment banker with Credit Suisse First Boston from 1999 to 2004, during which time he headed the firm's Montreal office.

In March 2004, Credit Suisse was one of the underwriters for a share offering by CGI that raised more than $330 million, and Mr. Fortier was listed in regulatory filings as the primary contact for Credit Suisse...

TPG has been providing IT services to a variety of federal departments and agencies through an eight-year contract with Public Works worth roughly $200 million, said Mr. Powell.

In May, the department issued a request for proposals for similar "engineering and technical services."

But when TPG attempted to bid, the company was told by government officials that it would need references for work the size of the new contract, estimated to be worth more than $400 million over seven years.

"We could not respond to it, even though we're doing the work today. That looked a little strange. We wrote to the minister on that," said Mr. Powell.

Government bureaucrats also told the company that the technical evaluation of the bids was "very close," and TPG's bid was easily the cheapest, said Mr. Powell. But the company alleges that Public Works changed the process by asking that the scores be re-evaluated.
While the claim isn't yet proven, the conflict of interest at least appears to be fairly obvious. And the prospect that the minister generally responsible for government services might be inflating costs paid out of the Canadian public purse should be ready fodder for both discontent among any principled Cons who haven't yet jumped ship, and attacks from the opposition parties.

Toss in Fortier's consistent incompetence on his department's planned selloff of government buildings, and there's no lack of readily-visible problems with Fortier's tenure. And that's without his having faced the scrutiny of the House of Commons - which means both that the may be plenty already waiting to surface, and that Fortier hasn't yet had a full opportunity to make a fool of himself through words as well as actions.

Of course, the overriding embarrassment has to lie with the Prime Minister responsible for handing over the power which these ministers have handled so poorly. But it never hurts to point out that Harper's most-trusted few have in fact shown themselves entirely undeserving of Canadian confidence - and hopefully a bit more focus on that group will help to make sure their race to the bottom comes to a merciful end.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Weaker in the world

The CP reports that the Cons' efforts to ignore the world outside North America (and the U.S.' war zones) are gathering momentum, as several Canadian consulates will likely be closed due to unnecessary budget cuts at the Foreign Affairs Department:
Up to 19 more Canadian diplomatic offices could be closing their doors, as the Conservative government continues belt-tightening at the Foreign Affairs Department

Sources say missions in Cambodia, Latvia and the Balkan states are among those being considered for the chopping block, as well as a number of small consulates in Africa. Late last year, the government closed two consulates in Japan, one in St. Petersburg and another in Milan to save money.

The department is coping with a budget decrease of $142.8 million in the coming year, and the cuts will continue through to 2009, a trend that began under the Liberals. Officials have been dropping broad hints for months that more cuts to missions are coming.
It's hard to see how cuts to Canada's representation abroad can do anything but reduce both the services available to Canadians elsewhere, and the potential to draw tourism and investment from the areas who lose their Canadian presence.

But the Cons (like their Lib predecessors) seem perfectly happy to pour time and money into making us more dependent on the U.S., while reducing our involvement around the globe. And whether through the direct effects of being tied to the U.S.' economy or simply a weaker bargaining position based on the Cons' chosen lack of alternatives, Canada as a whole figures to be worse off in the long run for its withdrawal from the world.

Same old story

Shorter Ken Dryden to NDP voters:
If you care about aboriginals, child care, education, the environment, and poverty, then you have to give the Libs another chance to pretend to do something about them.

An introduction to political sabermetrics

Before I started blogging, a good chunk of my time online was spent at what was then Baseball Primer (now the blogs section of Baseball Think Factory). While I'm a fan of a lot of sports, baseball's sabermetric revolution made for a particularly interesting study: first a small group of fans led by Bill James and SABR, then the conventional wisdom within the sport, recognized that many of the existing means of evaluating the performance of both players and franchises could be improved by leaps and bounds through a better appreciation of how to interpret the game's statistics. (And it didn't hurt that the level of political discussion on that site was on par with any that I'd yet discovered - with at least one regular going on to be a contributor at a current political favourite.)

So what does this have to do with current Canadian politics? Over the past week, two posts have used calculations of each party's expenses per vote as a measure of how much growth potential they have in that riding - highlighting the potential to analyze Canadian politics based on a return-on-investment approach similar to the dollars-per-win type of analysis that's now in vogue in sports.

Let's note that even on a surface look, the claims currently being made don't reflect the numbers being used to support them. While moving from 4th to 2nd in total votes in the London North Centre by-election, the Greens simultaneously went from being the most efficient spenders per vote to the least efficient - meaning that Jim Harris' "we spend money better!" claim isn't supported by the evidence. Nor does there appear to be any other consistent party ranking based on this small sample: the Libs were the least efficient spenders in Central Nova, but the most efficient in the London North Centre by-election (and well ahead of the Cons in London North Centre in the general election as well).

In sum, the data now being cited doesn't support any generalizations as to who's likely to spend their money most effectively, and how other parties can improve their return. But while the current simplistic claims don't stand up, there seems to be plenty here worth analyzing.

What return do political parties normally receive on their riding investments? Is there a diminishing return on every dollar put into a riding? How do past investments - or any change in those investments - affect a party's vote outcomes in a riding? When is party money better spent on national advertising than on local organizing? And how does the vote-per-dollar calculation and resulting federal funding fit in with the core purpose of a party to win seats?

As is the case in baseball, there are still individual factors at play which can't be fully captured by the numbers. In what might make for an analogy to the importance of stadium adjustments in baseball, the effect of any riding expense presumably needs to be weighed against a party's national standing. And individual candidate personalities could make a huge difference on a single-riding level, but their effect may be impossible to measure with any precision.

That said, it's still worth trying to figure out what we can deduce about how Canadian parties are spending their money now, and how they can invest it better in the future. And over the next little while, I'll plan to do just that.

Limited benefits

CanWest reports that both Stephane Dion and top Greens have ruled out any further cooperation beyond this week's much-criticized deal in the leaders' home ridings. And the announcement makes it clear that the deal was aimed solely at helping Dion and May personally, rather than any positive change for Canada as a whole:
Stephane Dion is ruling out any extra measures to help the Green Party beyond his controversial deal with Elizabeth May.

Dion described Saturday his decision not to run a Liberal in Central Nova where May, the Green leader, is seeking a seat as "an agreement between two leaders," suggesting he was not planning further aid...

Adriane Carr, deputy leader of the Green Party, said she was pleased the deal goes no further than the announced plan.

"This decision to provide 'leaders courtesy' is a refreshing move to infuse move civility and respect into Canadian politics," Carr, the former leader of the Green Party of B.C., said in a statement.

"I am also happy to say the reciprocation goes no further. The Green Party intends to run a full slate of candidates-minus one."
What's noteworthy in today's statements is that neither party has any apparent intention to make a deal which would meaningfully reduce the likelihood of a Harper majority. Instead, the agreement was intended to serve as nothing but an image boost for the leaders involved - to be justified by a bizarre claim that certain leaders should be entitled to a different form of democracy than the rest of their parties in the name of "civility".

Fortunately, there are other options out there. And the NDP has rightly started using the spotlight on Central Nova to emphasize its own position and candidate in the riding:
Layton said he's bullish on the prospects of Louise Lorefice, the sole candidate for the NDP nomination in Central Nova, who is to be acclaimed today.

"She is well-known teacher with deep roots in the community over many decades," said Layton, noting the NDP ran second in the riding in 2004 and the (sic) 2006.

"We'll be putting forward a very strong candidate with deep roots in the community."
While it's a bit disappointing that Alexis MacDonald won't continue to build her support in the riding, it's still a plus for the NDP to earn national attention for another strong candidate. And with the Libs and Greens showing that their agreement to deprive Lib and Green voters of their preferred choice is nothing more than a cynical political game, both Lorefice in particular and the NDP in general figure to gain from voters' justified frustrations.