Friday, May 18, 2007

A failed transplant

A quick break from my blogging hiatus, as there's one key point which I haven't yet seen made about the Cons' committee control manual. Take a look at the difference between how the Cons are instructed to treat other parties, and how they expect to be judged in return:
(T)he document - given only to Conservative chairmen - tells them how to favour government agendas, select party-friendly witnesses, coach favourable testimony, set in motion debate-obstructing delays and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to grind parliamentary business to a halt...

Among the more heavy-handed recommendations in the document:
• That the Conservative party helps pick committee witnesses. The chairman "should ensure that witnesses suggested by the Conservative Party of Canada are favourable to the government and ministry," the document warns.

• The chairmen should also seek to "include witnesses from Conservative ridings across Canada" and make sure their local MPs take the place of a member at the committee when a constituent appears, to show they listen and care.

• The chairmen should "meet with witnesses so as to review testimony and assist in question preparation."

• Procedural notes tell the chairmen to always recognize a Conservative member just before a motion is put to a vote "and let them speak as long as they wish" - a maneuver used to kickstart a filibuster as a stall tactic.

• Chairmen are told to notify all affected ministries prior to a motion being voted upon. "Communicate concerns with the Prime Minister's Office, House Leader or Whip," the document insists. "Try to anticipate the response of the press and how party could be portrayed."

• The guide says a "disruptive" committee should be adjourned by the chairman on short notice. "Such authority is solely in the discretion of the chair. No debate, no appeal possible." By failing to appoint the vice chair to run the meeting, the adjournment will last until the chair is ready to reconvene the committee...

Ironically, the manual also advises committee chairs to act fairly and build trust with members of all parties, getting to know them personally as well as politically.
In sum, the Cons' instructions are to manipulate proceedings and bully their opponents at every available opportunity - and in the process, earn the trust and respect of those same opponents.

It would be tempting to say that there's an inherent contradication between the two goals - except that they seem to fairly accurately describe how the Republicans managed to manipulate the American political system from 2002 to 2006. In that case, a hyperpartisan governing party used every trick at its disposal to punish its opponents for existing...and the opponents responded primarily by either staying silent, or apologizing for getting in the way.

But while that scheme worked frighteningly well in the U.S. (at least until the 2006 elections), it's been an utter flop in Canada so far. And for good reason: unlike the Dems, none of Canada's opposition parties have lacked at least some willingness to be publicly seen opposing the government.

Which signals that while the Cons indeed seem to have been borrowing heavily from the Republicans' playbook, there's little reason to think that they'll get far with it. And that conclusion is only slightly stronger now that the playbook itself is available for public skewering.

Update: Or maybe the point has been made already. But it's still worth some more emphasis.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Light blogging ahead

Expect little (if any posting) from this corner until next week. Have a great long weekend in the meantime...

On the verge

Apparently the Cons' list of committees to obstruct missed a rather important one, with the result that the NDP's Early Learning and Child Care Act has made it through committee and figures to pass in the House of Commons before too long:
NDP Child Care Act passes at committee

Amid a growing crisis facing ordinary parents and working families, there is now light at the end of the tunnel for the passage of the NDP’s Early Learning and Child Care Act. Bill C-303 passed second reading last fall and has been studied for the last three weeks at the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Social Development...

If passed, Bill C-303 would enshrine principles that federal dollars spent on child care would have to follow. Key among them is that provinces be accountable for federal child care investments and show that the money is being spent according to the law.
With only one vote in the Commons left to go, the biggest question now is whether the child care bill will get caught up in the Senate. But there doesn't appear to be much reason for obstruction from the upper chamber when the Libs in the House of Commons have supported the bill and the principles involved are relatively similar to those already applied under the Canada Health Act.

Which means that with far too little fanfare, the NDP (with the help of the other opposition parties) may be on the verge of a major legislative accomplishment in a Parliament which has clearly required some delicate navigation. And hopefully C-303 won't be the last bill the opposition parties put in place to mandate better government than the Cons want to deliver.

Another meeting cancelled due to Con incompetence

Following up on this morning's talk about the Cons' strategy shift, it seems the Cons are focusing on keeping things "quiet" by suppressing yet another set of information, rather than on anything approaching "good management":
Conservative MPs blocked witnesses Thursday from testifying at a Commons committee on the Afghan detainee controversy.

The ethics committee was to hear from a law professor and a freelance journalist about whether the foreign affairs department deliberately withheld scathing human rights reports on Afghanistan.

But Tory MPs Mike Wallace and Scott Reid tied up the committee for two hours, arguing they were not prepared for the witnesses and that the committee should seek legal advice.
Needless to say, using their own lack of preparation as an excuse to avoid hearing from witnesses can only reflect poorly on Wallace and Reid. And since committees have been listed as just one of the many areas under the control of Con strategists, the decision to plead ignorance reflects on the entire organization.

While the Cons may have managed to avoid yet another specific embarrassment in the short term, they figure to lose out far more in the long run based on their ever-expanding record of lies and cover-ups. And it doesn't figure to be long before it's the Cons' stay in power that gets cancelled as a result.

Lowering the bar

Lawrence Martin writes that several prominent Cons are pushing for their party to aim for a "low key" and "good management" philosophy now that a spring or summer election looks unlikely. And in light of Harper's well-known message micromanagement, it seems virtually certain that the number of Cons willing to go public with the idea means that Harper himself plans to try to sell the message as well.

But while "low key" and "good management" are positive enough concepts on their own (if in combination with at least some underlying principle), there's been precious little indication that anybody within the Cons can count either as a strength - and ample reason to believe that even under the thumb of an extremely controlling leader, the Cons simply don't have the self-restraint to avoid making negative headlines. Which means that the Cons are in severe danger of falling well short of even their own lowered expectations.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Running scared

The CP's story on the recent chaos in Parliament includes mention that the Cons have moved the NDP's opposition motion to Friday, with much less time allocated for debate than would be the norm. But while Jack Layton considers the move to be punishment for the NDP's refusal to let Con MPs from Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland off the hook for betraying their home provinces, I wonder whether it also involves a much more positive sign:
New Democrats are livid that the government abruptly changed the timetable for debating an NDP motion to revive the Clean Air Act. Instead of receiving eight hours of debate Thursday, it will now get only a couple of hours attention Friday.

Layton said the motion was bumped to punish the NDP for insisting on a recorded vote Tuesday on the budget implementation bill. The vote embarrassed some Altantic and Saskatchewan Tory MPs who were compelled to support the budget despite vicious opposition in their home provinces.

"Canadians should be furious at this," said Layton of Wednesday's machinations.

"It may seem like inside parliamentary procedure but what it is is arrogance. It is a rejection of the dignity and respect which is owed to parliamentarians, it's childish and it's completely unacceptable as far as we're concerned."
While there's likely at least a grain of truth to Layton's criticism, it's worth noting another possible reason for the Cons' move. By pushing the debate to Friday and giving it less time in Parliament, the Cons would accomplish one added goal in forcing the debate into the well-known Friday dead time for news reporting - and thereby reducing the amount of talk about the environment which might otherwise take place over the long weekend.

That kind of move would be no less undignified and disrespectful than one made solely out of spite in response to the budget vote. But it would also hint at some serious underlying weakness for the Cons: surely they wouldn't bother trying to push the debate into a lower-exposure slot unless they feared its outcome.

The problem for the Cons is that while they may be able to limit the amount of debate on this particular motion, they don't have anywhere near the power to dictate that C-30 won't be a dominant political issue if the other parties decide otherwise. And if the opposition can continue cooperating on C-30 as it is elsewhere, there's all the more reason to think that the Cons' current weakness will lead them to capitulate on the bill if it's the focus of enough attention.

Cooperative efforts

The Cons' efforts to shut down the Standing Committee on Official Languages have apparently met total failure, as the three opposition parties have agreed to set up a "consultative committee" to take over while the Cons sulk in the corner over the vote of non-confidence in former chair Guy Lauzon:
We do not accept being muzzled by the Conservative government. This is the reason why the three opposition parties decided to set up a consultative committee on Official Languages, which will be chaired by the current vice- chair of the Standing Committee, Pablo Rodriguez.

The mandate of this committee is to take up where the Standing Committee left off, namely studying the impact of the decision to abolish the Court Challenges Program, and then considering the Commissioner’s report, as per article 88 of the Official Languages Act. This consultative committee will begin its hearings tomorrow (before Parliament goes on break) and will prepare the work of the Standing Committee, which cannot be paralyzed forever.
It remains to be seen how long the newly-formed committee will operate, or whether the Cons will realize they're probably better off nominating a new chairman - both from a perception standpoint, and to offer at least some chance to include the Cons' spin within any committee hearings and reports.

But whether or not the new committee ends up generating much by way of final work products, it looks certain to put some serious pressure on the Cons to work with the opposition. And all three opposition parties deserve credit for working together to make sure that the Cons' stubbornness doesn't lead to a lack of discussion about language issues.

Conservative vapours

The Cons are apparently responding to the accusation that they've run out of ideas by doing as much as they can to prove that point. And the CP reports on what looks to be the most pathetic excuse for a policy idea yet:
The Conservative government is set to unveil new legislation aimed at keeping foreign strippers out of Canada.

Government sources say the announcement will come Wednesday from Immigration Minister Diane Finley. They say the legislation would let the minister instruct immigration officers to deny work permits to foreign strippers, but they offer few details about how the law would work.
I suppose if one squints hard enough, one can see a few potential political benefits in such legislation. In addition to offering the Cons a paper-thin excuse to discuss the Libs' tenure in government rather than their own, the measure will presumably play relatively well both to the religious right and to the anti-immigration crowd.

But from the standpoint of what the bill says about Harper's government, it's hard to tell what's more striking about: its sheer frivolity, or its tendency to raise exactly the kinds of fears which the Cons presumably want to dispel.

On the frivolity side, the closest the article mentions to an actual problem which the bill is intended to resolve is a claim that the intention is to "protect women from exploitation". But there's absolutely no basis for thinking that the bill would actually prevent exploitation: indeed, it seems highly likely that most applicants seeking to immigrate to Canada in search of work as a stripper will would to make that move largely based on the likelihood of being less exploited in Canada than in the applicant's former country. And even if the Cons genuinely have a warped enough world-view not to see that fact, it's hard to imagine that there aren't far more pressing issues which Finley and the Cons generally should be addressing first.

As for the larger overtones, the bill hints at two obvious hooks for the "hidden agenda" discussion the Cons presumably want to avoid. First, there's the attempt to inject what the Cons presumably perceive to be a morality issue regarding the propriety of stripping into a completely unrelated policy area. And second, there's the spectre of establishing arbitrary, class-based restrictions on immigration - which will surely offer plenty of fodder to those concerned about the Cons shutting Canada's doors.

Fortunately, the bill doesn't appear on its face to be one that any of the opposition parties would want to support - meaning that the Cons' most laughable idea yet should remain nothing more than a gleam in Diane Finley's eye for the time being. But whether this bill is actually the best the Cons have to offer while in power or simply a signal as to where they'd want to take Canada given the control that comes with a majority, it offers plenty more reasons why Canadians will want to make sure to put the Cons' reign out of its misery.

Leading the way

Kuri points out some great news on the federal political scene, as the NDP will put forward a motion to bring the amended Bill C-30 back to the House of Commons.

Of course, it's still a shame that the other opposition parties refused to take a leadership role to get the ball rolling sooner. But since there's no apparent reason why either would vote against progress on a bill which they agreed to in committee, the motion should be virtually certain to pass. And that will leave only the question of whether the combination of the NDP's motion and a new public push from outside the Commons can force the Cons to accept the need to move the bill forward.

Update: The NDP's announcement is here, with a bit more material.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A just response

At least one of the Cons seems to think he's found a way out of the Alan Riddell scandal for now, as PMS himself has invoked Parliamentary immunity to avoid having to testify. But it's worth noting that in avoiding any scrutiny in court, Harper may only be opening himself up to a label which could severely undercut the brand he's trying to build.

Marleau and Montpetit describe the immunity from appearing as a witness as follows (footnotes removed):
The right of the House to the attendance and service of its Members exempts a Member, when the House is in session, from the normal obligation of a citizen to comply with a subpoena to attend a court as a witness. This exemption applies in civil, criminal and military matters before the courts. However, this claim is not intended to be used to impede the course of justice and, therefore, is regularly waived, particularly for criminal cases. When the House is in session, should a subpoena be served on a Member, the Member may wish to appear in court where he or she feels that absence from court might affect the course of justice. However, the Member still has a right to claim the privilege of exemption from appearing as a witness.
It's not entirely clear from the linked text whether or not Riddell will have any official recourse for the purposes of having the immunity lifted. It seems unlikely that a court would seek to override the jurisdiction of Parliament (see a brief outline of some of the case law here), and none of the Speaker's rulings discussed in Marleau and Montpetit suggest any particular taste for second-guessing a member's assertion of privilege.

But even if there's no clear means by which to force Harper to testify, he's still apparently opening himself up to some serious criticism based on the standard for claiming (or waiving) immunity: surely someone who's trying to sell himself as a law-and-order politician should know better than to voluntarily start a discussion about whether or not he's abusing his privilege by impeding the course of justice. And if Harper's choice ends up leading to that kind of conversation and in turn to a serious loss of face, then he may lose his privilege far faster than he'd likely think possible.

Update: One more point of interest to add, as the only time when Riddell could be sure of avoiding Harper's claim of privilege would be during an election campaign. Is it too early to book trial dates for September 2009?

You know you've gone too far when...

It seems to have escaped much public notice, but an exchange from yesterday's Hansard hints at just how determined the Cons are to cut down on the scope of federal jurisdiction (or how eager they are to use jurisdiction as an excuse in the absence of any valid answer):
Mrs. Claude DeBellefeuille (Beauharnois—Salaberry, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Natural Resources claims to be a strong supporter of nuclear power, which he says is “very clean”. No doubt the minister is not aware of the many warnings that have been issued concerning the potential danger of the intensive use of nuclear power to extract oil from the oil sands.

Can the Minister of Natural Resources explain why he has a plan that could lead to the construction of 10 or even 20 nuclear reactors even though we are not even close to solving the problem of nuclear waste disposal?

Mr. Jacques Gourde (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her interesting question.

This matter falls under provincial jurisdiction. The provinces are the ones to decide what kind of energy can be used to exploit the oil sands.

Mrs. Claude DeBellefeuille (Beauharnois—Salaberry, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources is clearly not aware that nuclear power falls under federal jurisdiction.

Is the minister aware that his position runs counter to the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, which stipulates that “no decision be made on using nuclear energy to extract oil ... until the repercussions of this process are fully known and understood.”

Will he put a stop to these plans?

Mr. Jacques Gourde (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, any increase in oil sands production falls under provincial jurisdiction. We are working with Alberta to make this decision.
That's right: the Cons are so eager to avoid action through fabricated jurisdictional issues that even the Bloc is being forced to call for a relative expansion of federal involvement. Which should say plenty both about just how implausible the Cons' excuses are already - and just how little role the Cons would see for the federal government given more latitude than they have in their current minority.

Delaying the inevitable

Having already lost a first attempt to back out of their deal with former candidate Alan Riddell, the Cons are now looking for a way out of a hearing to determine whether Riddell himself breached the deal:
The federal Conservative Party will try to halt a trial Tuesday that could shed light on the deals that paved the way for the candidacies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Public Works Minister Stockwell Day after they became leader of the former Canadian Alliance.

Mr. Harper has hired a lawyer to represent him at a proceeding that will be held this week to determine whether there was implied confidentiality in the Conservative Party's agreement with Alan Riddell, who gave up the nomination in the riding of Ottawa South so the Tories could run a high-profile candidate.

But the Conservatives will tell the court Tuesday that the trial should be adjourned — a position Mr. Riddell's lawyer says may have been influenced by the fact that details of similar agreements made by the Canadian Alliance, a predecessor of the Conservatives, could be called as evidence.

Tom Conway said that he plans to raise similar deals that paved the way for the candidacy of Mr. Harper in Calgary in 2002 and for Mr. Day in British Columbia in 2000.

“I am just speculating here, but that may be one of the reasons they don't want it to proceed this week,” Mr. Conway said.
At this point, it's surprising that the Cons haven't simply cut their losses with a settlement (and one with a clear confidentiality clause if it's that imporant to them). What's more, even if the Cons are determined to have the case heard, a time when a federal election looks unlikely would seem to be the best opportunity to minimize any damage.

But for now, all indications suggest that the Cons really are both too stubborn to admit defeat and too short-sighted to at least get the outcome determined in the near future. And that combination makes for a stronger indictment of the Cons' suitability to hold power than the contents of any past agreement.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Canadian Blue Lemons Out of Touch with Reality

Lemon is ready to throw blame around for the hidden polling which showed that the Cons couldn't be further from connecting with Canada's ethnic communities:
Who commissioned this study?
Was Ipsos Reid hired by bureaucrats hoping to embarrass the government?

So let's take a look at which notorious Communist operative actively took credit for a poll which Lemon sees as an effort to sabotage the Cons' efforts:
A spokesman from the Prime Minister's Office said the research was based on policies outlined in the speech from the throne, as well as issues of importance to new Canadians.

"The groups were non-partisan, policy-focused and helpful in getting input from members of Canada's multicultural communities," said Dimitri Soudas.
For those who find the name familiar, that's with good reason, as it's Harper's deputy press secretary who actively sought to defend the poll when it was first discovered. Which means either that Soudas managed to come down with a severe case of Left Wing Conspiracy Syndrome without his bosses noticing over the last year-plus - or that we have another prime example of reality's notorious left-wing bias.

Looking to the future

The detailed numbers are now out (warning: PDF) for the poll that I mentioned last night. And there's another tidbit worth noting, as the voting intentions by age suggests that the current proliferation of parties could be the norm for some time to come.

In the 35-54 and 55+ age classes, the Cons and Libs are well out in front of the other parties. But the numbers in the 18-34 age take a significant turn:

Lib 27
Con 24
NDP 22
Green 14
Bloc 11

Now, this is a small sample of younger voters (216 voters aged 18-34)...and it's also entirely possible that voting patterns will change with time. (In that vein, I'm curious as to whether there's a usual pattern of younger voters disproportionately supporting third, fourth and fifth parties - and will have to follow up on that.)

But those caveats aside, the poll offers at least some indication that younger Canadian voters are significantly less wedded to the Libs and Cons than their older counterparts. And one of the major tasks for the NDP and Greens going forward will presumably be to both cultivate that trend, and retain their current share of the 18-to-34 vote.

Correction: My mistake in linking this poll to last night's Decima numbers - instead it's the breakdown from a poll released earlier.

Canada's Know-Nothing Government At Work

After announcing his "clarification" of the federal government's policy on subsidizing investment abroad, Jim Flaherty reminds us just how little thought and preparation goes into so many of the Cons' policies:
Mr. Flaherty had promised in the federal budget to end what he described as a job-killing practice: allowing Canadian companies to deduct from their income the interest paid on loans used to finance business operations abroad.

But since then he has focused on tax havens, and also attacked ‘double dipping”. This allows businesses that operate in more than one jurisdiction to claim deductions for the same interest payments.

The minister said he wants to introduce legislation this fall that will take effect in 2012. The legislation would remove an existing tax deduction for any company that borrows money to expand abroad and also deducts similar taxes in another country.

Specifically, the measure will put an end to funnelling money through tax havens to claim multiple tax deductions, and will also target “towering”...

Mr. Flaherty told reporters after his speech that he and his department did not know how prevalent double-dipping and towering are, nor did they have any kind of calculation about how much government revenue would be gained by clamping down on interest deductibility.
Of course, there's always a danger in studying a loophole to death as an excuse to avoid acting to close it - as was done with income trusts under the Libs. And it's hard to argue with the seeming intent behind Flaherty's plans.

But the danger of over-analyzing doesn't justify acting without thinking. And Flaherty has gone to a ridiculous extreme in that direction, having now announced two different policy changes on investment tax credits without first taking even a cursory look at the effect which might result from those changes.

Fortunately, there should be time to work through the implications by this fall - and the legislative process should ensure that other parties receive the opportunity to fix any glaring issues that the Cons are too incurious to notice. But with even one of the Cons' supposedly most-competent ministers formulating policy based on a wilful lack of knowledge, the can be little doubt that the Cons' pattern of incompetence goes straight to the top.

Backing off

Blogging Horse notes that rather than trying to push the Cons toward action on the climate change bill or any other progressive priority, the Libs used their opposition day last week to try to reopen two corporate tax loopholes. But that may be the least of the signs of the Libs' lack of commitment to act on climate change, as Pablo Rodriguez seems to be pushing to put the focus back on a private member's bill which carries strictly symbolic value rather than containing any plan to reduce emissions.

We'll see if this means the Libs will start actively placing roadblocks in front of any effort to pass the agreed amendments to C-30, rather than simply failing to do anything themselves to move the plan forward. But if the Libs plan to shift back to a position that the Cons should make the key decisions as to how to pursue Kyoto, then the odds of getting anything done in the current Parliament look grim at best.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Swinging votes

Decima has taken a look behind its voter intention numbers to see how party support has shifted since the 2006 election. And while the results don't lead to any strong conclusions, there look to be a few trends worthy of notice:
We've analyzed our last 7000 surveys on voting intention (between March 22 and May 7), and here's what we see:

* The Conservatives have done better at retaining the support of those who voted for them in 2006, losing only 15 per cent of their supporters. The lost points went to the Liberals (six per cent), the NDP (four per cent) the Green Party (three per cent) and the BQ (one per cent).
* The Liberals have lost 22 per cent of their 2006 voters. Ten per cent went to the Conservatives, five to the NDP, five to the Greens and just one per cent to the BQ.
* The BQ has lost 23 per cent of its support, with six per cent siphoned off by the Conservatives, six per cent to the Greens, five per cent to the NDP, and only three to the Liberals.
* The NDP has lost a quarter of its support - an even 25 per cent. Ten per cent went to the Liberals, seven per cent to the Greens, 5 per cent to the Conservatives, and 1% to the BQ.
Let's note initially that the percentage numbers are problematic since they don't account for the number of votes received to begin with.

For example, looking solely at the percentages, it would appear that the NDP had lost more votes to the Cons than it had gained. But with the Cons losing 4% of a 36% share of the total 2006 vote to the NDP while winning back 5% of the NDP's 17% share, the reality is that the NDP has won a net gain of .6% of all voters in the movement between themselves and the Cons.

Once that type of adjustment is made, it appears that a significant number of transferred votes among the Cons, Libs and NDP have led roughly to a saw-off overall - though with slight net transfers from Con to NDP, NDP to Lib and Lib to Con. And each has also shared roughly equally in the Bloc's decline. Which offers significant risks and opportunities for each of these parties in a number of ways, as they try to continue the inroads since 2006 while winning back voters who have switched allegiances since then.

The more obvious trends, meanwhile, involve the two parties which have been either successful or unsuccessful across the board. In the former category, the Greens have managed to pick up a substantial share from each other party...though unfortunately the study doesn't apparently track the Greens' 2006 voters to see if any of their existing base has leaked elsewhere.

And then there's the Bloc. Even before Gilles Duceppe's declaration of irrelevance this past week, the Bloc had managed to lose a substantial proportion of its support to each of the other four listed parties, while winning back next to nothing in return. And with a weakened leader and few obvious issues left to focus on, the Bloc figures to have trouble reversing that trend anytime soon.

Of course, the polls have themselves been fairly volatile lately, making it dangerous to draw many conclusions from Decima's snapshot of voter flow. But this finer analysis only seems to reinforce both the lack of many changes likely to significantly influence any election outcome, and the unlikelihood that many parties will see enough upside to want to gamble on an election in the near future.

Uncertain returns

The CP reports that over $2 billion in federal spending on child care has gone untraced for lack of any real accountability mechanism under either the Libs or the Cons - with eight provinces as well as the federal government itself ignoring existing reporting requirements. Was there any more evidence needed that it's long past time for legislation to make sure that money goes where it's supposed to?


An interesting note from today's Question Period, as the PMO apparently declined to allow any Con MP to appear on a panel discussing corporate tax issues, choosing instead to let a solo interview by Jim Flaherty act as the Cons' voice on the issue.

Of course, it's no surprise that the Cons value message consistency over independent thought by their MPs...and even the micromanagement requiring all bookings to go through the PMO rather than individual MPs is entirely consistent with how Harper has operated in power. But it would seem to be a rather stark indictment of the Cons if Harper doesn't think a single one of his party's backbenchers is competent enough to stay on message. And once again, Canadians will have to ask why they should trust MPs and candidates who are held in such low esteem by their own party's leader.

Out of the blue

Linda Diebel (excerpted in the Star) writes that while Michael Ignatieff has received the most attention as a Lib leadership loser waiting for the first possible chance to take down Stephane Dion, it's Bob Rae who's been holding an obvious grudge against anybody who he thought might support his bid. Which must surely come as a shock to the Libs: who could have imagined Rae launching a misplaced and insulting tirade against former allies?