Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bound to fail

Unfortunately, it looks like the Cons have managed to obstruct against any reference to binding greenhouse gas emission targets. But let's take a moment to quickly dispose of Harper's predictable spin:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper successfully pressed for the deletion of key wording in a climate change communique that would have specified that all members support a "binding commitment" on developed countries to reduce emissions by specific targets.

"Canada's view is we need binding targets on all nations," said Mr. Harper, who dismissed reports that other countries opposed Canada.
Now, it should be obvious that if Canada's goal was in fact to ensure that all countries are subject to binding targets, then the logical course of action would have been to actually ask for that. And the wording presumably wouldn't have been difficult to work out: simply remove "developed" from the phrase "developed countries", and you get to a declaration which would indeed call for binding targets for everybody.

But instead, the Cons held out for a resolution which instead eliminated any reference to "binding targets" - demanding a lower standard rather than a higher one. And combined with their inexplicable pride over an APEC declaration which is explicitly "aspirational", there's plenty of reason to think the lone change in the Cons' position on climate change is a poor effort to pretend to care.

To sum up...
What Harper claims Canada wants: Binding targets for all
What the Commonwealth resolution would have included if not for Harper's obstruction: Binding targets for some
What Harper actually fought for and won within the resolution: Binding targets for none

Needless to say, fighting against binding targets for anybody is no way to make progress against climate change. And Harper's latest step in that direction should offer ample reason to make sure he isn't in a position to embarrass Canada abroad any longer.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Off target

When asked to explain their withdrawal from Kyoto in all but the ability to show up at (and disrupt) ongoing negotiations for the next phase, the Cons have generally made excuses based on the need for reductions from the U.S. and China as part of a global effort to combat greenhouse gas emissions. Which, if the Cons were remotely willing to defend their position, would suggest that they should be first in line calling for a truly global treaty to the same effect.

Not surprisingly, though, the Cons are doing nothing of the sort. Instead, they're blocking a Commonwealth resolution calling for just such a global agreement:
Canada is reportedly holding up a resolution at the Commonwealth summit in Uganda which calls for binding climate change targets, sources have confirmed.

Environmentalists and Commonwealth sources claim Canada has problems with the resolution despite virtually all other countries in attendance, except Australia, supporting it, reports The Canadian Press.

The resolution calls for global emission targets and comes ahead of next month's UN-sponsored meeting in Bali, Indonesia where negotiations will be made to find a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.
Not that this comes as much of a surprise based on the Cons' track record of opposing Kyoto from the beginning, and doing their utmost to avoid real reduction targets in Canada regardless of who's been in power.

But today's move should make it all the more clear that the Cons' problem with Kyoto lies not in the countries who haven't signed on to reduction targets, but in the fact that it demands emission reductions at all. And the Cons' usual combination of dishonesty and conflict with the values of Canadian voters will offer just one more reason to make sure Harper can't continue to stand in the way of progress either at home or in the world.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

On potential support

Discussion about the latest Angus Reid poll on Canada's national opposition parties (warnings: PDF for those with slow connections; online poll for those who don't believe in such things) has focused mostly on the leadership numbers involved. But while Layton's lead over Dion is mostly a confirmation of old news, the poll does contain one intriguing new development, as the NDP's potential support is now in a dead heat with the Libs':
The poll also asked Canadians which opposition parties they would consider voting for in the next federal ballot. A third of respondents (33%) are willing to back the NDP candidate in their riding, including 95 per cent of those who voted for the New Democrats in the January 2006 election...

34 per cent of respondents say they would be willing to vote for the Liberal candidate in their riding...70 per cent of Quebecers - and 58 per cent of male respondents - would not vote for a Liberal candidate. The Grits are also only holding onto 78 per cent of those who voted for the Paul Martin-led Liberals in 2006.
For the record, the poll provided a "not sure" option where the NDP posted a 16% total and the Libs 14% - leaving the parties equal as well in the "definitely would not consider" category. Meanwhile, the Greens' "consider supporting" number is at 21%, well back of the other two parties.

So what do those numbers mean? Simply put, there's now empirical evidence to refute the Libs' usual claim that only they can stop the Cons. With the NDP now matching the Libs dollar for dollar, member for member and potential voter for potential voter, there's absolutely no reason for opposition voters to believe that the Libs' historical advantage actually translates into any greater prospect of defeating Harper. And that should free up opposition voters to choose the party which is most in line with their values.

Of course, the above analysis is based on the national numbers. And the story varies somewhat by region: the NDP has more potential support in British Columbia, Quebec (!) and Atlantic Canada, while the Libs show higher upside in Ontario and the Prairies.

Which in turn may help the NDP's prospects even more. It seems likely that Ontario's numbers (like ) are based at least in part on a lack of public attention to the change in the Libs' default position. But the more word gets out that the NDP is making major inroads into formerly-safe Lib territory in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, the more likely Ontario voters are to realize it can serve as a more effective voice for them as well.

Naturally, the Libs will be doing all they can both to slow down the NDP's momentum, and to reverse their own slide. But for now, the Libs' sole advantage seems to be historical - and it may not be long before it's left in the past for good.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On responsibility

Shorter Jim Flaherty:
Canada's urban residents have nobody but themselves to blame for the causes of today's crumbling infrastructure. Take, for example, their choice not to flee the country when it was run by a Prime Minister who couldn't even keep his own head above water without taking back-room cash payments.

Proportional benefits

It may be an unusual call for proportional representation from an unlikely source. But Murray Mandryk's column today may well help to keep up the NDP's campaign discussion about the need to take another look at how Saskatchewan votes.

Mandryk starts off with a passage which could serve as the introduction for a strong argument in favor of a full MMP system:
(A) mere 5,569 votes that went to the Saskatchewan Party instead of the NDP -- 33 in Moose Jaw North, 37 in Meadow Lake, 61 in Prince Albert Carlton, 182 in Regina-Qu'Appelle Valley, 253 in Regina South, 270 in Saskatoon Sutherland, 302 in Saskatoon Greystone, 1,041 in Saskatchewan Rivers, 1,568 in Rosthern-Shellbrook and 1,822 in Humboldt -- are the difference between the current 38-20 Saskatchewan Party-controlled legislature and a 30-28 NDP-controlled legislature identical to the last House.

Given that the latter would have meant the Saskatchewan Party would have still have had 49.4 per cent of the vote (compared with the 50.62 that the party actually got) while the NDP would have only garnered 38.2 per cent (compared with the 37.09 per cent it actually received), we would very likely be in a huge democratic crisis right now had the NDP won.
Needless to say, if our current system was indeed that close to a genuine "democratic crisis", that would seem to make for a strong argument for a full overhaul. But Mandryk doesn't go anywhere near that far.

Instead, Mandryk suggests a far more modest change:
Isn't it now time to consider setting aside part of the Saskatchewan legislature for proportional representation? Suppose that there were 10 seats in the 58-seat legislature based on popular vote rather than first-past-the-post. And suppose, based on the recent popular vote, the Saskatchewan Party government had five more seats, the NDP four and and the Liberals one. Wouldn't that result in both better cabinets and oppositions?

Maybe we need to consider such new ideas to get the depth we need in modern-day cabinets.
Mandryk doesn't deal with the question of how the occupants of those seats would be chosen. And based on his call for the seats to be used to improve the frontlines of government and opposition after the election results are in, it would seem that he's looking for the parties to have virtually free rein in allocating those proportional seats.

Of course, it's debatable whether this would be the best option. While Mandryk seems to see the PR seats as a way of immunizing top political talent from any need to run individually, I'd tend toward an approach which still gives some immediate say to the province's voters, filling any PR-based seats with a party's candidates who came closest to winning their ridings.

Whether or not one agrees fully with his proposal, though, it's still noteworthy that one of the main drivers of Saskatchewan's conventional political wisdom is calling into question whether the current FPTP system provides the best possible representation for Saskatchewan's citizens. And hopefully that will be an early step toward real change in the province's electoral system.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Below the radar

A couple of notes which you may have missed from yesterday's Hansard...

First, Con MP Denis Lebel counted himself as one of his party's ideal target voters by making a statement about his fondness for storytelling. Presumably Lebel is eagerly anticipating tomorrow's Question Period Storytime, featuring such classic tales of creative fiction as "Karlheinz' Letter Gets Lost" and "The Wonderful Magical Happyland of Afghanistan Where There Was No Evidence of Torture Until Two Weeks Ago".

Second, as part of their effort to use absolutely every means at their disposal to put party interests over government accountability, the Cons have made a habit of using their own questions in Question Period for sheer self-promotion rather than allowing back-benchers to actually express even the slightest concern with government actions. But it strikes me as curious that they were eager to use that platform yesterday to highlight their own lack of a meaningful response to U.S. interference with Canadian emergency vehicles seeking to cross the border.

Making strides

Barbara Yaffe writes about the promise of a federal NDP breakthrough. And while most of the information is relatively familiar, there's one surprising indicator of just how far the NDP has come over the past few years:
(W)hile few have been watching, the party's membership list has grown to the same length as that of the Liberals. And the NDP is set to spend the same as mainline parties in the next campaign.

(Said Jack Layton) "We're going to run an $18-million campaign and match the Liberals and Conservatives for the first time in history."
Based on an extremely quick look, I haven't been able to find total numbers from the last few years. As a result, it's not entirely clear just how much of the gap has been made up recently.

But from what I've been able to track down (see p. 21 here), Lib members outnumbered NDP members by a 6-to-1 margin as recently as 2003. And if the NDP has indeed managed to close that gap in just four years - despite the Libs getting the inevitable membership boost from a leadership race in the meantime - then there's plenty of reason to suspect there's a shift in progress which hasn't yet registered in the polls.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A purely private partnership

Berlynn catches an important story from the Council of Canadians which all too predictably went unreported in the media, as the North American Forum (linked to the Security and Prosperity Partnership) held another summit last month. But while the subject matter doesn't seem to have changed, the spin about the ever-more-secretive process is getting even less plausible as time goes by:
The North American Forum, a high-profile sister organization to the Security and Prosperity Partnership, is co-chaired by George Schultz, Peter Lougheed and Pedro Aspe, who are quite proud of how discrete these meetings are. Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day attended the 2006 summit in Banff and to date refuses to disclose the contents of his speech.

According to a CanWest article from March 23, 2007: "A 'media management plan' for the event in Banff last fall imposed a gag order on all participants, except the head of the Calgary-based media consulting firm, Corpen Group, John Larsen. Participants were directed 'to avoid direct media engagement where feasible,' say the notes... But Mr. Larsen said 'the conference wasn't secret. ... It was private, and that's an entirely different thing from being secret.'"...

"The Co-Chairs do not intend to make public pronouncements advocating specific policy approaches on the NAF's behalf," says the forum's website. "Rather the outputs of the NAF will be ideas and approaches that are individually pursued by participants at their own initiative and in their own name."
At least when the SPP met at Montebello, the participants were willing to admit to some influence over the jelly bean industry.

But apparently even that's seen as too much disclosure within the NAF - leaving citizens of all three countries unable to do more than guess as to what policies are being influenced by the privileged few invited to participate. And it seems like a safe bet that the summit wouldn't be so meticulously hidden from view if its results could bear public scrutiny.

Advancement opportunities

For the past decade, the Saskatchewan NDP's narrow hold on provincial power has limited the prospect of successful MLAs making a move to the federal scene. But with the next provincial vote four years away and a seat or two no longer holding the potential to swing the provincial balance of power, the Hill Times reports that the federal NDP is now looking to bring current and former MLAs on board:
The federal NDP may try to woo former Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert, whose government was recently swept out of power, along with two of his defeated Cabinet ministers to run federally in the province in the next general election.

"Jack Layton hasn't closed any doors and we've not entered into any formal discussions with any Saskatchewan New Democrats, but it's certainly a possibility," said Brad Lavigne, director of communications and research to NDP caucus in an interview last week.

Mr. Lavigne confirmed, however, that the party is "likely to reach out to" Mr. Calvert and to two defeated provincial NDP Cabinet ministers–Lon Borgerson, former minister of regional economic and co-operative development, and Graham Addley, former minister of healthy living services, minister responsible for seniors, Investment Saskatchewan Inc. and information services corporation of Saskatchewan and convince them to run federally in the next federal election.
The article notes that there haven't been any concrete steps taken just yet. And barring some surprises on the provincial side, it does seem fairly unlikely that Calvert would make the move.

But the combination of an experienced candidate like Borgerson or Addley with an electorate which is relearning the pitfalls of right-wing government at two levels would seem to offer a great opportunity both for the federal NDP, and for the individual candidates. And if the NDP can start building momentum now in its longtime prairie stronghold, then it should be well-positioned to make a strong push at Con incumbents across Western Canada when the next election rolls around.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A familiar refrain

Shorter Charles Gordon:
The likelihood that Canada's political scene will be dominated for months by talk about Conservative corruption is both proof of Stephen Harper's strategic brilliance, and excellent news for the Conservatives.