Saturday, October 11, 2008

On motivating factors

Stephen Harper's declaration that he'd expect the Cons to end up in the market for a new leader if he steps down may make for one of the more interesting forces at play over the last few days of the campaign. And it's worth considering in particular how the announcement may affect the Cons' stretch run.

Here's what Harper had to say:
Harper said he did not believe there would be "any appetite in Parliament or in the public for another election. I think whoever loses the election of the major parties, their party will begin the process of looking for a new leader." But Harper said he would not end up supporting a carbon tax simply to avoid another election.

"I'm running to win this election. If I don't win this election, I'm sure my party will look for another leader," Harper said.
Now, my suspicion is that the intended purpose of making that statement is to try to provoke a rally-around-the-leader response. But it's worth considering the possibility that it might have the opposite effect.

After all, plenty of factions within the Cons - socons, small-government advocates and any remaining red Tories in particular, but potentially including anybody involved with the party based on any principle other than the pursuit of raw power - would surely have experienced at least some frustration with Harper's top-down command structure and consistent stifling of inconvenient viewpoints.

Moreover, there are surely more than a few ambitious would-be leaders who would like the opportunity to take over the party in its current form. And they'd likely be highly attuned to what type of takeover would offer the greatest personal opportunity.

Before today, there was little indication that anybody falling into those categories would have the opportunity to get out from Harper's thumb anytime soon. So anybody who had still stuck around the Cons this long had little reason not to push all out for an election win.

But with Harper himself raising the possibility that he'd be gone as leader if the Cons can't win the election, I have to wonder whether the effect may be to present a strong incentive to tank on Tuesday to those who wouldn't mind seeing Harper gone (or those who just want to take his role).

On the ideological level, it wouldn't be at all surprising for anybody who's been stifled over the past few years to see potential to win a greater share of intraparty clout under new leadership. And a would-be leader could hardly ask for a better individual opportunity than to assume the role of opposing the most likely outcome other than a Con win (being a Dion minority) - or a worse starting point than to try to clean up the mess if Harper keeps power through an economic downturn.

In sum, Harper's ability to impose his shackles on the Cons has always depended on the recognition that he wasn't likely to relinquish the party's top job anytime soon. But now that he's opened the door for somebody else to replace him, the many Cons with reason to want to make that happen will have every reason to want to see Harper lose. And the fact that such calculations have been unleashed just in time for the election could make all the difference as to how the results will turn out.

Timing is everything

Let's at least give credit to Stephane Dion for letting Canadians know before the election that he plans on following in his predecessors' footsteps by delaying any action on child care, health care and prescription drugs. But is it really much of a selling point for Dion to now be campaigning on pushing through only his least popular policy?

The third option

Today's columns couldn't fit much better with my suspicions as to how the press would ultimately handle the combination of Dion's muffed interview and Harper's knee-jerk attack in response.

Stephen Maher: Dion = bumbling, Harper = mean.
Michael Den Tandt: Dion = silly and confused, Harper = tawdry, cheap and sad.
Barbara Yaffe: Dion = doofus, Harper = Mr. Nasty.
Greg Weston: Dion = utterly muddled, Harper = cheap and dirty.

Now if only a single one of those columnists would think to mention that there's another, better choice...

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On realignment

Sean has already discussed the Angus Reid Strategies poll showing the NDP running a remarkably close second behind the Cons in Saskatchewan. But from what I can tell, the potential impact of the numbers is far greater than merely affecting already-close races around the margins.

In looking at the races for this year's election, consider the difference between the 2006 and 2008 baselines within the province. In 2006, the "generic" Con/NDP matchup would start with a 25-point Con advantage. If the new polling is on target, then that number is all the way down to 5 points - making for a 20-point net swing between the two parties.

With that in mind, let's take a look at how some key ridings compared to the provincial averages in 2006, starting with the ridings mentioned by Sean as pickup opportunities.

If the NDP is 20 points up on the Cons province-wide compared to 2006, then it in fact figures to be a heavy favourite in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Regina-Qu'Appelle and Palliser, as adding those 20 points onto the 2006 results would place it at +13, +11 and +10, respectively. Which would leave the Cons scrambling to try to counter the shift in the electorate, not defending those seats from a position of strength.

Instead, the seats which figure to be actual toss-ups are the ones which Sean mentions as opportunities for "gains on the Tory incumbents". Applying a 20-point shift to the 2006 numbers, the NDP's position in Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre (+6), Blackstrap (+3), Saskatoon-Humboldt (even) and Saskatoon-Wanuskewin (-7) would make all of those races closer than the first tier of pickup opportunities.

Perhaps more significantly, though, the poll results could reflect a fundamental shift in party expectations within the province. For far too long, the default position has been that the Cons or their predecessors would hold a strong plurality of support and a majority of seats within Saskatchewan. And as I've noted before, all indications this time out were that any progress in winning seats from the Cons would similarly be based on poaching seats by narrow margins within a general sea of blue.

But the new poll suggests that the NDP is in fact close to even terms in votes across the province as a whole, not merely within striking distance in a couple of seats. And it can only be for the best if movement in support this year anticipates a longer-term shift away from the Cons as the dominant federal party within the province.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I've been curious how long it would take the New Democrats to make use of some online ads to draw in interested eyes in rather than relying on paid advertising. But while I'd like to have seen something along these lines earlier, it's a huge plus to see that the first such offering seems to have been worth the wait.

Tale of the tape

Following up on last night's post, maybe it'll be another tape entirely that proves to be the big story of the campaign's final weekend. And if a legal gambit intended to keep one of the Cons' ethical issues out of the campaign instead simultaneously puts Cadscam back into the news and lays bare the Cons' dishonesty in dealing with the issue...well, it couldn't happen to a more deserving party.

Just wondering...

In light of his apparent conversion over of the course of the campaign, is there any chance Stephen Harper will bother to inform Canadians just how he came around to the idea that it's not such a bad idea for governments to carry out "market transactions" that can result in public profits? And more importantly, under what circumstances (if there are any other than a tight election campaign) would he do the same again, rather than ranting about invisible hands and non-interference?


I'm not sure whether Stephane Dion was less principled than he claimed to be all along, or whether he's simply spent too much time around Cherniak-style hyper-partisans. But it's worth pointing out that Dion is closing the campaign by once again declaring that he'd rather keep Stephen Harper in power than deign to cooperate with the New Democrats.

Now, that's important in a couple of ways as Canadians decide who's best positioned to oppose and replace the Harper government. First, it effectively makes Dion the main obstacle to the united left which so many are now calling for, rather than somebody who can be seen as wanting to bring progressive Canadians together. And indeed, Dion's reason for refusing to consider a coalition suggests that anybody who opposes corporate tax giveaways isn't particularly welcome even within the Libs, let alone as another voice on the political scene.

Perhaps more importantly, though, it sends a strong signal that Dion doesn't plan to be any more effective in actually stopping the Harper agenda after the election than he has been through the last year. And for Canadians already seeing the effects of the Cons' governing philosophy at home and abroad, that should offer a strong reason to turn their support to a party which is looking to bring together Canada's left to counter the Cons, rather than playing up reasons to divide it.

Con government at work

It's problematic enough that the Cons awarded a $69,000 sole-source negotiating contract to one of their candidate's campaign managers. And even more so that they then tried to justify it as an emergency situation.

But it takes the Cons at their worst to start from that position, and then order their "emergency" negotiator to avoid any actual negotiations:
Pharmacists in both territories report that Health Canada gave Bargery no room to negotiate, so talks soon stalled again. Bargery's contract ran until May 31, 2008, according to Health Canada's website.
Which nicely sums up the Cons' tenure in office: searching for excuses to pay their cronies to do nothing, while conspicuously failing to accomplish anything. But hopefully, Canadians will soon take advantage of their opportunity to end the Cons' stay in power.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

From start to finish

It's truly sad that Stephane Dion's interview with Steve Murphy and subsquent reaction could prove to be the decisive factor in the federal election. But it looks all too likely that it could be just that - with the proviso that the end result could go in almost any direction.

From the looks of things, the Cons are downright giddy about what they see as new material to use to attack Dion - so obviously they think it'll help them to a favourable ending to the campaign. On the other hand, Andrew Potter (first link above) thinks it's the Libs who stand to benefit, with the Cons' response almost certainly playing a huge role in that.

It's worth pointing out, though, that both could be only half right. After all, the combination of Dion's bumbling and Harper's delight in going on the attack could just as easily play perfectly into emphasizing the most negative aspects of both. And if those images are the ones Canadians have in mind when thinking of the Lib and Con leaders at the polls, then Jack Layton might go from being merely popular to seeming like a towering statesman in comparison.

Or alternatively, it's also a distinct possibility that the sheer absurdity of the whole situation will finally put the Rhinos over the top.

Fortunately, it isn't yet too late to turn the discussion back to real and relevant distinctions in policy and character rather than focusing in on a double-gotcha moment. And it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if the party which is best able to do just that ends up being rewarded in the long run.

On strategic manipulations

Come to think of it, I have to wonder whether the Green candidate's withdrawal in Longueuil-Pierre-Boucher has anything to do with the party's belated rush for filler candidates.

After all, the Greens would have had awfully little chance to vet whether or not people responding to their last-minute e-mail call for candidates might have had other party affiliations. And if the Libs were counting on a late-campaign strategic voting pitch from Elizabeth May in any event, what better way to bolster that message than by having some of their own supporters take on paper candidacies to give the impression that genuine Green candidates were switching sides?

Now, we don't know for sure if that's what happened in this case. But there's every reason to be extremely wary of any Green candidates - particularly late-nominated ones - throwing their support to the Libs.

Update: CBC reports that Moreau is a self-professed Green member since 1993. But it's worth noting that there's still some reason for skepticism considering how the Libs are playing fast and loose with reality in their other endorsement announcement today.

On flawed strategy

Word comes out today that the Green candidate is throwing her support to the Libs in a riding where:
- the Lib candidate finished a distant 3rd in 2006, a full 43 points behind the victorious Bloc (and indeed less than 9 points ahead of the fifth-place Greens);
- the Libs haven't come particularly close to winning since their 1980 Quebec near-sweep; and
- the incumbent wasn't even a Con MP, meaning that it couldn't be justified as a "stop Harper" vote even if there was some prayer of influencing the outcome.

So let's ask the question: using the standards applied by Danielle Moreau, is there a single riding outside Alberta where one can justify a Green vote? And if not, why should voters be more generous with support for the Greens than their own candidates?

On sunk costs

For all the talk about Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page's report on the costs of combat in Afghanistan to date, the most important point should be the one related to the future costs of the mission:
Mr. Page's report concludes that the "incremental" costs of the military mission — the extra cost of being in Afghanistan over and above what would be spent anyway — have run between $5.9-billion and $7.4-billion between 2001 and 2008. Once all costs, including veterans' benefits and foreign aid are included, the total is $7.7-billion to $10.5-billion.

If Canadian troop levels remain the same, the military mission will cost another $5.7-billion by 2011, the report concludes. And the total costs will rise to somewhere between $13.9-billion and $18.1-billion, the report concludes.
Consider by way of comparison that the $5.7 billion number in future, avoidable Afghanistan costs is more than the Cons plan to spend on their entire domestic platform between now and 2011. Given the choice between sinking that money into a mission which most people recognize to be past its best-before date or finding a way to make sure as much as possible can be used in Canada instead, is there much room for doubt that the more sensible fiscal decision would be the latter?

Of course, it's an outrage how much has already been lost in Afghanistan - and the money sunk into the combat mission is far from the only problem in that respect. But while it's too late to change what's already been squandered, there's still plenty of time to vote for a party which will put us on a path toward better using our resources at how and abroad.

A statement of principle

Ellen Gould points out the Cons' track record in office of pushing for financial deregulation in Canada and around the world. And what's perhaps most striking is the gap between the Cons' newly-made claim to have recognized the risks of unfettered trade in derivatives as early as last year, and their participation in efforts to promote those same derivatives and other financial services globally:
While successive Canadian governments have been strong advocates of financial liberalization, the unfolding financial crisis might have suggested now is the time to show a little caution and back off these WTO negotiating demands. Yet a WTO submission from Canada dated Dec. 5, 2007, berates other WTO members for their lack of "ambition" in the financial services negotiations. On behalf of the co-sponsors of the submission, Canada claimed: "further liberalization of financial services will help promote economic growth and improved standards of living for all WTO Members…"

It makes one wonder. Just how bad would things have to get before the Harper government realizes further liberalizing the world's financial markets is not such a great idea?
Keep in mind that by the time the WTO position was issued, not only was the U.S.' housing bubble readily apparent, but Canada itself had already experienced a well-publicized breakdown based on asset-backed commercial paper. Yet that didn't stop the Harper Cons from demanding that the WTO open the door to far more risk associated with financial derivatives, in a move which would seem to have had the potential to prevent Canada from acting to ensure exactly the financial stability which the Cons now take credit for.

Fortunately, the Cons' international push doesn't seem to have gotten anywhere. But it surely serves as an indication that the Cons' long-term intentions are far out of line with what's best for Canadians whose savings are already suffering from a misplaced belief in unfettered financial markets.

Quebec: Layton the Best PM

The Globe and Mail reports on some new polling from Innovative Research Group. And while there's plenty of interesting information in the article (and surely plenty more in the underlying data), there's one finding in particular which could significantly shape the rest of the campaign:
Mr. Layton, who has loudly supported arts funding after a series of cuts made by Mr. Harper, has seen his own popularity and that of his party surge in Quebec – a province where the arts are valued heavily, and one where the NDP held just one seat when the election was called.

Quebeckers declared Mr. Layton the runaway winner of the English debate, and now think he would make the best Prime Minister of all the leaders, the poll shows.
Remember that it was just last week that Layton had first pushed ahead to a clear second place behind Harper in a CROP poll. From the looks of IRG's numbers, he didn't stay there for long - instead taking full advantage of the debates to emerge as the preferred choice for prime minister among Quebec respondents. And that should offer a golden opportunity for Layton to parlay his high standing among Quebec voters into an NDP breakthrough.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A gift to the boardroom

I haven't yet seen any coverage drawing a link between the latest financial news and the federal election. But could Jack Layton and the New Democrats have designed a better example of how corporate giveaways tend to result in a lousy return on investment than today's news that Canada's banks will pocket half of a Bank of Canada interest rate reduction intended to keep the economy afloat?

Update: Not surprisingly, Layton is now pointing out the move.

A steady leadership moment

Shorter Stephen Harper today:
Canadians won't generally be affected by the drop in the stock market because they know better than to make their decisions based on panicked short-term reactions.

Shorter Stephen Harper yesterday:

On jujitsu

Early in the election campaign, the New Democrats served notice that they planned to turn the Cons' messaging against them, taking the "strong leader" persona built up for Stephen Harper and painting it as a negative compared to Jack Layton's "new kind of strong". Now, the NDP is again turning the Cons' words against them by pointing out which party is actually asking Canadians to take risks on the economy:
Stepping up his attacks on Harper over the faltering economy, Layton warned that Canadians' pensions and homes are at risk and Harper is doing nothing about it.

Instead of protecting their jobs and savings, the Conservative leader is advising ordinary families to spend their money on plummeting stocks, Layton said.

"Most Canadians are extremely concerned, and yet he's trying to suggest that going out and gambling some of your money is the right strategy," he said after a breakfast rally in Edmonton...

"When economic uncertainty lies before us, it's a golden opportunity for leadership and it's a golden opportunity for us to pull together," he said.

The NDP would draft new regulations for banks to "make sure that no one is gambling with your savings," he said.
I'll leave aside for now the whether or not buying stocks is a good idea for those who have enough disposable income to afford it. But the messaging ties in perfectly with the New Democrats' consistent message about the dangers of deregulation and laissez-faire government, while the use of the "gambling" and "risk" language favoured by the Cons turns the tables on Harper by pointing out that it's a failure in private-sector risk management that's caused the crisis which now has Canadians worried for their financial futures.

All of which offers a compelling reason for Canadians to avoid gambling their vote either on the Libs' carbon tax, or on the Cons' unjustified faith in big business. And that leaves the New Democrats as the safest bet to provide the economic leadership Canadians need.

The common touch

In case anybody was wondering how Stephen Harper could be so far out of touch as to suggest that Canadians facing job losses, declining home values and a credit crunch should look to buy stock, look no further than what his supporters have to say about economic crises past and present. Shorter David at Antagoniste:
How bad could the Great Depression really have been for Canada if no banks went under?

More of the same. Only less.

Jeffrey Simpson's column today manages to include something which every party can disagree with. But let's give Simpson credit for what looks to be the definitive description of the Cons' platform - and make sure that it finds its way to as many voters as possible by next week.

Advance notice

David Akin posts about the drop in turnout at the advance polls for the upcoming federal election, as well as some interesting riding-level trends. But I'm not sure that his conclusions match the data he presents.

As Akin notes, high turnout is generally assumed be better for challengers for incumbents. And in that respect, it seems highly significant to me that turnout seems to be highest in Con-held ridings and lowest in opposition-held ones - suggesting that it's Con (and to a lesser extent Bloc) incumbents who are facing the strongest challenges.

In contrast, Akin figures that it's Cons rather than other parties who tend to get their vote out in advance, and looks for a way to spin the numbers in their favour. But while there's probably some argument to be made that the high advance turnout in ridings which weren't particularly close could be interpreted as a sign that Con supporters are voting locally before heading out to closer ridings to volunteer on election day, that simply doesn't fit the pattern which Akin acknowledges as to whether the high turnout normally favours incumbents. And I'd have to wonder whether the Cons have run out of steam on the advance polling front precisely because they're in power rather than having the energy of an opposition party.

On turning points

The current CW seems to be that the Cons' early-campaign rise got turned around based on two factors: Harper's crime and arts policies which have proved toxic in Quebec, and the rise of the economy as an issue in the rest of Canada. But I'm not sure the latter point tells the whole story about how the Cons painted themselves into a corner nationally.

Surprisingly, it's L. Ian MacDonald who provides a grain of truth about where the Cons' national campaign started to go sour:
In the early going, the Conservatives made it about Dion and his carbon tax. In the end game, the carbon tax forgotten, the Liberals and NDP are making it about Harper not having a plan for the economy.
But MacDonald doesn't point out exactly where that shift started. So let's take a spin in the wayback machine:
The Conservatives said Sunday they are refocusing their primary aim on the NDP and the Green party, citing them as a bigger threat to their reelection than the Liberals.

The Tories explained their dramatic shift in strategy, coming as the second week of the federal election begins, as being due to NDP Leader Jack Layton's rising popularity over that of Liberal Leader Stephane Dion -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper's main target last week.

But the Conservatives also said the NDP and Green party are making significant inroads, not only in British Columbia and parts of the Prairies but in northern and southwestern Ontario.

"They're beginning to challenge the Liberals as our primary opponent in a number of key areas," a senior Conservative campaign source said Sunday.
At the time, the theory was that sharing the spotlight between three different parties would dilute the Libs' ability to mount a direct challenge. But consider in retrospect how the shift also changed the Cons' messaging to put them in their current bind.

Before the Cons' strategy shift, they were able to focus their efforts on maintaining and cultivating the impressions of Dion and his carbon tax that they'd worked so hard (and spent so much) to develop in the first place. But the moment the Cons acknowledged that the New Democrats were a threat as well, they lost the ability to frame their message around those critiques.

In contrast, while the Cons couldn't lump the NDP in with the Libs (and Greens) on weak leadership or the carbon tax, they could relatively easily fit all three into a typical right-wing "tax and spend" frame. And so they've done ever since.

But the most obvious problem with that strategy is that Canadians don't seem to have been at all receptive to the Cons' argument that taxing and spending are necessarily evils where the spending is on important priorities like child care or prescription drugs. Which meant that while the Cons now had a consistent message to deal with all the obvious threats, they no longer had one which particularly resonated with the voters they were trying to reach.

What's more, having spent the bulk of the campaign slamming the very idea of government involvement in the economy, the Cons were broadsided by an economic downturn which led Canadians to expect their government to do something to secure their financial future. And that's where the Cons went from merely limiting themselves to arguments which lacked much public force, to trying to sell a do-nothing message which was the last one Canadians needed to hear in a time of crisis.

Now, the Cons find themselves trapped. With the economic crisis now in full swing, any effort to turn the focus back to Dion and the Green Shift seems likely only to make the Cons seem even more out of touch with Canadians generally, while having only a limited chance of success in changing impressions of the Libs back to what they were earlier in the campaign. What's more, with the NDP still within striking distance, even a successful attack on the Libs is far from sure to keep the Cons in power.

But then, the Cons seem to have recognized that they aren't going to win any ground with their anti-government ranting either. Which leaves them without any obvious strategy for the last week other than to put their head down and hope the economic crisis eases up just enough to ease public anger with Harper.

By way of comparison, consider what would have happened if the Cons hadn't had to shift their message to accommodate attacks on the NDP (and Greens). The economic crisis would still have hit in the middle of the campaign - but it would have done so at a time when the main ground of argument between the Cons and the Libs was a tax shift which could easily enough be argued to destabilize the economy even more. And if the Cons hadn't taken their focus off Dion, he likely wouldn't have been able to rehabilitate his image to the point of being seen as worth listening to on the economy.

All of which is to say that rather than serving to keep the Cons in power due to vote-splitting, the presence of multiple viable opposition parties may turn out to be the key factor in ultimately sinking Harper's government. And the presence of several parties exposing the Cons' weaknesses in the last week of the campaign can only help to cement that outcome.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

On investment opportunities

Cameron nicely pegs the most obvious self-inflicted wound among Stephen Harper's comments today:
“I think there are probably some great buying opportunities emerging in the stock market as a consequence of all this panic,” Mr. Harper told reporters.
But let's note that while Harper's quote shows just how far he is out of touch with the economic reality facing Canadians, it's at least somewhat self-reinforcing. After all, based on the Cons' miserable performance in the second half of the election campaign, there's probably plenty of money to be made short-selling Con seats in the UBC Election Stock Market.

Ad hockery

It's interesting to see 1337hax0r's reviews of the latest New Democrat ads which disagree almost perfectly with my own take. I've discussed before why I think the Chalk Talk ads could be highly effective, particularly in attracting the attention of voters who are just now tuning in to the election. (See the latest one on health care here.)

But I find it especially interesting to see a highly positive review for what looks to me to be the most disappointing NDP ad of the election cycle, being the latest Quebec ad attacking the Bloc.

It's easy to see how the New Democrats' Quebec ad strategy was set up to try to shift public opinion of each party. And it's obvious that the Bloc was next in line to be dealt with based on their recent boosts in the polls - not to mention the need to convert Bloc votes to the NDP to push ridings into the New Democrats' camp.

But I'm not sure that the actual ad hits the mark. While it includes a few interesting concepts (notably the square-wheeled bike, a strong soundtrack and the puns off the Bloc's name), it avoids a direct critique of anything the Bloc has actually done or failed to do. And that seems to me to be a serious omission: how can an ad make the case that it's time to unblock specific issues without even attempting to present examples of how they're blocked at the moment?

And that problem is only amplified by the lack of any direct mention of NDP policies or a specific reason to vote for a New Democrat as opposed to any other party. In effect, the ad works somewhat on the level of attaching a negative association to the Bloc - but could just as easily serve as an ad for the Cons or the Libs aside from the presence of Layton.

Now, I'll hope to be wrong in the above analysis. But I'd think there's some reason for concern that the much-vaunted Quebec ad strategy will fall short of giving progressive Quebeckers the spur they need to shift their votes from the Bloc to the New Democrats.

Turn your head and COF

I haven't yet seen a full copy of the Cons' platform online, so there may be even worse ideas in there somewhere. But it would seem virtually certain that this is at least near the top of the list of utterly useless proposals which the Cons are trying to pass off as a meaningful vision for Canada:
They're also promising a “Charter of Open Federalism” to enshrine the original division of powers among provinces and Ottawa.
From what I can tell, the promise effectively amounts to a declaration that the Constitution Act, 1867 - which has of course governed the division of powers between the federal and provincial levels for the past 141 years - will continue to do so.

Now, it could be that the Cons' microtargeting efforts have unearthed a surprisingly large number of Norberts and Esmereldas who have been on the edge of their respective seats wondering whether Canada's constitutional documents continued to exist. But I'd have to figure that a lot more voters will recognize that the Cons are flailing for lack of anything useful to offer - making it highly unlikely that the Cons' hastily-assembled platform will do anything to stop the Cons' slide in the polls.

Harper. Deficit. Repeat.

Over the past week, Stephen Harper has been forced to admit that he's been aware of serious problems with the Canadian economy even as he's jetted around the country preaching that everything was just fine. Now, Harper has opened the door to future deficits, papering over that danger with only a bare assertion that he doesn't plan to do that based on how things look at the moment.

Needless to say, there's little reason to trust Harper in his claimed evaluation of Canada's current economic conditions. But yesterday's interview does seem instructive in what Harper doesn't mention, as there's no indication that the Cons would reconsider any of their tax-cut grab bag to keep the federal government from going into deficit.

Which means that after two and a half years of the Cons grinding away at the federal government's fiscal position, there's plenty of reason for concern that yesterday's interview is intended to set the stage for deficits to come. And for Canadians who would rather have a government that pays its bills in the present rather than putting corporate tax cuts and vote-buying measures first, this may be the revelation which finally cements Harper and his party as irresponsible money managers.

Anything is possible

Michael Byers' entire interview with the Tyee's Monte Paulsen is worth a read. But for now, let's highlight Byers' point about the opportunities in play in the ongoing federal election:
I disagree that there is very little chance the New Democrats will form a government. I think that Canadian politics is in a period of enormous flux and almost anything is possible. That's what makes it exciting.

"This is arguably the most important election in Canada for decades. And so much is changing so quickly that I don't think anyone should make any assumptions about what the outcome should be.
Indeed, it's worth noting that the situation may only have become more fluid over the past few days. Both the Cons and Libs are apparently running below their 2006 numbers, leaving a more obvious opening than there's been in a long time for some new ideas to make their way into one of the top two positions. And both obviously have room to drop further, particularly with the Cons' economic message falling apart and the Libs' perpetual infighting emerging once again.

With that background, and boosted by the best campaign of any federal party, the New Democrats are now within a plausible late-campaign surge of overtaking both. Which means that the main task now is to turn the obvious potential for real change into reality over the course of the next week - and it's not hard to understand why Byers is just one of many New Democrats excited about the possibilities.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Shorter Gilles Duceppe:
It's true that I've spent the election campaign rightly bashing Stephen Harper's lack of fitness to hold power. But just so we're clear, he can still buy my party's support any time he wants to.

Chalk talk

Following up on yesterday's post, below are links to the New Democrats' new ads.

First off, on the economy. And second, on leadership - which was the ad which I'd discussed yesterday.

It's worth noting that the ads apply the new, caricatured look and style equally to the Libs and Cons - making for a fairly striking contrast when compared to the New Kind of Strong series. But again, the most important goal at this stage of the campaign is to leave a distinct enough impression to come to mind when voters mark their ballots. And there's plenty of reason for optimism that both will manage to do just that.

(Edit: Removed embedded videos, replaced with links.)

Nothing doing

There was never all that much doubt that the Cons' attempt to run on a nonexistent plan to deal with impending financial doom could be taken as a signal of the party's lack of anything useful to offer. But Harper's attempt to try to deal with that problem today goes even further than I'd expected in showing just what kind of do-nothing party they're dealing with:
Mr. Harper said the government is watching "very carefully" to see if the U.S. financial crisis, and the aftershocks it is unleashing worldwide, will have any "rebound effects" on the Canadian economy.

"We're putting some secondary plans in place if that becomes necessary," the prime minister told reporters. Asked what those plans might be, he said later in French that the government is considering proposals to help the banking system.

The prime minister did not provide details on what that would involve, but his chief spokesman later clarified that the Conservatives aren't considering any major intervention in the banking system, or an emergency fiscal stimulus package to boost the economy.

Rather, they are looking at "routine" options that have come up in the government's regular meetings with Bank of Canada officials, he said.

"We're not talking about something larger or a policy change here. This is more routine and technical," spokesman Kory Teneycke said.

Last week, the Bank of Canada doubled the amount of money it makes available to Canadian banks to encourage them to lend to individuals and businesses. It appears the Conservatives are considering more liquidity-pumping options along these lines, although the Bank of Canada would have the final say on such moves.
That's right: Harper's plan in the event of a crisis is to give serious consideration to the possibility of suggesting that somebody else should think about taking action. And the Cons apparently expect Canadians to believe that such a lack of interest in doing anything somehow makes Harper uniquely well-suited to deal with risks to their financial security.

Of course, the Cons seem to have managed to confuse the issue enough that today's headlines don't match reality. But it shouldn't take long for their slide in the polls to accelerate once voters realize that the Cons' "steady hand" is really nothing more than rigor mortis.

CanWest Editorial Policy: Benefits? What Benefits?

With the Cons' announcement that they'll correct a couple of the more glaring flaws in their "child care benefit", each of the three main federal parties has now offered at least some additional funding for Canadian families through tax benefits. And by any direct comparison, the Cons' proposal offers the least support of the three.

So naturally, CanWest's post on the topic...utterly ignores the New Democrats' and Libs' child tax benefit proposals, instead comparing the Cons' proposal to the other parties' plans to build a national child care system.

Which means that instead of providing an accurate picture - that the other parties are both making greater benefits available, and planning to create child care spaces where the Cons have failed completely - CanWest manages to give the false impression it's only the Cons that are proposing to provide any money directly to families. And all this under a headline and introduction which mirror the Cons' language about "modest" programs.

Fortunately, CanWest's previous efforts to do the Cons' work for them don't seem to have paid off all that much. But the fact that the other parties will once again have to try to correct misleading information from the media can only give Harper an undeserved advantage going into the last week of the campaign.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Less than noble sentiments

Shorter Haroon Siddiqui:
I implore all Canadians to eschew needlessly simplistic analysis of the federal election, and instead fully exercise their democratic franchise by casting a ballot for the party whose policies best mirror their values. That is, after they've accepted my advice to arbitrarily ignore all but two of the options.

An ad to remember

For the first time in this year's election campaign, a New Democratic ad is set to take aim at Stephane Dion and the Libs. (I'll point to the description at the end of this article for the moment, and update this post once a version of the ad itself becomes available online.) And it's worth noting the difference between the NDP's early-campaign ads and what looks to be the party's late-campaign strategy.

The NDP's previous ads - all based on the "New Kind of Strong" theme - each followed a consistent pattern of first hammering away at Stephen Harper's areas of weakness, then providing an understated, upbeat statement of the NDP's plan. And assuming it was time to start going after the Libs, there's no apparent reason why the New Democrats couldn't have done that within the existing concept - continuing to present a dark and ominous portrayal of Harper's direction, but including some mention of the Libs' role in helping Harper to push his agenda.

But the strategy to deal with the Libs looks to have gone in an entirely different direction. Rather than trying to use a particularly sharp tone to emphasize either the similarities between the Libs and Cons or even Dion's role in giving Harper an effective majority for the past year, the new ad almost treats Dion with kid gloves in a few ways.

First, it relies on a simple, background-free layout - making no effort to link Dion visually to the problems the NDP is looking to deal with, many of which can easily be laid at the feet of Dion's party.

On top of that background, it uses caricatures rather than actual images or quotes to depict Dion (as well as the other leaders).

And even the criticism of Dion is based on a line about confusion rather than weakness or incompetence - making for a more generous portrayal of Dion than even numerous sources within the Libs have put forward since Dion took over.

All of which is to say that the ad can't be described as hard-hitting. But then, that may reflect a better appreciation for the nature of the New Democrat/Lib swing vote than Dion and company have shown so far.

After all, it hardly makes sense to try to win over votes now parked with one party by shrieking that it's completely unreasonable to have ever supported them. Which is where the Libs' current messaging against the NDP figures to be counterproductive.

Instead of matching that strategy blow for blow, the NDP is apparently looking to win over Lib voters with a soft-sell approach. Rather than painting the choice between the New Democrats and the Libs as a particularly stark one, the new ad's visuals only gently reinforce the idea that Layton is the better choice to stand up to Harper - offering swing voters a reason to choose the NDP without implicitly slamming them for considering the Libs.

Now, that strategy could prove problematic if there wasn't something original enough about the ad to give it a chance of coming to the forefront of a voter's mind at decision time. But that's where the use of caricatures rather than real photos or videos may prove particularly interesting.

By using images which haven't been used elsewhere and are simple yet explanatory enough to stick in a voter's mind, the new ads would seem to maximize the chances that Canadians will remember their message about the NDP being better positioned to stand up to the Cons when they vote. And that may prove to be exactly what the New Democrats need to keep their momentum headed in the right direction as election day approaches.

On credit crunches

The latest economic message from Jack Layton still stops short of focusing on the link between the New Democrats' platform and economic stability. But it seems to set the stage for just that kind of link by emphasizing how the Cons' mismanagement is making it tougher for Canadians to keep up with their cost of living:
NDP Leader Jack Layton says Canadians should show "Stephen Harper the door" rather than give him a majority government because he didn't help working families as prime minister.

Layton said Harper and his Tories haven't shown strong leadership, but have instead given corporations and oil companies billions in tax breaks.

"This isn't the kind of leadership we need, is it? In fact, I don't think you can call it leadership at all," he said at a Sunday morning campaign stop in St. John's, N.L.

He said Harper wants a majority government even though he had for the past year what Layton called "a virtual majority" with Liberal and Bloc support in Parliament.

People are saying, "let's throw out Stephen Harper and let's bring in Jack Layton and the New Democrats," he said.

Layton warned the audience that a U.S. financial-sector-style economic meltdown is possible in Canada. He said he's been talking to Canadians who have told him they can't make their credit card payments or renew their mortgages because banks won't extend them credit.

"This is exactly what happened in the U.S.," he said.
Now, it's worth noting that there may be one significant difference between the two countries which Layton hasn't yet mentioned. After all, the U.S. meltdown was based in large part on derivatives which created massive immediate risks within the financial sector when mortgages started to go bad - in effect ensuring that corporations who were leveraged beyond their means began going under shortly after the first wave of consumers started doing the same.

In contrast, Canada's situation figures to leave a larger portion of the up-front damage at the consumer level, while potentially delaying the point at which financial institutions would start to go under as well. But that doesn't make matters any easier for Canadians facing a credit crunch in the short term. Which can only heighten the need for a government which will both pay attention to the needs of consumers, and consider it a top priority to make it easier for families to stay afloat.