Saturday, October 25, 2008

Nothing new

Barbara Yaffe's column on Michael Byers' inaugural campaign in Vancouver Centre makes for an interesting read. But it's somewhat disappointing to see just what Byers apparently learned the hard way over the course of the campaign:
In a chat about his campaign experience, Byers says he was a "neophyte" in a riding contested by a posse of political heavyweights -- Fry, Adrienne Carr for the Greens and Lorne Mayencourt for the Conservatives.

He cites his own naivete in not recognizing the "logical complexities of running campaigns." He didn't appreciate the importance of a campaign apparatus to identify and then pull the vote, nor did he have time to assemble one. He'll now concentrate on building his party's riding membership and fundraising capability.
In fairness, there's plenty that Byers did well to position himself for the 2008 campaign and beyond - from establishing himself as a big-name candidate initially, to staying public eye throughout the campaign (including by introducing a key policy plank for the New Democrats). And it's certainly for the best that Byers plans to keep up the fight despite a disappointing result this time out.

But it has to be considered surprising that one of the star New Democrat candidates wasn't aware of the importance of some fundamental parts of any successful campaign. And part of the NDP's effort to keep growing in the future should include ensuring that all of its candidates - whether or not they start with a national profile like Byers - are better aware of what needs to be done both to improve their chances of success and to build the party.

Once a bad idea, always a bad idea

It's for the best that columnists are beginning to raise the demand that the Cons reverse their own ill-advised policy ideas past and present as their primary means of keeping the federal budget balanced. And that's doubly true compared to the Cons' own apparent plan to attack the public service or offload the burden onto the provinces.

But it strikes me as odd that the Cons' pointless giveaways are only now being highlighted. After all, is there any real difference in how much merit they hold based on whether or not the fiscal picture includes a potential deficit? And if not, shouldn't there have been a far more critical examination of what they would do when they were first introduced?

Friday, October 24, 2008

That pesky reality

It's well and good that the Cons are at least going to pretend to have a competent cabinet this time around, going so far as to carry out basic background checks which were apparently considered unnecessary for the last three years. But like Stephen Harper's attempt to sell himself as even remotely likeable during the course of the campaign, the effort figures to face some serious problems based on a steady stream of evidence to the contrary.


There's plenty of material worth reading about the Cons' shady dealings in Saanich-Gulf Islands which may have made the difference in Gary Lunn's reelection. But one part of the story seems to have received surprisingly little mention given how it ties the riding's shenanigans into the Cons' government as a whole.

Here's the background to one of the contacts listed for one of the astroturf groups set up to advertise for Lunn (see second link above):
Until September, (Patricia) Trottier was a director of CV Technologies, the company that promotes the controversial Cold-FX remedy championed by Don Cherry.

Her husband is Gwyn Morgan, the former president and CEO of EnCana Corporation and a former fundraiser for the Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties.

Together Morgan and Trottier own Victoria's eighth most expensive home and sit on the board of the C2C Journal along with other right wing luminaries like former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, the Fraser Institute's Michael Walker and Calgary professor and Harper adviser Tom Flanagan. Morgan and Trottier gave $1 million last year to the Fraser Institute Foundation, the right-wing advocacy group.
Oddly, the Tyee leaves out what may be the most important piece of Morgan's background. Presumably due in large part to his well-documented Con connections, he was Harper's idea of a chair for a non-partisan public appointments commission. And it was in response to his rejection by the opposition parties that Harper threw a tantrum and refused to set up the commission.

Now, there's no indication that Morgan had direct ties to the Lunn ad buys. But Trottier's link to Morgan would seem to add another reason for serious skepticism about the groups involved. And Morgan's continued involvement as a benefactor for the right-wing noise machine can only confirm that the opposition parties were right to reject his appointment rather than allowing somebody so closely tied to the Cons and their ideological allies to set the parameters for hiring within the public service.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A true Liberal visionary

After another election loss, one has to figure that the Libs have had ample time to consider just what it is they stand for and what values can best unite their caucus. So let's let one of their stalwarts define what he thinks the party needs to address:
When a reporter asked Senator David Smith what other issues besides leadership the caucus needed to discuss, he gave her a long, quizzical look.

"Get back in government," Smith finally responded.

A constructive suggestion

It's understandable that the federal NDP looks to be laying low to at least some extent in the wake of the just-completed election. But with most of the other parties making moves to get back in the news, it may be time for the New Democrats to do the same. And with that in mind, here's what I'd suggest to frame the debate for the fall.

One of the few areas of apparent agreement in dealing with the economic downturn is a need for additional infrastructure spending in the short term to mitigate against job losses elsewhere. Which is a problem under the Cons for two reasons: first, because they've been ponderously slow in putting announced funding into place, and second, because they've focused their spending for political gain rather than economic development.

In order to ensure that infrastructure investments can be put in place both quickly and effectively, it would seem to make sense to suggest instead that a streamlined, all-party or non-partisan mechanism be put in place to facilitate the approval of new infrastructure spending - with a twin focus on alleviating the current downturn, and building projects with long-term economic benefits.

If the suggestion were accepted, it would seem to offer a far more direct means than currently exists to put infrastructure money where it's needed most. And if that happens through multi-party agreement or a non-partisan approval process, then there should be far less need for concern about whether the money is being well spent. (Not to mention little danger of political blowback for anybody involved.)

Mind you, I wouldn't be surprised if the Cons refused to allow anybody else any say in how money is spent. But that side of the equation would at least see some significant political potential. After all, Harper could be painted as valuing his party's power to dole out pork over immediate and multipartisan action to boost the economy, leaving him vulnerable on both economic management and ethics (with a concurrent boost to the NDP on both issues).

In effect, the two possibilities in putting forward a fast-tracked infrastructure program would be either be to cement a reputation of working effectively with the other parties to respond to Canadians' largest concern, or to force Harper to wear continued economic difficulties even more than he would otherwise. And it's hard to think of a better way for a rising NDP to announce its presence as Parliament gets back to work.

On focus

While the main action within the Saskatchewan NDP obviously figures to involve the pending leadership race, there's still both a need and an opportunity for the party to start drawing some general battle lines for 2011. And based on the initial response to the fall throne speech, there's some reason for concern in that department.

After all, there doesn't seem to be much prospect that the NDP can make much headway with a message that the Sask Party is merely copying its policies. But that's what the first response to Wall's attack on out-of-province Crown investments sounded like:
Calvert also questioned the premier's promise of a "Saskatchewan first" investment policy for the Crowns, saying that was in place under his previous NDP government. Some of the out-of-province investments that were made also proved lucrative for Crowns, Calvert said.
It didn't take long for Calvert to deliver a stronger followup message. But the initial response is even more problematic since it at least partially undermines the point which Calvert rightly tried to make later: if the goal of the Crowns should be to invest for Saskatchewan whether or not that means investing in Saskatchewan, then the last thing the NDP should want to do is take credit for mandating the latter.

Meanwhile, another initial message to the effect that the biggest problem with Wall's tax-cut structure is that it's taking awhile to put in place looks to have virtually no long-term impact. Simply put, when voters decide who to support in 2011, the question of whether a program which doesn't meet with opposition was implemented in 2008 or 2009 isn't going to be at the top of anybody's mind.

And other lines of argument which would seem ripe for attack seem to have gone without comment. Surely Wall's pushing forward with Senate elections would make for fertile ground to restate the NDP's commitment to Senate abolition - not to mention in continuing to brand Wall as the 14th Conservative MP. But that seems to have gone completely untouched.

Fortunately, there's plenty of time to set the narrative for 2011. But for those tasked with defining the NDP's message at the moment, there's still every reason to look to the longer term in determining how the NDP responds to - and highlights - events today. And the more the NDP instead gets caught up playing things safe by pointing out minor quibbles rather than drawing real points of distinction, the more likely we'll be to miss the opportunity to remove Wall from office in 2011.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Best days to come

Following up on my earlier post about the value of riding-based online fundraising, Robert Silver makes some good points about the Cons' current advantage in issue-based appeals for support. While Silver's focus is from a Lib perspective, the same message would seem to apply equally for the NDP.

In particular, most of the New Democrats' e-mail appeals seem to be based largely on party promotion rather than drawing strong contrasts - in effect, relying on an informative tone of "here's what we're doing", rather than a more aggressive "here's what we're fighting". Which would seem to me to be exactly the type of message one would want to aim at the general public to help build up positive images of the party.

But anybody on the party's e-mail list would figure to have a positive enough impression to want to help to some extent. Instead, the hurdle in fund-raising is to spur those somewhat supportive individuals to action - which would seem to often demand an appeal to what the NDP is up against on specific issues which speak strongly to a constituency within the party, rather than feel-good messages with less of a targeted appeal.

Of course, there's always some challenge in then meeting the expectations of those who donate based on specific issues. (And one of the more interesting dangers facing the Cons is the possibility of a backlash to the extent they still raise money on issues where they've declined to do anything while in office.)

But when it comes to building the grassroots, one of the most obvious areas for future development is to start building deeper ties based on the specific issues in the sights of the NDP's current and potential supporters. And both the party and those supporters stand to benefit if the New Democrats can succeed in replicating the Cons' fund-raising machine.

Seeding the grassroots

Having commented earlier this week on the evolution of the NDP's website over the course of the election campaign, I'll also take a moment now to point out one element of the site which I hadn't noticed until after the campaign - and which may offer the foundation for some strong mutual reinforcement between the blogosphere and the party.

Until doing research for the earlier post, I'd been under the assumption that the donation links on the NDP website and associated templates went solely to the New Democrats' national campaign. But fortunately, the party has made it easy to contribute to riding associations as well.

Take for example the candidate page for Stephen Moore, the New Democrat contender in my riding of Wascana. Rather than merely offering another conduit for donations to the party's central fund, the "donate" link on the left goes to the Wascana constituency association. Which means that anybody wanting to support a particular NDP candidate or riding can do so easily.

So how can that knowledge be applied? Consider what happened in the U.S. when Republican Michelle Bachmann called Barack Obama "anti-American". Rather than simply blogging about the incident and moving on, or trying to make a tenuous link between Bachmann and national funding efforts, the netroots were able to raise $700,000 for Bachmann's opponent. Which ensured that one moment's outrage was converted into action which could turn the tide in an election.

So far, I haven't seen much to the same effect in the Canadian blogosophere. But any time someone like Gerry Ritz or Tom Lukiwski does or says something asinine, it'll only take a link and a click to help give a real boost to their closest opponent. And likewise, when a New Democrat candidate does something particularly praiseworthy, it'll be a snap to turn that fact into substantial action.

And the benefit doesn't figure to run only one way. If riding associations begin to see boosts to their bottom line based on blog efforts, then it'll only make sense for them to encourage people to find out what's motivated the action.

In closing, then, there's one more way to help your favourite NDP candidate - or take a bite out of your least favourite opponent - than most bloggers have seemingly used so far. And both the NDP and the blogosphere have plenty to gain if that opportunity is put to good use.

More blame shifting

The Libs' internal finger-pointing continues, this time with party officials racing to the press to declare that Stephane Dion ignored their advice about the possible effect of Con attack ads. Stay tuned for the next bombshell announcement, where it's revealed that party apparatchiks helpfully informed Dion as environment minister that he wasn't getting it done.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On preconditions

A few days back, I commented at Sean's blog about the need for Saskatchewan's NDP leadership race actually include strong, multi-candidate efforts to reach out and expand the party - such that the worst possible outcome would be a coronation rather than a race. Unfortunately, though, it looks like the frontrunner's willingness to run is based largely on the assumption that there won't be any meaningful competition:
(A) majority of caucus support was one of the conditions Lingenfelter set before he would agree to come back. He also demanded the support of more than half of the four women in caucus and the support of more than two-thirds of caucus members under the age of 45.

Further, he wanted a provincewide organization of at least 700 supporters ready to work and enough money to run a provincial campaign. Yates compares this to running a full-fledged provincial election campaign and suggests it could cost as much as $300,000.

Lingenfelter is satisfied on all these fronts and is already hard at work.
Now, Lingenfelter has certainly made at least some positive noises about building the party in the longer term as well. But it still seems problematic both for him to have set conditions seemingly intended to guarantee victory before he'd even consider running, and for the bulk of the caucus to have apparently fallen in line so quickly.

Which isn't to say that any endorsements next week will necessarily make for the last word. And indeed, the drop in party membership numbers over the past decade and a half would suggest that a strong grassroots effort could very plausibly overcome the party's current power structure.

For now, though, the most likely direction for the leadership race looks to be the one that would severely limit any prospect of internal renewal. And Lingenfelter will need to answer for having made that so once the campaign gets underway.

Update: Sean has more.

On known quantities

The Globe and Mail reports on the efforts of one of the advertisers which wound up in the middle of Adscam to settle with the federal government. But the most telling news comes from the response of government sources who seem less interested in recovering the maximum possible amount of money than in playing off public impressions of the scandal:
A company that made large payments to a former Liberal organizer has offered to pay back millions of dollars to taxpayers in relation to its role in the sponsorship scandal, sources say...

Sources said Polygone's lawyers have offered about $5-million to settle the firm's portion of the lawsuit. The federal government rejected the offer, but is still involved in discussions in an effort to obtain more money.

“The departments [of Justice and Public Works] have been seeking an extra $10-million from Polygone,” a federal official said.

Polygone was a central player in the sponsorship program, receiving more than $35-million to put federal advertising in its publications and at its events, such as hunting and fishing shows.

Evidence has been presented in court and at a public inquiry that Polygone made millions in profits by charging large margins on marketing opportunities. For example, court documents show that Polygone obtained $475,000 in federal funds after spending only $7,300 to run ads on a community station in Quebec City.

The public inquiry into the sponsorship program heard that Polygone surreptitiously paid out $6.7-million in subcontracts to former Liberal organizer and fundraiser Jacques Corriveau. Inquiry commissioner John Gomery called Mr. Corriveau a “central figure in an elaborate kickback scheme” that benefited the Liberal Party of Canada...

Federal officials said Polygone was never a well-known player in the sponsorship scandal, and that there is interest in Ottawa in finding out whether the company can help authorities go after Mr. Corriveau.

“Mr. Corriveau is a lot better known. Mr. Lemay has always flown under the radar,” a source said.
In sum, then, Polygone would seem to have been the greater beneficiary of federal money, and thus the party with the most money that could possibly be owed to the federal government if implicated. So any effort to salvage the most money possible would seemingly start with a vigorous action to recover it from Polygone.

But then, Polygone isn't as well known as its subcontractor. Which means that any successful action against would make for a less effective political ploy than one directed against a more familiar face.

So rather than pursuing the total amount which could have been lost to Adscam, the Cons are trying to work with the party which profited more from sponsorship funding to attack its subcontractor whose receipts would be a fraction of the total amount. And all this solely because Corriveau's public profile can help to resurrect the scandal to a greater degree.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely that this type of news will have the staying power that it probably should: the Cons surely don't want to highlight their own politically-motivated enforcement choices, and the Libs will presumably figure that they're best off trying to change the subject. Which is a shame, since the fact that the Cons are apparently willing to trade away public funds to embarrass the Libs would seem to confirm just how ill-suited they are for the responsibilities of power.

Bunker mentality

There's definitely something "historic" happening in Saskatchewan politics. But the story which really figures to change the province's course has nothing at all to do with the income tax levels that the Sask Party wants to highlight.

Instead, the real action is set to start behind closed doors, where the Sask Party is handing the nuclear industry $3 million to put together a wish list for nuclear development:
Saskatchewan has named the president of a company that is looking at building a nuclear power plant in the province to a panel that is to advise the government on how to develop its uranium and nuclear industry.

Duncan Hawthorne, president of Bruce Power Inc., is one of 12 people who were appointed to the Uranium Development Partnership on Monday by Crown Corporations Minister Ken Cheveldayoff and Enterprise Minister Lyle Stewart.

Bruce Power is currently conducting a feasibility study into building a nuclear power plant in Saskatchewan, the world's largest producer of uranium...

Bruce Power operates six Candu reactors at its electricity generating stations about 250 km northwest of Toronto. The Ontario-based nuclear power company is a joint venture of Saskatoon-based uranium giant Cameco Corp. (TSX:CCO) TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) of Calgary and other partners.

Other members named to the partnership include Armand Laferrere, president of Areva Canada, a France-based international nuclear power corporation, Jerry Grandey, president and CEO of Cameco and Alex Pourbaix, president of energy at TransCanada Corp...

The partnership's work will not include getting input from the public about uranium or nuclear power. The government pledged it will consult with the public after the final report is released.
See the full list of participants here.

Of course, this is far from the first time the Wall government has tasked big business with the job of deciding for itself how the province should be run with no input from such fringe interests as the general public. And judging from the Sask Party's track record, it surely won't be the last.

But the radioactive partnership looks to be the first time the Sask Party has actively promoted any one sector over another rather than merely favouring corporatist ideas generally. And it surely can't be a good sign that the Wall government's first choice of industries to favour with public money is not only probably the most controversial they could have picked, but easily the one which carries the most severe potential dangers if non-industry interests are ignored.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Site lines

Michael Geist's column on the continued dominance of largely obsolete web strategies in the federal election is worth a look. And it's worth looking in more detail at how the NDP started to break the mould - as well as how the New Democrats can improve their online presence in the future.

On the up side, there were two extremely positive developments from the NDP worth keeping in mind. First, there was the Web ad buy which helped to ensure that anybody interested enough in the election to be searching party leaders' names would be presented with the NDP's site as the featured ad - showing some substantial creativity at least in the party's effort to attract more eyes to its message.

More importantly, there was the unveiling of the Orange Room, which put the NDP far ahead of the pack as the first national party to allow for user-generated content. (And I for one will be starting to include my NDP-related posts in the content there.)

Of course, there's plenty of room to build on the current Orange Room structure. To start with, I'd hope to see a reduction in inconveniences such as number of clicks needed to get to any news article. But more importantly the current site would seem to have loads of room for expansion through features ranging from something as simple as comments within the existing structure, to hopefully a full range of networking tools comparable to that put in place by the Obama campaign.

All in all, there's plenty to be satisfied with in the NDP's steps so far. On the down side, though, one choice by the NDP for this election campaign looks to me to have been a mistake.

For the bulk of the campaign, any visitor to (at least from the routes which I took to reach the site) was confronted with a splash page seeking donations before reaching the main site. Which would be strange enough if the party was merely expecting most of the traffic to consist of people who were looking to NDP material. After all, it's at least a somewhat counterproductive strategy to interfere with visitors' access to the party's core message in the medium likely used by the most interested observers in the interest of raising money to broadcast its message in commercials which would be ignored by most viewers.

But the move strikes me as particularly odd in light of the Google ad buy. After all, anybody taking the time to check out the NDP site after searching another party's leader's name would almost certainly be looking for information about their options, rather than already being sold enough on the party to want to contribute money. And based on the cost of directing traffic to the website (which I believe was estimated at up to $12 per click), the combination may actually have made for a money-losing proposition - in addition to a barrier to presenting the NDP positively to interested visitors.

Now, we'll see whether the NDP's donation numbers for the last two quarters of 2008 offer reason to think that the money-first focus of the website during the campaign at least helped the party out financially. But I'd still prefer to see a more balanced approach which helps to get information into the hands of site visitors to build support later on, rather starting with a request for money and treating the NDP's message as secondary.

All of which is to say that the New Democrats still have a ways to go in converting the party's website to a means of connecting NDP-friendly Canadians rather than a top-down messaging platform. But the first steps taken this year look to be a great start - and I'll be looking forward to seeing how much more progress is made in the future.

The blame shift

For all the reasons to criticize Stephane Dion's underlings for refusing to take responsibility for the Libs' poor campaign performance, it looks like the problem went all the way to the top. From Kady's liveblog of Dion's press conference today:
Roger Smith reels off a list of other possible reasons for his loss - language, failure to run negative ads, bad strategic decisions, etc — but Dion doesn’t accept his verdict that it was his fault, at least in part. According to Dion, he’s been told that his performance was “fine” - it’s that Canadians didn’t get to know the real Stephane Dion. As for the Green Shift, he says that the party simply “wasn’t equipped” to sell it in the face of the propaganda against it. “If we had been able to explain what kind of Prime Minister I would have been, we would have won.”...

And now, time for the French questions, starting with Emmanuel Latraverse (whoops, got that wrong first time around), who also wonders what responsibiity he takes for the loss. Dion, however, blames the Conservatives for using strategy imported from the US, as well as Australia, although he agrees he should have “better explained” his “avant garde policy.”
Now, I'd tend to think that the person entrusted to manage the future of a political party should at least have some grasp of the party's limitations. And that knowledge would seemingly include recognizing when a party lacks the resources to counter attacks against it, and being able to tell the difference between policies it's equipped to pitch successfully and ones which may turn out to be insurmountable liabilities.

But for Dion, the mere fact that some of his yes-men were willing to say that his performance was "fine" - a remarkable assertion in and of itself when coupled with Dion's acknowledgment that a national leader's platform wasn't enough for him to get Canadians to know who he really is - serves as reason to ignore the obvious role that he played in shaping where the Libs are now. And if that message of avoiding personal responsibility remains the defining value of the Libs generally, there would figure to be plenty more failures in the party's future.

Then you win

Most of the post-election commentary discussing the New Democrats' strategy of auditioning Jack Layton for the role of Prime Minister has either criticized Layton for even suggesting the possibility of an NDP government, or portrayed the campaign as a failure for not achieving that lofty goal on the first try. But let's take another look at where the New Democrats are now compared to the start of the campaign - and how the NDP looks to be positioned for elections to come.

To start off, let's keep in mind Gandhi's quote which has served as the inspiration for the netroots movement in the U.S.:
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
As recently as 2006, Layton and the NDP were shy about even hinting at the possibility of forming government later on. And that made it far too easy for the other parties - particularly the Libs, but including the Cons and Bloc as well - to simply ignore the NDP's message during the campaign.

This time out, the effort to present Layton as a Prime Minister in waiting definitely received some ridicule at the time. But it looks to have paid dividends in forcing the other parties to mention the NDP as a real alternative. And in particular, the Libs' messaging by the end of the campaign was actually based on asking voters to think about an image (however distorted) of how the NDP would govern, rather than simply pretending Layton could never take power or laughing at the idea.

Even better, the NDP's messaging from this year's campaign should provide a foundation to build the party's image even more. Now that a public link has been drawn between Layton and the Prime Minister's role, it should seem like far less of a reach to start portraying the rest of the New Democrat caucus as a cabinet in waiting, and presenting the party's policies as a governing platform rather than a tasting menu for future Lib governments.

Of course, the fighting stage doesn't figure to be an easy one. But the NDP's stronger relative position now should ensure that there's no turning back from the position that the party deserves to be seen as a real governing alternative. And now that Canada has already been through one election campaign where the prospect of Jack Layton as Prime Minister served as more of a positive than a negative for the New Democrats, there's every reason for optimism that the last part of Gandhi's road map is within sight.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The buck stops...over there somewhere

The story from election night, when Lib strategists were apparently eager to highlight their own genius in hiding the facts from their leader:
Dion was not prepared to (resign immediately after the election) because he was reeling from the election outcome, having been told only shortly before the polls closed that the Liberals were about to take a hit. He was protected from the bad news to keep him pumped during a final cross-Canada sprint on election eve to ridings where Liberal candidates were in big trouble.
The story now that the Libs are about to blame Dion for everything that's wrong with the party:
Liberal insiders say he was completely surprised by the result, not having consulted with his candidates or having refused to listen to them as to what voters were really telling them.

Lessons unlearned

In case anybody held out hope that the Libs would start to focus some of their attention on actually opposing the Cons rather than navel-gazing and internal warfare, it's time to lower those expectations yet again. Not only does the Libs' impending leadership race figure consist of little beyond ammo for future attack ads and a chance to renew the party's usual internal rifts, but they apparently can't even name an interim leader without a fight to the death.

On thresholds

The Pundits' Guide features another interesting tidbit on its front page, listing the rebate-eligible ridings for each federal party (i.e. ridings where each party took at least 10% of the vote). But while the NDP's performance overall is impressive enough, its progress in Quebec is particularly significant.

In total, the NDP managed to reach the rebate level in 244 ridings - an increase of 30 from 2006. But the regional numbers show that in Quebec, the NDP went from only 8 ridings at the 10% level in 2006, all the way to 50 in 2008.

And that should have a huge impact on how those ridings raise and spend money in the future. Rather than having to assume that election expenditures will only offer a one-time benefit, most NDP Quebec riding associations will now be able to count on getting back 60% of what they spend. Which should make it far easier to justify investing money in the party's electoral campaigns - and to convince supporters to make their contributions at the riding level as well.

What's more, the impact of possible four-way races in Quebec may make for less of a distance from the rebate level to the point of winning seats. And that can only encourage the NDP in its continued efforts to build the party in Quebec.

On balance sheets

In the comments to Danielle's post which suggested based solely on income that the Libs' financial picture would be better than the NDP's, I theorized that the picture would likely look very different taking into account how much money the parties had actually spent since the 2006 election. Having actually done that today, my suspicions appear to have been confirmed.

Here's what one can tell from the 2007 year-end returns (the most recent ones available) for the Cons, Libs and NDP respectively.

On the surface, the 2006 numbers were extremely similar between the Libs and the Cons: both parties took in roughly $34-35 million, and spent approximately $31 million. But there are two important differences.

First, the Libs' income and expenses included the leadership race and convention which added significant numbers to both totals - meaning that the Cons were already spending more on basic party operations than the Libs. More importantly, though, the Libs' expense numbers don't include the debt incurred by leadership candidates, which has of course led to a large chunk of the Libs' fund-raising being diverted away from the party's bottom line.

In contrast, the NDP's 2006 numbers are substantially lower, but also included an extremely healthy bottom line. Indeed, the NDP's 2006 net position of over $5 million in the black makes for the healthiest year enjoyed by any of the three parties in 2006 or 2007.

For 2007, with no general election or leadership race, the Libs' expenses predictably dropped a long way to under $15 million. But the Libs' income dropped even further, resulting in their expenses exceeding their income by just under $2 million. Which makes the Libs' 2007 the only year for which any of the parties ran an overall deficit.

Meanwhile, the Cons took in and spent almost exactly the same amounts in 2007 as in 2006. That's a fairly stunning result given that there wasn't a federal election to serve as a focal point for expenditures, but it ensured that the Cons posted a profit of $2.6 million for the year rather than running up a particularly bloated bottom line.

And the NDP? It cut back its expenses to under $8 million for 2007. And that allowed it to stay in the black by $1.6 million despite the lack of election rebates to boost the party's bottom line as in an election year.

Totalling up the numbers, here's where the parties stood at the end of 2006-2007 compared to the beginning:

NDP: +$6,891,450
Cons: +$5,565,975
Libs: +$2,385,764

Now, none of the parties should be in particular trouble based on those totals. But it seems fairly clear that the NDP was careful to ensure that it could afford its 2008 election expenses, while the Libs have cut their margins the closest even while receiving far more federal funding than the NDP. In effect, the NDP has run a party that's sustainable at a donation level just under $4 million a year; the Libs don't appear to have done the same.

Moreover, if the Libs anticipate running another big-money leadership race as well as continuing to spend money at their historical pace, then they could be looking at plenty more red ink to come. And since the costs of finding a new leader don't seem to be a matter of choice at this point, the Libs' reduced federal funding now may well force them to cut back their operations just a time when they most need to try to build their party.