Saturday, March 14, 2009

Long tenure, short shrift

There's been plenty of discussion this week about the Cons' lack of any sympathy or respect for the Canadians suffering at the hands of the Harper recession. But now, the Cons are also putting their disrespect for workers into action:
One program for "long tenured workers" will require them to use part of their severance money to pay for retraining if they want Employment Insurance benefits.


The mandatory use of severance money prompted an angry response from Irene Mathyssen, the New Democratic Party MP in whose riding Harper touted his government's spending plans.

"He is basically saying we are going to bleed these people dry who have already lost their jobs and a great deal of hope for their future," she said.
It would seem obvious that the last thing any terminated worker needs is for the federal government to go out of its way to make matters worse. But for "long-tenured workers", that's exactly what the Cons are doing.

After all, before the budget made any changes, those workers would have been able to collect EI after receiving their severance. But thanks to the Con/Lib budget, they're now facing either a requirement to use their own severance money to fund retraining which may not serve any individual purpose, or a loss of the EI benefits which they've helped to fund in their previous tenure at work.

Which is a particularly rich move coming from the government which has built its brand around "putting money in pockets" through random tax cuts aimed at buying votes rather than achieving positive policy results. But apparently seeing laid-off workers as unlikely to support the government which oversaw their termination, the Cons have decided to further punish those who are already feeling the brunt of the economic downturn - and shown exactly where their priorities lie in the process.

The gauntlet

The Saskatchewan NDP has announced the timing and format for the upcoming leadership debates. And the plan is both to make sure the candidates prove their mettle under what sounds like a fairly grueling schedule, and to get the candidates face-to-face with as many citizens as possible:
Wollenberg also announced seven local forums that will take place across the province to engage people with the candidates.

The candidates, as well as the public, are invited to attend the forums from April 15 to 23 (excluding April 19) in North Battleford, Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Melfort, Yorkton, Swift Current and Regina.
Of course, the timing to get people involved couldn't be much better. With every region of the province getting to hear from and compare the candidates personally just in time for the membership deadline, the result would seem to be to maximize interest at the point where it can do most to help bring more people into the party.

But in order to make that happen, the candidates themselves will face what looks to be an extremely difficult schedule. Compare to the public debates in the Ontario NDP leadership race, which were generally separated by a week or more - giving the candidates ample time to prepare for each debate individually, and try to shape a different direction if a single debate didn't go as intended.

For Saskatchewan's candidates, those options won't be available. With the debates coming in rapid succession, it'll be essential for the contenders both to perform well from the beginning, and to use a core message from each debate to set up the next - as one day's headlines are sure to influence how the later debates are covered. And there will be precious little time to change course if an initial plan doesn't work out.

In theory, that structure would seem to favour Lingenfelter and Higgins as the more experienced candidates. But there's some significant risk and reward involved for everybody: after all, the likelihood of a gaffe which could knock an experienced politician off his or her stride surely has to increase when dealing with seven debates in eight days. And the debates may well take the experience card out of play to a great extent, as it'll be awfully difficult to make a case that either Meili or Pedersen can't hold up to the glare of politics if they hold their own through a stretch designed as a far more strict test than the debates in a normal election campaign.

In sum, a campaign which was already starting to get very interesting looks to be all the more so now that the debate schedule is out. And there's plenty of reason to look forward to seeing how all four of the leadership contestants will perform given the opportunity.

h/t to Buckdog's NDP Leadership site.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Musical interlude

Daft Punk - Television Rules the Nation / Crescendolls

Burning questions

Has the stress of working for a media outlet that's set to go bankrupt any day now caused Kelly McParland to snap? Or is he operating entirely according to plan in trying to project as distorted a picture of left-wing thought as he can in what little time CanWest has left?

BONUS QUESTIONS: What would be the mirror image of McParland's insane depiction of left-wing thought? And how many threats would be visited on the head of whoever wrote, posted and approved it?


So far, most of the commentary about Michael Ignatieff's Epoch Times interview has come from Con circles to the effect that it can't be believed in light of his signature on the opposition non-confidence petition. But those of us who want to see Canada's progressives working together may want to pay closer attention to what his new position it might mean in another minority Parliament:
I could be sitting here as your prime minister, but I turned it down because I didn’t think it was right for someone who believes in the national unity of my country to make a deal with people who want to split the country up.
Now, it would have been fairly easy for Ignatieff to phrase his explanation in terms which would apply to the budget vote this January but not to any future coalitions - whether by focusing on the supposed urgency of passing the budget which was been the Libs' main excuse for propping up the Cons, or by pointing to the relative seat count as an explanation as to why he wouldn't have seen a coalition as viable at this point in particular.

But instead, Ignatieff chose to directly attack the concept of entering into any agreement which could possibly include the Bloc. And beyond the insult of telling the majority of Quebec ridings that their representatives aren't fit to play a role in deciding Parliamentary outcomes, that also poses serious questions about the Libs' future plans.

After all, it's not difficult to imagine any number of scenarios following an election where the Libs might have the opportunity to finally topple the Harper government - but if and only if they have the Bloc onside. And one would think Ignatieff would recognize some conflicting pressures at play, including a need to weigh the damage which Harper continues to inflict on the country against any countervailing concerns about the Bloc (which were minimal under last fall's structure any event).

But his latest stance suggests otherwise. Instead, he'd rather keep ordering his party to ensure that Stephen Harper's agenda gets implemented than put his party's plans into effect with the support of the Bloc.

Needless to say, that suggests that Ignatieff is interested solely in appealing to the relatively small number of Canadians who maintained their wariness about both Harper and the coalition, rather than even recognizing the concerns of the 35-40% who were happy to see the progressive coalition put into place with Bloc support. And that fact should loom large when voters have to decide who's best suited to move Canada past the Harper era.

Uglier by the minute

It's official: Canada has lost more jobs in the first two months of 2009 than the Con/Lib budget is even intended to be able to preserve. And that's without taking into account the obvious reasons not to take Deficit Jim's job claims at face value.

Can it get any worse? Just ask anybody looking for a job who learned this week that the federal job bank isn't equipped to keep functioning through the amount of demand it's getting. And as an added bonus, the minister in charge of employment insurance was revealed to be incapable of managing even a $100,000 campaign budget.

Unfortunately, there's no end in sight to either the recession itself, or the ineptitude of the government in charge of dealing with it. But there can't be much doubt by now that the combination is about as toxic as one could imagine for the well-being of Canadians.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On dysfunction

Following up on Michael Ignatieff's order that the Senate rush the budget through just as quickly as the House of Commons did, let's note just what combination of factors it took to bring about today's result.

For the moment, the main dispute between the Libs and the Cons seems to be as to whether or not the Libs should have been taken by surprise to find out about the back-dated EI benefits in the budget. And neither party comes out of that looking particularly praiseworthy: the Cons indeed decided to spring their latest excuse to demand immediate passage of the budget rather late, while the Libs would seemingly have no excuse for failing to figure out what the budget actually said.

But there's a more fundamental problem at play. After all, there's little reason to believe that any party disagreed with the concept of making increased EI benefits retroactive. So it would have seemingly been relatively easy to pass another bill extending benefits back to the beginning of March without ramming the entire budget through in the meantime using a single EI provision of C-10 as an excuse.

Unfortunately, that type of solution no longer seems to even occur to many of the players involved. The Cons have offered nothing but take-it-or-leave-it even when it comes to a 511-page monster of a budget bill, and the Libs haven't made even the slightest attempt to push the Cons to accept improvements.

Which is why we're now stuck with a package of poorly thought-out, ideologically-loaded legislative amendments which have never received a proper Parliamentary vetting as the Cons' price for pretending to care about stimulating the Canadian economy. And both responsible parties deserve nothing but blame for that outcome.

Proceed without caution

Shorter Yellow Light Michael Ignatieff, to the Senate which otherwise risked holding more than two days' worth of hearings into the 500-plus-page Con/Lib budget:

Blink faster, dammit!

The reviews are in

The Star Phoenix editorial board:
(I)t's rich to hear Mr. Harper denigrate the Liberals for demanding more accountability from his government over a $3-billion stimulus spending fund that his own finance minister admitted would pose the risk of tax dollars going astray. The Liberals are still paying a heavy political price for shoddy accountability provisions that led to gobs of taxpayer cash misspent in trying to tackle an emergency.

Mr. Harper, who assumed power on the strength of his commitment to transparent governance, surely understands that his feigned outrage at the Liberal demand for accountability on the $3 billion fund comes across as patently absurd, but is seemingly unable to help himself when it comes to the partisan sniping.

Careless words

Sure, this makes the Cons' inexplicable attempt to play opposition to an imagined Warren Kinsella imperial presidency look even more insane. But think of the costs of Kinsella going public with Chuck Strahl's letter: now, no federal department is going to be allowed to so much as write a friendly note to a departing consultant without the PMO's approval.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Burning question

Exactly how many of the Cons' core supporters who pooh-poohed the need for any stimulus at all are going to open their wallets based on the fictitious threat that it might be delayed?

Deep thought

The sentiment that "everybody's screwed, but us slightly less so than others" doesn't strike me as particularly optimistic.

On detachment

It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Cons have spent the last month and a half trying to manufacture new conflict rather than taking "yes, yes, a thousand times yes" for an answer from Michael Ignatieff. But Chris Selley highlights the absurdity of that strategy now extending to the very budget which the Libs helped to pass in addition to other peripheral areas:
(Harper) can’t abandon the gratuitous partisan attacks, Chantal Hébert explains in the Toronto Star, because it’s all part of an election-ready “narrative” the Tories are constructing—namely, that the Liberals have been “sabotaging his efforts” to fix the economy at every turn. But is it a narrative? First Hébert says Harper’s “laying the groundwork” for the campaign; then she argues he “blew a gasket” twice in Question Period last week. This sounds less strategic than reckless and haphazard, which would be nicely in keeping with the last election “narrative” Harper gave us. Either way, it hurts our brains even to contemplate the prospect of painting an intransigent face on the Liberal party after it simply rolled over on the budget and asked to have its tummy rubbed.
In fairness, of course, anybody familiar with the Cons' track record can hardly expect them to limit their political messages to the realm of the plausible. But it's worth noting that the effort to create an image of Lib intransigence may be as counterintuitive strategically as it is counter to reality.

Since Ignatieff chose to keep them in office, the Cons' best hope to avoid political fallout from their recession had seemingly been to portray any stimulus package as a purely bipartisan effort. While Harper would surely take at least some blame as the face of the government in power, an effort to portrary the Libs as marching in lockstep at every turn would dilute Ignatieff's ability to capitalize on the (virtually inevitable) failure of the Cons' stimulus package.

That explains in large part why the Libs have been trying to disengage from talk of bipartisanship in the meantime. But one would expect the Cons to seek to respond by putting forward a countermessage inviting the Libs to work together in relatively soft terms which would be tough for Ignatieff to refuse.

Instead, Harper's decision to claim the stimulus solely for his party and pick new fights with the Libs would seem to signal one of two possible outcomes. On the one hand, it wouldn't be at all surprising if Harper expects an election in the very near future (i.e. before the results of the stimulus package can actually be assessed) and thinks he can fool enough Canadians into seeing him as wanting to respond to the crisis in contrast to his opponents.

Or it's instead possible that Harper is once again calculating that he's best off focusing his efforts on making the Libs' leadership look weak - even if this time that comes at the cost of taking sole ownership of a recession. And that means forcing more confrontations by any means necessary, while using the government's bully pulpit to present himself as the face of economic recovery (or any other top-of-mind issue) in order to scare Ignatieff into submission.

Either way, the obvious inference is that Harper's focus is anywhere but the actual economic concerns of Canadians - which should be fairly obvious from Harper's own words yesterday. But when the Libs still haven't given any indication that they're willing to make Harper pay the price for his consistently flawed government, it remains to be seen whether he'll face his comeuppance anytime soon.


Stephen Maher at least partially answers the question of why Elizabeth May's campaign in Central Nova fell well short of the applicable spending limit. But neither the explanation nor some other financial moves by the Greens look to reflect well on May's leadership:
In his blog on Monday, Mark Taylor, an Alberta Green who left the party’s national council after a conflict with Ms. May, criticized her comments.

"Money was funnelled into the riding to open two campaign offices," he wrote. "Staff was hired to run these offices. I know, from a personal contact, that requests were made of the Guelph team to turn their focus from (get out the vote) efforts in Guelph to (get out the vote) efforts in Central Nova."...

Ms. May said Mr. Taylor and Mr. Ogilvie are longtime critics and their facts are wrong. The party didn’t give her campaign $80,000, she said.

"That’s false," she said. "You can check the Elections Canada website."

The site does show $80,000 in transfers from the central party but Ms. May said that’s deceptive, as $40,000 was "repayment from London North Centre," where she ran in a byelection in 2006, and the other $40,000 was a loan that will be paid back.

She reiterated that there was a "lack of focus" on winning Central Nova.

"In fact, unlike any other candidate of the Green Party of Canada, I had to be out of my riding more than half the time," she said. "If they’d had the kind of attention that they think went to my riding, we wouldn’t have had miscommunication from national office that led to us underspending."
Taken at face value, the last line would seem to explain the fact that May's campaign didn't spend to the limit. But it's hardly a ringing endorsement of May's management if her riding campaign was out of touch with the central office. And for that matter, it's not entirely clear why the national office would have any role in monitoring or influencing how much a particular riding campaign would spend.

That is, unless the national office and the riding campaign were seen as basically one and the same entity. And the earlier part of May's statement signals that may have been the case.

Keep in mind that the Greens' Central Nova riding association didn't even exist before May decided to run there. From that starting point, it would defy belief to suggest that Central Nova had $40,000 to loan to London North Centre for May's byelection run there - let alone that by sheer coincidence the one riding able to do so would be the one where May later ran. Which means that "repayment" is hardly the right term for any transfer from London North Centre to Central Nova.

Instead, it seems more likely that the $40,000 roughly reflects the Greens' rebate for the London North Centre by-election (update: or the repayment of a similar loan from the riding association to the central party). But since (to my recollection) that spending was itself largely party-funded, May can't then accurately claim that the money put into Central Nova didn't originate with the party. And indeed it might seem problematic that May has exercised enough control over two riding associations and the central party simultaneously to push the London North Centre rebate entirely into her next riding.

Mind you, there's probably a case to be made that May's strategy was at least a reasonable one for her party as well as herself. But the evidence seems to favour the unhappy Greens concerned with top-down control and a lack of responsibility, not her argument in defence that the problem was somehow an insufficient focus on her personally. And the more effort May spends trying to fight against the current, the less likely she'll be to have much of a party left to run the next time she tries to win a seat for herself.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Going nuclear

One of the policy questions which was bound to become a flashpoint in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race is the issue of nuclear power generation. And as Buckdog points out, Dwain Lingenfelter has made his move to frame the issue on his terms:
(N)either I nor the New Democratic Party enter the debate about our energy future with a closed mind toward nuclear power or any other potential energy source. It is clear to me that Saskatchewan will need a renewed commitment to energy conservation and a mix of both renewable and conventional energy sources to meet our energy needs in the immediate future. Even the European Union, whose member countries are global leaders in the area of renewable energy, envision producing only 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Therefore, while renewable energy options such as solar, wind, geo-thermal, and biomass are an important part of Saskatchewan’s future energy plans, some conventional generation of electricity will remain necessary for the foreseeable future.

However, I do not support the construction of a nuclear reactor to generate power within Saskatchewan’s borders unless a public, transparent study has been conducted by a blue ribbon panel of independent experts, showing the people of Saskatchewan that such a project could be sustainable, from both the financial and environmental perspective. This blue ribbon panel would hold public hearings around the province so that every citizen could have their say on the future of electrical generation in Saskatchewan. The panel would explore the costs and benefits of nuclear power compared to both renewable energy options and conventional electrical generation sources such as coal, natural gas and hydro. The energy options we choose for the next twenty years will impact everything from our provincial finances to our economic growth, from our population’s health to our quality of life. These decisions cannot be made without full, public input and understanding.

The Wall government has refused to let the people of Saskatchewan help plan their own energy future. It has stumbled and bumbled into a flawed process that clearly favours a single new energy source, provided by a single, private sector player, while freezing out the people of Saskatchewan.
In sum, Lingenfelter's position is that he'd be fine with nuclear power generation under some circumstances, but not under the process set up by the Sask Party. And by keeping most of his focus on the latter issue, he looks to be setting up exactly the distinction that he'll want to highlight: it shouldn't be hard for most NDPers to agree that Wall's handling of the issue has been unduly secretive and likely to lead to the enrichment of Bruce Power at the expense of Saskatchewan's citizens.

However, it's far from clear that Lingenfelter is on safe ground in assuming he can speak for the party on the more fundamental question of whether nuclear power should be under serious consideration in the first place.

After all, Ryan Meili's environmental policy calls for investing in renewable energy "rather than...nuclear power". And while Yens Pedersen's platform doesn't mention nuclear power specifically, it's hard to say that he's open to "any...potential energy source" when he's promising a phase-out of coal-based generation.

By using phrases like "closed mind" to represent the opposite position, Lingenfelter is apparently looking to marginalize any disagreement. But it should be obvious that there's some real debate on the issue - both inside the party, and among parts of Saskatchewan's left which the NDP should be looking to bring on board. And it wouldn't be surprising if Lingenfelter's attempt to get out in front of one of his weaker issues only serves to motivate his opponents' supporters.

On misleadership

David Akin details the obvious falsehoods in Deceivin' Stephen's speech today so the rest of us don't have to. But it's worth noting that today's blatant revisionism is supposed to have come directly from Harper himself - meaning that unlike past incidents where underlings have been blamed for what few problems the Cons have been willing to admit, this one signals that the Cons' detachment from reality goes straight to the top.

The road to 7501

Following up on last night's post, here's a little food for thought as to what kind of voting coalition a Saskatchewan NDP leadership contender will need to assemble to win 50%+1 in a race with 15,000 votes.

2001 Leadership Vote
10,289: Final ballot votes for victor Lorne Calvert
7,575: Final ballot votes for second-place finisher Chris Axworthy
7,579: First ballot vote total for Nettie Wiebe, Maynard Sonntag, Scott Banda, Joanne Crofford and Buckley Belanger - all the candidates eliminated before the final ballot

Federal electoral results - 2008
11,913 - votes for Nettie Wiebe in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar
10,870 - votes for Don Mitchell in Palliser
6 - number of other ridings where the NDP topped 7,500 votes
7,727 - combined NDP vote total in its two lowest-ranking ridings

Provincial electoral results - 2007
8,352: Total NDP votes in Regina Elphinstone-Centre (the last riding represented by Dwain Lingenfelter) and Regina Douglas Park (mooted as one possible destination for Lingenfelter)
7,934: Total votes for Deb Higgins and Yens Pedersen
7,864: Total NDP votes in its six weakest provincial constituencies by total votes. At the bottom of the list is Cypress Hills at 1,129 - which includes the Shaunavon riding which Lingenfelter once held
9,128: Total Green Party votes

Municipal electoral results
13,539: Saskatoon mayoral votes for Lenore Swystun in 2006 (with Jim Maddin also receiving over 5,000 votes)
7,401: Regina mayoral votes for Jim Holmes in 2006

Of course, the latter three lists are somewhat different in that voters don't have to be party members. But it would seem clear that there are an awful lot of different ways for any leadership contestant to reach what looks to be the total required to win the leadership race.

Deep thought

A noun. A verb. And 2011.

Diplomatic Jack

Sure, it probably can't hurt in the long run for Jack Layton to be understated about having been years ahead of the curve as to what needs to be done in Afghanistan. But hasn't Stephen Harper thoroughly earned at least a one-time "I told you so"?

Monday, March 09, 2009

On final tallies

CBC's coverage of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race tonight on the 6:00 news featured one interesting note, as the party is apparently estimating that roughly 15,000 members will vote in the race.

Of course, there's plenty that can influence the number of potential voters between now and the April membership deadline. But any indication of how many voters there will be when the convention rolls around should help to give the contestants a far better idea how to plan their strategy. And if the estimate is right to the effect that turnout will be relatively low compared to the 2001 race, then the result may be a race where all of the candidates can foresee a relatively plausible path to victory.

According to script

It's always interesting to take a look at what the Cons really hope to do to Canada. But the opportunity usually doesn't come up until they emerge from under Stephen Harper's thumb - such as when Monte Solberg revealed that the Cons' minister in charge of employment insurance ultimately hoped to scrap the very concept.

But today provides an even more interesting insight as to what Michael Taube - Harper's apparent first choice to help frame his message upon taking office - thinks to be the best possible direction for the Harper government and the country in general:
If some conservatives now believe there's no difference between Ignatieff and Harper, this government has a real identity problem. It's up to the PM to re-establish a clear distinction between the Conservatives and Liberals.

Here are some ways to do it:
...* Stop throwing away taxpayer money on ineffective social programs like universal health care, and utilize market-based approaches to reform them.
Now, it's especially striking that Taube doesn't even limit his attack on health care to the areas most often suggested by "reform" advocates - e.g. private service delivery or funding. Instead, in Taube's view, the problem is universality: in other words, he thinks that Canada would be far better off if we could just ensure that some people don't have access to health care.

Of course, there's no way of knowing just how many within the current upper echelons of the Cons' government may share Taube's views. But the fact that Harper was so quick to invite Taube's mindset into his inner circle would seem to speak volumes about what the Cons might do given the opportunity.

The Pork Barrel Trail

In case anybody needed a reminder why the Cons' "trust us" routine shouldn't be taken seriously when it comes to doling out federal money, Senator Elaine McCoy provides just the latest example.

An uncommon position

Shorter Peter Goldring:

My biggest concern is that Conservative MPs like me are just too darned accountable. After all, what if the party forgets to rig my riding's nomination meeting the way it has every other challenge to an incumbent?

Deep thought

The "Tory times are tough times" message would be far more powerful coming from a party which hadn't chosen to keep us stuck in Tory times.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Week in Review, March 8

While Ontario's NDP leadership race came to a conclusion this week with the election of Andrea Horwath, Saskatchewan's contest kicked into full gear - featuring the first platform release by Yens Pedersen, key endorsements for Ryan Meili and Dwain Lingenfelter, and the first public forum in Regina. But let's take a step back from the most recent developments to see if they've really changed how the rest of the campaign figures to play out.

The great unknown at this point in the campaign is how Lingenfelter's head start will influence the race. The combination of being the presumed frontrunner from the beginning, getting to campaign for several months before anybody else formally entered the race, and locking up a substantial amount of caucus and party support has always raised the possibility that the race would be unwinnable for anybody else by the time it started in earnest.

Moreover, the lack of much negative campaigning on the part of any other candidates has limited the likelihood of the type of "anything but" narrative which has derailed so many other heavy favourites in other contests. Instead, Lingenfelter has managed to control his public portrayal by injecting himself into the media with his attacks on the Wall government.

But Lingenfelter's message also hints at his most obvious vulnerability. While I've pointed out a technical issue with his boilerplate endorsement text, there's a more substantive problem with the message his campaign has sent through its recent releases: the more his campaign brands him with concepts like "take on Wall" and "2011", the more Lingenfelter risks ending up on the wrong side of a comparison to others who present a longer-term vision for the direction of the party and the province.

From Deb Higgins' end, the past week was another quiet one from a campaign which has been surprisingly subdued from day one. Which means that it's tough to get much of a read on her message going forward. But it'll be worth following how the return of the Saskatchewan legislature might affect her campaign from here on in.

It's not hard to see how the only current caucus member in the race may be able to tie her legislative duties into opportunities to build her leadership profile. But her responsibilities at the legislature may also have an effect on the amount of time and attention she's able to devote to the race. And with an April 24 deadline looming to sell memberships to potential supporters, Higgins may have to rely more than most on persuading members after the deadline rather than trying to bring new members into the party.

For Ryan Meili, this week featured a significant breakthrough as his support expanded to include highly recognizable names within the Saskatchewan NDP. And any concerns about youth and relative political inexperience would seem to be relatively easily answered when two experienced cabinet members are in his camp - reflecting both their judgment that he's up for the task of leading the party, and their likely availability to offer advice if needed.

But it's still a tall order for a newcomer to both assemble a campaign machine and build up a public profile in the amount of time Meili has before the membership deadline. And it'll be awhile before we know for sure just how far Meili has managed to progress in the areas which will ultimately determine the race's outcome.

Petersen too looks to have accomplished plenty this week, presenting himself well at the candidate forum and unveiling his platform. But while I've pointed out the upside of taking the initiative to get out in front on policy, it's worth noting that it also limits what Pedersen can do to earn public attention for the rest of the campaign.

By releasing his platform all at once rather than bit by bit, Pedersen took a one-time publicity boost at the cost of losing much ability to earn media coverage with later policy suggestions. Which means that he'll need to either have some significant endorsements in his back pocket to keep his name in play over the near future, or find some other way to get his name in front of the party's members.

In sum, the events of the last week doesn't seem to reflect a radical change in position for any of the leadership candidates. But we've entered the relatively narrow window to bring in new members while the race is receiving regular public attention - and while it may be tough to tell what will prove decisive until after the fact, it's likely that what's going on behind the scenes now will play a massive part in determining the future direction of the Saskatchewan NDP.

On co-pilots

There should never have been much doubt that the Cons' idea of cooperation with the Libs was to have both parties working together for the greater glory of Stephen Harper. And it's only having worked in tandem to get Harper's pork barrel express going at full speed that the Libs are recognizing that the Cons' spending isn't designed to stimulate much of anything beyond their own hopes of re-election:
(T)he Harper government announced it was shelling out a generous $210,000 for bridge repairs in Kingston, the riding long held by Liberal MP (and Commons speaker) Peter Milliken.

Public Works Minister Christian Paradis could have kept the press release for his own self-aggrandizement.

Instead, the release also quotes MP Daryl Kramp who, by complete chance, happens to be Conservative and whose Belleville riding is about an hour from Kingston.

Surprise! No mention of Milliken anywhere.

Elsewhere across the country, if the opposition parties are getting federal largesse to spread around their ridings, no one seems to know about it.

Most of the calls we made around to Liberal and NDP circles were met with loud guffaws.
Of course, there's one problem with the Libs now highlighting just how laughable it always was to think that the Cons would use federal money for purposes other than their own political interests. After all, there's no reason at all why that outcome couldn't have been easily foreseen when the Libs made the choice to keep propping up the Harper government.

Unfortunately, Michael Ignatieff chose that outcome rather than a path which would have led to better results for everybody but Harper and his party. And while that means that the joke is ultimately on the Libs, there would figure to be few people laughing outside the Conservatives' ranks.

Poor protection

It's hardly news that the Cons are doing nothing to hold foreign investors to their obligations in taking over Canadian companies. But it's worth noting that Industry Minister Tony Clement is not only declining to exercise his authority, he's also going out of his way to minimize what the Cons can actually do to protect Canadian interests:
“I will do what I have to do to protect Canadian interests,” the minister said in the interview. “I will not do so in a way that is reckless, but I will do so in a way that, if there is a contractual obligation that we believe has been breached, then obviously we have to protect Canadian interests.”

Under the Investment Canada Act, foreign companies attempting to acquire Canadian firms must prove the deal represents a “net benefit” to Canada. In deciding whether to approve deals, the industry minister considers a range of factors, including the effect on economic activity and employment in Canada, according to department guidelines.

If the minister believes a foreign company has violated its commitments, he or she can issue a demand letter asking the company to comply. Eventually, the government could seek a court order forcing the company to divest the Canadian holding, or pay a penalty of up to $10,000 a day, among other remedies.
The striking part of Clement's statement is his effort to paint the issue as a contractual one.

After all, the relationship between his office under the Investment Canada Act and a foreign investor carries some obvious differences from a mere commercial contractual relationship. Clement acts as a regulator with the ability to determine at the outset whether an investment will create a "net benefit" for Canada. And after deciding whether the conditions placed on a takeover are appropriate, he has the authority to follow through on that assessment of the public interest by enforcing compliance through a process which involves a range of consequences far beyond those which would apply under any ordinary contract.

Which makes it highly significant that Clement is looking to understate his own authority. By using labels like "contractual obligation" which try to shift the discussion from a governmental frame of reference to a commercial one, Clement understates both the nature of the obligations of foreign investors, and his own role in regulating them.

Of course, it's not hard to see how that might serve the Cons' purposes. In addition to offering a means of escaping responsibility for the job losses which are taking place on their watch, it also serves a longer-term ideological goal of making government seem less effective than it can be.

But Clement's efforts to minimize what he can do also serve to highlight the fact that his preference is not to do anything more than he can avoid. And that can hardly offer much reason for any additional foreign owners to take seriously the possibility that he actually will do his job by defending Canadian interests.

Edit: fixed wording.