Saturday, March 21, 2009

Advance warning

One can tell plenty about how a party intends to govern by who it chooses to reach out to. Which means that we can get a pretty good hint of what a Michael Ignatieff government would look like from his choice of targets for an entreaty across party lines: right-wing and scandal-ridden.

On relative strengths

Most of the commentary on the latest Nanos polling numbers seems to give far too much weight to top-line voting intention numbers which are still within the NDP's usual historical levels. But there is some news in the latest poll which may pose either a challenge or an opportunity for the NDP in looking to build its support levels.

In most of the country, the NDP is polling significantly better as a party than Jack Layton is as the leader, topping Layton's "best prime minister" numbers by 2 points in Atlantic Canada, 5 points in Ontario and 6 points in Western Canada. Which would seem to suggest that for those areas, the party brand is relatively strong - but the combination of focused attacks from the Cons during the coalition period and the installation of Michael Ignatieff has significantly affected Layton's position as compared to the other federal leaders.

Meanwhile, the exact opposite trend looks to be playing out in Quebec. There, the NDP's party support numbers dropped significantly over the last month as both the Libs and Cons gained some ground. But Layton is still holding up extremely well on a personal level - keeping steady at 19% in the "best prime minister" numbers, ahead of Harper and well within striking distance of Ignatieff for the top spot.

Of course, there's always some question as to whether the NDP's attention is best put toward emphasizing its current strengths or ameliorating its current weaknesses. But from the current numbers, the party's greatest potential to play to its strengths would seem to be based on emphasizing Layton personally in Quebec while playing up the party brand elsewhere (particularly as a combination of leadership races and provincial elections raises the NDP's profile in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and potentially Nova Scotia). And that combination could nicely position the NDP to move back toward and beyond the high end of its usual range of support once Ignatieff's honeymoon period comes to an end.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Musical interlude

Ginger - Everything You're Missing

A private decision

Obvously Deb Higgins' leadership campaign will get a boost from today's news that former Finance Minister Andrew Thomson is in her corner. But buried beneath the Thomson announcement and a policy press conference whose subject doesn't seem to be available yet is a fairly surprising explanation as to why Higgins' campaign has seemed so quiet so far:
Higgins hasn't done much public work since announcing her candidacy.

She's (sic) contends this is an internal party campaign and in her opinion should be concentrated on the grassroots.
Now, it's true enough that the leadership race is theoretically an internal party contest. And of course any focus on the grassroots is a plus in principle.

But then, part of the process of grassroots renewal normally involves trying to reach beyond the current membership - which goes doubly in a race where the current membership list is a fraction of the size of the one which existed as of the last leadership race. And if Higgins' comment actually reflects her plans rather than a simple attempt to put her slow start in the past, then it's worth wondering whether any number of endorsements will end up being outweighed by a campaign that aims too low in the vote department.

Update: CBC's News at 6 reports on the actual policy announcement, being a plan to limit political donations by unions and corporations. Which is definitely a good idea, not to mention one which both her leadership competitors and the Wall government would figure to have trouble trying to argue against.

Brick by brick

Sure, Jason Kenney's trifecta in imposing right-association, right-speak and right-language all in the same week is ludicrous enough without looking into the details. But let's note that his attacks seem to be related rather than serving as isolated examples.

After all, the Canadian Arab Federation's contract which Kenney plans to shred in order to punish the organization's leadership provide language training to immigrants:
"We have a contract to provide English for newcomers," Boudjenane said. "The LINC (language instruction for newcomers to Canada) school and we have a workshop for newcomers. The agreement is until March 2010. I don't know what he is talking about," he said, adding that contracts were signed for two years.
But it surely isn't an accident that having deliberately attacked the language training which was otherwise available, Kenney now plans to blame immigrants for lacking what he's chosen to take away:
Kenney told an immigration conference in Calgary that more efforts need to be made to integrate individuals coming to Canada. He said newcomers should be required to have a working knowledge of either official language.

Kenney said rules are already in place and free language training is made available to new immigrants so there is no excuse.
And in turn, Kenney's barriers to citizenship will only ensure that immigrants don't have the opportunity to vote against the Con government which has chosen to try to isolate them. Which may make for an internally coherent political strategy to build walls around the immigrant groups in the Cons' "throw away" pile - but surely can't be taken as anything but an appalling excuse for government.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Not terribly even-handed

Shorter Rick Anderson:

It's just not fair that the media has covered David Dodge's grave reservations about the Harper government's unrealistic economic forecasts and ineffective stimulus package, rather than highlighting the fact that they both generally agree that the sky is blue.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Equal dishonesty

For those worried that the Cons might have one class of information for the public and another for internal consumption, the CP reports that at least some top Cons are just as honest with each other as they are with the rest of us. But that's not to be taken as a positive:
(Harper Senate appointee Leo) Housakos sent colleagues a letter yesterday declaring his remarks had been taken out of context. In his letter, Housakos said he'd merely told a Canadian Press reporter that he had not been involved in last year's campaign because he held a non-partisan position at Via Rail at the time.

He also said he told the reporter that there was a good feeling within the party, which was due to the "excellent work" of Paradis and Claude Durand, the party's director of operations in the province.

Housakos said he would never blame any individual or group for the failure to gain seats in Quebec.

But a tape recording of Housakos's 10-minute interview Wednesday contains no reference to either Via Rail, Paradis or Durand.

It does contain Housakos's assessment of what went wrong in the 2008 election.

"Many mistakes were made the last time. I also think our Quebec team -- our MPs -- did not deliver the goods the last time," Housakos said.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Housakos will follow the party's usual standard procedure of claiming that the tape was doctored and/or suing in an effort to have it hidden from the public.

But if the Cons' Quebec MPs are paying the least bit of attention, then Housakos' attempted cover-up only seems likely to aggravate his initial insult. And one has to wonder whether at least some within the Cons will start waking up to just what happens when a government is obsessed with papering over reality.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

And this is why you think before you protest

So for the sake of embarrassing a Con backbencher slightly if at all, the Libs have handed the Cons a tailor-made "damned lefties are trying to take our guns away" story to power their rural fund-raising machine. Nicely done.

What thwap said

Go read:
We signed free trade deal after free trade deal, making it easier for manufacturing to relocate to where labour was cheaper (due to democracy being necessarily weaker), regulations were lighter, taxes were lower. The labour movement (both in Canada and the USA) is a tamed beast. We've surrendered job security, pay increases, all to be more efficient and competitive and flexible. The wealthy, the "wealth creators" according to the fiction, and the corporations (other sources of dynamic job creation) have received enormous tax-cuts over the years. We've privatized many public services, reduced many others, and social programs have been re-tooled to encourage scrambling after any shitty job that comes along.

Look, we did all these things and we were promised economic prosperity. These promises were later downgraded to "relative economic stability."

And what did we get? Come on, really, what did we get? We find ourself in the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. Not "NOT relative economic stability." Not a bump in the road. But total massive failure.

Rapid responses

Yesterday's provincial budget would seem to have provided an ideal opportunity for the NDP's leadership contestants to stake out their territory. So it's interesting to note that only two of them seem to have made statements that got picked up by the media in the budget's aftermath.

Deb Higgins focused her critique on the Wall government's reliance on commodity revenues to support huge spending increases:
The budget includes a 12 percent increase in spending compared to last year making the budget worth $10.25 billion. Moose Jaw Wakamow MLA Deb Higgins says (it's) out of sync.

"(It's) a huge increase in spending and some have referred to it as run away spending and some unrealistic expectations on the revenue side that could lead to disaster down the road. When you look at the provincial budget... one in every five dollars comes from potash, so when you're putting all your eggs in one basket like that it does raise a number of concerns especially when we know how volatile the commodities can be."
Meanwhile, Ryan Meili commented on the health spending in the budget by noting that a genuine focus on health involves attention to issues going beyond a reactive health-care system:
Ryan Meili, a doctor and NDP-leadership hopeful, said to get health-care costs in check, the government should be investing in the province’s most vulnerable by addressing poverty, housing and nutrition.

“One of the best ways to control (health budgets) is to invest in things that really make people healthy.”
So what of the budget in substance? While I agree generally with Higgins' and Meili's comments, the line of the day goes to Wheatsheaf:
The Saskatchewan Party decided to avoid real changes - which is likely a good thing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Deep thought

Surely it's entirely coincidental that the two provinces performing above all expectations through a global recession are the one with a longtime NDP government, and the one where the work of a longtime NDP government hasn't been completely dismantled.

More reviews are in

Paul Wells:
Thanks to Canada’s significant comparative strength, if you’ve just lost your job you’re only 65 per cent as unemployed as you would be if you were Japanese. You might say, “Paul, that’s a meaningless assertion,” and you’d be right. My only defence is that I’ve been listening to the Prime Minister.

“Now some in the opposition are even suggesting that the government should provide notice or even approval for each individual spending project,” he said near the end of his speech. “That is not realistic—ever. And certainly not realistic in today’s world.” Boy, you bet it’s not realistic! It’s also not true. That’s not what the opposition is suggesting. In fact we’re heading toward a handy multi-partisan consensus, because Harper has identified opposition demands which (a) aren’t realistic and (b) don’t exist.

“We’ve got the estimates before Parliament,” he said. “We all need to keep the pressure on the opposition to act.” Small problem: the government hasn’t tabled enabling legislation, and won’t until March 26.

“So, ladies and gentlemen, send them a message: stop the political games,” he actually said next. History will record this as the moment the Prime Minister abandoned political discourse altogether for the sort of logical paradox Capt. Kirk used to make computers explode on Star Trek. He said he doesn’t like games but—he wants the estimates passed but—he hasn’t tabled the enabling legislation but—he wants the games stopped but—BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEEEEP

Compare and contrast

Michael Ignatieff:
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.
Michael Ignatieff's Quebec lieutenant (Robert Silver translation):
(Denis Coderre) thinks Quebecers will look forward and won't hold past hard-line positions taken [by the Liberal party] towards separatists against the leader [Ignatieff].
So was Coderre referring to what Ignatieff said the previous week as the "hard-line" position which Quebeckers are supposed to have forgotten already? Or are the Libs trying to sell polar opposite positions about sovereigntist voters depending on whether they're inside or outside Quebec?

Simple answers to simple questions

Andrew Potter:
The re-announce is an old game; it’s the political equivalent of Keynes’ multiplier effect, where one ounce of bullshit miraculously turns into a truckload. But with billions of money still unspent from the 2007 budget, with actual problems facing the country, is this really the best use of senior ministers’ time?
With this batch of ministers, it probably is.
And if so, doesn’t that raise rather profound questions about what we need any of these guys for?
Yes. But no more so than dozens of earlier indications which seem to be forgotten when they matter most.

The reviews are in

Once again, the Star Phoenix editorial board:
At a time when the Conservatives are about to plunge into murky waters of fast and loose spending, citing a national emergency -- Gee, remind us again just what Mr. Harper's gang had to say about the Liberals, Sponsorgate and accountability -- Canadians need Mr. Page's office to be on full alert, not facing the prospect of laying off veteran economists and analysts because the government has sheared his promised budget by more than one-third...

Just as Mr. Page did when he raised serious doubts about Mr. Flaherty's rosy projections in November's economic update that Canada wouldn't join the recession, and alerted Canadians to the fact that the Conservative government's poorly considered GST cut already had put the books in the red before the global recession hit us, his office serves a useful function in exposing the political malarkey citizens are fed.

If Mr. Flaherty is conceding already that "mistakes will be made" in spending $40 billion in stimulus money, freeing up less than a million dollars more to keep the budget office functioning as intended is money well spent.

It's not as if looking at a few more photos of the prime minister on the action plan website provides us with any useful insight.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Updating the numbers

Last month, it was Ryan Meili's campaign which put up a surprising online poll result to signal that it would be a force in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. Now, with Meili gaining momentum through endorsements and other means, it's Yens Pedersen who looks to be putting forward a concerted push online, as he now ranks a strong second in the leadership poll at ActUpInSask.

Meanwhile, the Facebook standings don't appear to have changed much since last month. There, Meili still ranks a strong second place behind frontrunner Dwain Lingenfelter, with more supporters (283) than Pedersen (202) and Deb Higgins (69) combined.

While the relative standings may be instructive, though, it's worth noting a significant caveat in the actual numbers. A substantial number of people are counted as supporters of multiple contestants - including not only some inner-circle volunteers for various candidates, but even Higgins herself as a member of Pedersen's group.

Deep thought

Nobody could have guessed that Michael Ignatieff's choice to leave the Cons in office would give Harper and company the opportunity to take aim at any Canadian institutions.

A questionable position

Considering that the Saskatchewan Party's initial stance was to slam Lorne Calvert's government for not signing onto the TILMA before it realized the political risks of supporting the agreement, it shouldn't be much surprise that Brad Wall is now looking for excuses to sign on after promising not to. But let's take a look at just what Wall's latest position really means:
The chief reasons the Saskatchewan Party government has said it won’t join TILMA centre on the impact on municipalities and Crown corporation subsidiaries. Whatever agreement Saskatchewan signs “won’t compromise” on those commitments, Wall said.

“If literally in the last number of months — just prior to the actual implementation of the TILMA agreement April 1 09 here in a few weeks — if all of those issues that we have are somehow addressed and to our satisfaction, I guess it could be incorporated as part of the Western economic partnership,” the premier said, though he added those changes don't appear to have been made...
Now, it's certainly for the best that Wall hasn't yet done a complete 180 and simply signed onto the TILMA in its current form. But the Sask Party's position now seems designed to allow them to sign on while pacifying the groups which have been most vocal against the agreement, while refusing to deal with the more basic flaws in the agreement and its stated rationale.

As I've discussed before, the ultimate philosophy underlying TILMA is that democratically-elected governments should be constrained by a need to put the interests of investors above those of their citizens, with an end goal of eliminating substantive regulation in general. And that strikes me as a problematic position to take regardless of the actors involved.

Of course, the Sask Party government is entirely happy to sign away its own ability to govern. But recognizing that some municipalities in particular don't share that zeal, Wall is apparently trying to take opposition based on municipal or Crown corporation interests off the table - avoiding the public concerns raised by those types of actors about the TILMA's signing in B.C. and Alberta, while still imposing the underlying structure on the province as a whole.

But the question of who might avoid the TILMA's effects for the moment (and there can't be much doubt that any move to sign TILMA would strengthen a push to impose on municipalities and Crowns as well) is ultimately secondary to that of whether or not an agreement such as the TILMA serves a positive purpose in the first place. And the fact that Wall's focus is merely on exempting the sectors which have already put up resistance rather than the slightest doubt about the agreement's basic underpinnings should offer ample reason for concern.

In fairness...

Sure, Gary Goodyear's refusal to discuss his views about evolution because they make for a "question about his religion" might make it look like the federal minister responsible for science is ignoring a century and a half of development under his file in favour of fundamentalist beliefs.

But isn't it equally possible that the Cons are just test-driving a freedom-of-religion argument that they can use to avoid all types of inconvenient question, as their Cult of Harper doesn't believe in poor optics of any kind?

Monday, March 16, 2009

On self-satire

Sure, the news that the Libs have announced a policy blackout was comical enough on its own. But how much more so does it become when it's released on the same day that Michael Ignatieff slams the Bloc for failing to offer economic policy ideas?

Full unaccountability

While there's been some discussion of the Cons' move to prevent any nomination challenges to incumbent MPs, let's point out just how many roadblocks they've set up - and whether the combination is best classified in reailty as a complete bar to any challenge rather than merely "some protection" for Rob Anders and his ilk.

- The 66% standard for a nomination vote is that normally applied to constitutional changes - as the Cons happily point out in the article. Which means that if a mere majority - or even two-thirds minus one - of the members in a riding want their MP gone, the Cons don't think that fact deserves to be taken into consideration.
- As in the case of other Con nomination fiascos, the membership cutoff for the challenge vote is set for a date before the policy was made public. So challengers don't have any way to actually sign up members to support any effort to unseat a sitting MP.
- Nor do they have any apparent ability to get in touch with actual members, as all indications are that it's the party alone communicating with the members in a particular riding. Indeed, there doesn't even seem to be any way to figure out how many members' votes would be needed in order to set up a nomination race: even a challenger well enough organized to have some membership support would have to proceed on blind faith that he or she is guessing right as to the number of members in good standing as of the cutoff date.
- In contrast, the sitting MP has exactly the information needed to know how many votes are required to hold the seat. So to the extent any disputed campaign comes about, the incumbent will be able to target exactly the members needed to support his or her cause.

Of course, it might not be surprising that the Cons are using the Libs' weak attempt to claim that a scheme which make challenges all but impossible somehow represents middle ground between actual open nominations and full incumbent protection. But while there are serious issues with the arbitrariness in the Libs' process as well, the Cons look to have taken several further steps toward removing any prospect of accountability for their MPs. Which means that for voters who actually care whether or not a federal MP is accountable to party members, the NDP remains the only national party in Parliment who values the concept.

The reviews are in

Sinclair Stevens:
The provisions in Flaherty's budget legislation will raise the review levels in the Investment Canada Act so that only acquisitions of more than $1 billion, to be defined in regulations, will be reviewed. That means practically any foreign purchase of a business in Canada is now virtually non-reviewable.

It is unbelievable that the government would smuggle such a change into its budget bill to avoid meaningful debate. It is even more unbelievable that the Liberal opposition would acquiesce to such a move when 30 years ago they reviewed virtually every foreign purchase of a Canadian business, including, for example, hair stylist shops, hamburger stands and popcorn vendors...

As a result of the latest political manoeuvres, Ottawa has essentially lost control of Canadian businesses being acquired by foreigners. And the public was not given the opportunity to offer its views on the many non-budgetary items tacked onto the stimulus measures.

"I do not want the bill divided," Flaherty responded to questions from senators. "You're making an assumption that the stimulus package is severable. It is not."

His opinion, however, was neither constitutional nor parliamentary reality.

Canada's sovereignty has been lessened by a bullheaded government and our future prosperity will suffer.

A policy of silence

The Hill Times' story on the Libs' plan to prevent any policy ideas from leaking out of their ranks deserves a snarky "shorter". But I'm not sure I can do much better than the headline itself:
Liberals to hold policy convention, but won't talk about policy

The federal Liberals will hold a major policy convention in early May, but they are refusing to discuss policy ideas and say they are avoiding making any policy suggestions that the governing Conservatives can copy in the next election.
Of course, it's not a huge surprise that the Libs would want to follow a different strategy than they did with the failed attempt to sell the Green Shift. But the Libs' apparent plan to avoid making any substantial policy suggestions until an election campaign looks to be a serious sign of weakness.

After all, there are two outcomes which the Libs are apparently concerned with in presenting any policy to the public. But one of those is a result which an opposition party is supposed to want to bring about: namely, for the Cons to recognize the wisdom behind a policy and decide to implement it themselves.

The fact that the Libs apparently fear that result may signal in part that they're veering even further to the right than they've made clear so far, such that their plans are ones which the government which the Libs themselves criticize as "hard-right" would want to adopt. But it also suggests that the Libs are perfectly happy to delay the implementation of what they think to be good ideas for the benefit of nobody but themselves.

Of course, the other danger in unveiling policies early on is the prospect of a coordinated Con attack like the one levelled at the Green Shift. But there too, it can hardly be a sign of strength that the Libs don't think their platform can withstand a public debate, such that they need to keep it under wraps until a time when there's little prospect of a full public discussion. And an information vacuum about the Libs' policy direction only figures to make it easier for the Cons to keep pretending that their platform consists solely of the weak points which they've dropped precisely because they haven't played well.

Fortunately, there's still one national opposition party that isn't afraid to present its ideas to the public. And the more the Libs try to make themselves an opposition about nothing, the better the NDP should look in comparison.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Week in Review, March 15

With little news in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race this week aside from the announcement of the leadership forums, my initial plan for the latest Week in Review was to put together a roudnup of any blog posts about the campaign which had managed to slip under my radar (basically meaning blogs that don't appear in my Saskatchewan Blogs list or on the aggregators linked from Accidental Deliberations). But once again, the biggest news seems to be in the lack of much new to report.

For three of the four candidates, a quick look at Technorati tags and a Google search for "blog" and the candidate's name turned up a grand total of zero candidate-specific information. And that includes front-runner Dwain Lingenfelter - who certainly doesn't seem to lack for supporters eager to support his candidacy on posts here and elsewhere, but doesn't seem to have inspired a single original post outside the main Saskatchewan politics blogs since the race began.

So what did turn up? Well, there's one blog which I'll be adding to my own list of Saskatchewan blogs: Head Tale, which among other posts includes this roundup from the Regina forum which I discussed here.

And then there are two more Ryan Meili-related posts: this one from Prairie Saver declaring her intention to support Meili's campaign, and this one from Michael Charles with a fairly positive review from somebody describing himself as "not really ideologically or temperamentally a New Democrat".

If I've missed any other posts dealing with the candidates or the race, please feel free to point them out in comments. But it looks like there's a surprising lack of discussion taking place online so far - and a noteworthy tilt toward Meili among those who have put their thoughts up for public view.

Messages of unity

One of the more obvious messages put forward by the Libs since Michael Ignatieff decided to prop up the Harper Cons has been a theme of "national unity" - which has been dragged out on issues ranging from the tar sands to rural/urban relations to making excuses for his choice to torpedo the progressive coalition. But rather than ceding the terrain to Ignatieff, Jack Layton is now taking up a similar message. And there may be some significant opportunities for the NDP in developing a contrast with the Cons and Libs as to what national unity really means:
NDP Leader Jack Layton slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for not doing enough to stimulate the country's ailing economy Saturday, saying job losses can be reversed by investing in renewable energy, municipal infrastructure and building retrofits...

"A lot of these folks are in construction. If we had a program to renovate homes, buildings, schools, churches, offices and factories to reduce energy use, we could put a lot of construction workers to work right now." On Friday, Statistics Canada figures showed nearly 24,000 jobs were lost in Alberta, more than a quarter of the 82,000 jobs lost across the country in February alone.

"What's happening here is having an effect across the country," Layton said. "I think that maybe this can give us the basis for some national unity, the sense that maybe we're all in the same boat together and maybe we need to work out a strategy where we can get out of it together." Layton met with Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan and representatives from the Pembina Institute, Public Interest Alberta, and the Land Stewardship Centre of Alberta to discuss a "green economic recovery strategy" for Canada.
It's worth noting from the outset that Ignatieff's vision of unity is actually framed in terms of searching for current divisions. And his response is either to try to paper over those divisions, or to emphasize them as reason to exclude some parties from any federal decision-making.

In contrast, Layton's message is oriented toward seeking common ground which is readily found in the midst of a crisis which is affecting the country as a whole.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Layton hasn't jumped into the Bloc-bashing competition between Harper and Ignatieff. And that contrast may offer his best opportunity to present a new type of national unity in the context where the term is most familiar.

After all, it would seem obvious that there's some serious contradiction in using "national unity" as an excuse to try to exclude a substantial number of Canada's elected parliamentarians from any real say in how the country is governed. But that's exactly what both Harper and Ignatieff have done.

And it hardly seems that either of them is about to reverse course. Having reached the conclusion that his best attack on Ignatieff involves the coalition deal which involved Bloc support, Harper has every incentive to try to keep the issue live whenever he can - and his party's difficulties in Quebec present little upside for him in doing otherwise. In turn, Ignatieff likely figures that his best chance in Quebec is to re-polarize the province along federalist/separatist lines - which will require him both to take his own shots at the Bloc at every opportunity, and to match every Harper anti-sovereigntist screed.

That combination of strategies will create an obvious opening for the NDP to develop soft-nationalist or post-nationalist support in Quebec in particular. But there may be room for a Canada-wide niche as well in criticizing the politics of exclusion.

I'd figured after the campaign that the NDP's next move forward might involve closer cooperation with the Bloc - either as a whole or among its individual members. And the NDP has already brokered one deal which would have helped to ensure that the Bloc's priorities for Quebec in dealing with the Harper recession (along with progressive priorities nationally) would have been better reflected in federal policy.

Which means that when the coalition comes up in the next campaign, the NDP can respond with a spirited defence not only of the progressive coalition deal, but also of the right of Bloc voters and MPs to participate as full members of the Canadian political scene. And a campaign focused on national unity might be the ideal situation in which to make that a key point of distinction.

Of course, that stance would almost certainly come off as a provocative position to begin with. But with Harper and Ignatieff engaging in an escalating battle as to who's less tolerant of the Bloc's existence, it figures to look more and more reasonable by comparison. And as an added bonus, it would also project a message of putting democratic principles ahead of political posturing.

Mind you, it's worth asking whether the Libs will themselves want to change directions before any election campaign - both because Ignatieff figures to lose the Bloc-hating battle with Harper, and because it might distract from the economic theme where Harper appears most vulnerable. But as long as the Libs want to keep its message moving in that direction, the NDP looks to have reason to be happy to follow.