Saturday, April 11, 2009

Worthy of comment

Earlier this week, I pointed out the NDP's task forces which are now listening to input from Canadians across the country as to the effects of the Harper recession as well as public ideas to deal with the economy. But it's worth pointing out another development on the task force websites: to my recollection, the "Join the Conversation" sections of the two sites represent the first time any of the national parties in Parliament have included comment threads on an official party site.

Of course, that figures to be a relatively small step in trying to generate the kind of public discussion that I'd ultimately like to see the NDP facilitating - particularly when both the Bloc and Greens have already allowed for comments on official party blogs. But it's still a plus to see some progress toward encouraging conversation rather than simply using party websites as tools for top-down communications.

Incidentally, I should note that in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, Dwain Lingenfelter seems to be ahead of his competitors in the same department as the lone contender to include a form for readers to reply to news items. Though it's interesting to note that doesn't seem to have been much public response to the opportunity.

On choice opportunities

Steve has already discussed the latest Nanos second-choice numbers from the Libs' perspective. But to the extent it's possible to draw conclusions from the relatively small numbers involved in the poll, let's note a few other interesting trends in the responses.

To start with, the Libs, Cons and Bloc all figure to have more to lose than to gain to the extent that voters in general consider switching to their second choice rather than staying where they're currently parked. The Libs have 223 of their own current voters listing a second choice, to 160 supporters of other parties listing the Libs as a second option; for the Cons, those numbers are 157 and 122; and the Bloc have 44 supporters who have a second choice in mind, to only 18 voters who would make the Bloc their second choice.

In contrast, the NDP and Greens each have a greater amount of second-choice potential than current first-choice support which might move elsewhere - by a 129-87 margin for the NDP, and a 121-49 margin for the Greens. Which is a fairly remarkable result in a poll where nearly 36% of respondents didn't list a second choice at all, and suggests that those parties have the greatest amount to gain from anything which might shake up existing party loyalties.

Of course, the flip side of the likelihood of switching support is the degree to which respondents have locked into one party. There, the Bloc (52%) and Cons (44%) benefit from having the supporters least likely to have another party choice in mind. But for the Bloc's results, it's particularly striking how the second-choice results line up out of those who do express a preference.

With the Cons having just abandoned their efforts at wooing soft sovereigntists and the Libs now trying to make a similar move, one would expect there to be at least some prospect of Bloc movement to one or the other. But Bloc supporters gave the two the lowest second-choice numbers of any party with a tie at 7.7% (ignoring for the moment the Bloc's own numbers which are distorted by the party's lack of a national presence).

Meanwhile, both the NDP and the Greens would seem to have ample room to make inroads among current Bloc supporters, with the NDP leading the way at 19%. And with so few current Bloc voters having any interest in either the Cons or the Libs, it would stand to reason that the solid second-choice numbers for the NDP might only be amplified if current "no second choice" voters find reason to start looking elsewhere - say, if Gilles Duceppe makes a long-anticipated departure which gets taken as a sign that the Bloc is on the decline.

Combined with the apparent fluidity between NDP/Lib/Green voters on the nominal left and the Libs' likely move to the right, that figures to open up plenty of opportunities for the NDP to build itself up by focusing its efforts on current Green and Bloc supporters in hopes of building up a 32% minority as a progressive alternative to both the Cons and Libs. And the more successful the NDP can be in tailoring a message to voters who understandably see little difference between the Cons and the Libs, the better its chances will be of peeling support off the Libs' left flank as well.

Unhealthy grassroots

A longtime Con supporter offers this hint as to what anybody can expect in joining the party:
"The feeling is when we need something from them, they don't listen. But when they want us to do something, they come to us," said one long-time member, who feared losing his party membership if he were identified. "There is so much control by (Tory party) headquarters that it is insulting."
Update: Cam has more.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Brief History of Liberal Declarations that they Can't Go On Supporting the Harper Government's Every Whim

Following up on this morning's post, a quick trip down memory lane...

October 20, 2007:
Dion told his MPs that it would be unthinkable for him to yield to the humiliation of supporting the throne speech and Harper's vision of Canada. He said that he'd merely be suffering the death "of 1,000 cuts," as long as he propped up the government and he would emerge from the whole ordeal with reputation and leadership damaged.
December 2, 2007:
Dion has had a rough year dealing with constant questions about his leadership abilities, crucial by-election losses in Quebec, and low poll numbers that have forced him to prop up the Conservatives in order to avoid heading to the ballot box.

However, Dion vowed to The Canadian Press that the coming year will be a different story.

"2008 will be another ball game," he said. "You cannot keep alive forever a government who wants to die."
January 14, 2008:
"I honestly don't see how they can support the budget. They are the opposition, they are there to oppose. This notion of appeasing and sitting on your hands, that's run its course. The political price to be paid for doing nothing is too high. If the Tories were to come out with a very Liberal budget, that might diffuse it, but what are the chances of that especially since they [the government] don't have a lot of money," said one top Liberal who requested anonymity.

"The Liberals are coming around to the notion that they can't continue to abstain so I think that's not a viable long-term strategy. So, I don't see the government getting Liberal support on this budget or abstaining."
February 17, 2008:
"We hear now that ... Chretien and Jean Pelletier, his former chief of staff, are telling him it's a matter of credibility, that he can't support the government any more and that the timing would be right," Jean Lapierre told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

Lapierre, now a political commentator for Quebec's TVA network, said Dion would be "comfortable with that advice."
April 9, 2008:
The Liberals have hammered away at the government in recent weeks over the bill, accusing the Conservatives of seeking a back-door way to enforce an anti-immigrant agenda. But they have refused to say when or if they will actually oppose it in Parliament.

Some political observers say the Liberals could suffer damage within one of their core constituencies — ethnic communities in urban and suburban ridings — unless they back up their rhetoric with action.
October 20, 2008:
One of the chief questions, being asked of returning Liberal MP's- are they prepared to endure another period of abstentions? The theory being, a weakened opposition, with no leader and no money, will be forced to dodge and weave to avoid another election. I would argue, that there should be little chance for a repeat of last spring's embarrassing string of abstentions.

Suitable for framing

A anonymous "close advisor of Michael Ignatieff" nicely sums up the problems with the Libs' track record of capitulations to the Cons in explaining why the party figures to try to force an election sometime around November-December 2009 (roughly translated from Le Devoir):
At some point, you can't wait forever. You can't play cat and mouse. You have to have the courage to defeat the government. With the economy deteriorating, you have to be capable of providing an alternative, or else you're endorsing the government.
Of course, it's left unexplained how lacking in courage and endorsing the government on every confidence vote for over two years is supposed to be a mark in the Libs' favour in an election this fall. But voters who take the source's comments at face value would seem to have every reason to question why the Libs have stuck Canada with more Harper government now.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Musical interlude

Underworld - Luetin

On half efforts

I'll have plenty more to say about the Libs' 2008 election returns (discussed at the Pundits' Guide) over the weekend.

But here's the quick takeaway for now. During last year's general election campaign, while the Libs screamed to anybody who would listen that they and only they were able to stop Stephen Harper - not to mention begged their candidates, volunteers and donors to squeeze out every last drop - they made a deliberate choice to do less than they could to oppose the Cons despite obvious incentives to the contrary. And the "party executives" who made the call would figure to have some significant overlap with the people responsible for the Ignatieff coronation.

Edit: Definitely worth mentioning the Libs themselves who got pulled in by the campaign appeals.

On interested parties

Hands up if you can spot what's missing from Jim Prentice's decision-making process when it comes to greenhouse gas emission regulations:
Ottawa announced the broad framework of its proposed greenhouse gas regulations two years ago, and would require companies to cut their carbon emissions in relation to their actual output rather than to specified levels.

It has yet to produce reduction targets for different industries, or the detailed regulations that are to come into force in 2010. Mr. Prentice said he hopes to unveil those rules before November, as he works to satisfy the Americans, on the one hand, and oil-producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan on the other.
That's right: it's the vast majority of Canada, which Cons apparently see as having absolutely no interest in the results of any emissions policy. Which is why they're now using the position of the developed world's most notorious climate-change laggard as the higher boundary of what they're prepared to put in place, and pumping up the interests of the oil industry to further attack even that position.

On ethical issues

One of the emerging Con messages lately has been to try to claim that a lack of cabinet resignations or the like makes the Harper government an unusually clean and ethical one. And it looks like even some normally-canny commentators are buying the line so far. So let's take a look at the Cons' real track record to see just how problematic the assertion is.

In the time since Harper' Cons took office, among many other dubious actions by Con cabinet ministers:

- his Finance Minister handed a six-figure, no-bid consulting contract to a political crony in contravention of federal tendering guidelines, which was allowed to slide with nothing more than a promise not to do it again;

- four of his cabinet ministers were named as participants in the Conadscam scheme to evade the spending limits under the Canada Elections Act, with no apparent consequences;

- his Minister of Foreign Affairs and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport altered travel disclosures after the original amounts listed were made public, with no apparent consequences;

- multiple children and other relatives of Con MPs (including cabinet ministers) were found to have been hired by other Cons' offices, with no apparent consequences; and

- his Minister of Fisheries and Oceans used departmental resources for a false partisan attack, with no consequences other than repayment of the billed costs for the press release involved.

Now, it's certainly arguable that the above wouldn't be considered offences deserving of resignation in any event. But the common threads between each of them still send a strong signal that under Harper, being Conservative means never taking responsibility for any wrongdoing. Which hardly bodes well for the assertion that one can equate a lack of resignations with an absence of behaviour which might warrant one.

And indeed, the one exception to the zero-accountability rule only serves to highlight how the Cons have handled misdeeds within their own ranks. Remember what happened when Maxime Bernier actually did resign as Minister of Foreign Affairs over the Couillard scandal:
Mr. Bernier submitted his resignation Monday morning, after learning that his ex, Julie Couillard, had given a potentially damaging interview to the French-language TVA network stating that he was careless with confidential documents.

He was told to wait it out. Still, he was pulled out of meetings throughout the day and was absent from a meeting of the cabinet's priority and planning committee, the cabinet's most important and powerful committee.

The powers-that-be wanted to assess just how bad the interview by Ms. Couillard would be. The waiting game was all about media strategy.
So the Cons have made it clear that in determining whether or not to force a minister's resignation, the only factor they'll take into consideration is political convenience.

But when the Cons are willing to take a wait-and-see approach even when an incident which they strongly suspect might warrant dismissal has already been made public - and in light of the obsessive secrecy imposed by Harper - what are the odds that any incident which did warrant dismissal would be made public? And what incentives would that secrecy tend to create among Harper's cabinet ministers themselves?

Now, it is indeed theoretically possible that Harper's secrecy is serving only to hide just how ethically pure his government is. But Harper has done plenty to create reason to doubt that premise - and there's no reason to give him the benefit of that doubt now.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Comparison shopping

We now have two federal parties whose leaders have utterly lost interest in the ongoing recession, and have resorted instead to a cynical game of "look at the other guy!".

And then there's the NDP, which is working hard to actually listen to Canadians' needs during a time of crisis.

Needless to say, that type of focus doesn't tend to get rewarded in the headlines. But is there much doubt which course of action is closer to what Canadians actually want out of their leaders when it matters?

Boilerplate II: Acoustic Boogaloo

Now where have we heard this before?


Jim Stanford makes Free Market Jesus cry.

A historical inquiry

For obvious reasons, it figures to remain true that Michael Ignatieff supporters and his critics from the left will have different interpretations of his entreaties to Brian Mulroney. But in the interest of looking for common ground, I'll invite Lib supporters (and any other interested readers) to fill in the historical picture in case I'm missing something.

Simply put, is there any historical precedent - from any country or level of government - which meets the following test which to me boils down the key elements of Ignatieff's call?

(1) the leader of one political party
(2) spontaneously calling the former leader/head of government of another political party
(3) in the absence of any prior relationship between the two
(4) solely for a social/personal conversation (rather than, say, for policy advice or in response to a public event)

If it's the case that such calls (or meetings or other forms of interaction) have been carried out in the past, I'd have to figure they'd be likely to find their way into memoirs, biographies, or the like as a matter of historical interest - much as Ignatieff's call to Mulroney was seen as worth reporting by CTV. So is there anything on record to suggest that similar calls are indeed a matter of common courtesy?

The reviews are in

The Winnipeg Free Press publishes a few excerpts from Parliamentary Democracy In Crisis, which figures to be even more of a must-read now:
Simon Fraser University professor Andrew Heard says Harper's prorogation was "unconstitutional... (T)his type of manoeuvre is simply unheard of among modern established democracies. It is a fundamental abuse of power to shut down a newly elected parliament at the moment when it is poised to vote non-confidence in the incumbent government."

The University of Toronto's Peter Russell says the crisis has "left a legacy that could be the basis of a serious constitutional crisis in the near future: a country dangerously divided over the fundamental principles and the rules of its parliamentary democracy."

The most damning indictment comes from David Cameron, chair of the University of Toronto's political science department. "Stephen Harper demonstrated that there was no bridge he would not burn, no low road he would not take, to stay in power. Beyond the deceit and the intentional obfuscation, what could not be forgiven was the prime minister's willingness to conjure up our national-unity demons...

"Successive prime ministers have seen it as their duty to manage the national unity file with prudence and care; to light a match near a can of gasoline -- to set east against west... simply for the sake of personal political survival was to scatter this primordial leadership obligation to the four winds."


Shorter L. Ian MacDonald:

It took longer than usual this time. But I've figured out how the Mulroney feud within the Cons is the fault of outside agitators rather than the Glorious Leader.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Leadership 2009 Links

I've added a new set of links at the top right for the duration of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, including the candidates' sites as well as media sources which have reported on the race so far or at least figure to do so as the race progresses. And for those looking for a complete set of coverage so far, I'll point out that last week's Moose Jaw leadership forum managed to receive some local reporting from Discover Moose Jaw (which naturally tends to be a particularly good source for Deb Higgins news).

I'll be looking to add to the list as the campaign progresses - so if you know of any additional local coverage which is available online, let me know and I'll include it in the list.

Compare and contrast

Worried about how a possible GM bankruptcy might affect the warranty on a new vehicle? Have no fear: Tony Clement is here to save you.

Worried about how a possible GM bankruptcy might affect pension benefits which you earned through decades of service? Let there be no doubt: Tony Clement couldn't care less.

On illusions

Andrew Steele's post on the advantages of incumbency obviously reflects a Lib/Con-centric view of politics. (No, "parties of all stripes" don't set up artificial barriers to nomination challenges - it's the Cons and Libs alone who do so.) But the post is definitely worth a read in outlining evidence that the only real effect of incumbency is to dissuade otherwise-viable challengers:
Stephen Levitt, famous for Freakonomics, and Catherine Wolfram from Harvard did a complex econometric study into the causes of incumbent advantage, rather than simply measuring the advantage as earlier studies had done. They found that the source may actually be incumbents getting better at scaring away high-quality opponents.

Rather than anything based in reality, the advantage is that people thinking about running for public office over estimate the ability of the incumbent to retain office. High-profile candidates decline to run, fundraising goes uncollected by default, volunteers sit unmotivated on the sidelines and the incumbent gets back in because no one bothered to run hard against him.

Ken Carty from UBC found similar evidence in Canada. Where they are not intimidated, "local party organizations of non-winning candidates are in the position of being able to realize potentially significant electoral returns through the mobilization of additional personnel or financial resources in their constituency campaigns.
Now, Steele uses the evidence to suggest merely that the Libs and Cons should rethink their arbitrary barriers to nomination challenges (which would seem obvious to some of us simply from the perspective of internal accountability). But it seems to me that the concept applies far beyond nomination races alone.

Indeed, the studies mentioned by Steele are themselves based primarily on general election results rather than internal party challenges. And the inescapable message is that a substantial amount of the actual advantage of incumbents is based on the fact that opposing parties tend to mount something less than the greatest possible challenge.

Applying that principle to the Canadian political scene, it's then worth wondering whether many of our current political assumptions are themselves a product of parties failing to appreciate what may be possible.

The current conventional wisdom seems to suggest that the approximate party results which have been relatively consistent over the past decade will continue to be so. But is there any reason to think that the seeming tiers among Canadian political parties are any more an inevitability than the supposed advantage of incumbency? And if convincing potential candidates and supporters to push forward in the face of a perceived advantage is more than half the battle in making up any actual ground, then doesn't that become an even more important task?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Burning question

Is it more problematic if Michael Ignatieff's latest love letter to Brian Mulroney is based on his agreeing with Mulroney's policies, or instead focused on their mutual agreement that all that counts is winning at all costs?

A teaching moment

Leftdog and others have rightly described the Sask Party's uranium development motion last week as a matter of mischief or nuisance rather than a serious policy issue. And that temporary effect went beyond creating at least a momentary division within the NDP, as it largely distracted the NDP's leadership candidates from presenting their vision for the province.

But fortunately, it doesn't seem to have taken long for the leadership contestants to get back on course. And Ryan Meili's education policy release today should help to push the discussion back toward where the NDP's potential leaders plan to take Saskatchewan. So with that in mind, I'll highlight what looks to be an important statement on one of the often-overlooked aspects of education policy:
Teachers—the heart and soul of the education system—deserve the opportunity to both improve upon their existing skills and learn additional and emerging skills throughout their careers. The central role of teaching needs to be recognized by providing pay that reflects the value of the work and the supports teachers need to do their work.
We need to find innovative ways to respond to the particular challenges of rural education. Many schools in rural Saskatchewan offer only a subset of the courses students need. For example, upper year science classes are absent in many schools in Northern communities. We will all be better served if local people return to their communities to become teachers, doctors and other professionals. We need to provide all students with access to the courses they need.
Not surprisingly, Meili covers plenty of more traditional questions about education policy as well. But greater recognition of the value of teaching may itself play an important part in improving Saskatchewan's education system - both to ensure that those currently in the role receive every opportunity to better themselves, and to attract more educators to increase the options available to Saskatchewan students.

Of course, one wouldn't expect too many candidates to disagree with the value of teachers in principle. But it's still worth highlighting the connection between the goals of the education system, and the people who dedicate their careers to achieving them. And the more any candidate keeps in mind the importance of the individuals involved in making any system work, the better that candidate's chances of being able to make positive changes within the system when the opportunity arises.

In order of precedence

The full CCPA report which I mentioned yesterday is now available. And in addition to dealing with my concern about accepting the Cons' estimates at face value, it also raises a few more important questions about the budget:
As the government’s 2009–10 fiscal year begins April 1, 2009, it stands to reason that the government expects almost all of its measures to begin within a month or two of that date. But that may be wishful thinking.

The Home Renovation Tax Credit, for instance, worth $3 billion for Canadians who have the means to build a cedar deck on their cottage, flowed almost immediately following the introduction of Budget 2009. Such expedited funding shows how quickly funding can flow when government commitment exists.

In contrast, the hardest hit Canadians will have to wait longer than usual to see their benefit. The Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB), the only tax measure for those making less than $25,000, does not get the same retroactive treatment as the home renovation tax credit for Canada’s cottage owners. Instead, the working poor will not be able to claim any additional support until early 2010, when they file their 2009 tax returns. As stimulus, it will be too little too late.

Changes in the Canada Child Tax Benefit and National Child Benefit supplement also do not receive expedited treatment. They will not be implemented in April when almost all other tax measures begin to be funded. Instead, those who live close to the poverty line and have children will have to wait until summer to receive their additional benefits.

The hardest hit in Canada are the first to face unemployment and sometimes bankruptcy, but they are the last to receive benefits from the government’s changes to the tax system.

Income transfers to low-income Canadians are also the most effective way to stimulate the economy through the tax system, based on Budget 2009’s own estimates. Low-income transfers are more than twice as effective as corporate or broad-based personal tax cuts. Yet the federal government is quickly implementing broad-based tax cuts that are least effective and procrastinating on those measures, like WITB, that have the largest stimulative effect on the economy.
Not that it should come as much surprise that the Cons' vote-buying efforts have been placed at the front of the line ahead of benefits for those who actually need them. But it's also worth noting how the Cons' timeline may influence the Libs' current calculations about when to pull the plug on the Harper government.

After all, the Cons' failure to actually get any benefits into the hands of Canadians who need them most would seem to make them vulnerable in the short term - particularly as they try to preach patience about a stimulus package which already falls short of dealing with the economic downturn to date. But it might be a lot more difficult for the Libs to vote non-confidence this fall just as the Cons' funding finally starts to trickle through to a slightly larger range of recipients.

Of course, the most likely outcome might well be for the Libs to find another excuse to keep propping up the Cons through the rest of the spring, then point to the start of funding as a reason not to force an election well into 2010. But it must surely be obvious that Canadians looking for federal leadership through a severe recession deserve better than a government which has chosen to slow down the flow of stimulus funds - and voters have every reason to be as impatient with the Libs who have chosen to keep the Harper government in power as with the Cons who have once again shown where their priorities lie.

The more things change...

The Hill Times offers up one more entry for the rapidly-growing list of failed Stephane Dion strategies which are getting reused for lack of any new ideas under Michael Ignatieff:
Liberal insiders told The Hill Times that Mr. Ignateiff (sic) is torn between those who say they have the momentum now and should pull the plug to capitalize on this opportunity, and those who argue that he should use the summer to raise money and build the party infrastructure for a successful election campaign. Another complicating factor that Liberals say could happen is that Prime Minister may pre-empt the Liberal leader by engineering his own defeat in order to fight the Liberals before they're ready.
Because if there's anything that makes an opposition party look strong and decisive, it's publicly waffling over possible election opportunities until the decision gets taken out of one's hands. Just ask Prime Minister Dion.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Week in Review, April 5

With the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race headed into what may be the decisive stretch over the next few weeks, as the formal debates lead up to the membership signup deadline. And it shouldn't come as much surprise that some of us will be watching each development closely from an NDP perspective. But I'll use this edition of the Week in Review to highlight the fact that it isn't just NDP partisans who have a stake in the outcome - and to encourage participation in the leadership vote even from people who may not otherwise have any interest in NDP politics.

So why would it be worth the effort? I'd argue that taking part in the leadership vote figures to present the best opportunity for anybody with an interest in Saskatchewan politics to shape the direction of things to come.

For those who expect to decide between the NDP and any other party or parties in the next provincial election, the leadership race will do more to influence just what your choices are than anything else that happens between now and 2011. And indeed there's plenty of reason to think that a leadership vote will give you more incremental influence than any general election vote could.

After all, the number of voters may not be much more than that which would vote in a provincial riding. But a leadership vote will be sure to have a direct effect on a major party's future course, rather than going toward electing a single one of 58 MLAs in a legislative assembly whose composition is mostly determined in votes outside one's own riding.

And the leadership race may be even more important for anyone who might sympathize with the NDP in principle but hasn't been happy with its actions in practice. Not only will the leadership race provide you with an opportunity to make sure the NDP gets things right in the future, but you'll also have a chance to make common cause with others within the party who share your concerns regardless of the outcome of the race.

Of course, there may be a tendency to see party membership as a barrier to getting involved. But there's no reason in principle why politically interested but non-partisan voters shouldn't participate in shaping the face of political parties - much as already takes place in the U.S. presidential primary system. And the comparison is one worth making at a time when many on the Canadian political scene are lamenting the relative weakness in leadership on our side of the border.

With that in mind, I'll encourage current non-members - whether or not they agree with my previous take on the leadership race or the political scene as a whole - to sign up in advance of the April 24 deadline in order to be able to cast a ballot in June. And if the end result is to get more citizens thinking about the ideas being presented on all sides of the leadership race, then that's a result which both the NDP as a party and the province as a whole can only see as a positive.

From day one

It's definitely a plus to see the CCPA pointing out how obviously inadequate the Cons' stimulus package looks - not only based on the expected losses yet to come, but even compared to the actual economic damage at the time the Libs chose to pass the budget. But it's worth noting that the study may actually be overly generous to the Cons and Libs in relying on Deficit Jim and Recession Stephen's questionable assumptions to begin with:
The CCPA report said the estimated effect the stimulus package is supposed to have on employment was eclipsed the day before the stimulus budget was made public.

The government says its $29-billion stimulus package would maintain or create 189,000 jobs this year, and rise to 250,000 by the end of 2010.

The study says 296,000 people have been thrown out of work since the economic decline began in October, and that job losses hit 189,000 one day before Finance Minister Jim Flaherty stood up in Parliament to deliver his stimulus budget.

"The Conservative stimulus plan wasn't enough the day it was introduced and since then Canada has lost 106,000 more jobs and the economy has shrunk another 0.7 per cent," Macdonald said.

His study, which uses Statistics Canada figures, said the government's stimulus efforts don't even make up for the economic shrinkage that had occurred by the end of 2008.

While the size of the economy declined by $20 billion between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2008, the government estimates its package will add 1.6 per cent to Canada's real GDP, or a growth of $19.7 billion.

This means the economic impact of the stimulus package was "exhausted" by the end of December, almost one month before the government introduced the package, CCPA said.
Now, the problem with the numbers cited by the Cons is that they themselves figure to substantially overestimate the effects of the Con/Lib budget. As some of us have noted from the beginning, the largest dollar amounts within the stimulus are directed toward measures where they either won't generate new economy activity, or may not even be used at all. Which means that the actual effect of any stimulus from the budget may have run out far more quickly than even the CCPA estimates.

That said, it's certainly worth highlighting how inadequate the Cons' budget was from the moment it was presented. And that fact should offer all the more reason to doubt that either the Cons or their enablers within the Libs can be taken seriously by Canadians looking for a meaningful response to the recession.

On slanted reporting

Before going into detail about the the UDP's nuclear wish list, let's start with a few high-level observations.

To begin with, let's note the extended time frames involved in the UDP's assumptions and recommendations - and particularly how the report encourages snap decisions which would have serious ramifications extending tens or hundreds of years into the future.

When it comes to nuclear power generation, the report can't avoid acknowledging that the plant construction is prohibitively expensive up front compared to any other alternative. Which means that any attempt to justify nuclear power based on cost relies on a 50+ year time frame for plant operation.

But the UDP report which actually sees Saskatchewan's uranium reserves running out within that time frame. And when that possibility is combined with the suggestion that nuclear development will continue to expand elsewhere, there's little reason to think that operating costs will actually stay at currently-assumed levels - calling into question the conclusion that lower costs over time could justify the massive construction costs associated with a nuclear reactor.

Meanwhile, the time factor involved in the report's recommendation to encourage Saskatchewan communities to become nuclear waste depositories is even more striking. It surely isn't by accident that the report notes that a community wouldn't want to risk any existing resources by placing the site near them, and that any future development near the waste facility would likely be ruled out over a time period of centuries.

But even from the starting point that a waste disposal site would severely restrict any future development for the community involved, the report is wholly bullish on the idea. Which results in its recommendation that the province should push the efforts of any municipality which holds its nose long enough to ask to be the home site - with no apparent concern for the possibility that the decision might be a dangerous one in the longer term.

A second major theme worth pointing out about the report is its consistent focus on theory rather than practice - perhaps best epitomized by its statement on the role of the CNSC:
In Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is responsible for ensuring the public, the environment, and workers are protected from any potential effects of nuclear energy and that all international industry guidelines are followed.

The CNSC operates as an independent agency of the Federal Government that reports to Parliament (via the Minister of Natural Resources). The agency has no role in promoting nuclear power and is split into a decision-making Commission Tribunal and a
staff organization including technical experts in nuclear safety and controls.

One of the main responsibilities of the Commission Tribunal is to run the nuclear licensing process. Before being granted a license or renewal, licensees are required to prove to the CNSC that their facility or activity is acceptably safe. The CNSC approach to safety assumes that nothing is 100 percent risk free, but that risk can be minimized through multiple layers of verifiable protection. When a facility is licensed, the staff organization supports the compliance activities (among other things) and ensures that domestic nuclear operators provide quarterly reports highlighting radio-active discharges.
Needless to say, anybody who's followed the actual operations of the CNSC over the past few years should have some serious questions about that description. To wit: what of Linda Keen? Political meddling in nuclear regulation? Discharges going unreported until well after the fact?

In the UDP report, the reality of how the CNSC has actually operated is conveniently whitewashed from the picture in favour of a depiction of the CNSC as a fully independent guarantor of nuclear safety. And the problem with a presentation of the CNSC is idealized terms rather than realistic ones isn't only limited to the current Con government. In general, any recommendation that the province should rely on federal actors to ensure nuclear safety is bound to carry some serious risk based on the federal government of the day - and the fact that we now have about the most problematic possible combination between the two levels of government only helps to highlight the point.

It doesn't take much imagination to extrapolate from there as to how the UDP's depictions of other parties involved may similarly be based on wishful thinking rather than reality. And it's hard to imagine a starting point less compatible with a realistic assessment of the risks and opportunity costs involved in focusing on nuclear development.

That leads nicely into the last point which I'll make for now: while the report presents plenty of theoretical job and GDP figures associated with its proposals, it utterly ignores the question of how money and resources can otherwise be applied. Which may be entirely consistent with the UDP's mandate to cheerlead for the nuclear industry, but renders the report utterly useless as an assessment of nuclear development as compared to any other priority.

The reviews are in

Chris Selley:
Quite apart from the absurdity of the condition, Foreign Affairs itself had until recently been petitioning to have Abdelrazik’s name stricken from that list, citing all-clear verdicts from CSIS, the RCMP and Sudanese intelligence. Also, the blacklist doesn’t prevent anyone on it from returning home. Nevertheless, Mr. Cannon made it official yesterday: "I denied Mr. Abdelrazik an emergency passport on the basis of national security,” he said. No further explanation was forthcoming.

What the hell is going on here? The idea that Foreign Affairs is digging in its heels simply to avoid being seen to back down implies a lack of foresight and a level of sociopathy that I’m not willing to ascribe to Cannon, or to most cabinet ministers for that matter...

In case it actually needs to be said, the government knowing or suspecting something about a Canadian citizen isn’t enough to essentially exile him. Ottawa’s incredibly churlish behaviour on this file—endlessly setting conditions, then arbitrarily changing them when they’re met—brings the very foundations of government and citizenship into disrepute. It has to stop.