Saturday, April 18, 2009

On false advertising

The national story about Steven Fletcher's controversial appearance at a University of Manitoba event last month has understandably focused on Fletcher's smears of a student newspaper and campus group. But there's another side to the story which looks at least as significant:
The event was hosted by the University of Manitoba Campus Conservatives on March 19 and billed as a chance to hear from Fletcher in his role as the minister of state for democratic reform.

David Safruk, a politics major and incoming arts student council representative on the University of Manitoba Students Union, said the talk had very little to do with democratic reform.

"It turned out to be like he was in the midst of the campaign trail," said Safruk, who wrote a comment piece about the event in the U of M student newspaper, The Manitoban. "I believe it was much too partisan."...

(The Campus Conservative responsible) said he can understand some students were disappointed Fletcher didn't spend more time talking about democratic reform, because that is how the forum was marketed on posters around campus. He spoke for 45 minutes, McCreary said...

Fletcher said he was invited to speak at an event hosted by student Conservatives and he went with the intention to discuss how Conservative principles benefit students.

"I think Conservative values are student values," Fletcher said. "I was there to speak about the Conservative party and the role Conservatives play on campus. I wasn't asked to be there in a general way."
Naturally, the gap between how the event was advertised by the Cons and what Fletcher did with the opportunity to speak to students raises a couple of important questions.

Namely, is there anything more likely to depress interest in politics than have an event which promises to have the minister responsible for democratic reform discussing the prospects to improve public participation turn instead into an infomercial for the Conservative Party? And is there any doubt that the Cons are entirely happy if the end result is to frustrate anybody who cares enough about improving Canada's political scene to expect better than their constant partisanship?

On donor lists

Jason has already pointed out the list of those who have given $250 or more to Saskatchewan NDP leadership contestants - which as of now is updated to April 9. But while the numbers may be fairly consistent with other indicators in the race (with Lingenfelter in the lead, Higgins and Meili in a fierce battle for second place, and Pedersen trailing the field) there are a few interesting twists worth noting in the donor lists so far.

Starting off with Deb Higgins' list, the most striking factor at first glance is how much of her money has come from former or current MLAs: $8,000 of her $14,000 reported comes from current or former NDP caucus members.

But perhaps more noteworthy is the source of her biggest single donation, as the vast majority of her additional funds ($5,000 in total) came from Ernest Butler. While I haven't been able to track down much information on a quick search of the name, it appears worth noting (1) that nobody by that name contributed to the NDP in the two most recent years reported by Elections Saskatchewan (2005 and 2006), and (2) an individual of the same name from Moose Jaw was one of Conservative Ray Boughen's maximum donors in the 2008 federal election where Boughen narrowly beat out NDP stalwart Don Mitchell.

Not surprisingly, Higgins isn't alone in receiving a substantial amount of money from sources which might not be expected to be donating to an NDP race. Instead, the clear leader in that department is Dwain Lingenfelter, whose fund-raising lead includes:
- $2,000 from Chancery Properties Ltd., whose only apparent previous political contribution was to the provincial Libs in 2005;
- $1,000 from Earnscliffe Strategy Group, best known for its federal Lib connections;
- $2,000 from Glencoe Developments, a condominium developer based on the AB side of Lloydminster;
- $2,000 from Prairie Pipeline Contractors, which has participated in a Lingenfelter-led trade delegation to Mexico; and
- $8,000 in donations from businesses which don't seem to have any public Saskatchewan presence based on a quick look at MySask as well as Google search results, including Reliable Property Management ($5,000, tied for Lingenfelter's largest donation), G5 Management ($1,000), Merma Developments ($1,000) and Sadig Holdings ($1,000).

Also of note in Lingenfelter's disclosures is that he appears to be the only candidate to have received any union money in the race so far, with the Canadian Ironworkers and Saskatchewan Building and Construction Trades Council each having contributed $5,000 and the IBEW adding in $2,000. (Which may be worth keeping in mind next time a right-winger tries to complain about the NDP being union-dominated - especially compared to the 2/3 of the Saskatchewan Party's revenue that comes from corporate donations.)

Among Ryan Meili's receipts, it's a $5,000 donation from Olin Valby that stands out as a remarkable contribution. Unlike the other large donors in the race, Valby isn't lacking for somewhat of a public data trail - having been a member of a Saskatchewan-based band and an advocate for increased bike use in Saskatoon. (For those who have been following my coverage of the race far more closely than could possibly be healthy, it's one of Valby's former bandmates who wrote one of the posts which I discussed here.)

Finally, Yens Pedersen's larger donors so far apparently consist almost entirely of members of the legal community or Pedersen's family - and even the total contributions are less than the top single donation to each of the other candidates.

In closing, it's worth noting that none of the candidates appear to be anywhere near the $200,000 expense limit in their fund-raising so far. So to the extent that unions or anybody else decide to start putting their money into the race even relatively late, there would seem to be some significant potential to shape what kind of resources the candidates have to work with leading up to the June convention. But it may still be worth keeping in mind who's seen fit to support the candidates so far in determining who's best suited to lead the NDP into the future.

(Edit: fixed wording X2, added link.)

Intractable differences

Sheila Copps responds to the Libs' attempts to woo her into running for the party:
If nominated I will not stand.
Which clearly makes her a terrible fit for the party. After all, for the Libs one has to get elected before not standing becomes the rule.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Musical interlude

Sneaker Pimps - Low Place Like Home

On recorded votes

It looks like the Globe and Mail's story on Libby Davies' successful campaign to make parliamentarians' votes more accessible to Canadians went live before the feature itself. But kudos to Davies for one more step toward improved transparency and accountability in federal politics - and hopefully there will be more to follow.

Deep thought

Michael Ignatieff's supposedly "visionary" ideas seem to consist entirely of existing structures made newer or bigger.

The morning after

As mentioned last night, here are a few candidate-by-candidate thoughts on the part of the NDP leadership debate liveblogged below.

I'll note to start off with that all of the candidates performed well in providing substantive answers to the questions asked. But the degree of difficulty for the forum looked to be relatively low: the last few questions at least dealt solely with topics that had already received ample public discussion from all camps, and there wasn't any direct opportunity for candidates to follow up on their opponents' answers. Which meant that the forum sounds like it was oriented largely toward stump answers rather than quick thinking.

That said, there are still a few individual notes worth pointing out.

Let's start off with Deb Higgins, whose response to the question about party renewal was substantially sharper than was reflected in my live-blogging. After Meili mentioned going door-to-door to sell memberships in his answer, Higgins began her response with an admonition that an experienced politician would know there's more to a door-to-door effort than selling memberships alone.

Of course, there isn't much doubt that Higgins' campaign is focusing on experience and commitment as her main themes. But it's still noteworthy that her most brusque critique seems to have been directed at Meili rather than at Lingenfelter on a question where the latter was no less open to criticism. And it's worth wondering whether that might reflect a strategy aimed more at trying to win and hold the #2 position on a first ballot than on trying to build up enough of an opposition effect to hold Lingenfelter short of a majority.

As for Lingenfelter himself, he was obviously the most polished speaker of the lot, yet sounded remarkably wonkish in detailing some of the possibilities for oil sands development. But there was one less than pleasant surprise as well, as Lingenfelter had more trouble than any other candidate limiting his responses to the time allotted to him - which I wouldn't have expected from the front-runner at this stage of the game.

For Meili, the most interesting deviation from the message I've heard so far was his choice to close with a mention of his endorsements - which may reflect the difficulties of building a campaign in the face of limited media coverage. Ideally I'd think a candidate would much prefer to have endorsements speak for themselves, while being able to spend as much forum time as possible letting those in attendance meet the candidate personally rather than hearing how others have responded. But given how spotty any coverage of those endorsements has been, it's probably understandable that Meili has built them into his own message rather than counting on the audience having heard of them otherwise.

Finally, Pedersen's closing statement was one which definitely demands some analysis. I tend toward the view that analogies between oneself and past party heroes are bound to sound at least somewhat forced even at the best of times, and Pedersen's attempt to equate himself with Tommy Douglas was particularly so.

But there's one part of the analogy which may make for a significant message for the balance of the campaign. Pedersen's wording about being "called to action by faith" would seem to offer an solid foundation from which to reach out to progressive religious voters. And in a campaign where Pedersen likely can't count on party establishment support, an outreach effort toward church leaders who may not see much of a direct appeal in the other candidates' messages may make for the best possible opportunity to bring enough support into the fold to keep him competitive in the lead-up to the June convention.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nettie results

One more interesting note from tonight's Saskatchewan NDP leadership debate: while it hasn't yet shown up in the media, another major endorsement looks to have fallen into place with Nettie Wiebe offering her support to Ryan Meili. Which looks to be a particularly interesting development for two reasons.

First, with Lorne Calvert figuring to stay neutral and Chris Axworthy long gone from the party, Wiebe is the top finisher in the 2001 leadership race who figures to endorse anybody in this year's contest. And to the extent her base is still in place (which seems entirely likely considering her involvement in federal politics in recent years), it would seem to have the potential to radically reshape the first ballot results if Wiebe's supporters follow her endorsement.

Second, from an outside perspective Wiebe seemed like the most likely prominent figure to send an endorsement Yens Pedersen's way due to their common involvement in the National Farmers Union. (Indeed, the Google tells me there's at least one endorsement from Pedersen's site for the 2007 election which was based on NFU involvement - though sadly the Wayback Machine hasn't preserved the name of the speaker.) Which means that in addition to offering another boost to Meili's momentum, Wiebe's endorsement may effectively close the door on Pedersen's likelihood of building a similar trend.

Saskatchewan NDP P.A. candidate debate - partial liveblog

Having missed the start to tonight's debate as mentioned in this morning's post, I'll take the opportunity to comment on the rest of it as it goes by...

Question on the oilsands

Meili - need to be careful in developing oilsands resources - notes the connection between oil sands and nuclear development intended to provide power for tar sands operations

Higgins - notes that progress on development is slowed due to the slowing economy and lowered oil prices - we should take this as a chance to look closely at the effects of development

Lingenfelter - proposes a ban on open-pit mining, favours steam extraction and injection methods instead as part of further development - boosts Weyburn carbon sequestration project

Pedersen - Alberta's development a "complete mess", environmentally, socially or economically due to boom and bust cycles - the two main means of extraction are not environmentally sustainable due to consumption of water and natural gas - and our goal should not be to exhaust our non-renewable resources over the next few decades

Question: 50% female candidate target

Higgins - need to develop networks around potential female candidates - knowledge & money to facilitate candidacies for active members - proposal to develop a team of current & former MLAs to facilitate womens' involvement during and after election campaigns - party needs to be representative of province

Lingenfelter - need to reach 50% goal - "right thing to do and wise thing to do", raising question of why it hasn't been done yet - proposes women's commission with responsibility to recruit, mentor and finance candidacies and other party involvement

Pedersen - committed to 50% goal, but not as only goal alongside minority, aboriginal representation - need party leaders to be approaching women and inviting them to run, but not planning to interfere in constituency nomination processes - better notice for nominations, leadership workshops and parental supports would all help

Meili - we've made strides on equality, but have a long way to go in poverty, violence, pay, which will only be resolved with more women in politics - may be done through existing structures such as SNDW, as well as open nomination processes which encourage equity candidates

Question - Plans to allow members' policies to be developed

Lingenfelter - policy review plan including travel to all constituencies - opportunity in opposition to listen around the province and revive party - year-long process followed by convention leading up to next election

Pedersen - message while president that problem goes beyond number of members to lack of inspiration, need to feel like party can make a difference and people can shape party's direction - need to discuss long-term priorities with membership in order to rebuild on foundation of democratic socialism

Meili - party is in an identity crisis after years of competent but uninspiring government - won't be solved by single campaign or policy process if renewal is forgotten when NDP is in government - need to keep party vital, people involved at all times, hire organizers to bring ideas into the party

Higgins - knocking on doors valuable not just to sell memberships, but to listen to concerns and get feedback - NDP is a membership-based party, needs to maintain connections with its members - that's what I did after the election, knocked on doors to listen to what members are saying

Closing statements

Higgins - exciting time to be a New Democrat, time to reconnect and rebuild as well as set path for future - Blakeney policy required MLAs to have 10% of NDP voters as target for membership, now Moose Jaw-Wakamow is the only constituency which would meet the requirement - example of commitment to the party - discusses history in party & in cabinet, good results from tough decision - time to change the face of the party and put forward a vision different from the Sask Party, but one person alone won't change the party

Lingenfelter - suggests any candidate should answer what he/she brings to the party and province - in his case, understands rural/farm issues based on experience while growing up, experienced in government and in winning difficult seats, ready to run in 2011, has business experience which has highlighted need for mixed economy which allows people to share in wealth

Pedersen - "story of two men" analogizing to Douglas - called to action by faith, armed only with vision for future and challenged existing structures - vision based on ability to build future in Saskatchewan, limited only by effort and imagination - need to inspire & excite as well as dealing with political structure - need to win next election, but party needs to do more than merely win elections - makes appeal for membership renewals

Meili - new vision for party, building a healthier society - not just extracting resources - long-term goals and plan needed, investing in renewable energy, seeing opportunity in First Nations people, expanding & improving health care - winning important as well, but excitement will last only while people feel they're listened to - endorsements as sign both of momentum and of broad appeal

I'll leave this post there for now, and follow up with some further thoughts.

All the news that matters

Sure, the Leader-Post can only be bothered to cover the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race grudgingly if at all. But let's not doubt the paper's focus on what's really important in the midst of a democratic process which will help to shape both the province and its largest political party for years to come: namely, how an AC/DC concert will affect the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Sadly, the answer to that piece of investigation is that it won't. But stay tuned for tomorrow's followup on what the concert means for Pat Fiacco's hair.

No surprises

The fact that the Cons have finally released the asbestos report which they'd worked so hard to suppress may be somewhat unexpected. But there shouldn't be any news in what it was that the Cons were trying to hide:
For more than a year, Health Canada held onto a report by a panel of international experts that concludes there is a "strong relationship" between lung cancer and chrysotile asbestos mined in Canada.

Health Canada received the report in March 2008, resisting calls from the panel chairman to release the findings despite his plea last fall that the delay was "an annoying piece of needless government secrecy."...

While the panel found the relationship between chrysotile asbestos and the rare of form of cancer mesothelioma "much less certain," there is a "strong relationship of exposure with lung cancer," panel chairman Trevor Ogden wrote in the newly released introductory letter to the report...

In an interview, panelist Leslie Stayner, director of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, said while the panel agreed the link between exposure to amphibole asbestos -- another form of the mineral -- and mesothelioma was stronger than chrysotile asbestos, the experts couldn't agree about the actual degree of that difference.

"The most important thing is what it doesn't say, which is some people have alleged it would say. What it doesn't say is that exposure to chrysotile asbestos is safe," said Stayner.

"I think the bottom line here is that all forms of asbestos cause both mesothelioma and lung cancer. We will probably for many years still be debating this question of relative hazard of chrysotile. The fundamental question of whether it's hazardous or not is clear. I think the answer to that is, yes, chrysotile is a hazardous substance.
One has to wonder whether the report would have been released at all if not for Michael Ignatieff's reversal on asbestos exports. After all, the timing now might at least be seen to embarrass Ignatieff somewhat along with the government - where at any other time, all of the damage would properly be absorbed by the party which hid the report for over a year. And indeed, Ignatieff's most recent position would signal that the Cons don't have to worry about the Official Opposition challenging their stance that the dangers of chrysotile asbestos should be ignored.

But whatever the Cons' calculations as to when the report was released, its findings should provide ample reason to push for action on the issue - even if neither the Cons nor Libs have any interest in leading the charge.

A chance to listen in

Judging from the lack of any coverage so far, it doesn't look like Saskatchewan's corporate media is bothering to report on the NDP leadership debates which began last night in North Battleford. But tonight's Prince Albert forum will be available live on Missinipi Broadcasting. So for anybody interested in hearing what the candidates have to say but unable to make it to the debates in person, tonight figures to be the best chance to do that before next week's membership deadline.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Too right-wing to fail

For those worried that Republican insiders might be struggling to get by due to the obviously-related combination of electoral wipeouts and a severe recession, have no fear: the Harper and Wall governments won't let them go under.


As alluded to here, the latest endorsement in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race has been announced this morning: Saskatoon Centre MLA David Forbes has endorsed Ryan Meili, becoming the first sitting MLA to do so. There doesn't seem to be any media coverage yet, but I'll link to any that turns up.

Update: Here's the official Meili link, as well as the coverage from the Star-Phoenix - both noting that Angie Meratsy has issued a public endorsement as well. Oddly enough, the Leader-Post doesn't seem to be linking to the coverage from its fellow CanWest paper.

It never lasts

Apparently I should know better than to compliment anything Michael Ignatieff does until after he's had an opportunity to change directions. As Stephen points out in comments here, Ignatieff is now musing about public-sector cuts at some point in the future - which will surely give the Cons an excuse to start looking for areas to target now.

On taxing considerations

It remains to be seen how far Michael Ignatieff will backtrack from yesterday's comments about the possible need to raise taxes in order to balance the federal budget once the recession is over. But as in the case of the asbestos comments which Ignatieff was so quick to flee from, he seems to have landed on the right answer to begin with.

After all, Deficit Jim's fiscal mismanagement has ensured that eventually the federal government will have to accept at least one of sustained deficits, service cuts or tax increases. And looking at those three options, tying the Cons to tax increases looks to be the better course of action both for political purposes and for the public interest in the meantime.

It might be tempting to call for budget cuts instead, particularly given the Cons' propensity for implementing useless and costly programs for the sole purpose of buying votes. But focusing there - even if it likely makes for the easiest target on the surface - would carry a couple of serious problems.

First, it would reinforce the Cons' political advantage in targeting the voters involved to begin with. But perhaps more importantly, it would also give them political license to cut deeper into the programs which they want to see gone - resulting in damage to Canada's public services which might be far more difficult to fix than a tax rate.

So what about allowing for longer-term deficits in order to preserve taxes and spending where they are? The obvious issue there is that it would allow the Cons to portray themselves as being comparatively serious fiscal managers if they make even token efforts at deficit reduction. And considering the force of a critique that the Cons need to bear responsibility for making the mess in the first place, the Libs surely can't afford to take the position that the problem isn't worth solving.

That leaves the tax hike option. But while it too carries some costs on the surface, those are likely to prove illusory in the long run.

Wherever taxes are at any given time, one can generally count on the Cons to promise more cuts in any campaign - or indeed implement new ones without any particular reason for doing so. Which means that a Lib call for tax hikes from current levels serves primarily to frame the tax level which the two parties will argue over, rather than actually creating a policy gap which wouldn't exist otherwise. And the fact that the Libs are pointing out a need for caution rather than egging the Cons on (as Dion did with corporate tax rates) can only make it more difficult for Harper to carry out any more budget-busting cuts.

Of course, Ignatieff still deserves plenty of blame for keeping the Cons in a position to continue draining Canada's federal coffers. But from that starting point, it'll at least be for the best if he does something to minimize the damage. And a public stand to the effect that taxes can't go any lower (and will ultimately have to be increased because of the Cons' mismanagement) is probably the best strategy the Libs have left after giving up their previous leverage over the Cons.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On renewal strategies

leftdog has posted Ryan Meili's responses to the SNDW's questions about engaging women in the Saskatchewan NDP. And while the answers nicely cover the questions asked, they also go a lot further in setting out a grassroots-based view of how a party should operate:
Too often in our party, there has been no succession planning, no deliberate process of institutional renewal in constituency associations and party sections. We should be constantly identifying and mentoring potential new leaders. This process includes a determined effort to seek out women, and people from other under-represented groups, as candidates and party leaders.
All candidacies should be challenged. No candidate for a nomination – no incumbent MLA, no identified star candidate, not even the leader – will be protected from a contested nomination.
Now, it's worth noting that in form the Saskatchewan NDP already has contested nominations, rather than setting up any artificial barriers to possible challenges. But as important as it is to allow for the process in theory, it takes plenty more dedication to grassroots democracy to encourage its use in practice.

From Meili's response, his position seems to include that added step - leaving the door significantly more open than it is now for a "more and better New Democrats" movement. And the view that "candidacies should be challenged" combined with active mentorship of future party leaders would seem to create an ideal set of conditions to ensure that even the safest NDP riding sees regular internal renewal and development.

Of course, the prospect of encouraging nomination competitions may not be quite as popular with those who have enjoyed the absence of challenges over the past few election cycles. But there are plenty within the Saskatchewan NDP who recognize that the greater goal of building a party with sustained activity is far more important than hanging on to internal turf. (Indeed, word is that another major figure within the party will be announcing an endorsement in advance of the leadership debates tomorrow.) And hopefully Meili's vision for internal renewal will ultimately carry the day regardless of how the leadership race plays out.

On unpleasant surprises

Shorter Christian Paradis:

Nobody could have foreseen that our cuts to NSERC's research budget could actually affect research funding.

Deep thought

Nothing signals a government's concern for the public interest in the middle of a recession like pouring hundreds of millions of public dollars into self-promotion.

On headline news

Bill Tieleman is right to point out the key topics which are all too likely to get buried in B.C.'s provincial election campaign. So let's give them a bit more exposure here - and those looking for the reasons why they deserve attention will find them in Tieleman's article.
Here are three screaming front page newspaper headlines that you should see -- but likely won't -- in British Columbia before the May 12 provincial election:

1. Premier Gordon Campbell's B.C. Liberals worst economic managers in province's history!
2. British Columbia job losses lead all Canada in recession!
3. B.C. 2009 budget deficit phoney as $3 bill!

Out of material

It shouldn't be much surprise that Elizabeth May is still using what little publicity she can muster to lob attacks at Jack Layton rather than even noticing that her beloved Libs are trying to out-Con the Harper government. But let's look at just how implausible her latest expression of outrage really is:
But May also has strong words for NDP Leader Jack Layton, whom she accuses of conspiring with Harper to bring down the Liberal minority government of Paul Martin on Nov. 28, 2005, just as a UN climate-change meeting opened in Montreal, thereby depriving the government of the chance to "look good on the world stage."
To start with, it's truly remarkable that May could consider it the responsibility of an opposition party to tailor its domestic political considerations to the greater glory of the government in power. And it shouldn't be ignored that May apparently considered the Libs' image to be her top priority even before she had struck her later pact with Stephane Dion.

But then, what actually became of the conference which May accuses Layton of sabotaging? Nothing about the non-confidence vote in Parliament kept it from going ahead. And when it did, it apparently provided the moment which Dion considered the greatest image-builder of his career when it came time to put together an ad campaign as the Libs' leader - not to mention when May herself developed her endorsement of Dion.

So it seems that May is now so desperate for ways to criticize Layton that she's digging over three years into the past - and then pointing to events which by her own account had the opposite outcome from the one she accuses Layton of bringing about. And the fact that even she doesn't believe her own argument should offer ample reason for outside observers to take her less than seriously.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pharma logic

The more I hear from Terence Young about his mission for improved prescription drug safety, the more I have to wonder what on earth he's doing as a member of the Cons. Here's Young in the Hill Times:
The pharmaceutical companies, what we call Big Pharma, are the wealthiest companies in the world, have unlimited money for public relations, expertise, and public relations experts and they do everything the can to muddy the waters on prescription drug safety, to make their drugs appear more beneficial than they are and less risky than they are and they do very, very expensive lobbying, and they lobby and focus on specific issues at any given time...
Pharmaceutical companies, they are like a multi-headed creature. They creatively put their money in every major institution we look to for objective direction on science and medicine. Every major university takes money from the pharmaceutical companies for research or for their building funds or whatever, this has led to some of our best, most ethical and brilliant doctors being pushed out or even fired from our major universities.

Another thing that an independent drug agency should do is to establish rules in direct-to-consumer advertising and actually enforce them. They advertise on television and they have tremendous influence in the media. They have tremendous influence on the internet. They create and finance their own patient groups, which we call Astro Turf because they are not real grassroots. They're actually created by PR companies; in some cases the addresses of the groups are actually at the PR company. Patients join them thinking that they're really advocating for the patients when in fact their primary purpose is to make sure that the blockbuster drugs get marketed. So, everywhere we look in society for objective information on prescription drugs is information that is coloured by pharmaceutical company money.
Now, terms such as "Big Pharma" and "Astro Turf" themselves sound far better suited for the NDP than for a member of a corporatist right-wing party. Even leaving that choice of language aside, though, can Young honestly be unaware that the Cons' government has not only given away a nine-figure freebie to the companies whose influence he's so concerned about, but also encouraged the provinces to favour the use of brand-name prescription drugs rather than cheaper generic options?

Try again

At least part of the Cons' spin machine looks to be fully functional, as anonymous "sources" gave the Hill Times identical excuses as to why nobody should think Stephen Harper had anything to do with the Cons' Mulroney-related strife:
"The concern the Prime Minister has at this time is the economy, then the economy, and then the economy," said one source close to the Prime Minister's Office.

Another source close to the Prime Minister told The Hill Times that "Mr. Harper is concerned about the present state of the economy and is concentrating all his efforts on helping Canadians who have been hurt by the crisis and creating jobs. We have nothing to do with the story."
But if Harper's focus is on the economy alone, it's worth asking why it is that he and his government didn't get the memo.

On internal obstacles

Conservative MP Terence Young's story is certainly a poignant one. And one can't help but to wish him all the best in his efforts to establish an independent drug safety agency with the authority to pull dangerous drugs off the market.

But there's just one tiny little problem with his plan, as it runs directly contrary to what the Harper government has already done:
The border announcement is one of several expected at the summit. (Bush, Harper and Calderon) also plan to announce that they will recognize the research of each country's food and drug regime in an effort to reduce costs and avoid duplication.
So Young's party leader has already decreed that in his view, it isn't worth the time and effort for Canada to determine which drugs are and aren't safe. Which means that Young's greatest obstacle to any progress lies within the party which he chose to represent.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On fixers

Following up on last week's preliminary post about the Libs' expenditures in the 2008 federal election, let's take a closer look at where the Libs did and didn't spend money - and what the choices say about the decision-makers involved.

To start with, the Libs don't appear to have skimped in all areas: indeed, their spending on polling more than doubled that of the Cons, and was roughly in line with their expenditures the previous two elections. Which would tend to offer reason to think that the Lib braintrust had an excellent idea of the likely outcome during the course of the campaign - even if they didn't bother telling their leader.

With that in mind, it's worth highlighting just where the Libs actually stood, and what that meant for the election as a whole. Remember that as the results actually shook out, the Cons ended up short of a majority government by only 12 seats. And a quick look through the Pundits' Guide's elections page shows just how close the Libs came to bringing about exactly the outcome which they and all the other opposition parties presented as something which Canada couldn't afford.

Of the 42 seats which were decided by 5% or less, 9 were won by the Libs over a Con second-place finisher, and 6 involved Cons finishing second to the NDP in races where the Libs obviously didn't have much control over the outcome. Which means that by pulling their late advertising, the Libs didn't just cede any prospect of forming the largest party in Parliament, but also gave the Cons a substantial opening to form a majority government.

That raises the question of why the Libs would choose that as a possible result. And lest there be any doubt, it wasn't a matter of lacking any choice in the matter, as they had lined up funding for a maximum-level campaign before deciding not to use the money available.

As I noted when the possibility of the Libs holding back was first mooted, there wasn't any real incentive from a financial standpoint to avoid spending on the election: any money spent would have been immediately reimbursed at a 50% rate, and would have also helped the Libs out in terms of the federal per-vote subsidy. And even if the party wasn't happy with the ads actually developed on Dion's watch, there's little reason to think the same people who held the power to cut off the flow of spending entirely couldn't have instead insisted on it being used toward more productive ends.

So I don't see much room for any conclusion but that the Libs made a conscious choice to pursue a strategy which was obviously flawed from a Lib-centric basis - whether one's goal was building party finances or maximizing election results. Which raises the question of who stood to gain from the Libs doing less well than they could have.

Of course, the answer there is fairly obvious. If the Libs had stayed within striking distance of their previous seat count and avoided the "worst percentage of the vote ever" outcome, would Stephane Dion have been toppled as quickly and painlessly as he was? And if Dion had managed to hang on as leader for another election cycle, wouldn't that likely have closed the door on Michael Ignatieff's prospects of taking over the party?

In sum, then, the Libs' decision to fold in the 2008 campaign had the obvious potential for disaster for Canada as a whole in setting up a path to a Harper majority which would never have existed otherwise. As a result, rather than merely supporting Harper from vote to vote in Parliament, the Libs nearly handed him four years of unfettered control over the country in exchange for a bloodless internal change of power.

Now, rather than being held to account for their actions in 2008, Ignatieff and those who have pushed him forward within the party have instead been promoted to become the face of the Libs. And that surely has to raise some serious questions for anybody who thought Stephane Dion had anything useful to bring to the table, or even who merely agreed with the message from any of the opposition parties that stopping Harper is actually a desirable course of action.

Update: Pundits' Guide notes that the original numbers were incorrect within the chart. But the correction only increases the amount the Libs spent on polling, so the point above would seem to stand.

On targeted coverage

The Tyee's push for reader funding of its B.C. election coverage - coupled with a choice of issues to be covered by one's donation - was an interesting enough story on its own (not to mention a worthy cause). But it's especially noteworthy that the national press has taken notice:
British Columbians who say the media is ignoring the most pressing issues in next month's provincial election now have an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is.

The Tyee, a B.C. online web magazine, is collecting pledges from its readers to fund its election reporting.

Those who donate can tell the magazine's brass what election issue - environment, housing, Olympics, for example - their money should go towards covering...

The Tyee hoped to raise $5,000, enough to hire an extra reporter for each day of the election campaign.

Donations are already nearing $7,000 with the pledge drive slated to run until April 14...

Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, likened the Tyee's money-raising efforts to those of National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service, which regularly ask their audiences to donate.

"Is it any worse than selling ads to big advertisers that you often write stories about? When it comes to ethical issues and readers driving coverage, this seems to be a way to actually get readers more engaged in the kind of coverage you provide," she said.
It remains to be seen whether the Tyee will be able to replicate the election coverage model at other times - not to mention whether or not other Canadian media outlets will recognize the opportunity to follow suit by directly tailoring their coverage to what viewers and readers see as most important.

But it's a huge plus to see the Tyee's efforts succeeding so far. And one can't help but figure that major media chains will have little choice but to pay attention to the fact that customized coverage may be the one area where there's some pent-up demand to be met even when the corporate world is scaling back.

Leadership 2009 - Week in Review, April 12

For this week's review, let's quickly follow up on a couple of the points which I've tracked earlier in the campaign based on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidates' supporters on Facebook.

First up, the raw numbers (which of course should be taken with a grain of salt) look to be fairly similar to what they were last time I checked - though it's worth noting that most of the growth seems to have been among the two candidates who were already ahead of the pack. The standings are now:
Dwain Lingenfelter - 602 fans
Ryan Meili - 346 supporters
Yens Pedersen Campaign - 225 members
Deb Higgins - 71 supporters

Meanwhile, two of the possible endorsers I'd mentioned earlier have given an additional hint about their support through the Facebook groups. Angie Merasty, president of the ANDS, is included among Meili's supporters, while former MLA Graham Addley is now listed among Lingenfelter's fans. (In both cases, due credit to John in comments for including Merasty and Addley in those camps.)

All of which suggests that the dynamics of the campaign haven't changed all that much over the last month - at least when it comes to online support. And it'll definitely be interesting to see whether the impending leadership debates likewise serve mostly to amplify the momentum that most of the candidates seem to have carried throughout the campaign so far.

The reviews are in

Chris Selley:
What the government is arguing is that the explicit permission the UN grants member nations to repatriate their own blacklisted citizens is only meant to apply when those citizens happen to be located in a nation next door to their own. If Abdelrazik was in Phoenix, in other words, or Anchorage—heck, maybe even in Moscow, if we could arrange an over-the-pole flight—Canada could help him out. But because other UN nations lie between him and us, we can’t. Indeed, we mustn’t.

On its face, this interpretation is laughably stupid. Now, remember Ciise’s journey home. It’s also manifestly wrong.

For the record, I concede the government, as it argued in its filing, may have no legal obligation to ask that Abdelrazik be exempted from his travel ban. It does have, at the very least, a moral obligation to explain to him, and to the Canadian public, why it hasn’t. It has completely failed to do so, as just about every reasonable Canadian I’ve come across agrees, and has made a terrific ass of itself in the process. At this rate, those poor justice department lawyers will soon be arguing there’s no such place as Sudan, or that Ciise never returned home at all, or that heavier-than-air craft aren’t capable of flight under the laws of gravity.