Saturday, April 25, 2009

A point of clarification

Shorter Con MP Rodney Weston, Thursday, April 23:

On behalf of the citizens of my riding, I'd like to raise an important local issue.

Shorter Con MP Rodney Weston, Friday, April 24:

On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, I'd like to encourage the government to wash its hands of my important local issue.

On image development

In the wake of this week's news about Alberta's marketing strategy, I've been thinking of pitching a few of my own ideas to the Stelmach government to promote it and its province. Reader thoughts are welcome on the portfolio so far.

Leadership 2009 - Facebook Support Update

It's been less than two weeks since I last updated the Facebook support standings for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. But there are a couple of developments since then that bear highlighting.

Let's start off with the standings now, along with where they were as of April 12:
Dwain Lingenfelter - 639 fans (602)
Ryan Meili - 404 supporters (346)
Yens Pedersen Campaign - 227 members (225)
Deb Higgins for Sask NDP Leader - 96 members (71 supporters for Higgins' politician page)

The first point worth noting is the continued growth in Meili's camp, as his group's total has increased by roughly as much as those of the other contenders combined. In contrast, Lingenfelter's lead seems to be narrowing, while Pedersen's support looks to be relatively stagnant (and indeed his group has apparently lost members over the last few days).

Meanwhile, Higgins' data is worth a closer look. Her leadership group doesn't appear to be a new one, as the wall posts date back to her entry into the race. Instead, it seems to have been opened up in the meantime where it didn't show up on public searches before - meaning that she may have had more Facebook support all along than had previously been visible, and in any event isn't as far behind the pack now as seemed to be the case before.

Perhaps more important, though, is one of the names who shows up in Higgins' group: Larry Hubich, the president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and probably the most visible labour leader in the province.

Remember that to date, the labour movement's public involvement in the leadership race has been in favour of Lingenfelter, with several endorsements and a substantial amount of money flowing his way. Which was always a somewhat surprising outcome, given Higgins' experience with the labour file.

Now, there's at least some hint that Higgins is adding high-profile labour support to her existing bases. And while it's too late to actually work on recruiting more union members to the party fold for the race, it wouldn't be at all surprising if a push from organized labour could have an effect in persuading those who did sign up for the party.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Hubich will make a public endorsement rather than simply lending his support to the Facebook group. And there's probably some question as to how much Hubich personally can influence the union locals who would be more likely to contribute money and volunteers directly.

But even if Hubich does little more than support Higgins in principle, that still sends a signal that organized labour doesn't have to play it safe and stay behind Link. And that can only figure to make the race more interesting going forward.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Musical interlude

Gandharvas - First Day of Spring

Happy in the dark

Shorter Kevin Gaudet:

The scariest part of the recession and ensuing bailouts is that people might think there's reason to look behind the curtain at what corporations are doing.

One last reminder

There are just a few more hours to sign up for a membership in order to vote in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. With that in mind, be sure to sign up so as not to miss out on the chance to shape the future of both the NDP and the province as a whole.

Deep thought

Apparently Con BC caucus chair Dick Harris has proven to be an utterly useless MP no matter how hard he tries to get heard by the Harper government. So maybe another party should appoint a liaison to represent his constituents.

The reviews are in

Andrew Mitrovica:
Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day (who would later be appointed to cabinet by Prime Minister Stephen Harper) seized upon Cannistraro's story as unimpeachable evidence that Canada was, in fact, a "soft spot" for terrorism and he called on the Liberal government to immediately undertake an overhaul of Canada's immigration and security policy.

"We know," Day said a few days after the attacks, "that Canada is seen as a soft spot ... of undesirable people, possibly criminal elements, being able to gain access to our country."

Today, in the aftermath of Napolitano's grating comments, Harper and some of his cabinet members who once condemned Canada as a "soft spot" for terror, have been busy instructing their man in Washington to disabuse the Obama administration of the notion that Canada was or remains a soft spot for terrorists.

In other words, Harper has mobilized the diplomatic and political machinery at his disposal to try to finally shatter a frustrating myth that senior members of his government once enthusiastically promoted.

Deep thought

I'll bet at least one Saskatchewan NDP leadership contender is hoping that Deb Higgins' young candidate target doesn't get turned into "58 under 58".

Amen to that

Far too often, the ever-laughable spin that right-wing governments should be seen as fiscally responsible manages to get a free pass from the media. So kudos to Jeffrey Simpson for recognizing the facts:
Deficits are dangerous for liberals, but especially hard for conservatives, to talk about sensibly. A mantra of conservative parties is that deficits are bad, but the way they govern invariably produces deficits, or at least weakens the fiscal position of the government.

This observation is heretical to conservatives and counterintuitive to others, but the evidence in Canada and the United States bears it out.

In opposition, then in office, conservatives promise lower taxes, and try to deliver them, as the Harper Conservatives did with their two-point cut to the GST that cost the treasury about $12-billion.

Having eroded the government's fiscal capacity, conservatives then promise to eliminate "wasteful" spending. When that effort produces meagre results, as it always does, the government either cuts programs (but never enough to make up for the tax reductions) or lets spending proceed apace, as the Harper crowd has done.

Twenty years of Republican administrations under three presidents followed this formula: a political campaign based on lower taxes and an attack on "wasteful" spending, followed by lower taxes but higher spending, with resulting chronic deficits.

Deficits of the kind conservative parties left in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Ottawa (Alberta was the exception because of energy royalties) also suggest that deficits and conservatives go together, rhetoric notwithstanding.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A forum for discussion

As may have been mentioned before, the last Saskatchewan NDP leadership forum took place in Regina tonight. And a near-packed house was treated to a strong performance from each of the candidates - which shouldn't come as much surprise given that each has had a chance to hone a message over the course of the last two weeks. But there are a few individual notes worth pointing out.

While there wasn't a lot new on the policy front, Deb Higgins did present one extremely interesting idea which I hadn't heard from her before. On a question about youth involvement in the NDP, she proposed that the candidate targets should include a youth component, with the intention of running 30 candidates under 30 (or 40 under 40).

The proposal sounds like it's still at a relatively early stage of formulation. But it's certainly one which deserves plenty of future discussion - and indeed in a campaign where the possibility of targets for female, First Nations and other underrepresented types of candidates have already been proposed, it makes sense to add youth into the mix as well.

Meanwhile, the strongest critique of the night also came on the question of youth involvement. In his response, Yens Pedersen attacked the idea that younger party members should be satisfied with the opportunity to be mentored by older ones who keep control over the party. Which of course makes for a direct challenge to Dwain Lingenfelter's effort to defuse his own age as an issue by talking about grooming another generation within the party.

But then, the issue stopped there as Lingenfelter didn't pick back up on the theme. And indeed the most striking element of his performance was how his early-campaign ideas about party renewal seem to have largely gone by the wayside: to my recollection he didn't mention the mentorship proposal at all, alluded to a policy renewal process only tangentially, and even on the youth involvement issue proposed little more than outreach to sell more youth memberships (with little about how to better involve current young members).

That could be the result of a conclusion that he's better off directing the conversation to his perceived areas of strength in terms of policy knowledge and political experience. But one has to wonder whether a reduced emphasis on renewal in the leadership race might continue after the convention.

Finally, Ryan Meili's performance was highlighted by his answer on nuclear power which zeroed in on a theme which looks to be worth plenty of development. While Meili mentioned the environmental and cost considerations of nuclear as compared to renewable energy, he also spent a substantial part of his time discussing the opportunity to spread out renewable-energy development around the province so as to benefit a far greater number of communities and provide for local control.

Coupled with the efficiency concerns surrounding nuclear or other centralized power mentioned by other candidates, one could easily see that critique serving as the backbone of the NDP's energy policy to counter the Sask Party's obsession with a nuclear megaproject. And if the ballot question in 2011 comes down to the Sask Party backing a nuclear reactor which creates jobs and development in only one community against an NDP rural revitalization strategy which emphasizes localized power projects across the province, then one has to like the NDP's chances of reaching its goal of bringing rural seats back into the fold.

Update: See Leader-Post coverage here, and Jason's take here.

Vous avez des suggestions?

Apparently the Libs have some company in the "ineffective opposition" department, as Blogging Horse notes that Gilles Duceppe is apparently sending out hurried tweets for help in figuring out what to ask in question period. Which makes me wonder whether he may be looking eventually to reverse Lucien Bouchard's move in splitting off from the Cons: what better fit could there be than a Prime Minister who doesn't let his party members speak for themselves, and a group of MPs with nothing to say?

On memorable results

Adam Radwanski's interview with NDP strategist Brian Topp makes for an interesting read generally. But one of his points in particular bears highlighting.

Here's what Topp had to say about the NDP's recent polling numbers:
Adam Radwanski: Given that there really isn't all that much of a policy gap between the Conservatives and the Liberals right now, are you surprised that NDP support has stagnated - if not dropped - in the past few months?

Brian Topp: I'm not surprised - so far.

The New Democrat caucus tried to do a big thing - tried to replace the government. And it didn't happen. That's the most memorable thing our team has done so far in this parliament. Undertakings that don't succeed don't build support.

The essentially seamless unity of purpose between the Harper Conservatives and the Ignatieff Liberals does now create an opportunity for the NDP - one New Democrats know they need to step up to by shaking off the events of November and addressing the issues Canadians are focused on today.

If the NDP succeeds in doing this, we'll (hopefully) be rewarded in the polls.
Now, the same principle can easily work in the NDP's favour where its efforts succeed. Remember that in the wake of its "better balanced budget", the NDP spent much of the summer of 2005 polling well into the 20s. Meanwhile, the Cons reached roughly the same level from the opposite direction, as Harper and company spent the better part of the summer seething with rage over their failure to force an election that spring. (It was only that fall - when the Libs refused the NDP's entreaties to strengthen the health care system - that both numbers moved back toward their previous levels.)

Unfortunately, the coalition plan was eventually seen as giving rise to two separate points which might be seen as "failures": both Michaelle Jean's decision to grant prorogation and Michael Ignatieff's choice to keep propping up Harper served to undermine the potential of the coalition. And in that light, one could have expected the NDP to suffer even more than it did as the lone party to engage in a strong defence of the coalition.

Conversely, there's no telling for sure how matters would have been different if the coalition had taken office. But if Harper had been saddled with an unsuccessful attempt to cling to power after already having watched his fiscal update blow up in his face, then it would have been the Cons wearing the title of failure - and we might already be in the midst of a Con leadership race as part of the fallout.

Based on that upside as well as the potential for an NDP presence in government, the coalition gambit was well worth the effort even in retrospect. But the end result (particularly as precipitated by the Libs) does speak to the importance of setting goals which are both visible and attainable as the NDP works on building its public perception back up now. And presumably those will both be major guiding principles in the NDP's planning going forward.

A working theory

Following up on this post on Yens Pedersen's rather surprising internal poll results, let's see if we can piece together exactly how those might have come about.

I noted in comments on the previous post that the one robo-call which I received from Pedersen didn't seem to be associated with the poll in question. But in retrospect, that may have been a matter of how the call was organized - in essence starting with what amounted to an audio ad for Pedersen which resulted in my classifying the call as a recorded message rather than a poll, before going into an informal-sounding "who do you support?" question (all delivered by Pedersen personally).

If that's indeed how the call was structured, it could explain the otherwise dubious poll results in a hurry.

To start with, there would be a significant selection bias in who would still be listening to the call by the time the poll came along. Anybody who wasn't interested in listening to Pedersen's personal message (whether due to a dislike for robo-calls generally, or an intention to support another candidate) would have hung up long before there was any hint of a poll, while those still on the line would be those who were most interested in what Pedersen had to say. And that possibility would be consistent with what looks on its face to be a large non-response rate (16,000 calls to 2,000-odd respondents).

And of course it couldn't hurt Pedersen's numbers to have the poll question presented immediately after his own appeal for support, while the other candidates were presented in name only. Which might further explain why the support numbers look so far out of line with expectations.

I'll be looking to confirm with the Pedersen camp that this is roughly how the call was set up. But assuming it's right, let's note what the results do and don't say.

One would be hard-pressed to say that a call which gives precedence to one candidate's message can be taken as an accurate reflection of the relative support for the four candidates involved. So the percentage numbers highlighted by Pedersen don't figure to carry much force.

That said, whatever the methodological problems with the poll as a means of measuring public opinion generally, there still looks to be some value to Pedersen in the raw polling data.

For a candidate whose greatest weakness has been a lack of demonstrated public support, it has to be a plus if 2,000-plus respondents listened through his personal appeal and close to 500 indicated their intention to support him at the end. Even if that number doesn't figure to put Pedersen in contention personally, it surely signals that he may have enough voters in his camp to help swing the results at the June convention.

Moreover, it's entirely possible that a call which seems to have served at least two purposes may have served another as well. After all, to the extent Pedersen is now able to link his own supporters and the undecideds in the poll to the numbers called, he would figure to have a highly useful support list for use for the rest of the campaign.

So while there are some apparent problems with the poll as a survey of public opinion, it may still serve a couple of useful purposes for Pedersen's campaign. And we'll hopefully know before long whether or not that's the case.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

One promise you can trust

Last night, I noted that the Wall government was abandoning one of its excuses to push for nuclear power by declaring that it wasn't going to bother keeping any promises when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Now, Crown Corporations Minister Kevin Cheveldayoff is apparently determined to undercut another one by promising that the Sask Party will deliver increased power bills for years to come.

Which raises the question: will there be so much as a single excuse left standing by the end of the week other than a desire to enrich the Sask Party's good friends at Bruce Power?


Suffice it to say that I'm rather curious to hear the explanation behind this.

And while I'll reserve final judgment until we hear something about the methodology involved, it's tough to see much explanation other than that someone from the Greens' Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River byelection campaign has found their way into Yens' camp.

(Edit: Screen capture removed.)

On twisted equivalencies

Shorter (and indeed frighteningly close to verbatim) David Frum:

Barack Obama shouldn't let his administration prosecute Bushites for authorizing torture - lest the Republicans prosecute him for not authorizing torture when they get the chance.

A reality check

It's been fascinating to watch a single comment expressing nothing more than unsourced gossip turn into a two-day media story. But now that the madness is over with, let's note why any deal involving NDP support for the Cons is highly unlikely - and why the Libs' efforts to sell the PR referendum story need to be taken with a heavy grain of salt.

To start with, I'll expand on one of the points that I made when the NDP's new tone emerged this week. Simply put, the new line is solely about working within the time frame which the Libs have already imposed to try to get something positive done. That doesn't involve any retreat from the position that the Harper government is causing nothing but harm - but instead means recognizing that there may not be any confidence votes over the next 10 weeks, and that on any that do come up they can't rely on the Libs to take a stand.

Of course, it's in the Libs' interest to try to pretend otherwise in order to defuse what they surely know makes for a powerful criticism. Which is why they're currently shrieking at anyone who'll listen that Layton has somehow already agreed to prop up the Cons merely by declaring his intention to try to work with all parties.

But the best long-term move for the NDP is to make their new cooperative message an add-on to their existing "real opposition" narrative, not to scrap a year and a half worth of public messaging. Unless...

In theory, one can make a case that if the NDP would be well served if it could count on PR being implemented out of a deal with the Cons, largely for the reasons set out by Robert Silver. But there doesn't seem to be a way to get there from here which doesn't involve unacceptable risk.

After all, a citizens' assembly and referendum process would require at least many months of preparation, and more likely a year or more. Which means that if it tied support for the Cons to PR, the NDP would be committing to vote for at least as much of the Cons' reactionary agenda as the Libs have already passed.

But the NDP wouldn't have any way to count on the Cons holding up their end of the bargain. We already know Harper isn't shy about calling an election in the face of his own legislation to the contrary - and it would be foolhardy to rely on him not to do the same again just as a referendum process was nearly complete.

What's more, with both the Libs and Bloc having shown their willingness to prop up the Cons in the past, Harper could easily back out of any agreement on PR and look to them to sustain his government if he can get a better deal. And considering that a majority-focused Ignatieff and a regionally-based Bloc could both conclude they'd be at least temporarily worse off under a PR system, it's entirely likely that one or the other would make Harper an offer he couldn't refuse to end the process.

In contrast, changes to EI as proposed by Layton would require passing only a single bill, not propping up the Cons on any hostile confidence motions - which would fit well within the range of what the NDP can plausibly put on the table without damaging its existing messages. And presumably there are plenty more policy ideas which Layton can present along the same lines - maybe including PR as a matter of immediate implementation rather than a referendum, though the odds of the Cons accepting that are minimal.

But a referendum process would leave far too much to chance to justify signing on to back Harper's government. So the NDP is best off making a push for PR in a future, more friendly Parliament - rather than one where Deceivin' Stephen can so easily send the idea off the rails.

Leadership 2009 - Links & Reminders

Following up on last week's leadership debates, at least one local newspaper dedicated some attention to leadership contestants, as the Melfort Journal has posted coverage of the forum held there. Oddly, the Prince Albert Daily Herald doesn't seem to have bothered covering its hometown forum - and even more inexplicably, the North Battleford News-Optimist is behind a subscription wall.

In the other noteworthy development in the race, Ryan Meili released his policies on the economy and gender equity. As best I can tell, the other candidates' websites seem to have been left entirely unchanged since April 9.

So what comes next? Well, the debate circuit continues over the next couple of days, with a stop in Swift Current tonight (which we really should have rechristened "Wallerton" by now in honour of the dearly departed Corner Gas as well as the appropriate follow-up), followed by the final forum in Regina tomorrow.

And of course, the membership deadline is Friday, April 24. So once more, I'll encourage readers to sign up if they're interested in having a say in the contest.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Promise broken

There was already no reason to take the Sask Party seriously in claiming that their constant push for nuclear power had anything to do with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But now, there's yet more reason to laugh at the assertion:
The Saskatchewan Party government says it will not be keeping its election promise on cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

During the 2007 election campaign, the Saskatchewan Party adopted the NDP government's targets to reduce gases like carbon dioxide and other gases linked to climate change and global warming.

The Saskatchewan Party platform called on the province to stabilize emissions by 2010, and reduce them 32 per cent by the year 2020.

But now, Environment Minister Nancy Heppner said that target will have to change...

Instead of the old targets, the province will adopt federal targets, which call for a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020, she said.
Of course, there's no explanation as to why there would be any reason for reduced economic activity to lead to higher emissions than planned. But now that the Wall government has predictably taken the first excuse available to trash what had been a bipartisan consensus on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, any attempt to use environmental consciousness as an excuse for the rest of the Sask Party's agenda can only look all the more hollow.

On protecting one's own

Jeff's post today offers a useful jumping-off point to toss in my two cents' worth on Ray Lam's resignation as a B.C. NDP candidate. But while I agree with Jeff that there's plenty of reason for concern with both parties' actions, I have to figure (in what's surely a rare result) that he's underestimating how problematic the B.C. NDP's response was.

Let's start off with a bit more detail on how the B.C. Libs first tried to attack over the pictures of Lam:
"This is someone who is running to represent the people of Vancouver-False Creek in Victoria, at a time when we have really critical issues, like crime and the economy," said Mary McNeil, the Liberal candidate in the riding.
But the sheer emptiness of McNeil's rhetoric is obvious. There's not the slightest reason why Lam's ability to deal with those issues would be affected by the photos, and indeed it's McNeil that spared no effort in deflecting attention from her own government's record to try to make the election about her opponent's social life.

And the Libs' response managed to get even less credible from there, as McNeil's posturing was followed by the even more laughable spectacle of Gordon Campbell - yes, that Gordon Campbell - having the sheer gall to bash Lam's judgment.

Now, from my standpoint the proper response on the part of the NDP should be twofold. First, point out that it's the opposition that's trying desperately to distract from real issues with meaningless distractions (all the while ignoring its own glass house on the subject). And ask how plausible it is to suggest that nobody in the Libs has had a minute of fun since crime and the economy became issues - not to mention whether you'd want a government that was made up of the type of automatons that would be required to meet that standard.

Second and more importantly, rally around the duly nominated candidate who was facing an unprovoked, baseless attack. Which is where the NDP unfortunately seem to have plenty left to learn.

Of course, there's every reason for a party to drop a candidate who faces actual substantive ethical concerns. And I certainly wouldn't want the NDP to fall into the pattern of thinking that there's absolutely no degree of moral or ethical failing that shouldn't be papered over for the sake of a party's image. (See Vitter, David; Craig, Larry; Canada, Conservative Party of.)

But by dropping Lam as a candidate, I'd argue that the NDP sent an extremely dangerous message in the opposite direction: that anybody whose youth was photographed should steer clear of the party, as they can't count on any defence against even the most frivolous of public smears.

Which has both immediate and long-term consequences. One certainly wouldn't expect Lam or his personal friends or supporters to stay involved with much enthusiasm in the rest of the campaign, and there's no way of knowing how many other potential candidates (and their own networks) might see the example as reason to stay away. And ironically enough, Lam's example may mean that anybody who might have similar photos in their past will see more potential for a future in politics in the B.C. Libs - since while they'll only be even quicker to go after NDP candidates based on Lam's precedent, they're almost certainly willing to put up with (and vigorously defend) worse among their own.

All of which means that for the sake of avoiding the inconvenience of defending the harmless against the absurd, the B.C. NDP has tossed away a democratically-nominated candidate, and sent a signal which will only encourage even more pointless diversions from their efforts to build momentum.

I've said before that I don't think it'll be long before the political scene does adjust in large part to fact that minutiae about candidates may be easily accessible by developing far more accurate standards as to what actually serves to disqualify candidates. And at least one provincial NDP wing is well on its way to making a similar non-story into the embarrassment for the party's opponents that it deserved to be. But unfortunately, Carole James has missed a golden opportunity to help turn the tide - and we can only hope that her party and province won't suffer as a result.

Missing the point

Shorter Globe and Mail editorial board:

We're all for electoral reform - just as long as it doesn't do anything to lessen the likelihood of a false majority.

On hackery

With a month and a half left to go in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, there's plenty of time for new entries in the battle for the least insightful commentary on the contest. But Murray Mandryk's latest column looks to be a strong contender.

Looking for a single mention of any candidate aside from Dwain Lingenfelter? You won't find that in Mandryk's pontifications.

But if you'd like to theorize (a) that it's somehow a bad thing for the party that Lingenfelter has made some efforts to appeal to the left rather than running solely on a platform of "resistance is futile", and (b) that a single YouTube video from a new and anonymous user somehow represents evidence of an irreparable split in the NDP, then Mandryk has just the kind of content-free NDP-bashing you're looking for.

Walk AND chew gum? At the same time?

Sure, Ron Cannan's earth-shakingly classless segue deserved all the criticism it attracted. But perhaps the more telling recent statement of the state of the Cons can be found in Leon Benoit's pitch to use the Cons' stacked deck to avoid a nomination challenge. Shorter Benoit:

I'm utterly incapable of carrying out more than one task at a time. But fortunately, your doing nothing will allow me to stick to the trained-seal duties which I so enjoy.

h/t to Pundits' Guide.

The reviews are in

The Ottawa Citizen:
For too long the federal government, to its shame, has denied and avoided evidence about the dangers of chrysotile asbestos, a product that Canada mines and exports around the world.

The new release of a Health Canada report, documenting as it does a "strong relationship" between lung cancer and exposure to chrysotile asbestos, means the government can rationalize its irresponsible behaviour no longer, and must finally ban these exports. Canada's reputation as a moral player on the international stage is being jeopardized by its willingness to ship asbestos to some of the poorest parts of the world.
Canada's willingness to peddle asbestos to the world's most vulnerable populations, all for the sake of a few dollars in Quebec, is a long-standing disgrace. The current federal government is notorious for its ability to dismiss empirical data and the counsel of scientific experts, but perhaps the Health Canada report will be one study that even this government will be too embarrassed to ignore.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Burning question

Since when does a single leader get to decide on his own to shut down a political party rather than "(letting) anyone else have it"?

Making the best of it

It's perhaps not surprising that Jack Layton's new message of trying to work within the current Parliament is being dismissed by Lib supporters - as if any other response could have been expected. But those trying to draw any link between Layton and the Libs' track record of propping up the Cons may want to take a closer look at what he actually said:
The House of Commons should spend the next couple of months focusing on reforms to employment insurance and pensions, not electioneering, NDP Leader Jack Leader (sic) says.

It's a significant change in tactics for Mr. Layton, who portrayed himself as executioner-in-chief of the Harper Conservatives through a raucous winter run that threatened to topple the minority government at every turn.

On Monday, the NDP Leader marked the return of Parliament after a two-week Easter break with a public, 15-minute pep talk to his MPs and party workers, in which he spoke about the toll the recession is taking on Canadians.

The carefully staged, bear-pit speech was noticeably devoid of anything that could be construed as a threat to the survival of Stephen Harper's minority government.
“Get moving on it prime minister, work with us to implement the changes that must happen and must happen now,” Mr. Layton told his caucus, clutching a cordless microphone in one hand, stabbing a finger at the news cameras with his other.

Just last December, Mr. Layton ordained that the time was ripe for a change of government. But he was far more circumspect in his interview Monday after two weeks of town hall meetings with voters.

“What I heard [Canadians] say is that they want action,” Mr. Layton said.

“And they want action now, not off in the future when someone deigns to ordain that something should happen in Canadian politics, months and months away from now.”
Now, the Libs are obviously looking to mock the NDP's strategic shift in a vacuum. But let's keep in mind the political context which they've helped to create.

After all, with the Libs sending signals that they may be willing to look at an election this fall at the earliest, the likelihood of the current Parliament coming to an end over the next couple of months is nil. And that's so regardless of the path which the NDP pursues.

From that starting point, it then makes sense to acknowledge that Michael Ignatieff has thrown away any prospect of replacing the Cons with a better government, and look to minimize the damage caused by the Libs' choice to leave Harper in power.

Naturally, that can best be accomplished by focusing on areas like EI where the opposition is in substantial agreement in principle to maximize the pressure on Harper - which also means that the NDP won't be caught in the Libs' predicament of supporting any confidence measure on its own. And it also demands that the NDP take an active role in pushing the Harper government toward better policy outcomes, rather than taking the Libs' position that Canadians don't deserve anything better than an accounting of how Harper chooses to run amok.

In sum, the NDP's newest message doesn't mean for a second that the Cons will be left in power a second longer than can be avoided. But it does reflect the best possible chance of salvaging some positive results from a Parliament dominated thus far by the Libs' giant sucking vortex of uselessness. And while that's far from an ideal result for any progressive Canadian, it's about all anybody can hope to accomplish as long as the Libs have ruled out a coalition or an election.

Lessons learned

Shorter Andrew Steele teaching math:
The group of consumers who will pay more in HST once tax harmonization goes through in Ontario is "broader" than the group of consumers plus employers who pay the PST now.

And shorter Andrew Steele teaching logic:
There's no difference at all between shifting a tax on manufacturers alone so that it applies to consumers, and shifting a tax which already applies to employers and consumers alike so that it hits only the latter.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Out in force

Of course, while some in the media kvetch about the federal NDP's supposed absence from the public eye, the party itself has been in the midst of two major task forces dealing with the economic issues now facing Canadians. So let's note the Star Phoenix' report on Nathan Cullen's stop in Saskatoon:
From rebuilding railways to increased research funding, a handful of federal NDP party members were in Saskatoon during the weekend to envision green solutions to the economic crunch.

"The concern I have is that folks will simply say this is beyond us, that this is greater than us," Nathan Cullen, a British Columbia NDP MP, said in a speech to Saskatoon-Humboldt NDP members.

The federal NDP is in the middle of a cross-Canada trek aimed at polling the grassroots for ideas on how to create environmental initiatives to lessen the impact of a faltering economy. The project is dubbed the New Democrat Taskforce on Economic Recovery.

In Saskatoon, discussion focused on restoring the rail system, research and public transit.
Across the country, dialogue has centred around building codes, energy sources and transit in the cities, said Cullen.

The MP's Saskatoon stop included trips to a wind farm and to the Confederation Inn in Saskatoon, a business that is using solar energy to heat water at the hotel.
Cullen says Saskatchewan's Conservative MPs need to support green initiatives both in the province and in Ottawa.

He points to one consultant he met who is based in Saskatoon, but does most of his business in Manitoba because the province has more support for environmental initiatives.

Other Canadian companies have left for "greener" pastures in Europe.

"I know, federally, we had an alternative energy program killed. People are confused," Cullen said.
Of course, the likelihood of Con MPs actually taking any stand for the environment looks to be remote at best. But the more the NDP is able to highlight the need to tie economic recovery to sustainable industries, the the better the chances that the Cons can either be pushed to do more than they would on their own, or be removed from any position to keep damaging the prospects of a green economy.

A needed introduction

Angelo Persichilli, meet Google News. I trust you'll take the time to get acquainted before writing another column which cites your own ignorance as evidence of your point.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Week in Review, April 19

After the first of two weeks of debates and with the membership deadline less than a week away, the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race still seems to be getting little mainstream attention - with media coverage seeming to happen late if at all. But in the blogosphere, things are starting to heat up with a couple of the more pointed posts I've seen so far.

Of course, I'm all for ensuring that the candidates get properly vetted and tested during the course of the leadership race. But I'll also offer a reminder of the outcome we're all hoping for from the candidate whose campaign has been the most adversarial at times:
Higgins said the NDP leadership race is strengthening the party overall.

When asked who she would support for party leader if she were not to win, Higgins said it’s too early for her to make such an endorsement, as she believes she has a very strong chance of winning.

However, whoever wins the leadership race, Higgins said all candidates will get behind the leader and work with the party for the betterment of Saskatchewan.
Needless to say, that result is one that everyone in the NDP should be aiming for once the leadership race is done. And ideally the candidates' coming together behind the eventual winner will also encourage their supporters to do the same.

But to bring that about, it's worth keeping the candidates' recruiting efforts for the next week (and persuading efforts until June) focused on positive ideas which can form a basis for a common vision - lest disputes over the points of difference between the leadership candidates (as important as those may be) otherwise make it more difficult to unite as a party once the race is done.


The Ottawa Citizen reports on the voting records of the parties in Parliament since Michael Ignatieff took over the Libs. And about the best one can say for the Libs is that they don't always show up to do their desired damage in supporting the Cons:
Despite leader Michael Ignatieff’s vow that his party would no longer sit on its hands during votes in Parliament, Liberal MPs have missed three times as many votes in the House of Commons so far this year as Conservative members...

The Liberals posted the worst record for voting of the four parties in the House, standing to be counted fewer times on average than even Bloc Quebecois MPs.

And when Liberal MPs did show up, they voted the same way as the Conservatives 79 per cent of the time.

By contrast, Bloc MPs supported the government on only 14 per cent of votes. With the exception of a few MPs on one motion, NDP members voted against the Conservatives at every chance. Most of the votes where the Liberals aligned with the Tories were related to the budget.

How to be heard

John Snobelen's column today deals primarily with the Ontario PC leadership race. But his message on the importance of participating in party-level politics rings equally true for the Saskatchewan NDP contest:
In our system, leadership matters. Who the premier is makes an enormous difference in how life goes in Ontario. But unless you live in the riding of the leader of the successful party in the next election your only chance to vote directly for or against a leader happens during the leadership selection process.

Most of us decline the opportunity.

But few of us are slow to ask "who picks these people."

I think that's sad. You don't have to join a political party to exercise your right to vote in an election but you do if you want a say in the selection of the leader.
I'd like to think that most people just don't know what a huge difference they could make as a party member.

Until more of us figure that out, a few thousand people will go on picking the leaders, the local candidates and the platforms that determine the future of the province. They will decide what new programs to offer and how tax money will be spent.

Some will be long-time party supporters. Many will be encouraged to join by their trade union or professional association. Some will be recruited by their faith community. These are the few who have figured it out; when you join a party you get heard.
Of course, it's not yet too late for anybody interested in the NDP's race to join the party and get a direct say in the leadership race. And hopefully plenty more interested voters will take up that opportunity rather than regretting having stayed on the sidelines when the June convention rolls around.

Update: Chrystal has a different take on Snobelen's column. But I'd have to wonder how recognition of the degree of power that party leaders hold (which itself does vary from party to party) would make for a reason not to get involved in deciding who actually exercises the ability to dictate a party's direction.