Saturday, June 27, 2009

No longer a fourth-class citizen - now all the way up to third class

It's undoubtedly great news that Abousfian Abdelrazik has finally made it back to Canada. But CTV rightly notes that while the worst may be over, the Kafkaesque traps for Abdelrazik and anybody seeking to improve his circumstances are far from a thing of the past:
Abdelrazik's troubles will likely continue in Canada as he continues to be on a UN terror list, which bars him from working or receiving financial assistance.

"The persecution and the injustice here are going to continue," said Attaran.

While Maher Arar received millions in compensation from the Canadian government for being unjustly labelled as a terror threat, Abdelrazik has yet to indicate he will seek damages from Ottawa, said Attaran.

In fact, the government may seek compensation from Abdelrazik for the food and medicine he consumed during his stay at the Canadian Embassy in Sudan, said Attaran.
So after the Cons made nonsensical excuses to keep Abdelrazik stranded, would it surprise anybody if they try to keep him from either living normally or speaking out about his ordeal by labeling any move toward those ends as prohibited assistance?

Update: pogge has more.

The reviews are in

Bruce Johnstone:
Many presenters criticized the consultations for being narrowly focused on the UDP report, which itself was narrowly focused on the potential for adding value to Saskatchewan's uranium resource.

Time and time again, presenters raised the problem of trying to debate the nuclear energy issue in a vacuum. If there's nothing else to compare it to, how can we say whether it's good or bad, they said.

This is a legitimate point and speaks to the need for a full-blown study on the province's energy options, from nuclear and clean-coal to renewables and everything in between.

More importantly, the costs of the nuclear option are anything but clear.

Numbers have been bandied about ranging from $5 billion to $10 billion and higher. And that's just for the capital cost of building the plant. That doesn't include operating costs or waste fuel disposal.

No decision can be made to approve an expenditure of that magnitude without knowing what the total costs are of such a plant.
Finally, what has changed from 31/2 years ago when the president and CEO of Cameco Corp., a major shareholder of Bruce Power, said building a nuclear plant in Saskatchewan made no economic sense?

Back in 2006, Jerry Grandey told a nuclear conference in Regina that building a 1,000 -1,500 MW nuclear plant in Saskatchewan could not be justified based on current load growth, the relatively small size of Saskatchewan's grid and the absence of export markets for the surplus power.

"In the short-term, development of a large-scale (nuclear) plant in Saskatchewan is not, in my opinion, a likely scenario," Grandey said.

Until someone can show me that something has changed in the past three years to make nuclear -- ahead of all other options -- the best source for new baseload electrical power in Saskatchewan, I shall remain a skeptic.

On credible threats

Just in case there's any doubt, the Harper Cons have proven again that while they do everything they can duck responsibility as long as possible, they're also not above caving in the face of a threat worth taking seriously:
Privy Council officials have ended months of stonewalling and handed over documents requested by the federal information watchdog.

Yesterday's disclosure of files came only after Information Commissioner Robert Marleau threatened to have his staff enter the Privy Council offices and seize the paperwork themselves.

Privy Council staff delivered some documents yesterday, the deadline set by Marleau, and promised to deliver the rest soon.
In other news, the Libs continue to have achieved exactly zero of substance in the course of rolling over on 79 confidence votes. Which might say something about how seriously they ought to be taken.

(h/t to Kady.)

On kingmakers

The Toronto Star prints some poorly-labeled historical fiction:
Jack Layton looked like a kingmaker when the Liberal-NDP coalition threatened to topple the Conservative government last fall, but eight months later he is struggling for attention.

By throwing in his lot with the Liberals, led then by Stéphane Dion, the NDP leader saw a chance for real power. However, his ambitions came crashing down when Governor General Michaëlle Jean agreed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's request to prorogue Parliament, sending MPs home.
Now, I for one have at least a vague recollection that the coalition remained an option until the January budget vote - with Layton and the NDP working hard in the interim to build the alternative against constant attacks from the Cons. And it wasn't Jean who torpedoed the concept, but Michael Ignatieff - who decided he'd rather extend the reign of King Steve and uphold his party's tradition of rolling over for the Harper Cons at every turn than work with the NDP to provide more stable and effective government.

Of course, it isn't too much surprise that the Liberal house organ is trying to rewrite the ever-expanding chapters of the history books where the Libs have happily facilitated the Harper agenda. And it's similarly to be expected that the Star would portray polling numbers entirely consistent with most of the last few years as the NDP being "pushed to the margins" in the interest of trying to bring about that result. But the reality is that it's Ignatieff and his party who bear responsibility for choosing continued Harper government over the progressive coalition - and in the long run it may be Ignatieff's ambitions rather than Layton's that suffer most for the choice.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Musical interlude

Fluke - Zion

Burning question

If Stephen Harper's quote had come from the mouth of another party's leader, how long would it have taken the Cons to start running ads trumpeting that the leader believed Gilles Duceppe/Clifford Olson/(insert other politically charged name here) was qualified to lead the country? I'd set the over/under at about 36 hours to leave time for focus-testing.

On minority opinions

Stockholm at babble has already pointed out one of the obvious flaws in Chantal Hebert's "lessons" on minority government, as contrary to Hebert's assertion the NDP has in fact made ample efforts to cooperate to get positive results (even while recognizing that propping up the Harper government doesn't figure to benefit anybody but Harper). But it's worth noting that a couple of the others don't stand up any better to scrutiny:
The Bloc Québécois has no interest in dancing with a government partner for any length of time and that is reciprocal.
Unless one counts, say, a written commitment to vote with a coalition government for 18 months which the Bloc, Libs and NDP all agreed to. Which in fact makes the Bloc the only party which has ever offered a commitment to support a recent minority government for more than a season's worth of votes in Parliament - and all indications are that they offered support for an even longer span of time in exchange for some policy promises.

Mind you, it's true that the Cons managed to make political hay out of that agreement after the fact. But it's still patently wrong to claim that the Bloc hasn't shown any interest in long-term support for a government - and it could well be that the criticisms only managed to resonate because Canadians were deprived of the opportunity to see the Bloc's votes support a more stable government than we've otherwise had for years.
Regardless of who is in power, a minority government will almost always be pulled to the left.
Not that I'd complain if this one were true. But it too doesn't hold up at all in light of actual experience.

After all, it was the Martin Liberal minority government that unveiled a corporate-friendly budget that the Cons saw no reason to oppose - with the NDP amendments which Hebert points to as evidence of a leftward drift coming to pass only after the Cons changed their mind about voting down the government. And the Cons have had no lack of success in pushing a right-wing agenda over the rolled-over Libs since they took power.

Indeed, the only lesson that seems to fit as to ideology is somewhat of a truism: that any cooperative efforts will tend to fall between the government's starting point and the position of the opposition party being dealt with. Which explains why any cooperation between a Con government and any party has resulted in a shift to the government's left - but also explains why the Cons have built a strategy around forcing their policies down the throat of the Libs rather than accepting any substantive changes.

Progressively worse

Following up on last night's post, let's take a closer look at what the Sask Party's most-touted new organization has done, with Enterprise Saskatchewan publicly releasing its "progress report", consisting of equal parts policy recommendation and glossy self-congratulation.

Sadly, though, the "self-congratulation" portions appear to be far better researched and explained than the parts which are nominally supposed to offer useful recommendations. So let's focus in on a particularly egregious passage to see just how much wishful thinking is passing for serious policy analysis in the Wall government:
Rather than increasing revenue to the Province, high taxation can drive revenue away. This is already evident when comparing the high end of personal income tax in Saskatchewan (15%) with that of Alberta (10%); the 5% discrepancy has motivated some high-income earners in the province to find ways to divert their income into our neighbouring province. It also discourages top income earners in all disciplines from moving into Saskatchewan.
Now, the point would seem to be one which can be readily proven or disproven by actually looking at whether income is being systematically diverted from Saskatchewan to Alberta. And all recent indications are that the difference in income and corporate taxes hasn't made a whit of difference in either Saskatchewan's trend of success or Alberta's newfound status as a pariah.

But apparently, considering any actual evidence is beyond Enterprise Saskatchewan's mandate. So far better to say "it is evident" and hope nobody notices that no actual evidence is forthcoming.

Saskatchewan’s marginal personal tax rates on labour income and savings, especially for individuals with modest incomes, are high.
An interesting theory to be sure. But in addition to the continued lack of evidence, it's hard to escape noticing that the report's recommendations are explicitly targeted away from "individuals with modest incomes", favouring instead a 10% flat tax which would give the greatest benefits to those who make the most.

Mind you, the Sask Party seems to be entirely on board with that idea. In fact, as only a slight aside, take a look at this stunner from Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer in response to the report:
“You can also make the argument that some of the higher-income people are the people that are more likely to be generating significant revenue by their economic decisions and activities,” he said.
Yes, that is a trickling-down sound you're hearing. But it has nothing to do with income distribution.

Back to the report...
There is sound evidence to show high marginal tax rates deter people from investing in education, discourage savings and negatively impact on an individual’s decision to become a self-employed entrepreneur.
Once again, it's not clear where the "sound evidence" comes from. But far be it from the body charged with developing public taxation policy to mention whether its sources include anybody worth listening to, or consist solely of the Fraser Institute's Random Anti-Tax Spin Generator.
High taxes also act as a deterrent to reporting income.
Note the importance of the word "high" here. Because while people are rationally willing to risk prosecution to avoid paying a 15% income tax, they'll be so overcome with civic pride at the 10% level that they'll probably declare some extra income just for the privilege of contributing to the theory that "lower taxes raise revenue!". Speaking of which...
Ironically, lowering personal income taxes (PIT) could in fact lead to increased overall tax revenue.
Similarly, a billion-dollar investment in a publicly-owned Pog factory could in fact spur the resurgence of what was once a popular fad, bringing the province untold riches. So can we agree that the two ideas are equally well-founded?
Furthermore, lowering personal income taxes will also have positive impacts on quality of labour (skilled workers wanting to work in Saskatchewan) and productivity (there will be a greater incentive to work and to perform well).
Which brings us full circle: we're right back to the same unsupported claims as were made two paragraphs ago, only now in the form of unfounded speculation rather than half-baked analysis.

So in a span of just three paragraphs which are intended to form the basis for Saskatchewan's tax policy, we have multiple evidence-free assertions (including two which falsely point to themselves as evidence), several theories taken from the works of the Underpants Gnome School of Economics, and a complete disconnect between the explanation of the supposed need for change and the report's actual recommendations.

Of course, it surely says something when even the Sask Party is running from most of the recommendations. But the Wall government can't get off the hook that easily. After all, it made the choice to leave major portions of Saskatchewan's public policy in the hands of what was obviously a flawed structure to being with, and even most of the running consists of pointing to promises not to do what the report recommends rather than any recognition that the report itself might be something less than a message from on high.

So the report should send a strong signal as to both the direction where the Sask Party wants to take the province, and the complete lack of anything but blind faith that the same corporate-friendly excesses which have led to disaster elsewhere can be relied on to create an unburstable bubble in Saskatchewan.

Update: Oh, the hilarity of right-wing groupthink. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Lee Harding points to exactly the same passage as "(making) the case well".

Update 2: Fixed typo. And welcome to the visitors from Dog Blog.

On unbalanced partnerships

Let's give Bruce Power and its vice-president Dwight Millet some credit for honesty in their acknowledgment that they're only interested in putting any effort into a nuclear reactor if they can tie the hands of Saskatchewan's government for decades to come. But if the corporation which is trying to profit from a nuclear plant needs "stability" (defined as a stream of billions of dollars of public money) to guarantee that their investment provides better returns over the longer term than they could get anywhere else, doesn't that beg the question of what's in it for the public?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shameful and shameless

Sure, it looks bad enough for the Sask Party government that it's once again hiding once-prominent political staffers from public view in Social Services out of embarrassment. But sadly, that looks to be the better of the Sask Party's reactions to problems among party cronies, as it at least reflects some shame in the wake of shoddy work.

In contrast, it's even more of a worry when they apparently don't even realize just how flawed their handiwork actually is. And there's a doozy of an example there which I'll deal with in my next post.

On glass houses

Impolitical makes a good point:
Also remarkable, Harper's taking to equating an election with political instability. And his constant repetition that "Canadians don't want an election." It's all nonsense and should be countered at every turn.
Needless to say, that entirely reasonable concern about validating Harper's false claim might be worth taking up with Michael Ignatieff - whose equal use of the rationalization doesn't seem to have gone unnoticed in the past.

(And for the record, the NDP has used similar language more than I'd like as well. But there's only one party which continues to roll over based on the excuse.)

On positions of influence

So that's why John Manley passed on leading the federal Liberals. Apparently he was more interested in running a group with more influence on federal policy.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

On change

Yesterday's Angus Reid poll (warning: PDF) is interesting enough in its top-line results - showing the NDP at half its level in Quebec suggested by the latest CROP poll, but making up for it with a lead in Atlantic Canada as well as strong numbers in Ontario and elsewhere. But a couple of the subsidiary questions offer some even more significant fodder for discussion.

First, there's the question as to how particular parties would affect the real-life situation of respondents:
Thinking now about your personal financial situation, would you and your family personally be better off, about the same, or worse off, if each of the following leaders and parties were in power? (Better off / About the same / Worse off / Not sure)
Now, Angus Reid's analysis focuses solely on the plus/minus numbers between the first and third columns - showing the Cons at a -12, Libs at -15 and NDP at -23. But that tells only a small part of the story.

Despite having the highest net negative, the NDP also has the highest absolute positive, with 15% of respondents saying they'd be better off under an NDP government. That compares to 10% for the Cons and 11% for the Libs - meaning that respondents don't seem to see any particular difference in their likelihood of doing well under either the Cons or the Libs.

Where the NDP does run into trouble is with the 38% of respondents who believe they'd be worse off - hinting that the party has a ways to go in countering the usual evidence-free spin that NDP management somehow represents a threat. But the scores tighten considerably if one looks at the respondents who see a particular party as a force for change in percentage terms, with the NDP's 28% score (15% positive out of 53% perception of change) ranking just behind the Cons' 31% and the Libs' 30%.

In other words, the real difference between the parties on the question seems to be that more respondents see the NDP as a force for change, whether for better or for worse. But since the Libs' strategy necessarily depends on pitching the need for change even while explaining their habit of rolling over instead of providing it, there would seem to be a great opportunity for the NDP to build off its relatively strong base of voters who see NDP government as the best result for them.

Meanwhile, the poll seems to have included another question which should have offered some significant insight into the respective views of the three national leaders in Parliament - with just one small hitch:
Thinking about the following qualities and characteristics, do you think they apply to Stephen Harper / Michael Ignatieff / Jack Layton?
From that question, one would expect to see the qualities evaluated for all three leaders. But instead, only Harper's and Ignatieff's results are presented (featuring a 6-point drop in Ignatieff's "inspires confidence" measure to plunge him into Harper territory) - suggesting that either the question as presented isn't the one that was asked, or that Layton's results were left out for reasons unexplained.

Mind you, there's always some concern as to where to draw the line in presenting leaders as options - and Green supporters will have reason for concern that Angus Reid's "qualities" research excludes Elizabeth May. But it's especially weird that a question which actually names Layton on its face wouldn't include his results - and hopefully we'll find out how that happened.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On marginal relevance

There's no lack of obvious problems with Gerald Caplan's excuse for "advice" to the NDP and other federal parties today. But for a fairly stark indication of just how little interest Caplan apparently shows in dealing with what's actually going on, this may be the most striking tidbit:
The NDP will hold a big national convention where the only faux-excitement will be an elite-led attempt to change the name to the Democratic Party. To this fine state has the party of Tommy Douglas and David Lewis descended, at a time of multiple crises with the democratic left virtually moribund. No new public policy ideas will be introduced.
So what's wrong with that paragraph? Well, the NDP's resolution deadline was just last week. And the convention website's page on resolutions still lists the process for submitting them, rather than a list of what's set to be debated.

In other words, there's no way for Caplan to know what new ideas will or won't be discussed. (That is, except to the extent he himself is involved in a single riding which could have submitted resolutions - and he noticeably doesn't seem to have anything positive to offer for discussion.) But in the interest of putting a negative spin on the convention, he's instead simply assumed that absolutely nothing will be talked about - then turned that evidence-free assumption into reason to grumble about the NDP's direction.

Needless to say, that should serve more as evidence that Caplan isn't paying attention than that there's actually going to be a lack of lively discussion at the convention. And hopefully the rest of his diatribe will be treated accordingly.


The open channels of debate haven't been going so well for Saskatchewan's pro-nuclear forces, as concerned citizens have shown far more resistance than might have been expected through public meetings, letter-writing and all kinds of other activities. But now, a reader observes that at least one of the pro-nuclear forces is instead looking to push-polling as its means of trying to dictate the conversation:
I'm wondering if anyone else received a push poll last night over the phone regarding nuclear development in Saskatchewan. For the life of me I can't remember who was conducting the "survey", but some of the questions included:

"Would you be more or less likely to support the construction of a nuclear power plant if you knew that it created 3000 jobs for northerners?"; and

"Would you be more or less likely to support the construction of a nuclear power plant if you knew that it had no carbon footprint".

I suspected that this was a push poll immediately and asked who the poll was commissioned by. The caller indicated that Cameco was the poll's sponsor. Go figure.
Now, it's worth noting how thoroughly the survey seems to have tried to spin even the UDP's already-biased view of reality in order to try to build support for nuclear power. In addition to making absolutely no comparison to the jobs which would be created by other forms of power generation, the "3000" number in the UDP report relates only to the construction phase of a nuclear power plant. Which is exactly the point where the carbon footprint of a nuclear reactor would be absolutely massive before supposedly averaging downward over the life-span of the plant.

So having apparently concluded that an open debate based on facts doesn't figure to work out in its favour, the pro-nuclear side has apparently turned toward push polling and misleading the public in hopes of ending up at the outcome it wants. Which should offer all the more reason for skepticism anytime the pro-nuke side claims to care in the least about what's best for Saskatchewan.

On non-renewal

Pundits' Guide:
Paradis and Boshcoff are the 6th and 7th former Liberal M.P.s to be confirmed as candidates for the forthcoming election, with another 13 in the running or said to be interested. They join 2 incumbents, 2 former 2008 candidates, and 2 newcomers on their party's slate of candidates nominated so far.
So even leaving out the "running or interested" group, the Libs have nominated 3.5 has-beens for every new candidate. Which would seem to hint strongly at a lack of new blood, rather than any improvement from three elections worth of diminishing returns.

They get letters

During the recent Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, I noted the importance of valuing the message of a genuine endorsement rather than focusing solely on the name of the speaker. And today offers an excellent opportunity to extend the same principle to Saskatchewan's nuclear debate in the form of two noteworthy letters to the editor.

First, here's Bert Pitzel in the Leader-Post:
Many attending realize that the government has every intention of bringing nuclear power to Saskatchewan. Just note the memorandum of understanding already signed between the research centres of Idaho, Alberta and Saskatchewan, guaranteeing a Western Inland Energy Corridor. The overwhelming disapproval expressed at these hearings hasn't only been about influencing the government, but also about slamming shut the doors of the government's consultation-getaway car.

Additionally, many of the "anti-nukes", call themselves pro-renewable and in favour of a decentralized grid, a rational position that would help Saskatchewan de-link from a debunked globalized economic system and begin now what our great grandchildren will have to do.

Why go through the poison and expense in the interim?
And Chris Gallaway in the Star-Phoenix (reproduced in full since it's as concise a contrast as one could ask for):
I recently lived in Halifax for some time and watched Nova Scotia Power (the local private power company) release its long-term plan to provide electricity to consumers.

The two main planks of its proposal were to invest in a major provincewide conservation program and to build more wind power capacity. It saw this plan as the cheapest, as well as the greenest way to provide power to its customers while keeping rates low. The alternative was to build a new generating station at an estimated of more than $1 billion and increase power rates.

Meanwhile, our province has as its government a Saskatchewan Party administration that, immediately upon its election, closed the Office of Energy Conservation, stopped creating new wind power projects through SaskPower and is determined to fast track the building of an expensive nuclear reactor.

It's ironic that a private utility company in Nova Scotia is more concerned with having a long-term plan to keep rates low for its consumers than is our current government. The Saskatchewan Party members should take off their nuclear blinders and consider what is actually best for the province's businesses and residents who will be paying for this decision for decades to come.
Of course, some individuals are bound to become noticed more than others for their opposition - with Jim Harding, NDP MLA Sandra Morin and David Orchard earning headlines recently. But the decisive factor figures to be how far that message goes among people who aren't obviously at the head of the movement...and the two letters above are just a couple of many indications that Saskatchewan as a whole isn't going to accept being bullied into nuclear development.

A parting message

In addition to announcing his retirement, Inky Mark has gone public with some well-deserved criticism of the top-down politics exemplified by the Harper Cons:
The day he announced his retirement from politics, Manitoba MP Inky Mark took a veiled stab at the centralized power in the Prime Minister's Office, suggesting members of Parliament needed to stop toeing party lines and work for their constituents so that "people actually do have a say."
"There is no check and balance," Mr. Mark told the National Post. "The tone of the country is based on the leadership of the political parties. The way the leaders operate sets the mood of the politics in Parliament.

"And until we establish some checks and balances in the system so that people actually do have a say in the House, there really [are] free votes and that people can really represent the people who send them to Ottawa, nothing will change."
It's only a shame that Mark's own example (which as noted in the article included several noteworthy votes where he bucked the Cons' instructions) hasn't managed to convince a few more MPs to follow suit. But hopefully his parting message will be noticed by his constituents and other politicians alike as they decide whether or not Harper's one-man rule should be replaced by more respect for Parliament and the views of constituents.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deep thought

I know I feel more secure knowing that the Cons were able to hide ever-ballooning costs in Afghanistan until it was convenient to make them public.

Off message

So the latest to let inconvenient facts intrude on the Unstoppable March toward Nukes include CanWest's Paul Hanley and the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses. Anybody want to take bets on how long it takes for the Sask Party to officially start backtracking on its current full-on sprint toward reactor construction - or who will finally force them to do so?

One more stop for the summer tour

The announcement that Con MP Inky Mark plans to retire raises the question of whether. And while Mark's 61% vote share in 2008 would seem to suggest an awfully tough climb for either the NDP or the Libs, the Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette riding may well be a classic case of an incumbent racking up votes due to a lack of challengers rather than a true stronghold.

After all, the 2008 totals for the NDP (16%) and Libs (14%) were both the lowest in decades - the Libs hadn't done worse since 1984, the NDP since 1963. And the riding has been home to some fascinating shifts in party support in the past.

Mark first won the seat in 1997 with 35% of the vote - in a race where three other parties topped 20% of the vote, with Lib incumbent Marlene Cowling coming in fourth. Before Cowling's victory in 1993, the seat was a two-way battle between the PCs and NDP through the '70s and '80s, and a three-way or four-way battle for most of the three decades before that - starting with a 1940 race where 811 votes separated the Libs in first from the CCF in third.

Of course, there may be a case to be made that the riding has changed fundamentally over the past decade. But considering that only one election saw a candidate take more than 50% of the vote in the riding in 70 years before Mark reached that plateau in 2004, there would figure to be some significant potential to make the seat competitive again. And one can't figure the opposition parties will want to let that chance pass.

On adverse possession

I've noted before that I fully expect Stephen Harper to have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of 24 Sussex Drive - and the events of the last few months have done nothing but reinforce that conclusion. But I didn't mean it quite this literally.

Populist opinion

Today, the Globe and Mail has caught on to the fact that Brad Wall's nuclear cheerleading doesn't speak for large swaths of Saskatchewan. And one of the strongest voices on the anti-nuclear side points out that it isn't just the province that might end up paying a price if Wall keeps trying to pretend that public opinion doesn't matter:
"I haven't seen more grassroots involvement on an issue since the great debates over Medicare," said Jim Harding, a retired university professor and the author of Canada's Deadly Secret: Saskatchewan and the Global Nuclear System . "At the meetings I've attended, people are generally 70 to 80 per cent opposed to any kind of nuclear development. It's quite astonishing."

Some 450 people reportedly attended one recent meeting in Paradise Hill, population 500.

"Populism can swing from right to left very quickly in this province," said Dr. Harding.

"We have an election in two years and if this government tries to ram this through, people won't forget it when they go to the polls."
And as an added bonus, the anti-nuclear side includes one prominent figure would seem to have been a party-mate of Wall's:
"What's the purpose of having public hearings when the Premier himself is declaring his plans before the hearings are complete," said prominent political activist David Orchard, who spoke at a hearing last month. "The people of Saskatchewan are being steamrolled right now by a government that doesn't seem prepared to listen to the hearings that it itself set up."
Longtime leaders of this blog will know that I've wondered for quite some time why the federal NDP hasn't made more of a push to tap into populist sentiment - particularly now that the remains of Reform have been absorbed into as cynical a patronage machine as the country has seen. But it could be that what's been lacking wasn't so much a party effort as a single issue significant enough to prod people into action.

Now, all indications are that Brad Wall has handed the Saskatchewan NDP exactly that. And while it's worth wondering whether there's anything Wall can do to put the genie back in the bottle, one has to figure that pushing ahead with an isotope reactor without consultation may seal Wall's fate if the NDP can harness the anti-nuclear movement in 2011.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Off the shelf

Following up on this morning's post as to the difference of opinion in how long a nuclear reactor would take to build, this too seems like a noteworthy quote from somebody who knows rather more than Brad Wall:
"A reactor isn't something you just kind of buy off the shelf," Mr. Porter said.
Which is in stark contrast to this highly sensitive leaked design showing how Wall plans to get a reactor running in a matter of two to three years.

Just wondering...

Can anybody remember a single occasion where the media has admonished corporate interests to accept whatever they could get from a right-wing government in power rather than making any new demands, lest the next government prove less friendly? And if not, then why is the mirror image of that message such a standard response when it comes to unions?

(Incidentally, the above is intended to be somewhat less snarky than might be apparent at first glance. Indeed, the real failing pointed out by the questions is probably a complete lack of scrutiny for corporate demands, rather than the willingness to apply pressure as to what unions or other less-favoured parties ask for as well. But the gap does seem to be a rather striking one.)

Liberals Roll Over

Over the past few years, most of the criticism of the Libs' weakness has been laid at the feet of the party's leader. And there can't be much doubt that both Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff have done plenty to prop up the Harper Cons.

But at the same time, it's worth noting that the problem goes far deeper than just a single leader. After all, for every time where Dion held off in the face of calls for an election from within his party (see summer 2008), there was another where the party's "nervous nellies" talked him out of taking a stand (such as early winter 2008). And likewise, while Ignatieff was entirely happy to make the call to leave Harper in power rather than pushing for the progressive coalition earlier this year, all indications were that he was relatively inclined to take a stand this past week before deciding that a split decision within his caucus should be taken as reason to preserve the status quo.

All of which suggests to me that it's time to start taking the message a step further. Simply put, the Libs' weakness isn't linked only to any particular leader. Instead, it's part of the party's nature to roll over and play dead when challenged. And it's entirely deserved for the party's brand to include that weakness, rather than having the problem attached to a single leader who can be discarded.

Which leads to a theme you'll be seeing a lot of on this blog over the summer: Liberals Roll Over.

I already have more than a few ideas as to how to spread the word, and will be working on using the theme while working on some more multimedia than you've seen on Accidental Deliberations to date. And I'll encourage other NDP supporters to both send along any ideas, or take the lead themselves in getting the message out.

For now, I'll close with my first stab at an animation to fit the message. (Edit: which seems to work if clicked on, if not on the blog.) But rest assured that there's plenty more to come.

On rush jobs

The Globe and Mail's continued coverage of a possible nuclear reactor in Saskatchewan continues to be grossly slanted toward the "pro" side, with the latest article featuring quotes from only two pro-reactor sources. But even they can't help but to point out that the government pushing the process has no idea what's involved.

Here's Brad Wall as quoted on Saturday:
Mr. Wall said he wants to launch a full-speed effort to build a research reactor within two to three years, likely at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
Mr. Wall is also hoping for expedited federal regulatory approval, so that construction could commence quickly and the reactor could be up and running in three years.
So how realistic is that time frame? Here's what the two U of S nuclear proponents told the Globe:
There are two meetings this week, the last in a series of public consultations started by the province in May. Assuming the government likes what comes out of that report, it will take at least six to 12 years before the reactor is up and running. It's still to be determined who is going to pay for the reactor, which could be as much as $2-billion.
Now, there are a couple of possible explanations for the difference between the time Wall says it'll take, and the time actually expected by those who know somewhat better. But it's hard to see any of them reflecting well on Wall: either he's completely uninformed about the very projects he's trying to force on the province, or he's willing to cut corners to the point of taking as little as a quarter of the usual required time to get a reactor up and running.

One way or the other, there's every reason for concern that Wall's plans could prove disastrous for the province. And hopefully enough people within Saskatchewan are noticing the flaws in his national message to see the need to push back here at home.

Update: Good to see the NDP is all over Wall's musings.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

As effective as ever

Remember when the Libs' price for giving into the Cons' demand for an Afghanistan combat extension was more accountability for the mission? That's worked out well.

But I'm sure Canadians concerned about the continued mission have no need to worry. At this rate, questions about whether there are still troops in combat by the end of 2011 - or indeed whether such a place as "Afghanistan" exists - will be brushed off on national security grounds.

On impacts

Jason's list of which factors affected (and didn't affect) the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race is definitely worth a read. But I'll note a couple of factors where my take apparently differs from Jason's, as well as one more worth adding to each list.

Here's Jason on advance voting as his #1 factor which did play a major role:
1. Advance Voting
Did I read somewhere that Ryan Meili got something like 75% of the votes of people who chose to wait until the convention day, hear all the presentations and endorsements, see the buzz for each candidate before making their own choice? If so, it's tempting to re-imagine the results had everyone been required to wait until the day of the convention to vote. A couple real life examples - we had one woman at our table who said she was torn between Ryan and Yens based on everything she'd seen so far. After the floor shows were over, I asked, "So?" and she just smiled and asked if she could have one of the Ryan buttons I'd offered her earlier. I also heard from a couple people who said they would've changed the order of their vote based on the floor shows. I'm sure many others felt the same way. I still love the idea of every individual member being able to vote by a variety of methods (by mail, phone, online or in person) but perhaps limiting the vote only to the day of the convention would reduce the chances of people re-thinking (or regretting!) their choices? (Can you imagine if the news of the membership scandal had broken on June 3, only a couple days before the convention and after most early votes were already in?)
Now, I don't think there's much room for doubt that advance voting did have a significant impact on the race. But I'd disagree with Jason to the extent he's suggesting looking to limit its effect in the future.

I'd note first that the trend in other political forums seems to be toward a greater focus on advance voting. To my recollection the U.S. election in 2008 saw a record turnout of early voters, while the percentage of votes cast in advance polls was up in Canada's 2008 election (the raw number dropped from 2006, but less than the raw number of total votes). And as it makes sense for parties to want to lock in their votes early during an election campaign, it doesn't make sense to me to run a party's leadership races based solely on one- or two-day voting.

Of course, different timing for votes will favour different types of organization. And a longer voting period can favour a front-runner who's able to lock in a large number of votes early - as it seems to have done for Lingenfelter.

But it can also give more time for a social-networking model to reach a greater number of people, encouraging a better-dispersed model rather than a one-day phone blitz to reach would-be voters. And it wouldn't be at all surprising if some of the same ideas which have served Meili's campaign and other challengers well could be adapted for advance voting: wouldn't a "vote bomb" be an entirely viable response to any issues that do serve to fire up one's voters during an advance voting period?

Indeed, the biggest timing issue for Meili may have been the membership deadline which prevented people who heard of him only late in the campaign from casting a vote, limiting the amount of impact that his own online presence could have late in the campaign. And the timing of the vote wouldn't have made any difference there.

So the impact of advance voting should serve more as a lesson to future campaigns to take full advantage of the opportunity, not a need to change the leadership rules.

The other issue I'll raise with Jason's analysis is his take that the membership controversy would be classified in the "less impact" department:
This was the elephant in the room at the convention and I was surprised how little attention it got except in subtle allusions and whispered side conversations. Yes, the party did a report that cleared Dwain Lingenfelter of any wrongdoing but the day after the convention ended (nice timing there!), the RCMP announced they were investigating the matter then a couple days later, announced that it had become a criminal investigation. Some people are able to let bygones by bygones and chalk it up to "just politics" or "that's behind us now" but I think there are also a number of people who saw "Waterhengate" as going beyond the usual attacks and back and forth you might see in a political campaign. (Since I keep rewriting history in this post, I should also note that the flip side is that Ryan might not have had as strong of showing as he did had this scandal not happened.)
I'd be inclined to draw a far stronger conclusion as to the impact of the membership controversy. Remember that despite the large number of advance voters, the final vote saw a surprisingly low turnout rate, as over a quarter of party members chose not to vote in the leadership race.

If even a few hundred more people who didn't vote had voted with Lingenfelter, or if an even smaller number did shift their allegiances from Lingenfelter to another candidate in the wake of the membership controversy, then the convention would have seen a first-ballot win rather than the close contest that it became. And in the absence of any other obvious group of NDP member who would have had reason to be turned off by the leadership campaign, it wouldn't be surprising if Lingenfelter had gained far more votes than the bare minimum for a majority - maybe even approaching a 60%-style romp which would have served as license for him to marginalize the other leadership camps.

So while the membership controversy didn't manage to completely undermine Lingenfelter's campaign, it likely served as one of many necessary factors to make the race as close as it was in the end.

With that out of the way, let's add one more item to each of Jason's categories.

More impact than expected: One-choice voters

It's understandable that each leadership contestant sought primarily to lock in his or her own first-ballot support rather than encouraging members to take a closer look at down-ballot possibilities. But the problem with that strategy became obvious on voting day when a combined non-Lingenfelter vote turned into something less than the sum of its parts - due in particular to voters who had listed only one option on their ballot.

Of course, it's tough to say how candidates might handle that issue in future races. But it wouldn't be all that surprising to see some semi-formal alliances among candidates to ensure that similarly-positioned contestants maximize their chance of ending up on the winning team by the final ballot.

Less impact than expected: Endorsements

I'll make one possible exception here, as the joint Meili endorsement from former MLAs Peter Prebble and Lon Borgerson early in the race can plausibly be seen as one of the turning points at which Ryan Meili pulled decisively ahead of Yens Pedersen as the youth/renewal candidate. But even in that case, it's difficult to tell whether the endorsement simply reflected what was happening behind the scenes rather than doing much to shape where the race was going. And there's otherwise virtually no indication that even the biggest-name endorsers did much to sway opinions during the course of the leadership race.

Andrew Thomson's endorsement of Deb Higgins could have been the most significant of all in theory, since Thomson would seem to have been a natural Lingenfelter supporter based on his own positioning within the party. But it didn't seem to have any impact in bringing the centre-right of the party into Higgins' camp.

Meanwhile, a constant stream of union endorsements for Lingenfelter didn't stop plenty of key figures in the labour movement from putting their money and efforts behind other candidates. Meili's endorsers Nettie Wiebe and Maynard Sonntag combined in 2001 for twice Meili's first-ballot support in terms of raw votes, suggesting that past supporters weren't particularly motivated by their endorsements. And of course, the presence of a half-dozen caucus endorsers wasn't enough to push Higgins ahead of Yens Pedersen and his zero named endorsements prior to the convention.

Of course, that's likely for the best to the extent it shows that voters were deciding for themselves rather than allowing somebody else's judgment to dictate their choices. And indeed, it may signal how much of a grassroots organization the Saskatchewan NDP truly is - as no matter how well-known or even well-respected a figure might be within the party, no one person or organization was able to exercise much top-down impact on how members cast their ballots.

On oneupmanship

Sure, the UK managed to fact a major scandal when MP expense money was used to drain a moat belonging to one particularly brazen member. But let's not doubt the Harper Cons' ability to find even more frivolous and class-based ways to spend public money: if this is any indication, we shouldn't be surprised to see a hefty chunk of infrastructure funding used for moat construction.

The reviews are in

L. Ian MacDonald:
One good turn deserves another. Last December, Michael Ignatieff had Stephen Harper to thank for provoking the failed parliamentary coup that resulted in Stéphane Dion's ouster and Iggy's installation as Liberal leader.

Last week, it was Iggy's turn to return the favour when he huffed and puffed and threatened to blow the House in. In his bluster and empty threats to force an election, Ignatieff made a complete fool of himself, stopped a Liberal resurgence in its tracks, and put Harper back in the game.

In threatening to force an election he didn't want, Iggy relied on Harper to take him off the hook. Even as he threatened an election in one breath, he implored Harper for a meeting in the next, saying his office was only one floor up. It was about as dignified as a blind date.
Liberal spin doctors were out working a line that the blue-ribbon accord was a great triumph of Iggy's tactical genius and negotiating skills.

Rubbish. Last week was a complete disaster for Ignatieff, and the Liberals know it.