Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Battle Hymn of the Republicans North

(With apologies to inspirational songs from times past.)

Mine eyes have seen the glory of our presidential Lord
He is trampling all who claim it matters what we can afford
He hath loosed the fateful chequebook for political reward
His red ink marches on.

Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
To fix it would be dumb.

I have seen him spending constantly to buy votes in Quebec
And he is not deterred if the results have been a wreck
So onward to the next site, snap his picture with a cheque
And the red ink marches on.

Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
To fix it would be dumb.

He is sifting out the PR value from his judgment-seat
He has given marching orders, and shall never call retreat
With the force of pork be strong, and to the camera be fleet
His red ink marches on.

Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
To fix it would be dumb.

I have read his fiery gospel writ in ever-shifting sands
That he and he alone can keep recession from our lands
On our journey to destruction he’s the steadiest of hands
His red ink marches on.

Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
To fix it would be dumb.

He hacks away at revenues unbothered by regret
To concern about expenses, pay no heed; his course is set
As our parents built our assets, let our children pay our debt
The red ink marches on.

Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
To fix it would be dumb.

His constancy of purpose leaves us no room for surprise
He is antidote to reason, and corrective to the wise
In fighting for a Canada that we won’t recognize
And his red ink marches on.

Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
Budget deficit forever!
To fix it would be dumb.

The reviews are in: Con Fantasy World Edition

James Travers:
Just last fall, fooling enough of the people, enough of the time was pretty easy. With an assist from political rivals, Stephen Harper kept economic reality at bay until after federal ballots were counted.

Now the Prime Minister is engaged in the much more difficult project of persuading history to repeat. He wants voters in the next election to believe the ballooning deficit, the one a recession-proof Canadian economy was so certain to evade, will fix itself.

Fantasy is the free lunch of politics. Eventually, this generation or another will have to pay the price of feasting at the groaning board of stimulus spending.
Realism wasn't central to Conservative strategy in the last election; it's apparently not what they have in mind for the next. Hoping voters will suspend their disbelief a second time, the ruling party is again dangling the prospect of a pain-free future.

Splendid if true, the Conservative chiaroscuro rings false.
But wait, there's more! Jeffrey Simpson:
Now the respected economist Dale Orr joins the Parliamentary Budget Officer and TD Economics showing the federal government's fiscal forecasts are off, way off.

So what? Almost nobody believes the government's fiscal forecasts anyway, and with good reason.
Make no mistake: When you incur steady deficits, you pay for them eventually. The political choice therefore is whether Canadians should start paying soon after the recession ends by raising taxes and/or cutting spending, or delay but pay a larger amount later.

The easy way out won't happen: that a resumption of normal economic growth will balance the budget by 2013-14. That had been the Conservatives' hope; that remains the government's spin. It is almost certainly wrong.
And as an added bonus, the Chronicle Herald editorial board:
Stephen Harper should have learned from December’s bumbled budget — which nearly brought down his government and had to be rewritten because it missed the gravity of the recession — that you don’t inspire confidence with numbers no one believes.

Yet here we go again. A warning from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page that the deficit won’t be cured by economic growth in the next five years, as the government’s January plan predicts, hit a stone wall of hostility and denial from Mr. Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
This push-back is worrisome in a couple of ways. A set-in-concrete view of taxes and policy options is not an asset in managing an economic crisis marked by unpredictability and sudden shifts in business conditions and confidence. And it’s just intellectually lazy to say we know the deficit can be put on autopilot for some unknown period and will turn out all right.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Musical interlude

Black Box - Ride On Time

Bang for the buck

Alice at Pundits' Guide points out the surprising lack of voter turnout in a couple of the few Edmonton ridings which actually figure to offer competitive races:
One characteristic of these two ridings that really struck me just now in reviewing their history is their incredibly low turnout, both historically and in the last election. Turnout in Edmonton Centre was 51.6% last time, down from 59.8% and 62.5% in 2004-2006 and 54%-56% in its predecessor seat of Edmonton West. And this is in spite of the tight margins by which Ms. McLellan used to win her seat, defying one of the usual hypotheses for low turnout in Alberta (namely that the one party dominance has usually meant there's little to decide at the polls on election day). For more on turnout in Alberta provincial elections, see the excellent series of features last year from Jason Fekete and Renata D'Aliesio of the Calgary Herald.

Edmonton East next door chalked up just 45.4% turnout in 2008, consistent with the downward trend but overall low turnouts in this riding and its predecessors since 1988. It has consistently shown the lowest turnout of any riding in Edmonton, and perhaps not coincidentally also ranks the lowest on many census measures of income and employment. To put the 45.4% figure into perspective, it is the 13th worst turnout of the last election and 19th worst turnout of any riding in any general election since 1988.

The strategies to hold or win over low turnout ridings might look very different than those needed to win elsewhere, which undoubtedly the parties will be taking into account.
What looks most interesting to me is how the turnout level in Edmonton East actually got to its current position, and what it says about the respective chance of the opposition parties in the riding. Alice points out earlier in her post that NDP candidate Ray Martin's strong second-place finish in 2008 came despite his being significantly outspent by Con MP Peter Goldring (who in fact nearly doubled the spending of his three competitors combined). But it seems to me particularly noteworthy that Martin also managed to pick up more votes than the riding's Liberal contender Nicole Martel put up in 2006 - even though she far outspent Goldring in an election where turnout was at least somewhat higher.

And the NDP's comparative advantage against the Libs is borne out by the dollars-per-vote over the past two election cycles. In 2006, the the Libs' big-money flop naturally produced the worst result on record in the riding ($5.78), while the NDP ($2.33) finished just behind the Cons ($2.21). But that comparison on its face wouldn't seem like the end of the world for the Libs, as it's normally to be expected that parties which spend less will do somewhat better in the dollars-per-vote department based on a core level of support and the effects of national spending. (For evidence in Edmonton East, look no further than the Greens' results: consistent fourth-place finishes, but superficially impressive dollar-per-vote numbers due to the lack of spending.)

In theory, that should have allowed the Libs to appear relatively efficient once they pulled most of their investment out of the riding in 2008. And they did improve in that department, spending only $2.11 for each vote received.

But the NDP managed the impressive feat of increasing both its spending and its return on investment at $2.06 per vote in the 2008 election. That topped both the NDP's own 2006 number, and the 2008 totals for the Cons (who spent thousands more dollars to win thousands less votes than they managed in 2006) and Libs (despite their precipitous drop in spending).

Mind you, there's no guarantee that a fully-funded campaign would push the seat into NDP hands, as it's always questionable whether the next incremental dollar spent in a campaign will help a party as much as previous ones. But particularly in a riding such as Edmonton East with plenty of potential voters available to be pursued, there would seem to be obvious potential for the NDP to bridge its gap against the Cons by making full use of the spending limit next time the riding goes to the polls.

Healthy discussions

The battle within the medical profession as to the importance of preserving public health care (with Doctors for Medicare all too often having to counterbalance the pro-privatization musings of the Canadian Medical Association) will be coming to Saskatoon this August. And a couple of familiar faces will be leading the charge to preserve and improve the public health care system:
Doctors for Medicare is planning an event at the Broadway Theatre on Sunday, Aug. 16 -- the eve of the CMA meetings -- to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Canada Health Act and to emphasize its support for a publicly funded, single-payer system.
Martin and Saskatoon family physician Dr. Ryan Meili, who is the local representative for the pro-medicare group, say it's more important than ever to support a public system.

"There are limitations to any system. The answer is not to set up private clinics," Meili said.
Meili will emcee the Aug. 16 event at the Broadway Theatre. Speakers will include Martin and former premier Roy Romanow, who led a national health-care review.

Romanow said he's not participating to be for or against any group. Rather, he wants to show his support for the Canada Health Act.

In tough financial times, the calls for private solutions increase, he said. It happened in 1995 when he was premier, and he hopes it doesn't happen again.

"If history is any lesson, some will call for privatization," said Romanow.

Romanow said some of his recommended reforms have been implemented, but others have stalled. The most needed reform is "catastrophic" drug coverage for families hit with an illness requiring expensive medications.
Unfortunately, there's been far too little talk of actually trying to improve health care for Canadians (through catastrophic drug coverage or otherwise) over the past few years: the federal NDP's efforts to strengthen the system have fallen on deaf ears from both the Libs and Cons, while the provincial effort to make prescription drugs more affordable was rolled back by the Wall government.

But the more time high-profile figures like Meili and Romanow put into raising the issues currently facing health care in Canada and pointing out that there are in fact positive answers in contrast to privatization, the greater the chance of better outcomes in years and election cycles to come. And hopefully a high-profile Doctors for Medicare event will help to shape the discussion both inside and outside the medical profession in Saskatchewan.

Well said

Stephen Moore criticizes the anti-gay policies of both the federal Cons and the Sask Party, then puts it all in a bit of historical perspective:
A couple of years back, our family watched the excellent PBS documentary, Eyes on the Prize, the story of the US Civil Rights movement.

After seeing a clip of George "segregation forever" Wallace, my young daughter turned to me and said, "Dad, what's segregation?"

Trying to explain Wallace's logic, this father came up short.

That's not because racism and prejudice have become unthinkable here in Saskatchewan -- clearly they haven't.

I firmly believe, however, that one day, some future Regina father, perhaps after viewing a different video clip, will struggle to answer his child's question: "Dad, what's homophobia?"

Let's hurry that day along.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I remember well the justified outcry when the Cons decreed that "equality" was no longer part of Status of Women Canada's mandate. But did we miss when they snuck in "subjugation and repression" instead?


Following up on this morning's post, the Saskatchewan NDP is also raising questions about what the price quotes from Ontario's plan to build new reactors mean for the Sask Party's efforts to strongarm Saskatchewan into nuclear power, noting that even Bruce Power's low-balled cost estimates exceed the point where Ontario concluded that nuclear power isn't worth the price:
The Ontario Energy Board has indicated that any price higher than $3,600 per kilowatt of power capacity would be uneconomical when costed against alternatives such as natural gas and renewable energy options. Bruce Power has indicated its intention to build two 1,000 megawatt reactors in Saskatchewan at a cost of between $8 and $10 billion. Using Bruce Power’s conservative price estimate, its proposal works out to approximately $4,000 per kilowatt – a price that exceeds the Ontario Energy Board’s economical cutoff.

“When the evidence against the economics of a project of this size begins to mount so dramatically, we need to wonder whether indeed we are being told the whole story,” Higgins said. “Clearly there is an increasingly strong case to be made for research into natural gas and other alternative energy options if the cost of nuclear really is this much.”
“How is it that Bruce Power is able to build a similar reactor here that costs so much less than the proposals submitted to the Ontario government? Where exactly are the hidden costs?” Higgins asked. “Have we just been given the cost of the reactor without the plant? Like everything about this process from day one, the government has failed to answer some extremely important questions.”
Now, it still seems to me more likely that the biggest difference between the costs discussed in Bruce Power's study (which describes the cost as that of a "nuclear facility") and the prices now faced by Ontario involve the allocation of risk rather than the scope of the work included.

But either way, there's plenty of reason for concern that the numbers driving the Sask Party's support for nuclear are both high enough to make nuclear development a bad idea in the first place, and unrealistically low when compared to the actual cost of nuclear construction. And Higgins is entirely right in saying that fact should be driving the province to look toward alternatives rather than courting nuclear as its top priority.

Compare and contrast

Cost of a nuclear power plant based on the only bid for Ontario's Darlington contract which actually included the risk of cost overruns:

$13 billion

Estimated benefit from a nuclear power plant over the course of its life span in present dollars, according to the nuclear boosters involved in the UDP:

$11 billion

Based on these numbers, shouldn't we be considering whether it's easier to generate power by simply setting billions of dollars on fire?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Someday this could all be ours

Cherise Burda:
Already the province is paying companies on both sides of the border to consume surplus electricity because it cannot turn its nuclear reactors down fast enough. Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator predicts that demand will continue to drop even after the economy recovers and warns that continued excess nuclear inflexibility will cause system instability.

Thus, the Ontario government made a wise decision when it suspended the purchase of two new nuclear reactors to be built at Darlington. Yet the province and the nuclear industry maintain that these new reactors are needed to keep the lights on and ensure the phase-out of coal, and the public is being cornered into two unpalatable choices – either the Ontario ratepayer or the Canadian taxpayer has to bail out the nuclear industry.


Most of the time, I try to avoid saying anything about Ezra Levant that can be avoided. But his latest column for Canadian Lawyer is one which otherwise seems far too likely to slip through the cracks - so I'll make an exception to point out just how eager Levant is to try to label somebody - anybody! - as less than human in order to attack the fundamental underpinnings of human rights:
In 1830, British ship HMS Falcon, with 30 crew, seized a pirate ship with 250 men. One report said: “the little crew was in no small difficulty, after the capture of their disproportioned antagonist, what to do with their prisoners, who, as soon as they had an opportunity, showed symptoms of an attempt to overpower them.”

When they reached Ascension Island, the pirates were hanged in batches of 20, with only the pirate captain and first mate spared, to be taken to Bermuda to be tried — all completely lawful, given the exigencies of the case.

Pirates are a special legal class: hostis humani generis, or enemies of all mankind. They are legally similar to terrorists under the Geneva Convention — literally outlaws. We tend to think of the word “outlaw” to mean someone who himself ignores the law. It actually means the opposite: someone who is beyond the pale so far that the law will provide him no protection, and vigilantes, mercenaries, and anyone else who hunts him will be unstopped by the law.
Canada shouldn’t be playing the pirates’ game. We should be taking a page from the old HMS Falcon.
Now, I'd like to think that most readers would recognize that the developed world has learned a thing or two about the dangers of putting the power of summary execution into anybody's hands over the past couple of centuries. And one would expect that to go doubly for somebody who apparently spends the vast majority of his waking hours shrieking "tyranny! jackbooted thugs! Nazis!" at an administrative tribunal for daring to do its democratically-assigned job of trying to protect human rights.

But naturally, Levant's concern about the dangers of unfettered government power seems to end at exactly the point where he ceases to perceive any potential for it to be directed against him personally. When it comes to somebody who he figures he can safely label as "other", Levant goes several steps further than the Cons' apparent desire to start moving back toward capital punishment. Indeed, he's ready to start lumping together a group of sub-people who in his view shouldn't be protected by any principle of law (including any due process to determine whether they actually fall into the categories to which Levant is so eager to assign them).

So summary execution? Unbridled mercenary vigilantism? All fine for Levant - as long as the victim can be labeled as a "pirate". Or, by Levant's own connection, a "terrorist".

Of course, those terms are already in the process of being extended to apply to a wide swath of the population - with the act of downloading artistic content routinely classified as piracy by corporate copyright holders, and concern about the fate of innocent civilians in several parts of the world regularly labeled as support for terrorism by the same movement which provides Levant with his financial backing. And indeed, in some cases there are even concerted efforts afoot to drive people into exactly the type of activities which Levant thinks should strip them of their humanity.

Which presumably suits Levant and his ilk just fine, as anybody who follows his advice figures to offer another example for his next column as to who else should be tossed on the pile for summary disposal. But anybody who thinks that humanity (with its associated human rights) is inherent rather than being defined based on the whims of a society's most reactionary elements should pay attention to the fact that Levant is actively trying to convince people otherwise - and devalue his assertions elsewhere accordingly.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Multiple choices

Take your pick as to the saddest part of the Cons' latest evidence that after three and a half years in power, they still don't have the faintest clue what they're doing. Is it that they're bothering to hold presentations to advise of the possible purchase of they don't know what at some unspecified point in the future?
A $3-billion project to buy new search-and-rescue aircraft kicked off Tuesday in Ottawa amid complaints from aerospace industry officials that government representatives can't even say how many planes will be purchased or when.

The industry day, signifying the start of the much-delayed program, left aerospace representatives puzzled and at times, frustrated.

Government representatives who called the meeting couldn't answer questions on how many planes would be bought, when they would be purchased, whether they would be equipped with sensors or how they would be maintained.
Is it the fact that the minister responsible for the prospective purchases has wasted his time publicly pleading for bidders to violate his government's own rules?
Secrecy around equipment programs and how the Defence Department spends tax dollars has grown significantly under the Conservatives.

In May, (Peter) MacKay pleaded with industry representatives to get out the word that military purchases were good for the Canadian economy.

But industry officials note that it is often MacKay's office and other government representatives, such as the Privy Council Office, who prevent firms from discussing projects.
Or is it the farcical way that the media who had originally been invited to the presentation was summarily ejected not only without an explanation, but with a concerted effort to avoid stating who (if anybody) made or enforced the order?
The Defence Department had approved a request from Canwest News Service to be allowed to listen to the search-and-rescue presentation by Brig.-Gen. Greg Matte, but at the last minute, that invitation was cancelled on orders from "higher up" in the Harper government, according to various officials.

A supervisor at the Government Teleconferencing Service, which was involved in broadcasting the meeting, said the order to ban the media "just came down" Tuesday morning. "We're doing what we're told," said the supervisor who declined to provide his name. "They've said to disclose nothing further."

He also declined to provide his name, confirm whether he was a public servant or discuss who "they" were.
Of course, one's preference may vary: for substantive impact the lack of a clue what the Defence Department actually wants would seem the most damning, while for sheer absurdity the unexplained, anonymous media ban likely takes the cake. But one way or another, all indications are that the Harper failing state is getting more dysfunctional by the day.

The paranoid-delusional style in Canadian politics

Memo to Stephen Harper: It doesn't help to try to deflect attention from a previous statement for which one is catching flak by saying something even more asinine.

On bare minimums

One has to give NDP labour critic Andy Iwanchuk some points for optimism in his response to the Sask Party's changes to the province's minimum wage board that he'd hoped for an announcement about indexation. But unfortunately, the problems with the Sask Party's strategy look to go far deeper than even the partisan nature of some of the appointments to the board:
Norris said he has encouraged the new board to consult with the members of the Enterprise Saskatchewan board, set up by the Sask. Party government to offer advice on furthering economic development in the province.

"I think by working more closely with Enterprise Saskatchewan the new board will actually be in a position to receive feedback from a wide variety of sectors and I look forward to hearing about the work as it gets underway and obviously as they complete it by the end of the year," Norris said.
In other words, Norris is explicitly telling the minimum wage board to focus what the businesses represented by Enterprise Saskatchewan want to pay - which is bound to produce a predictable response. In contrast, he doesn't see any need to suggest the board should even take into consideration the effect of minimum wage levels on the workers who have to live with them, let alone seek out anybody to present that side of the story.

That deliberately biased presentation figures to be even more important than the names of the new board members in predicting what the board is likely to end up doing. And at this rate, it would be less of a surprise for the newly-stacked board to follow the Sask Party's usual business-first-and-only philosophy by attempting to do away with the minimum wage entirely than for it to make any changes for the better.

The reviews are in

Jeffrey Simpson:
There is no “school,” to use Stephen Harper's word, anywhere in economics that says “no taxes are good taxes.” Not even Milton Friedman and the Chicago school think that. Nor do Mr. Harper's former mentors at the University of Calgary.

They, like right-wing politicians, might think taxes are too high, maybe way too high. They might think the private sector can do lots of things better than the public sector. They might believe taxes should be lower. But anyone who says “no taxes are good taxes” and “I don't believe that any taxes are good taxes” is wrong economically, and very, very scary socially and politically.
Maybe the Prime Minister misspoke. Maybe he was just using a figure of speech, although he could have said something like “all taxes are a necessary evil.” But even that “necessary evil” idea is different from saying all taxes are bad, because the “evil” of taxation is “necessary,” as indeed it is in any civilized society.

Presumably, there lurks inside the Prime Minister an anger about much of contemporary society that has been built with taxpayers' money, an anger contained by the political reality that the Prime Minister can't do much about this state of affairs.

No shock here

The Star reports on the "shockingly high" price which has forced Ontario to at least shelve for now the possibility of building new nuclear reactors: $26 billion for two reactors similar to the size which the Wall government is looking to push in Saskatchewan:
The Ontario government put its nuclear power plans on hold last month because the bid from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the only "compliant" one received, was more than three times higher than what the province expected to pay, the Star has learned.

Sources close to the bidding, one involved directly in one of the bids, said that adding two next-generation Candu reactors at Darlington generating station would have cost around $26 billion.
AECL's $26 billion bid was based on the construction of two 1,200-megawatt Advanced Candu Reactors, working out to $10,800 per kilowatt of power capacity.

By comparison, in 2007 the Ontario Power Authority had assumed for planning purposes a price of $2,900 per kilowatt, which works out to about $7 billion for the Darlington expansion. During Ontario Energy Board hearings last summer, the power authority indicated that anything higher than $3,600 per kilowatt would be uneconomical compared to alternatives, primarily natural gas.
The bid from France's Areva NP also blew past expectations, sources said. Areva's bid came in at $23.6 billion, with two 1,600-megawatt reactors costing $7.8 billion and the rest of the plant costing $15.8 billion. It works out to $7,375 per kilowatt, and was based on a similar cost estimate Areva had submitted for a plant proposed in Maryland.

"These would be all-in costs, including building a new overpass and highway expansion to get the equipment in," said a source from one of the bidding teams, who asked to remain anonymous, citing confidentiality agreements signed with the province.

Stevens said Areva's lower price makes sense because the French company wasn't prepared to take on as much risk as the government had hoped. This made Areva's bid non-compliant in the end. Crown-owned AECL, however, complied with Ontario's risk-sharing requirement but was instructed by the federal government to price this risk into its bid. "Which is why it came out so high," said Stevens.
In fairness, there are plenty of reasons to think that the actual cost for Saskatchewan might be different. For example, with Bruce Power in the picture, there would be one more actor involved looking to skim off a layer of profits. In the absence of any experience with such projects in the region and need to import labour to get anything built, the contingencies involved might be even more severe. And of course, with Bruce Power looking to build on the old "Ontario model", the party in charge of building wouldn't be the one stuck with the tab, meaning that there would be more risk of overruns than would figure to have been built into AECL's bid.

All those factors aside, though, let's assume for the moment that the $13 billion per reactor cost presented by AECL roughly reflects what the price would be in Saskatchewan as well. That would mean that off the top, the cost of nuclear construction would shoot far past the range where it would compare to natural gas, wind or solar generation. Instead, the more pertinent comparison might be to purchasing an exercise bike for every Saskatchewan resident with the hope of powering the grid by pedaling.

Of course, Ontario is looking to get around the real cost by having the federal government pick up some of the risk to push the sticker price down. But that wouldn't do anything to actually reduce the expected costs, serving only to upload them to a different actor to try to hide the actual costs of nuclear construction. And when it's this glaringly obvious that the nuclear industry can't hold up without massive public giveaways, it should be equally clear that our resources are better put elsewhere.

Monday, July 13, 2009

On preferred outcomes

There's plenty to be skeptical about in Harris-Decima's poll (PDF) on Canadians' preferences for the next federal election outcome, including fairly obvious false limitations on respondents' choices on some questions and a lack of definition of the possible outcomes in others. But there are still a couple of points which look to be potentially significant.

First, there's the question of public attitudes toward a coalition. Over the past few months, the term has been treated far too often as a dirty word by all four parties in Parliament at times - with the Cons and Libs attacking the Lib/NDP coalition that nearly took power, and the NDP and Bloc in turn using the term pejoratively to refer to the Libs' choice to prop up the Cons.

Yet amazingly enough, even that rare unanimity in messaging against coalitions generally hasn't prevented the concept from picking up more supporters than opponents - by a margin of 15 to 38 points among supporters of parties other than the Cons. Which would seem to confirm my suspicion that one of the key areas where a party can set itself apart positively on the federal scene is by launching a meaningful defence of the concept of working in a coalition. And while the Cons and Libs probably each have reasons to avoid that strategy, I'd still consider the cause of promoting cooperative politics to be one which the NDP should be eager to take on.

Meanwhile, the answers to a flawed question limiting respondents to choosing a type of Con or Lib government does contain one fairly striking piece of information. After Lib supporters themselves, the voters most likely to prefer a majority Lib government compared to a minority one are...Bloc supporters, by a 33% to 21% margin. In contrast, Green supporters are at 34%-27%, while NDP supporters are the only group with a minority outcome as their plurality preferred result.

Of course, it isn't at all surprising that Bloc supporters would prefer a party which Gilles Duceppe was willing to back over the government they were seeking to vote down. But the striking result is in the relative preference for a majority as opposed to a minority. It's become an article of faith that any party's road to a majority government likely requires getting a substantial number of Bloc voters to shift their allegiance to change the current electoral calculus in Quebec - and while Harris/Decima's numbers suggest that while that effort is still an extreme long-shot, the Libs' road to that outcome may be far easier if Bloc supporters as a group would rather see that than a minority.

The reviews are in

Having criticized the Globe and Mail's Eric Reguly for failing to follow up on Stephen Harper's "no such thing as a good tax" position, I'm glad to see that Adam Radwanski has started to raise some questions (even if Harper isn't around to answer them):
Perhaps Harper was oversimplifying; maybe he didn't fully think through what he was saying. But this is the prime minister of the country, not some guy who's had one too many drinks at a cocktail party and begun railing against the evils of government. So it seems to me we're obliged to consider the fact that the person running the country, by his own account, thinks all taxes are bad.

If taken to its logical conclusion, that would also mean that all government spending is bad. Not just equalization and grants and other things that Harper would have taken offence to back in his National Citizens Coalition days. We're also talking about defence, and law enforcement, and any public infrastructure whatsoever - stuff that even the most libertarian members of Harper's party would concede that we need.

Now, it's probably fair to assume that the Prime Minister does not in fact favour anarchy, much as I like the possibilities for his next campaign song. But if he believes anything close to what he says he believes in, you have to wonder how he manages to get through each day on his current job - particularly at a time when the government has vastly increased spending in response to the recession. It's somewhat akin to the CEO of a $250-billion corporation presiding over its expansion, while simultaneously hinting that the corporation shouldn't exist.

In hiding

The Sasquatch's June/July issue is now complete, featuring plenty of great material on nuclear development, labour issues, P3s and other topics. But it's also worth noting what's missing, as the Sask Party government appears to be going out of its way to refuse to talk to the magazine:
(Advanced Education, Employment and Labour Minister Rob) Norris declined to comment for this article.
(Since-deposed) Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart declined to comment for this article.
So for those who recognize that a government running for cover has to be a good sign that a journalistic outlet is striking a nerve, consider this one more reason to give the Sasquatch a look. And hopefully as time goes by, the Wall government won't have much choice but to pay attention to what it has to say.

Burning questions

Which is a more scathing indictment of an actual or potential government: "(can't) find its ass with a map and a flashlight", or "wouldn’t know how to run a lemonade stand"? And more importantly, if those are supposed to be the two main choices for Canadian voters, isn't it long past time to start talking about some better ones?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Liberals Roll Over: The Environment

In working with the "Liberals Roll Over" theme, it's worth mentioning some reminders of the more glaring examples of how the Libs - under multiple leaders - have gone out of their way to give the Harper Cons what they've wanted. So let's get started with the key issue which the Libs have tried hardest to make their own during Harper's tenure in power - only to end up helping the Cons in making matters worse.

After Stephane Dion built his successful leadership bid around the environment, it was to be expected that there would be a few showdowns between a Lib party claiming to see the issue as one of the three "pillars" of its philosophy, and a Con government which has obviously gone out of its way to avoid doing anything meaningful on the issue.

And for at least one fleeting moment, it looked like the result might be for the Libs (in cooperation with the other opposition parties) to manage to get some positive changes passed despite Con recalcitrance. After spending months complaining about an NDP-demanded committee to rewrite the Cons' sad excuse for an environmental bill (C-30), the Libs eventually decided at the last minute to work with it - with the end result being an amended bill supported by all three opposition parties.

It may not be much of a surprise that the Cons' answer was to refuse to advance the bill any further - and of course in the summer of 2007 they prorogued Parliament to completely halt its progress. Which is where the Libs' rolling over comes in.

Dion publicly demanded that the Cons bring back the amended C-30 in their throne speech (and by implication as a government bill in the new session of Parliament) - failing which the Libs would vote down the Con government.

Of course, Harper's throne speech did nothing of the sort: not only did it promise to bring back only the elements of C-30 which had all-party agreement (i.e. the Cons would do what the Cons planned to do anyway), but it included a deliberate shot at the Kyoto process which the opposition parties were still looking to work under.

Did the Libs even consider sticking to their word? Not for a second: instead, their new line in the sand became only a weak statement that they wouldn't vote for Con legislation that would endanger the environment.

Having set a bar low enough to allow them to keep propping up the Cons despite continued inaction on climate change and even damaging regulations or other governmental functions which didn't go through Parliament or even back down on legislation by simply allowing it to pass, the Libs still miraculously managed to keep rolling over since - voting with the Cons on this year's budget with its attacks on environmental protection for Canada's waterways. And by stating that wringing every drop of oil out of Alberta's tar sands is a matter of "national unity" which overrides any apparent consideration of environmental costs, Michael Ignatieff has made clear that the Libs don't have any intention of improving matters anytime soon even if they do manage to stumble into a chance to do so.

So more than two years after a legislative plan to deal with greenhouse gas emissions won majority approval in the House of Commons, and nearly two years after the Libs supposedly made that plan a condition of their support for the Con government, we're now in an even worse position than we were at the time. And all because when given the chance to stand up for what was supposed to be a core principle, the Libs have rolled over time and time again.

(Edit: fixed typo.)


A new State of the Future report with backing from a remarkable range of different groups is calling for an "effort on the scale of the Apollo mission" which landed man on the moon to combat global warming. (And it would seem reasonable to figure that saving our current planet is worth at least as much of a concentrated effort as exploring its satellite.)

But just in time, hoax theories about the moon landing are also getting new attention in the press. Which raises the question: if the next argument in favour of strong action against climate change is based on an analogy to, say, the industrial revolution, will we be treated to a corresponding argument that that too was a hoax?

Sunday Morning Rider Blogging

Yesterday's win over Toronto obviously made for another successful game for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But it's worth noting that the game exposed a few weaknesses which the 'Riders overcame in large part due to avoidable errors by the Argos.

Starting with the defence, the game confirmed that while the 'Riders will keep up a ferocious pass rush, they'll be plenty vulnerable to the run as a result. The team's occasional difficulty in finishing tackles against B.C. became a regular problem against Toronto, as Jamal Robertson consistently shed the first tackler or two on his way to significant gains (particularly in the first quarter when the Argos went to a variety of confusing formations to counter Gary Etcheverry's defensive creativity).

Mind you, the defence did find an answer - not in actually stopping the run on a regular basis, but in going after the ball with a vengeance even if that meant risking a few extra yards against. That worked extremely well against an undisciplined Argos team, but may be far less successful as the season goes on.

The other main issue defensively was a perpetual inability to cover receiver Reggie McNeal, who had absolutely no trouble getting wide open downfield (with Omarr Morgan the apparent goat on a few of the plays) but minimized the damage by dropping a couple of seemingly easy catches. Of course Saskatchewan will take that outcome, but it definitely can't count on opponents giving away big plays like that.

On offence, the 'Riders performance was serviceable but not exceptional. Particularly on the series where the 'Riders scored their first touchdown, the team's plan seemed to be to keep the offence on the field with a dink-and-dunk possession scheme and let the Argonauts move the ball downfield for them with bad penalties. But that strategy - combined with another set of opportunistic reactions to turnovers (three touchdowns which came from a combined 34 yards of net offence) - put the game nearly out of reach by the end of the first half even if it didn't make for particularly impressive statistics.

And while Durant wasn't perfect in the ball-protection department, the Argos weren't anywhere near as prepared as the 'Riders to take advantage of their opportunities to take the ball back, missing out on two potential interceptions: one on Durant's whiff on a pass in the second quarter, one on an out that Jason Shivers dropped in the third. That may be more potential turnovers than would be ideal from Durant, but is probably a reasonable number for a game where an already-hurting offensive line had to add a new starter over the course of the last week (and all indications seemed to be that Matt O'Meara held his own).

While the good news for the 'Riders is that they've been able to capitalize on opponents' mistakes so far, the bad news is that their next opponent is the one team in the CFL which seems to be firing on all cylinders to start the season. So once again, the 'Riders will have to pivot from building a win largely on one weakness one week (the Lions' lack of a running game and the Argos' lack of discipline) to facing a team which can claim that same area as a major strength. And if the 'Riders can keep up their pattern of rising to the occasion against Montreal, then their surprising standing alone at the top of the West may last for quite some time to come.