Saturday, August 15, 2009

NDP Convention - Day 2 Notes

If yesterday's speeches were tilted slightly toward the side of top-down politics, the training sessions today were even more oriented toward traditional conceptions of politics. There was plenty of talk about networking, fund-raising (including an online fund-raising seminar which focused solely on e-mail without mentioning social networking except as a means of gathering recipients), and pulling the vote, but not much to suggest the party had taken up what seem to me to be the most valuable lessons and ideas from recent political history.

But fortunately, the entire convention was treated to an ideal reminder of how the Obama campaign expanded the perceived possibilities in politics through Marshall Ganz' speech this afternoon. Billed for his role in Obama's "ground game", Ganz didn't concern himself with identifying the parts of the campaign which would be common to any party.

Instead, he called much-needed attention to the need to build a true constituency of supporters motivated to work together for their common values and goals - contrasting that with a marketing-based style of politics which appeals only to individual self-interest. And that's a message which should fit ideally into the NDP's efforts - particularly after a campaign where it ran by all accounts the best traditional campaign on paper, but achieved only modest gains as a result.

Betsy Myers has just taken the stage, and there's much more activity to come tomorrow (along with the Tweet-up tonight). But hopefully it's Ganz' message that will be remembered the most from #HFX09 - ideally leading to a significantly changed focus by the next time the party gets to work on training on a national scale.

NDP Convention - Election Results

And in something less than a surprise, the winners are...

Peggy Nash - President
Rebecca Blaikie - Treasurer

NDP Convention - Results...

...To come at 4 PM.

NDP Convention - John Orrett Speech

Orrett is the Socialist Caucus' nominee, and starts off with a fiery speech on economics and a desire to move the party to the left generally before getting into internal matters. We'll see whether that message sells, but a platform plank of defined funding to riding associations looks to be a popular one.

NDP Convention - Rebecca Blaikie Speech

On to the speeches for treasurer before any votes. Rebecca Blaikie also starts with a couple of endorsements, with her speech consisting of a fairly general view of the role of the treasurer (delivered strongly in both French and English).

NDP Convention Update - Peggy Nash Speech

Nash's speech starts with 2 endorsements, including one from MP Denise Savoie. Nash herself thanks all candidates running in the various party races (including Kinsella by name), then transitions from the "building momentum" convention themes to a few general policy points (and of course her own mention of the grassroots).

NDP Convention Update - Elections

We're on to elections at #HFX09, with Kevin Kinsella and Peggy Nash announced as the two candidates for president. It's worth noting that Kinsella spoke in favour of added time for policy discussion yesterday, setting up a grassroots vs. centre contest (a theme which Kinsella is now pressing in his speech).

Friday, August 14, 2009

NDP Convention - Day 1 Notes

I'll be blogging more frequently over the next couple of days as the more substantive parts of #HFX09 (notably elections and constitutional resolutions) get dealt with. For now, though, here are a few notes on the convention's first day.

The most surprising development was an extended dispute over the convention agenda - which was amended by motion to delay Marshall Ganz' scheduled appearance to make room for more policy debate, then returned to its original form following a motion to reconsider when it became apparent that Ganz wouldn't be able to reschedule.

In retrospect it's perhaps most interesting that the motion was set up to actually move Ganz' slot rather than merely replacing some break time with more policy discussion. That may have been seen as a more symbolic decision to replace a training agenda with more policy discussion - but the choice likely made for the main reason why the change was bound to be reversed where an extra hour of policy discussion might have been allowed to stand.

Meanwhile, the training from today's proceedings was a bit on the top-down side at times, with Manitoba NDP campaign manager Bob Dewar sending a particularly dispiriting message about his campaign priorities: "Target. Target. Target. Message. Message. Message. Discipline. Discipline. Discipline." It's tough to argue with Dewar's results - but it's worth wondering how much of the grassroots cultivation which did wonders for the Obama campaign will be part of the convention message as well (and a couple of speakers did at least hint along those lines).

Finally, the line of the day went to Gary Doer: "Some parties have one member, one vote. But only the NDP follows a rule of one delegate, one resolution."

Again, there's plenty more to come - so stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A new suggestion

Andrew Potter's take on the name-changing debate within the NDP is definitely worth a read as one of the better arguments I've seen on the side of keeping the name as is:
What the left in Canada should be trying to do is secure their base and push it out, not sacrifice it in the name of centrism.

Which is why the last thing they should do is drop the "New" from their name. The "New" in the name isn't a statement of the party's origins, like "New Coke." It's a promise that offers the ongoing hope of political change, social progress and institutional renewal. This is the very core of the NDP's brand identity, and far from giving it up, they should make it the activating ideal of their platform and messaging.

The party actually took a step in this direction during the last election, with their "New Strong" ad campaign. It was easily the best set of ads from any of the major parties, and it did a very good job of repositioning their policy negatives (anti-Americanism, anti-corporation) as strength. If I were in charge of the NDP's new brand strategy, I would put the promise of New at the very centre: New Environmentalism. New Economy. New Sovereignty. The New Democrats.
Of course, Potter's suggestion doesn't exactly break new ground, as similar messages have been used to good effect. But it's certainly worth wondering whether an all-out emphasis on "new" as part of the NDP's message might do more to help the party than eliminating the term.

Mind you, there's one major risk involved in that strategy on its own: the more the NDP relies on "new" as part of its message in a single election campaign, the more public fatigue may develop with the term as part of the party's brand.

But fortunately, the party may have an ideal opportunity for a litmus test as to whether the term has run its course.

After all, the resolutions before this weekend's convention will include an option to send the name issue for study as well as one to make the change immediately.

Obviously if the party sees value in keeping the "new" it won't want to go with an immediate switch. But might it make sense to support the deferral option as a compromise at the convention, then get as much mileage out of a "new" message as possible in the next election campaign to produce a fresh batch of information as to the impact the term is currently having on the NDP's brand?

(Edit: fixed formatting.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Light blogging ahead

Apparently there's some kind of event going on this weekend, and yours truly departs tomorrow to leave some time to explore Nova Scotia. Expect updates once the convention starts, but light if any posting in the meantime.

On advice

Barry McLoughlin's advice that the NDP should work on discussing and organizing its policy values would have far more resonance if that wasn't already happening.

Likewise, Judy Rebick's earnest suggestion that the NDP focus on issues like the tar sands and improving health care would be far more valuable if the party wasn't already doing so.

So due credit to Kelly McParland for actually offering some proposals which would undoubtedly mean doing something differently. But I do suspect that the NDP will respectfully decline his suggestion to transform into a conservative party.

On taxing considerations

As promised in my earlier post on the HST, let's take a closer look at how a harmonized tax would actually affect the balance between individuals and businesses - and why the claim of long-term benefits for consumers looks to be highly dubious.

To start with, keep in mind that even under the current system, there's an inherent preference for purchases by business rather than individuals based on the GST reimbursement system.

After all, there's no lack of goods which will have applications both for individuals and businesses. Whether it's furniture and electronics which are commonly found in both business and personal settings, or simply staple goods which end up getting used both at home and in work settings, there's obvious overlap between the basket of goods which may be useful for a business and those typically purchased by individuals.

And as matters stand even in the absence of harmonization, there's already an artificial preference toward business purchasers. To the extent a good is subject to the GST, individuals face an extra 5% charge on the price which isn't borne by businesses competing to purchase the same good. (But of course market distortions in favour of business aren't distortions at all as far as some are concerned.)

Presumably, that set of incentives isn't entirely without effect on the behaviour of all parties. While retailers are forced to keep in mind the impact of a sales tax on individuals, they can also try to avoid that issue by marketing themselves toward business customers whose purchases are comparatively subsidized by the GST rebate program. And there's an incentive for consumers to find some way to label purchases as occurring through a business in order to avoid the GST.

What harmonization then does is to more than double these impacts. And the lowered cost for business is no less a factor than the increased prices for individuals.

Once a good gets included in the harmonized system, the difference between the cost of purchasing by a business and the comparative cost for an individual will rise into double digits. And no vendor paying the slightest bit of attention can avoid noticing both the greater ability of business to pay higher base prices, and the relative incentive to market to businesses rather than individuals.

Likewise, the incentive to push purchases through a business structure as a coupon for 12-13% OFF ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING!!!! can only become far more significant. Which would figure to lead to plenty of busy work setting up shell companies, while creating no real value for anybody.

So harmonization doesn't just increase direct costs for consumers - though that's obviously an important reason for concern as well. Equally strikingly, though, it also creates a commercial environment designed to further prioritize the interests of businesses ahead of the needs of individuals. And there's plenty of reason to question whether that's a redistribution of wealth which people are eager to see - particularly when the federal government is having to pay off provinces to do it.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

On blame games

Shorter Stephen Harper:

Sure, it might look like my government imposed draconian visa rules on Mexico without warning, then pointed the finger at legislation which we've made no effort to change even knowing that the main opposition party will pass anything we put in front of them. But let me assure you that the entire country made us do it.

Standing for nothing

Warren Kinsella continues the Libs' pattern of projection:
By way of conclusion, we would only echo that old adage: if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.
So after rolling over on 79 consecutive confidence votes, what are the Libs doing to demonstrate their strong beliefs which are supposed to keep them from naively falling for anything?
Answers to policy specifics are difficult to come by at the moment. With the party directing their attention to the summer "working group" on Employment Insurance — the line they drew in the sand and a likely election trigger come September — a lot of other policy issues have been sidelined.

Add to this the fact that some Liberal MPs appear to be shrinking from the media this summer. The Liberal communications apparatus is directing journalists to address policy questions to Liberal MPs in their shadow cabinet — but many of those MPs are travelling or on vacation over the summer and not doing media interviews.

"We're being very strategic in the sense that there are certain issues we've come out on — for example on early learning/childcare, and high speed rail," MP Bains says. "The other issues — we will see when we want to communicate those. It could be just before a campaign, during a campaign... it's more of a strategic decision. Right now, it's still a work in progress and we're still consulting the party, stakeholders and Canadians, and the ideas that we do have, that we feel comfortable with right now, we've decided to hold off and communicate those at a later date."

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

So the good news after the 'Riders' loss to B.C. is that they're still tied for first place in the West - albeit a three-way tie at 3-3.

But what about the game itself? For once, let's start with special teams, which went from a slight weakness for most of the season to a catastrophe against the Lions. And once again, the biggest issue was with the 'Riders' punt returns, where Gerran Walker fumbled away a second-quarter touchdown and didn't do much positive on his other opportunities.

Fortunately, there seems to be an easy enough solution even if the team doesn't trust Stu Foord to handle punt returns. And no, I'm not talking about entertaining the kids with Casey McGahee's juggling act, or cycling back to Eric Morris. Instead, the 'Riders' backup option thus far is looking more and more appealing as a primary choice.

At the start of the season, the team planned to use Weston Dressler exclusively on offence after he emerged as the 'Riders' top receiver last year. But if there's been any consistent positive trend on offence, it's been the regular emergence of receiving threats: Rob Bagg and Chris Getzlaf have shown that they can serve as primary targets, while Johnny Quinn (who made a brilliant catch to set the 'Riders up for their last touchdown against the Lions) and Walker have shown more aptitude in offensive sets than on the return teams, providing plenty of depth to go with Andy Fantuz (once he's healthy), Jason Clermont and Dressler. So why not assign Dressler the task of returning punts regularly, rather than sending him back only after somebody else has failed?

Granted, aside from his field-goal return against the Stamps Dressler hasn't done much when given the opportunity to field kicks this year. But at the very least, he'll give the team the most sure set of hands it can get. And there's little reason to think he can't work his way back to last season's form if he's told to prepare to be the 'Riders' primary punt returner.

Given the trade-off of having a slightly less skilled receiver on the field for a few plays a game in exchange for 5-10 yards at the start of every drive (and maybe a few turnovers avoided), I'd have to think Ken Miller would have to be interested in the exchange. And that goes doubly if the best alternative is to keep swapping in and out the same players who have already flopped in the role.

As for the rest of the team, there were certainly some areas for concern. In particular the offence again went dormant during the third quarter, and a switch to Steven Jyles at quarterback in the fourth quarter didn't seem to help much.

Indeed, I'll sound a note of caution about Jyles' passing numbers. For most of the quarter, he showed virtually no ability to find receivers in the face of a relentless pass rush - leading to loads of sacks, along with a few decent gains on scrambles. It was only with roughly a minute to go in the game and the Lions in more of a prevent defence that he managed to put up some yardage - but the team obviously can't count on having that working in Jyles' favour most of the time.

As a result, the better strategy at quarterback looks to be the one the team used against Calgary - giving Jyles a chance relatively early on so that Darien Durant can get a different view of the game, but making sure that Durant is in the game when it matters most.

Meanwhile, the defence allowed Buck Pierce to put up a disturbingly high completion percentage and control the ball for much of the second half. But it does figure to be the unit with the most to be proud of in the game, particularly since the Lions turned the tables on the 'Riders by parlaying 16 yards of offence into 21 points thanks to turnovers.

Next up for the 'Riders will be a contest against the resurgent Tiger-Cats following a long week. And given how regularly CFL teams coming off poor games have redeemed themselves the next week, I'd be hesitant to pick against Saskatchewan this time out. But there isn't much room for doubt that the 'Riders' problems are staying in place or worsening from week to week - and by a third of the way into the season, there can't be much excuse if the team isn't figuring out how to fix problems that have been apparent from day one.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On pseudonymity

There's been loads of talk over the past couple of days about the unfortunately-departed Tiny Perfect Blog. But most of the discussion seems to be riddled with undue potshots at one of the better political bloggers I've read based solely on the anonymity behind the blog - and while there's one unfortunate side to the story which doesn't seem to have been mentioned yet, it's worth taking some time to make the case in defence of anonymous or pseudonymous blogging in the face of that misplaced criticism.

The core of the argument against TPB in particular and anonymity in general seems to be highlighted by Graham Thomson:
Tiny Perfect wasn't the only anonymous blog on Alberta politics, but it gained a reputation as the nastiest. Most bloggers put their names front and centre, which tends to make them think twice before hitting "send." The AUPE's Climenhaga has been running a personal blog since 2007 and says while he doesn't want to sound holier-than-thou compared to Tiny Perfect, "if my opinion is going to have any validity in my community it's important to say who I am."
What's of course utterly lacking in Thomson's analysis is any basis for concluding that anonymous or pseudonymous bloggers are generally any less likely than named ones to "think twice before hitting 'send'", or any less entitled to have their opinions heard. After all, whether an individual is named or not, credibility within the blogosphere tends to come from exactly the same factors.

When it comes to opinions, there's especially little reason to bother differentiating between named and anonymous sources. The value of the opinion expressed within a blog is bound to come down to a question of how readers respond to the blog in substance: an insightful observation or compelling argument is no less so for being written anonymously, just as a piece of poorly-reasoned tripe doesn't become any more convincing by having a name attached to it.

In that sense, the blogosphere at least holds out the prospect of a meritocratic structure: the value of an opinion is at least theoretically found in its own content, such that a person who isn't well-known or even named can reach a wide audience with a good point (or be skewered for a bad one).

Which isn't to say that personal connections don't dictate at least in part how widely a particular view ends up being distributed, giving an advantage to people or profiles who are better known. But there too, there's little reason why an extended track record of connections through a blog persona should be ignored entirely.

What about factual assertions? Again, the major question there is whether a blogger's track record matches the facts which can be verified from other sources including one's own observations.

Of course, one may see reason to be suspicious where any blogger without a track record of accuracy makes implausible or inflammatory claims. But there's no reason why the same content would be seen as any more or less trustworthy depending on whether it's written by brand-new anonymous blogger Mr. X., or brand-new named blogger John Smith whose judgment is equally untested and untestable. And where an anonymous blog has provided accurate information in the past, there's no reason why the mere fact of anonymity should prevent readers from considering that fact in assessing future information from the same source.

And there should be no doubt that anonymity is far from decisive in either direction in assessing a blogger's judgment. While Thomson paints TPB as "the nastiest (anonymous blog)" in Alberta, he distinctly fails to take into account the far greater amount of vitriol and nastiness to which others have happily attached their names. And I can assure Thomson that at least some pseudonymous bloggers are interested enough in their own reputation that they do think twice before hitting "send" even if their names aren't attached to the blog.

With all that out of the way, though, there are a couple of points where my own perspective parts company with that of TPB. And the differences might hint at what I'd see as the biggest questions which would-be anonymous bloggers may want to keep in mind.

When I started blogging semi-anonymously, that choice was based on a combination of uncertainty as to how my own experiment in blogging would play out, and a fairly gentle request from my employer. While I've seen fit to keep the blog in the same format, that's been more a matter of sticking to a default than any determined commitment to avoid having my name known. And a growing list of people has come to know who I am personally - meaning that if anybody was particularly motivated to "out" me, it wouldn't be particularly difficult to do so.

But there are two reasons why that would provoke far less of a concern for me personally than it seemed to for TPB.

First, while I don't recall the blog being as inflammatory as Thomson makes it out to be, it does seem that TPB wound up making some enemies who saw the blog as a direct threat. That may not be such a bad result in terms of serving the gadfly role where blogs can often do their best work - but it also leads to a virtual certainty that somebody will "take an interest" in exposing and attacking the individual behind a blog.

Of course, I've spent plenty of time in the realms of snark and satire myself. But I'd like to think that I've also taken a respectful enough posture toward those who don't share my viewpoints that nobody holds the kind of grudge that would make them want to move past the medium of discussion of issues in the blogosphere.

More importantly, though, I'm also lucky enough to be in a position where anonymity is more a matter of convenience than necessity. That certainly won't be true for some potential bloggers, and apparently wasn't for TPB - but it's always kept the perceived risk of being named at a level where I've seen little reason to worry.

In sum, for anybody wondering whether blogging anonymously is at all tenable, these are the factors to keep in mind. Are you expecting to be blogging in a way that will provoke people to want to do you harm? And will you in fact consider yourself harmed substantially if your identity gets made public?

Unfortunately, the answers for TPB seem to have been "yes" and "yes", making for a highly dangerous combination. And we've lost what looked to be one of the better NDP blogs I've seen as a result. But while the result may be a cautionary tale for anybody considering following in TPB's footsteps as an anonymous blogger, there's no basis for spinning the incident as reason to slam the nature of anonymous or pseudonymous blogging in general.