Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Afternoon Tab Dump

Once again, let's clear out a few links which I haven't yet turned into full posts but which deserve a look...

- Blogging Horse sets the record straight as to which party has credibility fighting against the HST. (Hint: it's not the one paying provinces $6 billion to raise taxes on their citizens.)

- The Star Phoenix notes a couple of new blogs which have emerged to cover Saskatoon's municipal races.

- What Greg said.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk notes that Brad Wall has eagerly followed his federal commanding officer in using public resources to distribute "irritatingly intolerable political propaganda".

On statements

Vaughn Palmer is right to note that there's a limited number of paths to take to try to counter the implementation of the HST in B.C. - and indeed the recall option which he points out as the most feasible means of reversing the plan wouldn't figure to be available in Ontario.

But Palmer does give unduly short shrift to the possibility that one or both of the provincial governments could come to see the "ruinously humiliating" results of backing down from the tax as less damaging than the political costs of following through on it. And with the NDP rightly pressing the issue in the one chance voters have to make their displeasure known at the ballot box in advance of a recall campaign, now may in fact be the best time to send the message that both the Campbell and McGuinty governments are better off finding a way to change course than sticking to the plan to hike taxes on their citizens.

Back to bad habits

From a strategic standpoint, one can't exactly blame the Libs for turning tail and running from their posturing this fall. It's not hard to see how the NDP and Bloc could both end up in a position where they'd be entirely willing to bring down the Cons, particularly if HST legislation were introduced this fall - so it's to be expected that the Libs would start laying the groundwork to prop up the Cons if necessary.

That said, though, from the standpoint of actually mitigating the effects of continued Harper government, the Libs' latest flip-flop couldn't have come at a worse time.

I've mentioned before the importance of establishing a new set of baseline assumptions where the Cons expect to have to listen to opposition parties rather than simply forcing their agenda on whichever party was weakest at the time. And this week offered the first hint that the Cons were actually prepared to get into the habit of taking opposition concerns into account.

But now that the Libs are sending signals that they're again prepared to be arm-twisted into supporting the Cons, it won't be at all surprising if Harper decides he's better off arm-twisting a party which won't ask for anything than talking to a party that will. Which means that the Libs may have just managed to ensure that Harper's stay in power would be as painful as possible for Canadians who stood to benefit from a more cooperative approach.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Musical interlude

Faithless - Drifting Away (Paradiso Mix)

Compare and contrast

It hasn't escaped notice that the NDP has been able to push the Cons to improve their latest EI bill by setting a firm start date for eligibility for increased benefits. But the NDP's success in getting that done is particularly worth noting in contrast to what happened in a similar situation earlier this year.

After all, the Cons' 2009 budget bill likewise included a provision linking increased EI benefits to the timing of royal assent. And presumably the same solution would have been equally possible then. But Michael Ignatieff and the Libs ignored that possibility entirely, electing to rush a mammoth bill loaded with poison pills through the Senate in order to meet the Cons' arbitrary timeline for passage rather than even suggesting a simple legislative fix.

Of course, it's to the Cons' discredit that they chose to set up exactly the same kind of time trap with their newest EI bill. But this time, the NDP was in a position to spot the problem and pressure the Cons to fix it - and the end result should serve as important evidence as to which opposition party is actually working to improve legislative outcomes for Canadians.

And speaking of just having to show up...

Pat Fiacco's pitch to get Reginans to vote for Pat Fiacco is to promise...

...more Pat Fiacco. (In this case, Pat Fiacco On Wheels.)

Mind you, given that Fiacco is the heavy favourite this year, I for one hope he'll follow through on the promise. After all, the best hope for change in the near future absent some major scandal involves a city-wide case of Fiacco fatigue.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

But your betters just have to show up.

I'm generally in agreement with Audrey's take on Murray Mandryk's attempt to defend Grant Devine's appointment to the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. In effect there doesn't seem to be much disagreement that Devine is the test case as to whether merely occupying the premier's office is enough to justify the honour in the absence of any particular accomplishments - and the answer ought to be "no", particularly since there are trappings specific to the office which Devine has already received.

That said, it's worth noting that the "participation award" standard only apparently applies to premiers. Which seems to me to raise a separate issue of elitism in how Mandryk's standard views the relative value of different careers: what possible reason can there be to require Order of Merit recipients from any other profession to demonstrate something which sets them apart from their peers, while a politician merely has to take up space?

Burning question

So how many Cons are hastily changing their party-approved Twitter password from "allpraisebetoglorioussexyrthonpmHarper69" now that Royal Galipeau's account has been taken over?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Deep thought

I can't imagine what story the Cons may have been trying to undercut by raising suspicions about their own bogus anonymous information.

Signs of desperation

Never mind polls or media narratives, the surest sign of panic among the Libs can be found in the party's choice of strategies to try to correct its course. And it's striking that Michael Ignatieff has resorted to the "we're your only choice" canard in the middle of a session of Parliament which was supposed to give the Libs their opportunity to inflict some damage on the Harper Cons.

Normally, the Libs tend to save that argument as an end-of-campaign trump card to pry votes away from the NDP and Greens. And there's good reason for not usually using it sooner, since it's the type of claim which both makes the Libs look arrogant and out of touch, and at the best of times looks shaky on the merits when the opposing parties have time to refute it.

But then, these aren't the best of times for the Libs - making the claim one which plays nicely into the hands of the NDP's strategy of presenting itself as precisely the viable alternative which Canadians want. Indeed, there's probably little the NDP would like more than for the media to spend a substantial amount of time on the question of which opposition party in Parliament is actually the more viable alternative to continued Harper government, rather than simply assuming that the Libs are next in line.

All of which means that Ignatieff's decision to go to the well now may both signal just how desperate the Libs are for the moment, and help ensure that the NDP is able to establish exactly the image which the Libs are trying to refute.

On spammers

Michael Geist has the gory details as to how the Libs and Bloc are working with business lobbyists to gut an anti-spam bill:
At yesterday's hearing, it was discouraging to see lobbyists for Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Intellectual Property Council huddling with Liberal MPs before the start of the hearing. It was even more incredible to see lobbyists for the Canadian Real Estate Association draft a series of questions about the bill, hand them to a Bloc MP, and have them posed to the witnesses moments later.

The general tenor of the hearing saw support from the Conservative MPs, general support from the NDP MP (with some fear that the bill may be watered down with the proposed amendments), CREA questions from the Bloc, and a repetition of lobbyist questions from the Liberal MPs, who persistently wondered whether the bill is too broad or even too transparent (raising the possibility of excluding it from Access to Information).
So let's ask what appear to be the most obvious questions. Is there some principled reason why the Libs and Bloc are doing the work of lobbyists to hack away at one of the few consumer protection bills the Cons have been willing to introduce? Or is the problem more that both see it as easier to repeat a corporate line than to even think about how the issue affects Canadian consumers?

On open minds

Most of the discussion about today's EKOS poll (warning: PDF) has focused on the Cons' lead in the party standings and Michael Ignatieff's plummeting approval/disapproval ratings. But there's another piece of the poll which looks to me like a far more surprising development - and it has the potential to be the most significant in the long run as well if the NDP can capitalize on it.

While public opinion has been polarized on Stephen Harper for years and seems to have solidified on the negative side for Ignatieff, Jack Layton's approval numbers aren't just the most positive of the three national leaders in Parliament (a net +3). Remarkably, six years and three federal elections into his stay at the helm of the NDP, Layton's numbers now show a small plurality in the "don't know" category (35%, to 34% positive and 31% negative).

Of course, that signals as much potential downside as upside (in fact Ignatieff was in a fairly similar position in June). And Layton's "approve" and "disapprove" numbers have both gone down since earlier this year, though the latter has been dropping more consistently since April in particular.

But the combination of a positive net result and a large number of Canadians open to being convinced one way or the other does make Layton the lone party leader with any apparent opportunity to develop a genuinely positive public impression in the near future. And there's an obvious path open for Layton to get there based on where the leaders have positioned themselves for the fall session of Parliament.

Indeed, the NDP's push to portray Layton as the responsible grown-up in a room of squabbling kids couldn't have come at a better time, as the Cons' fall narrative has been defined by Little Stevie's piano recital while Ignatieff's occasional claims of "I'm a big boy!" have consistently been disproven within hours. And the NDP's willingness to put its efforts into an ad campaign to make that message stick should maximize the chances that it ultimately will - which should give Layton another chance to sway Canadian voters from the strongest position of any federal leader.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sounds about right

Andrew Coyne:
The only significance of the gaffe is that it fits a narrative, or rather that a narrative can be made to fit around it. A politician’s campaign is failing. He eats an ill-judged banana. Therefore the banana-eating becomes a “metaphor” for the campaign, or even a “defining moment.” Defining him as … what? As a politician who eats bananas and loses elections. It’s entirely self-referential.
Here, the media has inflated the importance not of a minor embarrassment, but a minor triumph. But in all other respects it functions exactly like a gaffe. A reverse gaffe, if you will.

Instead of a campaign bus with a flat tire, we’re now finding vast import in a politician who can carry a tune. And for the same reason: because it suits our professional need for narrative. The narrative the media had settled on for this week was of Ignatieff the stumblebum, the guy who couldn’t get anything right; in contrast, Harper’s exquisitely timed appearance seemed to confirm he could do no wrong. Why, he even sang on key!

So what? It has no meaning beyond that, tells us nothing we did not know about him before, sheds exactly zero light on his ability to govern the country.

Suitable for bronzing

Aaron Wherry links to the Stephen Harper speech which the NDP is rightly highlighting in opposing a federally-funded tax hike on B.C. and Ontario residents. But perhaps not surprisingly, his argument on the substance of the HST is far from the only belief professed by Harper in opposition which has long since fallen by the wayside:
It is important to point out that this bill was read for the first time in this House only on December 2, just over a week ago. This is only the third day we have had any debate at all on this piece of legislation.

The hon. member for Burlington, a Liberal member, had a tremendous argument. This one we need to get bronzed over here. It was that they would not need to move time allocation if the opposition would just support their bills. That would make it much easier.

There is a pattern here. We saw this pattern not just in this fall sitting but in previous sittings in the last three years. That has been that we have had a very slow legislative agenda for several months.

Just as the House is about to rise for a break, important legislation appears which must be passed immediately. In this sitting, the fall sitting, we passed only nine pieces of legislation, including some supply bills and housekeeping measures that were of fairly minor significance.

Last week three pieces of legislation were introduced which most analysts of Parliament would argue are the three most important bills introduced in the fall sitting, the harmonization of the GST, amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board, and the tobacco legislation. These are three of the most important bills.

Now they must all be passed according to some rushed schedule. I should add, just a couple of weeks before that, changes to the rules for the next election campaign. That is probably the fourth most important. It came in only three weeks before the end of the session.

Why does the government do it this way? I have tried to figure that out. Why are we rushing, for instance, an important debate on a GST package in order to have a prebudget debate, which the government will have no intention of listening to whatsoever? It is not on a substantive piece of legislation. Why are we doing this?

Some of it may be disorganization. Some of it may be unclear priorities. I fear the longer I am here the reason it does some of this is it really ultimately wants to rush committee stage of these bills.

Committee stage is where the public and affected interests get to express their views on the bill to indicate where amendments should be made and where parliamentarians and other expert witnesses are able to go over the clause by clause of a bill to suggest technical amendments.

That is the stage the government wants to rush. It has been increasingly rushing it, even on important legislation. The consequences of that have been very obvious in this Parliament to observers. Often we are passing legislation that is not well thought out, that is poorly drafted technically and that ends up being amended or delayed in the Senate
Yes, that would be the same Stephen Harper responsible for a consistent track record of introducing supposedly high-priority legislation a matter of weeks or even days before the end of a session, then whining that the opposition or Senate is obstructing it by actually wanting to hold the type of committee hearings which Harper once held so dear.

Let's give Harper credit for something though: by all account, Past Steve was absolutely right about the consequences of rushing legislation through. But that doesn't figure to lead to any change in strategy from Present Steve anytime soon.

On questionable choices

So the Libs' new Quebec decision-maker is the same candidate who managed to turn Vaudreuil-Soulanges into the Cons' best hope for a Montreal-area breakthrough with his weak performance in 2006, then underperformed his party by just barely holding serve in Westmount-Ville Marie in 2008 to get elected for the first time.

Not that Michael Ignatieff necessarily had a lot of better options. But if the NDP had removed Westmount-Ville Marie from its list of Quebec targets before, the prospect of a distracted Garneau would seem to offer reason to take another strong run at the seat. And there may plenty more opportunities elsewhere as well (for the NDP as well as for the Libs' other competitors) unless Garneau somehow proves more proficient handling Quebec as a whole than he has been in winning support for his own personal campaigns.

Update: Line of the day from Rob Cottingham via Scott Piatkowski:
Ignatieff picks Marc Garneau as his top guy in Quebec. Experience working in freefall may come in handy.

On movement politics

NDP MP Denise Savoie's op-ed is worth a read in describing the wide range of B.C. citizens protesting the HST. But it's worth taking a closer look as to why it is that the coalitions developing around the HST are different from those which normally turn up on the political scene - and what they mean for the chances of successfully opposing the measure.

To start with, it's worth noting that the groups normally in the middle of the media narrative attacking taxes are sitting this one out or actively promoting the HST in principle (even while trying to harness some stray outrage over timing and implementation). And at least a few right-wing HST supporters have sneered at the prospect that the NDP and progressive groups might be able to rally opposition to an unpopular tax, rather than leaving that to the usual self-described "tax fighters".

But I'd argue that the effort to fight the HST is probably better off for having a diverse group of citizens involved. While a group like the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation may be effective in spreading a general anti-tax message, the reality that it would be no less aghast over a small surtax on found money to save the lives of starving orphans than even the most regressive and harmful of taxes leaves it practically unable to highlight any particular issue as justifying special public outrage. Simply put, "CTF shrieks about lower taxes" isn't news, and any tax protest movement with the CTF leading the charge is likely to be easily tuned out as politics as usual.

In contrast, a tax issue where the CTF actually wants to see individuals' taxes raised while progressive groups want to see them stay lower is bound to register with the public at large as something out of the ordinary, and probably make people more likely to get involved. Which means that the protest movement figures to include many more people than the usual anti-tax crowd - while a good portion of those actually inclined to support the CTF on most issues also figure to join the movement against increased taxes on themselves.

Moreover, it's also natural that the ultimate impact of the HST will break off at least a few chunks of the business lobby onto the side of the public. During Grant Devine's ill-fated attempt at tax harmonization in Saskatchewan it was restauranteurs in particular who helped turn the tide, while the current round has seen the likes of B.C. small businesses and Ontario mutual fund managers among those joining the anti-HST movement.

Mind you, there are bound to be strong voices in favour of a corporate-friendly measure like harmonization as well. But while that ensures that the protest movement won't dominate the airwaves, it also ensures that there's going to be a lively public debate about the issue - encouraging yet more people to get involved on one side or the other. And since most of those who stand to benefit from the HST are already well aware of the issue and fully behind it, the long-term effect is largely to bring more awareness to those who will ultimately join the protesting coalition.

In sum, then, the anti-HST protest figures to be a significantly more effective force for change than many efforts at activism due primarily to the fact that the HST cuts deeply across ideological lines and business interests in a way that few other issues do. And while it remains to be seen whether the push-back will be able to stop the tax in B.C. and Ontario, anybody who assumes that the protest movement should be taken less seriously due to that diversity figures to be in for a rude awakening.

Burning question

Does Deficit Jim Flaherty's "Finance Minister of the Year" award (based on his responding "quickly" to last year's recession by offering an FU to all affected) remind anybody else of this?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Not warranted

My two cents' worth on the Cons' breathalyzer bill which has given rise to a wide range of discussion today...

As "tough on crime" pandering measures go, I'd actually see this as one of the less harmful ones possible. While the current state of the law theoretically requires reasonable and probable grounds on the part of the police to justify a demand for a breathalyzer sample, the low standards in practice (either a subjective perception of fairly broad indicia of alcohol consumption or an admission that the driver drank alcohol at some point) don't offer more than a modicum of protection to citizens in any event.

In fact, one could make the case that the effect of the bill will simply be to create a more honest statement about how the law works in practice. And unlike concepts like mandatory minimum sentences or age of consent which actually create offences or jail terms where they otherwise wouldn't have existed, the actual harm caused by the bill toward any individual would appear to be minimal.

That said, though, there doesn't seem to be a particularly strong rationale to accept even the relatively small amount of damage which might be caused by the bill - so the apparent acceptance from all sides looks to be a significant problem. And I'd hope that all of the opposition parties will at least challenge the Cons to provide a public accounting as to what problem they think the bill is supposed to solve, even if they all wind up supporting it in the end.


I'll stand by the argument that the best way for Canada's opposition parties to deal with distraction tactics like Stephen Harper's NAC performance is to avoid letting him change the subject. But this isn't a bad response either:
Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s New Democrats, will be doing two of his favorite things in his dare: playing guitar and hanging out on Toronto's Danforth Ave. It is just rare for him to do them both at the same time! Jack’s challenge will be busking in his riding, guitar in hand, from 3-5 pm at the corner of Danforth and Logan on Saturday, October 24.

In addition to donating to help reach Jack’s goal for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Jack is inviting you join him and make some street music!
It's of particular note that rather than limiting himself to a single song for a closed audience with the element of surprise on his side, Layton will be opening his performance up to public observation and participation. And as an added bonus, it's also for a great charitable cause - which should hopefully help keep away the astroturfers, though we'll have to wait and see on that point.


For all the talk about the Cons' attempts to sow trouble within the Libs, I'm surprised one of the most problematic aspects of the Cons' position seems to have gone unnoticed, as Dimitri Soudas' gleeful e-mail looks to reflect a disturbing assumption that all political parties are required to be as centrally controlled as the Cons themselves:
And indeed, Dimitri Soudas, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sent out a mass-distributed email yesterday drawing attention to the Liberals' rebuff of Dhalla's bill. "They are voting against the (private member's bill) of MP Ruby Dhalla! Their own bill!" Soudas's email said.
Now, it's true that within the Cons the type of independent thought which would allow an MP to present a private member's bill without blessing from on high has been thoroughly demolished. But there's no reason why the Cons' decision that mere democratic representatives have no right to try to present legislation based on what they see as best for their constituents would be binding on any other party.

Apparently, though, that isn't how Soudas sees it. Instead, the Cons' official line is that any bill introduced by a member of a given party automatically becomes "their own bill" - such that a failure for the party to agree with each and every bill introduced by one of its members is supposed to be seen as evidence of internal strife within a hive-mind rather than legitimate disagreement among members of a party which can represent different interests.

And the sad part is that it'll probably work on the Libs: it wouldn't be at all surprising if Michael Ignatieff decides that allowing MPs to present bills which aren't party-sanctioned will cause more trouble than it's worth if any internal disagreement is met with scorn like Soudas'. But it's worth pointing out just how hard a party which once claimed to value MPs as individual representatives is working to grind down what little independence remains - and asking whether Canadians in general (and the remnants of Reform in particular) agree with the action.

The White Elephant March

The Saskatchewan NDP is rightly calling attention to a survey which seems to lay the groundwork for a decade of 8% SaskPower rate increases. But I have to wonder whether there's a more important problem than the projected increase in consumer prices.

The survey itself sets out short-term, mid-term and long-term phases extending out to 2030. But in only one (the short term from 2009-2014) is energy conservation even considered as an option - and even then it doesn't look like there's any actual intention to achieve any meaningful results. In fact, the projection over the entire time period includes demand increasing by an "unprecedented 2.9% per year", with no differentiation between the presence or absence of conservation measures in a particular phase.

Needless to say, there's plenty of reason to doubt that the Sask Party's projections are worth the napkins they're hastily scribbled on. And that goes doubly when there's such an obvious lack of either a rationale for projecting "unprecedented" increases in demand for power for a full decade, or any recognition that conservation strategies can reduce the need for future generation in the first place.

So why would the Wall government be eager to push such an incomplete and implausible scenario? Well, the end result of the scenario would involve the province needing to add more capacity by 2030 than it currently possesses. And that feeds nicely into the Sask Party's desire to push the province into MEGAPROJECTS!!! in order to meet that supposed demand.

Worry about the feasibility of "clean coal"? Pay attention to the dangers and unpopularity of relying on nuclear plants to generate two-thirds of our current power load? Why, with 3% annual growth, we can't even afford to think of such minor considerations! So let's put our tens of billions dollars down now, and watch the growth roll in!

If anything, it's remarkable that the plan at least recognizes that some price increases might be required, rather than entirely assuming away such unpleasantness. But the Sask Party's plan still seems to be predicated on the bare hope that unprecedented demand increases will result in a wider range of customers sharing the cost - which means that the price might actually be far higher if the growth assumptions are wrong. And that should offer ample reason for Saskatchewan citizens to push back against the Wall government's obsession with white elephants.

Monday, October 05, 2009

On distractions

In the wake of Dr. Dawg's question about the goal of Stephen Harper's NAC gala stunt and subsequent conclusion that he answered wrong, I'll take a moment to provide my own theory about what the performance would seem to have been calculated to do.

Simply put, I don't buy the argument that the appearance was a high-risk, high-reward step which could or did radically reshape how the general public sees Harper. Instead, it looks more like an attempt to avoid allowing anybody else to get traction in defining Harper - a measure which could still have succeeded had Harper's actual performance not impressed anybody, but which also doesn't carry the same degree of accomplishment.

How do I reach that conclusion? Let's note first what the Cons' obvious communication strategy has been in dealing with Lib leaders. With both Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, the Cons have relentlessly thrown money and air time at making a single negative impression stick to their main perceived opponent, with devastating effects in terms of each leader's ability to win the confidence of voters.

It only stands to reason that to the extent they recognize and apply that as their primary strategy toward the Libs, they'd want to make sure that the opposite effect would apply to their leader. But what actually is the "opposite effect" to making a single negative message stick?

While the Cons have released the occasional kitten photo or blue sweater ad to try to improve Harper's public perception, those have been met with enough derision to be set aside as the key element of the Cons' goals in presenting Harper. So the Cons have instead combined their relentless message control with a strategy of presenting Harper in enough different lights that no single negative theme actually crystallizes around him.

Of course, the opposition parties have done their best to try to counter the misdirection. But they've rarely succeeded in making much stick to Harper - and I'd argue that it's the Cons' ability to avoid having their leader tied to any fatal flaw by juggling conflicting impressions (sometimes even negative ones) which has allowed them to build the case for the status quo which has resonated disturbingly well with the general public in recent months.

Looked at in that light, the NAC performance figured to be a success no matter what happened. Even if Harper had utterly muffed his performance, the negatives associated with that (klutziness? lack of preparation?) would have been so thoroughly at odds with Harper's public image that they wouldn't have been likely to do any particular damage - while of course the chance for positive perceptions was obviously in play. But what's more important is the fact that Harper was able to guarantee several days worth of stories out of the performance, ensuring that the media's attention would be distracted from any lines of attack which anybody else tried to present in the meantime.

In sum, I strongly suspect that the Cons' goal in presenting Harper in a surprising setting like the NAC gala was less to make him seem more human than to make him seem ever more difficult to pin down at all. And judging from the response so far, the opposition parties all have plenty to learn in not allowing themselves to feed into that cycle.

But can we teach him to heel?

Bruce Hyer:
NDP MP Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay-Superior North, Ont.), who was elected in the last election in the northern Ontario "orange crush," in which the NDP picked up a handful of seats from the Liberals, said people in his riding want EI benefits, not elections, and therefore he's happy with his party's case-by-case approach.

"Training Prime Ministers is a lot like training puppies; when they do something bad, you put them in the dog house. And they did bad things 79 times in a row and we put them in the dog house. On this one the Prime Minister did something good and it's time to give him a cookie," he said.

Well said

Following up on Deficit Jim Flaherty's declaration that the "real economy" consists of asset valuations on paper rather than real people making real products while working at real jobs, Tom Korski slams the undue focus on GDP over more important factors:
In the weird math of GDP the most dysfunctional nations have the "best" growth rates. Angola is forecasting 13 per cent "growth" this year due mainly to police corruption and power blackouts that last two months. Other world-leading GDP rates are 12 per cent in Ethiopia (drought), 11 per cent in Rwanda (cholera) and 10 per cent in Niger (kidnapping). By comparison, placid Sweden is mired in recession and carefree Denmark has fallen off a GDP cliff (see CIA World Factbook: National Product Real Growth Rates).
People who are serious about economic statistics cite the GDP mainly for entertainment value. Before announcing an end to recessions they consult more meaningful data like employment (now down in Canada), loan defaults (up), value of goods in transit (down) and investment in machinery (way down).

Yet the GDP, the most dubious statistic, dominates news coverage. And the GDP says amid one of the most dreadful years in postwar Canada, things are looking up.

The recession is over because we are deeper in debt.

The recession is over because we are printing more money.

The recession is over because a man on TV said so.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

On unclear responsibilities

So much for the theory that last week's fracas involving Denis Coderre might at least encourage Michael Ignatieff to break down some of the Libs' more anti-democratic tendencies, as he's now declared that somebody else will soon ascend to the same "lieutenant" role previously occupied by Coderre:
Ignatieff also told reporters that he will nominate someone to replace Coderre as Quebec lieutenant in the coming days, most likely another elected MP.

"I will name this representative, and I believe we will choose perhaps at the same time a leading organizer," he said.
That would seem to signal that Ignatieff is taking Scott Reid's advice and splitting up responsibilities for planning and organizing. But it's the former part of the job description which looks to be a particularly problematic one as matters stand. Despite the odd agreement among the Globe and Mail's strategist panel, there's no apparent reason why a party would be best served creating a single position which is so sacred that even the party's elected (or appointed) leader doesn't dare to exercise oversight over its actions. And that seems to be the Libs' idea of a lieutenant which Ignatieff is preserving, as a person who never answers to the party as a whole is handed the authority to make decisions such as appointing and removing candidates which may override both the desires of grassroots on the riding level, and the interests of the national party.

But it gets worse for Ignatieff. Even if one somehow saw value in the Coderre vision of a fiefdom where a single appointed person holds the "moral authority" to make all decisions within a province without considering anything but his own political interests, the reality is that Ignatieff has already ensured that there will be serious doubts about the actual authority of Coderre's replacement. Which means that even if Ignatieff isn't concerned about creating accountable structures in principle, he'd still have reason to set them up if only due to the fact that nobody will believe that his next lieutenant's decisions are any more final than Coderre's.

Instead, by maintaining the lieutenant position even after he's undercut the arbitrary authority which provides its foundation, Ignatieff has left himself with the worst of both worlds. Even as he publicly clings to anti-democratic notions of full Quebec command by an unelected figure, he's ensured that whoever holds the position next will be taken less than entirely seriously in the job - and neither the next lieutenant nor Ignatieff figures to benefit from the doubts Iffy has created.

(Edit: fixed typo/wording.)

On contempt

It's certainly worth noting noting the difference in Stephen Harper's official attitude toward NAC galas from last year to this year.

But I'd argue that Harper's appearance last night actually confirms his earlier message that he sees no value in recognizing or celebrating artistic achievement. Last year, he did that more directly by attacking the concept of gala performances - but isn't it just as much of an insult to suggest that the NAC's gala is properly commandeered as a tool for Harper's own political promotion, rather than serving as a showcase for actual artists?

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

The good news from Friday night's loss to B.C. is that the 'Riders' greatest weakness for most of the season turned into a massive strength. While the Lions missed two field goals and, Saskatchewan's special teams were solid across the board, with Luca Congi nailing two long field goals, Jamie Boreham punting effectively, Jason Armstead posting only one return that might be worth questioning (that in returning a missed field goal to the 13 rather than conceding a single) and the cover teams limiting the Lions' returns all night.

But unfortunately, there isn't much else positive to be said about the game, particularly for such a close contest. And while most of the attention seems to have focused on the offence's ineffectiveness until its last drive, the more worrisome angle to me looks to be the defence's difficulty in controlling the Lion offence.

Particularly after Ricky Ray's first-half demolition of the defence two weeks ago, one would expect the 'Riders to have schemed to control a precision passing game. But for the bulk of the game, Buck Pierce was allowed to do a fairly effective imitation of Ray - getting to the one-yard line mostly with a passing attack on the first two drives, and into field goal range on the next three before the Lions punted for the first time on their last drive of the first half. The most charitable explanation I can see is that the 'Riders' game plan was focused on trying to rattle Pierce even at the expense of giving up significant yardage - but even assuming that the team was following a strategy that odd, one would think that the first half-dozen times where Pierce took big hits as an acceptable price for making a play would have hinted that the plan wasn't working.

The defence was somewhat more effective through most of the second half. But it then showed its weakness again when Saskatchewan could least afford it, allowing the Lions to get into field-goal range on their final drive with little resistance.

Fortunately, the defensive issues were masked by the Lions' difficulty converting on their drives. On two drives, the defensive line managed to stuff runs from the 'Riders' one-yard line, and of course it deserves praise for that. But when it comes to Whyte's missed field goals, the defence can't take any particular credit for the low point total. Which means that the Lions would have had eight additional points just by successfully kicking makeable field goals, or sixteen if they'd managed the basic tasks of making their field goals and converting on touchdown opportunities from the one-yard line.

All of which is to say that the close score ultimately flattered a 'Rider team which was mostly outplayed on both sides of the ball. And while the upcoming game against the Argonauts may make for an ideal opportunity to get back on the winning side of the ledger, the 'Riders are running out of time to develop some consistency in dealing with their division rivals.

Deficit Jim: Your unemployment isn't real

In case there was any doubt, Jim Flaherty lets Canadians know that as far as he's concerned, the "real economy" doesn't include such trifling matters as whether workers can find jobs:
“We have to be patient,” Mr. Flaherty said. “Our expectation should be that we will have a persisting unemployment problem well into 2010. Our economy will be recovering. We will see some moderate growth in 2010 but the employment numbers will lag the recovery in the real economy.”
Now, it might well be accurate to say that employment numbers would be expected to lag compared to other variables such as nominal GDP numbers. But Flaherty's statement is telling in going far beyond a comparison between different economic indicators.

Rather than recognizing that the availability of employment is even a factor in Canada's economic well-being, Flaherty has let slip that he sees it as entirely disconnected from the health of the "real economy". Which should provide a strong hint as to how little prospect there is that Flaherty's policies will be focused on anything but finding new bubbles to inflate for the purpose of generating gaudy growth rates - no matter how little resemblance the results may bear to the realities facing large numbers of Canadians.