Saturday, October 17, 2009

The reviews are in

Stephen Maher:
Last month in Oakville, when asked about the allegation — made by a Tory candidate — that one project was killed because the riding was Liberal, the prime minister said don’t worry: "We can give you a list of announcements made across the country."

Three weeks later, after repeated requests for that list, his office told me this week to stop bothering them. Turns out the prime minister was joking, or lying. They are not going to cough up a list. Instead, they directed me to the useless site, and suggested I click on 6,000 individual links and draw up my own list.


These people are either cynically withholding information that would allow voters to see where their tax dollars are beings spent, or they are idiots, or maybe both.

They think they are smart to hide this information — perhaps because it could be politically damaging if they are shown to be shovelling pork into Tory ridings nationwide — but they are not smart.

Canadians want their government to be accountable, and the Tories ought to know that.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Musical interlude

Billie Ray Martin - Honey (Chicane Club Mix)

Breaking the silence

The Leader-Post reports on how quiet the Regina municipal elections have been to date. And it's all too true that there's been somewhat less talk about the election than one would hope for so far.

But for those looking for some of the discussion which hasn't yet been processed for media consumption, the City has posted video statements from a large number of candidates - and some are going beyond that in bringing their ideas to voters.

Burning questions

Does anybody honestly think that hundreds of millions of dollars in prison construction costs - along with increased expenses involved in actually running the new prison space which don't seem to have been costed out yet - will actually produce benefits anywhere near the expenses involved? And if not, then shouldn't there be room for one or more opposition parties to mount a strong criticism of the Cons' pandering on crime simply as a matter of cost and government waste?

On closed-door decisions

It's definitely worth pointing out that Rob Nicholson has rejected the consensus (among the opposition parties as well as past Information Commissioners) that the Access to Information Act should serve to actually enable the flow of information rather than providing cover for the Cons' habitual secrecy. But while the latest reporting has focused on the latest round of sparring over a set of committee recommendations, it's worth keeping in mind that the Cons themselves promised exactly what they're now trying to avoid:
The Conservative pledge to implement the Information Commissioner's recommendations to reform the Access to Information Act -- which included a duty for public servants to document their decisions and a public interest injury test on information considered exempt -- was dropped quietly when the government eventually tabled its Federal Accountability Act.

As one government insider said: "The bureaucrats pushed back hard on that stuff and appealed to the Prime Minister's secrecy tendency."
Which means that the goes far beyond merely a disagreement between the parties today. Instead, the Cons' complete rejection of any attempt to shine some light into the darker corners of the federal government also reflects a broken promise that makes a mockery of the Cons' now-laughable claim to value openness and accountability. And as always, that kind of obstructionism offers nothing but reason for suspicion about what they're keeping hidden.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On big projects

I'll have plenty more to say about the Regina municipal races over the next little while. But for now, I'll take a moment to mention my stake in one of the campaigns, as I'll be contributing some content to the web presence for Heather McIntyre's campaign in Ward 2.

But of course I'll also continue to put together content which is purely mine rather than having anything to do with the campaign - such as this first response to the "The ONLY" theme which McIntyre's opponent Jocelyn Hutchinson is pushing:

Needless to say, suggestions working off the theme are more than welcome.

On practical suggestions

Of course, in addition to managing images to turn the Cons' misuse of government resources for partisan gain into a criticism that sticks, it also can't hurt for the opposition parties to bring up some policy suggestions to ensure that similar problems don't pop up in the future. And fortunately, the NDP is on the case.

On image management

There have been plenty of strong argument raised against the Cons' attempt to attach party logos and MP names/faces to federal spending. But I have to wonder whether the debate so far - consisting largely of opposition supporters pointing toward the Cons' cheque photo-ops attached to critical statements - is playing largely into the Cons' hands.

After all, there's a reason why the Cons were perfectly happy to make sure that Gerald Keddy, Peter Van Loan, Scott Reid and others were photographed in ways that mixed up partisan and government messaging: the image of an MP delivering a cheque to a riding is generally seen as a plus, meaning that the normal result would be to build a positive association for the Cons' partisan symbols. And while there's certainly reason to try to reverse the usual associations by tying the Cons' images to scandal and waste, I have to wonder whether the current path will prove to be an example of the theory (attributed to Ronald Reagan's image handlers) that "the eye always predominates over the ear when there is a fundamental clash between the two" - in other words, that viewers will ultimately pick up more from Con-friendly visuals than they will from the scandal being discussed in the background.

So I'll suggest that a change in tactic is in order. Rather than spending a lot of time discussing and pointing to the Cons' photo ops themselves, better to play up the fact that there's a need to counterbalance the Cons' use of public money to build up their partisan symbols - and use the wonders of Photoshop to attach those same symbols to rather less flattering images associated with the Cons' actual or potential negatives (closed factories, environmental devastation, etc.) And if the Cons want to complain that their symbols shouldn't be used that way, it'll be awfully difficult to dispute that it's their own MPs themselves who first extended their use beyond legitimate activities of the Conservative Party.

Back to the source

The Cons' misuse of public money for their own ends has managed to become far more widely recognized over the past few days thanks to Gerald Keddy and others.

But the more important damage to the public interest almost certainly involves money spent with far less attention. Which means that the newly-installed procurement ombudsman's report that there's serious reason for concern about billions of sole-sourced contracts would look to be the type of development which can tie the party logo issue into wider mismanagement and partisan favouritism:
Too many federal contracts are being snapped up by favoured suppliers without real competition, says Canada's procurement watchdog.

Departments hand out plum contracts to lone suppliers at prices that might be lower if other companies were given a proper chance to bid, Shahid Minto suggests in his first report to Parliament.

The report draws on a review of some of the $1.7 billion worth of sole-source contracts the federal government signed between 2005 and 2007.
Minto's report, which focused on Health Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, National Defence and Fisheries and Oceans, found it was too easy to skew the procurement process in favour of suppliers that officials preferred. For example, there was scant evidence in the files that bureaucrats did any homework about other potential suppliers.
While there are plenty of possible follow-up questions, the most important one for now would seem to be whether any Con-connected suppliers who weren't getting federal business in 2005 suddenly found themselves as "preferred" suppliers sharing in federal largesse once Harper took power. And if there is evidence of that combination of mismanagement and partisan preference in spending going back to Harper's first days in power, then it'll be all the tougher for the Cons to pretend they've done anything but rebrand the worst of the Libs' patronage politics with a blue colour scheme.

On distorted inputs

Shorter Star Phoenix editorial board:

Enough of this pesky pretense of "democracy". We demand that the province officially turn the task of governing Saskatchewan over to some unspecified set of corporations for once and for all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On misplaced growth

The Ottawa Citizen is criticizing the growth of the federal civil service over the past few years. But isn't it even more noteworthy that while the civil service as a whole has expanded, the department responsible for managing Canada's infrastructre spending has been in a state of perpetual neglect - which the Cons are just getting around to noticing now that Infrastructure Canada's most important work is largely in the past?

On exclusivity

Far too much political commentary seems to be based on the idea of drawing distinctions between the interests of the unwashed masses and their ruling betters. But it isn't often that a candidate goes so far as to campaign on the idea of keeping out any new blood lest it interfere with the club currently in charge.

Which brings us to Wade Murray:
Ward 6 -- In this northeast and central Regina ward, incumbent Coun. Wade Murray is seeking a third term based on his hard work for the community through participation at the ground level and track record at council. He plans to work to implement the many studies undertaken by the city. He noted his goal is to "keep council a cohesive group"...
Needless to say, it seems unlikely that there are more than about 11 people in the city who are more concerned with preserving the chumminess within the departing council than with making sure that the next council listens to their concerns. And if the best argument Murray can muster to try to defend his seat is that he thinks City Hall should be protected from anybody who might have new ideas to offer, then he'd seem to be ripe for replacement.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Deliberately misleading (Giant Novelty Cheque Edition)

Even by the standards of Gerald Keddy's tenuous connection to reality, the apparent explanation for today's blatant misuse of public funds for Con propaganda is a doozy:
The CBC reported getting an email from Keddy’s office late Tuesday that said the Conservative logo was “inadvertently” put on the cheque.
Let's leave aside for now the use of the passive voice to avoid saying who it was that actually put the logo on the cheque. (Though the "who" of the matter would figure to be one of the next areas deserving of investigation - and presumably some lower-level staffer will take a temporary fall as a result.)

More fundamentally, how on earth could one claim that it's possible to "inadvertently" place a Con logo on a large piece of printed material? Will Keddy's office clarify that it just happened to have a logo stamp the size of Keddy's hand which accidentally got waved around in the general direction of the cheque? Or that a logo graphic which by sheer coincidence fits perfectly into the cheque in terms of colour and size was cut-and-pasted by a staffer who just happened to be ending a shift working for the Cons and starting one working for Keddy's publicly-funded office?

Not that it's at all surprising that Keddy's office is trying to minimize the fallout in classic Con fashion by saying that the blatant misuse of the Cons' logo on a cheque representing public funds wasn't intentional, with anything even remotely resembling truth be damned. But how on earth can one pretend that Keddy's cheque design was anything but a conscious choice?

On disengagement

Michael Ignatieff plays to his B.C. audience by mentioning the disastrous drop in wild salmon stocks:
We’ve just seen an entire Fraser River sockeye run evaporate. Millions of salmon just didn’t show up.

Ask upstream communities about the consequences. Ask Aboriginal communities. Ask fishers. Experts are already talking about a connection with climate change.

We need an urgent, independent public inquiry, using the best ocean and climate scientists to figure out what happened, and how we can to keep it from happening again.
Of course, it's certainly worth mentioning the vast array of potential impacts of climate change. But Ignatieff seems to have rather glaringly omitted a far more important explanation:
Morton's new research has begun to reveal that the lice and disease problem is huge in B.C. Her research indicates that sockeye smolts migrating up Johnstone Strait from the Fraser River have been infected with lethal numbers of infected lice as they swim through the Campbell River area. Little wonder this year's run of Fraser sockeye was one of the poorest on record -- and the problem will continue unless we do something.
Morton has now found lethal levels of fish farm sea lice in chinook smolts from the Megin River that flows into Clayoquot Sound, meaning all the United Nations World Heritage 650,000-acre Site salt-waters are a gauntlet of sea-lice death for all species of salmon migrating through the narrow fjords near Tofino.

Morton and others have discovered viral outbreaks from now antibiotic resistant infected lice from the Johnstone Strait all the way up to Bella Bella on the mid-coast.
From 2001 to 2003, 12,000,000 farmed Atlantic salmon died in B.C. from the infectious haematopoietic necrosis epidemic. The first problem was more than 15 years ago in B.C. Even Canada's highly regarded -- and DFO's own scientist -- Dick Beamish, has published research showing that when Atlantic salmon are removed wild salmon smolts thrive.
See also Rafe Mair, passim - but particularly his advice that Ignatieff take on the harmful effects of fish farming directly.

So why is it that Ignatieff doesn't apparently see fit to mention sea lice and other issues related to fish farming as factors in the loss of salmon? There are two obvious explanations, but it's hard to see either reflecting well on Ignatieff or his party.

On the one hand, it could be that Ignatieff is planning to label anything even remotely environmental as a matter of climate change in order to justify building a campaign on the Libs' "green energy" theme. But it's no more honest for Ignatieff to try to ram every environmental issue into a climate change-shaped hole than it is for the Cons to deliberately confuse other types of pollution with reducing greenhouse gases.

On the other hand, it could be that the decision not to even mention one of the more glaring recent examples of corporate intrusion on the Canadian environment is based on a desire to avoid stepping on any toes in the fish-farming industry. But again, it's hard to see how the Libs can expect to be trusted if they're trying to patronize British Columbia by paying lip service to the decline in salmon stocks while ultimately planning to put corporate interests first.

Either way, though, Ignatieff's wilful omission looks to speak volumes as to whether he can be trusted to take environmental issues seriously. And neither the cause of combatting climate change nor the broader environmental movement figures to be better off if the Libs continue to distort the facts to support their policy plans rather than actually recognizing the problems which need to be solved.

So much to learn

I noted earlier how the Libs' leadership foibles figure to have made it difficult for them to develop consistent messages. But apparently they're in worse shape than I'd thought when it comes to even the basic rules of communication, as even a couple of their supposedly-brighter MPs don't seem to recognize that it's a bad idea to launch into a public speech when nobody is listening.

(Though in fairness, I'd fully expect the "scrum without reporters" idea to be taken up by the Cons at some point as a means of further insulating themselves from journalistic scrutiny.)

On power plays

I'll follow up on the subject in more detail later. But for now, let's note that Erin has pointed out a possibility for new power generation in Saskatchewan which has been left out of the public discussion of the province's energy future to date - a particularly glaring omission considering that the only argument that ever seems to be mustered against hydro is "it would be nice, but we're already using as much as we can":
Despite hydroelectricity’s huge advantages, it garners little attention in political debates about future energy sources because most North American utilities have fully exploited available hydroelectric sites. Saskatchewan is exceptional because it only built a few small dams, but balked at larger projects.

In the 1970s, SaskPower proposed the Wintego Dam on the Churchill River. A public inquiry rejected the plan in order to preserve the natural area and traditional ways of life there.

These same issues would again confront large-scale hydroelectric development today. However, the historic decision to not dam the Churchill was made in a context of it being perfectly acceptable to just burn more fossil fuel instead. Today, I suspect that climate change and carbon pricing would far outweigh the original objections to the Wintego Dam.

Such a project would generate hundreds of megawatts. It would also enable a much larger expansion of wind power. Large-scale hydro provides the perfect balance for intermittent wind.

When the wind is blowing, SaskPower could close the hydro turbines and allow water to build up behind the dam. When the wind is not blowing, it could open the turbines to replace the lost electricity.

On distorted pictures

In other ridiculous Con stories originating in Nova Scotia, Stephen Maher and the Chronicle Herald have assembled a conclusive set of proof that federal stimulus spending has been strongly biased toward Con-held ridings within the province. But it's their response even more than their pork-barrel politics that most thoroughly demonstrates the problems with the Harper government.

Here's the list of sources assembled by Maher in putting together his article:
The Chronicle Herald compiled a database of federal stimulus projects using several lists on the federal government’s Building Canada website. The longest list — Nova Scotia Infrastructure Initiatives — is missing the dollar amount for many of the projects, so the newspaper acquired them from the provincial and municipal governments.

The paper also included all projects that aren’t on the lists but have been the subject of news releases under the federal government’s Economic Action Plan — for example, $10.3 million in federal funding for the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre, a new recreation centre planned for Bridgewater, in Conservative MP Gerald Keddy’s riding of South Shore-St. Margarets.
And Maher went to that trouble because...
The main federal website tracking the spending — — has a map of the country with icons showing projects but no details about the amount of spending or the schedule.
In other words, then, the Cons are doing an absolutely atrocious job of actually informing the public as to what money has gone where. But the Chronicle Herald has assembled all of the information publicly available to determine that the three Con-held ridings in Nova Scotia are receiving more money than the other eight put together.

So what can the Cons possibly say in the face of such damning evidence?
(A spokesflack for Peter MacKay) pointed out that the final numbers may paint a different picture than this database does.

"When you look at figures out of context, you paint a picture that isn’t complete," he said.
Naturally, the first obvious problem with that claim is that there's exactly one entity with the theoretical ability to provide a "complete" picture. And it's because the Con government has chosen to hide its spending numbers that any accountability has had to come from third parties sorting through a mishmash of information which could easily be made accessible to all if the Cons were the least bit interested in facilitating an honest evaluation of their spending practices.

But given that it's the Cons themselves who have spent millions on self-promotion while keeping the facts hidden, it's particularly stunning that they're now suggesting that Canadians should hope that some combination of hidden and/or uncommitted spending could counterbalance a glaring partisan slant in the first 90% of their stimulus budget. Leaving aside the question of whether it's even mathematically possible for the money left to be committed to level out an imbalance as glaring as the Chronicle Herald and others have found, it defies belief to suggest that the Cons are somehow being more even-handed in the spending that they're keeping hidden than in what they've made public, or that they'll suddenly reach an epiphany about governing in the interests of the country rather than their political ambitions before doling out what's left.

In sum, there's no apparent reason to give the benefit of the doubt to a governemnt which is vehemently if implausibly denying that the current slanted numbers reflect any problem, and whose penchant for selective information suggests that what's being buried is far more likely to reflect even more waste and pork-barrelling rather than an out-of-character outburst of fairness. And the more the Cons ask the public to simply hope that their government will be reasonable in the face of ever-mounting evidence to the contrary, the more reason Canadians will have to be wary of everything that comes from the Harper government.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Deliberately misleading

Blogging Horse has partially demolished Con MP Gerald Keddy's sad attempt to attack the NDP's position on EI. But there are a couple more points in Keddy's letter which are equally obviously false or let's set the record straight.

If (the NDP) actually cared about improving the EI system, why did they join the Liberals in refusing to even sit on the panel?
Now, it's worth pointing out that this goes beyond mere falsehood to the realm of absurdity. After all, the "EI panel" which Keddy is referring to was based on a deal cut between Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper - who both had obvious reasons not to offer the NDP any chance to participate, and by all accounts designed the panel to exclude the NDP and the Bloc precisely to remove them from the table.

Of course, if Keddy wants to provide even a shred of evidence that the NDP was offered the chance to join the Libs in lunching with Pierre Poilievre but declined the opportunity, he's welcome to do so. But as best I can tell, this passage makes about as much sense as pointing fingers at the NDP for the progress of a bill through the Senate, or the Bloc for failing to represent their constituents outside Quebec.

In sum, Keddy looks to have taken a step past the Tom Flanagan standard for credibility. Never mind even trying to be plausible; better instead to make an utterly nonsensical accusation and let one's opponents try to spend explain why it's firmly grounded in the Cons' Kool-Aid rather than anything even remotely resembling reality.
Worse yet, the only suggestion the NDP have made to reform EI is to give a full year of benefits to anyone who works a mere 45 days!
This time, the statement can actually be classified as true or false based on some grounding in reality. But even if one ignores the fact that the criticism of the 360-hour eligibility standard as giving rise to a "full year of benefits" is itself false, the statement that the NDP hasn't offered any other proposals ranges somewhere between more false, even more false and so false it may have originated with Deficit Jim Flaherty himself.
Deliberately misleading and disingenuous come to mind.
Here at least Keddy deserves some credit for honesty: "deliberately misleading" and "disingenuous" are certainly words which deserve to be linked to him, both in the rest of this particular letter and in his general dealings with the public. Which leaves only the question of whether he can deceive enough voters into clinging to a seat which otherwise figures to go orange.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

A position of weakness

Thomas Walkom's column on the dangers of racing into another set of free-trade negotiations is worth a read in general. But it's particularly worth highlighting that even those who think there's some need to keep tying government hands on both sides of the border have reason to worry about how the Cons have undermined Canada's bargaining position:
(A)ll trade deals come at a price. The original Canada-U.S. free trade deal bound this country to a permanent energy-sharing arrangement with America. Its successor, the North American Free Trade Agreement, limited the ability of Canadian governments to set up social programs that might interfere with private business, such as public auto insurance schemes.

The new deal under consideration will almost certainly curtail Ontario's efforts to refocus manufacturing around so-called green industries. Ultimately, the price could be higher...

For state and congressional politicians, forcing Canadian and other foreign suppliers to manufacture in the U.S. makes more electoral sense than allowing them to supply the American market from abroad.

Unless, of course, the Canadian side is willing to give away the store.

Which brings us to the second problem. What is Canada preparing to give up?

In any negotiation, the desperate are easy meat. In these talks – regardless of the fact that Canada has so far weathered the recession better than the U.S. – it is Ottawa that sounds desperate.

As Obama noted recently, "Prime Minister Harper ... has brought this up with me every single time we've met."

If I understand Trade Minister Stockwell Day's strategy correctly, he would have Canada's provinces unilaterally agree to end discrimination against U.S. firms as a gesture of good faith, in the hope that Washington might agree to a Buy America exemption immediately before beginning negotiations on a more detailed pact.

But aside from the logistical problems this scenario entails there is the more important question of what Washington will demand in return?
Walkom raises a few possibilities as to what the U.S. might demand, such as an Afghanistan extension or even more privileged energy access. But while it's difficult to guess at exactly what the U.S. would pursue first, it's not at all hard to anticipate that they'll smell blood in the water based on the Cons' desperation to push to bind all levels of government under NAFTA. And considering what happened last time the Cons decided they had to get a deal done with the U.S., there's plenty of reason to worry about what they'll be willing to give away this time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On message cultivation

The NDP has re-launched its Unite4Change site for this fall's set of by-elections, and in the process looks to be even further ahead of the other parties than it was last year. (From what I can tell, the closest any of the Cons, Libs or Greens come to mentioning the by-elections on their respective sites is the inclusion of one event on Michael Ignatieff's events schedule.) But while it's worth noting the NDP's apparent head start in preparing for the November by-election dates, it's particularly worth pointing out one of the more subtle advantages it may hold compared to some of its competitors.

After years of planning out messages and strategies under a leader with a long-term vision for the party, the NDP has had a chance to develop plenty of messages which can be accessed and reinforced on a moment's notice while being left dormant when they don't apply. Which means that for virtually any major development in Canadian politics (based on issues or events), the NDP will have a ready response supported by past communication work.

Are there by-elections happening? Time to bring out "Unite4Change" both as a familiar message to those who have followed NDP by-election activity for awhile, and as a building block for a national message.

Are the Cons looking for excuses to once again extend Canada's military role in Afghanistan? There's a ready response to that. Climate change? Check. Tax fairness? Check. And so on.

Mind you, in every case there's some need for adaptation to the current issues at play: the tax message is only reinforced in the case of the HST where needless corporate cuts are paired with hikes on individuals, while action on climate change is now aimed toward establishing new global targets at Copenhagen rather than meeting the ones set at Kyoto. But in general, the NDP has been able to build up a consistent set of messages which it can tap into at any point while never pushing any of them to the point of fatigue at any time.

Not surprisingly, that makes for a huge contrast against the circumstances of the Libs. They've of course had four different leaders in the past four years - with all but interim chief Bill Graham spending much of their time trying to distance themselves from their predecessors, and most key party staff changing as well during that time. And to top it all off the Libs have actually changed substantive positions on plenty of issues (a prime example being their Afghanistan swings from starting a combat mission while in government, treating it as a free vote when they first went to opposition, then demanding an end to combat before agreeing to an extension), making for an even more complicated communications problem.

Based on that combination of regularly changing personnel and messages, the Libs are bound to have a far more limited number of themes even remotely developed for public consumption - meaning that they largely have to start from scratch in developing a message in any particular area. And even before that process starts, there's presumably some workload involved in documenting and cataloguing what the last few incarnations of the party have had to say on the details of each issue so as to limit the number of contradictions that can be avoided.

All of which suggests that whatever advantage the Libs may have had in fund-raising early this year, it may be serving to do little more than try to catch up to the NDP's head start in planning and message development. And to the extent that much of the goal of political messaging is to plant seeds which will come to fruition at the right time, it's questionable whether the Libs have enough time to develop any meaningful harvest by the next general election.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

There was plenty of good news for the 'Riders in last night's win over Toronto. But while an underwhelming victory over a weak team counts for just as much in the standings as any other win, there were a couple of obvious problems which the 'Riders will have to fix in order to keep adding wins against their tougher opponents to come.

The best news for the game was almost certainly the offence's performance in the first half. After a couple of games where the offence had struggled early, the 'Riders managed to turn their first five possessions into four touchdowns and a drive into what would normally be field-goal range, racking up what would prove to be enough points to take the game by making use of nearly every weapon at the team's disposal.

And it's a good thing the offence managed to give the team that cushion to work with, as it was once again nowhere near as effective after halftime. The 'Riders' running game took some time off the clock with a few first downs in the third quarter, but the passing attack was thoroughly ineffective until the latter half of the fourth quarter. And while that late-game resurgence was enough to put the game away by adding another 3 points on the scoreboard while running most of the remaining time off the clock, it has to be worrisome that the team once again showed little inclination to put its opponent away earlier.

Meanwhile, the defence had a generally effective game, if not one to write home about. Ideally one would prefer to see the 'Riders control the run a bit better, as both Jamal Robertson and Jeff Johnson managed to put up some significant yardage. But those two never figured to be able to win the game on their own; instead, the real danger was Kerry Joseph, and the 'Riders managed to bottle him up on the ground throughout the game and anticipate much of his passing game beginning in the second quarter. There was still some room for improvement, as the Argos missed obvious opportunities due to both dropped passes and inaccurate throws - but in the end the 'Riders didn't give up more than they could afford, which has to be the ultimate goal.

And then there are the special teams, where the 'Riders have swapped out one major weakness for another. On the bright side, while Ian Hamilton describes Jason Armstead as "returning to form", I'd take a step beyond that. While Armstead has long been a dangerous all-or-nothing threat, I can't ever remember him being as consistently effective as he has this season. Which means that while it would be a bonus for him to indeed break a return or two to the end zone, the most important message the team can send is to make sure he keeps doing what he's doing to give the 'Riders better field position throughout the game rather than hinting that he should take more chances in order to score points himself.

Unfortunately, the 'Riders also faced one major problem in the battle for field position, as the punting took far more of a hit in Jamie Boreham's absence than I'd expected. That's particularly disappointing since Luca Congi managed to blast the ball when he had the chance to punt in the pre-season - but returning to the role now, he struggled with both distance and direction. And that may force the 'Riders into another strategic change if Boreham is out for long (and Congi stays in the role), as I'd have to figure it'll be worth trying a few more third-down gambles from the opponents' side of half if we can't expect to gain much yardage from a punt anyway. Or alternatively they may need to look at bringing in another punter, though the likelihood of finding a major upgrade may be low at this point in the season.

Needless to say, the 'Riders' next challenge in Calgary looks to be a far more difficult one than the Argos were able to pose last night. But the game plan shouldn't be all that different: like last night the main goals will be to keep an athletic quarterback from getting into positions where he can make plays on his own, while using a variety of weapons to find the weak points in an aggressive defence. And if the 'Riders can piece together a more effective punting game and stay more consistent on offence, it shouldn't be out of the question for the same strategy to help propel the team to the top of the West standings.