Saturday, October 31, 2009

On useless alternatives

Greg has already pointed out the predictability of part of Bill Boyd's response to this week's much-discussed report on climate change. But it's worth noting that Boyd also managed to be both clueless and disingenuous at the same time in presenting what apparently passes for an alternative:
Mr. Boyd said the way to solve climate-change concerns is through technology – and perhaps a technology fund – not transfers of wealth from energy-producing provinces.
Needless to say, the most obviously laughable part of Boyd's response is the idea that "technology" and a "technology fund" are actually separate plans to address climate change. Granted, it might well be that Boyd's preferred choice would be to wait for some technology to magically appear out of thin air while complaining that there's nothing else we can do. But it shouldn't come as news that any actual technological advancements will require funding (among other forms of public support) in order to develop.

Which leads to the disingenuous side of Boyd's pronouncement. When the Sask Party took office, it inherited a $320 million Green Future Fund which it promptly diverted to other uses. In the Wall government's first two budgets, the Sask Party by its own accounts instead allocated under $30 million in total new funding which can even arguably be linked to dealing with climate change. And the vast majority of that was either tied into carbon sequestration which at best would deal with a small percentage of Saskatchewan's actual CO2 emissions, or set aside with no apparent idea as to how it would be spent.

In sum, then, the Sask Party's actions in options flatly refute any claim that it has any interest in working toward any significant technological development - and Boyd's response pretending otherwise simply looks to confirm the fact that the Sask Party shares the Harper government's desire to stand in the way of any progress in dealing with climate change. But while it would be a disaster for all concerned if we could do nothing more than hope for some mysterious technology to materialize on its own to make up for the Wall government's negligence, Saskatchewan citizens will get the chance to elect a more responsible government before too long.

Burning questions

Am I the only one who wonders whether CanWest's move to put the National Post into the same corporate division as its local newspapers figures to be based less on any actual improvement to the real financial situation of any CanWest entity, and more on a desire to allow the National Post to argue that it can't be put out of business without depriving major cities of their local dailies? And if the National Post is at the point where it can't justify its existence based on anything more than the threat to take down other papers as well, isn't that a sure signal that it's due to go under?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Musical interlude

Sloan - Underwhelmed

On stifled discussions

In addition to sending minders to keep anybody from stumbling onto any potentially-dangerous knowledge about what's already being done to Canada's supposedly independent institutions, the Cons are also making clear that they have absolutely no interest in debating what policies are worth pursuing in the future. Shorter Jim Prentice:

It's entirely irresponsible to bother trying to work out how greenhouse gas emission reductions might actually work. But don't worry, we can have a serious discussion about how to deal with climate change...never. Is never good for you?

'Rider Tidbit of the Day

Ian Hamilton writes about the possibility that Wes Cates might be the only featured running back in the CFL to fall short of 1,000 yards on the season. But there's an even more interesting twist in the 'Riders' individual yardage totals: at their current per-game paces and taking into account Weston Dressler's injury, not a single 'Rider is on pace to notch 1,000 yards rushing or receiving this year (though Cates, Rob Bagg and Andy Fantuz may be within striking distance), even as the team ranks second in the CFL in points scored.

So how rare is that kind of combination in a contending team? has lists of the league's leaderboards going back to 2002 - and here's the full list of teams who haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver at the end of a season since then:

2007 Toronto - 11-7 record (thanks to the league's best defence), 340 points (4th)
2007 Hamilton - 3-15 record, 315 points (8th)
2006 Hamilton - 4-14 record, 292 points (8th)
2002 B.C. - 10-8 record, 480 points (4th)

I'm somewhat surprised that there are as many winning teams as losing ones on the list. But it's fairly clear that the three recent examples don't involve teams which won because of their offence.

Which makes the comparison to the 2002 Lions particularly interesting. They too had a veteran bruiser at tailback who contributed by catching passes as well as running (Sean Millington), along with a running quarterback who ate up enough yardage to give the team an effective ground game even without a top rusher (Damon Allen). And more importantly, they also relied on a deep group of receivers (four with 735 or more yards) to make up for the lack of any huge individual numbers: Geroy Simon was just a year away from breaking out as a CFL superstar, Jason Clermont made a solid CFL debut, former All-Star Alfred Jackson had one last productive season, and Ryan Thelwell led the team with 815 yards receiving in his second year in the CFL.

Now, there's a case to be made that Saskatchewan may have even more room to grow based on the number of options it's managed to develop within its offence. Unlike the Lions, the 'Riders aren't counting on a declining star as one of their top options - and while the 'Riders have relied mostly on three receivers rather than four, they also boast a second tier of receiving threats (Getzlaf, Walker and Clermont) to keep opponents guessing even more. But even if that doesn't turn out, the 'Riders would surely be happy to follow the path the Lions took in the years that followed their 2002 season.

Running interference

Yesterday's Question Period serves up another example of the lengths the Cons have gone to in trying to control the flow of information from federal institutions - even ones which are supposed to be independent of the government:
Mrs. Bonnie Crombie (Mississauga—Streetsville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, recently I requested a meeting with officials from a crown corporation, namely Canada Post. To my surprise, a staff member from the office of the Minister of State for Transport tried to crash my private meeting. Consequently, the minister would not allow the crown corporation, Canada Post, to meet with me without his micro-management.

Is it the practice for the Conservative political staffers to attend private meetings of crown corporations?

Hon. Rob Merrifield (Minister of State (Transport), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I recall that I actually chatted with the member with regard to any information she would like about any crown corporation, not just Canada Post, and she is welcome to that. She is absolutely welcome to come to my office or to have it at any room in this place. Not only for that individual but for any of the opposition members, we would be more than obliged.

Mrs. Bonnie Crombie (Mississauga—Streetsville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, crown corporations are supposed to operate at arm's-length from the government, but the Conservatives will not let crown corporations like Canada Post meet with an MP without overriding political control. However, we are supposed to believe that they have allowed the Federal Bridges Corporation, another crown corporation, to operate at arm's-length. The Conservatives cannot have it both ways.

When will the government admit there is nothing arm's-length about Senator Housakos, those Conservatives and the Federal Bridges Corporation?

Hon. John Baird (Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, CPC):
What is very clear, Mr. Speaker, is the member opposite wanted a meeting with a crown corporation. The meeting was offered to her. We offered to put everything on the table so she could get a briefing for her new role as critic for crown corporations, and I want to congratulate her on that promotion.
Of course, the latter question and answer are included primarily to point out the Cons' usual ever-shifting standards which apply only where politically expedient. But it's Crombie's initial story which sounds particularly noteworthy.

Presumably the Cons wouldn't have had any way of knowing that a meeting was about to take place between Crombie and Canada Post officials without a system requiring an arm's-length institution to clear its schedule with political staffers. And that reflects a worrisome enough degree of control Canada's Crowns to begin with.

But it's especially alarming that the Cons' priorities are so warped that even officials at Canada Post - presumably not a political hot spot by any stretch of the imagination - are being prohibited from meeting with opposition MPs (particularly with a government-approved "briefing" being offered as the alternative). And it's hard to imagine what actual work the Cons have time to do given how much of their effort seems to be focused on promoting themselves and running interference on their opponents.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Shorter Tim Powers:

It's madness - MADNESS, I say! - for a province to sign away control over its own ability to set long-term policy in exchange for a single lump sum payment. That is, unless it's Jim Flaherty handing out the money.

On questionable operations

Buckdog points out the Wall government's plan to pay a premium to have Saskatchewan residents' surgeries performed in British Columbia. But since most of the discussion has focused on the impact for B.C. residents who will get pushed to the back of the line, it's worth expanding on what the consequences would be for Saskatchewan.

By favouring out-of-province surgeries rather than building capacity here, the Wall government would produce two results:
- an expectation that surgeries will be performed quickly regardless of the systemic consequences in terms of cost; and
- a lack of Saskatchewan public-sector capacity to actually perform those surgeries, as the case load which would otherwise provide a basis for expanding our own facilities is instead handled elsewhere (and at a premium price no less).

Now, it's well and good to say that there should be an expectation that medical procedures will be carried out reasonably quickly within the public health system. But any responsible government would be seeking to figure out how we can improve our current system to achieve that goal in the short and long term, rather than throwing money at another province in order to meet a single artificial deadline with no regard for what happens after that. And whether the ultimate problem is short-sightedness based on the Sask Party's arbitrary deadlines or an ideological desire to avoid building any public-sector capacity to do anything (see also the Sask Party's continued efforts to get SaskPower out of the business of actually generating power), all indications are that the Wall government is headed determinedly in the wrong direction.

On mixed messages

In general, last night's municipal election results seem to reflect loads of narrowly-missed opportunities for positive change. And a lack of citizen interest figuring to be the main culprit.

For example, Heather McIntyre fell just short of winning ward 2 in a race whose numbers look like an instant replay of the Hutchinson/Shreesh Juyal contest of 2006 - except that the nearly 2,000 votes which went to a third candidate last time out stayed home. John Conway came within 150 votes of beating out Fred Clipsham - and again, about 2,000 less people voted in the ward this year than in 2006. Indeed, while a few of the 2006 ward vote totals look to have disappeared into the ether, it looks like the only ward where the 2009 winner had substantially more votes than the 2006 victor was Ward 1 - and that primarily due to the fact that there were only 3 candidates instead of 9.

Of course, it's disappointing both that public interest in the elections dropped off so precipitously from its already-minimal levels, and that we won't have more direct positive change to show for all the hard work that went into the elections. But it's also worth noting that the incumbents can hardly feel particularly comfortable either, particularly to the extent any may have actually believed that the "83% council approval" number would be reflected in the vote totals.

Rather than being able to rely on any favourable public impressions to coast to easy victory, two of the incumbents fell and three more hung on by the skin of their teeth. And not a single one of the council candidates actually reached 83% of the vote in yesterday's results - with 2006 upstart Mike O'Donnell coming closest at 75% in ward 8.

So while there wasn't much of a mandate for change, nor was there any particular groundswell of support for the current direction of the city council. Which should give all sides reason to spend a lot more time and effort building citizen interest than they seem to have done over the last three years.

For more about the elections, see LRT and Dog Blog.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On updated information

For those looking for news about Regina's municipal elections before the final results are in, the ReginaElections Twitter feed is worth a look. There's nothing surprising in the reports yet (one would expect the polls in Ward 3 to be busy and those in ward 9 to be quiet in the absence of a council race) - but stay tuned for "estimated return updates" to come at 1 and 6.

Voting information

Dog Blog has set up a handy FAQ of where, when and how to vote in Regina. Polls are open from 9 AM until 8 PM; be sure to vote if you haven't already.

Municipal Election Breakdown - Regina Mayoralty

For election day let's add one more post to the series. The result of the mayoralty race probably isn't in much doubt, but it's still worth taking a slightly closer look at what each of the candidates have to offer and what we can expect later today.

Jim Elliott - video profile

Until Elliott entered the race, it looked far too plausible that Fiacco might get acclaimed. Rather than letting that happen, Elliott has done an effective job at least calling Fiacco out on a few of his more problematic points.

But while it's great that Elliott has stepped up to ensure Fiacco doesn't get an entirely free pass, there's little indication that Elliott's previous electoral experience will position him to draw many voters out to the polls. Indeed, the 2006 Ward 6 council campaign in which Elliott came in a distant second behind Wade Murray saw by far the lowest turnout of any of the city's wards - meaning that there's little reason to expect Elliott to bring out many voters who weren't planning on voting anyway (and conversely plenty of potential support for Brenda Mercer to try to appeal to in that ward).

What will be interesting to see is the comparison between Elliott's result and that of Jim Holmes in 2006. On paper Holmes would seem to have been a stronger candidate, meaning that any significantly better result for Elliott would seem to either point to the stadium issue as galvanizing somewhat more opposition to Fiacco than anything that was presented three years ago, or reflect the media backlash against the CCFR's party concept.

Pat Fiacco - video profile

I've probably said all that needs to be said about Fiacco here. In fairness to Fiacco he at least pays lip service to a broad range of issues - but it's hard not to see that as more a matter of strategy than any personal commitment to any particular policy cause.

Linda White

In theory, White's last-minute entry may have had the potential to radically reshape the race. At the beginning of the race, there was plenty of opportunity for another candidate besides Elliott to become the main opposition to Fiacco by combining a strong stance on the issues with a compelling personal story. And White's poignant personal history combined with her unabashed self-description as a "social service recipient" seemed like a combination with the potential to at least make voters who don't often see the effects of poverty rethink some of their assumptions about it.

Instead, White's campaign seems to have had little public effect - and indeed she hasn't even taken advantage of the city's means of spreading her message about housing through a video statement and online profile. That leaves White as a one-issue candidate who's had less profile talking about her issue than Elliott - and seems likely to ensure that she'll finish a distant third.


The result may be a foregone conclusion, but it'll be for the best if the race is at least reasonably close to encourage a stronger challenger to Fiacco in 2012. With that in mind, the endorsement goes to Jim Elliott.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Municipal Election Breakdown - Regina Ward 1

The series of ward race reviews ends with what was by far the most lively race in 2006, with Louis Browne coming out in front in a nine-candidate free-for-all. This year, only Browne and third-place finisher Shawn Kuster (who finished only 400 votes behind Browne) are left from that field, while Andy Asherbranner has joined the race as well.

Andy Asherbranner - video profile - website

There's lots to like about Asherbranner's campaign in the department of communicating with voters: he's made a concerted effort to respond to questionnaires (and pointed out his opponents' failure to do so), posted plenty of interesting content on his regularly-updated website, and included some noteworthy twists like a "wall of shame" showing areas of Ward 1 in need of repair.

But sadly, Asherbranner doesn't fare nearly as well when it comes to the question of what he's actually communicating. Not only does he start off with a taxes-and-crime boilerplate message (including an unsourced claim to increasing crime rates in the ward) before mentioning services as an afterthought, he's also dedicated a disproportionate amount of his website content to attacks on incumbent Louis Browne. Which would seem to have him nicely positioned to play the role of Andy Schmidt this year - but there's probably a reason why Schmidt fell short last time.

Louis Browne - video profile - website

If you take the time to seek out Browne's brochure (warning: PDF), you'll find some highly worthwhile ideas about environmental sustainability and strengthened municipal democracy to go along with the usual talk about tax and crime.

But unfortunately, Browne's first choice of message is a one-two punch of the current council's "vision statement" and a recitation of the city-wide poll about Council satisfaction. And from that starting point, it's hard not to conclude that the positive ideas are afterthoughts at best compared to his interest in preserving the status quo.

Shawn Kuster - video profile

Kuster's most distinctive idea is a plan to ensure that home renovations don't give rise to property tax increases - which makes for a possibility worth discussing, if perhaps one which could have plenty of unintended consequences. And he too provides at least a balance of other concerns, with interest in establishing a curbside recycling program and working on green space to go with talk of tax and crime.

But again, there's reason for concern that Kuster's campaign is based less on those issues than on an entirely superfluous one (that being a focus on Browne's residence outside the ward).


Needless to say from the above, there's something not to like about each of the candidates. But for those who don't feel like writing in Mark Docherty's name, let's go with the theory that Louis Browne is more likely to be able to work with progressives on council if he sees a shift in that direction.

On thuggery

One would think that after the mess Michael Ignatieff made for his party in Outremont earlier this year, he'd at least make sure that the nomination process played out without any further obvious personal slights to would-be candidates. But apparently a fair and open nomination process is far beyond the Libs' capability, as Martin Cauchon's main rival for the nomination has been run out of the race.

Not only was Comlan Amouzou repeatedly pressured to withdraw - a message at least once traced back to Cauchon's camp - but he was apparently denied the ability to sell party memberships in order to try to mount a challenge. And while Amouzou has apparently withdrawn from the nomination battle, he isn't taking the party's slights lying down:
M. Amouzou affirme que la direction du PLC-Q refuse de lui fournir des cartes de membre, ce qui l'empêche de recueillir des appuis.

Il affirme qu'à au moins une reprise, un appel anonyme lui a demandé de régler ça à l'amiable avec l'entourage de Martin Cauchon. «Cette personne m'a laissé un numéro de téléphone en disant d'appeler là et de m'entendre pour quitter la course. J'ai fait des recherches et ce numéro m'amenait directement au clan Cauchon», affirme M. Amouzou.

Il dit avoir été «intimidé» dans les dernières semaines par des gens au sein du PLC, qu'il refuse de nommer. «Je me pose de très sérieuses questions sur la place des communautés ethniques au sein du Parti libéral du Canada au Québec, dit-il. Ce parti est devenu une chasse gardée pour quelques privilégiés qui agissent en fonction de leurs intérêts et de leurs ambitions au détriment des aspirations des militants de la base. Je ne reconnais plus les véritables valeurs libérales
Now, Michael Ignatieff's original fondness for candidate appointments in Quebec might make somewhat more sense in retrospect if his party isn't willing to allow open nomination contests to take place anyway.

But since it was Ignatieff himself who theoretically announced an open race in Outremont, Amouzou's removal from the race would appear to raise concerns not only about a disconnect between the values of grassroots supporters and the Libs' inner circle, but also about an inability on Ignatieff's part to oversee even minimal amounts of internal democracy. And it remains to be seen just how much the Libs will lose now that their longtime Outremont campaign manager has decided the party doesn't share his values or those of "ethnic communities" (to use Amouzou's term).

(h/t to DivaRachel.)

Looking backwards

The Saskatchewan NDP has rightly been pointing out Dwain Lingenfelter's goals for party development from the party's response to the Wall government's throne speech. But there's another part of the NDP's reply which looks to deserve more attention than it's received so far. Here's Deb Higgins:
I got a copy of the Speech from the Throne when I was leaving the legislature yesterday, sat down with a highlighter, and I went through and marked what were former initiatives that they were again highlighting — not over just last year but over the previous two years — and my final count came to 53 old initiatives that were highlighted again in the Speech from the Throne. And I was being generous, Mr. Speaker, in what I considered a new initiative, and I think there's around 15. Now I counted some of them that I have heard being announced before, but I thought, well I'll be generous; maybe there is more to come as we get into session and we start looking at this.

So when I look at the front and the cover of the speech and it was titled “Moving Forward,” it's pretty hard to move forward when you're spending so many pages in your vision for the future looking back and patting yourself on the back.
Of course the few new parts of the throne speech - coupled with Brad Wall's distraction tactics - have largely managed to throw the media off the scent so far. But when Wall has reached the point after just two years in government where he needs to spend over three quarters of his time looking back rather than being able to suggest anything new, there's reason to suspect that the Sask Party will be completely out of gas by the time the next election rolls around.

Deep thought

I'm sure there's a good reason why the pundits who regularly slammed the idea of collaborative efforts in municipal politics back in 2006 haven't bothered to mention that most of Regina's council incumbents are singing from the same hymn book.

Municipal Election Breakdown - Regina Ward 2

As I've mentioned before, Ward 2 is the one municipal campaign where I've been directly involved this year, so my endorsement shouldn't come as much surprise. That said, it's still worth taking a look at what we can expect come tomorrow night in a ward which was home to one of the closer races in 2006.

Jocelyn Hutchinson - video profile - website

While Hutchinson largely sticks to the "more of the same" party line, she's also more explicit than any of the other council candidates in pushing for ever more and bigger development, seeing the city as taking the "lead role" in MEGAPROJECTS!!! like the transport hub.

In fairness, that's balanced somewhat by at least some acknowledgment that the city also needs to invest in culture and community organizations. But if there was any doubt where Hutchinson's priorities lie, it should be put to rest when one notes that her 2006 promise of a better recycling program seems to have been dropped from her platform this time around. But then I suppose it's tough to juggle even a single new idea along with a deep philosophical position like "lives in the ward".

Heather McIntyre - video profile - website

Needless to say, Hutchinson's abandonment of green issues makes for a stark contrast compared to McIntyre, whose platform includes both a curbside recycling program in particular, and a more general commitment to sustainable development among other policy priorities.

As for most of the challengers, the main question for McIntyre is whether she's been able to get her message out to enough people to overcome the name recognition advantage of the incumbent. All indications that I've seen look promising - but we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out for sure.


Strong progressive challenger + weak conservative incumbent = easy decision. The endorsement goes to Heather McIntyre.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Municipal Election Breakdown - Regina Ward 3

I've mentioned before how fiercely contested the race figures to be in Ward 3, with the top two finishers from the 2003 and 2006 races joined by longtime school board member John Conway and newcomer Shirley Dixon. And not surprisingly with four strong candidates in the race, there are plausible scenarios where any one of them emerges victorious. But what should we be expecting come Wednesday?

Fred Clipsham - video profile

While Clipsham has faced criticism from a few different angles in the lead up to this fall's election, he still ranks as the favourite to hold the seat after mounting a surprisingly strong win in the face of tough opposition in 2006.

That said, it's still an open question as to whether it's for the best if he does hold on. Clipsham looks to be splitting the difference between parroting the "vision for 2020" line recited by so many of the incumbents, and discussing some potential progress on recycling, downtown development and culture. But for Ward 3 residents who would like to see their councillor play a more forceful role rather than going along with the party line, there's ample reason to want to see Clipsham dislodged from the seat.

John Conway - website

In contrast, Conway could serve as an ideal leader of the opposition on council: as a school board member he was the lone incumbent to lend his profile to the CCFR in 2006, and of course any candidate willing to discuss the problems with a city run based on the priorities of the business lobby looks to provide a much-needed challenge to the city's conventional wisdom.

But while he'd make an ideal gadfly on council, there's reason to wonder whether Conway would face some difficulty in actually working with other councillors to the extent there's an opportunity to implement changes. Which means that while Conway us probably the strongest challenger to Clipsham on paper, there may be reason for concern about what might happen if he succeeds in winning the seat.

Shirley Dixon - video profile

Having noted the contrasting problems with Clipsham and Conway, Dixon looks to be an ideal mix of the two in theory, combining a strong progressive platform with a willingness and ability to cooperate with others to get results.

But it's not yet clear that Dixon has developed enough of a profile to put herself in contention in a race against three high-profile competitors. Which means that the issue surrounding Dixon is less whether she'd would be effective if elected than whether she's actually within striking distance of winning the seat.

Don Young - video profile

In at least half of the contested wards, two-time-runner-up Young would rank at the top of my list of candidates thanks to his mention of union relations, arts and culture, transit and downtown development as policy priorities.

But in Ward 3, the fact that he ranks those concerns behind crime and traffic leaves him to the right of his competitors. And considering that Young finished a fairly distant second in 2006 even with an election's worth of experience and support behind him, there's reason to doubt that the formula will work any better this time out in any event.


With four at least somewhat appealing candidates in the mix, it shouldn't be surprising that this is the one ward where I'll hedge somewhat in my endorsement. For voters who figure that there's little chance of much positive happening on the next council due to the state of the other races (or who expect Dixon to end up at the back of the pack), there would be every reason to choose Conway over his competitors to try to move the Overton window to the left over the next few years. But I'm optimistic both that there will be a chance for the next Ward 3 councillor to form alliances with a few other progressives across the city to make some real policy changes, and that the race will be close enough for all of the candidates to stay in the running - so my endorsement goes to Shirley Dixon.

Deep thought

I'm sure Canadians concerned about their pensions will be entirely relieved to know the Cons' idea of dealing with the issue is a scheme which (a) does absolutely nothing to address the problem of plans which are already underfunded, and (b) figures to take a significant bite of the federal treasury in the long term for little discernible benefit.

The reviews are in

Howard Elliott:
The government, its messaging gurus and the professional help they retain all seem to forget that the people paying for this invaluable brand linkage are the same taxpayers so badly wounded by the recession. Many are out of work. Many have taken salary cuts or unpaid time, or made some other sacrifice. And not only are they paying for the government's multimillion-dollar advertising agenda, they're footing the bill for the Economic Action Plan itself.

Maybe that's why a lot of us get cranky, and more cynical than usual, when we hear the details of how this government, and others, use our own money to sell themselves. To us.
(T)here's no arguing this particular government has plain gotten carried away with partisan messaging on the public tab. They generated giant photo-op cheques, adorned with the Conservative logo and MP photos. They spent $100,000 for a one-hour photo-op event to boost their recession-fighting efforts. They're presiding over a pamphlet campaign in which MP mailings are being used to deliver partisan barbs at Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. (MP mailings are supposed to be about non-partisan communication to constituents.)

The other thing about effective communication is that you need to know your audience. The Tories don't know their audience nearly well enough if they think this doesn't bug taxpayers, who are also voters, who have a pretty good messaging strategy themselves come election time.

On maturity

Following up on last week's post, I'll take some time to expand on what Pat Fiacco's out-sized, self-promotional reaction to events like next year's Bon Jovi concert says about Regina as a city - and what we should be looking to do to take Regina's growth to the next level.

To start with, I'll note that it's indeed for the best that Regina is growing - and whoever gets to make decisions at City Hall next should be eager to continue that trend. But the current pattern of growth without much thought about where Regina fits into the wider scheme of things has effectively put the city in a state of urban adolescence: the population knows things are changing, but hasn't yet given much thought to the question of what change we actually want, settling instead for reassurance that somebody is willing to soothe our self-image.

And Pat Fiacco has positioned himself perfectly to take advantage of that situation. Indeed, one could hardly design a better political analogy to a boy-band/girl-band celebrity developed for the adolescent crowd: camera-friendly, well-funded, well-choreographed and utterly devoid of content.

Here's the problem, though: there's still a good ways left for Regina to go in its development as a city, and the next step is one which Fiacco seems incapable of taking based on his track record. It's well and good to celebrate the first few examples of Regina receiving a perceived boost among urban centres by attracting top-level music acts. But somewhere around the fourth or fifth concert announcement, we should be starting to grow into the understanding that it's not such a big deal as to justify putting the entire city on hold to celebrate.

Again, all of the other stops on Bon Jovi's Canadian tour are well past that point. Out of Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, none placed the concert as a top local headline, and none had its mayor rushing for the cameras to promote the concert. And the contrast in how the concert was received highlights the fact that Regina has a ways to go before it truly becomes comfortable as a major centre - as well as the reality that Fiacco's political persona doesn't fit with that development.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much prospect of change at the top in this year's election. But some sorely needed new blood on City Council can make for a first step in ensuring that Regina starts growing up rather than just growing out. And hopefully by the next election cycle, we'll have matured to the point that any stunt like Fiacco's will be rightly taken as evidence that a candidate is behind the times.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Municipal Election Breakdown - Regina Ward 5

Three of Regina's council races feature rematches between the top two finishers in 2006 - and none were closer last time than Ward 5, where John Findura finished approximately 700 votes behind 8-term councillor Bill Gray. Findura is taking another shot at the seat this year - but can and should he beat out the dean of the current Council?

John Findura - video profile - website

In theory, there's plenty to like about Findura's platform this year regardless of one's political stripe. For those concerned with progressive causes, his focus on issues including housing, recycling, transit and accessibility offers some reason for optimism, while anybody more concerned with avoiding any tax increases or cracking down on crime will also find what they're looking for among Findura's promises.

But ultimately, that mix of policy proposals leaves plenty of room for doubt as to which ones are actually top priorities for Findura. And since the latter list dominated his platform for his first run in 2006, there's reason for concern that it will take precedence once it comes time to choose between them.

Bill Gray - video profile

In contrast, Bill Gray's commitments are best classified as modest but achievable: accessibility for persons with disabilities, a fair share of city services for Ward 5, and improved management of the costs of traffic including road congestion, noise and dust.

Needless to say, those proposals don't seem to reflect a particularly inspired long-term vision for the city on their own. But they do at least position Gray as one of the few incumbents who recognizes that there's room for improvement within the city - and they may make for a valuable contribution to a council which focuses on efficiency and liveability.


Those following this series may have wondered if I'd ever end up endorsing any incumbents. And I've noted before that the prospect of new blood tends to be a tie-breaker when there isn't much to choose between candidates on the issues - particularly since the presence of two acclaimed incumbents eliminates any serious danger based on lack of continuity.

But for Ward 5, a modest positive platform wins out over the risk that Findura's real priorities are the ones he ran on in 2006. As a result, the endorsement is for a ninth term for Bill Gray.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pod People II: In Their Own Words

Lest it get lost in the Twittersphere, Kady has pointed out a myriad of examples of Ryan Hastman, the Cons' unelected non-representative for Edmonton-Strathcona, appearing at government funding announcements - all while elected NDP MP Linda Duncan has been frozen out. So is there any discernable difference between this and the original Pod People scheme other than that the Cons' "shadow MPs" aren't being formally named?

Spot the contradiction

Shorter John Baird spokesflack:

It's completely unreasonable to draw conclusions about how federal stimulus money has been allocated by examining only a portion of overall spending. And we can prove it by cherry-picking an even smaller portion of overall spending.

Municipal Election Breakdown - Regina Ward 6

Ward 6 has looked like one of the most interesting races for quite some time, as challenger Brenda Mercer got an early start against two-term councillor Wade Murray and has put together a strong campaign in the time since. So what can voters expect from the race?

Brenda Mercer - video profile - website

Mercer boasts one of the more detailed platforms of any candidate for Council, with particular attention paid to better representation, affordable housing, safety and community. Of particular note among this year's crop of council candidates are Mercer's recognition under the "safety" issue that any attempt to deal with crime needs to deal with underlying social issues, as well as her commitment to effective services as a matter of community-building.

So how much profile has Mercer been able to build for that platform? Between a Facebook group featuring 118 supporters and a video profile that's received more views than any other Council candidate other than Chris Szarka and Heather McIntyre, there are plenty of positive signs that she's been able to get her name out into the public. But it remains to be seen whether that will be enough to overcome Murray's advantage as an incumbent (and indeed one who faced a contested defence of his seat in 2006).

Wade Murray - video profile

I've mentioned a few times that several incumbent councillors are running entirely on a platform of "more of the same". But while a few other candidates have tried to run based on the council as a whole rather than standing on their own records, Murray looks to be leading the charge in that direction.

Notably, Murray's video profile is almost devoid of any content other than a vague reference to entrepreneurship and a cookie-cutter "property values and crime" message. Meanwhile, his official candidate bio focuses mostly on implementing studies which have already been carried out and his "cohesive Council" position which I've addressed before.


Not surprisingly in light of the above, ward 6 is probably the first of these breakdowns where I see virtually no difficulty endorsing one candidate over the others. While Murray epitomizes both the insularity and the lack of policy vision of the current council, Mercer offers up clear commitments to improve both the issues being discussed and the type of representation citizens can expect in the process. So the endorsement for ward 6 goes to Brenda Mercer.

On false alibis

The Cons' main response for the past week when anybody points out the disproportionate share of stimulus money being put into government or swing ridings has been to refer to George Smitherman's comments blurring the lines between different infrastructure programs. So let's take a moment to ask one question which seems to have gone unaddressed so far: what reason might Smitherman have to take the Harper Cons' side?

For the answer, let's take a look at the overriding infrastructure agreements between the federal and provincial governments. Oddly enough, a separate stimulus agreement between Canada and Ontario which was supposed to have been signed this August doesn't seem to be readily available - but the federal government's own infrastructure site features the Infrastructure Framework Agreement signed in 2008, and it would be a shock if the newer agreement is radically different. So let's take a brief look at what the Cons required Ontario to agree to before providing funding to the province.

When it comes to actually reporting on spending, the Infrastructure Framework Agreement contains only an agreement to deal with the issue later. But needless to say, the Cons weren't about to leave publicity to chance as they did with accountability. And as a result, the agreement includes a detailed "Communications Protocol".

Under that protocol, the federal and provincial governments agree to "undertake joint communications activities and collaborate on products" when it comes to infrastructure spending. Each party's communications are required to meet jointly-developed "branding standards, protocols, graphic guidelines, and templates", and include an equal allocation of "words, logos, symbols and other types of identification".

From that starting point, one might rightly suggest that the protocol seems to be aimed solely at working together on project announcements or the like. But the protocol goes on to set far broader requirements, some of which apply solely to recipients rather than to the federal government:
3.3 Project Promotion

a. Recipients are responsible for the promotion of their project and its activities and objectives within their community or jurisdiction. The recipient will provide, as appropriate, project communications such as: a project web site, print, audiovisual and other communications about the project as it proceeds. The recipient will inform Canada and Ontario of any such promotional communication before it takes place. The recipient will also ensure appropriate mention of the partnership nature of the funds and the contribution of all parties in annual reports, speeches or other opportunities, as appropriate.
e. The recipient will provide, whenever possible, professional quality audio-visual material about the project to Canada and/or Ontario (where Ontario is not the recipient) to support wider communications about funding under the BCF or the Base Funding Agreement and ReNew Ontario and its successor plans.


4.4 News Releases

The Parties shall issue joint news releases after funding decisions are made, or upon project milestones. In all such news releases, the Parties shall receive equal prominence. The Parties shall mutually agree on the use of quotes from the designated representatives of Canada, Ontario or the recipient in the news releases.

4.5 News Conferences, Public Announcements, Official Events or Ceremonies

a. Canada and Ontario agree to hold news conferences at the request of either Party. The requestor shall provide at least 15 working days notice of such a news conference, which will take place at a mutually agreed date and location. The Ministers, or a designated representative of either Party, will be entitled (sic) participate in such news conferences.
So what can we take from the above provisions? Read generously enough, one could interpret 3.3.e as establishing a direct commitment on the part of the province to provide the federal government with positive press about the stimulus program. And the province's obligations surrounding "annual reports, speeches or other opportunities, as appropriate" would seem to be very easily interpreted to include some obligation to deliver a Con-friendly message even in less formal forums - such as, for example, in response to media questioning.

Of course, there's room for dispute about the scope of those words. But I'd have serious doubts that a province which is already running a glaring deficit would want to risk having its federal funding withheld by a government eager to take revenge for any unfriendly public commentary - particularly when it comes to programs where both levels of government have agree to "joint" responsibilities. Which means that there's ample reason for Ontario to deliver statements which they figure will keep money flowing, rather than potentially provoking a fight.

And as an added bonus, Ontario's signature on the Infrastructure Framework Agreement belongs to the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure. So to the extent Smitherman has his own political future in mind, there's similar reason for him not to want to make himself a target for the Cons as having breached the agreement.

All of which is to say that Smitherman's statement should be taken more as a signal that the Cons have ensured that the provinces are under their thumb than as an indication that the stimulus program is actually being run fairly. And if the best the Cons can point to in their defence is to say that one of their "recipients" doesn't dare to mention any concerns, then that should be taken as evidence of just how problematic the Cons' actions have been.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

The obvious good news out of yesterday's victory over B.C. is that...well, against all odds the 'Riders managed to add one more game to the win column. But the game does look to me to have been easily the ugliest win the 'Riders have posted this season.

About the only clear positive in the game was the offence's drive for a touchdown once Barron Miles gave the Lions a 30-22 lead. With Miles leaving the game at that point, the offence suddenly took control of the game for the first time, posting five consecutive completions culminating in Johnny Quinn's touchdown, then once again cashing in on a two-point convert attempt.

But the rest of the game (both before and after) wasn't quite so friendly for the offence. In the first half, the 'Riders posted two touchdowns to take the lead, but still mostly seemed to be on their heels: the team accomplished little with great field position on the game's first few drives, and its biggest plays (Rob Bagg's 60-yard reception on the first touchdown drive and 32-yard TD on the second) were both the result of finding split-second windows in a B.C. defence which mostly controlled the line of scrimmage and blanketed the secondary. And the second half was once again almost a complete washout until the 'Riders desperately needed a score down the stretch.

In contrast, the Lions' offence was largely able to move the ball at will throughout the game - and was stopped more by its own unforced errors than by Saskatchewan's defensive scheme. The 'Riders put plenty of pressure on Casey Printers in his return to a starting role, but showed little ability to actually complete a play once Printers was being chased down - regularly allowing Printers enough time to find reads downfield in the first half, then making ill-advised lunges which allowed Printers to escape containment in the second. And the secondary had trouble covering the playmakers who should have been central to the 'Riders' game plan.

Fortunately, Printers made just enough mistakes to keep Saskatchewan in the game. But the 'Riders can't count on their opponents misfiring on short passes to stall drives or throwing inexplicable interceptions in overtime - and without both of those factors in yesterday's game, the 'Riders would have been done for.

Of course, it helped that Saskatchewan's special teams were once again a plus. Louie Sakoda showed plenty of leg strength on kickoffs, though he'll presumably need to work on his hang time (as his line drives gave B.C.'s returners all day to set up their blocks); Luca Congi was solid on punts, though his field-goal kicking left something to be desired; and Jason Armstead once again gave the 'Riders a short field on plenty of possessions.

But while the special teams made up for at least part of the Lions' ability to control the play on both sides of the ball, the 'Riders were ultimately extremely fortunate to escape yesterday's game with a win. And with B.C. looming as a likely opponent at some point in the playoffs, the 'Riders have their work cut out for them in figuring out how to take matters into their own hands.