Saturday, November 28, 2009

On battle strategies

Shorter Stephen Harper:

On second thought, I'm all about the socialist schemes to suck money out of rich countries - just as long as they buy us out of having to agree to emission reduction targets.

On selective leaks

Dr. Dawg is duly skeptical about Christie Blatchford's article seeking to minimize the significance of some portion of the e-mail trail from Richard Colvin. But isn't the most obvious problem with Blatchford's piece the fact that she seems to have based her conclusions on what she knows to be only a selectively-disclosed portion of the e-mails provided to her?
The Globe and Mail now has what appears to be the entire collection of the e-mails Mr. Colvin sent on the subject during the 17 months he spent in Afghanistan from April of 2006 to October of 2007. A couple are virtually completely blacked out; some are heavily redacted, others rattle on at such length they could have done with a little more redacting.
(T)hough Mr. Colvin was careful to note that his guide at the prison was guarded and speaking “in code,” the guide's harshest characterization of detainee treatment was that some were being held in “unsavoury” or “unsatisfactory” conditions.

Of a five-page e-mail, Mr. Colvin devoted four paragraphs, most of this not blacked out, to the treatment of detainees by Afghan authorities.
Now, at best it'll be impossible to draw full conclusions from the e-mails reviewed by Blatchford if only because there's no way to confirm that they actually reflect all reporting from Colvin. But if Blatchford herself has only seen parts of e-mails which she knows to exist - with the redacted portions including part of Colvin's discussion of the treatment of detainees - then how in the world is it possible to think the material reviewed comes anywhere close to answering the glaring questions about what information the Cons possessed and when?

In the absence of any reasonable answer to that question, today's article looks far more like the mark of a government seeking to manipulate public perception by only leaking the least damaging parts of the e-mails involved, rather than one actually disclosing anything approaching full information. And Blatchford's role looks to be a far-too-familiar one: indeed, it surely can't escape her attention or that of others who have followed issues of detainee treatment in the past that a "but the prisoners were well fed!" line was equally used to paper over the worst abuses at Guantanamo.

In sum, there's little to be taken from Blatchford's article other than that the Cons are switching tactics in trying to minimize their wrongs. But in the process, they're only furthering the need for full disclosure to replace the selective leaking they're currently carrying out.

The reviews are in

Jim Meek:
The crux of the matter is our refusal to admit that these beggars are indeed not choosers — and are probably mentally ill. This stops us from acting in a rational way, stops us from facing the fact that the mean streets and the shelters are populated by people who need help — talk therapy, skills training, mentoring, drug therapies.
Nor do I buy for a minute the view that begging affluent men for money, on the mean shopping streets of Halifax, is a lazy way to make a living. It is a humiliating one, instead, which suggests that only the desperate need apply.

Let me move the story now from the streets of the city to Gerald Keddy’s farm fields in the country.

There, farmers struggle to recruit "Canadian" help at the indecent wages they are forced to offer because the rest of us refuse to pay higher prices for our food.
Here’s the connection between farmers and street people, then.

In both cases, we are allowing our narrowly defined self-interest to trump a broader public interest. We are the choosers here. Our collective prejudice chooses to keep mental health patients on the streets — untreated. And our pocketbook preferences keep local food prices down.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Musical interlude

Vibrolux - Drown

On shared responsibility

Interestingly enough, while most commentators have rushed off to follow a trail that immediately turned into a dead end, there actually was one fairly significant development on the HST front today which has gone mostly unnoticed:
Personal income tax cuts for Ontarians aimed at taking the sting out of harmonization won't be jeopardized if federal legislation to give the province financial compensation for the change gets derailed on Parliament Hill.

The Ontario government plans to introduce rules on Jan. 1 that would allow Ontarians to keep a larger slice of their paycheques regardless of whether federal legislation that is part and parcel of the province's tax changes also passes, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Thursday.
Mr. Duncan said the personal tax measures do not require federal approval or funding.

“We are proceeding as though the agreement will pass the federal house,” he told reporters.
Now, it's possible that Duncan's announcement might itself be largely moot in light of the Bloc's declaration that it will "probably" support the Cons' HST bill. But if not, then it looks like the Ontario Libs may have come up with the first successful strategy to actually split up responsibility for the HST and the set of policies linked to it.

Which isn't to say that the declaration comes without its costs, since it effectively negates the McGuinty government's own ability to pretend that the HST and income tax cuts are inextricably linked. But it does make clear that any federal vote on harmonization will affect only the more controversial part of the HST arrangement, sandbagging the Harper Cons with responsibility for the consumer price hike while taking full credit for the attached goodies which nobody wants to argue against.


A quick reminder for the many members of the League of Pundits with the Attention Span of a Gnat who have come out of the woodwork this morning: you should know better than to take the Cons' talking points at face value.

Nobody with a single functioning brain synapse buys for a second that the Cons' suppression of documents about torture in Afghanistan is actually about national security, or that the Cons' four-year streak of "we'll regulate greenhouse gas emissions next year" actually reflects any real desire to deal with climate change despite their pretense to the contrary. So why the willingness to parrot the Cons' party line when they pretend that their HST posturing is all about pressuring Michael Ignatieff rather than escaping a trap for themselves?

Instead, the real story is to be found in what the Cons are actually doing, not how they're framing it:
“Parliament's decision on the framework legislation will be certain and final,” states a briefing memo that was obtained by The Globe and Mail. “This legislation will have the support of the Official Opposition or it will not. If it does, we expect the bill to win approval before the Christmas recess.

“If the framework legislation is rejected before Christmas, we will not revisit the issue. Not next year. Not after the next election.”
Although bills that involve federal funds are generally considered matters of confidence, “this legislative change does not affect federal revenue or spending and is therefore not a confidence measure,” the document states, which means its defeat would not bring down the government.
So what's the common theme in the Cons' strategy? There are two noteworthy developments, and I'd think they both point to a fairly obvious explanation.

First, there's the sudden insistence on dealing with the HST before the Christmas recess. That means that all of the debate on the issue would take place at a time when all parties seem to be figuring that an election is unlikely, and before the Cons have time to drop very far from their current peak in the polls.

Second, there's the declaration that the HST vote won't be a confidence matter. And this is where it's particularly obvious that the Cons are operating from a position of weakness.

After all, the most damaging outcome for Ignatieff would surely involve the exact opposite move. Having already been painted as a flip-flopper for going from supporting the government as a matter of course to opposing it as a matter of course (not to mention equivocating on the HST itself), Ignatieff couldn't keep the Cons in power over the HST without also cementing the exact image which the Cons have worked so hard to project on him. Yet with his party bottoming out in the polls and trying to lay the groundwork for longer-term planning that's been sorely neglected for years, Ignatieff wouldn't appear to have much choice.

That is, unless the Cons have reason to think that the opposition parties would be able to use the HST as a launching pad to radically change the current picture in Canadian politics in short order if an election was fought on the issue. Which, needless to say, is a theory fully supported by the results of the New Westminster-Coquitlam by-election.

In that case, the Cons' safest course of action would be to try to keep any votes on the HST as far removed as possible from any general election. Which would include both trying to time an HST vote when an election is least likely, and ensuring that any vote on the HST itself doesn't serve as an election trigger.

So what would the smart response be from the Libs? It might be tempting to simply brand the Cons with the HST and then vote it down immediately - tying the Cons to the attempt to raise taxes on consumers then pairing that with an obvious public failure to be discussed over the holiday season. But I'd think the question of timing raises another, better option.

Rather than accepting the Cons' timetable and choosing a side immediately, the Libs should be able to point to the 2010 confirmation dates in the actual HST framework agreements and say that nothing should be decided officially too early in the game. Framed carefully enough, that message could win at least some measure of support from the provincial governments and opposition parties involved: the former in not foreclosing the HST prematurely, the latter in allowing more time for public discussion.

In the meantime, the implementation bill itself should be a natural fit for extensive committee hearings and other public talks at the federal level. All of which would of course be aimed at highlighting the federal role in funding harmonization and tying the Cons to the HST.

Then, the Libs will be in an ideal position to test for themselves whether there actually is enough public outrage to be worth bringing down the Cons (on an HST-related motion if the Cons won't let them use the bill itself). And even if not, the worst-case scenario would be exactly what the Cons are trying to force down Ignatieff's throat now: the HST would pass with Con and Lib support, leaving the NDP as the lone party to benefit on the federal level (but in an election distanced significantly from the HST vote).

Of course, the Libs haven't exactly inspired confidence in their ability to counter moves like this one. But there's no time like the present to start developing some clue as to what the Cons' actions really mean. And the Cons' strategy suggests that there's no issue where they're more scared to face the voters than the HST.

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk:
Hidden somewhere behind all the ponies, gophers, cheesy moustaches and general warm and fuzzies that Premier Brad Wall has served up at the legislature this week has been a lot of bad news in what's become a bad sitting for his Saskatchewan Party government.
Many of you who watched the meteoric rise in both government revenue and the provincial economy during the first 18 months of the Sask. Party administration had little incentive to worry about such matters.

Most of you are obviously more inclined these days to first turn to the sports pages -- a fact that appears all too evident to Wall's strategists, who have done a masterful job of distancing Wall and company from the bad news and keeping the focus on more pleasant matters.
One might think that governing is about little more than a series of charity events and goodwill gestures like providing protection for the ponies of the Bronson Forest, growing moustaches to raise awareness for prostate cancer or holding a press conference to unveil a lectern for those in wheelchairs that you ordered government carpenters to build.

In the Sask. Party's strategic view, such warm and fuzzy events have the added benefit of portraying government members in their best possible light even at a time when its members can't get through something as mundane as the Bronson Forest Ponies Act without being somewhat partisanly snarky. (And let's not even get into the smarmy and unnecessary partisan games we saw from government members Thursday afternoon as they tried unsuccessfully to ram through Bill 80 that concluded with Sask. Party backbencher Serge LeClerc and NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter going nose-to-nose in the rotunda.)

But the truth be told, most of you likely care little about such internal dust-ups at the best of times. And until you begin to feel the impact of Gantefoer's mid-year finance statement, many of you will continue to feel it is still the best of times.

Unfortunately, there are growing signs that we are no longer in the best of times -- something that even the Sask. Party members appear to be recognizing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On unfettered access

The opposition parties have thus far treated the fact that the Con-friendly witnesses before committee hearings on Afghanistan received access to the same documents denied to them and to the public primarily as a basis for outrage. But it's worth pointing out that the disclosure may have some substantive effect as well - at least, if the Cons do keep trying to weasel their way out of disclosing the documents involved and don't call the inquiry the public wants to see.

After all, one would figure that there would be no lack of requests already outstanding involving the same documents - with more sure to follow if there's any more delay. And now that the Cons have made it clear that national security considerations didn't prevent them from sharing the documents for political gain, is there much doubt that they'd be laughed out of any courtroom if they keep trying to resist disclosure through the access to information process?

On reuse

The NDP has rightly noted that today's Lib climate change plan is just the most recent in a series of paper commitments that haven't given rise to serious action. But I'd think there's another issue worth raising about today's point-form release.

Is there actually a single component of the Libs' latest release which isn't either specifically included (in some cases in stronger form) or at least implied in the first document on the NDP's list (that being the 2002 "Climate Change Plan for Canada")? And if not, what does it say that the Libs still don't have more to offer on climate change than to recycle a plan they didn't bother to implement while in power seven years ago?

In order of priority

The Globe and Mail's report that Stephen Harper plans on staying as far away as possible from the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen obviously doesn't come as a huge surprise. But it does signal one interesting shift in Harper's list of priorities: after trying desperately to link himself to Barack Obama earlier this year, Harper now seems to have signalled that his desire to avoid wearing well-deserved blame for standing in the way of progress on climate change exceeds his desire for more Obama photo opportunities.

Update: Apparently when it was put that way, Harper changed his mind.

On false measurements

Shorter Jim Prentice:

It's preposterous to suggest there's any connection between domestic greenhouse gas emission policies and the international negotiations which we've used repeatedly as an excuse for not developing domestic greenhouse gas emission policies. (And by the way, our years of promising a "Made in Canada solution" never happened.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shill baby shill

We're probably not far from broken record territory here. But as long as Andrew Steele and his ilk want to keep repeating zombie lies, I suppose someone has to give them their due rebuttal. So for those who missed it the first time:

Even leaving aside problems with his assumptions, Jack Mintz' much-bandied-about "591,000 jobs" number incorporates other tax changes along with the HST. On this ground alone, anybody saying "the HST will create 591,000 jobs" can be dismissed as either not knowing what they're talking about or lying through their teeth.


I suppose I should have known that follow-through on a reasonable, principled stance to push back against blatant Con abuses was more than we could expect - and apparently the Cons were somehow allowed to ram C-36 through the House of Commons after suppressing information promised to opposition committee members. I have my suspicions based on the numbers involved, but can anybody confirm who it was that joined the Cons in voting against Comartin's motion?

Update: As a reader notes in comments, the final vote is here - with Paul Szabo apparently the lone Liberal to vote with the NDP and Bloc in favour of Comartin's motion.

On pushback

With nearly all of the attention paid to the House of Commons focusing on question period, it seems like there's some rather important information that's falling through the cracks. So let's take some time to note what happened yesterday on one of the Cons' posturing-on-crime bills - and what it figures to mean going forward.

Here's the background to a motion presented by NDP MP Joe Comartin:
Following my own and the Bloc's representations on the justice committee, we had arranged for the head of the Correctional Service of Canada to appear before the committee, because we were told by Juristat and the office of the Minister of Justice that correctional service staff were the only ones who could answer factually some of the questions we had raised.

We arranged for Mr. Don Head to appear before the committee. He came before the committee without anything prepared and took questions, including a series of questions from me and the member from the Bloc. In the course of that questioning, it became clear that the information was not compiled in any way. For instance, he could not tell us how many victims' families had asked to make a victim's statement and he could not tell us the specifics of the recidivism rate. He only had generalities that he could talk a bit about to us. He could not tell us at what ages most people were convicted and most individuals got out of prison.

We could go down the list. There were at least a half dozen very specific points that he confirmed the Correctional Service of Canada could give us answers on. He said to me and the member from the Bloc and the chair of the committee that the information could and would be available by the time we got to clause by clause consideration of the bill, scheduled for November 16. Mr. Head appeared before the committee on November 4. It was very clear that he could do it in that period of time.

The week of November 9 was a break week for the House to commemorate Remembrance Day in our ridings, but we were back on November 16. I asked where the information from the Correctional Service of Canada was so that we could do clause by clause in a meaningful way. I was told it had been sent to our offices.

I have subsequently learned that other members of the committee, both from the Bloc and the Liberal Party, with similar questions about where it was were told the same thing.
We all jumped to the conclusion that somehow we had missed that information in our offices, and so we went ahead with clause by clause. The bill went through committee stage and, of course, it is now back in the House for report stage and third reading.

After November 16, I again told the clerk that I did not have the information in my office and asked if it could be sent to my office again. Yesterday morning when I arrived at my office, it was not there. We called again at that point and were advised that in fact it had never been sent either to my office or to anyone on the committee, because it had been sent to the office of the Minister of Public Safety and that it had at least been there by November 16.

That information was never provided to the committee. The committee went ahead with clause by clause without all of that factual information, which was our only source of such information.

Yesterday, I was advised by the Conservative deputy House leader that in fact the minister had that information on his desk and had not seen or approved it. I have to say as a sidebar that he has no right to approve it; this is not a situation where he gets to vet that information. If committees are going to work in the House, they must have access to information without it being censored, deleted or affected in any other way by the decisions of the political masters in our legislature.

I still do not have the information. I had wanted it yesterday, as I had expected to speak on this bill then and to use some of data to try to convince the House to vote against this bill. I still do not have it. I was advised by the Conservative deputy House leader yesterday that I might get it in another week.

We know that if that happens, this bill is going to come to a vote before we ever get the information, and I am certainly not going to be able to use it today in my arguments for why we should defeat this bill. The minister should not have done that.
Of course, the theme of Con secrecy (with its variations related to timing the disclosure of documents after it's too late for them to matter, the civil service being co-opted for Con political strategies, and Cons interposing themselves between the public service and others entitled to information) is a fairly familiar one. But this looks like a fairly striking example which manages to have gone entirely unreported.

Which is particularly a shame since the opposition parties appear to have come up with an effective countermove. Comartin presented a motion to deal with the Cons' bill on the faint hope clause:
I move that:

Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for the purpose of reconsidering Clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 with a view to making any amendments which may be called for as a result of information undertaken to be placed before the Committee by departmental officials on November 4th, but which the office of the Minister of Public Safety failed to provide before the Committee considered the Bill at clause-by-clause.
Comartin's motion is set to be voted on today. And assuming the opposition parties all support it, it would seem to be at least a start in sending a message that the Cons can't simply delay and deny their way out of proper debate on their policies.

No reason for optimism

March 2009: The Wall government unveils a budget which assumes that Saskatchewan would be the only jurisdiction on the planet not affected by the global recession, and relies on potash sales to fund over a fifth of the province's operations despite obvious reason to doubt the projection. When the NDP points out the problems with the Sask Party's projections, Brad Wall chides the NDP for not being optimistic.

August 2009: The Wall government acknowledges that its initial estimates were far off the mark, with potash revenue alone sinking by over a billion dollars from the Sask Party's inflated projections. When the NDP notes the sudden turnaround, Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer blames a "negative perfect storm", and says we should hope for better in the rest of the year to come.

November 2009: The Wall government again revises its estimates downward - concluding that even its August revision resulted in an an estimate more than five times the province's take from potash royalties - and finally acknowledges that Saskatchewan itself is in a recession. When the NDP points out the pattern, Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer...criticizes the NDP for not being optimistic.

Now, one can fairly point out that optimism is a virtue as a motivating factor when paired with some plausible vision for positive change. But it's a different story when it comes to the brand of "optimism" that pyramid schemes and economic bubbles are made of, in which somebody who should know better convinces others to stake their fortunes on unrealistic hopes. And it takes particular gall to keep on demanding the benefit of the doubt after two previous sets of promises have already come crashing down.

Needless to say, it's that latter brand of wilful blindness that the Wall government is demanding from the NDP and the province to paper over its incompetence. Which leaves only the question of whether Saskatchewan's voters will recognize by 2011 that when the basis for ill-placed optimism runs contrary to reality, reality will ultimately win out every time.

Deep thought

As long as the Cons are refusing to even confirm the fact that an investigation is going on at Public Works Canada on their watch, it would be irresponsible not to speculate which Conservative cabinet ministers are about to be indicted.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On definitions

Shorter Con reaction to the 20th anniversary of Ed Broadbent's motion to end child poverty within 11 years:

Poverty can be made to go away if we simply redefine the terms involved. For example, if one defines "child poverty" as "Canada's employment rate", then we've accomplished wonders in reducing it since taking office.

Well said

Ed Broadbent:
First, we should have no illusions about where our poor children are to be found. Most are in families with two adults. Most poor adults work. Most of them have incomes so low that they can't afford housing and can't adequately feed or clothe their kids. If kids are members of aboriginal or immigrant Canadian families, the odds are even much greater that they will be poor.

Second, this poverty was not inevitable. Mostly it is the product of governments that have neither shared nor cared. As a Unicef report last Friday pointed out, Canadian politicians have failed our children. During the 1990s, the federal government abandoned a leadership role for Canada's poor. It unilaterally cancelled the Canada Assistance Plan with the provinces, eliminated all low-cost housing programs, ceased to set the pattern for minimum wages and failed to bring in a national child-care program. Perhaps most serious and unbelievable of all, it exacerbated the inequality that was emerging in the marketplace by changing the income-tax system to the advantage of the richest Canadians.

On the 20th anniversary of a noble parliamentary resolution, let's acknowledge our failure. And then reverse course. Instead of an income-tax policy favouring the rich, let's do the opposite. For a start, let's get our poor, hard-working families what they need immediately: more money.

For more than a decade, it is upper-income Canadians – not the poor or middle class – who have disproportionately benefited from globalization and deregulation. Therefore, I say that increasing their share of income taxes would be based on neither greed nor class envy. It should be called justice.

On conduits

With yesterday's whiff out of the way, let's move on to the more important issues surrounding ten-per-centers. In this post, I'll take a look at the strategic implications of the Libs or any other opposition party seeking an end to them, and follow up with another post on the principle of the matter.

At the outset, let's draw a distinction between three types of communication which are used by federal politicians to get their message out to the public. The first is government-based communication, which takes up by far the largest share of cost - and which, while theoretically neutral and limited to informing the public about federal programs, is bound to at least somewhat support the interests of the party in power. Of course, under the Cons this type of advertising has tilted as far toward partisan messaging as Harper and his party can get away with.

On the opposite extreme is party-based communication, which is at least nominally privately funded (though of course publicly-funded tax credits, rebates and subsidies play a significant role in their distribution) and by definition intended solely for the purpose of partisan advantage. There too the Cons are largely able to dominate the field due to their historical fund-raising advantage.

The third type is then MP-based communication, consisting of householders and ten-per-centers. In theory, this type of communication lies on the middle ground between the other two in terms of content and focus: it's naturally more partisan than government-purchased messaging, but in theory shouldn't be as much so as the material that parties purchase for themselves. (The "middle ground" theory does break down in terms of cost, but only because there's almost certainly less money spent on MP-based communication than the other extremes - which hardly seems like reason to focus on it as the most deserving of limitation.)

And most importantly, MP-based communication is also the type where the Cons have the least relative advantage in getting their message out: one could assume in theory that it should roughly reflect the proportion of seats each party holds in the House of Commons, but in fact the ten-per-center system as it stands is probably best seen as a potential equalizer between all of the parties in Parliament.

Mind you, it's probably true that the Libs have failed to maximize their use of the medium. But surely that can be seen as a problem worth fixing rather than an inevitability.

Indeed, it would seem obvious that the Libs and the other opposition parties are in fact best served defending the type of communication which theoretically allows them the best chance of countering the Cons' control over the federal government and their party-level fund-raising strength. But that fact likely hasn't been lost on the Cons as well - which may be one of the main reasons why the Cons have effectively turned the medium into a purely partisan one featuring their most odious attacks and lies.

For the Libs to attack the medium rather than the Cons' misuse of it then completely misses the point. Particularly with another reorganization in the books, the Libs should be eager to look for ways of spreading their message - not publicly demanding that they be silenced in one of the few formats they currently have available to make their case to voters in Con-held ridings. If anything, the Cons are probably doing Ignatieff a favour by not taking up his invitation, as any restriction on MP-based communication only means that the material available to Canadians will include more from the categories where the Cons are able to completely dominate the field.

Even if the Libs have no idea what they want to say for now, they surely can't believe that they'll ever get back to power without someday coming up with a message which they'll need to put in front of Canadians. And the more the Libs do now to limit their means of spreading any consistent theme later on, the more likely they'll make it that the Cons' message will continue to win out for far too long to come.

On zombie numbers

Apparently Andrew Steele was right about one thing, as Jack Mintz' inflated and misleading job number has been parroted nonstop by HST backers from the moment it was first released (even by those who should know better). So let's quickly recap the main problems with Mintz' report, as well as pointing out how it's completely incompatible with one of the main pro-HST talking points.

The much-bandied-about "591,000 jobs" number:
- incorporates other tax changes along with the HST. On this ground alone, anybody saying "the HST will create 591,000 jobs" can be dismissed as either not knowing what they're talking about or lying through their teeth;
- doesn't take into account negative job impacts from the increased taxes on individuals;
- relies on assumptions about marginal tax rates which completely ignore the reality that reductions in one jurisdiction such as Ontario may simply result in a corporation paying more tax elsewhere;
- ignores existing policies such as research tax incentives and municipal tax benefits which affect the amount of investment made by the private sector; and
- ignores the fact that a focus on capital investment may actually reduce employment in some cases (by encouraging the relative use of capital as opposed to labour).

But let's add another major problem to the mix. Mintz' numbers assume that all of the benefit of tax harmonization will flow directly to businesses, counting every dollar of PST elimination as applying to a reduction in corporate marginal effective tax rates. That would appear to be completely incompatible with the oft-cited claim that businesses will in fact pass along any amount of their PST savings to consumers, as money which doesn't stay in corporate hands surely wouldn't figure to alter investment decisions.

In sum, there's no reason to let pro-HST voices double-count the supposed benefits of harmonization. If they want to claim that any corporate tax reductions will be passed along to consumers, then that has to be taken into account in any wishcasting as to how much money corporations will have at their disposal to invest; or conversely, anybody trumpeting Mintz' jobs number can be assumed to believe that not a red cent of any tax savings will actually be passed along to consumers. And the fact that the pro-HST side has thus far been based on so many utterly inconsistent claims would tend to signal that they'll be reluctant to face up to the realities once that choice is put in front of them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The reviews are in

Norman Spector (!):
Perusing reports of Janine Krieber’s anti-Ignatieff missile, er missive, this morning, I notice a discrepancy in the English- and French-language coverage.

In La Presse, we read that Stéphane Dion’s wife may be thinking about joining the NDP — a point that Chantal Hébert also makes on her L'actualité blog . In English, there’s no mention of what would be a rather startling development should it come to pass.
The more likely explanation for the discrepancy in the coverage is the longstanding tendency of the media to give short shrift to the NDP — a tendency that is less and less evident in Québec.
Let’s be frank: Whether you agree with them or not, the NDP has been consistent in its opposition to the Afghanistan war — even after the 9/11 attacks, when it was not easy to take this position. And it was also noticeable, last week, that the NDP was the first party in Ottawa to call for a public hearing into Mr. Colvin’s allegations — a bandwagon that the other opposition parties quickly jumped on to.

One of the NDP spokespersons, Paul Dewar, radiates sincerity on the issue — as opposed to the faux outrage one normally sees on our television screens coming from Ottawa. And, in Jack Harris, the Dippers appear to have an MP who can match Bob Rae in competence.

So let’s give credit where credit is due. And, with the NDP riding high in the polls and even outscoring the Liberals in the Hochelaga by-election, isn’t it also time for the media to take the party more seriously and give them a bit more coverage?

On misinterpretations

Note: See update below.

I'll go into more detail later about the strategic mistake behind Michael Ignatieff's demands on 10-per-centers. But before going down that road, it's worth noting that Ignatieff seems to have completely lost track of the issue he's supposed to be dealing with.

At the start of his letter, he alludes to the difference between householders and 10-per-centers, with the former presumably consisting of mailings from an MP to his or her riding, and the latter of mailings from an MP to another riding. Which seems to me to be entirely consistent with how the terms are normally used.

But how does one then make sense of Ignatieff's demands?
For that reason, I am urging you and the other members of the Board, to take the following steps:

1. Ten percenters should be limited to a Member's own riding;
2. The practice of ten percenter "regroupings" must be abolished; and
3. The name of the leader of the sending member's party must be included in any ten percenter and the leader must explicitly endorse the content of the product.
From what I can tell, if #1 was actually carried out as the parties actually understand the term "ten percenter", then the effect would be to abolish ten-per-centers entirely. Which would of course make the other two recommendations entirely moot.

More charitably, one can interpret "ten percenter" in the recommendations to actually refer to "householders". Of course, there's a reason why those terms are different: the "ten percent" wording itself is a reference to the proportion of a riding outside an MP's own which can be targeted with a mailing, such that it can't sensibly be applied to mailings within an MP's own riding. But at least one can then make sense of Ignatieff's demands if that's what his wording reflects: #1 would serve to abolish ten-per-centers as normally understood, while the latter two demands would place limits on the use of householders within an MP's own riding.

That would still raise serious questions as to whether we really want even more political communication to be focused on leaders rather than the connection between MPs and constituents. But it's particularly odd that one can't even get to that substantive issue without overlooking the fact that Ignatieff's letter utterly mangles the terminology used for MP mailings. And that might be taken as a sign that Ignatieff and his inner circle really don't understand just what it is that they're calling for.

Update: In comments, anonymous notes that while the controversy around ten-per-centers has generally involved their being sent into ridings other than the one held by an MP, there's no reason in principle why they can't similarly be sent into an MP's own riding. Which does mean that Ignatieff's set of demands makes at least some sense referring to ten-per-centers alone - though concerns about the content which might potentially go into an MP's own riding if ten-per-centers are limited to that audience seem rather far afield from the problems being raised now.

So, my mistake on that front. But as Ian notes in comments, there's still the substantive issue of the disconnect between MPs and constituents to be dealt with.

Update II: Should I be more or less embarrassed now that the National Post editorial board has made the same error? Yes, I'm thinking "more" too.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Most of the discussion before and after yesterday's win over Calgary has surrounded the starting quarterbacks. And Darien Durant certainly deserves the credit he's received for his performance in the game. But let's leave no room for doubt: the most important factor in the 'Riders' win was a defensive scheme which did more to bottle up Henry Burris than any I've seen in the CFL.

Under normal circumstances, Burris is largely able to dictate the outcome one way or another. Most defences facing Burris spend the entire time on their heels, facing an impossible choice between focusing on coverage and letting him run wild, or spying the quarterback at the expense of receivers getting open deep. And even when Burris' passing isn't up to par, he normally manages to makes some plays with his legs. Which means that opponents mostly have to hope for Burris to miss open receivers and make bad decisions in order to stay in the game.

But not yesterday. Burris managed one long run on the Stamps' first drive - then by my count had a grand total of zero plays the rest of the game where he threatened the 'Riders in the open field. For the most part, that's because Saskatchewan kept him hemmed into a perpetually-collapsing pocket, with different rushers coming at different times to prevent him from waiting for a receiver to get open. And the few times the Stamps designed plays to give Burris more room to operate, Saskatchewan consistently had two waves of defenders coming for him, with the second (hello, Rey Williams!) arriving to drop Burris before he could look downfield after dodging the first (hello, Stevie Baggs!).

In the end, Burris was completely stymied on the ground and couldn't find much weakness in the 'Riders' secondary. And the 'Riders had to be ecstatic with that combination, even if it meant another fairly big game for Joffrey Reynolds.

Of course, the problem for the 'Riders' defence is that the game plan that worked so well against the Stamps will have to be discarded for the Grey Cup - as a scheme designed to frustrate a quarterback who loves to wait for plays to develop would be suicidal against Anthony Calvillo's quick trigger. But the 'Riders' defence has proven extremely versatile this season, and should be able to get back into bend-but-don't-break mode for next week's game.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' offence played roughly in the upper end of its normal range. As usual it showed some inconsistency throughout the game, but it avoided any turnovers other than Steven Jyles' third-down fumble, and converted on most of its opportunities to score to stake the 'Riders to the lead.

The one major concern for the offence has to be a running game which was almost completely ineffective until the team was in prevent mode. But Durant can make up for that in part with his own scrambling, and one has to expect that a game against the Als will be enough of a shootout for the team's passing attack to the be the top priority anyway.

Now, the 'Riders get a chance to win the Grey Cup on fairly friendly turf - and hopefully the crowd will once again be a major factor in Saskatchewan's favour as it has been in the last two home triumphs. But even leaving that advantage aside, the 'Riders have showed throughout the season that they're one of the CFL's top teams on merit - and it'll only take one more great performance to put that title in the history books.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On politicization

Shorter National Post:

We have grave concerns that some new types of toys might carry value-laden messages, and demand a return to the completely depoliticized tradition of GI Joe figurines for boys and E-Z Bake Ovens for girls.

(Edit: fixed labels.)

Real reason to smile

There's understandably been plenty of discussion about Janine Krieber's Facebook post. But it's worth highlighting what sets Krieber's message apart from most of the Libs' recent internal disputes - as instead of using her concerns to try to change the balance of power within the Libs themselves, Krieber is one of far too few to recognize that progressive Canadians already have a better option:
I am looking around me, and certain things are attractive. Like a dedicated party that doesn't challenge its leader at every hiccup in the polls. A party where the rule would be the principle of pleasure, and not assassination. A party where work ethic and competence would be respected and where smiles would be real.

Maybe I'm not dreaming.
Of course, Krieber has already been pressured into removing her initial post - which serves as about the most compelling rebuttal available for those looking to spin it as a sign of Lib willingness to tolerate dissent. And we'll have to see whether Krieber or anybody else around her ends up following through on the obvious implications of her message.

But at the very least, Krieber has given every Lib who disagreed with Michael Ignatieff's conclusion that Stephen Harper deserved to be left in power at the start of this year some reason to question whether there's a better alternative available than trying to turn the Libs into something they're not. And the more individual members start thinking about that possibility, the better the chances that Krieber's optimistic vision of a united effort to reverse Harper's direction through a party unencumbered by the Libs' and Ignatieff's baggage will ultimately come to pass.