Saturday, January 02, 2010

The first step

A quick reminder to those who have seized on Chantal Hebert's column as a possible harbinger of a near-term coalition between the NDP and the Libs, particularly in the wake of Stephen Harper's subsequent prorogation of Parliament.

At last notice, there were two opposition leaders who were willing to cooperate with others to try to ensure that Canada gets better government than what it's received under the Cons. And there was one who, having decided he preferred continued Harper government to an available alternative, decided to run screaming from the very idea of a coalition any time it was mentioned.

Which isn't to say that talk about a coalition can't or shouldn't happen now. But if it's going to, a necessary first step is for Michael Ignatieff to publicly repudiate the aggressive anti-coalition stance which he took over the past year - both as a signal to the NDP that it's worth its time to come back to the table, and to shift the political cost/benefit analysis to suggest there's some chance that he'll follow through with a coalition rather than cutting and running again.

The reviews are in

I'll expand on the topic later. But for now, James Travers:
No one should be more concerned about this Prime Minister's controlling methods than Conservatives. Power so expediently abused in high office becomes a cruel constraint when an election is inevitably lost.

Stephen Harper understood that in opposition. As a Reformer he preached the gospel of parliamentary primacy. As a Conservative leader using memories of ethical failures from the Chrétien era to defeat Paul Martin, Harper promised, hand over heart, to restore accountability.

That, of course, was then. Now the Prime Minister is singularly dominating national affairs. As a new year begins, there will be no one here to ask annoying questions about war and spending or distract attention from the modern Roman circus of Olympic Games.
Systematically, and without explanation, the Prime Minister is testing every limit on his power. Along with successfully shuttering Parliament for the second time, he's neutering committees charged with the primary democratic responsibilities of safeguarding the treasury and forcing the government to explain its actions. He's challenging independent rulings against how Conservatives funded their 2006 election and how this government treats Canadians in trouble abroad.

Politics is an uncompromising blood sport played to win within loose rules. By learning Liberal dirty tricks, adapting to changing circumstances and reinterpreting every regulation in his favour, Harper is proving to be a shrewd and accomplished contestant.

Far less clear is what he accepts as legitimate constraint, the line in the democratic sand not to be crossed.

Last year ministers threatened to go over the head of the de facto head of state if Governor General Michaëlle Jean allowed a coalition of "Liberals, socialists and separatist" to use their Commons majority to topple his minority. This winter Harper is essentially making the argument that Parliament is getting in the way of his government governing.
Whatever happens in the coming months, one reality is inescapable. In taking politics to a different, hyper-controlling and partisan level, the Prime Minister is creating a dangerous legacy...

Friday, January 01, 2010

Musical interlude

Chalk Farm - Lie on Lie


And this is why none of Stephen Harper's previous attacks on democratic accountability have resulted in any well-deserved punishment in his perceptions among the Canadian public. Shorter Globe and Mail:

Sure, Harper's prorogation once again made a mockery of our democracy. But since we can't be bothered to do anything about it, we'll chalk it up as a win for him.

New year, new blog

Most members of the Canadian progressive blogosphere will be familiar with Chrystal and Daphne's writings from Challenging the Commonplace. But for those who haven't seen it yet, their new blog Economicus Ridiculous looks to be a must-read for 2010 and beyond - combining the well-written commentary you'd expect with useful tips on minimal-consumption living. Check it out and add it to your regular reading list if you haven't already.

On questionable precedents

Apparently recognizing that "but...but...but...Chretien!" is wearing thin as a defence of the Harper government's misdeeds, Kelly MacParland unveils a radical new line of attack: "but...but...but...MacKenzie King!"

I particularly look forward to the forthcoming talking point that nobody would have complained when King accused his opponents of caring more about filthy Jap traitors than about Canadian troops abroad.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Still more reviews are in

Adam Radwanski:
(T)o the extent that it helps set the narrative, it reinforces that old impression of a bullying prime minister vastly more concerned with advancing his own partisan interests than in providing good government. A prime minister, in other words, who lacks gravitas, and doesn't look that prime ministerial after all.
(T)he controversy created by proroguing won't necessarily be much smaller than the one that proroguing is meant to escape. Nor is there any guarantee, for that matter, that suspending Parliament will actually work in the latter regard; on the contrary, it could give some people the impression that the Conservatives have a big problem they need to run away from.

Again, this isn't the sort of thing that's going to make or break the government. But it does fit into a rather familiar pattern.

For all the talk of strategic or tactical genius, this is the same party that spent most of the last campaign taking the heat off Stephane Dion with a series of totally avoidable gaffes, and wound up with only a minority government in the easiest election it will ever face. The same party that, almost immediately after that election, nearly brought itself down by totally overplaying its hand. I could go on.

In the past few years, the Conservatives have committed enough unforced errors to rival the Leafs' defencemen. Proroguing Parliament may prove to be another one.
Of course, if Radwanski is right, it's because the prorogation does fit with a message that fits with Harper's existing negatives. So it'll be the task of those who recognize the danger of Harper's efforts to avoid accountability to make that message stick (while keeping the torture cover-up and other issues alive to be revived when Parliament resumes).

More reviews are in

John Geddes:
Fixes for specific shortcomings in the functioning of the House can usually be found. For example, the current impasse concerning turning documents related to the detainee issue over to MPs might be settled by creating a special committee parliamentarians sworn in to hear national security secrets. Many observers have floated promising ideas for improving the tone of Question Period and the functioning of Commons committees.

But all this depends on the executive branch, the Prime Minister and cabinet, showing decent respect for parliamentary tradition. And that means, above all, accepting the Opposition’s role as valid and integral, an idea that evolved in Britain, with the term “His Majesty’s Opposition” coming into use as a convention in the course of debate in 1826.

The Harper government has adopted a position dangerously close to the notion that opposition questioning of the government on any matter relating to Afghanistan is somehow inherently disloyal. As far back as 2007, the Prime Minister himself accused the then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion of caring more about the Taliban than for Canadian troops. In recent weeks government ministers have made a habit recklessly equating defending their own handling of the detainee file with defending the behaviour of Canada’s troops in Kandahar.

That’s not just an obnoxious debating tack. Implicit in the ploy is the notion that the Opposition shouldn’t be pressing the government in the first place on the most serious questions of foreign and defence policy. As if to do so is inherently disloyal. It’s a throwback to the 16th and 17th centuries, when British MPs were permitted to ask about local or private matters, but the big questions of state were out of bounds.

There is no quick fix to a national atmosphere in which proper regard for the House, which calls for something approaching reverence for its conventions, has been deteriorating for so long. We’ve gone on too long talking too often as if the House doesn’t deserve respect. Given that lazy habit in our national conversation, it’s not surprising that the Prime Minister believes he can slam the doors on the place without paying any political price.

On resolutions

With a New Year set to dawn in the wake of the latest Con abuse of power, now would be a good time both to get some donations in to your friendly neighbourhood opposition party before the end of 2009, and to resolve to make sure the Cons' competitors are well-equipped in 2010 and beyond. So here are a few donation links to keep in mind.

- The Cons know well that prorogation will both make opposition research more difficult since Parliament's accountability mechanisms are shut down, and give the government an easier time controlling the public message. A one-time or monthly donation to the NDP can help balance out the Cons' use of public resources for their own purposes. (I'll suggest a one-time donation of $63 - making for a dollar each day the Cons have locked the NDP out of Parliament.)

- Equally importantly, NDP riding associations need funding in order to keep pace with the Cons in the next election campaign (whenever that happens). In order to help elect Saskatchewan NDP MPs in Parliament to replace Cons as soon as possible, a donation to Nettie Wiebe in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar or Noah Evanchuk in Palliser can help to flip a seat that's well within reach. Or if you'd like to help build the NDP's longer-term efforts in other Saskatchewan seats where it already holds a solid second place, you can donate to John Parry in Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, Denise Kouri in Saskatoon-Humboldt, Valerie Mushinski in Prince Albert, and/or Darien Moore in Blackstrap.

Ever cooperative

Shorter Dean Del Mastro, as the Cons' apparent spokesflack on prorogation:

We'll give you the truth about the Afghanistan torture coverup when you pry it from our cold, dead hands.

On motives

I'm in general agreement with the consensus theory that the main motive for Stephen Harper's decision to shut down Parliament yet again is the desire to avoid accountability for the Cons' torture cover-up. But I'd think it's worth considering the possibility that at least part of Harper's motivation also involves wanting to normalize the idea of prorogation itself.

Whatever one's view of its legitimacy, the most recent example of prorogation prior to yesterday took place at a time of heightened political awareness and conflict - likely raising some public perception that we should expect prorogation to be hotly debated and questioned, not brought out of the government's bag of tricks anytime it finds accountability to be a nuisance. And perhaps more importantly, one would expect the Governor-General to take an awfully critical look at any future request which was based on avoiding a non-confidence vote if Harper established a clear pattern of only seeking prorogation for that purpose.

In other words, Harper's evisceration of convention and gratuitous recourse to nebulous executive powers might well be seen as a feature, not a bug. And the most dangerous part of yesterday's events is the precedent that prorogation can be easily obtained with a phone call at any time - and that neither Parliament nor the Governor-General has any recourse in the face of an executive decision to run for the hills.

Many reviews are in

Michael Behiels:
It is becoming patently obvious Harper now presides over a minority government that can all-too-readily be characterized as a not-so-benign dictatorship. Harper successfully exploits the first-past-the-post electoral system -- which he and Flanagan denounced as immature -- and the ideological and political divisions within the opposition parties, to impose his unflinching will on his cabinet, caucus, and what he characterizes as an utterly dysfunctional House of Commons, one made so by the government itself. With his appointment of yet more Conservatives to the Senate, Harper will exercise full and unfettered power over Parliament, a power which he will readily use to cow the judicial branch of government with his so-called tough-on-crime legislation.
Harper's continued use of such bold, provocative and intimidating tactics proves that he is morally convinced that the end -- unfettered power for his Conservative party and government and the wholesale destruction of the centrist Liberal party -- justifies the means.
Susan Riley:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to shut down Parliament for his own partisan convenience -- no more nasty questions about Afghan detainees, no more challenges from a "Liberal-dominated Senate" -- is shocking, but hardly surprising.

It is an expression of this prime minister's contempt not just for Parliament, but for government.

So much for those urgent Tory crime measures that will die on the order paper; so much for an adult debate on the deficit, or pension reform, or Afghanistan after 2011. The assumption is that we will be so wrapped up in the Olympics we won't notice the long silence from Ottawa. We will, in fact, welcome it.

If Harper is right, we deserve the government we aren't getting. This is a richly-blessed country with a well-educated, relatively prosperous population and a degraded political culture. And until its citizens move from apathy and cynicism to outrage and involvement, nothing will change.

Instead, we have seen a decline in political discourse from the theatrical jousting of the Mulroney era, to the crankiness of the Chrétien years to the imbecilic insults and bald-faced lies that dominate politics in the age of Harper.
The Halifax Chronicle-Herald:
Traditionally, majority governments prorogue Parliament when they legitimately run out of items on their agenda. But Mr. Harper is now perversely, repeatedly and cynically using such mechanisms to suit his own partisan agenda.

Prime ministers have much overt and covert power at their disposal. But to use the Constitution as a convenience store — and as a means to buck the system or to duck accountability — is to debase it, something that doesn’t faze Mr. Harper.
Andrew Coyne:
The government’s professed rationale, that this is all about economic planning, is obvious bilge: nothing prevents a government from planning and meeting Parliament at the same time, or certainly shouldn’t. The informal justification its supporters are putting about is scarcely better: it may be inconvenient to the government that its appointees do not yet control all Senate committees, but that is no reason to shutter Parliament. It is a motive, not a defense.
Each time Parliament allows one of these abuses to pass, its power is reduced a little more. Indeed, so diminished has it become that it is hard for some observers to muster much indignation at this latest assault: it’s only Parliament, after all. It’s exactly this sort of whittling away by degrees that has allowed closure, for example, to be invoked more or less routinely to cut of Parliamentary debates, where once it was to be used only in the most extreme circumstances. It was the improper use of closure, recall, that set off the wild, four-week brawl known as the Pipeline Debate. Now, nobody can be bothered.

The time has long since passed for Parliament to take a stand against its own evisceration. The really substantive issue is whether the government will yield to the Commons demand that it produce the Colvin documents, and perhaps that fight can be resumed in March. But proroguing to delay that day of reckoning, possibly in hopes of sneaking through another snap election in the interval, is worthy of some sort of Parliamentary rebuke, which is why the symbolic measure (and it could only be that) of MPs meeting in another place came to mind.
The Ottawa Citizen:
Like many an absolute ruler before him, he might find it convenient to dismiss the people's representatives when they get in the way. Despite appearances, though, he's not an absolute ruler. Eventually, he'll have to face an election.

Harper's Conservatives once promised a more open and transparent government. Instead, they take every opportunity to be cynical, secretive and radically partisan -- even when they don't need to be. It's become an ugly habit. The Afghan detainee controversy only became a problem for this government because of its defensive response. The Harper cabinet created a public-relations nightmare for itself, and is now trying to wriggle out by creating another.
We don't pay our members of Parliament not to show up for work. If Conservative MPs don't want to go to the trouble of attending committee meetings, or even going through the motions in question period every day, there are plenty of would-be MPs from other parties who would gladly take their place.
James Travers:
Apart from those partisan advantages, the timing could hardly be worse for a dark Parliament.

While Canadians struggle with recession's aftershocks, Harper risks being seen as more interested in maximizing a sporting spectacle Conservatives are doing everything possible to make their own.

Less likely to be noticed but no less important, the Prime Minister is piling on fresh evidence that accountability is a fiction, an election promise easily made and forgotten.

Whatever else it achieves, suspending Parliament first and foremost blinkers oversight. Having tried and failed to blame abuse reports on a bureaucrat just doing his job, Harper is now trying to push it under the carpet for two critical months and perhaps much longer.
The Calgary Herald:
Prorogation is a gap between sessions of a legislative body, during which time the body's activities are suspended and the usual slate of political business (the proposal, debate and passage of bills and motions) is largely wiped clean, to be started from scratch in the next session.

This is a measure which ought to be used only in times of crisis, before elections or in instances when a government believes it has completed its legislative agenda. None of these conditions apply at present. Harper's misuse of prorogation will only heighten cynicism about the political process. Many Canadians already cynically believe that their elected officials accomplish next to nothing. Now, that belief will be borne out for two months.
Stephen Maher:
Why should we labour while the television will be filled with athletes from around the world straining Lycra and breaking records in the ice rinks and snowy mountains of British Columbia? So on Wednesday, a spokesman for Mr. Harper announced that there is no need for anyone in Canada to work during the Olympics.

Workplaces will be shut down — except for emergency services — for a two-week national holiday.


Oops. Sorry. I’ve just received a clarification.

Actually, you do have to keep working. It’s just members of Parliament who don’t have to work.

My mistake.

You will be pleased to know that your parliamentary representatives can put their feet up and give the luge the attention it deserves.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Truth in Logos

pale has a great start to spoofing the Cons' attitude toward the Canadian public. But let's go with the full visual effect:

Deep thought

Those suggesting that MP shouldn't get paid during the course of a Parliamentary prorogation may just be on to something. After all, I can't think what could go wrong allowing a wannabe-despot Prime Minister's whims to determine whether or not opposition MPs have any source of income.

Update: Or put more broadly, this isn't a case of reason for outrage over MPs or the Parliamentary system in general. The prorogation is the result of the order of a single individual, and there's no reason to see it as reflecting anything other than Stephen Harper's personal disdain for Parliamentary accountability.

Simple answer to many complicated questions

Andrew Coyne:
In what other democracy is it permissible for the government of the day to hide from the legislature for months at a time? To ignore explicit parliamentary votes demanding the production of documents? To stonewall independent inquiries? Perhaps the rules allow it elsewhere, but is it the practice? Does convention not still forbid it? Is it not viewed in other countries as dictatorial behaviour, and therefore, you know … not done?
In fact, none of the Cons' behaviour is any more "permissible" or in accordance with "the rules" in Canada than it would be anywhere else. But the next time Stephen Harper shows any conscience about demolishing laws, rules, convention or any other set of principles in the name of political gain will be the first - and what we lack are enforcement mechanisms to hold a sociopathic government to even minimal standards of behaviour.

On "have-not" journalism

Pay no attention to those leftist propagandists at the likes of Alberta Oil Magazine: your corporate media overlords have now decided that Saskatchewan's ascension into "have" status - previously acknowledged to have happened under the NDP in 2005 - has been retroactively delayed until 2007 for Brad Wall's political benefit. Your immediate attention to this matter is appreciated.

On alternative compensation

It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Cons' idea of pension reform is to slash retirement benefits for public servants rather than improving them for anybody else. But let's look on the bright side: is there any more likely trigger for some real information to start leaking out about the Cons' actions in office than for thousands of public employees to be arm-twisted into sticking around long after a retirement date they've been promised for decades?

Sir Stephen's Song

Coming soon to a BT minstrel performance near you:
Brave Sir Stephen ran away.
Bravely ran away, away!
When questions reared their ugly head,
He bravely turned his tail and fled.
Yes, brave Sir Stephen turned about
And gallantly he chickened out.
Bravely taking to his feet
He beat a very brave retreat,
Bravest of the brave, Sir Stephen!

He is packing it in and packing it up
And sneaking away and buggering up
And chickening out and pissing off home,
Yes, bravely he is throwing in the sponge...
(Adapted from.)

Update: As balbulican notes in comments, great minds think alike. (And balb does much more with the adaptation.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The reviews are in

Susan Riley:
Dissembling, distorting and spin are, lamentably, part of politics and have been forever. But (Peter) MacKay's distortions are particularly blatant. He has a tendency to passionately advocate for some position, then, when contradicted by fact or logic, to lash out at opponents like a shrill boy backed into a corner.
MacKay (and the prime minister) accuse opponents of impugning the reputation of the troops -- more desperately as their carefully contrived defences crumble. This is not only untrue, it is deplorably cowardly. MacKay and Harper are hiding their own political mistakes behind the valour and professionalism of Canada's forces.

Now the minister is denying he ever attacked whistle-blower Richard Colvin personally and insists that he never used the words "Taliban dupe." But he did disparage Colvin for relying on the word "of people who throw acid into the faces of schoolchildren" -- implying that the diplomat's sources were exclusively Taliban fanatics.

That said, the weasel words, wilful blindness and savage partisanship that characterize the government's response has been a "whole-of- government" effort, from surprisingly incurious generals and senior bureaucrats, to timely leaks to friendly journalists, to Transport Minister John Baird's rabid, random, verbal flame-throwing.
Now there are calls for MacKay's resignation, but Harper will not want to risk a backlash in Atlantic Canada (or admit that the minister was only following orders). Still, MacKay may be moved to a lower-profile ministry in some future shuffle.

For now, he will survive with his reputation intact. That, of course, is his problem.

On advocacy

Cathie has nicely pointed out a few of the problems with the latest from the Star-Phoenix editorial board, this time slamming the idea of First Nations patient advocates. But let's ask a couple of additional questions about the editorial which seem to suggest a gap between how the Star-Phoenix has approached the FSIN proposal and how it's treated other health questions.

Here's the passage which particularly piques my interest:
There is a danger, should the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations get its wish of a patient advocate to address problems some First Nation people feel they have in obtaining health care, that it will result in longer lines, exponential cost increases and another layer of bureaucracy in a system front-line workers already complain is heavily bureaucratized.
Let's ask first: has the Star-Phoenix ever raised even the slightest concern that patient advocates or patient-first review processes make for needless bureaucracy in any context other than the FSIN's proposal? (On my first look the answer seems to be "no", but I'm curious if I've missed something.) And if not, then why would it be that the lone area of Saskatchewan's health-care system where the Star-Phoenix disapproves of advocate-type roles is the one where there are serious jurisdictional issues for patients to navigate?

And then there's the second issue raised by the Star-Phoenix' choice of cover. Since when is anybody at CanWest interested in front-line staff concerns about the allocation of resources in the health sector? And how quickly will that interest be forgotten when it comes time for the next editorial on, say, wage negotiations?

File not found

Remember the much-ballyhooed (if not entirely uncriticized) CCPA study by Ernie Lightman which proclaimed that tax harmonization would have only a small negative effect on individual citizens?

I ask only since the CCPA's previous link to the study has now disappeared. As has any reference to the key terms of the study's title off the CCPA's website:

Of course, the study's disappearance will almost certainly receive far less attention than the corporate-friendly headlines which it generated initially. But it's worth noting that the spinmeisters still pointing to the study in a losing battle to sell the HST are relying on material which has apparently been disavowed even by its own sponsor - leaving all the less reason to take the pro-harmonization case seriously.

Actions speak louder than words

Brad Wall's spin:
SP: Many people have looked at this and said the most important long-term issue in Saskatchewan is reconciling aboriginal people with the rest of the province, with quality of life, economic opportunity for aboriginal, First Nations people. Are you satisfied with what your government has done in the first two years in office?

BW: I think more needs to be done, not just on the part of government but on the part of all the partners that are involved, including First Nations themselves and industry. We're not yet complete with respect to the framework for the duty to consult and accommodate. We're very close, we've been dealing with these issues, even in the last number of days. We're very close.
Brad Wall's reality:
FSIN's Circle of Partners Advisory Committee - highlighted just this spring as an example of the Sask Party's commitment to engaging with First Nations - has apparently been "determined to be unnecessary by Enterprise (Saskatchewan)". We'll see how kindly the FSIN takes to being told by big business that its input is neither necessary nor welcome.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Federal NDP Year in Review 2009: Incremental Progress

For any NDP supporters looking for instant gratification out of the political scene, 2009 might seem to rank as a disappointment on the surface. But on a closer look, there's plenty to like about what the NDP was able to accomplish on the year even as some of its more ambitious goals may not have worked out - and there's ample reason to look forward to how the events of 2009 will position the party for the future.

In the department of what might have been, the obvious starting point is the progressive coalition. The NDP has never been theoretically closer to power on the federal scene than it was at the start of 2009, with a coalition agreement raising the prospect that the NDP would take a historic place in the federal cabinet within a matter of weeks. But while the NDP followed a shrewd political maneuver with a valiant public defence of the coalition even as their supposed partners sat on the sidelines, the effort went for naught when Michael Ignatieff decided that he'd rather leave Stephen Harper in power than try to offer an alternative.

While the coalition may have been the largest missed opportunity of 2009, it wasn't the only point where potential watershed events for the NDP wound up producing less results than may have seemed possible. The party's Halifax convention, while generally well-attended and well-received, didn't produce any of the transformational discussion about the NDP's future that some might have hoped for. An apparent opening for broad policy progress created by the Libs' fall announcement that they were withdrawing support from the Cons was quickly slammed shut by the Cons' public refusal to negotiate with the NDP. And despite two historic shows of weakness for the Libs - one after the 2008 election with Stephane Dion still in charge, one in the latter part of 2009 under Ignatieff - the NDP wasn't able to pull itself within striking distance of second place in the national polls.

So anybody projecting the best possible outcome from the potential turning points may have ended up disappointed. But for those committed to the longer-term goal of building the party, there's every reason to be satisfied with the results from 2009.

To start with, the NDP proved remarkably adept in minimizing the damage from events beyond its control which had the potential to cause significant trouble for the party. While some pundits have tried to treat that agility as a basis for criticism, it's surely a sign of political skill that the NDP was able to get its public support back to normal levels in short order both after bearing the entire weight of the progressive coalition on its shoulders last winter, and after shifting from a years-long message of voting non-confidence in order to pass positive changes to EI this fall.

What about the need to build off the current support base? The best news on that front obviously comes from the NDP's strong by-election showings - with significant gains in three of four ridings, including an 11-point boost in the party's margin of victory in New Westminster-Coquitlam even with a new federal candidate in Fin Donnelly replacing a party stalwart in Dawn Black.

Of course, the by-election results were helped by the NDP's position as the lone federal party opposing the imposition of the HST on the citizens of B.C. (and Ontario). And that position should serve the NDP well in the years to come - adding a new dimension to the NDP's traditional policy strengths in areas such as health care, the environment and consumer protection.

But perhaps the most significant trend for the NDP's future has been its continued progress in Quebec. Contrary to expectations that Ignatieff's ascension would push federalist votes back into the Libs' camp, the NDP managed to stay within range of its 2008 election levels of support even through Iggy's honeymoon period. And with Ignatieff now losing favour in Quebec and elsewhere, the NDP looks to have resumed its upward trajectory in polls both formal (i.e. the Hochelaga by-election) and otherwise.

Mind you, there's still a lot of work ahead of the NDP. And the next key steps may be among the more difficult ones in bridging the gap between a fourth party and a government-in-waiting.

In Quebec, the NDP's inroads haven't yet pushed into serious contention in more than a few seats. And it'll take a serious push to end the Bloc's hold on the province to turn respectable polling numbers into seats.

And perhaps most importantly, the Layton NDP still hasn't been able to gain much of a foothold in vote-rich urban and suburban Ontario. With the Libs and Cons already engaged in a fierce battle over suburbia and most of the urban seats firmly in Lib hands, the going looks to be tough in trying to push the NDP into contention in significantly more Ontario seats. But progress in that area is an obvious must for the party if it wants to continue down the path toward government.

With those hurdles looming, 2010 and beyond won't be any easier for the NDP than the last year has been. But while the NDP didn't come out of 2009 with seats at the federal cabinet table or a shiny new party name, it did manage to keep on track toward its longer-term goals. And we'll find out in time just how much this year's progress will contribute toward the ultimate effort to build a national governing party.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On thick analysis

Alison has already taken on much of the Star's latest trial balloon about a Canada/U.S. "security perimeter". But there's another point of sheer absurdity in the argument that Canada should continually offer up key elements of its sovereignty in hopes of currying favour in Washington.

After all, the sole reason given as to why Canada should volunteer to give up control over its own borders is that the Canada/U.S. border is "thickening" due to American domestic politics.

But if that's the case despite the concessions Canada has already made in order to sign agreements which were specifically aimed at protecting our market access, then doesn't that offer fairly conclusive evidence that nothing we can do as a country will actually trump those domestic calculations? And wouldn't giving away the "last truly huge step" for nothing more than what we're supposed to have already simply encourage even more blatant ignorance of whatever the U.S. agrees to on paper?

The reviews are in

The Star-Phoenix editorial board slams the latest example of Senate entitlement:
Canada's senators, whose ranks are about to swell with another round of politically expedient appointments by the prime minister, have quietly given themselves access to taxpayer-funded international junkets -- a perk they admit isn't available to politicians almost anywhere else.

But, such is their sense of self-importance and entitlement that the unelected Canadian senators feel their needs are unlike those of most other elected politicians.

"The argument can be made, which we were convinced by, that given the role of our Senate -- somewhat individualistic where we have certain causes and we are somewhat thick in our own right -- in some cases there's merit and benefit to our country to allow individual senators to pursue certain activities in international travel," was the convoluted rationale offered by Liberal Sen. Paul Massicotte.

This even though, as he notes, "If you look at U.S. policy, at every province and at the House of Commons -- we should be grown up about this -- it is generally prohibited to do foreign travel without many exceptions. It is nearly a flat-out no."
The prime minister seems to be having some difficulty making the Upper Chamber a responsible arm of government. That's no excuse, however, for its members to act so irresponsibly when it comes to spending the taxpayer's money. This padding of travel privileges is unacceptable and should be withdrawn immediately.