Saturday, March 27, 2010

On open discussions

Following up on this afternoon's post, I'll note one more tidbit from this afternoon's bear pit session which deserves a post of its own.

Throughout the convention, there's been a regular theme encouraging members and others to present whatever ideas they want to put forward within the policy review process, and concurrently making it clear that party members should keep an open mind toward even ideas which might seem "out there" on their face. But in the second-last answer of the session, Dwain Lingenfelter went a step further, telling members not to worry what the press or others outside the party might think of any idea being considered by the party. Which sends a signal that not only will the NDP encourage a fair hearing within the party for the ideas generated by the policy review, but it'll also be willing to defend the concept of open policy discussion against outside attacks rather than shutting down any topic of debate based on image concerns.

Of course, it'll be important to back up that intention with actions when it's (inevitably) tested - and to make sure that the review process itself actually plays a meaningful role in the party's policy development. But Lingenfelter's stand for a truly open policy discussion should at least do plenty to encourage creative thinking in the policy review process. And the more the principle gets absorbed into the NDP's party culture generally, the better our chances of moving past the current politics of segmentation toward a model allowing for far more authentic public involvement.

Saskatchewan NDP Convention 2010 - Saturday Afternoon Recap

I didn't note in this morning's post that the Saskatchewan NDP convention's "internet cafe" was shut down after last night - hence the limited posting today. (That said, thanks to the NDP communications staff for allowing me to use the computer room this morning to put up the earlier post.)

For this afternoon, the most interesting portion of the proceedings (the caucus bearpit) looked to be one where I'd inevitably miss important content if I tried to update during the day. So instead, here's my review of the afternoon's events.

To start with, there was no surprise in the election of the provincial President, as Jane Wollenberg was re-elected by acclamation. That left plenty of time for Darcy Furber to give the host MLA's address prior to the bearpit.

The bearpit itself featured loads of interesting questions from a variety of participants - and no, none of the MLAs (let alone the party leader) had to pitch in filler questions as has apparently happened in some other parties. (In fact, at least five more people were waiting to ask questions when the moderator finally had to call the session to a close.)

Instead, Dwain Lingenfelter kept extremely busy by answering the vast majority of the audience's questions - by my count providing the full answer to 11 of the 19 questions posed by the audience, along with partial answers to 2 more. One had to be impressed by his ability to take the lead role in answering a broad range of issues, though it might have been a plus to hear from a few more caucus members during the session.

Among the interesting answers provided by Lingenfelter:
- The NDP would plan to reinstitute the funding for Station 20 West that was pulled by the Wall government, as well as the neighbourhood organization funding cut in last week's budget.
- On a question about the abandonment of branch lines, Lingenfelter would be open to provincial support for the rail sector, noting that the result could be to save money compared to the cost of instead repairing overburdened highways.
- Responding to a question focused on forestry, Lingenfelter raised for himself the possibility that social housing might make for an effective use of some of the wood products which currently aren't finding a market.

There were a couple of points in Lingenfelter's answers which hit off notes. In response to a question and follow-up about how to get younger citizens interested in the NDP, Lingenfelter's focus on highlighting past policies seemed to miss the questioner's concern. And while he was right to point out the Regina Coronation Park nomination candidates as examples of diversity within the NDP, it's a little surprising that he didn't include Tory McGregor's Metis background - particularly at a convention where First Nations and Metis issues have been in the spotlight, and given that McGregor's former Green allegiances have been mentioned more than once as an example of the NDP's adding support from other parties.

While Lingenfelter's answers were generally well-received, the strongest crowd reaction came from Frank Quennell's lone answer. In response to question about the Wall government's marriage commissioner reference, Quennell slammed the Sask Party for abandoning important legal proceedings on equalization, tobacco and gangs while deciding to commit public money to arguing both sides of a settled question, and got a boisterous standing ovation as his reward.

As for the questioners: while as noted none of the current MLAs got in line to raise issues, a few familiar names did. Robert Hale questioned whether the NDP would be better off focusing on the Sask Party's using the province's rainy-day fund when the sun is shining rather than arguing over whether the budget is technically in deficit or not; Yens Pedersen raised a question on changing environmental legislation to include assessment of the cumulative effect of multiple exploratory oil wells; and Heather McIntyre raised concerns about the Sask Party's privatization by stealth.

After a break and a brief election planning report, the first plenary session began to deal with the convention's resolutions. As usual, most of them passed, but two noteworthy resolutions didn't survive the convention floor: EN10 (setting a 40% GHG reduction target) was referred to the policy review process so that a target could be developed in conjunction with discussion of the means of reaching it, while PA2 on free party membership (discussed in this post) was defeated.

Tonight will feature the nomination meetings for Prince Albert Northcote and Prince Albert Carlton, with more elections and plenary to come tomorrow.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Saskatchewan NDP Convention - Saturday Morning Notes

Some semi-liveblogging for those who can't get enough Saskatchewan politics on the weekend...


Saturday started with a report from Cam Broten as chair of the policy review process, followed by a presentation on demographic trends based on Doug Elliott's work. Of particular interest was the discussion of the province's population fluctuations: in particular, the Devine-era population boom was based on internal birthrates even as out-migration increased, while the future population trends are expected to be based mostly on interprovincial migration which (like most indicators) has been on the upswing since roughly the start of the NDP's 2003 term in government.


Mark Frison takes the podium to discuss his 10 Ideas for 2010, revolving around the idea of increasing participation rates in post-secondary education, particularly trades. While it's tough to disagree with most of the principles, I'd wonder if there's some need to tie the discussion into ways of retaining the newly-trained labour force as well: by way of example, the trend at the U of S' faculty of law (at least last I'd heard) was for roughly half the graduates to move out of province on graduation, and that hadn't changed even as the general migration trends improved.


Frison somewhat addresses the question of out-migrating graduates by noting that unlike in the past, there's no risk of an oversupply of labour to meet demand in the province. That's certainly one important factor to consider, but I'm not sure that oversupply has been much of an issue even as the outmigration has taken place in recent decades.


Another rousing speech from Lawrence Joseph on First Nations engagement, this time with a provincial focus. But probably the strongest message comes in his rightful observation that the convention's "Building Saskatchewan For All People" theme should instead end in "With All People". I'd like to think the party operates generally on the latter principle, with the policy review process as a prime example - but the distinction is worth keeping in mind.


One last entry on this post to discuss Dwain Lingenfelter's leader's address, which featured plenty of recognition for the accomplishments of Allan Blakeney, Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert along with a strong theme that the party's direction should be based on its historic approach.

From my standpoint, the most interesting content I hadn't yet heard was Lingenfelter's goal for party membership - to reach 16,000 by the end of the year, and 20,000 by election day. But to assuage any worries that that might be difficult, Lingenfelter noted that we shouldn't be why about bringing in people currently involved in other parties - aptly mentioning Tommy Douglas' line that "when I started, everybody was a Liberal or a Conservative".

Now, those hoping for Lingenfelter to present an "aw shucks" message may have been disappointed. But the conventiongoers seem to have responded well - which is presumably the audience the NDP needed to reach.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Musical interlude

Econoline Crush - Close

Saskatchewan NDP Convention 2010 - Day 1 Wrapup

One of most interesting developments at this year's convention is the inclusion of an "internet cafe" encouraging conventiongoers to keep in touch with the party on Facebook and Twitter. Expect some updates through that tomorrow - but for tonight, I'll stick to a brief end-of-day wrapup.

The main provincial activity for the afternoon consisted of the resolution panels. I attended the panel on agriculture, the environment and the economy, which roared through 28 resolutions despite some lively debates on both resolution wording and the underlying policies. As expected, most of the resolutions passed with at most minor amendments - but of particular note, two parallel resolutions from the Swift Current riding to phase out coal and uranium mining (EN13 and EN14 for those following along) were tabled rather than being approved for discussion in the plenary session.

That was followed by two federal policy panels: one on First Nations issues featuring Jean Crowder and Lawrence Joseph, and one on rural issues with presentations from Nathan Cullen, Ian McCreary and Nettie Wiebe. The speech of the afternoon was undoubtedly Joseph's, as the NDP's newly-nominated candidate for Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River mixed wit with a strong message on the need to recognize and understand First Nations rights and interests. Joseph's message in turn meshed nicely with Jack Layton's subsequent speech, which included a focus on the NDP's efforts to build links with First Nations across the country (and the star candidates who are emerging as a result).

The day will wrap up with a Pub Night (which I'll be headed to shortly), with tomorrow's events including several provincial policy panels, the leader's address, a caucus bear pit and the first plenary session. So stay tuned, as there's plenty yet to come.

On deferrals

One final post on the Sask Party's budget for now, as there's one item in the list of "savings" which bears watching despite having received relatively little attention so far:
Enterprise Saskatchewan
- $5.1 million in savings for a one-time deferral of funding for the Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA), which will be provided in future years as projects require funding.
Remember that last anybody bothered to inform the public, the WEPA (read: the TILMA by another name would smell as foul) was still a matter of ongoing back-room dealing between B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan rather than a full binding agreement. So it's rather remarkable that the Sask Party already had millions of dollars budgeted for it.

But the deferral raises issues about what costs the agreement is expected to impose, as well as what the lack of funding means for the negotiations which are apparently still in progress. And the fact that the funding is obviously seen as less than essential for this year may well call into question whether even the Sask Party thinks the WEPA will result in any actual benefits for the province.

Saskatchewan NDP 2010 Resolutions - Affordable Warmth Benefit

Let's fit in one more of the resolutions for discussion this weekend, this time an idea to help mitigate against the costs of one of the more obvious costs of Saskatchewan living:
SD1. BE IT RESOLVED that a New Democrat government would create a two
part Seniors’ Affordable Warmth Benefit. The first part would be a universal benefit paid to all seniors during the months requiring heating designed to cover a significant portion of heating costs for senior households. The second part would be an income-tested benefit paid to low-income seniors during the months requiring heating designed to cover the remainder of heating costs for low-income senior households.
- University of Saskatchewan Young New Democrats
Now, I'm not sure that a standalone payment would be my first choice of policies to deal with affordable heating - as targeted funding for actual heating measures (particularly environmentally-friendly ones which may reduce future costs) would seem to promise more return on the province's investment. But it's definitely worth discussing what the province can do to lower the basic cost of living - and the resolution looks to make for a good starting point.

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk on how the Wall government "flawed" budget thoroughly contradicts its rhetoric:
If the Brad Wall brand is integrity, there was serious damage done by trying to sell this budget as a surplus when it actually spends $174 million more than it takes in. In fact, the further one probes into this budget, the worse the political accounting games appear to be.

Balanced with spending cuts? Take a closer look. Its spending reduction is largely based on slashing $300-million worth of capital spending while low-balling traditional operational costs. In other words, there will undoubtedly be another massive correction at mid-term in November -- this time, on the spending side. (The only saving grace is that revenue forecasts may also be low-balled.)

Now, add to all this the thousand little cuts that will nag away at the Sask. Party government and Wall's image for the next year or so.

It is the deepest hope of Wall's spin doctors that he emerges from this budget and goes into the 2011 election year with an image of being a tough, but fair and kind leader.

The problem, however, is that this budget might not allow them to do that.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Warning to Saskatchewan public servants

Informing the public about the Wall government's mistakes is officially a firing offence. But don't worry: gross incompetence still isn't a problem as long as your first loyalty is to the Sask Party.

On selective support

Stephen LaRose makes a great point about the Wall government's decision to axe the Saskatchewan Communications Network, as Brad Wall lent his imprimatur to CTV's "Save Local TV" campaign when that meant filling the pockets of the corporate media, helpfully saying that "our life is much richer because we have local television". So presumably he himself agrees that the province is much poorer for his government's choice choice to slash SCN.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Thursday Afternoon Links

A bit of light reading as the week winds down...

- It didn't get a lot of attention at the time, but it's worth noting the postscript to Jim Prentice's supposed consultations on sustainable development:
More than one person with an interest in the environmental file has pointed out that the Federal Sustainable Development Act requires the government to develop a Federal Sustainable Development Strategy by June 26, 2010. There is a legally-required 120-day consultation period written into the Act.

So, says one of them, “all Mr. Prentice is doing is obeying the law and holding a consultation - late. His government forced him to break the law and miss the deadline when they prorogued Parliament, though, so the comment period closes more than two weeks after the final strategy is required to be completed.”
- Haven't heard enough over the past few days about the insane rantings of right-wing agents provocateur? Then you won't want to miss Barry Cooper's latest, in which he somehow pretends that the Cons' consistent strategy of pretending to be more-environmentally-friendly-than-thou and promising to do something about greenhouse gas emissions "next year" (or "as soon as the U.S. tells us what to do") somehow means that do-nothing denialists have won a major battle of ideas on behalf of conservatism generally. No, seriously.

- To cleanse your intellectual palate after you're done with Cooper, Murray Dobbin's piece on the Harper government's secrecy is worth a look.

- Finally, one piece of coverage from before the Saskatchewan budget looks particularly apt now, as Ken Rasmussen highlights the folly of obsessing about slashing government jobs rather than looking at actual expenditures:
Rasmussen said the Sask. Party government is taking a wrong-headed, although likely politically popular, approach by making its focus the job numbers in the civil service.

Government expenditures are a much better measure of the growth in government, he said. And in fact, while the civil service appears to have roughly doubled since 1960, government spending has increased nearly 70-fold, to $10.2 billion from $148.6 million. Spending has gone up by about $2 billion since the Sask. Party took office as resource revenues filled government coffers.

Targeting how dollars are spent first and then figuring out how it affects civil service positions is better for both government efficiency and civil servants, said Rasmussen.

"Everyone is worried about justifying their job rather than justifying their program and finding efficiencies. You create a bit of a panic," he said.

Reason for hope

If there's any particularly good news coming out of the Sask Party's budget yesterday, it's that there seems to be plenty of public interest in what the Wall government is up to. Take for example the SCN Matters Facebook group - a group of "fans, viewers and industry professionals who are dedicated to saving SCN", which already has upwards of 700 members less than a day after the Sask Party's shutdown was announced.

Saskatchewan Budget - Winners and Losers

So far the budget has been remarkably well covered from all kinds of angles, so I'll hold off on delving into too much detail about any particular area. But there are a few themes which are either worth highlighting, or pointing out to the extent they haven't been mentioned yet.


Premier's Office - Someday I'll get around to developing my own set of laws of politics. And near the top of the list will be "when a right-wing government says people need to tighten their belts, it's going back for thirds".

Selected Social Services
- The budget is far from universally beneficial for social services, and a good chunk of the nominal increases are based on increased need rather than any improvement in accessibility. But the addition of autism and child welfare funding in a cut-laden budget at least offers room for guarded praise.

Pankiwites - A hack-and-slash approach to government, combined with an apparent repudiation of the duty to consult as major changes are imposed on First Nations without even a trace of input? For the radical right, it's like Christmas in March!


SaskTel - I noted yesterday that all of the Crowns are facing a rough time - and that was without mentioning that they too are facing job cuts. But SaskTel stands out as the chief target of the Sask Party: not only is it the main Crown being sold off piece by piece (rather than merely outsourced through replacement as in the case of SaskPower), but it's being given the responsibility to handle some of SCN's money-losing mandate. Which means that SaskTel is being forced to add to its level of work with less staff, secure in the knowledge that any success will be confiscated to be dumped in the general revenue fund.

Film Industry - The NDP has already criticized the Wall government for driving away 70% of what was a thriving industry just a couple of years earlier. But with the slimination of SCN as a television channel, there will be even less opportunity for film professionals to work in the province - meaning that this budget may be the blow that kills off Saskatchewan's film industry entirely.

Public Safety - The outsourcing of inspections for elevators, amusement park rides and boilers can be done one of two ways: either it can increase costs as layers of government contract management and private profit are added to the expense of actually carrying out the inspections, or it can involve government washing its hands of the issue and creating incentives for corner-cutting. And with the Sask Party in full-on slasher mode, Saskatchewan citizens would be well advised to start taking the stairs.

Saskatoon Sutherland - Scott Stelmaschuk to Seek NDP Nomination

The week has already been loaded with Saskatchewan political news including the Sask Party's hijacking of Elections Saskatchewan, yesterday's budget, and this weekend's NDP convention. But there's also some NDP nomination announcement news worth highlighting, as Scott Stelmaschuk (another blogger) has publicly announced his intention to run in Saskatoon Sutherland. For more about Scott, see his Facebook page - which has been revived after an unsuccessful run at the federal nomination in Saskatoon-Humboldt last year.

From the NDP's standpoint, it wouldn't be at all surprising if Saskatoon Sutherland sees a highly competitive nomination contest - and indeed it's one of the ridings which has been mooted as a possible target for leadership runner-up Ryan Meili. But it's great to see Scott putting his name forward, and his hard work this early in the election cycle figures to serve both him and the party well no matter who else ends up in the race.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First impressions

More to come on today's provincial budget. But from the coverage I've seen so far, there are two takeaways that look to be particularly significant even if they're not the most obvious problems with the Sask Party's management of the province.

First, as noted by James Wood, the Wall government is taking the "unprecedented" step of stripping all Crowns other than SaskPower of all anticipated profits. Which, combined with the current selloff of Crown assets, figures to do some serious damage to their ability to operate on anything but a bare-bones level.

Second, as mentioned in the NDP's immediate response, the Wall government is treating loan guarantees differently so they won't count against the province's public debt, and also making other changes to acounting practices which will make it more difficult for anybody to scrutinize exactly what they've done.

For this year, the loan guarantee change in particular seems to be aimed at allowing the Sask Party to claim that a program for homebuyers won't add to the provincial debt. But would anybody be at all surprised if the move is just a prelude to Wall putting the province on the hook as guarantor for all kinds of white elephant projects without accounting for the resulting debt?


Notwithstanding the lack of new information actually available on the Cons' torture coverup, there seems to have been plenty of change in the public presentation of the issue since last week. Apparently, the options for handling the documents suppressed by the Cons in the face of a direct order from Parliament now range from total government control over what information the opposition can see to total government control over what information the opposition can make public - with any opposition push for the latter serving as a valid reason for the Cons to force an election. And others in the media are declaring the issue boring and therefore closed.

Wouldn't this be a good time to have an official opposition which didn't need help tying its own shoes?

On poor excuses

We'll have to wait and see if the Libs even try to defend yesterday's utter failure on their own opposition motion. But they've offered an excuse for their vote to keep funding pro-asbestos propaganda - and predictably it's not one that makes an ounce of sense given the Libs' position on the Cons' budget generally:
(NDP MP Pat) Martin moved a motion at the Natural Resources committee of the House of Commons to eliminate the $250,000 in yearly funding Canada gives to the Chrysotile Institute, a Quebec-based advocacy group for the asbestos industry in Canada.

However, none of the other parties supported his motion and it was defeated. Martin was livid and heckled the Liberals as they voted no.

"How do you stand up with no spine?" he barked at Geoff Regan, the Liberal natural resources critic.
After waffling, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff came out last year in favour of banning exports of asbestos from Canada, a position (Lib MP Geoff) Regan says the party still holds. However, he said amending the estimates as Martin wanted would have been a confidence matter that could have triggered an election.

"I don't want any part of these electioneering games," Regan told the Winnipeg Free Press last week.
So what's the problem with that spin? Well, last anybody checked, the budget vote in the House of Commons was also "a confidence matter that could have triggered an election". And the Libs didn't vote with the government on the budget as a whole: instead, they cast as many "no" votes as they figured they could afford without risking bringing down the government, and otherwise instructed MPs not to vote one way or the other. Which meant that the budget passed with zero Lib votes in favour.

Had Regan and the other Libs followed the same strategy on the asbestos vote, they'd all have been able to vote "no" in keeping with their party's supposed position. After all, the Bloc has taken a consistent pro-asbestos stance - so no matter how many Libs voted against the motion, there was no danger of the vote serving to trigger an election. And even if they'd feared the Bloc might switch sides, the Libs could have safely abstained from the vote, secure in the knowledge that the Cons would carry the day.

But rather than following their normal election-avoidance strategy, the Libs on the Natural Resources committee chose to take a direct stand in favour of asbestos promotion - voting their approval for continued funding rather than merely holding back just enough opposition to avoid an election. Which would seem to signal that contrary to their claimed policy on the issue, the Libs are in fact more in favour of the asbestos funding than they are the Cons' budget as a whole.

Well said

The Star-Phoenix editorial board tears into the Wall government for its attempt to give Sask Party MLAs a political veto over the appointment of Saskatchewan's independent elections commissioner:
(W)hen the government has a system in place to ensure a non-partisan selection process for a job as important is that of the chief electoral officer, the premier has the duty either to accept the results of that process or make it absolutely clear why he would allow his caucus to throw it out.

And if Justice Minister Don Morgan believes that it's acceptable to change the process after his party get caught fiddling with the results of what has been the accepted manner to choose other non-partisan officers of the legislature, he is as far out of touch with reality as he is with the seriousness of this matter. Top of the list of duties of the chief electoral officer is to remain non-partisan. This must be so only in action but also in perception. The appointment of the electoral officer was depoliticized in 1998, and it's best that it remain that way.

To have the Saskatchewan Party caucus throw out the results of a bi-partisan selection committee without explanation or excuse absolutely violates the perception that the electoral officer's position will remain a non-partisan appointment. Not only does it harm the office of this most critical public servant, it also throws into question Saskatchewan's democratic process.
Given what Mr. Morgan has written about Mr. Wilkie's qualifications, and absent an adequate explanation, the unmistakable impression is created that the only reason the Saskatchewan Party would refuse his appointment would be an effort to gerrymander the electoral boundaries or to subvert the electoral process by stacking the office.

The reviews are in - Non-Lib Edition

Last night I pointed out the angry reaction from some Lib supporters to the fact that their own party's MPs torpedoed a motion supporting family planning. But just in case anybody thought the concern was only an internal Lib issue of caucus solidarity, let's see what other commentators have had to say about the train wreck.

Dr. Dawg:
Liberal nonentities John McKay, Paul Szabo and Dan McTeague don't care if Third World women die. Some don't give a damn one way or the other. And Liberal "leader" Michael Ignatieff couldn't do a thing about it.
Talk about the gang that couldn't shoot straight. What a toxic mixture of malevolence and incompetence.
Greg uses the incident to add to Canada's political vocabulary:

Definition: Noun. A very dull fellow. A loser. Usage: "That fellow over there just lost a vote on his own party's motion because he couldn't even deliver his own caucus. What an Iggy."
And then adds this followup:
Harper is sharpening his teeth, getting ready to feast on more Liberal lamb. If you think I am being too harsh, take a look at this headline. When they start making jokes, comparing you to your failed, hopeless predecessor, you are in big, big, trouble.
Fern Hill:
Just when I was developing a smidge of respect for the Liberals...

Just when I was not quite so despairing of Opposition cooperation...

Well. That shows me, I guess. Women's rights, here as in the Excited States, are always negotiable. At least for Liberals.
You look like absolute, complete idiots, Liberals. You couldn't organize a piss-up in a brewery. And the Cons are crapping their pants laughing at you.
Devin Johnston:
Whatever the reason, the lesson learned today is that the Liberal Party of Canada remains fertile ground for socially conservative politicians. To the extent that the Liberal Party brands itself as socially progressive, its social conservative caucus will be a constant public relations nightmare.
And via Twitter, Kady O'Malley:
(M)ust agree with other observers: that was a stunning example of utter Liberal disorganization in the House.

More Kady:
Happy Weekly Caucus Day, everyone! Well, unless you happen to be a Liberal, of course, in which case today's outing will likely do little to boost your respective or collective morale. Let the festival of bitterness, recrimination, and inevitable leaking of the high- and low lights of today's meeting begin!

You also might want to take note of the scheduled vote after Question Period; as some of your MPs have apparently forgotten exactly how the seemingly uncomplicated process of standing up at the right time actually works, you might want to do a few practice runs to avoid future embarrassment.
And Alison:
Blue Dog Liberals: Banner day, assholes
1) You voted against stopping a $¼-million government subsidy to an asbestos lobby group.

2) You dogwhistled about abortion in your maternal health initiative for developing countries "wedge" motion but were too afraid to actually include the word.

3) You used the "wedge" motion - intended to smoke out the Cons - to give your own party a very public wedgie, losing the final vote: 144-138.
Update II:

It should have been a simple thing: present a motion to force the Cons to take a formal stand on supporting maternal health initiatives (ie. contraception) in advance of the upcoming G8 meeting - a reaffirmation of Canada's foreign policy stance for the past 25 years.

But the Liberals, who introduced the motion, managed to defeat their own motion.

This, after catching the Cons in their own roller coaster of confusion over the policy last week and on the heels of Bev Oda laughingly calling the policy "anti-American". (Apparently, being against former and regressive Bush administration policies equals anti-Americanism to the spectacularly dull and ineffective Ms Oda).

And the Cons also believed that even talking about contraception was some sort of slippery slope to re-opening the debate about abortion - which wasn't even on the table.

Yet, the Liberals still managed to embarass themselves.
David Akin, featuring an unnamed Lib MP:
The motion was defeated 144-138. Had the absent Liberals showed up to vote in favour, it would have easily passed. Remarkably, there was, after the vote, much confusion about whether or not it was a whipped vote. Some said, yes, they'd been whipped. Others, like B.C. MP Keith Martin - he was there and voted in favour of the motion -- did not know it was a whipped vote until told it was by reporters this morning.

And so the Liberals ended up with some tremendous egg on their face.
Privately, Liberal MPs said that the 90-minute caucus meeting was not a happy place with MPs directing their frustration at Ignatieff, his staff, and party whip Rodger Cuzner. It would have been Cuzner's job to make sure all of his MPs knew it was a whipped vote and to make sure they were all in their seats and ready to vote "Aye". Ignatieff would not say what punishment would be in store for the Liberal MPs who did not vote the way they were supposed to, saying only that Cuzner would decide on that.

"We look like fools," one Liberal MP said privately.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The reviews are in - Liberal Supporters Edition

I'll post later to document the reaction from those of us who aren't in the Libs' camp. But to start with, let's take a look at what Libs themselves are saying about their self-sabotaged motion on family planning.

James Curran:
Today Liberals Failed Women

There's something I never thought I'd never hear myself write. To make matters worse, I had to hear our leader say -over and over again- "it's a 25 year policy". Point being, if we feel that strongly about it, why wasn't this causcus (sic) whipped to support our own motion which was non-binding????????????? What a slap in the face to women every where.
Steve V:
Not A Great Moment, Let's Just Say

This (train wreck) sums up today's motion on maternal health from the Liberal perspective. I know, I'm being to (sic) kind.
bigcitylib in response:
By the way, the exploding whale is also an excellent graphic for this kind of situation.
Scott Tribe:
(W)hen you have an important motion going forward in the house and you’re trying to make a point, it is not good planning or foresight to put the motion out there on the House of Commons voting schedule when you don’t have the votes or aren’t sure if you have the votes (consider that even if the 3 Liberals who had voted ‘no’ had abstained instead, we still would have lost the motion by 3 votes).

It may not mean much in the overall scheme of things since the government would have ignored this anyhow.. but it’s rather embarrassing optics.
More to come - at least, assuming the whole mess isn't quietly disappeared by other Lib supporters.

Update: The above may well be all for main posts - as the only other Lib supporter post on the subject looks to completely miss the point. (Yes, "if you want a government that doesn't play politics with such issues and that will unabashedly say yes to family planning support, we all know what we need to do": vote NDP, since one national party can actually be trusted to have some principles in the area.)

But CfSR does offer up another comment worth highlighting:
How the Hell does the Liberal caucus screw up an argument that basicly (sic) comes down to the Harper Tories being more eager to defend George Bush than poor women?

Really. How? And how do we fix the caucus?
Again, though, the better answer looks to be that the Libs are far beyond fixing.

Update II:

HarperBizarro doesn't want to name party names (framing the problem as being with the "opposition" rather than the Libs), but this much seems beyond doubt:
This is not an Ignatieff problem. It is far broader and deeper and older than his leadership.
It is time for those who cannot be 100% Liberals to go to another party. It would be preferable to face a majority Tory caucus and be able to stand for progress at all times, than to have to withstand the bullshit of yesterday.
And see also The Scott Ross:
Hours before the vote on a motion calling on the government to include "the full range of reproductive health options” in its international maternal and child health initiative, MP Lise Zarac said in response to the Conservative Party's planned opposition to it, "Once again, the government is putting its socially conservative ideology ahead of the best interests of women and girls."

However as votes were cast, and it was seen that three Liberal MPs opposed the motion as well leading to its defeat, Ms. Zarac must have realized just how social conservatives can be, as they haven't just stuck to their party, they've joined others.
Update III:

Life in Moderation:
How can we, as people of the Western industrialized world (especially as Canadians), continue to claim our progressive knowledge on issues such as health care when working with people in developing nations, when even our own government is stuck in a swamp of decades past. This makes me sick to my stomach.

Shame, especially on those Liberals who either didn't show up for the vote, or abstained from voting.
And an unnamed Lib MP:
Clown city.

Lowering the bar

Truly, I thought that Lib committee members' inexplicable vote along with the Cons and Bloc to keep using public money for asbestos promotion would at least be the party's most embarrassing example of useless opposition for the day.

I stand corrected.

Saskatchewan NDP 2010 Resolutions - Revitalizing Agriculture

I noted yesterday this week should make for an ideal opportunity to discuss some of the Saskatchewan NDP's convention resolutions. With that in mind, let's take a look at a higher-level resolution which looks to tie in nicely with the NDP's efforts to renew its rural support base:
AT4. WHEREAS the survival of rural Saskatchewan is directly related to the size of the resident population; and

WHEREAS increasingly, capital costs are limiting the ability of young farmers to enter the industry;

BE IT RESOLVED that the New Democratic Party develop a policy and relevant programs to stimulate the entry of a new generation of young farmers to enter the industry in a viable manner.

- Kindersley NDP
What's particularly interesting about the resolution is that if it's adopted and the associated policy developed, the result could be to expose some significant disconnects between the Sask Party government and its support base.

After all, the Sask Party went out of its way to replace the province's wheat sheaf logo on the theory that it didn't want people to focus on agriculture as a defining attribute of the province. And there's nothing in its current direction which involves direct support for rural Saskatchewan, as the theory of allowing markets to decide where people end up living seems to have outweighed any sense that the government should work to encourage rural development. Which means that rural voters who have primarily voted for the Sask Party over the past decade-plus have nothing but scorn to show for their support.

Of course, it's true enough that a viable Saskatchewan economy has to include more than agriculture - and the NDP will undoubtedly address that in its other policy ideas. But it's likely equally true that rural Saskatchewan needs a broader and more sound agricultural base in order to sustain itself. And absent some action from a new provincial government, there's no end to the cycle of corporate consolidation in sight.

Which means that the NDP would seem to have an obvious opening to challenge the Sask Party's lack of interest in taking responsibility for the development of rural Saskatchewan. And the Kindersley NDP's resolution may offer an ideal way to frame that effort so as to appeal to voters who don't want to see their communities erode.

Worse than it sounds

Apparently Stockwell Day's musings on public-sector pension benefits are being interpreted as potentially setting up a two-tiered system between current employees and future ones. But I have to wonder whether the statement is actually even more damaging than that.

Here's the passage giving rise to the concern among unions along with the NDP:
"It's not our plan at all to reduce benefits because the employees have paid in to those benefits and we will maintain them," he said in response to a question from a Conservative MP that referred to the concerns of federal unions.

It appeared to be a blanket assurance to worried workers. Yet in a brief answer to reporters following the appearance, the minister added a wrinkle to the government line.

"We've been clear. We're not reducing existing pension benefits," he said as he marched toward a staircase and declined any further clarification.

The insertion of the word "existing" was enough for union and opposition critics to conclude that new hires may be offered a lesser pension plan.
While I'd agree that the word "existing" is important, let's take a closer look at what it's modifying. Day's statement doesn't suggest that existing employees will be free from pension cuts, only that existing benefits won't be reduced. Without going into too much detail, that likely means that the only people who can breathe any easier are those whose pension entitlements have "vested" through retirement, and whose benefits can be seen as having been locked in.

In contrast, current public servants wouldn't be seen as having any "existing" entitlement to benefits. At most, Day's statement might suggest that the Cons won't go after the value of money already allocated to individual pension accounts. But he looks to have left the door wide open to attacks on both the pension funding formula and the availability of benefits in the future - meaning that the concern should be less a second tier of pension benefits for new hires than a wholesale attack on them across the civil service.

On unknown outcomes

The most interesting note coming out of today's story on MP expenses may well be the impact of the oath of secrecy surrounding the Board of Internal Economy on other issues. In particular, it doesn't seem like any party was shy about declaring in advance that yesterday's meeting would deal with the issue of ten-percenters - but is there any way to actually find out what was decided other than to see whether there's any change in their distribution or content?

On fixes

The Sask Party's refusal to agree with a consensus among all five of Saskatchewan's political parties (including its own members on the provincial Board of Internal Economy) has to raise serious questions as to whether the Wall government is holding out for its own Kenneth Blackwell. But Murray Mandryk nicely points out the other factors which figure to be at play:
By way of background, the post of Saskatchewan's chief electoral officer has been vacant for almost 18 months -- unusual for such a senior position. The government's explanation -- at least before Monday -- was that it's difficult finding a candidate with suitable electoral office experience and "managerial skills".

However, there has clearly been more to it than that. For one thing, sources said that applicants were being asked questions like where they stood on voters requiring photo identification. Coincidentally, voter ID just happens to benefit wealthier Sask. Party voters than poor voters who tend to support the NDP. There's also the issue of the electoral boundary changes after the next election and Justice Minister Don Morgan confirmed at the legislature Monday that government caucus members had special interest in both issues.

But even more interesting is the suggestion that a Sask. Party MLA or candidate is under investigation and government members were queasy about appointing the acting chief electoral officer, David Wilkie, who would have responsibility for bringing forward any such investigation.
Is a government MLA or Sask. Party candidate being investigated? It was a question Quennell asked in the House Monday.

Well, Morgan said after question period, he has no such knowledge. (However, he did strangely admit that his caucus members' only ability to independently assess the acting chief electoral officer's performance would be through whatever encounters they might have had with him on election expenses.)
Now, one can perhaps give the Sask Party points for gall in listing "experience" as its explanation for unilaterally rejecting a candidate who's actually doing the job in question (and has been for a year and a half). Indeed, from that starting point I'd fully expect their next line of messaging to be that they had to reject Wilkie in hopes that they could persuade their first choice, Wilkie, to take the job instead.

But however entertaining the spin may soon become, there's a serious issue when it comes to the question of who's going to be overseeing the next two Saskatchewan elections. And the worse the Sask Party's excuses for pushing any appointment past a point where it'll be too late to assemble consensus around any one candidate, the more reason for suspicion there will be that the Wall government is looking to rig the system in its favour.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Your aid money, their friends

No, there's probably no reason to be surprised that the Cons are making sure that their signature aid project for Haiti benefits well-connected Con supporters. But does this mean the only reason why the Cons have done nothing with the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund is that they haven't yet figured out how to funnel it to Ezra Levant?

Case in point

Following up on this morning's post, the Hill Times serves up another example of an issue where the opposition parties could look to order the production of documents both in order to press the issue of parliamentary supremacy and in order to expose obvious Con mismanagement:
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is compiling a report, requested by Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland (Ajax-Pickering, Ont.), on the projected costs of the government's changes to the justice system. In February Mr. Page told The Hill Times the report would likely be ready this month, but his office said last week it would be further delayed and couldn't say when it would be released.

Mr. Jones said he's been in contact with the PBO about the report, and the reason for the delay is because Mr. Page is having difficulty getting the government to release the projected expenses of its justice bills, such as construction costs for prisons, and the expected growth of the incarcerated population. In 2007-08, the annual average cost of keeping one person incarcerated was $101,666 per year.

"All of those numbers are still Cabinet confidence, and that's the government's prerogative, but if we continue down this track it seems to me the government is asking Canadians to write a blank cheque for a crime agenda in a context in which crime is already in decline," he said.
And that's paired with a jaw-droppingly ignorant message from a Con-friendly source:
But Mr. Lewis, the former Tory justice minister, said voters are more interested in seeing tough justice for criminals than studying expenditures for corrections services.

"Any government could spend all their time providing information," he said. "But the vast majority of the public only has an interest when they decide to have an interest, and this demand for great chunks of information doesn't make things go round in their daily lives so I'm skeptical as to how much they want to know."
Needless to say, it's surely worth asking whether or not Canadians agree that it doesn't matter how much money the Cons sink into prisons which serve no purpose other than facilitating political posturing at a time when they're looking to cut back on public services in every other department. And if that can be combined with the narrative of the Cons' compulsive secrecy and fear of accountability, then so much the better.

On opened doors

The Hill Times has the latest roundup on the opposition's strong stand on parliamentary supremacy. And there shouldn't be much doubt that it should be willing to push ahead in requiring the Harper government to produce the documents already ordered on that front.

But without wanting for a second to back down on the detainee issue, I have to wonder whether it's worth also setting up similar questions on other issues - both as a means of forcing greater transparency generally, and to set up another track of document questions which don't carry any associated "national security" excuse.

For example...

To my recollection the Cons still haven't released publicly any documentation as to the anticipated or actual job numbers surrounding their stimulus plan - which must beyond doubt exist somewhere. And it's no secret that they've deliberately gummed up the access to information channels which would normally allow the public and the opposition to hold them to account.

So might now be the ideal time for the opposition parties to team up to order, say, the production of all documents related to the anticipated and actual job numbers tied to the Cons' stimulus?

One possible outcome would be for the Cons to turn over the documents without too much of a fuss - resulting in far more accountability for the Cons' actions than they're currently facing in a system where they're controlling who sees what. Applying that principle in different settings, the opposition would have the ability to start generally shedding light on the areas of government hidden by the Cons. And we might even reach the point where the Cons would decide it's easier to take a less aggressive stance on information suppression generally if they come to the realization that the truth will come out either way.

Alternatively and perhaps more likely, Harper could once again throw a tantrum and whine that if the opposition doesn't like it, they should vote down the government. But for the Cons, that would carry all the negatives of the Afghan document showdown (reinforcing the narratives of a petulant government which refuses to be held accountable) without the supposed mitigating factors related to national security. And indeed the Cons' complaints that the opposition is failing to focus on the economy - however misplaced to begin with - will look ridiculous if the Cons are at the same time withholding the information required to actually evaluate their actions.

Of course, the opposition's public focus should be on the substance of the issues raised rather than the process. But from a strategic standpoint, now would seem to be an ideal time to search out opportunities to demand documents being kept hidden by the Cons and fundamentally change the balance of power that's seen Harper keep a chokehold on Parliament ever since he took office.

Update: Janyce McGregor posted just last week on the government's job numbers. But while they nicely show that the Cons have stuck to a consistent party line, they're pretty much completely lacking in any supporting evidence - making the area all the more ripe for exploration.

Saskatchewan NDP 2010 Resolutions - Free Membership

For those waiting in suspense to find out whether the Saskatchewan NDP would manage to top the Sask Party in terms of member interest, the Commonwealth has the answer (warning: PDF) - as the NDP has narrowly edged out the governing party's number of policy ideas by a margin of 73 to 5. And all this before it actually goes through the bulk of its policy development process.

But of course, the point of resolutions goes far beyond just the count. So let's spend some time in the week leading up to the convention discussing some of the more interesting ones put forward. For today I'll stick to posting a resolution on a topic which I've wondered about before, and encourage reader discussion in comments. But I'll deal with some of the resolutions in more detail as the week goes on.

So without any further ado, here's one of Regina Dewdney's resolutions on party affairs, dealing with the idea of free party membership:
PA2. WHEREAS membership cost should not be an impediment to involvement or membership in the New Democratic Party of Saskatchewan; and

WHEREAS the system costs more to operate and administer than the membership fee;

BE IT RESOLVED that the New Democratic Party explore the benefits of moving to a registration system without a cost, similar to those used by political parties in the United States; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Executive of the Party make recommendations through the Policy Development process of proposed changes at the 2011 convention.
- Regina Dewdney

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Links

- If there's anything the Sask Party hates more than a Crown corporation generally, it's a Crown corporation that's providing obvious and consistent financial benefits to the province and thus doesn't fit with a demonization campaign. But don't worry: the Wall government is doing everything in its power to sell off the pieces of Saskatchewan's Crowns which fit that description.

- Meanwhile, there's no lack of public outrage over the Sask Party's attacks on construction-sector unions. But hopefully the enthusiasm will keep up past this spring if the Wall government manages to force its legislation through.

- I'm not quite sure why the National Post or anybody else thought that Stephen Gordon's concern trolling of NDP economic policy would be worth bothering with. But for those still wasting their time reading Gordon, Erin takes him out to the woodshed over his nonsensical take on corporate taxes.

- Finally, while I don't entirely agree with thwap's suggested means, the message that the Cons can indeed be beaten in the next federal election is worth keeping in mind.


Needless to say, the Edmonton Journal's article on the Cons' funnelling of money from Calgary to other ridings (and fondness for extremists like Rob Anders for their contribution to the effort) is worth a read. But perhaps the most interesting bit of information is that even a Con candidate who's trying to pretend to be connected to voters is in fact no less bubble-wrapped than the most controversial socons paraded out under the Cons' banner:
(Ryan) Hastman, who was born and raised in Edmonton and attended the University of Alberta business department, declined to return The Journal's phone calls.

The Conservative Party office in Edmonton also declined to provide a phone number for Hastman or any names of constituency officials. That's private information, they said. Hastman's various phone numbers, provided on websites, end up in voice mail.
Now, it's worth noting that it's patently wrong to claim that information about constituency officials is "private information", considering that it's available through Elections Canada's public database of riding associations.

But leaving aside that the Cons are dead wrong in fact, what's more important is the principle behind their actions. Rather than offering any direct connection to the public, they're in fact pushing new limits in refusing to talk to anybody other than on their own terms. And apparently that rule now applies to seemingly bland candidates like Hastman no less than inflammatory candidates along the lines of Gloria Kovach - which either suggests that the strategy is being extended, or that there's more to the likes of Hastman than the Cons are willing to make public.

Of course, they're presumably counting on being able to paper over that glaring weakness with paid blasts of advertising along with the numerous dubious photo-ops they've given to Hastman as an unelected non-representative. But this looks to be just one more indication that Edmonton-Strathcona voters can count on being served poorly if at all by Hastman - and all the more incentive to put their effort behind a positive alternative.

Edit: Fixed link; comments deleted on request.

Burning questions

So which of the Cons' umpteen Dumb on Crime bills do they actually claim will meet the standard of "preventing a mother's grief"? And if that's a requirement for crime policy, then shouldn't they actually take a look at some of the evidence as to effectiveness that they've constantly told the public to ignore?

The Stragglers' List lives on

Con MP Greg Rickford now, still trying to justify prorogation based on on what he did during his Harper Holiday:
Harper‘s proroguing of parliament was not a big issue in the riding, Rickford said, noting that he used the extra 23 days for budget consultations, and visiting remote First Nations in his riding.

“From my perspective, it helped us recalibrate and receive broader input from (constituents),” he said.
Greg Rickford's activities during his Harper Holiday, as documented by his own party:
February 7
Greg Rickford, MP, attends Scotties Tournament of Hearts (Sault Ste. Marie, ON)