Saturday, April 03, 2010

On diversions

Despite the Cons' best efforts, at least some people are noticing the glaring gap between what the Harper government has loudly taken credit for and what it's actually delivered. Which can only mean one thing: quick, to the distractionmobile!

On private interests

Shorter Lawrence Solomon:

And while we're at it, just think of the corporate money-making opportunities we're missing out on by allowing air to remain a public good.

Compare and contrast

Doug Saunders on the important lessons being re-learned by most of the world in the wake of the financial meltdown:
Last time everything was ruined and trust had fallen apart, after the horrific experience of the Great Depression and the wars, we gave up on a strictly economical, cost-benefit calculation model of government and turned to the larger, more important questions. It became a time of high seriousness, a turn to the state.

“The urgent question was not how to celebrate a magnificent victory and get back to business as usual,” he writes, “but how on earth to ensure that the experience of the years 1914-1945 would never be repeated.”

People were frightened of the economy: It had done terrible things to them. There was, by 1945, what John Maynard Keynes called a “universal craving for security.” This craving, Mr. Judt notes, led some people, even those not conquered by Stalin, to put far too much trust in the dangerous logic of planned economies. In the capitalist world, this widespread fear was “addressed by the provision of public services and social safety nets incorporated into postwar systems of governance from Washington to Prague.”

We didn't just use government to get us out of a trap. It, and its social-safety-net mechanisms and welfare-state provisions, became the backbone of the greatest stretch of innovation, entrepreneurship and employment that capitalism has ever seen. It was only when those mechanisms began to be winnowed down that capitalism became dangerously wobbly.

“Today,” he writes, “it is as though the 20th century never happened.”

We will have to relearn it.
Only governments can address the huge problems of a global economy that is increasingly only beneficial to those with elaborate educations. Only governments can keep the deep troughs of economic downturn from becoming recursive cascades of ruin – but they can also turn the peaks into periods of shared prosperity for entire communities, something we've forgotten. “The task of the state,” he writes, “is not just to pick up the pieces when an under-regulated economy bursts. It's also to contain the effects of immoderate gains.”
The Star-Phoenix on the course being taken by Canada alone due to the Harper Cons:
One suspects the loneliest jobs in Ottawa these days involve being either technical experts or program overseers responsible for advising the government on adopting best practices.

Over the past four years, the Harper government has mocked, ignored or fired almost everyone it has in place to provide guidance on the most complex issues that Canada needs to address.
(Christian Paradis) expects commercial interests to pick up the responsibility for producing isotopes, while the government cuts the role played by such agencies and ministries as Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, Western Economic Diversification, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Industry Canada and Natural Resources -- all of which will lose more than 40 per cent of their funding beginning in next year's budget, according to a study by the Globe and Mail.

This government's plan to get out of deficit seems to be to get out of governing. Only the Corrections ministry is expected to see a significant increase in government involvement, growing to $3.128 billion from its current $2.267 billion -- a 36 per cent increase -- by the 2012-14 budget year.

Although innovation and support for research were a crucial aspect of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech from the throne, that research apparently had better fit into a tough on crime agenda if it's to receive any government support.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Musical interlude

I Mother Earth - One More Astronaut

Book Review: How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot by Brian Topp

I've posted a couple of times already about Brian Topp's book - once to note Topp's central role in documenting the events of the 2008 progressive coalition, and once to raise some questions about the tone taken by the book. But Lorimer Publishing was kind enough to pass along a copy for my review - and I'll take some time to offer up some comments for those who haven't yet had a chance to read it.

At the outset, I'll note that few of the events documented in Topp's book will come as too much surprise to those who have read his extensive blog posts on the coalition. If anything, the book adds more by way of prologue and explanation than it does to the events of the coalition itself, as Topp's discussion in the 1999 Saskatchewan coalition government and the NDP's strategic planning over a period of years from the time when Jack Layton took over as leader offers a useful context for how the coalition came to be and why the NDP was so well-prepared to move it forward (unfortunately in contrast to the Liberals).

Indeed, Topp makes clear that the NDP's work on the coalition was based on a far more thoughtful and positive intention than merely "giving the Tories the boot", while also having roots going far deeper than any aspect of the fiscal update that got the Libs interested in the possibility. And Topp's repeated observations on the importance of building friendly connections into all parties are reflected in the NDP's ability to develop and sell a workable coalition structure in a matter of days when the possibility arose, all while keeping some reasonably close tabs on even the party which the coalition was looking to remove from power.

If there's a point to be criticized in Topp's book, it's that his take winds up being somewhat more narrowly focused in terms of the time frame and perspectives considered than might have been ideal. And for a couple of reasons, I won't necessarily stick with the "working draft of history" line I'd previously suggested might apply to the book.

The first limitation on Topp's scope is a focus on top-level NDP/Lib negotiations with little discussion of the public movement which also coalesced around the coalition. That's understandable to a point given Topp's place in the negotiations, but results in his falling into the trap of talking about public opinion turning on the coalition without examining what the public was actually doing at the time.

The focus on top-level dealings also creates a rather glaring gap of a month in Topp's narrative between the point when Ignatieff broke off communications in December 2008, and a meeting between he and Layton in January 2009. Which seems to be a time period deserving of somewhat more exploration, as plenty of supporters (built on an NDP foundation) continued to work to promote the coalition in public based on the possibility that Ignatieff might come around once the budget was unveiled.

The second key limitation is that while Topp provides loads of detail about the events from his own perspective, the book sticks to chronicling Topp's own observations at the time rather than supplementing those with new detail from other parties' camps. And that leaves some obvious questions to be answered by others who seem to have been far more reluctant than Topp to provide an open account of the events.

In particular, Topp's narrative as to the Libs' actions in response to the coalition leaves room for at least a couple of books to be written on how the respective camps of Stephane Dion, Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae dealt with each other and with the other opposition parties in response to the coalition. And some more answers as to the "why" in evaluating Ignatieff's skepticism about the coalition would seem to be rather crucial for the NDP in deciding how to handle future opportunities.

While Topp may not be able to offer a complete chronicle of the coalition showdown from all sides, though, he definitely provides a lively and engaging take on the events which any New Democrat will be glad to have included in the history books. So for those who haven't yet taken the time to take a look, I'll highly recommend giving Topp's book a read.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Friday Morning Links

Since we're all up for some politics for the long weekend, here are a few pieces worth a look...

- Erin slams the National Post for its exceptionally biased coverage of the Fraser Institute's anti-stimulus diatribe. Though it's worth noting that there's likely at least a grain of truth behind the study: while the institute's predictable anti-government bias obviously affects its assessment of the effect of stimulus dollars spent, there's certainly reason to think that the Cons' choice of a photo-op-friendly distribution scheme led to relatively little money actually flowing when it was most needed.

- The Star Phoenix on the HST: getting less plausible by the day, but now prebutted for your convenience.

- While I don't agree with Bob Plamondon's view that less choices are better on the federal scene, there's little reason to disagree with his main point about Michael Ignatieff's missed opportunity.

- Douglas Bell is right to note that the federal opposition parties haven't taken a strong enough stance in opposing the Cons' costly and useless "dumb on crime" policies. But while there's room for improvement on all sides, it's worth noting which party has both had MPs take stands on principle, and which has been closer to the mark in rejecting the worst of the Cons' excesses.

- Finally, is this officially Unveil Unpopular Policy Week for Brad Wall's Sask Party government? Because Rod Gantefoer has tossed more fuel on the fire by pointing to health care user fees as a way to deal with unnamed "abuses" in the system. Naturally he's backtracking again, but considering that he looks to have brought them up unprovoked this looks to be even less plausible than his denials about tax harmonization.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Unclear on the concept

Shorter Dan D'Autremont:

The NDP opposition has some nerve actually opposing us. Somebody make them stop!

"Pure nonsense"

It seems that there's general agreement in Saskatchewan's media that the Sask Party's attacks over Dwain Lingenfelter's pension are completely uncalled for. And unlike Murray Mandryk in the Leader-Post, the Star-Phoenix rightly focuses on the party responsible rather than trying to spin the issue into Good News for Brad Wall(tm):
The unfair attack by the Saskatchewan Party on Dwain Lingenfelter over the NDP leader collecting a pension for his past services as an MLA only serves to undermine the entire political system for short-term partisan gain.

Despite Saskatchewan Party MLA Bill Boyd's attempt to paint Mr. Lingenfelter in a bad light for collecting a pension while serving in the assembly, the NDP leader is doing nothing wrong.
To argue as Mr. Boyd does, that Mr. Lingenfelter should have asked the government to change the law to allow his pension to be temporarily suspended, because the rules of the plan don't allow members to defer their payments, is pure nonsense.

On wrongful disclosures

All indications to date were that the Wall government's attacks on Saskatchewan's health care system would be aimed mostly at the public delivery of services, no matter how obviously flawed a move to privatize might prove. And sure enough, there's more news on that front today. But just to make sure nobody recognizes the health-care system by the time they're done with it, the Sask Party also seems to have decided to do away with patient confidentiality.

Here's Don McMorris' gratuitous shot at a patient who dared to speak up about his government's decision to stop funding chiropractic care:
Ms. Junor: — I can’t believe this minister can stand in his place and talk about prudent. If we’re talking about what’s prudent, they have no leg to stand on — last year’s budget, this year’s budget, absolutely ridiculous.

Mr. Speaker, from the time the minister announced the delisting of the . . . The implementation date was one week, seven days. Chiropractors today don’t know if they can refer patients for X-rays or to a specialist. That’s absurd. Mr. Speaker, chiropractors have agreements for services with SGI [Saskatchewan Government Insurance], WCB [Workers’ Compensation Board], and private insurance companies that end tomorrow and have to be renegotiated. Well we understand what he knows about negotiation, so perhaps he missed this.

Mr. Speaker, Ontario allowed a 6-month transition period, and Alberta allowed a 3-month transition period. Will the minister at the very least move the implementation date to July 1st to allow for a smoother transition?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister of Health.

Hon. Mr. McMorris: — Mr. Speaker, this question was asked a number of days ago regarding referral. The only thing that has changed, Mr. Speaker, is our government is no longer subsidizing a portion of the visits. If chiropractors referred in the past, they will be able to continue to refer into the future, Mr. Speaker. That doesn’t change.

What changes is the portion of subsidization that our government covers, Mr. Speaker. And it’s interesting. Some of the cases we’ve seen come forward, the one just recently in the media, the person was at the chiropractor about 130 times. There isn’t a province or state in the country that would cover that many visits, Mr. Speaker. We will cover, what we will cover . . . 12 visits, Mr. Speaker, for low-income as in Alberta and 10 in British Columbia, Mr. Speaker.
Now, presumably McMorris would be familiar with the fact that in addition to general principles of patient confidentiality, Saskatchewan also has a law making clear that personal health information generally can't be used or disclosed except with consent or for a valid purpose. And not surprisingly, "political gain" isn't included among the permitted grounds for breaching a patient's expectation of privacy.

And there are multiple points in yesterday's disclosure which raise reason for concern. McMorris' statement itself makes for a problematic disclosure of personal health information by the person ultimately responsible for the Ministry of Health. But there's also reason for question as to who found out about the patient's treatment history and how before passing it along to McMorris for public airing.

Meanwhile, in case anybody was wondering: no, the fact that McMorris didn't actually use the patient's name doesn't make matters any better. Personal health information is protected just as thoroughly when it's "identifiable" (i.e. can be linked to the patient's identity) as when it's actually identified by name. And that's for obvious reasons, as a statement that "the provincial Minister who deals with questions related to chiropractic care has a raging case of foot-in-mouth disease" reveals just as much information about the subject as one which mentions a patient by name.

In sum, we now know that under the Wall government, your personal health information is shared between you, your health care providers, and your Minister of Health and his political hacks to the extent it can be used to further the Sask Party's agenda. (Or at least, that seems to be the applicable standard for anybody who dares to criticize the government's policies.) Which may do wonders to help Wall's long-term agenda by undermining confidence in the public health care system - but surely makes for a reckless abuse of power on the Sask Party's part.

The reviews are in

Don Martin on yesterday's tributes to Jack Layton - and the reasons why Layton should be receiving accolades more often:
(Y)esterday was, until the love turned to the more traditional loathing, a rare Jack Layton Day on Parliament Hill.

Ovation after all-party ovation erupted as tributes were read to a leader who has yet to slow down despite radiation therapy, although some days his pallor looks decidedly grey.

Even crusty partisan Conservative MP Jim Abbott stood to declare Mr. Layton “has my admiration for raising the level of awareness about this disease. His public gesture of courage showed Canadian men and their families that they are not alone in their daily fight to combat this illness, but more needs to be done.”

Good for the MPs. Now, let me continue with some more Jack Layton back-patting by noting, cancer or not, he’s been by far the best leader at advocating Big Ideas.

The New Democrats have been at the forefront of almost every major issue, be it cancelling a corporate income tax, demanding pension reform, advocating auto sector bailouts, boosting EI benefits and even writing off the Afghanistan deployment as a lost cause long before it became fashionable.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On compromised positions

In general, Rob Nicholson's excuses for ignoring the will of the House of Commons naturally ring entirely hollow. (Basically, the theme seems to be that the government doesn't have to produce squat if there's a "debate" about what it's required to do, and since the Cons refuse to acknowledge that they're required to do anything there will always be a debate.)

But it's worth pointing out that the opposition's efforts to allow the Cons to impose conditions on the release of the ordered records seem to have given rise to part of Nicholson's defence:
(T)he Member for St. John’s East and the Member for Saint-Jean asked you to find a prima facie breach of privilege based on the House order of December 10, 2009. Yet, from the motion they proposed should such a prima facie case were to be found, they made it clear that no actual breach of privilege has occurred since the original order lacked procedures to protect national security interests.
In other words, the fact that the NDP and the Bloc have proposed that information be subject to some negotiated "national security" protection is actually being used to suggest that the Cons can validly thumb their noses at the House of Commons' order.

Which will hopefully make for a lesson to the opposition parties that I've tried to point out before: demand full accountability that the Cons can't wriggle out of on technical grounds, not partial and limited disclosure that makes it less clear what's being ordered.

Saskatchewan NDP Convention 2010 - The Near Future

As promised, I'll take a couple of posts to follow up the Saskatchewan NDP's Prince Albert convention, starting with my take on where the party stands in the leadup to the 2011 election.

From my perspective, the convention looked to serve two purposes for the party, and it looks to be at least a moderate success on both fronts.

First, the convention served as an opportunity to frame Dwain Lingenfelter's leadership for the party's members in order to counter the Sask Party's attack ads (not to mention the media's skepticism). And while I'm not a huge fan of pouring too much effort into building up The Leader, the convention seems to have achieved its purpose without going too far over the top.

Not surprisingly, the weekend included plenty of work to reinforce Lingenfelter's stronger themes like hard work and strong management. But more importantly, Lingenfelter also spoke to younger, newer members with an anecdote about his first day on the campaign trail as well as a consistent message of inclusion within the party. And there doesn't seem to be much room for doubt after the weekend that any divisions within the party from the time of last year's leadership convention have been worked out in favour of a united effort behind Lingenfelter.

The second main task was setting out the roadmap to the election for party members. And the NDP's election planners look to be setting some remarkably ambitious goals - focusing not merely on targeting just enough seats to win back power, but on running strong and fully-funded riding campaigns across the province while also getting into the ad game as early as this spring.

Now, I'll be pleasantly surprised if the all-riding part of the plan is met in full. But the combination of the provincial equivalent of a 50-state strategy with the party's ongoing policy renewal process looks to create the best possible conditions to bring more people into the NDP tent.

Which isn't to say that anything figures to come easily for the NDP going into 2011. But the combination of a united party, a willingness to work and a well-thought out election plan isn't a bad base to build on. And if the policy renewal process lives up to its potential to add a visionary platform to the mix, then the Wall government might well end up far less comfortable than it may have expected by the time the official campaign rolls around.

For more about the convention, see the latest from Kent.

On faulty assessments

Given how much media coverage of Parliament seems to focus on Question Period, it's not often that a new, substantive issue raised in that forum (especially in the leaders' portion) manages to get entirely ignored by the media. But that looks to have happened yesterday - which is a shame, since the exchange between Jack Layton and Stephen Harper looks to signal a permanent weakening of federal environmental regulation:
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, just weeks before a parliamentary review of the Environmental Assessment Act is to get under way where members of the House can review that legislation and strengthen it, the government has tabled a budget implementation bill. Buried right in the heart of that bill is the removal of a key trigger for federal environmental assessment, namely, whether there is federal money involved in the project.

Why is the Prime Minister gutting environmental assessment at a time when Canadians' awareness of the importance of the environment is at an all all-time high?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC):
On the contrary, Mr. Speaker. The changes in question were actually made by regulation last year, in agreement with the provinces, to simplify and remove duplication from the environmental assessment system in the country. It has been very effective and welcomed by all our provincial partners, including some NDP provincial partners.

In terms of delivering the economic stimulus, it makes sense to make these measures permanent because they work for the environment and for the economy and they are supported by all levels of government.

Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, Parliament is to conduct a planned seven-year review the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in June. This is an opportunity for members to study the issue and for the public to get involved and testify about what is working and what is not, but the government has decided to pre-empt the consultations.

Why is the government trying to ram weaker environmental protections down our throats without consultation or debate?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, on the contrary, the government made these changes last year in the economic action plan. The provinces and municipalities supported all these changes to benefit the environment and the economy. We do not want duplication in environmental protection in this country.
Now, it's true enough that regulatory changes were indeed made to weaken environmental assessments last year. But at the time, the Cons' explicit justification was that they wanted to speed up the dispersal of stimulus funds - in effect suggesting that the measure would only be required on a temporary basis to get money out the door in response to a one-time crisis. And even now Harper still hasn't separated the "stimulus" concept from his excuse for attacking the assessment process.

Having used the need for immediate stimulus as an excuse to temporarily relax the assessment process, though, the Cons are now looking to make the change applicable by legislation to permanent funding programs through their budget legislation. And all this based on Harper's apparent view that "duplication" is more of a problem than insufficient environmental protection.

Update: This wasn't obvious on my first read of the legislation. But...yikes.

Easily distracted

Shorter Murray Mandryk:

It's obviously unfair to criticize Dwain Lingenfelter for the structure of a pension plan whose terms are beyond his control, and indeed in the hands of the very government which is bashing him for it. But that doesn't mean I won't do just that.

Edit: added label.

On false dichotomies

The Leader-Post is apparently eager to shill for the Sask Party's health care privatization agenda. But there's an obvious problem with its attempt to frame the issue:
Is it intended to prevent sickness and injuries, then quickly heal the injured? Or is the health-care system all about creating vast civil service empires -- staffed by dedicated people, to be sure, but people trapped in an entrenched bureaucracy?

Surely, the answer is the first.
Of course, there's little doubt that the focus should be the first as between those two choices. And indeed, caring for the sick and injured would equally obviously rate higher than other goals: add "Or is it about finding ways to allow corporate interests to profit from necessary public services?" to the list, and the answer should be no less obvious.

The problem, though, is that Don McMorris has told us that the Wall government is devoted to privatizing parts of the health care system even if it doesn't result in better or more affordable service. And the fact that the Sask Party is putting patients second to for-profit providers should tell us who it is that really has their priorities wrong.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On competitive measures

Since the Libs are new to the idea of not assuming constant corporate tax cuts are a must, I'll offer some friendly advice to their leader and supporters alike:

If you're trying to make the case for other priorities coming first, you need to challenge, not reinforce, the corporatist mantra that "tax cuts"="competitiveness".

Fortunately, it's not that hard to do if you pay attention.

On immature responses

Shorter Rob Norris in response to the ILO's decision slamming the Sask Party's anti-union legislation:

What does some stupid "tripartite UN agency" with its "international conventions" know about labour rights anyway? My hand-picked cronies say I'm cool!

On priorities

Shorter Tom Flanagan:

I can't believe the opposition actually worked to eliminate a public irritant rather than clinging to every available avenue for propaganda. Whatta buncha rubes, I tells ya!

On slanted intentions

In case it wasn't clear that the Sask Party is determined to push private health care on the province whether or not it's in the best interest of anybody but those who would stand to profit from it, Don McMorris has put all doubt to rest:
Don McMorris, Saskatchewan's health minister, said the province has the money for 3,000 extra surgeries and 2,500 extra CT scans in the province this year.

McMorris said he's willing to pay private clinics to perform the surgeries and is asking the health regions to research the availability of private clinics within Saskatchewan's two largest cities.
The province said it will only go ahead with this plan if surgeries cost the same or less in private clinics as they would in public hospitals.
Now, to start with it's worth pointing out that any potential private health operator with more than two functioning brain cells will notice an opportunity to low-ball a proposed price in advance in order to become the main provider intended to meet the Wall government's waiting list promises, then jack up the price once other options are ruled out. But setting aside the incentives for corporate providers to game the system, there's another part of McMorris' position which plainly speaks to a determined effort to privatize as much health care as the Sask Party can get away with.

After all, one would think that if the cost is equal, anybody concerned with getting services delivered would work within the current system rather than going out of their way to set up a new structure. But the Wall government is doing just the opposite: even if the price is "the same" such that there aren't any cost savings to be had, McMorris has declared that for-profit health care delivery is his government's first choice.

That should make it clear that the Wall government is using the wait lists which have expanded since the Sask Party took office as an excuse to wedge open the door to privatization, rather than seeing improved care as the end goal. Which means that Saskatchewan voters will want to take a hard look at how long they can afford to leave the Sask Party in charge of the province's health care system.

Monday, March 29, 2010

On suboptimal strategies

John Ryan points to a highly unrealistic set of numbers to make the case for a pre-election arrangement between Canada's opposition parties. Which makes for a good time to point to the calculations which call Ryan's assumptions into doubt.

Deep thought

Let it never be said that Brad Wall's attacks on Saskatchewan workers haven't managed to earn the province some international attention.

Well said

Following up on this morning's post, Paul Wells also notes the potential for the Libs' shifting stance on corporate taxes to facilitate a coalition - and points out why it'll be self-defeating for Ignatieff to stick to the no-coalition line (emphasis in original):
There are two possible responses to coalition talk: “Never!” and “Maybe.” “Never!” was the one Ignatieff tried last autumn. It has the advantage of drawing a sharp distinction between himself and Dion’s ruinous 2008 adventure. The disadvantage is that it’s irresponsible. If, say, 120 Conservatives, 118 Liberals and 40 New Democrats were elected (leaving 30 Bloquistes; I just pulled these numbers out of the air, any other outcome is possible), it would simply be asinine for everyone to sit around and let Stephen Harper run everything for another two or four years when a stable Liberal-NDP arrangement (with or without Bloc support) could be envisioned.

On plausibility

I'll agree with Devin that it's a plus that the Libs have decided to campaign on limiting further corporate tax cuts as a means of funding national programs. And I'll take his analysis a step further: not only is the idea a plus on its face, but it should also have a positive effect on Canada's wider political scene.

That's in part because multiparty acceptance of the idea that there's in fact some money available to accomplish important policy goals will make it harder for the Cons to campaign on doing nothing while inviting a vigorous debate on what priorities we should be pursuing. And in addition, it probably improves the likelihood of a coalition after the next election, as the Libs' insistence on corporate tax cuts made for their excuse for not wanting to cooperate during the 2008 election campaign.

That said, though, the Libs' latest move runs face-first into the criticism raised by Brian Topp last week, as corporate tax cuts jump to the head of the list of policies where the Libs' promises today don't seem to reflect their values in the recent past.

After all, it was the Chretien/Martin Libs who decided that social programs would be the main target of their budget cuts in the '90s, then made tax cuts their top priority after the budget was balanced. Indeed, the Libs spent a decade saying "wait 'til next mandate" to backers of the plans they're raising now, while finding plenty of money for a string of corporate tax cuts.

And that set of priorities didn't change even as the Libs moved into opposition. In fact, Stephane Dion pushed the Cons to cut further and faster - and as noted above, cited his insistence on further cuts as his reason why he didn't intend to cooperate with the NDP.

Which means that there's little reason to take seriously the idea that the Libs' basic values toward corporate tax cuts have changed no matter what Ignatieff says now. And there's little reason for voters to put their support behind a party pretending to be the NDP when the real thing is also on the ballot.

The only crime is getting caught

Yessiree, Ryan Sparrow looks to be in a heap of trouble today.

No, not for his political interference with the release of information about Olympic ad costs, as nobody took seriously the claim that the Cons planned to change their partisan meddling. But to do so by e-mail the same week that other staffers helpfully mentioned that they were no longer going to commit their orders to writing? Now that's going to draw the Cons' ire.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

150 Ways to Leave the Liberals

So apparently the Saskatchewan NDP convention wasn't the only political event taking place this weekend - and I haven't had much chance to discuss the Libs' policy conference while travelling to Prince Albert. For now, go read Brian Topp from before and after the event this weekend if you haven't already, and I'll toss in my comments in the days to come.

Saskatchewan NDP Convention - Sunday Wrapup

The Saskatchewan NDP convention ended this morning with another lively session featuring elections, constitutional amendments and policy resolutions to go with two speeches (a presentation from Save Our Saskatchewan Crowns, as well as a final address from Dwain Lingenfelter).

Two elections were contested: a seven-candidate race for five vice president positions (which saw Kent Peterson of Humble Opinion elected along with Kent Lindgren, Wil Olive, Sherry Magnusson and Brandi Tracksell-Sampson), followed by a two-candidate race for treasurer won by Arlee McGrath.

While the elections took top priority on the agenda this morning, a noteworthy set of constitutional amendments came next in the order of precedence with mixed results. The convention passed two amendments: CA1 to constitutionalize a candidate screening process (which to my surprise didn't face any opposition), and a housekeeping amendment in CA3. Two amendments which would theoretically have served to reduce the scope for discussion at conventions (one to reduce maximum speaking times, the other to close discussion after two consecutive speakers present on one side of an issue without opposition) were defeated, and the composition of the NDP's executive was referred for review after CA5 (deleting at-large members) also failed.

Not surprisingly, the combination of nine election speeches, two votes and a long list of constitutional amendments left little time to deal with policy, with the result that only one resolution from the health/education/social development panel was considered - and that only because the convention agreed to prioritize ED1 supporting First Nations University of Canada. Meanwhile, four emergency resolutions passed, including support for unionized workers at Affinity Credit Union, a resolution on SCN and the Saskatchewan film industry, a strong condemnation of the Sask Party's political interference in the hiring of a Chief Electoral Officer, and a call to restore the Aboriginal Employment Development Program.

I'll have more discussion about the impact of the convention in the next couple of days. But even as a relatively relaxed event sandwiched between two which figure to play exceptionally large roles in the party's development (between 2009's leadership contest and the 2011 policy convention), the convention still saw plenty of passionate debate while bringing the party together for what looks to be an extended election campaign. And if this spring will indeed play a large part in determining where each party stands going into next year's election, I'd have to figure that the NDP has reason to be happy with its position after this weekend.

The reviews are in

The Star Phoenix editorial board is getting ever more outraged at the Harper Cons' contempt for democracy:
Whatever the reason, the Conservative government seems determined to denigrate and diminish Parliament. And it's time that Canadians paid attention.

The latest insult was the government's cynical decision Thursday to dump in boxes below the Speaker's chair some 2,500 heavily censored documents that deal with the increasingly questionable Afghan detainee issue. It was the same issue that caused Prime Minister Stephen Harper to prorogue Parliament in late December rather than face grilling by a Commons committee.

And it was the same issue that instigated a rare instance of weekend work for the government, when it chose a Saturday afternoon to announce the mandate it had established for former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to determine what information, if any, should be censored on the grounds of national security.

More disturbing than the Conservatives' cynical treatment of that information, however, is their even more cynical treatment of power of Parliament.

It appears that the Conservatives believe the credibility and sustainability of Canada's democratic institutions are little more than a joke.
Prime Minister Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, called the release of the censored documents a show of "transparency" on the government's part.

Apparently, that's what serves as humour in our capital.
Canadians have given the Conservatives a pass.

That seems to be more of a statement on the relative impotence of the opposition than it is on the management abilities of a government that misjudged a pending economic tsunami, cut taxes at the worst possible time and stumbled into the steepest deficit in Canada's history.

But if Ms. Hébert is right, Canadians won't have long to take notice and decide how much of their constitutional power they are willing to let slip from their grip.

On cowardice

Leftdog has already pointed out the Sask Party's declaration that simply have to try to push the HST onto Saskatchewan. And not surprisingly, I'll have plenty more to say on the topic - particularly after the Wall government's ideological cousins in the B.C. Lib government imposed the tax shift onto citizens after running a campaign where they similarly claimed they didn't have any plans to do so.

But for now, let's note one other interesting aspect of Gantefoer's handling of the issue, as both before and after Gantefoer's backtracking he's basically said that he wants corporate Saskatchewan to push the issue so the government won't have to:
Gantefoer said in a Friday morning speech in Saskatoon that he’d welcome that debate.
“I think there should be a good and wholesome debate in Saskatchewan beginning now if the business community sees fit that that is appropriate. I expect and would welcome the debate going into the next election.”

The finance minister stopped at the Saskatoon Inn to sell his budget to the business community. He spoke about reducing spending, growing Saskatchewan exports to Asian economies and maintaining investments in post-secondary education.

Later on Friday, Gantefoer's office sent out a media release that said, "business groups and other may have this debate" but the government's opposition to HST remains unchanged.
In effect, Gantefoer's position looks to be a twisted version of FDR's "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it." response to activists within his own party. But there's one key difference, being that he isn't honest enough to say he agrees with the HST in principle since he doesn't want to wear the political cost of that position.

And it'll be a surprise if at least some of the business community doesn't take up the invitation and try to force the issue - presumably with plenty of cheerleading from the province's corporate media. See for example Bruce Johnstone's delightful new argument that we should assume based on zero evidence that Manitoba will suddenly reverse course, leaving Saskatchewan as the lone non-harmonized province.

But there's good news in the fact that the Sask Party wants to let big business do the actual work in selling the HST. After all, the Wall government tried the same strategy when it came to nuclear power, and was forced to back down once it realized that it's people rather than dollars who ultimately get their say at the polls. And hopefully Gantefoer's obvious fear of letting any positive comment about the HST stand will help to make sure we don't waste too much time on the subject.