Saturday, April 10, 2010

The buck stops elsewhere

Shorter every anonymous insider the Cons could scrounge up to talk to the press:

Let's not forget that the real victim of Helena Guergis' disastrous tenure in cabinet is the Prime Minister who promoted her then refused to admit she wasn't up to the job.

On weak explanations

One more item from James Wood's notes today deserves a post of its own, as the Sask Party's followup to its bizarre claim that Saskatchewan would produce a fifth of the world's natural resources doesn't make any more sense than its initial assertion:
"With more than 20 per cent of the world supply of natural resources coming directly from Saskatchewan, we know this increase will likely continue," the release quotes Draude as saying.

Alas, these newfound resources proved to be as ephemeral as last year's budget projections of potash revenue.

On Friday, the government issued a correction saying the minister was incorrectly quoted. (The notebook isn't quite sure how that happens in the government's own news release, but never mind.)

Saturday Afternoon Links

A bit of light reading for those staying inside to avoid being blown over...

- Not surprisingly, the numbers on the limited amount of stimulus money actually spent confirms the concern that the Cons' choice of photo-op-friendly infrastructure projects would lead to little money being distributed when it was most needed.

- Murray Dobbin notes that it isn't just banks who have responded to decades of getting everything they want on policy by failing to provide the public benefits claimed in return:
Governments since Brian Mulroney's have given Bay Street virtually everything they have asked for: the lowest corporate taxes in the developed world; twenty years of "labour flexibility" which has flat-lined wages since 1980; massive deregulation; a plethora of free trade agreements; huge cuts to EI -- the whole corporate wish-list.

None of it has made one iota of difference except that Canadian corporations have a tonne of cash sitting in their coffers, cash they were supposed to spend on innovation, technology, training and -- gawd forbid -- taking risks.
- Gerald Caplan reminds us that while Abousfian Abdelrazik has at least made it back to Canada despite the Cons' best efforts, he's still stuck in legal limbo due to the arbitary application of anti-terror rules despite a lack of evidence against him.

- Kevin Donovan continues to set the pace in reporting on Rahim Jaffer's efforts to peddle government influence, this time with a remarkable set of revelations about Jaffer's business partner.

- Finally, Susan Delacourt points out a couple of the key questions about Helena Guergis' dismissal from Cabinet and the Cons which Stephen Harper can't avoid no matter how desperately he tries to hide behind the RCMP.

On battle lines

James Wood offers up some more details about yesterday's nomination news in Saskatoon Sutherland. And the picture looks to be a positive one for the NDP on a couple of fronts.

First, there's a possible explanation as to what might have tipped the balance for Ryan Meili in seeking the NDP's nomination in Saskatoon Sutherland rather than Saskatoon Greystone - as one of his strong leadership supporters may be back for another run in the latter riding:
(F)ormer NDP cabinet minister Peter Prebble said Friday he has been approached by the Saskatoon Greystone nomination committee and isn't ruling out running again in his old seat -- although he strongly emphasized he has not made any decision.

"I haven't said yes to any proposition," he said Friday.

"It would be a big decision to re-enter."
Needless to say, Prebble's background in Greystone would figure to position him extremely well for the general election if he does decide to take the plunge. And it makes sense that Meili wouldn't want to pursue Greystone if the likely result would have been to rule out Prebble's return (or set up a nomination battle which would see one or the other removed from the party's slate of candidates).

Of course, the flip side is that the NDP surely won't want to wait too long to get its candidate in place to challenge for what looks to be an important seat. And hopefully we'll see Prebble or another candidate in place before long.

Meanwhile, Saskatoon Sutherland may also be looking like an even juicier target for the general election than I would have figured. While rookie MLA Joceline Schriemer isn't exactly a household name, the NDP's chances of retaking the seat should improve substantially if the Sask Party doesn't have an incumbency advantage - and apparently Schriemer is considering stepping down:
Like Norris, Joceline Schriemer was a rookie Sask. Party MLA in 2007 -- knocking off the NDP's Graham Addley in Saskatoon Sutherland.

But she said this week she's still weighing whether she will run again in 2011.

On leave from her duties as a city police officer, Schriemer said in an interview her first love is policing and noted it would be easier to return to that job after four years rather than the eight-year gap that would occur if she ran again and won a second term.
Now, I'd expect the Sask Party to want a decision one way or the other in relatively short order. After all, it has to be their worst-case scenario for a prominent opponent like Meili to have a year and a half working the riding while an unknown Sask Party candidate gets a late start due to indecision on Schriemer's part.

But it's hard to see any possible outcome for the Sask Party that doesn't represent a somewhat weaker position than having a motivated incumbent working to hold the seat from day one. While an early decision on Schriemer's part to step down would limit any disadvantage resulting from the NDP's early start, it would still result in a loss of the incumbency advantage. Conversely, if Schriemer now decides to run again, voters will surely have to wonder whether her stated preference for police work and uncertainty as to whether she really wants the job will affect their representation.

Of course, the Sask Party's hope seems to be that top-line voter preferences will work in their favour so as to minimize the impact of constituency-level considerations. But there's plenty of risk involved in banking on that possibility - and the NDP surely won't be disappointed to see the Sask Party gamble and lose.

Update: For those looking for extra reason for excitement about Saskatoon Sutherland, Jason's retrospective on the Meili leadership campaign is worth a read.

The reviews are in

The Star-Phoenix editorial board takes Stephen Harper to task for his refusal to tell Canadians why it is that the RCMP has been called in to investigate Helena Guergis:
In a country whose national police force is expected to be non-political, it's suspicious enough to have the prime minister order an investigation.

To then have him make the announcement without telling Canadians why he is stepping outside the traditional bounds of his office to call an investigation is unacceptable. Canadians have a right to know what is behind such a high-profile investigation.

The RCMP isn't Mr. Harper's police force, and it certainly isn't mandated to clean up the prime minister's political messes.

Mr. Harper should come clean, even if it's embarrassing.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Musical interlude

Tiesto feat. Kane - Rain Down On Me

On system failures

In a less easily-distracted society, this is the sort of revelation that would spark a thorough rethinking of what we expect of our banking system. In this one, I expect never to hear of it again.

And it's official

One of the worst-kept secrets in Saskatchewan politics was confirmed today as Ryan Meili announced his intention to seek the NDP's nomination in Saskatoon Sutherland. And I'll definitely be looking forward to seeing Ryan back in the political ring after his impressive leadership run last year.

But to make matters more interesting, the Star Phoenix notes that there are two more candidates in the mix as well beyond Meili and Scott Stelmaschuk:
Tax consultant Naveed Anwar and Saskatoon lawyer Rob Dobrohoczki, who works at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, also will seek the Saskatoon-Sutherland nomination.
Needless to say, there shouldn't be any lack of activity in the riding with such a strong field of candidates pursuing the NDP's nomination - meaning that whoever emerges victorious should have a solid base to build from in the general election.


There's naturally been plenty of talk about the B.C. HST now that the petition drive to repeal it is officially underway. But perhaps more interesting than the expected fervor of the petition's supporters is the complete lack of anybody making an effort to oppose it:
(T)he truck loggers didn't sign up to oppose Bill Vander Zalm's repeal-the-tax petition that began this week. Not a single entity has, and that means supporters will be limited in what they can do to sell the HST for the next three months even if they chose to get into the act now. That’s because under the Recall and Initiative Act, advertising on the HST petition is strictly controlled during the petition period.

Jock Finlayson, chief economist of the B.C. Business Council, was the leading proponent of an HST in B.C. and the de facto head of the pro-HST coalition last fall.

The coalition hasn’t met since the fall and the contract with the PR firm hired to help it has lapsed.
Of course, the Globe and Mail notes that HST supporters are trying to argue that they don't need to bother doing anything in response to the petition based on the Campbell Libs' devotion to pushing ahead. But it's rather odd to count on the sitting government as one's lone ally in the face of a petition process designed to give a voice to citizens the chance to override the decisions of elected officials.

That leaves the possibility that the HST supporters are instead counting on the petition drive to fail on its own terms - and the statutory requirements are definitely onerous for the initiative's supporters. But the more HST proponents send the implicit message that they can afford to ignore or belittle the public's outrage, the more likely it may be that the HST petition drive will be the first to reach the standards to get passed.

The reviews are in

The Star-Phoenix editorial board slams the Wall government for its short-sighted cuts to Dutch elm disease control:
The Saskatchewan Party government's decision to slash a provincial program to control the spread of Dutch elm disease is another example that it didn't make the hard decisions in trimming its budget.

It made short-sighted decisions that ultimately could prove very costly. The elm program that cost the treasury some $500,000 a year was seen as critical in controlling a disease that could cost millions if allowed to spread out of control.

Saskatchewan has taken a co-ordinated approach over past quarter-century to quickly identify and destroy infected elms before the bark beetle that carries the disease can breed and multiply. It was a strategy deemed much more cost effective than allowing the unchecked loss of trees, as happened in much of the U.S.
(T)o nickel and dime programs such as the one to control Dutch elm disease or such proven enterprises as Quint or the Health Quality Council, shows neither foresight nor courage.

On interprovincial policy

Erin's latest deserves some followup on a couple of points. But before dealing with the specific topic of royalties, it's worth asking more generally how much Saskatchewan should focus on trying to coordinate policy of any kind with with other provinces.

It's easy enough to say that to the extent a policy is worth implementing in Saskatchewan, it's equally worth coordinating with other provinces to make sure the benefits are more widely applied. And that may be a particularly compelling point when it comes to setting matching tax or royalty rates in order to avoid a race to the bottom.

But there are a couple of concerns that I've dealt with mostly in the context of the TILMA which are worth pointing out based on their broader application.

The most basic is that the essence of interprovincial agreements in their current form is to limit each province's ability to make future decisions for itself based on the direction of voters. And while I'm particularly concerned about that limitation when it comes to the ability to formulate social policy, it seems to me to be no less problematic based on which choices are being restricted.

Mind you, this concern can be minimized if a province merely sets an internal policy of matching policies with the provinces around it, rather than seeking binding agreements. But that in turn eliminates any ability to hold other provinces to any standards.

The second main question I'd have with the concept of interprovincial coordination is that of the development of provincial niches. While I'm obviously not a fan of the decades-long race to the bottom when it comes to corporate responsibility, I'm not sure that one size fits all is necessarily the right outcome either. And indeed I'd figure that a mix of provinces including different types of regulatory, tax and royalty models (while working to limit any truly frivolous variations) could well lead to a broader base of economic development than a system where the factors affecting business decisions are increasingly uniform across the country.

So without getting into the nuts and bolts of tax policy for now, I'll offer up the question for discussion: should we be primarily looking to develop an economic model to be implemented across provincial boundaries in the near future, or working on developing a distinctive niche for Saskatchewan?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Oh dear

Apparently the Wall government's hack-and-slash budget is based on the modest assumption that Saskatchewan will be home to "more than 20 per cent of the world supply of natural resources". No word yet what proportion of that estimate consists of projected exports of magic beans and unicorn meat.

On costly fees

We're still waiting on a strong national response to the Charest government's plan to impose health user fees. But Thomas Walkom offers a reminder as to why there's a need for one:
Quebec Premier Jean Charest says he plans to make patients pay a $25 user fee each time they see a doctor. Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says that sounds fine by him. If this is the so-called adult conversation the country is planning to have on health care, we're in bad shape.

The reason? We've had this hoary, old conversation before – over and over and over again. Mike Harris suggested user fees for medicare when he won the Ontario Tory leadership in 1990. Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien mused about them in 2001, as did Ralph Klein, then Alberta's Conservative premier, a year later.

Each one eventually dropped the idea. First, monkeying with medicare is political dynamite in Canada. But second and more important, user fees don't work.

That's the conclusion of study after study. Earlier in this decade, a Senate committee looked into medicare user fees and, indeed, was initially keen on the idea.

But in the end, it concluded that a low user fee would cost more to collect than it would raise in revenue. And a high user fee would deter the sick from seeking necessary medical help early, contributing to higher costs later on.
(O)ff-loading medicare costs onto the sick might make governments look better in the short run. But in the end, we all end up paying as much or more.

On inconvenient knowledge

Nancy Heppner offers up the Sask Party's excuse for making shortsighted cuts to Dutch Elm disease control:
"Obviously there were some tough decisions to make in this budget," Environment Minister Nancy Heppner said. "But we felt there was knowledge and capacity within the municipalities."
So what do those knowledgeable municipal officials have to say about the move?
"I would say within five years, left unchecked, I think we'll see an increase of Dutch elm disease in Regina," Ray Morgan, the (Regina manager) of forestry and pest control, told CBC News Wednesday.
That doesn't sound promising. But maybe Saskatoon officials have a different take?
(A) bigger concern is a lack of provincial support for monitoring, surveillance and removal of diseased trees in rural Saskatchewan, where the disease is already "prevalent and spreading like crazy," (Saskatoon's superintendent of urban forestry Geoff McLeod) said.

"We're going to see it moving faster and as a result that may end up with Dutch elm disease winding up in Saskatoon," said McLeod in an interview Wednesday.

"Collectively we're disappointed in the direction the province has chosen to go with this because I don't think they see the bigger picture implications."
Stay tuned to find out how quickly the line about knowledge at the municipal level gives way to an explanation that we shouldn't listen to a word some mere city employee has to say.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

If you haven't seen it yet...

Without a doubt, Kevin Donovan's story on Rahim Jaffer is today's must-read, offering at least a possible explanation for Jaffer's sweetheart plea bargain as well as a couple of essential lines for a future Twelve Days of Harper carol. But while "three busty hookers" may make for the sexiest possible lede, perhaps the most damning part of the story is the nature of Jaffer's business partners and the promises they've apparently made about access to the PMO:
“As most of you may have heard, we had a rather earth moving experience last night at dinner with Rahim Jaffer and Dr. Chen. Mr. Jaffer has opened up the Prime Ministers’ office to us and as a result of that dinner – he today advised me that is just as excited as we are and joining our team seems to be the next logical step,” Gillani wrote to a dozen close associates. (Tory insiders say Jaffer has no such access).
York Regional Police detectives charged Gillani, Mihelic and several others in November with fraud in connection with a deal Gillani allegedly orchestrated. A former senior employee of Rona was coerced into using his computer and finance knowledge to wire $1.5 million of Rona money to a dummy account in Hong Kong. Jasmine, the Cachet Ladies escort, was with Gillani in his bedroom when detectives arrived to make the arrest. Sobbing, she pleaded with them not to take her boyfriend away.

Two of those accused have said they will plead guilty in return for providing evidence against Gillani.

Deep thought

I'm sure the Cons will start living up to their assurance that they'll even out the obvious partisan imbalance in stimulus spending any day now.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

On charity cases

The Wall government's move to make personal health information available for fund-raising purposes has been duly panned as a matter of privacy. But there's an even more worrisome message being sent about the Sask Party's preferred funding model for health care.

After all, there wouldn't seem to be much reason to change provincial regulations to facilitate begging patients for money if that step wasn't combined with an expectation that health foundations will make use of the opening to fund more of the province's health care through that system. And particularly in the wake of the Sask Party's broken promises in funding a children's hospital and other plans to restrict public spending on health care, that has to raise questions about the Wall government's apparent preference for treating health care as a matter of private charity rather than public responsibility.

On legacies

Shorter Harper Cons:

What better way to preserve one of Canada's richest ecological areas in the Arctic than to cover it in a thick layer of nourishing crude oil?

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk on how the Harper Cons are hurting Saskatchewan by taking its voters for granted:
To listen to Regina-Qu'Appelle MP Andrew Scheer smugly tell us that the federal Conservatives are just being prudent in not supporting things such as a new stadium in Regina even as they are pouring billions into Ontario and Quebec is a little too much to take.

The reality is that we have a prime minister who places little value in any promise or commitment that doesn't yield the additional seats he needs for a majority government.

And he's already got about as many Conservative seats out of Saskatchewan as he will get.

The other truth is that we've elected a bunch of Conservative MPs who put their party's interests -- and perhaps their own cabinet aspirations -- ahead of standing up for Saskatchewan and the people who elected them.

So when the Conservatives come knocking on your door with their list of what they've supposedly done for you, you might want to remind them of what they haven't done.

A lost perspective

If anybody wasn't already saddened by the announcement that the Sasquatch's March/April issue will be its last, there's reason to be all the more so in noting the last response in Shayna Stock's interview with NDP leader Jack Layton:
Keep up the good work. I mean, how many times have I sat down with people who’ve said, “What we need is our own press!” You know, a press that will bring a critical perspective to our work too, which I can tell that you’re willing to do, and I think that’s vital.

A brief response

So the main response to the a Nova Scotia NDP budget which necessarily changes the provincial financial picture from the one Rodney MacDonald claimed to the one Darrell Dexter actually found seems to be "if you were really against the HST, you wouldn't run to govern a province where we imposed it!!!1!eleven!"

Needless to say, I don't see the spin as deserving of much rebuttal. But suffice it to say that there's a huge difference between making an unnecessary choice to change a provincial tax structure to relieve corporations of the obligation to pay consumption taxes while increasing the burden on citizens, and making needed changes to increase revenue in the near term when the machinery to enforce a broader sales tax has been trashed over a decade ago. And indeed that's in part exactly why provincial governments shouldn't be secretive and dishonest about the consequences of eliminating that capacity in the first place.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

On expanding horizons

Meanwhile, the NDP has unveiled its new Quebec website as part of the party's expanded presence in the province. And it's hard not to like the contrast between an NDP expanding in Quebec and the Cons' apparent retreat:
Le dévoilement de ce nouvel outil s’inscrit dans le virage pris par le NPD d’augmenter sa présence et sa visibilité chez nous. En effet, le parti inaugurait en février ses tout nouveaux bureaux montréalais sur l’avenue Papineau. Ironie du sort, lorsque Jack Layton tenait la première conférence de presse à cet endroit, les conservateurs annonçaient la fermeture de leur bureau à Montréal. Deux événements dont la simultanéité est significative aux yeux de la présidente québécoise Françoise Boivin. «C’est révélateur d’une tendance. Nous sommes en expansion et les troupes de Harper sont en repli. C’est très clair aussi dans les sondages où nous constatons que nous rattrapons les conservateurs. Ils sont sur la pente descendante et c’est une bonne nouvelle pour tous les progressistes.»

An obvious solution

Robert Silver and Scott Tribe want the Libs to embrace open nominations rather than insulating MPs from democratic accountability. But there's no indication that the Libs' hierarchy will stand for such a loss of control.

Scott Reid thinks the Libs should start paying more attention to the deteriorating well-being of working Canadians. But there doesn't seem to be much interest in actually confronting the Lib power structure's role in exacerbating the problem.

So let's ask the question: if everybody who reasonably wishes the Libs were more like the NDP actually made the jump themselves, wouldn't we have a far better chance of actually overcoming the Lib institutions which are holding back progress?

Saskatchewan NDP - Regina Nomination Roundup

To date, I haven't followed up much on the Regina Coronation Park and Regina South nomination races since mentioning the entry of each candidate. But now that the fields look to be fairly well set, let's take a closer look at what each candidate is currently doing to build support online.

Off the top, it's worth noting that each one of the six candidates has put together at least a reasonably well-updated Facebook group in support of his or her effort - not to mention that all six candidates attended the Prince Albert provincial convention to interact with the broader party. But it's worth also pointing out some of the creative steps taken beyond that strong baseline of activity for all of the candidates. So let's go through the candidates in alphabetical order by riding to see what they've been up to.

Regina Coronation Park

The first candidate to review also looks to be winner in the creativity department so far. Jaime Garcia's campaign has left no stone unturned in getting his name out into the public, with the efforts so far ranging from billboards to custom pop bottles in addition to active Facebook, Twitter and web presences. And the fact that he's also held a fund-raising dinner hints at how he's been able to afford forms of advertising not normally expected in a nomination race. About the only question I'd have about Garcia's campaign so far is his degree of focus on candidate branding over policy - but he's certainly done well in getting his name known.

The other Regina Coronation Park candidate with a complete set of online campaign tools is Tamara Harder, who likewise features regular Facebook and Twitter updates to go with the strongest web presence among the Coronation Park candidates. (Disclaimer: As mentioned before, I'm helping out with Tamara's campaign.)

Not surprisingly, Fred Kress is somewhat behind the younger candidates in his online presence, as he's the candidate with the longest gap in online updates (having last posted on March 21). Hopefully he'll get back in the habit of posting, as his earlier updates offered some sharper and more candid commentary than most of the candidates have provided.

Finally, Tory McGregor has also gone awhile since his last update on March 23. But it's worth highlighting a few of his earlier entries which reflect the most direct effort of any of the candidates to educate voters about an area of interest (that being the Sask Party's proposed changes to environmental regulation).

Regina South

As expected, both of the candidates in Regina South have maintained a strong online presence. But the most notable new development looks to be Heather McIntyre's Coffee Talk feature, offering visitors the chance to hear conversational interviews about Heather's campaign (with more apparently to come) to accompany her regular written updates.

Meanwhile, Yens Pedersen's campaign has provided updates primarily through his Facebook group, featuring a bevy of photos and outside links. It's worth noting that much of Yens' website (including the blog portion) has been pared down or cleared since last year's leadership race, and it'll be worth watching the extent to which he ends up offering less formal commentary on the nomination race to counter McIntyre's personal focus.

Update (April 9): To his credit, Jaime Garcia has been posting plenty of policy links and commentary over the past few days since I posted the above. For my next demand, I'd like to see a musical number.

Burning question

Can we all agree that the Cons' GG diversion is officially spent when even the country's leading regurgitator of Harper talking points can't be bothered to do more than name random NHL roleplayers to fuel the story?

Monday, April 05, 2010

On cumulative effects

Most reporting on the civil service's advice to Jim Prentice is focusing on the seemingly obvious point that the world's best scientific information on climate change remains so no matter how loud the shrieking from denialists. But there's another piece of the multidepartmental message to Prentice which deserves far more attention as Canada sets its climate policy in the years to come:
The memo also advises the government to consider cumulative emissions over the years when it sets an individual target for a given year, since carbon dioxide emissions stay in the atmosphere for decades and will continue to warm the planet, regardless of whether there are reductions in pollution in the future.
That recommendation stands in stark contrast to the Cons' determination to set no targets whatsoever until 2020 (presumably to be put off further if by some chance they're still in power as that date draws near). But given that the effect of CO2 emissions is no less an issue in the time period before those targets come into play, it only makes sense that any increases in the meantime should be taken into account in determining what kind of cuts are needed in the longer term. And for a responsible governing party, that should provide some impetus to put serious work into reducing Canada's emissions in the near term to help us meet our longer-term targets.

Of course, we can't expect the Cons themselves to offer up anything but delay and denial. But for those parties who actually see preventing catastrophic climate change as a priority, the suggestion is well worth taking into account in developing plans on the subject. And hopefully that will help highlight the gap between a government determined to ignore the best advice available to it, and an alternative which actually takes the issue seriously.

On pointless giveaways

Erin looks at the numbers comparing corporate costs in countries around the world. And if anybody was operating under the illusion that tens of billions of dollars of corporate tax cuts over the last decade had served any useful purpose, let Erin put those to rest (italics in original, bolding added):
First, “taxes typically represent up to 14 percent of location-sensitive costs.” Since corporate income tax (CIT) is only one of the taxes paid by business, it alone accounts for an even smaller percentage of costs. Therefore, changes in the CIT rate have very little effect on total business costs.

Second, Canada’s effective CIT rate is about 4 percentage points below the next lowest country (Holland) and about 10 percentage points below the other countries examined (see exhibit 5.10 on page 60 of volume I). So, Canada could raise its CIT appreciably and still have a lower CIT than our main competitors.

Third, Canada had the second-lowest costs overall. The current round of federal CIT cuts was introduced in the 2007 Economic Statement. Looking back before that, Canada had also ranked second in the 2006 Competitive Alternatives report (PDF). Apparently, the latest CIT cuts have not affected our overall ranking.

Saskatchewan NDP Convention 2010 - The Long Term

Following up on last week's look at where the Saskatchewan NDP stands in the near future (i.e. the leadup to the 2011), let's take a look at the party's longer-term positioning. And for that, the most important talk from the Prince Albert convention is Cam Broten's talk on provincial demographics, which can be found here following his introduction to the policy review process.

Initially, it struck me as surprising that the party would set time aside for a discussion of demographic trends rather than focusing on its near-term political goals. But its long-term planning obviously has to be based on some awareness of what the province will look like several election cycles down the road - and there's reason for optimism that the NDP will be well-positioned for the changing look of Saskatchewan.

Importantly, Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces not facing the type of demographic time bomb of the type pointed out by Dan Gardner. Instead, we can count on a moderate but steady increase in base population - with that growth based almost entirely in First Nations communities. And likewise, the First Nations population may make for an important exception to the rule that residents will shift from rural to urban areas.

Meanwhile, the other factors influencing the makeup of Saskatchewan's population (being international and interprovincial migration) may be far more difficult to predict. Obviously the province will hope to keep growing in these departments as well, and all parties will try to ensure some inroads into communities of new residents - but it'll be a gamble to count on a mobile population as a party's base for the future.

Which means that beyond the current party starting points, the most obvious area for potential growth is First Nations voters present and future. And that dovetails nicely with the spotlight on Lawrence Joseph at the NDP's convention, as well as the party's commitment to First Nations issues (which is now being tailored to be more responsive to community needs).

Of course, there are still risks involved in counting on any one group as the source of future growth - and the NDP will need to make a particularly concerted effort to overcome a perception that the broader political system doesn't address First Nations needs in order to improve turnout levels. But at the very least, the NDP can point to the most obvious demographic trend as one which can realistically be expected to improve its position.

And the NDP's future strength is only amplified when contrasted against the latest Sask Party budget and its direct attacks on First Nations. One could see the Sask Party as trying to bypass traditional First Nations institutions and cultures to pull new voters into a melting pot, or perhaps figure that it's hoping for in-migration to overwhelm the growth in Saskatchewan's First Nations population. But either of those paths looks to rely primarily on blind hope rather than any great likelihood of success - and each could very easily backfire if the Sask Party's assumptions prove wrong.

All of which is to say that while the NDP's chances in 2011 may look better now than they did a few months ago, there's reason to think that the long-term future will be even brighter. And that should offer plenty of encouragement for citizens to get involved now, knowing that there may be an opportunity to implement the NDP's vision for the province over many election cycles to come.

Addition by subtraction

For those wondering when the opposition parties might start exercising their power to review federal spending (and I know at least one opinion columnist has done so, though it isn't turning up on my review this morning), here's your answer. It turns out that Pat Martin's motion to cut off funding for asbestos promotion wasn't his only move to rein in expenses, as he's now planning to directly challenge the Cons' bloated advertising budget:
(NDP MP Pat) Martin said "telling the public 10 times a night at primetime the government is spending money on an Economic Action Plan" clearly crosses the line of responsible use of public funds. This in mind, Mr. Martin said he will attempt to have the millions PCO spent on advertising management withdrawn from the central agency's budget.

"When the estimates come before our [Government Operations and Estimates Committee] I intend to put forward a motion to subtract from the estimates of the Privy Council an amount equal to the amount they've been spending on advertising for their Economic Action Plan," he said.
Of course, it seems all too likely that the newest move will be met with the same lack of interest by the Libs. But it'll be a shame if so - as this would seem to offer an ideal opportunity to force the Cons to defend their own waste of public funds, while also serving as another means of shifting the balance of power between Parliament and the PMO. And considering that the Cons themselves are still painting themselves as responsibile financial managers, it might not even be out of the question that a joint opposition effort could force the Cons into cutting some of their more egregious giveaways.

Well said

John McClement's letter to the editor nicely sums up the folly of locking a province into the type of corporate-friendly long-term contracts that the Wall government loves so much:
(R)ather than taking advantage of the cost savings from Crown debt financing and owning power plants, SaskPower is paying a premium to buy power from the private sector -- a premium that will be reflected in future rate increases. With these take-or-pay purchase contracts, SaskPower is in effect "passing" on the debt financing advantage. Taxpayers are guaranteeing an uninterrupted flow of blue-chip dividends to the shareholders of investor-owned utilities -- a financial commitment now near $7 billion, one soon exceeding the province's total debt.

With major dollars required to replace aging generating capacity, and supply growing demands while ensuring competitive rates, Crown debt financing and ownership is by far the lowest long-term cost option.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


As for the Cons' stance on the Quebec government's plan to impose health care user fees, it's worth pointing out the yawning gap between their words and their actions in office. Here's the Con response when the news broke:
(T)he federal government is avoiding getting sucked into what would be a contentious debate. It offered a curt reply when asked whether it would halt Quebec's move.

"The Canada Health Act is the law of the land," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas.

"Provinces and territories have continuously indicated they respect the Canada Health Act and obviously the federal government expects the Canada Health Act to always be respected."
Which is certainly a positive enough sentiment if taken at face value. But it rings rather hollow coming from a government which has ensured that the Canada Health Act won't actually be enforced at the federal level - and the fact that the Cons have relied purely on provincial self-reporting looks to have played a significant role in Charest's apparent belief that his government can get away with thumbing its nose at the law.

Breaking the silence

There have been plenty of columns this week questioning the lack of much strong federal response to the Charest Libs' decision to impose user fees on Quebec citizens. But it's worth looking at the issue from an NDP perspective in particular to see why there's a massive opportunity available if the party takes a stand.

To start with, I'll note that I don't see the Libs' political calculations as favouring much action. Much as some within the party like to pretend to own the health-care issue, the primary point of concern for the Libs in developing a response figures to be the desire to be able to put Charest's political machine to use. And considering that the Libs preferred doing nothing to taking action in response to the last controversial step in Quebec health care even when that meant the fall of their last government, there's hardly a lot of reason to think they'd see more reason to take a principled stance now.

That leaves the NDP as the lone party likely to take any stand in favour of strengthening the Canada Health Act. And in addition to being the right stand in principle, such a move also looks to set up a useful contrast for the NDP in its effort to peel progressive support away from the Bloc.

After all, one of the main points of dispute between the two parties is which type of consideration should take precedence where provincial jurisdiction and progressive policy come into conflict. And the NDP hasn't been shy about, for example, painting itself as the anti-nuclear party in Quebec due to the Bloc's position that the federal government shouldn't limit a province's desire to push ahead with development in that area.

From what I can tell, the user fee issue looks to be perhaps the prime example of a policy debate where the two values will come into conflict. Which at worst would allow the NDP to set up a line of clash against the Bloc - and at best offers the prospect that voters in general may be more concerned with access to health care than with which level of government establishes policy on the issue.

Mind you, there might be reason to fear running into public-opinion headwinds if Quebec's provincial politicians were united in favour of the user fees. But that doesn't seem to be the case: in fact, the Parti Quebecois has vowed that the fees would "never see the light of day" - meaning that the NDP would have reason to think that a stance against the fees would actually find at least some receptive ears within the PQ even if the Bloc pushes back.

But what if the Bloc supports the NDP in opposing user fees? Well, if the worst-case scenario is for the NDP to be able to work with a federal ally on a hot-button issue, then that's hardly a bad outcome. And sharing the issue with the Bloc in Quebec wouldn't seem problematic if it allows the NDP to be the leading voice against user fees across the country.

For now, I can only assume that the NDP has preferred not to rock the boat until it sees how the other parties respond. But I'd think both the principle of the issue and the politics involve strongly argue in favour of the NDP taking a lead role in fighting against user fees in Quebec and across Canada - and hopefully we'll see a response to that effect before long.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging - Retreads

In most cases, it's a bit simplistic to try to sum up the philosophy of a team's general manager in a move or two. But sometimes, the fit is just too good to ignore: take for example Dayton Moore's trade of a talented pitching prospect for the worst player in baseball. Or Darryl Sutter's decision to send away two of the three most talented offensive players off an already scoring-challenged team due to insufficient Sutterness, with the returns consisting mostly of yet more low-firepower grit and depth.

Now, I have to hope that Brendan Taman's first player personnel move as the Saskatchewan Roughriders' GM won't similarly prove emblematic of his tenure. But I have to wonder whether we've seen the start of a pattern which may significantly limit the 'Riders' long-term prospects.

After all, having presumably had the opportunity to do nearly anything to make his mark as the 'Riders' GM, Taman's first player pickup was...Kelly Bates. Yes, the same veteran lineman who was given away by B.C. before the 2009 season, then benched by a mediocre Winnipeg team for lacking mobility - and who presumably hasn't added much speed as he turns 35 this season.

Which isn't to say that it's necessarily a bad idea to look for some talent which may have been cut a year too soon. And if Bates was the only offseason pickup fitting the mold, I wouldn't consider it a problem. But as a rule of thumb, it doesn't figure to be a great bet that Taman will be able to spot upside in well-established CFL players that their previous teams have missed, or get a bargain deal on players who have provided years worth of game film for every team in the CFL to review.

Granted, Bates, Dan Goodspeed, Barrin Simpson and Dominique Dorsey all have plenty of success on their CFL resumes. But all are also past the best-before age for their respective positions - and it'll be a surprise if a single one of them has anywhere near as much success yet to come as he's achieved in years gone by. Which combined with the large number of 'Rider re-signed free-agents stands to make this year's team into one of the oldest and lowest-upside units in the CFL.

Of course, it's worth asking what the 'Riders' alternatives were - as veteran stopgaps might be a viable strategy for a team with some glaring holes that needed closing. But Taman actually cut two veterans on the offensive line who are younger than the players brought in from outside, and had loads of internal options at linebacker who will now end up stuck behind Simpson on the depth chart. Which means that there wasn't any particular reason to thumb at random through a 2007 or 2008 CFL guide in search of big names to add to the team.

What's more, it doesn't much look like the few younger players brought in by Taman will add much to the 'Riders' long-term potential either: in fact, their ranks look to be no less slanted toward pickups off the current CFL scrap heap. LaDarius Key couldn't beat out Denatay Heard for a 'Rider job in 2009, but will take over a spot in camp vacated by Heard's release this offseason. Aaron Fairooz washed out with Winnipeg; Lavarus Giles managed the trick with both Winnipeg and Calgary. But all three will also take roster spots which could otherwise have been used to try out new talent.

Mind you, there's one glaring exception which proves the rule. At nearly every position in the CFL, it's possible to plug in a talented newcomer and get at least reasonable results - which is why paying a premium for an import tackle or linebacker is usually a waste of a team's limited money under the salary cap. But at quarterback, it's virtually unheard of for players to succeed without at least some CFL experience: by my reckoning, only two current or recent CFL quarterbacks (Ricky Ray and Kerry Joseph) managed to perform even passably in their first season on a CFL active roster. For reasons unknown, though, Taman seems to have chosen the one position where experience is a must as the one where he's willing to throw untested rookies into the fire.

For now, it's not too late for Taman to fix the QB depth before camp. And it may be that the 'Riders will be able to either find their share of talent among their limited amount of youth in camp, or wring one last strong season out of Taman's group of veteran acquisitions.

But it's worth keeping an eye on whether Taman's focus on veterans over untapped potential ends up depleting the 'Riders' depth - particularly as the roster and negotiation list left behind by Eric Tillman erode with time. And while I certainly don't hope to be right, I'd think there's reason for concern that Rider Nation will end up looking back on Bates' signing as the first step in the wrong direction after the team's recent success.