Saturday, August 21, 2010

Simple answers to simple questions

Phillippe Gohier:
Whatever happened to Interprovincial Affairs?
It ran into the reality that the Harper Cons aren't any more interested in accomplishing anything socially useful working with the provinces than they are at the federal level.

On selective disclosure

Steve and Sun Media Watch have thoroughly eviscerated Fox News North's choice to release a three-week-old poll as "news" while claiming it to be the result of events in the meantime. But those obvious problems with today's poll aside, I have to wonder if QMI's obvious intention to operate as the media wing of the federal Cons offers an additional reason not to trust their publicly-released polling.

The issue may not be as frequently discussed in Canadian politics since internal polls aren't generally released to the public. But south of the border where politicians often release internal poll results where it suits their interests, there's a distinction drawn between two distinct types of polls. Media polls are generally seen as relatively more credible, since they tend to be made public regardless of the results: after all, most news outlets would rather take the easy story of reporting on new poll results than suppress anything to serve a political master. In contrast, party/candidate polling is taken with due skepticism since it's never released unless it helps the source.

But what happens if a media outlet were to decide that it wanted to use its polling resources to create a steady supply of good news for its preferred party? It would seem to be simple enough to commission multiple polls, releasing only the ones that serve the interests of its political masters. And given that QMI is willing to be dishonest about the timing and interpretation of the poll it released today, would anybody be surprised in the least if it was also the first news outlet in Canada to decide that it's only going to release poll results that favour one side?

The decision to detain

The Star's report on the handling of security at the G20 summit is definitely worth a read on a few fronts, including its repeated revelations about the uncertainty as to who was in charge and its observation that there was significant disagreement even among the police about the tactics used against citizens.

But it's worth noting that the most important questions about direct responsibility for a deliberate decision to lock up civilians without cause have yet to be answered - which is particularly problematic when the police involved still don't seem to accept the problems with that choice:
After what a police source called a heated internal debate, senior officers decided to detain hundreds of people — a jumble of alleged suspects, peaceful protesters and curious onlookers who had drifted too close.

“Quite frankly, a lot of people came down because they wanted to be part of the action,” Blair said. “Instead they became part of the problem.”

Citing an internal police review that is now underway, Blair would not comment on who ordered the corralling. Supts. Ferguson and Fenton, who oversaw the command centre, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Musical interlude

Sneaker Pimps - Bloodsport

Friday Afternoon Links

A few notes for the end of your work week...

- There's good news out of British Columbia today, as the HST petition looks to be back on track following the rejection of a corporate effort to have the petition ruled invalid.

- Tom Flanagan's bizarre commentary on the census has already been discussed extensively elsewhere. But I'll note the part that strikes me as most out of place: how exactly can one use a desire for "rational debate" to apologize for a government which has actively refused to say anything even remotely rational on the subject?

- Brian Topp's post on the Harper Cons' electoral math is certainly worth a read. But it's worth noting that while the Cons' overall support has largely stayed the same, its distribution has changed a few times over the years - ranging from efforts to woo Quebec to attempts to build a majority through ethnic communities before the Cons' current retreat to their hard-right base. And that may make for the most damning end result of all for Harper's reign as leader: not only have the Cons failed to get into majority territory, they've also fallen short while trying out the all of the most promising paths to get there.

- Finally, the Globe and Mail's article on the Cons' municipal campaign school points out some shady dealings that have been duly criticized. But the more important takeaway should be that the right is hard at work trying to extend its influence to all levels of government - and it doesn't do anybody any favours for the left to respond by declining to get similarly coordinated.

"No women are ever invited to the party"

Guess which of Canada's political parties is home to a (usually-)annual event - held by a current Senator and campaign manager - which is so fixated on preserving an old-boys club that it has yet to invite a woman over a period of decades.


On public interests

As the possibility circulates that the Cons might turn the CRTC into the Fox News North Development Agency, Steve Anderson offers a useful reminder of what the agency has done right:
(T)he CRTC recognizes its own limitations within a highly contested space, and feels political pressure from the Conservative government, which is very cozy with big media and big telecom companies. These companies also bombard the CRTC with their own arguments and narratives. Commissioners attend their conferences, the firms have a small army of lobbyists, and indeed there is a revolving door between the CRTC and industry that means many decision-makers come from the industry they are supposed to regulate.

But recent rulings suggest that the CRTC can do the right thing when faced with public pressure. It is our job to engage the CRTC, to be a force within the highly contested space of media policy, so as to give them the energy to push back against industry and the Conservative government that often acts on its behalf. If the public is engaged en masse, the CRTC can be transformed into the public institution it is supposed to be.
Of course, the CRTC's independence in other rulings will all too likely make it even more of a target for the Harper government than it might otherwise have been. So while it's indeed important to be heard by the CRTC as it stands now, it's equally so to make sure that the Cons can't make irreversible changes as part of their effort to destroy Canada's public institutions.

Well said

Janet Bagnall challenges the patently false claim that Canada can't afford an effective public health care system:
Governments of various leanings have for years been plastering the word "unsustainable" all over our health care system. Hospital costs? Impossible to maintain. Doctors' salaries? Unaffordable. Pharmaceutical costs? Spiralling out of control. Canadians' expectations? Totally unrealistic.

Intentionally or not, it's been a masterful propaganda operation. But that doesn't make it any truer. Canadians know the health-care system they rightly view as a defining Canadian characteristic is worth saving. This week, a poll showed that 61 per cent of Canadians want the healthcare system to be improved through greater efficiencies; 28 per cent want more taxes to be spent on health care even if that means cutting other public services; and only 11 per cent think rising healthcare costs should be handled privately.

If after all these years, barely one in 10 Canadians think paying more out of their own pockets is the only way to improve the health-care system, it goes to show how ineffective the campaign undermining a publicly funded, equitable health-care system has been.
Medicare spending eats up roughly the same proportion of provincial revenues as it did 20 years ago, Evans told the MPs. "The problem isn't uncontrolled public healthcare spending," Evans said, according to a statement. "It's uncontrolled private health spending combined with a drop in provincial revenues created by large tax cuts over the years."

Publicly funded costs might look like they have increased, but that's because federal and provincial governments went on a massive tax-cutting mission between 1997 and 2004, resulting in the loss of $170.8 billion from public-sector revenues, according to Evans. With the public revenue pie smaller - $35 billion a year smaller at the provincial level - of course the share consumed by public health care spending looked like it was bigger.

On politicized decisions

Murray Mandryk is right to point out that the Wall government is injecting a massive amount of politics into the dealings of potash companies in Saskatchewan, handing a massive subsidy to Mosaic even as it calls for a review of a possible takeover of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan by BHP Billiton. But it's worth noting that its meddling was entirely predictable.

Keep in mind that the Sask Party has set an explicit goal of fabricating a "visible culmination" of its plans to cater to big business. And Mosaic is the first company mentioned by name in that effort:
A list of final investment 2010 and 2011 includes:
* Accelerate the final Head Office decision of Mosaic Corporation...
And that decision has indeed been accelerated - by a handout of tens of millions of dollars to an already-profitable corporation. Which makes this the most glaring example yet of the Wall government not only picking winners and losers, but showering public money on the former. And that in turn makes the decision to then hire a Sask Party-friendly consultant to make sure that the selected loser isn't even allowed to play something less than surprising.

Of course, there are also legitimate reasons to want the PCS takeover to be thoroughly reviewed based on the question of whether a takeover is actually in Canada's best interests. But the Sask Party has already made it clear that its top priority is instead the insistence on holding Brad Wall's choice of photo ops before the 2011 election regardless of how much cost there is to the public. And that narrow short-term focus ensures that in the long run, it's the citizens of Saskatchewan who will lose out.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The tired old refrain

And in related news, the Cons are aghast that anybody is still talking about the census when the story has been around for weeks.

Deep thought

Silly Don Martin with his suggestion that the Cons are up to more political games with the gun registry. Of course it makes perfect sense that the French skills which weren't a problem when Marty Cheliak was first put in charge of the Canadian Firearms Program nine months ago would be a fatal flaw now.

Villainous but familiar

There's little reason to argue with Kady's take on the Cons' reported plans for the CRTC - including pushing aside all independent voices in order to put Pierre Karl Péladeau's right hand man in charge of evaluating Péladeau's application to force Canadians to fund Fox News North.

But while it's right to see the mooted elevation of Luc Lavoie as "cartoon villain-like", I wouldn't think the mindset should be seen as anything new. After all, can the idea of Lavoie in charge of the CRTC really be seen as any more galling or flagrantly partisan than, say, the nomination of longtime Con bagman Gwyn Morgan to be responsible for making public appointments non-partisan?

Not yet forgotten

With the Cons doing everything in their power to change the subject from their choice to gut the census, it's worth a reminder that their limited document dump so far leaves entirely unanswered the questions of who raised the idea and why. Which brings us to Haroon Siddiqui:
(I)n axing the compulsory long form for next year’s census, Tony Clement, minister in charge of Statistics Canada, repeatedly claimed that that was one of the options the agency gave him.

Yet we do not see that in the 200 or so memos and emails released last week in response to a request by a House of Commons committee. Several documents had been blacked out. Others may be missing.

Also, last week Clement denied an assertion made in this column that he had opposed the decision but had been overruled by Stephen Harper and that he was privately telling friends that “that’s what the boss wanted.”

His office demanded a retraction. I refused and suggested that the minister take me to task in a letter to the editor, which he did: “I did not say the words Mr. Siddiqui attributes to me. I support the decision and participated in this decision from the get-go.”

Regardless of the exact words used, his actual position can easily be ascertained if he were to release the papers outlining his recommendation to the Prime Minister.

Needed, therefore, are internal documents showing the advice Clement got from StatsCan and the advice he gave the PMO.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On contrasts

Pogge offers one suggestion as to how Michael Ignatieff and the Libs can respond to Stephen Harper's latest coalition talk, suggesting that they focus on explaining how Harper is fundamentally wrong about Canada's democratic system. But I'll argue that while there are times where opposition parties should focus on educating the public, this isn't one of them.

After all, if the coalition question is going to be a major election issue, then the opposition line of attack will need to involve a substantial clash on the values underlying the possibility. And simply pointing out that Harper is lying about the what Canadian democracy actually consists of doesn't accomplish much on that front.

Instead, the better course of action is to frame the debate over the parties' political options (including a coalition) in terms of principle. And there's plenty of room to do that in a way that can inflict political damage on the Cons.

Indeed, one could hardly design a central issue that works better to emphasize the Harper Cons' negatives. When a government already seen as secretive, controlling and hyperpartisan makes an explicit appeal for the absolute power that comes with a majority, it should be an obvious retort to point out just how much worse Harper would be if he got his wish.

That part of the equation fits reasonably well with the Libs' current position. But in order to provide a meaningful differentiation, the Libs will also need to be willing to defend the principle of cooperative politics which they've shied away from so far - developing the contrast between themselves and the Cons as open- vs. closed-minded, cooperative vs. inflammatory, and public- vs. self-interested.

So far, the Libs' desire to form power on their own has severely limited their willingness to develop that message. But based on the reality that the Libs haven't been able to take on the Cons in a party-to-party fight in recent years, they'd be ill-advised to throw away the opportunity.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Wednesday Morning Links

This and that for your mid-week reading...

- Is there any doubt that if the numbers in its health-care polling (28% for aising taxes to better fund health care investing more in health care at the expense of other programs, 11% for encouraging private payment) were reversed, Ipsos Reid would be breathlessly trumpeting that "more than twice as many people support two-tier health care as expanding the public system!" rather than declaring that neither is a popular option?

But have no fear: having failed to get numbers that can be spun in that direction, they're instead helpfully declaring that the other 89% of Canadians will have no choice but to bow to the will of the one in ten who want to put health care up for sale.

(Update/correction: Ian rightly notes in comments that there's an even more significant "heads privatization wins, tails the public system loses" aspect to the question, as the option to increase health funding comes from the same size of "tax-dollar pie". Which all the better reflects the corporatist attitude: don't even make it an option for people to choose to pay the amount of tax required to provide valuable public services, lest it prove to be the most popular.)

- Dave raises what would be a good point if the Harper Cons had shown the least bit of inclination to operate in reality or respect international laws. But would anybody really put it past them to make a show of introducing legislation to appear tough on refugees, even knowing that it's utterly unenforceable in several different ways?

- Philip Slayton's article last week is certainly a useful starting point for a discussion of what role the judiciary should play in shaping public policy. But much as I'd like to see improved access to information from all levels of government, I'm not sure that I agree entirely with Slayton's concerns about the decision in Ontario v. Criminal Lawyers' Association. After all, it's a fairly large leap from the Supreme Court of Canada's application of the Charter in cases where individual rights are obviously implicated to the establishment of new rights related to access to information - and I'm not sure the court could have been expected to move the boundaries any further than it did.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert's latest points out the difference between leaders who have actually had use for new ideas, and the Harper Cons who have been dedicated entirely to clinging to old ones as a rationale for destroying recent progress.

An educational opportunity

The Globe and Mail suggests that the opposition parties respond to the Cons' plan to call "ordinary citizens" (who are willing to read their talking points) to the next Industry Committee meeting on the census by matching the Cons in kind to show how census data which the Cons would axe plays a positive role in the everyday lives of Canadians. But I'll go a step further based on the most unfortunate addition to the list of people currently taking the Cons' side.
Before I answer a lot of personal questions, under penalty of prison if I don't (ed. note - which of course won't be the case in any event), just tell me, question by question, why you want this information.
Of course, the questions axed by the Cons already underwent constant review for relevance and utility. Which means that it shouldn't be too difficult to pair an expert explanation for including the question in the long form with a familiar practical application for each.

So rather than stopping at finding "ordinary Canadians" willing to talk about the census generally (which makes the issue seem more abstract than it should be), why not use the committee hearings as an opportunity to look specifically at the questions on the long form and educate Canadians about why it matters to have accurate information?

On legitimate choices

Lest there be any doubt that a coalition government would be entirely legitimate as one of the main choices in front of Canadian voters the next federal election, Stephen Harper says it himself:
“The next election will be a choice between a coalition government of the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois, or a stable Conservative majority government for this country,” he said.
Now, presumably even the cult Consevatives haven't yet reached the point of trying to convince Canadians that they live in a one-party state where voters have no choice whatsoever. So obviously there must be some alternative available - which Harper is conceding to involve the opposition parties working together if they can command a majority of the House.

And indeed, Harper is nicely feeding into the legitimacy of a coalition. After all, having publicly declared that anything short of a Conservative majority will lead to a coalition removing him from office, he can hardly complain if that exact scenario comes to pass.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On responsible governments

The Harper Cons have long claimed that the HST is a provincial matter. So surely they couldn't have imposed it.

But the Campbell Liberals are now arguing that it's purely a federal matter which can't be reversed by the province.

Which leads to only one possible conclusion: the HST hasn't been imposed by either government with the authority to do so. So anybody in B.C. or Ontario who thinks they're paying more sales tax since July 1 must be mistaken.

On cooperative measures

It's difficult to disagree with Bruce Hyer's planned motion to permit legislation to have multiple sponsors (including from across party lines) as a means of encouraging cross-party cooperation. But the proposal looks all the more worthwhile when placed in a bit more context.

The most obviously underlying issue is that of the relative power of MPs and parties - which doesn't figure to change substantially based on the ability to present legislation differently. And that's particularly true as long as a hyperpartisan government continues to order its MPs to do as they're told to maximize perceived partisan advantage, undermining both individual MPs' freedom and the sense that it's possible to work across party lines to get anything accomplished.

But that's where Hyer's motion may serve as a useful means of challenging the status quo in perception even if it doesn't change much in substance.

After all, it's not hard to anticipate that each and every bill presented by two or more opposition parties will be met with the Cons' consistent attack on a phantom coalition. But there's little reason to think Canadians will see that as a reasonable response, especially in as innocuous a setting as agreement on a single piece of legislation. And that means that if Hyer's motion succeeds, it may serve not only to empower individual MPs to work together, but also to defuse the Cons' scaremongering just in time for Canadians to decide whether they want a change.

Your daily census reading

Andrew Coyne offers his theory as to how the Cons' choice to gut the census fits into their overall distaste for reality:
That trend was clear even before the census debacle. But this latest outbreak of Tory truculence has accelerated the decline. Others have tried, without success, to puzzle out what on Earth the Conservatives could have been thinking. Playing to the base? But what evidence is there that anyone, outside of a small hard core of libertarians, holds any hostility to the census? A plot to starve lefty activist groups of factual ammunition? But census data is presumably of equal use to all causes, left or right.

I think my colleague John Geddes came closest in his piece last week. It isn’t just that the Tories habitually ignore the expert consensus on a wide range of issues—crime, taxes, climate change—it’s that they want to be seen to be ignoring it. It’s the overt antagonism to experts, and by extension the educated classes, that marks the Tory style. In its own way, it’s a form of class war.

You can see it in the sneering references to Michael Ignatieff’s Harvard tenure, in the repeated denunciations of “elites” and “intellectuals.” In the partial dismantling of the census, we reach the final stage: not just hostile to experts, but to knowledge.
And the Star-Phoenix editorial board is the latest to remind the Cons of the only way out:
Had the government bothered to consult or heed the advice of anyone with a modicum of statistical or social sciences knowledge instead of pandering to the whims of the prime minister and some conservative hardliners, Mr. Clement wouldn't be doing these rationalizations and logical gyrations today.

Surely, even he can see that Canada's minority communities, the poor, immigrant groups and First Nations are deserving of the kind of deference he has accorded the francophones, who make a legitimate case as to why the legislation harms their rights.

Piecemeal backing down from an ill-conceived decision only prolongs the agony and embarrassment for the government. Better it should admit its mistake and rescind the change rather than let the prevaricating minister twist in the wind.
(h/t to Greg.)

On supply management

The Hill Times' piece on pharmacare is worth pointing out on a couple of levels: both as an example of what the Harper Cons are predictably choosing not to do, and what one or more provinces could choose to do to rein in the fastest-growing part of health care costs while securing our supply of needed drugs.

To start with, it shouldn't come as much surprise that the Cons have declined to take the lead in addressing drug costs (and indeed have voluntarily driven costs up to benefit big pharma). But it's another step entirely for the federal government to be the lone jurisdiction refusing to participate in a national drug-purchasing alliance that figures to lower costs for all parties involved:
Premiers emerged from their summer Council of the Federation meeting in Winnipeg, Man., Aug. 6 with an agreement to establish a national public sector purchasing alliance of common drugs and medical equipment and supplies. The drug-buying alliance members would use their collective buying power to negotiate lower prices from drug manufacturers so that provinces could save money.
Nevertheless, NDP health critic Megan Leslie (Halifax, N.S.) said she is encouraged by the premiers' agreement.

"I think this is a perfect opportunity for the federal government to show a leadership role when it comes to our health system," said Ms. Leslie last week. "This is exactly what the federal government is for: bringing people around the table, working with the provinces collaboratively and consultatively to have a system like this."

She also said the federal government should join the alliance as a partner.

It spent about $600-million last year on drug benefits for populations under its health care jurisdiction including First Nations and Inuit, federal prison inmates, military families, RCMP and public servants. In 2009, the Canadian Institute for Health Information forecasted that to amount to about three per cent of total Canadian prescription drug spending. Not much, compared to the 39 per cent provincial and territorial share of drug spending and 55 per cent share of private insurers and individuals.

But, any savings would help, said Ms. Leslie.

The federal government is the fifth biggest health care spender in Canada, Ms. Bennett said, noting that the premiers' agreement to work together to buy drugs in bulk relates to one of nine priorities of a 2004 National Pharmaceuticals Strategy.
Of course, there's a long way to go from the current statement of intention to a functioning purchasing alliance. But one would expect the federal government to at least want to be involved in developing the model rather than electing not to get involved in a project where it should have something useful to contribute as both the lone government spanning the entire country and a significant purchaser of the drugs involved. And the fact that the Cons simply can't be bothered speaks volumes about how little interest they have in doing anything to improve Canada's health care system.

So what concerns could anybody possibly have about a national purchasing strategy? There is one counterpoint presented in the article which deserves some response, if more for the additional opportunities it raises than as a reason to avoid joint purchasing:
Whatever the federal government's role, some commentators are skeptical the premiers' national bulk purchasing plan would even work when put into practice.

"What we're concerned about, when you have bulk purchasing on a national scale, the companies that lose the tender for the bulk order tend to fall out of the market, so you end up with a monopoly situation," Jeff Poston, executive director of the Canadian Pharmacists Association, told The Hill Times. "Then if the manufacturer who's meeting the bulk order suddenly has a manufacturing problem, then you have a major drug shortage problem on your hands."
Of course, that has to be weighed against the presumed lack of desire to pay higher prices in order to keep a number of private suppliers in the marketplace at any given moment. And indeed it's not hard to see exactly the same situation developing if a single supplier manages to secure too much market share through provincial bids - only in a decentralized model, the provinces could be left competing with each other for the limited supplies available.

So what can be done to avoid that danger? Well, the plan for a national strategy may make for the perfect time to look at the possibility of setting up a public drug manufacturer which can both provide competition on price, and be prepared to produce additional drugs on an urgent basis when a private supplier fails. And if the end result is both better coordination at the start and a better backstop in the case of supplier failure, then we could end significantly strengthening our ability to provide for the health of Canadians - even without the federal government lifting a finger.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On bad advice

Speaking as a someone who very much hopes to see the NDP's progress continue, I strongly encourage the Cons and Libs to take Jane Taber's suggestion and give up on Quebec.

But from a less party-oriented standpoint, I'd think there's reason for real concern that so much of the Canadian political class seems to be eager to override the will of Quebec voters: the most oft-repeated attack on per-vote party financing has been an argument that we should be actively trying to tilt our political system against the party which regularly dominates federal elections in the province, and now seat redistribution is being pitched explicitly as a means of ensuring that the province doesn't have any real say in governing Canada. Which figures to do plenty of damage to the relationship between Quebec and the rest of the country - but may also offer a significant opportunity for anybody willing to stand up for the idea that maybe it's worth listening to both.

The price of stubbornness

The Cons still don't seem to have figured out that the only way to make any part of the census furor go away as an issue is to actually reverse their decision to gut it. So let's note how rare it is for a pollster called in to divine the latest public opinion trends to lend an opinion and prediction as a party directly affected by policy choices:
Critics say the government's sudden decision to mitigate some of the damage from the census furor may have been just a first step in an attempt to reverse the opinion poll trends. However, they also say reinstatement of questions about use of the English and French languages at home into the mandatory short form of the census, and the accompanying announcement it plans legislation to eliminate jail as a potential penalty for failure to fill out the questionnaire, will not solve the Prime Minister's problem on that issue.

"This debate is not going to go away," said Mr. Woolstencroft, whose own firm, like all other major polling firms in Canada, has depended on the mandatory long form of the census every five years as a grounding board to confirm the reliability of its own survey findings.

Though Industry Minister Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) seized on a response from the National Statistics Council welcoming the government decision to include language questions in the short form, in the face of Federal Court action by a national lobby group advocating minority francophone rights, the statement released by the council's chair also contained indications the fight is not over. Council chairman Ian McKinnon pointed out Mr. Clement had failed to consult with the council, which the government itself appointed as an advisory group for Mr. Clement on issues relating to Statistics Canada. He also made it clear the council wants the government to reinstate the mandatory longer questionnaire as part of the survey.

"A voluntary survey will not be able to fulfill the fundamental needs of a national statistical system," said Mr. McKinnon, adding the $30-million price tag to implement the expanded voluntary form is substantial "and will yield less accurate or useful information."

The head of the Statistical Society of Canada also said Mr. Clement's tweaks—though significant—are not enough to repair the damage.

"Far from it," said society president Don McLeish.

"It's not exactly a conversion on the road to Damascus, it's maybe the first 100 metres down the road to Damascus. It's essentially a tacit admission that the voluntary national housing survey wouldn't provide the kind of information required by the Official Languages Act and wouldn't stand up in court."

Deep thought

Speaking as the Secretary to the Consular/Diplomat, British High Commission in Nigeria, Benin Republic,Ghana and Burkina faso,South Africa,Togo,Senegal, I find the Cons' fund-raising tactics to be unobjectionable.

Compare and contrast

Shorter sane economic analysis from Paul Krugman:

Canada's economy did well through the recession because it hadn't given in to corporate demands to eliminate regulation and fiscal independence. But that's no reason to get complacent, especially when there's real risk of a housing bubble deflating.

Shorter something else entirely from Neil Reynolds:

Sweet! Deflation is just one more excuse for tax giveaways to the rich!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Anonymous sources tell us Jane Taber continues to be a hack

But fortunately, Scott Feschuk is willing to go on the record.

Sunday Afternoon Links

The links just keep on coming...

- My suspicion is that Skinny Dipper is absolutely right in his take on the Cons' parallel committee system:
I also wonder if this is a way to lessen any influence of parliamentary committees by having Conservative only consultative bodies which will probably be a one-way monologue from the Prime Minster to the cabinet ministers and then to the Conservative MPs and senators.
In effect the goal isn't to get input from outside Stephen Harper's bubble, but to give the false impression of fresh air by recirculating the same old stale spin. And while anybody paying attention should know better than to be fooled, Angelo Persichilli's column today is proof positive that there's plenty of ink being given to people who don't.

- Silver Donald Cameron wonders when we should reach the point of directly comparing the Harper Cons' "blend of political acuity, deceptiveness and cunning" to the start of fascist regimes in other democracies. But I'd think that there's another term missing from the description which actually provides the answer: "ruthlessness", which both goes to the heart of the Cons' attitude toward anybody who doesn't fit their ends and the level of determination required to stop them without matching their deception.

- Mike De Souza reports on the glaring need for Canada-wide investment in water and sewer systems. But unfortunately, while municipalities are pointing out their need for long-term funding that fits the bill of a "marathon" compared to the "sprint" pace of stimulus spending, the Cons are looking for ways to kick their feet up and declare that the federal government has decided not to run anymore.

- Finally, Deborah Behm's letter to the editor on the minimum wage deserves plenty of credit for its neat dissection of corporate complaints about wages in workplaces where tips form part of workers' income:
I read with interest Laurie Leigh's Aug. 7 letter in which Leigh details some of the hardships for small business owners which would be incurred if the Saskatchewan minimum wage is raised.

She notes that four of her nine staff "will regularly make between $20 to $50 per hour" as servers. These are impressively high hourly wages, especially in a small centre such as Maple Creek. Since gratuities are typically based on a percentage of the customer's bills, this indicates to me that Leigh's business is doing well, and that Leigh should be able to absorb any costs occurring from scheduled rises in the minimum wage.
(H/t to Kent Peterson.)

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

The Saskatchewan Roughriders' 37-13 win over B.C. undoubtedly made for a great turnaround from the previous week's result in Montreal. But it's less clear whether the 'Riders' performance actually reflected much improvement, or merely the result we should expect against a Lions squad on the verge of collapse.

The key to Saskatchewan's success was once again a seemingly ferocious defensive performance, with 5 sacks (3 by Jerrell Freeman) and 2 interceptions to go with subpar output in both points and yards. But while the 'Riders deserve credit for taking advantage, it's the Lions who presented about the best setup a defence could ask for.

After all, it isn't often that a team starts a quarterback whose greatest strength is a cannon arm, then schemes for him to use that arm mostly to achieve the highest possible bounce on short throws into the flat. Nor would a team that's struggled with the pass all season (and particularly in the game at hand) normally choose to pass on two thirds of its plays, especially when its running attack is churning out 10 yards per attempt. But the Lions gave the 'Riders a massive advantage by doing both - leading me to wonder whether their goal was as much to test out Jarious Jackson for future use as to try to compete with Saskatchewan in what was bound to be a tough game.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' offence was effectively a mirror image in results from the previous week: unimpressive when it came to racking up big numbers (and B.C.'s defence deserves credit for keeping the 'Riders in check with effective tackling), but balanced and efficient enough to pile up points when it did get within scoring range. Indeed, the only real area of concern was Darien Durant's continued vulnerability to turnovers in the form of two more interceptions - but Durant more than made up for that with a strong ground game that kept the chains moving even when the passing game wasn't connecting.

As for the special teams, Eddie Johnson looks to have firmly entrenched himself as the 'Riders' punter with another strong game. But while the kicking unit looks to be set, the return and cover teams only played a struggling team to a draw, trading off slightly more effectiveness on punts for slightly less on kickoffs. That may not be the kind of performance that puts anybody's job in jeopardy, but nor should it be seen as any great triumph - particularly when it ranks as one of the team's best outcomes of the season.

That said, there's every reason to be satisfied with a game whose outcome was never really in doubt after the second quarter. But what remains to be seen now is how much impact the bye week has on the 'Riders - as a team which has managed to win in a lot of different ways so far tries to work out a formula that will enable it to take on all comers. And that task doesn't get any easier when there's so much reason to doubt that future opponents will give Saskatchewan the kind of advantages it enjoyed on Thursday.

On strong openings

Kevin Bissett's CP overview of this fall's New Brunswick election seems to confirm what I'd suspected: the NDP has managed to generate the most enduring message of the summer with its pension pitch, earning top billing over anything the province's two historical governing parties have had to say.

But Bissett is right to note that the other parties seem to have followed up the NDP's cheeky presentation without linking their attacks to anything of substance, raising the question of whether voters will hear much about what can be done in the face of the province's budget crunch:
(Donald) Wright said he hopes the parties will focus on the important issues, but doesn't expect that to happen until the final weeks of the campaign.

"No party seems to be able to come to terms with the fiscal crisis coming down the pipe," he said. "As a result they're trying to deflect, they're scrounging, they're desperate, trying to find a target on their opponent without much success."
Of course, the NDP has already started laying the groundwork to talk about the party's history of responsible management as a contrast to how the province has historically been governed. But the question now is whether the NDP can grab just as much attention in sending that message as it's been in criticizing the other parties' supersized benefits - and the answer will likely determine whether the NDP can turn its strong initial position into enduring change on New Brunswick's political scene.