Saturday, August 28, 2010

On priority payments

The ultimate answer to the question of what NAFTA has cost Canada involves plenty of guesswork as to how the country would have involved politically and economically in its absence. But it's certainly worth recognizing the less disputable costs when we can - and the fact that a Harper government supposedly in cutback mode thinks it's just peachy to hand $130 million to a failed Canadian company based on a claim that hadn't yet been seriously pursued should serve as a huge red flag as to what NAFTA and its progeny mean for Canadian policymakers.

On valid questions

Antonia Zerbisias may not be so restrained in her own take on the issue. But let's point out that her example (drawn from Sault Ste. Marie police chief Bob Davies) as to the role the gun registry can play in cases of domestic abuse is exactly the kind of area where there may be some rational discussion to be had in contrast to the "'you want to lock up Uncle Joe on the farm'/'you want to kill women and children!'" quality of rhetoric that seems to be characterizing the issue these days:
Most often, the registry is used when domestic assaults go to court. If an accused appears likely to reoffend, police will request the Crown attorney ask for weapons to be surrendered while the person is on bail.

"They won't volunteer that information," said Davies.

"Without the registry we wouldn't know if they had firearms."
Now, I'm not inclined to simply take that without question. But rather than simply dismissing it out of hand as the Con side of the debate is looking to do, let's actually ask the questions that can determine whether the long gun registry will serve a particularly valuable purpose in cases of domestic assaults.

Does the long gun registry provide information beyond any licensing that takes place for gun owners and sales that allows the court to determine what weapons an accused might own in such situations?

And in the wake of the Con-imposed amnesty, is it reliable enough to serve a useful purpose beyond requiring self-reporting backed by appropriate searches at the time an accused is released on bail?

If the answer to both is demonstrably "yes" (keeping in mind that the mere fact that the long gun registry is currently used for those purposes isn't a full answer absent reason to think that alternatives aren't available), then that's the kind of use for the long gun registry which might well shift the debate. So let's start the discussion on both sides for this and other similar examples.

Not lost in translation

If nothing else, it's somewhat surprising that the Cons are running the same campaign in both official languages, even the one associated with the prospect of a coalition being particularly popular. But it's worth pointing out the obvious response in both as well, particularly since the French version seems to be rather more explicit about the expected results:
Des stratèges conservateurs ont indiqué à La Presse vendredi que Stephen Harper a la ferme intention de mettre les Canadiens en garde contre les dangers d'une coalition libérale/néo-démocrate qui serait appuyée par un parti souverainiste durant la prochaine campagne.

«Ce sera l'un des thèmes de notre prochaine campagne. Nous sommes convaincus que si nous ne pouvons pas avoir une majorité aux prochaines élections, les libéraux, les néo-démocrates et les bloquistes ne perdront pas de temps à créer un gouvernement de coalition pour nous empêcher de conserver le pouvoir même si notre parti remporte le plus de sièges», a affirmé vendredi un stratège conservateur sous le couvert de l'anonymat.
Et quand les Cons répètent d'ici jusqu'aux prochaines élections qu'ils seront remplacés comme gouvernement "même (s'ils remportent) le plus de sièges" si les autres partis peuvent renverser leur régime avec une coalition, ils ne pourront pas se plaindre quand c'est cela la résultat.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Musical interlude

Tiesto - Driving to Heaven (Mat Zo Remix)

By way of comparison

Shorter Murray Mandryk:

Brad Wall's decision to allocate medical research funding at a political level makes him a policy innovator like Tommy Douglas. And this stick-figure drawing makes me a Renaissance man like Leonardo Da Vinci.

The costs of privatization

While the latest story on potash involves the proposed takeover of one private company by another, Erin crunches the numbers as to what the Saskatchewan public has lost due to the privatization of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan in the first place:
The greatest tragedy in BHP Billiton's $38.6-billion (U.S.) bid for the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PCS) is that the Government of Saskatchewan previously sold PCS for just $630 million. This privatization was the worst fiscal decision in the province's history and has been aggravated by subsequent royalty giveaways to private potash companies.
(T)he mines that PCS owned in 1989 still account for 80 per cent of its potash production and capacity. Since 70 per cent of the company's current gross margin is from potash (rather than phosphate and nitrogen), these mines still provide at least 55 per cent of overall profits today.

If PCS had simply held onto those historic assets, it would now be worth more than half of today's value. Even assuming that PCS would have completely stagnated as a Crown corporation after 1989, the fiscal cost of privatization was still more than five times the maximum fiscal benefit.

Depending upon which assumptions one accepts, the costs of privatization exceeded the benefits by between $18-billion and $36-billion. In other words, the Saskatchewan government gave up between $17,000 and $35,000 for every man, woman and child in the province.

More and Better New Democrats: Sandy Harding for Saint John East

Next month's provincial election in New Brunswick promises to be a watershed moment for that province's NDP. While the party has generally been able to get its leader elected (with a few exceptions including the 2006 election), it has yet to win a second seat in a general election. But that stands to change very soon: Eric at Three Hundred Eight is already projecting a second seat for the NDP, and that's using an extremely conservative popular vote projection that leaves the NDP with a lower share of the vote than it's taken in any of the province's polls since 2008.

What's more, the NDP's influence may go far beyond merely electing additional members, as a razor-thin margin between the Libs and Cons raises the possibility that the NDP could hold the balance of power by this time next month.

With that in mind, this month's More and Better New Democrats feature focuses on one of the candidates with a great chance to join leader Roger Duguay in the Legislature.

The Candidate

The New Brunswick NDP is understandably putting an emphasis on fiscal responsibility in a province which has given the business lobby everything it can think to ask for - and seen that result in massive deficits for the foreseeable future. But it's worth ensuring there are some MLAs pointing out why it matters for the government to get itself back on track.

And Sandy Harding stands out among the party's top candidates in that respect. In addition to extensive involvement in CUPE (both through her local and provincially), her resume features work on child care, pay equity and wage fairness. That in turn meshes nicely with her professional experience in the education sector, giving her ample knowledge as to how to work within public systems to get results. Which means that Harding should make for an ideal choice as the leading voice for the social issues that have far too often been neglected under Libs and Cons alike.

In addition, it only helps matters that in a province where women have been grossly underrepresented in the Legislature, Harding is sending a strong message that she intends to change that.

The Riding

But why target Saint John East? At first glance based on the party's 2006 results it wouldn't seem like an obvious choice, as Maureen Michaud's 7% of the vote wasn't much higher than the party's baseline level of support. But there are a few reasons to be particularly optimistic about the riding.

For one, Saint John East (in its form a couple of distributions ago) is actually the lone constituency that the New Brunswick NDP has won in the past with a non-leader candidate. That took place when Peter Trites won a 1984 by-election only to jump to the Libs in time for Frank McKenna's 1987 sweep. So the NDP has obviously been able to mobilize a winning effort in the area before.

Meanwhile, Saint John East is also adjacent to the riding occupied by what may be the NDP's highest-profile candidate aside from Duguay: Saint John Harbour's Wayne Dryer, who seems to be putting on a strong push himself to take back the seat held by former leader Elizabeth Weir. So rather than simply aiming for a lone beachhead in a community where the NDP lacks a strong presence, Harding should enjoy a highly favourable local climate.

The Opponents

What's more, the lack of an incumbent means that the riding is very much up for grabs. Longtime Lib MLA Roly MacIntyre stepped down from the seat in April, meaning that the competition to win the seat will come from two other rookie candidates in Lib Kevin McCarville and PC Glen Tait. And with Saint John East having been held by all three parties in the past 25 years, there's plenty of reason to think that vote splits could work out in Harding's favour.

The Plan

So what can you do to help? Harding looks to be running a fairly traditional campaign, focusing on lawn signs and volunteers to go with what looks to have been an effective fund-raising effort and Facebook organization. With that in mind, I'll recommend joining her Facebook page and looking for opportunities to help from there - while donating to the provincial party in the absence of a direct donation system.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Friday Morning Links

A bit of reading material to close out the week...

- Chantal Hebert rebuts her previous theory about the Libs' chances in Quebec better than I did, pointing out exactly why high expectations figure to be thing of the past:
Given that alone among the provinces Quebec actually runs a public pension system distinct from the Canada Pension Plan, the chosen theme for Thursday’s visit is an odd fit.

In fairness though, the issue of pension reform may well reflect the interests of a critical mass of Quebec federal Liberals. In this province, it is hard to determine which is aging faster: the federal Liberal membership or the ever-shrinking group of Catholic mass regulars.

Moreover, in light of their ongoing organizing challenges in Quebec, Liberal strategists are at least playing it safe by selecting an issue that comes with the potential of captive audiences.
At best, one might figure that the Libs can try to wring a few more seats out of one last appeal to an aging base. But Hebert seems to have recognized that time isn't on their side.

- The Citizen is rightly critical of the deterioration of Environment Canada data. But based on our census experience, a permanent loss of trust in government data seems to be seen by the Cons as a feature rather than a bug:
(Y)es, the need for information is made even more urgent by the fact of climate change. If extreme weather events are going to get more frequent, we need to understand how that's likely to affect Canadian communities.

The report also makes the point that Environment Canada shares its information with other levels of government, the private sector and the international scientific community. Inaccurate or spotty data will create mistrust in those relationships, and it could take Environment Canada a long time to recover from that.

There are smart ways to cut costs in the public service and there are stupid ways. If the cuts to the meteorological service are still affecting the quality of Canada's climate data as much as this report suggests, Environment Minister Jim Prentice should acknowledge the problem and start fixing it.
- And likewise John Ivison's characterization of the Harper Cons as an immature, "wannabe Top Gun" governing style, particularly based on Stephen Harper's own childish stunt yesterday:
raising the spectre of the Russian bear in the air must have seemed like a good idea, since it knocked the committee meeting off the news agenda.

But here’s why it was not. The Canadian government’s own strategy document says our only territorial disputes in the Far North are with Denmark over Hans Island and the United States over the maritime boundary in the Beaufort Sea.

A dispute with Russia may yet emerge if there are over-lapping claims along the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain range beneath the Arctic Ocean, where a mini-submarine planted a Russian flag in 2007.

But co-operating with Russia may yield more benefits than confrontation. Where Canada claims the North-West Passage as an internal waterway, so Russia claims the North-East Passage — both of which are set to become navigable.
No one is suggesting that Canadian sovereignty in the North is not important — nor that the Canadian Forces should not respond to potential incursions (even if, as NDP critic Jack Harris pointed out, the Russians have not entered Canadian airspace in the last decade).

But it is fair to suggest that there should be a more mature, sophisticated approach taken by the Prime Minister’s Office. To speak in the style of a wannabe Top Gun is not grown-up government.
- I'll fully agree with Michael Ignatieff's concern about the Cons blowing upwards of a million dollars on a single photo op. But I'd think there's room to raise a broader issue about the use of Canada's military resources for PR purposes, as Paul Wells for one notes that this is hardly a first.

- Finally, James Wood notes that Scott Stelmaschuk has bowed out of the NDP's nomination race in Saskatoon Sutherland to back Ryan Meili - which still leaves three strong candidates in the running for one of the party's top pickup opportunities in 2011.

Compare and contrast

Your friendly neighbourhood Nobel-winning economist:
A couple of months back I asked, does fiscal austerity actually reassure markets? I noted there the curious case of Ireland, which embraced savage austerity early on; quite a few press reports declared that this had gained it the confidence of markets, but the actual numbers said otherwise. And I noted the contrast with Spain, which has been relatively slow and reluctant to embrace austerity, but has been treated no worse by investors.
(S)ince austerians were claiming bond market approval as a sign of its policy success, it is worth pointing out that dutiful Ireland looks as if it’s entering a runaway debt spiral, while malingering Spain is looking considerably better.
Your less-friendly neighbourhood Finance Minister:
According to a report in today’s Times of London, our finance minister, Jim Flaherty, has now waded into the dispute. Behind the paper’s pay-wall, Mr. Flaherty is reported to have “dismissed the downgrade, instead praising the Irish Government’s package of austerity measures.”
So apparently we too can look forward to a great deal of pain for its own sake - at least as long as our finance minister is taking a lead role in playing to imaginary confidence fairies rather than acknowledging that gratuitous government-slashing can have serious consequences.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On defining moments

One could hardly ask for a better example of Stephen Harper's stay in power in a nutshell:
The rogue PM eventually returned to the aircraft where he was surrounded by reporters and photographers, one of whom wondered whether he had a licence to operate the vehicle — especially on restricted space such as an air strip?

“I think I make the rules,” the PM quipped.
And truly he does.

Think he makes the rules, that is. So when he figures it's convenient to break laws, promises or both, or to shut down democratic institutions or fire civil servants for the offence of failing to subordinate the truth to his political purposes, he's consistently acted as if nobody can possibly question his impulses.

And after over four years of carefully insulating himself from anybody who might dare question his infallibility, with an Official Opposition working feverishly to keep him in office until its next turn to exercise absolute power and a media who views his megalomania as the stuff of "quips" rather than an indication that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong, it's half understandable why Harper thinks himself a dictator entitled to make any inconvenient rules disappear on a whim.

But some of us might see reason to disagree that the rule of law has been officially preempted in favour of rule by Harper fiat. And we'll have all the more reason to be concerned about what's happening elsewhere in Harper's regime as a result of his firm belief that he can declare himself to be above the law.

On to Plan B

I'll admit to having overestimated the Cons' willingness to listen to reason - and as a result, we probably are at the point where it's worth looking at legislation to save the long form census rather than working solely on getting the federal cabinet to reverse its decision.

That said, I'll still point back to my earlier post to highlight the obstacles to getting a private member's bill passed - including the lengthy timelines to deal with legislation in the House of Commons, and the Cons' Senate majority which will be able to stop any bill in its tracks.

Hopefully those won't be insurmountable before the point next spring when it's actually too late to reverse the changes for the 2011 census. But in order to have any hope of cleaning up the Harper government's vandalism, the opposition parties will need to both stay focused on the issue, and use every available opportunity to pressure the Cons to allow the bill to move forward. And if anybody is under the illusion that merely introducing the bill will accomplish anything useful without loads of followup work, then we may as well resign ourselves to the joys of Vague Hunches Canada now.

Just one problem

It's definitely worth noting Stephen Fienberg's followup commentary on the census. But I'm not sure it'll necessarily have quite the effect anybody is hoping for. After all, isn't it all too likely that Harper's crew of know-nothings will take "mindless" as a compliment?

A friendly reminder...

...for those trying to pretend that whether the Cons frame gun registry legislation as a private members' bill or a government bill should make a lick of difference in how the NDP handles it.

The NDP's position on the gun registry has always been to allow free votes - including on the Libs' government bill that implemented it in the first place. So merely saying that C-391 is effectively a government bill doesn't change anything in how the NDP approaches the issue.

In turn, in keeping with that long-time party policy allowing for free MP choice, a number of the NDP's MPs have been elected based on explicit promises to vote down the registry. And while it's easy for the Libs to say that MPs from other parties should match their own willingness to break promises on orders from their leader, I'd much rather see the NDP hold itself to a higher standard of trust between MPs and constituents.

Now, none of the above should be taken as approving of the Cons' slimy tactics in seeking to get the bill passed. And it's worth noting that the Cons may well refuse to take "yes" for an answer - as I remain highly skeptical that they'll let C-391 pass in the Senate if it means losing one of their most productive cash cows for the next election.

But history and principle are both on the side of the NDP allowing its MPs to decide how to vote on an issue where both the Libs and the Cons have done their utmost to leave no good options. And if the Libs want to convince anybody to vote to keep the registry, they'll need to try to appeal to the NDP's MPs on the merits rather than demanding that Jack Layton eliminate their ability to think for themselves.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On intrusions

The Cons are receiving more international attention for their complete failures at home, this time in the form of another denunciation of their choice to gut the long-form census. But Nature's reporting raises another point which has (in retrospect surprisingly) escaped notice so far:
Industry Minister Tony Clement has defended the decision to shift to a voluntary long-form survey, saying it’s vital to protect privacy and assuring critics that Ottawa will still get plenty of responses. (The response rate to the mandatory census was in the 90 per cent plus range.)

But the Nature opinion piece authors warn that citizens are fatigued by requests for voluntary disclosure of information.

“In increasing numbers, people can’t be bothered to respond to information requests,” Profs. Prewitt and Fienberg say.

“Telemarketing has soured the environment for phone interviews and junk mail clutters e-mail inboxes. Who has time to distinguish legitimate surveys from the flood of look-alikes?”
Of course, Clement has also raised the theory that any other organizations wanting census-type data should commission separate polling for themselves. And leaving aside the fact that voluntary polling can't replicate the accuracy and reliability of census data, it's worth noting the seemingly inevitable end result of that invitation when it comes to the sheer volume of attempts to contact Canadians.

After all, if provinces, municipalities and private-sector actors decide to close as many of the gaps in federal data as they can through their own polling, the end result is that citizens will be bombarded with all the more calls and appeals from private firms - likely many times over the current amount of polling as information is collected solely by single parties rather than being made available for multiple groups' use like census data. And there's no reason to think consumers would be protected from a tidal wave of new calls, as the Cons have proven themselves to be entirely negligent in doing anything about abuse of the do-not-call list or any other private-sector intrusions into personal space and time.

In other words the tradeoff for the Cons' myopic focus on getting government out of the business of governing is...far more disruptive polling from private firms which they have no intention of regulating.

So next time your personal time is interrupted by an unwanted call from a pollster, think of Tony Clement - and remember that the Cons' idiocy figures to cause at least as many harmful effects for the general public as for the planners the Cons seem eager to attack.

Well said

Thomas Walkom rightly criticizes the actions of police in using the G20 as an excuse to make arrests that had absolutely no basis in law (resulting in this week's flood of dropped charges):
(W)hat seems increasingly clear is that in the wake of that Saturday mayhem, security authorities went over the top, expanding the very elastic provisions of the criminal code to arrest not only those who were protesting legally and peacefully but those who police thought might engage in such protests.

Hence the arrest of a uniformed TTC ticket-taker on his way to work. Hence the arrest of a 17-year-old for the crime of carrying eyewash in her backpack (police called it a “weapon of opportunity”).
In effect, what occurred at the G20 was a massive and quite possibly illegal array of pre-emptive arrests. People were picked up and charged not because they were doing anything wrong — not even because they were about to do anything wrong.

Rather they were arrested and charged because those in charge of the police found civil liberties inconvenient. Their thinking: If everyone who might conceivably cause trouble is put in jail, there can be no trouble.

It is the totalitarian’s recipe for public order. Very China. Very Zimbabwe. Not very Canada.

Wednesday Morning Links

The links just keep on coming...

- Paul Wells has expressed disbelief that John Geddes' report on the RCMP funding flawed anti-Insite research then suppressing its didn't result in more outcry. But the reason seems obvious to me - as while it might be slightly different to have such a crystal-clear example coming from an organization that we'd like to think of as independent, the same attitude toward information is so familiar from the political side of the Harper government that it hardly registers as newsworthy.

- In fairness, though, surely it's all worth it given how the Harper government is getting Canada noticed around the world.

- Barbara Yaffe is right to note that the litigation surrounding B.C.'s HST petition has helped to highlight the role of the Harper government in imposing the regressive tax scheme. But let's not forget that for all Jim Flaherty's efforts to distance himself from the HST after the fact, he was cheerleading for it long before anybody took the Cons up on their offer.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk atones for yesterday's press release by getting to the crux of the issue of how the provincial and federal governments should handle potash ownership:
(M)aybe now would be a good time for the potash companies to tell the real shareholders of this resource -- the Saskatchewan people -- what's in this takeover bid for them. Instead of settling for the usual easily-made, easily-broken pie crust promises of local corporate office jobs, maybe we should be demanding the next PotashCorp owner commit to a more fair and equitable royalty regime with less tax holidays for mine expansion and corporate jobs.

In fact, this current bidding war for our love and affection would seem to be the perfect time for the Saskatchewan government to insist on such commitments from the potash industry.

On equality

Paul Hanley's piece on equality in the Star-Phoenix (summarizing and commenting on Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone) is definitely worth a read. But it's worth highlighting the sad contrast between the results of Wilkinson and Pickett's research and the current state of political discussion:
(M)ore equal societies -- those where the difference in average incomes is less -- are better in almost every way.

The authors look at almost every social measure, from mental and physical health to violence and educational attainment, from social relations and teen pregnancy to imprisonment and longevity. In all cases, where there is a smaller gap between the average incomes of poorer and richer strata of society, people are generally healthier, happier, better adjusted, better educated and more socially cohesive.
Wilkinson and Pickett argue that equality is actually better for the rich, too. Wealthy people in more equal societies enjoy better physical and mental health and higher security than the rich in unequal societies.

For Wilkinson and Pickett, there are clear limitations to the benefits wealth can deliver. Statistics clearly show that past a certain point, say an average annual income of $20,000 per year per person, there are few benefits to having more money. People with incomes above that level are not happier or healthier, even though they can afford more stuff.
Given that greater equality is indeed a key factor in overall well-being, there should be plenty of room to actually promote and pursue policies that would make greater equality an end goal - rather than accepting the assumption that generating all the more wealth for the already-wealthy has to be the overriding priority for governments at all levels. And hopefully the reminder that a more equal society produces better results for everybody involved will serve as a spur for the Canadian left to develop and present a vision of what that can look like in the future, rather than spending as much time as it does defending hard-won gains against attacks from the corporatist right.

(H/t to @JaimeWGarcia.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On target

For all the Libs trying to pretend that there's some principle behind their decision to hand the Cons all the fund-raising fodder they could possibly want if it means putting pressure on the NDP, Nelson Wiseman has the answer:
Nelson Wiseman, a political-science professor at the University of Toronto, said the debate around the long-gun registry is symbolic, not practical.

"In my opinion the long-gun registry has effectively been scrapped in the sense that no one is being compelled now to register," said Wiseman.

"The issue is primarily about the Conservatives trying to widen the wedge within both parties, and I think that's smart politics. I'm not being critical of it. I'm saying, this is how the game is played."
So do the Libs want to keep on playing the same games as the Cons, or are they trying to pretend to be something different?

Deep thought

I know I feel more secure knowing that thanks to the Cons' fiscal acumen, we're paying twice the price being charged to Australia for the same F-35s. Because if we don't gratuitously throw money into the military-industrial complex, the Taliban wins.

The poll dancing continues

Apparently it's officially Dishonest Health Care Poll Interpretation Month, as the Globe and Mail also serves up a doozy of a spin of the CMA's poll on health care to the effect that respondents think it's just peachy to torch any semblance of a universal system.

So let's set the record straight. Based on the CMA's polling, more Canadians are concerned with declines in coverage and quality than they are with paying taxes to support the health care system Canadians should be able to expect from their government. And the fact that respondents still place those issues first even after years of being brow-beaten with fictional claims about health care being unsustainable should speak volumes about the difference of opinion between Canadians at large and the elites who are seeking to demolish one of our important points of national pride.

Argument by wilful blindness

Shorter Star-Phoenix editorial board:

It's entirely the Saskatchewan NDP's fault that we can't be bothered to figure out what it's been doing over the summer.

Tuesday Morning Links

- Don Pittis finds an important lesson in the PCS takeover reports, noting the importance of Crowns past and present in building wealth where it would otherwise have been siphoned off:
The huge value the market is placing on Potash Corp. reminds us that despite the current ideological tide against these kinds of entities, government corporations remain part of our economic tool chest.

Some fail but that is true of all endeavours. When they are successful, they can accumulate capital that may take years to show its value.

They can create new business when no one else is willing to invest. They can create wealth and power. And if you don't believe me, ask the Chinese. They have plenty of government-owned corporations that are said to want in on this bidding war as well.
- The Hill Times' report on the Cons' plan to set up their own committee system to bypass that less-easily-controlled one in Parliament manages to completely miss a rather important question: does anybody really think the problem with the Harper government is that it hasn't been insular enough? (And it's particularly odd that Marlene Jennings fails to raise the point in her response on behalf of the Libs.)

- Sheila Copps has the right response to immigrant-bashing from the Cons and their media division at QMI:
Historically, most Canadian national leaders have avoided the divisive tendencies that can infect all politicians. They usually are the ones calling for calm, asking the population to reach out to fellow world citizens in need.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has determined that fear and loathing is more effective than bridge building. He has been very successful, thus far, in convincing the rest of us that this boatload of people is truly nothing more than Tamil terrorists.

Had Prime Ministers Joe Clark and Pierre Trudeau followed that path, we would never have opened our hearts to 50,000 boat people.

This time, Canada won't be getting a United Nations award.

Instead, we mount the barricades to keep 492 war torn souls from finding peace. Is that really the new face of Canada?
- Don't worry about the fact that Environment Canada's weather service programs which would otherwise provide vital information about our environment are falling apart at the seams due to cutbacks after the Cons blew billions of dollars of "environmental" funding on the most wasteful programs on the planet. After all, surely we can all agree to a gut feeling that the wind is blowing however best suits the Cons.

(Update: Or maybe the Cons actually do care about accurate information when it's their Supreme Leader's safety at stake. It's just the rest of us who aren't important enough to merit the same consideration.)

- And finally, great work by the Rev. Paperboy, Alison and Pale in their updated status report on Canada Inc.:

Case in point

Verbatim Jeffrey Simpson:
BHP, like others before it, will pledge that the head office will remain in Canada, that decisions will be made in the Saskatchewan/Canadian interest. It can’t be blamed for advancing this argument; rather, the blame should be shared by those who swallow the argument whole.
Shorter Murray Mandryk:
Sweet! The President of BHP Billiton's Diamonds and Special Products Division will let me print an entire column of his spin! All hail our international corporate overlords!!!
(Edit: fixed typo.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

On contrasting goals

Needless to say, it's a plus to see the Canadian Association of Police Boards joining the chorus slamming the Harper Cons' decision to gut the long-form census. But it's worth pointing out as well how nicely the census issue highlights the difference between the Cons and...well, anybody who wants to accomplish anything useful in any policy area.

It's fairly obvious why both police forces and the Cons tend to agree in wanting to talk about crime - the police because it's their job, the Cons because it's a signature issue. But it's only the former who are actually interested in measuring what works to make sure we're actually making progress - while for the Cons, the less reliable information there is available, the better in getting Canadians to feel fear even when it isn't based in fact.

On reinforcement

The latest reporting on New Brunswick's election this fall includes an interesting parallel between Roger Duguay's message and that of some disaffected federal Cons - as both are rightly pointing out the problems with funnelling public money toward corporate interests. Here's Duguay:
NDP Leader Roger Duguay said his priority would be to stabilize deficits and stop "wasteful government spending," adding that he would eliminate grants and forgivable loans to companies for the next five years.

"Most of the time it's not the best place to put our money," he said.
Needless to say, the proposal to shut off the taps to the corporate sector makes for a rather useful explanation as to what the NDP would do differently than its competitors to ensure that New Brunswick's provincial budget is managed responsibly.

And it only helps that Duguay's message is nicely paralleled by someone who's not normally an NDP ally, as Tasha Kheiridden has picked an opportune time to level criticism at federal Libs and Cons alike for wasting federal money to subsidize the likes of J.D. Irving:
(The Harper) government is all too happy to dole out regional cash, whether through Canada’s Economic Action Plan or outright make-work projects (witness last week’s announcement of a payroll centre in Miramichi, N.B., to replace jobs lost there if the gun registry goes belly-up).

So where does this leave Canadian taxpayers? Playing angel investor to businesses that don’t pay back money, while...the government turns a blind eye.
Of course, it remains to be seen how well the theme will resonate at both levels of government. But the reinforcement of Duguay's message in the national press has to help matters as the New Brunswick NDP looks to win over voters who may not have considered the party as an option before. And the more citizens ask the question of whether governments should be looking out for corporate interests at their expense, the easier it will be to persuade them that it's worth voting for a party who won't.

On tough climbs

Having earlier provided my own rebuttal in principle to the John Wright's idea that the national parties should give up on Quebec, I'll offer a brief observation as to why Chantal Hebert's column today seems to miss the mark slightly.
(I)f the Liberals, for one, were ever seriously going to think about giving up on Quebec, they would — in the same spirit — have to question whether to continue to put resources in any province west of Ontario.

In 2008, the first-place Conservatives won a bigger share of the popular vote in Manitoba (48.9 per cent), Saskatchewan (54 per cent), Alberta (65 per cent), and British Columbia (44.5 per cent) than the Bloc (38 per cent) did in Quebec.

The Liberals on the other hand earned 24 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec against only 19 per cent in Manitoba and British Columbia, 15 per cent in Saskatchewan and a measly 11 per cent in Alberta.

When all is said and done, the Liberals actually face a less steep electoral hill in Quebec than anywhere in Western Canada.

It has been a few decades since the Liberals have done well in Alberta and Saskatchewan but only ten years ago that Jean Chrétien won 44 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec, finishing the 2000 campaign five points ahead of the Bloc.
Now, there's probably room for argument as to exactly how steep the electoral hill is in any given region. But Hebert actually signals without acknowledging one of the reasons why the Libs (and to a lesser extent the Cons) might see other regions as potentially more fertile ground for improvement from their current base of support.

After all, the Libs' standing as the default federalist party in Quebec allowed them to build up both substantial riding-level war chests and incumbency advantages in dozens of seats. So their results from 2006 and 2008 can fairly easily be seen to reflect the most resources the party can possibly expect to put into the province - and the result was to come up somewhat short even at a time when less of the vote was being split with the NDP.

Which means that one can make a fairly strong argument that the Libs might have better luck directing their resources toward provinces where they might break new ground, rather than re-fighting the same battles they've lost over the past few election cycles.

And the same goes for the Cons, if perhaps to a lesser extent. In the absence of particularly strong riding-level operations, they poured in money from outside the province to support star candidates like Michael Fortier in Vaudreuil-Soulanges - only to see that effort fall flat as soon as the party became the Bloc's main target. And that largely explains their choice to direct efforts toward flipping Lib seats in B.C. and Ontario rather than launching another all-out attack on the Bloc.

All of which leaves the NDP as the only national party that can claim to be within striking distance of gains in Quebec without having yet tested the limits of its ability to win votes. But the combination of federalist vote splits and the Bloc's apparent ability to successfully take down any one national opponent would at least offer an argument against putting too much effort into the province - even if I wouldn't agree with it.

To sum up, then, any examination of how steep a climb any party faces toward winning a seat has to take into account the previous efforts that have fallen short. And there's at least some reason to think that the Libs and Cons may face diminishing returns in continuing to make Quebec a primary focus.

On lost mandates

I'm sure any day now we'll see Stephen Harper condemning Tony Abbott's reach for power from a party which doesn't hold a plurality of seats based on an arguable repudiation of the government in power:
Mr Abbott claimed Labor had lost its majority and lost its "legitimacy" to govern.
"I think the public expect a change of government as a result of yesterday's result."
And if not, then we'll have every reason to use exactly the same arguments if (as seems likely) the Cons themselves lose seats and legitimacy when the next Canadian election rolls around.

Mr. Hill's prior statements are no longer operative

Kristen Shane highlights a fairly classic difference in spin between John Baird and Jay Hill over the latter's replacement as the Cons' House Leader which speaks volumes about why Hill may well have been frustrated by "excessive control":
"I think if you ask Mr. Hill, he would tell you he requested to step down," said Mr. Baird.

When asked whether he would have wanted to keep his government house leader job until the next election, Mr. Hill responded to The Hill Times last week: "I was willing and continue to be willing to serve in whatever capacity the Prime Minister would ask of me."

He was in a remote part of his riding late last week and unable to respond to further questions about whether he was indeed frustrated by a high level of PMO control over his office, as opposition members suggest.
Of course, the obvious contrast will lead to a rather interesting test of Hill's independence until the next election. Presumably there isn't much Harper can use against him now that he's been removed from any position of particular influence and doesn't need to worry about re-election - so he would seem to have a golden opportunity to not only stick up for his own views, but also provide some perspective on exactly how stifling Harper has been from the inside.

But on the other hand, the rest of Hill's partymates are still trapped in Harper's cult of personality, and may well prefer not to have to defend that fact in the face of somebody telling inconvenient truths. So it won't be too much surprise - and indeed would entirely in keeping with the Cons' practices - for Hill to either declare that he simply misunderstood his own intentions in order to protect the Supreme Leader's infallibility, or be permanently sent to "a remote part of his riding".

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Links

A few links to close out your summer weekend...

- Dr. Dawg points out another example of the Con-friendly noise machine being set up by the Harper government using public resources - this time in the promotion of a set of religious-right actors who are being treated as if they speak for all First Nations communities.

- And of course, that cultivation of lackeys willing to bow to the will of Big Daddy fits in all too well with Alex Himelfarb's post on the Harper government's transition from a welfare state to a security state.

- A couple of NDP podcasts worth a listen: MP Megan Leslie and candidate Peter Thurley on housing issues, and an introduction to Edmonton-Leduc candidate Artem Medvedev.

- Finally, for those following the Saskatchewan NDP's Regina Northeast nomination race, the vote has been set for September 30.

Dealing in lies

As others have pointed out, John Geddes' piece on how the RCMP was ordered not to be honest about the positive effects of Insite is well worth a read. But it's worth noting that the RCMP angle is just one piece of the story as to how the Cons have manipulated public discussion on the issue of drug policy - as one can see by examining how the groups commissioned to do the RCMP's dirty work have been treated by the Harper government.

Here's Geddes on the background to one of the flawed reports criticizing research on Insite which the RCMP acknowledged to have been improperly commissioned:
The RCMP asked for two more reports, by Garth Davies, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, and Colin Mangham, research director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, a group opposed to Insite’s harm-reduction model, founded by former Conservative MP Randy White. Both were sharply critical of the academic literature. Mangham faulted the research into Insite for failing to discuss the fact that “only a small percentage of IV drug users use Insite for even a majority of their injections.” Davies cast doubt on the statistical validity of the whole body of research into safe injection facilities, including those in Europe. But neither review was published in a peer-reviewed journal, the usual sign that an academic paper stands up to expert scrutiny.
By last October, the RCMP seemed ready to fess up to the shortcomings of its bid to generate critiques of the centre’s research. “Soon after Insite was opened, the RCMP commissioned several reviews on the impact of supervised injecting facilities, including Insite,” Harriman said in his email proposing “messaging” for a joint media release. “These reviews, conducted by Cohen and Corrado, concluded that supervised injecting facilities, including Insite, were associated with positive impacts. Subsequent reviews were commissioned by the RCMP or one of its affiliates (i.e. the Addictive Drug Information Council) to provide an alternative analysis of the existing [supervised injection facility] research. The RCMP recognizes that these reviews did not meet conventional academic standards.” Harriman’s email admits the police should never have waded into the debate: “The RCMP is not qualified to comment or engage in discussion over the merits of this research.”
Senior RCMP officers might have been ready back in 2008 to acknowledge the “extensive body” of studies on the benefits of supervised injection sites, but federal cabinet ministers have never accepted anything of the sort. A key figure in the saga is Clement. At the 2007 annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association, he took the doctors to task over the CMA’s support for Insite. Clement claimed there was “academic debate going on” over the research into supervised injection, and alluded to new studies “questioning of the research that has already taken place.”

It’s likely he was referring to the critique of Insite produced for the RCMP, given that his remarks came a few months after Mangham’s review was posted on the Internet.
What Geddes doesn't cover, however, is the fact that while the RCMP has recognized that the research from Mangham and his group fell short, the Cons have done nothing of the sort after using it to manufacture dissent about the effectiveness of Insite. In fact, at last notice the Drug Prevention Network of Canada was still one of the Harper government's hand-picked participants in its advisory committee on drugs.

Which is to say that the RCMP's genuine effort to wrestle with the question of what to do about its involvement in a flawed study stands in stark contrast to what the Harper Cons have done. Indeed, this serves as another example of the Cons encouraging the development of policy by biased and well-connected parties based on inaccurate information. And there's little reason to think that the RCMP will improve their willingness to make decisions based on sound evidence as long as they're taking instructions from a government so averse to reality.