Saturday, October 23, 2010

Planning is for wimps, stimulus edition

Shorter Con MP Brian Jean on his party's continued inflexibility with stimulus end dates:

Why would anybody want to work out any accommodations in advance when we can instead point fingers after it's too late for anybody to take back their spending?

On failed strategies

[EDIT: Post removed by request.]

Well said

Gerald Caplan nicely frames the trust issue which by all rights should have become the Harper Cons' undoing years ago:
The Conservatives claim depriving Canada’s largest corporations of another $6-billion in tax cuts would cost 400,000 jobs. Do you believe them?

Stephen Harper likes to be described as a “trained economist.” Do you believe him?

Would you believe this government if it said this was October?

The opposition parties have only one hope in the election that will come next spring. They must make the Prime Minister’s credibility the ballot question. They must convince Canadians that the only salient issue is whether they believe Stephen Harper when he describes his past record and insists only he can offer the kind of economic management the country needs.

The ammunition to bury the Conservatives is overwhelming. Yet a majority of Canadians still don’t see it.
The government’s out-of-the-blue attack on the long-form census showed the world it couldn’t trust anything the Harper gang ever says on any subject, including October. This was a crisis wholly invented by the Prime Minister, devoid of a shred of commonsense or rational justification, that succeeded magnificently in uniting almost the entire country against him. Every single explanation for this incomprehensible initiative was somewhere between a wild exaggeration and a total lie. In the process, the Prime Minister, fronted by Tony Clement (the Rob Ford of Parliament), undermined the value of the census, lost a top-notch civil servant, and made themselves a laughingstock around the world.
But surely the government is most vulnerable in the area that, with awe-inspiring chutzpah, they tout as their greatest asset – economic management. Amazingly enough, they want this to be the ballot question. The Conservative spin begins with The Big Joke that the Prime Minister is a “trained economist,” a myth repeated by lazy reporters. This bit of folklore is at the heart of the government’s case for its credibility. Can they get away with it? Will the opposition let them get away with it? Tune in next week to find out.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Musical interlude

Chicane feat. Jewel - Spirit

On selloffs

Greg Weston's piece on Michael Fortier's involvement in directing millions of dollars in consulting fees to his friends at Canada's big banks is well worth a read. But lest anybody be under the mistaken impression that the Libs would be any less likely to sell off Canada's public assets while well-connected corporations take a chunk of the value, he also offers up this reminder:
Fortier also had close political ties to two employees of the winning bidders — Rick Byers, then an expert in government privatizations for the Bank of Montreal, and Michael Norris, an equally qualified investment banker at the Royal Bank.

At the time, Byers had been a prominent Conservative fundraiser, organizer and provincial candidate with links to Fortier dating back to the 1998 Progressive Conservative leadership race.

All three investment bankers also worked on Scott Brison’s campaign for the PC leadership in 2003 — Byers and Fortier were his campaign chairmen; Norris was one of the chief fundraisers.

Brison lost the leadership, but defected to the Liberals in time for their 2004 federal election victory. He then became public works minister in Paul Martin’s government.

Almost immediately, Brison announced the new Liberal government wanted to get out of property management and would consider selling off billions of dollars of federal office buildings to private operators.

The first phase of the project was to have been a $3-million study of all federal real estate, followed by a possible sale of buildings.
The project was resurrected when the Conservatives came to power in 2006. Fortier was appointed to the Senate and named public works minister.

Six months later, Fortier’s department awarded a $250,000 contract to two winning bidders — RBC and BMO — to study which federal properties should be sold.

It also gave the two banks the right to broker the actual real estate sales for hefty additional commissions.

The final deal involved nine properties that sold for $1.35 billion and generated about $10 million in commissions: $3.75 million each to BMO and RBC, and another $2.5 million to Deutsche Bank Securities, which was brought in by Public Works to vet the final sales.

That was a close one

The NDP is apparently threatening the Village by having young citizens work to create their own Canada and rewarding their efforts with positive attention. But have no fear, plutocrats: John Ivison is on the case, misattributing, misrepresenting and mocking the attempts of Canadian youth to make a difference.

On cutoff points

Kevin Milligan muses about a Guaranteed Annual Income, in the process acknowledging at least some economic arguments for universality as part of a tradeoff between cost and progam incentives. But while I'm glad to see the discussion continue, there's room for argument both as to how Milligan characterizes the GAI proposal, and as to what the political results of his mooted plan would likely be.

Here's how Milligan describes his model for a GAI:
The idea of a GAI is quite simple. Everyone receives a transfer from the government of some fixed amount. This transfer is ‘clawed back’ with every dollar of income received. This structure leads to benefits and income that look like the illustrative graph attached to this article, assuming a $10,000 initial transfer and a 25 per cent clawback rate.
Now, there are some very positive aspects of that type of proposal, including in particular the smooth path for benefits at all points on the covered income scale. But there's a serious problem in describing such a program as "universal".

On one hand, such a GAI could be administered separately from the income tax system so that it serves solely to transfer money to people on the basis described by Milligan. But it should be obvious in that case that the program stops well short of universality, with benefits going only to those making $50,000 or less - meaning that there are bound to be issues in creating a large number of people who perceive themselves as not participating in the plan.

On the other hand, the 25% clawback rate could be integrated with the income tax system (which would presumably make for the kind of flat tax that the right would absolutely love). But while that could be seen as "universal" in a sense, it would also loom as a powderkeg due to the complete lack of overlap between people paying into the system and those who receive any benefits from it.

Mind you, I can understand that from an economist's perspective, the best possible system is one which minimizes the number of transfers that take place - making that division look like an ideal outcome. But again, the long-term political ramifications of pitting a class of payors against a class of recipients would make such a plan a recipe for disaster down the road.

Which doesn't mean that a GAI-type system shouldn't receive plenty more consideration (preferably with a smooth benefits curve that never entirely cuts off). But I'd argue that Milligan's GAI falls short of being politically sustainable - and shouldn't serve as anybody's idea of a universal program.

On the other hand...

Of course, while some political issues may be changing for the better at least on the opposition side, it shouldn't be a surprise that a few of the Libs' bad habits are continuing to serve up plenty of bad news as well. Which this week means their yearly effort to kill anti-scab legislation, along with their continuing and still-unsupported claim that Cons are acting in good faith in the Afghan detainee document farce.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Steps forward

It's easy enough to get accustomed to the steady stream of bad news on a federal scene where the party in power displays the Cons' combination of incompetence and disdain for government. But there are a couple of positive developments on the opposition side worth noting.

First, Brian Masse's proposal to remove the political influence that allowed the Cons to gut the long form census looks to solve most of the issues with trying to legislate what gets asked. About the only danger is the question of what would happen in the event that a Con ideologue actually took over the position of chief statistician - but since that doesn't seem to be an issue even after the Cons named Munir Sheikh's replacement, Masse's bill looks to have the potential to resolve the current mess.

Meanwhile, to my pleasant surprise, the Libs have joined the NDP in calling for an open data policy. There's a ways to go for both parties in translating that goal into practice (both through legislation and a philosophical change in government), but the odds of it becoming a reality have to be better if the Libs' braintrust doesn't plan to fight the party's supporters on the need for transparency.

On wilful inefficiency

The Harper Cons still look to have an unbeatable one-two punch in the competition to develop the most wasteful environmental programs on the planet. But the province of Alberta looks to have its own entry under development - and there as at the federal level, it's worth pointing out the appalling gap between what's being budgeted as the apparent cost of reducing emissions, and what's being charged to polluters:
The government has made a huge bet on burying carbon emissions through carbon sequestration schemes. It’s put $2-billion into projects that will start in the 2013-2015 range. Spread out over that period, the cost will be $400-million to $700-million a year.

If all goes well, Alberta would eliminate four million to five million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Great, but the government says it plans to use carbon capture and storage to get rid of 139 million tonnes by 2050. Do the math. If $2-billion spread over three to five years achieves a reduction of four million to five million tonnes, Alberta would need $60-billion to $70-billion between now and 2050 to get 135 million more tonnes out of the atmosphere – or $1.5-billion to $1.75-billion each year (in today’s dollars) instead of $400-million to $700-million. [Ed. note - Which means a cost per tonne reduced which that exceed $500.]

Do Albertans realize how expensive carbon capture and storage will be, considering that schemes such as the ones now being planned also take big dollops of cash from Ottawa and the companies? Chances are they don’t, because politicians don’t like to talk about the long-term financial challenge. It’s good enough for the government in a province with many climate-change deniers to waive the $2-billion fund and say the province leads the world. It’s also easy to say, yes, today’s costs are high, but they’ll come down as carbon sequestration technology improves. Maybe it will is the only plausible response, because there are industry representatives who doubt that all four of the identified projects will actually materialize.

The government also heralds energy intensity reduction targets that allow companies unwilling or unable to reduce emissions to put $15 a tonne into a technology fund. Great again, except that, in the first year, the fund earned $122-million – which, given the immense costs of developing new technologies, would mean a decade or more to scale up to something significant.


Robert Silver displays his depth of understanding of the foreign investment review process associated with BHP Billiton's potash takeover bid:
This is just the latest example of the one-way street that is now Canadian federalism. If a Canadian prime minister has anything to say about what any province is doing in provincial jurisdiction, he is a centralizer who doesn’t understand the Constitution and is jeopardizing national unity – all really bad things. A Canadian premier interferes in federal jurisdiction – and I have never heard an argument that approving foreign investment is anything other than federal responsibility – and said premier is just standing up for his province.
The Investment Canada Act, in sections not revised since 1995, begs to differ with the assertion that provinces shouldn't have any say in a foreign investment review:
19. The Director shall refer to the Minister, for the purposes of section 21, any of the following material received by the Director in the course of the review of an investment under this Part:
(d) any representations submitted to the Director by a province that is likely to be significantly affected by the investment.
20. For the purposes of section 21, the factors to be taken into account, where relevant, are
(e) the compatibility of the investment with national industrial, economic and cultural policies, taking into consideration industrial, economic and cultural policy objectives enunciated by the government or legislature of any province likely to be significantly affected by the investment;

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday.

- The Economist weighs in on the Cons' census debacle:
(I)ntroducing a voluntary census was asking for trouble. The United States once attempted a similar experiment, but abandoned it after determining that data from voluntary surveys are unreliable, since marginalised groups are less likely to fill out the forms. Moreover, in order to keep the sample size constant despite a reduced response rate, the government would have to send out more forms, at an additional cost of C$30m ($29m). Canadians would be paying more money for less accurate information.

As a result, Canada’s statistical gurus staged a rebellion. The government’s chief statistician resigned in protest. Advocacy groups representing Francophone Canadians living outside the French-speaking province of Quebec launched an unsuccessful lawsuit, arguing that programmes for minorities require reliable census data on employment, education and immigration status. The Inuit have made a similar claim. The governor of the Bank of Canada said it uses census data to set monetary policy, and may have to look elsewhere after responses become voluntary. And ministers from Ontario and Quebec say they will no longer know how the labour market is changing and where to target spending on training and education.
Despite the uproar, Mr Harper is standing firm. The forms for the 2011 census have been printed, and the prime minister insists it will go ahead as planned, despite a parliamentary motion September 29th and a private member’s bill introduced the next day asking it to reverse course. The UN website promoting October 20th as World Statistics Day says it is meant to “to help strengthen the awareness and trust of the public in official statistics.” At Statistics Canada, currently without a chief statistician, the words have a hollow ring.
And even yesterday's festivities managed to turn up another example of the Cons' disrespect for Statistics Canada and/or basic math:
The first World Statistics Day was celebrated at Statscan on Wednesday with guest speakers, free coffee and enough vanilla cake to feed 400 of the agency’s 6,000 employees. Statistically speaking, that means 93 per cent of staff had to go without.
- From the "people I don't often agree with" file, I'll gladly concur with at least the first half of Warren Kinsella's sentiment here. Now if only we could get his more progressive partymates to recognize that the same can and should apply on the provincial and federal levels...

- And one more in the same category, as Kevin Gaudet gets this much right as part of his otherwise tedious attack on government generally:
TM: Given that the Harper government has run up the federal deficit, and particularly given recent controversial expenditures on G20 security and fighter jets, do you think the Conservatives are politically wise to be attempting to exploit the Liberals' platform shortfall?

KG: The whole "we’re better fiscal managers" conversation is peculiar in Canada because there’s a branding mythology out there that the Conservative Party is one with a strong fiscal history, except that when they govern they don’t seem to have any evidence of that. We can look to the Mulroney government and this government as well, both of which have run some of the largest deficits we’ve seen...I don’t think voters have much of an alternative between either parties (sic) to be honest with you.
- Finally, Dan Gardner's take on Omar Khadr actually deserves attention for its much wider application:
People are tribal. There is Us and there is Them. Us is always a cut above Them. But when the Them in question is as truly vile as the Taliban and al-Qaeda, modest partiality can become overwhelming bias.

In a telling experiment, psychologists asked some Israeli Jews to judge a peace proposal put forward by Palestinians. They said they didn’t like it. Which was interesting because the proposal had actually been drafted by the Israeli government — and other Israeli Jews, who had been told it was an Israeli proposal, rated it much more highly.

If Russians had treated you and John the way Americans did, and if you and John had been involved with a terrorist group people had never heard of, everyone would agree that you had been horribly abused. Yes, they would say, terrorism is odious and must be fought. But nothing justifies brutality and torture, the removal of fundamental human rights, or the punishment of a child soldier as if he were an adult with a choice.

But Russians didn’t do this to you and you weren’t with some group we’d never heard of. It was Us who did this and you were with Them. So it was right. No matter what.

The reviews are in

The Star-Phoenix editorial board nicely points out the difference between the many observers who have pointed out serious issues worth dealing with in a potash takeover, and the Wall government's short-sighted concern with getting cash into its pocket:
(W)hat rankles in this case is the revelation that the government had been demanding that Billiton ante up an unprecedented one-time tax payment of more than $1 billion plus hundreds of millions more in infrastructure payments, presumably to offset what a Conference Board of Canada analysis found would be a tax and royalty loss of at least $2 billion over the next decade. The Wall government suggests the figure would be closer to $3 billion.

The government's attempt to wrest $1 billion-plus up front from Billiton as a condition of a favourable recommendation to the federal government smacks of the kind of opportunistic cash grabs that have discredited many Third World political regimes, not of a responsible democracy in a rich nation whose leaders are supposed to weigh the public interest in making decisions that affect the future of a key industry.
Whether it's Mr. Jarislowsky's worries about the impact the sale will have on the ability of this country's pension funds to invest in the TSX in blue chip companies that pay dividends in Canadian dollars, to Mr. Blakeney's concerns that BHP would sell PCS the moment selling potash mines becomes more lucrative than selling potash, to Mr. Phillips's concerns that the PotashCorp would be treated by BHP as a cash cow to feed its other operations, Premier Wall's government has plenty of issues it needs to address.

Yet, it would appear the government was willing to lay it all to rest in exchange for a billion or more in cash up front as it heads into an election year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Regina Qu'Appelle Valley - Steve Ryan Nominated as NDP Candidate

Another of the NDP's noteworthy nomination contests came to a conclusion last night, as Steve Ryan won the race to serve as the party's candidate in Regina Qu'Appelle Valley. By all indications, Ryan ran an extremely strong nomination campaign - and he'll now have a full year's head start before next year's election to win votes back into the NDP's column in what was one of the province's closest ridings in 2007.

The nomination leaves Regina Wascana Plains as the lone constituency in Saskatchewan's capital without a nominated NDP candidate for 2011. And while the 2007 results may make the seat seem like a long shot, Doreen Hamilton managed to win it in each of the four previous elections - which should make it worth keeping an eye on who decides to pursue the nomination.


Yes, it's utterly ridiculous for Tony Clement to pretend that after trashing the place over the past year, a form letter of appreciation for World Statistics Day should make everything right with Statistics Canada. But the gap between Clement's words and the Cons' actions is even more obvious when one looks past the long-form census debacle alone.

Here's the Cons' sad excuse for a morale-booster:
In celebration of World Statistics Day, the agency offered free coffee to employees on their way into work, and this afternoon Smith will give an address, along with an expert panel that will offer views on "the importance of official statistics in a democratic society."
And here's what they're actually doing at Statscan, as revealed just a week ago:
Statistics Canada, already reeling from the long-form census debacle, is chopping at least five surveys after being ordered to find $7 million in savings.
Chopping the five surveys is expected to trim some $4 million, while cutting the amount of analysis is worth another $1.5 million.
Combining the cuts with the costs of the census fiasco, the end result is that the Cons have declared that they're willing to pay $24 million extra to degrade the data quality of the census and eliminate official data collection on health, environmental and business issues. So it should be perfectly clear what the Cons actually think of the importance of official statistics - no matter how much free coffee they hand out.

Well said

Plenty of others have also pointed out Robert Frank's column, but for those who haven't yet seen what looks to be a rather important point in determining how to manage our economy:
(Economists) who say we should relegate questions about inequality to philosophers often advocate policies, like tax cuts for the wealthy, that increase inequality substantially. That greater inequality causes real harm is beyond doubt.

But are there offsetting benefits?

There is no persuasive evidence that greater inequality bolsters economic growth or enhances anyone’s well-being. Yes, the rich can now buy bigger mansions and host more expensive parties. But this appears to have made them no happier. And in our winner-take-all economy, one effect of the growing inequality has been to lure our most talented graduates to the largely unproductive chase for financial bonanzas on Wall Street.

In short, the economist’s cost-benefit approach — itself long an important arrow in the moral philosopher’s quiver — has much to say about the effects of rising inequality. We need not reach agreement on all philosophical principles of fairness to recognize that it has imposed considerable harm across the income scale without generating significant offsetting benefits.

No one dares to argue that rising inequality is required in the name of fairness. So maybe we should just agree that it’s a bad thing — and try to do something about it.

All publicity is good publicity

I'll have to give the Cons points for chutzpah in their latest spin to try to justify the fake lake as part of their $2 billion G20 debacle based on the fact that it was often used (and mocked) in news reports:
Peter McGovern, a Foreign Affairs deputy minister, said Tuesday the international media used the fake lake -- intended to showcase cottage country -- as a backdrop for TV reports, bringing images of the Canadian wilderness to living rooms abroad. "The fake lake was actually an idea that I think was a wild success," McGovern, assistant deputy minister of the summits management office, told a House of Commons committee Tuesday.
And by the same standard, Dave Basi and Bob Virk have likewise been entirely successful in building name recognition through the media attention they've received from the BC Rail scandal.

A clear picture

For lack of $3 million in funding, the Saskatoon Health Region is cutting back on all kinds of imaging procedures which could otherwise assist in patient diagnosis:
With the Saskatoon Health Region's diagnostic imaging department over budget by $3 million, the health region is looking to reduce the number of tests performed. Between now and the end of the fiscal year in March, the region has proposed 1,700 fewer CT scans, 660 fewer bone scans and 770 fewer ultrasounds.
Which is bad enough both on its own, and when paired with the need to reduce wait lists for the exact same tests from other regions. But a lack of imaging services may also render useless the $5 million the province plans to spend on clinical testing for MS liberation therapy:
Savoie also cautioned that there are no details yet about how the research team will be selected or how scientific rigour and independence will be maintained. Researchers also need a reliable imaging method to determine if a person's neck veins are indeed blocked, he said.

"Knowing how to get a reliable image of the anatomical blockage that we are talking about ... is actually a fundamental building block to doing a trial to examine the potential efficacy of treatments to unblock the vessel," said Savoie.

"At the end of the day, if you do a treatment trial to look at unblocking the veins, and you're not sure of whether or not they're blocked in the first place, you could bias your results."
At best, one might theorize that the MS trials might take up some of the cleared capacity in Saskatoon. But even then, the balance of the province's MS patients will be worse off as a result of Wall's waitlist. And if the trials themselves end up being less effective for want of the exact services being cut as a result of Wall's neglect of health care generally, then there won't be any available conclusion other than that the Sask Party has chosen to spend more to accomplish less than Saskatchewan's residents have a right to expect from their health care system.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats in boxes.

A Canadian Heritage Moment

Some time ago, a government claimed that ministers rather than minions were responsible for their portfolios, and would thus make themselves to answer the questions of concerned opposition MPs. Wonder what ever happened to that?

A recipe for corruption

Apparently Brian Lilley couldn't stop at just one misleading report on political funding in Canada. But let's answer his followup piece by noting that the problems with a system reliant on small individual donations should be obvious based on other stories currently making headlines.

For all the Cons' attempts to pretend that tinkering with the contribution limit somehow limits the ability of individuals to influence a governing party, the reality is that while individual limits do serve to change the type of action which is most likely to get a party's attention, they don't entirely eliminate the dangers of parties becoming indebted to individual providers of funds.

Yes, it's for the best that a wealthy individual can't cut a six-figure cheque in exchange for favours from the governing party. But that doesn't mean a well-connected bagman can't accomplish effectively the same task by putting together a fund-raiser which directs a similar amount of money to a party.

Moreover, to the extent other forms of fund-raising are limited by law, a skilled bundler will have a disproportionate amount of influence over a party. So the oft-repeated demand to make a tradeoff between cutting off public financing and raising individual contribution limits may only ensure that bagmen hold all the more influence on the political scene - both by increasing the amount one fund-raiser can direct toward a party's coffers based on the same number of wealthy friends, and by eliminating a party's other options to keep the lights on.

Which is exactly why public financing based on votes or other factors not linked to donor wealth makes for a system that's both cleaner and more fair.

Now, I'd certainly be open to ideas as to how to avoid having that serve as a source of disconnection and inertia (perhaps by linking funding not only to the votes from an election that took place up to four years in the past, but also to ongoing shows of support?). But the advantages of public funding in freeing parties from at least some of the influence of both donors and bundlers need to be kept in mind - particularly with the Cons offering a case in point as to the type of influence that will only be amplified if per-vote funding gets slashed.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

On major assumptions

Shorter Murray Mandryk:

All you have to do is ignore a "golden share" that would allow the province veto power over decisions which we consider too important to be left out of our hands, and the board appointments that would give us direct input and voting rights at every step of corporate decision-making, and the agreements that would allow us to hold operators accountable for failing to meet commitments to the province, and there's not a shred of difference in the NDP and Sask Party positions on potash.

And similarly, if you set aside the fact that one is a two-wheeled, person-propelled vehicle and the other a mythical horse with a horn, a bicycle and a unicorn are basically the same thing.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Burning questions

Does anybody honestly think that Maxime Bernier is less of a shill for his party than any other Con MP? And if not, how can any columnist be so gullible as to believe that Bernier's Steeped Tea Party is anything less than fully sanctioned by Stephen Harper?

Saskatoon Northwest - Byelection Aftermath

The results are in from yesterday's Saskatoon Northwest by-election. And the end result looks to be yet another reinforcement of the polarization in Saskatchewan politics - with both the Sask Party and NDP cementing their place as the two groups with any substantial organization, while all three smaller parties utterly flopped once again in what may have been their last chance to put up any positive results going into the 2011 election.

Obviously the Sask Party figures to be satisfied that Gord Wyant managed to win the seat with roughly 59 per cent of the vote. But it can't escape notice that the NDP also managed to match the Sask Party's by-election trend of improving the second-place party's share of the vote, as Jan Dyky took just under a third of the vote in one of the NDP's weaker urban ridings. Which would seem to put the NDP well within striking distance of the seat.

That is, if there was any other party on the scene capable of splitting the vote so that the NDP could expect to win with a 40-45% share. But the lack of anything of the sort looks to be the biggest long-term story out of last night's results.

For the Liberals, the seat was one of the last three they managed to win back in 1999, and seemed to be an area of recent strength as well based on a well-regarded candidate (and blogger) easily exceeding the party's provincial share of the vote. And this time, the seat in play was directly adjacent to the Saskatoon Meewasin riding where former leader David Karwacki was able to turn out 30% of the vote in 2007.

But instead of being able to build on that foundation, the Libs' Eric Steiner managed a mere 3% of the vote - amounting to less than a tenth of the NDP's vote (compared to Ryan Androsoff's count of more than half of the NDP's share in 2007). And that looks to be yet another indication that the Libs are essentially out of the race even in what were their last relative strongholds.

Meanwhile, the PCs' effort to get back into the mix was even more of a flop, with Manny Sonnenschein's 2.5% share serving more to signal that any hope for the party to reemerge will likely arise out of rural Saskatchewan. And Larissa Shasko's 2.4% of the vote for the Greens looks to be a highly disappointing performance for a party leader.

All of which means that there's absolutely no indication that any other party will play even a remotely significant role in next year's rematch between Wyant and Dyky. And the more the NDP and Sask Party manage to show that nobody else is even close to contending for seats, the more likely it is that the battle between the two will only escalate as the general election approaches.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Deep thought

A National Infrastructure Summit might have been a good idea before the federal government blew all its planned spending on whatever photo-ops could be finished first.

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Last week, I noted that the Saskatchewan Roughriders missed a chance to grind out a defensive win against the Toronto Argonauts.

In retrospect, it should be been obvious in advance that the same strategy wasn't going to work in yesterday's loss to Calgary. This was the 'Riders' sixth contest of the year against one of the CFL's premier offences - and while Saskatchewan was able to win a couple of games in thrilling offensive showdowns, not once had it managed to hold either Calgary or Montreal to less than 30 points in a game.

And that's not entirely the fault of the defence either. As I've discussed many times, the 'Riders tend to play a high-risk, high-reward scheme that involves pressing for turnovers rather than making sure tackles. And it stands to reason that a top offence will do better at exploiting the defence's gambles - meaning that 27 points allowed (not counting Corey Mace's fumble return) combined with a couple of key turnovers was all we could have expected on that side of the ball.

So if the 'Riders are going to be able to hold their own against the CFL's elite teams, they'll need top offensive performances to do it. And unfortunately, the results yesterday fell well short of that standard.

Aside from the first drive of the game (aided by two key Calgary penalties), the 'Riders didn't manage to turn anything into trips to the end zone other than bombs to Chris Getzlaf. And it took far too long to go back to that option after three quarters of utter futility with a middling ground attack and misfiring possession passing game.

Which isn't to say that yesterday didn't provide somewhat of a blueprint for beating the Stamps - that is, if the 'Riders can stick to a scheme which isolates their depth receivers against Calgary's less effective defensive backs while setting up Darian Durant to take off at every available opportunity.

But that plan is going to be highly dependent on having enough skilled receivers to get the job done. And it looks particularly problematic if the 'Riders' response to Rob Bagg's injury will be to fill one receiving slot with the unreliable Obed Cetoute (who managed a penalty as his only offensive contribution yesterday).

Unfortunately, it's probably too late in the season to try to change the 'Riders' game plan in any meaningful way - and the last couple of disappointing games have effectively locked in the team's position in the standings. So the best we can hope for is that the 'Riders can at least take care of business against the teams below them in the standings, and that a few more long passes will find their mark along a road to the Grey Cup that now goes through Calgary.

On artificial shortages

It's bad enough that the Wall government's neglect of health care has pushed the Saskatoon Health Region to cut down on its number of diagnostic imaging tests:
With the Saskatoon Health Region's diagnostic imaging department over budget by $3 million, the health region is looking to reduce the number of tests performed. Between now and the end of the fiscal year in March, the region has proposed 1,700 fewer CT scans, 660 fewer bone scans and 770 fewer ultrasounds. SEIU-West released the information at the news conference.
But it's particularly worth noting that the areas being cut overlap directly with demand from Regina which is being used as an excuse to privatize the same services:
The Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region signed a contract this summer with Omni Surgery Centre to provide dental surgeries and knee arthroscopies to patients within the public system. The region is also seeking a third-party supplier to offer some CT scans.
Needless to say, there's no plausible case to be made that there's a lack of capacity to perform the tests in the public sector if the Saskatoon Health Region is being forced to cut back on its operations. And the combination of cutting back on scans in one health region while claiming a need to fill demand through private providers in the one next door looks to be the most obvious sign yet that the Wall government's focus is solely on privatizing rather than any concern about the availability of health care services.

Missing perspective

Brian Lilley is proving himself a committed Con soldier both in trying to build outrage over political party funding, and in pointing to the per-vote subsidy as the only part of the scheme that might be changed. But his most obvious source of distortion is this:
Nearly $8 million dollars each year is spent on “research bureaus” to which each party represented in Parliament is entitled. Yet despite their name, people familiar with the operations of these offices admit most of the time, their activities are not the type of research activities Canadians would expect.

“They read through books and speeches on the opposition, pull quotes from newspaper stories, build websites to attack each other and spin the media,” said one source who has worked in one research bureau.
Which raises a couple of obvious questions. First, how much money is spent in PMO and departmental budgets to do exactly the same thing on behalf of the government? And shouldn't that be the area most ripe for cuts based on waste and duplication given that the Cons have their own party resources that they can rely on as well?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An essential caveat

Before anybody makes too much out of the study on partisan loyalties highlighted by David Akin, it's worth reading through to the paper itself for some rather important limitations.

The analysis carried out by Cameron Anderson and Laura Stephenson is based solely on results from the 1984 Canadian Election Study as the last source of data on parental partisanship. And that would seem to create major problems to the application of the study's conclusions - not just due to the passage of time and changes in political parties generally, but particularly due to the fact that partisan loyalties at a single point in time surely have plenty to do with the political realities of that day rather than long-termm ternds. Indeed, one would figure that a weak Lib party was likely relying more on on historical attachments rather than favourable views of its leader or policies, while relatively strong PC and NDP efforts in the 1984 election were based on their doing better than usual in the persuasion department at the time the data was gathered.

So while I'll look forward to seeing some follow-up to test whether the conclusions actually do apply to other elections where the parties' relative strengths would seem to have been different, it's far too early to draw conclusions as sweeping as Akin's based on the single point in time that was actually tested.

In all fairness...

It's only half right to say, as Stephen Lewis did today, that the Harper Cons had no clue what they were doing when it came to their failed bid for the UN Security Council.

Far more accurate to say instead that the Harper Cons don't have a clue what they're doing the bulk of the time - with the Security Council vote serving as just one more glaring example.

On formalization

Last week, I noted that the agreement portion of the Saskatchewan NDP's potash plan looked to offer less protection for the province than other suggestions such as reassuming a shareholding stake (including a "golden share") and appointing board members. But since those outcomes are unlikely in the absence of both a sale and an unexpectedly strong investment review process at the federal level, the idea of an agreement is worth another look in light of PCS' pledge to the province.

Again, it's entirely true that the pledge is entirely unenforceable in its current form. But I'll correct myself in noting there's a fairly simple way to make it something more than that - if the Wall government cares in the slightest whether its terms are met.

With PCS already having made a very public show of commitment to the contents of its pledge, it surely wouldn't have much choice but to play along if the province were to seek to convert the contents of the pledge into an enforceable agreement. And since the pledge is designed to apply to PCS' operations regardless of whether or not a takeover takes place, there's no reason why an agreement would be seen as facilitating or encouraging a sale (which has been the Sask Party's latest spin on the NDP's plan).

All of which means that there's only one reason why we wouldn't see some effort to secure some commitments from PCS. And that would be...if the Sask Party prefers to leave matters like participation in Canpotex and arm's-length purchasing to chance and corporate discretion, rather than having a binding agreement in hand for the benefit of the province.

Mind you, I wouldn't rule out that possibility for a second given the Sask Party's preference for corporate interests over mere citizens. But it should be clear that the Wall government that has an obvious opportunity to turn PCS' pledge into something far more substantial. And if the Sask Party chooses not to, then it will bear full responsibility for doing nothing in the one area of a potash takeover that's entirely within the province's control.

A study in contrasts

I hadn't seen it before yesterday's post, but Joe Klein nicely highlights the distinction between the experts being targeted by the right-wing know-nothing movement and the elites whose interests clearly conflict with those of the balance of society:
Christine O'Donnell is not like that. She is attractive, to some, because she doesn't know anything. She couldn't name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with, not even Roe v. Wade. There is no way she could ever be confused with a member of the elites; there is no way she could be confused with an above average high school student. Her ignorance, therefore, makes her authentic--the holy grail of latter-day American politics: she's a real person, not like those phony politicians. In that sense, she--and the lifeboat filled with other Tea Party know-nothings--follow in the wake of our leading exemplar of ignorant authenticity, Sarah Palin (who seems every bit as unaware of public policy--she certainly never talks about it--as she was when a desperate and petulant John McCain chose her to be his running mate).

There is something profoundly diseased about a society that idolizes its ignoramuses and disdains its experts. It is a society that no longer takes itself seriously.
People like Steve (Rattner) have populated Administrations of both parties at the highest levels, especially in the Treasury Department (indeed, Rattner once hoped to be Treasury Secretary). From Bob Rubin to Hank Paulson, recent Presidents have turned to financiers who gained fame by making deals rather than by making products (the current Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, never was a Wall Street dealmaker, but he comes from that world). Their disastrous chicanery is part of the reason--a good part of the reason--why voters are rebelling against expertise this year.

It occurs to me that George W. Bush had the right idea the first time around, hiring Paul O'Neill, who came from the world of manufacturing, as his Treasury Secretary--and then, of course, he fired O'Neill, who couldn't stand the irresponsibility of Bush's economic policies.

I am not saying that Steve Rattner is directly to blame for Christine O'Donnell. But he is part of a generation of financiers, the most respected figures in our society, who have been disgraced utterly by their greed and shenanigans--and who have made the world safe for Mama Grizzlies.