Saturday, November 13, 2010

On overkill

Greg Weston looks at the numbers behind the Cons' plan for a unilateral Afghanistan extension. And all indications are that there's absolutely no need for the number of troops Stephen Harper has chosen to promise for training purposes:
According to the Department of National Defence, 325 of the 2,750 Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan are currently engaged in "instructing, training and mentoring" members of the Afghan army and police.

The department won't say exactly where all the "training and mentoring" of Afghans is happening. But it does acknowledge that fewer than 125 Canadian soldiers are assigned to various training centres, headquarters and other relatively safe areas.
So, what does the Harper government's plan really mean?

The number of Canadian military personnel involved in classroom training would increase from fewer than 125 to perhaps 1,000, while Canada's currently onerous contribution to actual in-field combat training would be eliminated.

But NATO documents indicate the alliance only needs another 750 trainers from among the entire 42 countries with forces in Afghanistan. The vast majority of those trainers would be involved potentially in live combat.
So at best, either Harper's claim about keeping troops "behind the wire" and out of combat after 2011 is absolute nonsense, or the extension involves sending hundreds more troops than are actually needed to carry out the role they've been assigned.

But then, the more likely answer is "both of the above": by sending more personnel than could possibly be useful for actual training at secure facilities, Harper will position himself to say he has no choice but to reluctantly authorize the extra troops to go into combat whenever he figures he can get the Libs to go along with it. And so will the quagmire continue.

(H/t to Audrey.)

Just curious

Following up on my earlier post, I'll note what looks like a significant opportunity to poll the effects of long-term party branding.

There's already loads of polling based on leaders and voting intentions, and the occasional party-based poll asking for party rankings or preferences on specific issues. But wouldn't an open-ended "what words do you associate with X party?" poll - along the lines of what's often done with leaders - have the potential to tell us plenty about how Canadians perceive their electoral options?

On brokerage

Aaron Wherry points out what's indeed a highly useful take on how Canadian political have traditionally operated. But it's worth both clarifying one of the main observations, and questioning to what extent the theory is still accurate at the moment.

Here's the passage from Dynasties and Interludes cited by Wherry:
Canadian political parties have traditionally been brokerage parties. Lacking stable support in the electorate, and avoiding clear ideological differentiation from their competitors, political parties approach each election anew, hoping to put together a coalition of support across the entire electorate. Brokerage parties do not seek to appeal in election campaigns on the basis of long-standing principles, or on a commitment to fundamental projects to restructure the economy or society, even if they have these. They are not bound by positions or actions they have taken in the past. Electoral platforms are typically put together from a short-term point of view, offering a mixture of assurances of general competence to deal with the major problems of the day, commitments to prosperity and social security, specific promises designed for instant appeal, and an assertion that only they can provide creative leadership.
Now, the first point worth noting is the difference between what happens "in election campaigns" time frame, and what happens the rest of the time.

And in some ways, the difference between brokerage parties and principled ones is even more important outside of election campaigns. After all, a party without consistent, independent causes will inevitably be limited by the desire not to alienate possible future members of its coalition, while facing relatively little internal pressure to take strong positions on the issues that come up when power isn't immediately at stake.

In contrast, a party with fairly strong and consistent views will have strong incentives to remain more active and vocal between elections. The party's activist members concerned with affecting the results of issues on an ongoing basis will represent a greater proportion of the party, and the perceived costs of some disagreement in less friendly quarters may be more palatable to a party whose strategy relies more on long-term branding and base development than one-off persuasion of swing voters within a campaign.

Not surprisingly, the difference between those two types of parties can be readily seen in the respective actions of the Libs and NDP in opposition to the Harper Cons.

I've criticized the Libs on many occasions for seeming to prefer to allow the Cons to get away with bad policy for the sake of improving their own electoral prospects, and still see that as a generally destructive mindset - but it makes a lot more sense if one figures the Libs haven't moved past the traditional brokerage model. Meanwhile, the NDP has taken much stronger stands at almost every turn, pushing the boundaries of debate on its core issues and fighting back against negative policies rather than standing idly by and waiting for the Cons to self-destruct.

But in figuring out which strategy is likely to be most effective, it's worth noting that the party sitting across the way is itself making a significant break from the brokerage model. Rather than simply governing based on pragmatic concerns as issues turn up, the Cons have relentlessly kept their focus on a few topics ("tough on crime!" "support the troops!") to create an enduring long-term brand for themselves. And they've dealt with anything outside their preferred messages only to the extent they face overwhelming pressure to do so (and then only by mouthing agreement or changing the subject rather than trying to co-opt competing interests).

Which poses a challenge for anybody seeking to oppose the Cons from a brokerage perspective. After all, won't a party seeking to redefine itself when the writ drops figure to have a far more difficult time persuading voters than one which has spent years building and promoting a distinct public image of itself that it can tap into at will?

Granted, the Cons' messages have also been interspersed with the usual brokerage language as well; indeed, their quick attacks on each Lib leader are best seen as trying to control that portion of the political playing field as well. And there's probably room for them to lose enough credibility on that front for some of the rest of their message to crumble.

But even if the history of Canadian politics is one of temporary electoral coalitions rather than strong public positioning and posturing over time to build brand loyalty, I don't think there's much room for doubt that the Cons are seriously challenging the model. And it remains to be seen whether a brokerage party which sees itself as best off avoiding strong stands the vast majority of the time can focus enough enthusiasm and energy to push back when an election campaign begins.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Musical interlude

Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (Paul Oakenfold Remix)

This argument isn't lost

Meanwhile, I won't worry about criticizing the Libs for giving Stephen Harper yet another free pass on Afghanistan since their supporters are doing a great job already. But I will follow up on one of the points made by BCL:
(I)f Iggy wants to support an extension of Canada's Afghanistan mission to 2014, he should have to get up in the HOC, hold hands with Prime Minister Harper, and explain the whys and wherefores behind this Lib./Tory coalition. Lets face it, he's been a crap leader of the opposition. If Dion couldn't explain himself in English, then with Iggy the problem is that when he explains himself it just makes you think he's an enormous dick. Nobody owes him any deference. And he owes the country a better performance.

So, lets have a debate in the HOC. And remember the debate around the Long Gun Registry; the LPoC brain trust eventually came around. This argument isn't lost.
And the last point is particularly important in context. While the Cons will surely try to portray Harper's musings as irrevocably committing troops for three more years, the fact is that there's plenty of time for an election and a change of government before the end of 2011 to actually meet the end date that he's discarded. And with Harper having made it clear that he has no qualms ignoring a supposedly binding agreement and motion to bring our troops home, there's less reason than ever to think we should consider them trapped for as long as Harper has promised to mire them in Afghanistan.

On belated responses

It's not exactly news that the federal Libs have been less than on the ball in trying to develop their fund-raising capacity. But am I the only one shocked that they're just now getting around to hiring some help?

A brief history of Stephen Harper's dedication to ending our Afghanistan mission

As part of his sales pitch to try to extent the stay of up to 1,000 Canadian troops in Afghanistan to 2014, Stephen Harper is making some surprising claims about his own position on military deployment. So let's check his current attempt at position against his track record.

Here's Harper now:
“Look, I’m not going to kid you,” he said. “Down deep, my preference would be, would have been, to see a complete end to the military mission. But as we approach that date, the facts on the ground convince me that the Afghan military needs further training. I don’t want to risk the gains that Canadian soldiers have fought for and that they have sacrificed in such significant numbers for by pulling out too early if we can avoid that. I think if we can continue a smaller mission that involves just training, I think frankly that presents minimal risks to Canada but it helps us ensure that the gains we’ve made our continued ... to truly ensure that the Afghan forces are able over the next couple of years to take over true responsibility for their security. So I do this with some reluctance but I think it is the best decision when one looks at the options.”
So how credible is it for Harper to claim that he's really just a misunderstood peacenik who feels that this is the rare exception where he wants to keep Canadians in the line of fire? Let's take a spin back in the wayback machine, starting with those heady times of 2006, when he first pushed for an extension of the combat mission:
I think I also need to be clear, given the events over the last 24 hours or so, of what the consequences would be if there were a No vote. Let me be clear on this. This would be a surprise to this government. In debates in this chamber up until last month and in private meetings until very recently, we had every reason to believe that three of four parties, which have consistently supported this action, would continue to do so.

Should that turn out not to be the case, this government is not in a position to simply walk away or to run away. What the government will do, if we do not get a clear mandate, the clear will of Parliament to extend for two years and beyond, is proceed cautiously with a one year extension. We cannot walk away quickly. We will proceed with another year and if we need further efforts or a further mandate to go ahead into the future, we will go so alone and we will go to the Canadian people to get that mandate.
So not only was Harper not the least bit reluctant about pushing through an extension, he also said in no uncertain terms that he would take a "no" to mean "yes for a year", and keep the mission going regardless of what Canadian MPs said on the matter. And that, combined with Harper's apocalyptic language about the need to fight until the Taliban were destroyed for fear of their instead imposing "hell on earth", doesn't exactly sound like the opinion of somebody who's at all willing to set an end date to involvement in the war.

And Harper was far more clear on that point in 2008, when his hand-picked Liebermanley Group issued its report on the mission:
"The panel has made a clear case that there can't be a definitive timeline placed on when NATO has finished the job in Afghanistan and when Afghans can take responsibility for their own security. We agree."
And in keeping with that, he tried to push a motion which included an extension but no end date.

Eventually, of course, Harper was pressured to accept a motion that included notice of Canada's withdrawal in 2011 in order to win cover from the Libs - presumably secure in the knowledge that he could always change his mind as he has since done. But that didn't get him or his government to stop talking about the mission being indefinite in scope:
In an interview Sunday with The Canadian Press, Defence Minister Peter MacKay confirmed weeks of speculation, saying the Americans have “signalled that they will backstop” Canada with reinforcements in Kandahar after February 2009 if necessary...

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Mr. MacKay cautioned against talk of a NATO exit strategy...

“This type of insurgency is a long and abiding challenge. This is going to take a consistent, long-term effort,” Mr. MacKay said.
So it should be glaringly clear that contrary to his current attempt to position himself as reluctantly abandoning a position of wanting to live up to his end of the bargain, Harper is simply following the Cons' long-standing pattern of committing as many troops as they can get away with for as long as they can. And the fact that this time they're cutting Parliament out of the process should signal that we're further than ever from having the desires or interests of the public taken into account.

Across party lines

As tends to be the case, anybody looking for the most thorough and informative coverage of the ongoing by-election races will find it at the Pundits' Guide. And as part of a remarkably thorough roundup, Alice points out one noteworthy bit of cross-party support in the Winnipeg North campaign:
Also recently seen campaigning with (NDP candidate Kevin) Chief is former Liberal candidate and well-known Métis musician Ray St. Germain. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in some quarters that aboriginal people don't participate in canadian electoral politics, Chief's campaign is said to have signed up some 600 new members in that riding.
Now, I'm not sure how deep St. Germain's roots were within the Libs. But it certainly has to help Chief's cause that a prominent former candidate who was willing to challenge Pat Martin in what was then a reasonably promising target for the Libs (thanks in part to the efforts of Kevin Lamoureux himself two elections before) has joined the NDP's efforts to hold Winnipeg North. And based on the NDP's strong starting position in the riding, it's worth wondering whether the obstacles facing Lamoureux will prove insurmountable even if the race figures to be somewhat closer than the margins posted by Judy Wasylycia-Leis in recent elections.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Your money. Their junk mail.

I stand corrected: it isn't just Con MPs who have apparently been told to take every possible opportunity to use public money for the party's political gain. Instead, the unelected, unaccountable Senate is also being converted into a Con distribution centre:
Conservative Senators are quietly using taxpayer-funded literature to target opposition ridings with a partisan crime message as the party gears up for the next election, the Toronto Star has learned.

And at least one of the Senators sent the mailers out at the direction of the Conservative Party of Canada’s national campaign office.

That Senator was Bob Runciman (Ontario). It is not clear whether Senator Don Plett (Manitoba), who distributed almost identical material, did so at the behest of the party.
By using the Senators to send out this kind of literature, the Conservative Party gets around the prohibition on MPs using tax dollars to send partisan messages to other ridings, which the House of Commons agreed must stop.

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your afternoon reading.

- Thomas Walkom notes the absurdity of the Cons' explanation for wanting to keep troops in Afghanistan:
Perhaps the most illogical element of the training argument is the premise. Afghans hardly need to be trained for battle. Since 1979, this has been a country consumed by war, where every male over the age of puberty is a potential fighter and where Kalashnikovs are common household items.

The problem with the Afghan army and police is not that they don’t know how to fight. It is that a good many don’t want to fight for a corrupt government propped up by foreigners. Condemning more of our own soldiers to death won’t solve that.
- But then, paying attention to the obvious consequences of war has apparently never been a strong point for the Cons.

- A question to ponder: exactly how far down the road toward outright cancelling all or part of the F-35 development program will the U.S. have to go before the Cons admit that staking Canada's ability to patrol its territory on the planes? I ask only because at this rate, we may soon get the answer.

- Finally, the Citizen reports on an effort to work across party lines to establish a set of "out of bounds" targets for the province's next election campaign. Which leads me to wonder: if the parties in Canada's most populous province are apparently able to discuss such an agreement for no reason beyond wanting to improve the level of debate, doesn't that tend to suggest it should be possible for federal parties to do the same with some more self-interested goals in mind?

On trigger points

On the subject of not overreacting to a single poll result, Jane Taber characteristically does just that. But while we shouldn't buy for a second the concept that an election is right around the corner, she does raise one issue which will likely define the circumstances of the next trip to the polls:
New federal seat projections suggest it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals and Jack Layton’s NDP to resist a vote of no-confidence and a trip to the polls.

The projections, based on a new EKOS Research poll released Thursday, show the two opposition parties are “tantalizingly close” to being able to combine forces and form a majority in the House of Commons were an election held today.
Of course, the Libs' own messaging has generally been to the effect that they're not making plans that involve working with anybody else. And if that's the standard they apply, then the fact that they themselves haven't picked up any great degree of support would suggest that we're a long ways away from an election - and that Stephen Harper will likely get to choose the terms when it happens.

But if the Libs actually consider the possibility of joining forces with the NDP to form a government as a positive outcome worth speeding up the election timetable, then a few more polls like this may well give them reason to start agitating for a vote. Which means that if the polls stay where they are, we'll be able to tell once again exactly where the Libs' priorities lie as between improving their own standing alone, or actually replacing the Harper Cons.

Poll positioning

A few notes on the Ekos poll that seems to be dominating the conversation today...

First off, there's not much doubt that the NDP will want to be careful about putting too much stock in a single round of favourable polling. But it's worth noting that while the NDP's Ekos results are better than usual nationally (based mostly on the Saskatchewan/Manitoba and Atlantic Canada), they're also far from reflecting a best-case scenario across the board, with B.C. and Quebec in particular ranking as regions where the NDP frequently polls significantly better than in Ekos' numbers.

Moreover, there are plenty of plausible reasons to think that a boost in voter intention numbers might well be sustainable. Which means that it'll be well worth keeping a close eye on further polling to see if that's actually happening.

Meanwhile, a couple of the issue polling numbers also raise some interesting issues. When it comes to the country's overall direction, there's a fairly stark division between Con voters who are overwhelmingly positive, and NDP/Bloc/Green voters who are predominantly negative. But that leaves the Libs whose voters are remarkably evenly divided on the right direction/wrong direction split - which would seem to suggest that the Libs have a long way to go in convincing even their supporters of any broad need for change.

Which isn't to say that the Libs haven't been effective in at least one of their recent messaging strategies. Based merely on ideological leanings, one might expect NDP supporters to be more concerned about the Cons' F-35 purchase than Liberal ones - and indeed a few more Libs strongly support the purchase than is the case for any other opposition party. But their "prisons and planes" message has managed to push over 40% of the Libs' supporters into strongly opposing the purchase, with roughly a 65/35 split against the purchase in total.

That's particularly noteworthy in contrast to the NDP, which has kept more of its focus on other issues while the Libs have incorporated the F-35 purchase into their core messaging. As a result, the NDP has more positive impressions of the purchase among its supporters than any party except the Cons, with a nearly even division in pro/con (albeit with stronger opinions on the side of opposing the purchase). Which would seem to suggest that the choice of issues put forward by Canada's political parties can have some significant impact in driving their supporters' views on those subjects - even if it hasn't led to much more than five years of impasse in overall voting preferences.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On working definitions

Andrew Mayeda is right to mock Stephen Harper's excuse for hiding his presence in Winnipeg. But I'd argue that some of his explanatory examples are probably a little off base:
In response to my blog, the Prime Minister’s Office sent me an email to clarify who the Conservatives will be consulting.

“Our government’s economic consultations are with hardworking Canadians,” a PMO spokesperson said in an email. The spokesperson noted that Harper met with a roundtable of local businesspeople.
Based on that statement and the usual right-wing mantra equating "hardworking" with "wealthy" to justify regressive tax policies, I'd fully anticipate that Harper would consider a corporate executive at the yacht to be exactly the hardworking demographic he's after. (And anybody who merely works hard without a fortune to show for it would be well outside the true target audience - which may explain why the Cons would have wanted to hear from their chosen group alone.)

How low the bar

Susan Delacourt presents a challenge to anybody who thinks it's worth their time to show up for the Cons' "listening tour":
I would be curious to hear from anyone who attempts to ask a question along the way during this tour; whether it is possible to simply show up, ask Mr. Harper what's on your mind, without having to go through a rigorous content vetting or pre-embarrassment check before you get to the microphone. Please send your stories to If you do manage to accomplish this feat, you may have a career ahead in the exciting world of parliamentary journalism. Just not under this particular government.
Now, it's well and good if we can establish that the Cons are indeed screening participants. But even assuming the Cons decide to allow free and open questioning, haven't we learned from question period that that's largely futile if Harper doesn't see fit to provide meaningful answers?

On studied positions

Yesterday, I quoted pogge's post lamenting the complete lack of democratic debate over the Cons' sudden decision to keep a thousand troops in Afghanistan past the promised end date.

Today, at least one commentator gets a nice, shiny space in the national media makes it absolutely clear that as far as he's concerned, what we actually need is less democracy in determining how Canada's troops are deployed:
An international affairs expert questions the wisdom of a possible vote in the House of Commons on a proposed Canadian troop-training mission in Afghanistan.

Philippe Lagasse, a University of Ottawa professor, says such votes may reduce government accountability, disarm opposition parties and muddy what should be direct lines of command from government to the military.
And for an added bonus, Lagasse looks to be nicely tangled up in the federal government's funding of military-related academia. Anybody else see a potential issue in a government paying for a statement that what minimal avenues we now have to express disagreement with a minority government should be eliminated for fear that they might actually be used?

On questionable privileges

It's interesting to note that Helena Guergis' use of parliamentary mailing privileges for explicit electoral purposes is being treated as a matter of general interest, while Greg Thompson's in endorsing a successor both as "next Conservative candidate and MP" is currently being reported as an internal Con matter.

But the overall message seems to be the same in both cases. As far as the Cons are concerned (including anybody who learned about politics through the party), the lone role of an individual MP is to use every available resource is to use every means at their disposal to convert public resources into campaign materials - whether or not they're supposed to be used for that purpose. And the more tired Canadians are of the results, the more incentive they'll have to remove the MPs who have been trained to use that strategy.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Well posed cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous items of interest...

- A couple of pieces deserve attention on the Cons' declaration that they plan to leave up to 1,000 troops in Afghanistan after they'd agreed to remove them. First, here's pogge:
If you look down the left hand column at the main page of National Newswatch this morning you'll see quite a few of the pundits who normally appear there weighing in on the subject. That's the public debate. Or as close to it as we're going to get. If you want to get in on it, move quickly because it will be over soon. And it won't change a thing. It would appear that Harper took the public statements by Ignatieff and Rae as all the indication of support he really needed for an extended military mission "behind the wire." With the NATO Summit only two weeks away, he's allowed a revised mission profile that will make our allies ecstatic to be leaked to the media and now he's sitting back and letting everybody at home fume about it.
I haven't read all the material on this that I've bookmarked over the last few days but I'd like to note this Canadian Press piece. It describes a three month long "diplomatic charm offensive" by representatives from the U.S., Britain and NATO and quotes an unnamed diplomat:

"We recognize politically this is not the world's greatest vote winner," said the diplomat, adding the hope that "behind the scenes, the opposition and the government could work something out on this."
In other words, they know perfectly well that they're encouraging a government to act contrary to the wishes of its citizens. They don't particularly care as long they can work "behind the scenes" and get what they want.

We're staying in Afghanistan so we can help to bring them a democracy just like ours. Did you enjoy the debate?
- And Chris Selley laments the absurdity of the Cons' sudden decision to declare void all previous statements about bringing Canadian troops home:
Couple of problems, though. One, just because the government says it’s a training role doesn’t mean it’s true. (How can we train troops exclusively behind the wire?) Almost nothing Stephen Harper or his lickspittles-with-portfolio have said about the mission in recent months has been true. Indeed, as Martin notes, they went miles out of their way to convince Canadians there would be no military role in Afghanistan whatsoever after 2011 — and “nobody raised the bar on those expectations higher than [Mr. Harper], who was so adamant about unilaterally leaving the war zone by the end of 2011, he insisted in a National Post interview that the only remaining soldiers would be a few privates guarding the Canadian embassy.”

“It was never clear why the Conservatives perpetuated the misconception that [the government] was bound to remove every soldier from the country in 2011,” says the Globe. Yeah, golly, what a mystery. Please. What the Globe’s Lawrence Martin describes as political “ambidexterity” — i.e., guilefully stealing Michael Ignatieff’s plan for troops to stay on as trainers — is in fact just an example of the government’s golden rule. Its only rule, maybe: In every situation, without exception, do or say the thing that’s easiest to do or say, and let the communications guys figure out any ensuing contradictions. Or give them the night off. It’s not like anyone cares.
- Carl Mortished points out that the supposed purpose of workfare programs doesn't have much to do with the actual result:
We don’t know how many cheat the welfare system. I suspect the real cheats (rather than those who are chronically idle) are few in number but extremely clever. The British government reforms will not catch the big cheats who will delight in finding ways to continue claiming multiple benefits without picking up litter. Instead, it will employ contractors at large expense to drag up and down the street squads of depressed, irritable and resentful people clad in ill-fitting overalls.

Will “scroungers” acquire a work ethic picking up litter? They will acquire an urgent need to avoid loss of income but that is different to an ethic. Governments in Europe worry about a diminishing spirit of enterprise among the young. They think they see a work ethic in China but we know that many Chinese have family memories of gut-wrenching hardship. If Chinese work harder than British or Canadians, it is out of fear and the acquisitiveness of those desperate for a way out of poverty. The Chinese are not better people; they are just more desperate. If you don’t think that is true, ask yourself whether the employees who committed suicide at Foxconn’s Chinese factory lacked a work ethic or had just lost hope that their lives would get better.

We cannot change people’s attitudes to work by taking away benefits. A tougher regime that might turn us all into a “Chinese” work force is politically impossible. All we can do is tip the balance of fear and greed temporarily in favour of turning up for a day with the dust cart.
- Finally, the Tyee is doing yeoman's work in countering the apparent media effort to redefine Gordon Campbell after his resignation, with Will McMartin's piece doing a particularly good job comparing Campbell's promises to what he actually did.

In fairness...

Let's note that for all the Cons' fiscal mismanagement, they do have some areas of remarkable efficiency. For example, can anybody doubt that the results of their "listening" tour have already been drafted long before they ever hold a meeting, complete with "Canadians have told us..." wording?

Royally skewed

Kady has pointed out the more familiar piece of skewed messaging in Brian Lilley's post on the next Durban conference.

But I'd think the more striking line from Lilley is "princes of the foreign affairs department", which looks to be breaking new ground in building up a false perception of elitism among civil servants (who of course aren't allowed to defend themselves against the charge). And considering how hard Lilley is working to repeat his apparent talking points at every opportunity (note that both "Fort Pearson" and "latte" appear twice in the same brief post), I'm sure we can look forward to a regular diet of QMI stories about how poor, powerless little Stephen Harper, with his mere hundreds of millions of dollars in publicly-funded communication money, faces insurmountable odds in facing down the evil and all-controlling Masters of the Universe at Service Canada.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Monday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- Scott Taylor nicely explains the Cons' insistence on buying F-35s rather than look at less expensive and more effective alternatives for Canada's actual defence needs:
Amid the chest poking and bellowing over aircraft capability, cost effectiveness and sole-source bids, one lone voice of reason has sung a totally different tune. Always one to march to his own drummer, the Rideau Institute’s Steven Staples posed the question: why does the replacement for our manned CF-18 fighters have to be a piloted aircraft?

Perhaps the Pentagon subscribes to Staples’ newsletter as it has announced that the U.S. air force plans to have more than one-third of their aircraft be of the un-manned variety by 2020.

Not known for such progressive thinking, Hawn, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, will shout repeatedly to anyone who will listen that Canada needs a piloted fighter — and he should know because he is a former fighter pilot.

No doubt, prior to World War I, many a former cavalryman bellowed to all and sundry that horses will always have a place on the modern battlefield.
- And Paul Wells has another cost-saving proposal based on the Cons' latest excuse to trumpet the F-35s:
Emirates Airlines Flight 201 was a combination of problems. One problem had already been solved: NORAD needed the pilot of Flight 201 to be co-operative—but he already was. Another problem couldn’t be solved at all: who was going to get that explosive out of the cargo hold, if there was any there?

For neither problem is an F-35 “the right equipment.” In fact it’s entirely useless. Or nearly: it does make some people feel better. And by “some people,” I mean “Dimitri Soudas.” Do taxpayers need to spend $16 billion to make Dimitri Soudas feel better? Perhaps. He’s a nice guy. But perhaps he can be made to feel better for cheaper.

I nominate Omar Khadr.
I propose that Omar Khadr be put in charge of security for all flights operating in Canadian airspace. This would be simple enough. Put a desk with a telephone in his cell. At intervals, inform him that there is an airliner somewhere carrying suspicious cargo. On these occasions, Khadr’s keepers would glower at him and say, “If anything happens to that flight, you’re in BIG trouble, Buster!”

The phone on the desk in the cell need not even be connected to anything. Omar Khadr couldn’t sort through airborne cargo or coerce an already willing pilot any more than a fifth-generation stealth multi-role fighter could. But he would be more than $15.9 billion cheaper. That’s enough for another GST cut. Everyone wins.
- Meanwhile, the Cons are continuing their campaign as proxies for the Republicans who aren't directly represented on the international stage, this time by attacking both the desirability and likelihood of nuclear stockpile reductions.

- Finally, I'd think the debate is far from settled as to whether the U.S. Democrats could have in fact improved their political position by doing more. But William Saletan (via Aaron Wherry) is at least right about this much if there actually was a tradeoff to be made between passing health care reform and 2010 election results:
But if health care did cost the party its majority, so what? The bill was more important than the election. I realize that sounds crazy. We’ve become so obsessed with who wins or loses in politics that we’ve forgotten what the winning and losing are about. Partisans fixate on punishing their enemies in the next campaign. Reporters, in the name of objectivity, refuse to judge anything but the Election Day score card. Politicians rationalize their self-preservation by imagining themselves as dynasty builders. They think this is the big picture.

They’re wrong. The big picture isn’t about winning or keeping power. It’s about using it.

On enduring images

Brian Topp's reading of another set of Ipsos-Reid numbers is similar to what I'd posted about last week's issue polling. So rather than repeating the general analysis, let's note this remarkable single question response:
Has a hidden agenda: Harper 45 per cent; Ignatieff 37; Layton 14.
Of course, the result isn't all that hard to explain given both Harper's secrecy while in office, and the sense that Ignatieff doesn't have much of an agenda to keep secret in the first place. But isn't it still remarkable that after nearly five years in power, Harper is still outpacing his leadership competitors on the hidden agenda front?

Same old story, unaccountability edition

The Hill Times focuses on the chief electoral officer's recommendation to make sure that at least one party responsible for reviewing parties' election expenses is actually able to check whether they're valid:
Canada's chief electoral officer says a gap in Canada's elections law means his office reimbursed the five main federal political parties $29.2-million after the last election without being able to check the accuracy of the expenses on which those reimbursements were based.

Marc Mayrand wants to close a loophole in the Canada Elections Act that means he receives documentary evidence support the financial returns of candidates, leadership and nomination contestants, but not political parties.

Registered parties are eligible to get public subsidies, partly through a 50 per cent reimbursement of their election expenses. But before the receiver general cuts a cheque, the chief electoral officer has to certify that he's satisfied the party has met Canada Elections Act reporting requirements. Taxpayers shelled out $29,182,448.51 to parties after the 2008 election.

"Despite the considerable funding given to registered parties, the chief electoral officer does not receive any documentary evidence of the expenses reported in the election expenses return. Nor does the Act provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the authority to request that a party provide such evidence," Mr. Mayrand wrote in a post-mortem report on the 2006 and 2008 elections. "[The chief electoral officer] has no means to verify the accuracy of the reported expenses on which the reimbursement is based."
Currently, independent auditors review parties' returns to ensure accuracy and transparency, but they don't make sure the parties have followed political financing rules set out under the Canada Elections Act. For instance, they don't have to check whether an amount claimed as an election expense eligible for reimbursement is, actually, an election expense as defined by law.
But the more important detail seems to be that the Cons and Libs have no interest in backing up their spending, and are apparently working together to make sure that oversight doesn't happen:
The Conservatives and Liberals disagreed with its newest incarnation.

The status quo, an independent auditor's report, should be good enough evidence of the expenses listed in the return, John Arnold, Liberal Party senior director of regulatory compliance and administration, told the committee.
In their written report, the Conservatives argued: "By taking the audit function 'in house,' Elections Canada is removing its own objectivity and ability to act as the overseer and second check on the auditor."
Though in fairness, I'm sure both are too busy trying to figure out how they'll defy the public again on Afghanistan to offer up full information around electoral financing.

On questionable supporters

For much the same reasons I pointed out when non-big-name or even anonymous endorsements became a major presence in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, it's fair enough for the Cons to point to support from small and relatively unknown groups for their legislation if it's actually based on support in principle. But the picture looks rather different when the motives are something else entirely:
The list of endorsements the Tories are showcasing to support their proposed crackdown on human smuggling is running into some trouble.

Tory MPs have been quick to rhyme off the names of local groups who have thrown their weight behind their controversial bill, and supportive letters from groups far and wide have popped up suddenly in the in-boxes of reporters covering the story.

But many of those supporters receive federal funding, their websites show. Some of the groups are so small that they have no office or website or official mission statement. And some of the supporters are now qualifying their endorsement.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he is certain the support for his bill among new Canadians is rock solid, however, and he gives not one whit about the size or the background of the groups who lend him support.
And at least one endorser is making absolutely clear what his actual goals are:
(W)ithin a day of the government announcement, small ethnic organizations started sending press releases to journalists covering the story, and Conservatives speaking out in support of the bill began listing their names.

Our way of working is to work with the government to get something from the government,” said Balan Ratnarajah, whose phone number appears at the bottom of one widely distributed press release in favour of the bill.

He said he set up his group, the Peel Tamil Community Centre, about a year ago and it is too new and underfunded to have an office, staff or website.

He’s hoping his support of the human smuggling bill will encourage the federal government to back his group financially. But he also says he has some serious reservations about the bill, despite his press release

“We don’t support the whole bill,” Mr. Ratnarajah said. Stiffer penalties for human smugglers are fine, he said, but he is concerned about how the bill would have Ottawa treat refugees.

He said he has been assured that the troubling elements on refugees will never see the light of day.

“Eventually I think that’s not going to be there. That’s what we were told,” he said.

Still, his reservations did not stop Conservative MP Devinder Shory from trumpeting the group’s support during debates in the House of Commons.
Of course, I wouldn't expect Ratnarajah to actually receive any funding now that he's gone public with his true intentions. After all, even if the Cons do plan on using the supporters list as a basis for future funding, his name is bound to bring up red flags as a matter of government patronage.

But it's well worth wondering how many of the other groups so regularly cited by the Cons also have current or future funding in mind rather than actually agreeing with the policy. And Jason Kenney should be plenty concerned that the groups who are merely looking for funding based on their policy positions might offer far less than the "rock solid" support he's claiming.

For more, see impolitical.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to complete your weekend...

- Scott Feschuk has the definitive commentary on the Cons' attempt to distract Canadian voters with pandas:
We must be in tight with the Chinese now because they’ve rented us pandas for an exorbitant sum—the kind of transaction they’ve entered into with only their very bestest friends, such as Germany and Australia. And the United States. And Spain and Thailand and Singapore and Mexico and Japan and Taiwan and wait are we the last country on Earth to get some freaking bears out of these people? Are we going to be stuck with the slow-witted pandas—the ones every other nation passed on? Mommy, why does the cuddly panda bear keep falling out of the tree?
What’s really important is this: after five years, Stephen Harper finally has a legacy. He didn’t cut wait times or create those child-care spaces he promised. He didn’t balance the budget or protect the environment or smile without physical effort. But he did send half his cabinet around the world to beg for 600 lb. of panda bear for zoo visitors to enjoy and, presumably, Peter MacKay to wrestle late one night to impress a girl.

Sleep easy, Canada. Our long national nightmare of pandalessness will soon be over.
- In case anybody was still willing to give the benefit of any doubt about the Cons' jaw-droppingly flawed decision-making that resulted in the expenses of the G8 and G20 conferences, this should put that to rest:
Accommodations for the RCMP, who sent nearly 20,000 officers to the two summits, topped $65-million, including big bills from nearly every major hotel in Toronto.

But most of the accommodation cost, $57-million, went to a massive trailer camp in Muskoka – a cost of $700 per room per night, according to RCMP officials. The lack of available hotel rooms near the Deerhurst summit left no other option, RCMP officials said.
So for the sake of giving Tony Clement bragging rights about holding the G8 in his backyard, the Harper government made a choice to spend tens of millions more on accommodations to protect the smaller, barely-protested conference - when it was possible to accommodate more officers in Toronto for far less.

- And in other news about the Cons' consistent choices to waste public money...

- Finally, David Livingstone offers up a friendly reminder as to where the Fraser Institute's constant attacks on social values come from and why. (H/t to Next Year Country.)

The bigger picture

I certainly don't disagree with the criticism of the Star's attack on Jack Layton and Olivia Chow as a "hatchet job". And indeed it's worth noting that the decision to focus on Layton and Chow looks to be designed to invent a story where none exists: with average expenses in the range of $469,000 per MP, the choice to point to the lone married couple in the House of Commons in order to be able to talk about a "million-dollar" total looks to be entirely unjustifiable except as either a cheap headline or a pretense to attack the NDP.

But I'll also point out that such a story should also make for an opportunity to point out the broader picture of expenses not just for other leaders, but for parties as a whole. And that's where I'd hope we'll see a stronger response from Layton and Chow in the future: it isn't just an issue of pointing to the same type of expenses for other parties, but particularly the massive pools of government money used for the Cons' purposes that should be the real target of public outrage.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Last week, the story for the Saskatchewan Roughriders involved missed opportunities and costly mistakes which extended the team's losing streak going into the final game of the regular season. But yesterday's win over Edmonton should at least put to rest the question of whether the 'Riders can translate their game plan into a win against a team playing for its season - even if the Eskimos did plenty to help the 'Riders out.

Offensively, the main change for the Roughriders was slightly more success in turning good field position and/or effective drives into touchdowns (with all three of those coming in a three-series blitz at the end of the first half and beginning of the second). But there's plenty to like about how the team played when it had the ball.

In a season which has regularly featured a balanced air attack, the 'Riders used the whole field better than ever yesterday, with six different receivers having both three or more catches and a top gainer of at least 15 yards. Of particular note, Wes Cates was used far more effectively out of the backfield than he has been for some time, providing Darian Durant with the outlet he needed virtually every time the Eskimos tried to pressure him. And Durant himself showed the kind of elusiveness that gives defences fits, ducking at least one seemingly sure sack and generally buying himself plenty of time to find receivers downfield.

Meanwhile, neither Darian Durant nor Cates posted huge numbers on the ground; however, they both managed to convert on the short-yardage plays where the running game was most important.

Which that isn't to say the team didn't leave plenty more points on the field: with two missed field goals and two more drives stopped just short of the end zone, the 'Riders may have had an opportunity to win in a walk rather than facing as close a game as they did. But that just means that there's still room for the 'Riders to improve in the weeks to come - which has to worry whoever gets the job of stopping them.

For the 'Riders' defence, the game was likewise one which saw some familiar patterns emerge - but this time on the positive side of the ledger as well as the negative. Yes, the 'Riders had plenty of trouble stopping Fred Stamps in the first half and Daniel Porter throughout the game. But they were able to largely shut down the rest of the Esks' passing attack, and were normally able to tighten up against the run when the Eskimos were threatening to reach the end zone.

More importantly, though, the defence was also able to take advantage of Ricky Ray's main weakness to get back on track in the turnover department. After the entire unit had gone two consecutive games without a single takeaway, Tad Kornegay and Byron Bullock each forced a second-half fumble by knocking the ball away from Ray - and those went a long way in preserving the 'Riders' lead.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the game was the special-teams battle. Despite the 'Riders' two missed field goals, they were able to claim a clear victory in that department for what might be the first time all year thanks to a combination of perfectly-placed punts by Eddie Johnson, effective cover teams, and short kicks by the Eskimos.

That said, it's worth noting that the last factor - which gave the 'Riders the ball at their 39 or better on half a dozen possessions following a kick - isn't one that we can expect to see repeated anytime soon. Maybe it was Ryan Grice-Mullen's first kickoff return of the game (a 43-yard romp) that led the Esks to kick short on both punts and kickoffs the rest of the way, but I'd have a tough time believing the Eskimos couldn't have given themselves a better chance in the field position battle by kicking deeper and counting on their cover teams against a 'Rider unit that's struggled all year. And I highly doubt we'll see any of Saskatchewan's opponents the rest of the way hand them the ball near midfield so frequently.

That said, Edmonton's inexplicable kicking strategy is probably the only part of the 'Riders' win yesterday that shouldn't be repeatable against B.C. in the West semi-final. And it had to be a plus that the 'Riders can go into the playoffs focusing on keeping up and building on what they did well yesterday, rather than wondering whether they've completely lost the ability to close out a game.