Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your year.

- Paul Krugman once again laments the determination of anti-government fundamentalists to avoid learning the lessons that should have become glaringly obvious over 70 years ago:
In declaring Keynesian economics vindicated I am, of course, at odds with conventional wisdom. In Washington, in particular, the failure of the Obama stimulus package to produce an employment boom is generally seen as having proved that government spending can’t create jobs. But those of us who did the math realized, right from the beginning, that the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (more than a third of which, by the way, took the relatively ineffective form of tax cuts) was much too small given the depth of the slump. And we also predicted the resulting political backlash.

So the real test of Keynesian economics hasn’t come from the half-hearted efforts of the U.S. federal government to boost the economy, which were largely offset by cuts at the state and local levels. It has, instead, come from European nations like Greece and Ireland that had to impose savage fiscal austerity as a condition for receiving emergency loans — and have suffered Depression-level economic slumps, with real G.D.P. in both countries down by double digits.
We entered 2011 amid dire warnings about a Greek-style debt crisis that would happen as soon as the Federal Reserve stopped buying bonds, or the rating agencies ended our triple-A status, or the superdupercommittee failed to reach a deal, or something. But the Fed ended its bond-purchase program in June; Standard & Poor’s downgraded America in August; the supercommittee deadlocked in November; and U.S. borrowing costs just kept falling. In fact, at this point, inflation-protected U.S. bonds pay negative interest: investors are willing to pay America to hold their money.

The bottom line is that 2011 was a year in which our political elite obsessed over short-term deficits that aren’t actually a problem and, in the process, made the real problem — a depressed economy and mass unemployment — worse.
- Which serves as reason why Mike Moffatt's Keltner list for public policy proposals might be worth a look in evaluating the effect of gratuitous austerity.

- Romeo Dallaire is optimistic that the popular movements that emerged in 2011 are just starting to have their ultimate effect.

- Josh Dorner notes that "progressive" is by far the best-received political label in the U.S. - offering an opportunity to use the spillover effect of U.S. political attitudes to the advantage of the Canadian left for a change.

- Finally, David Berlin views Jack Layton's legacy as including both the building of a winning attitude within the NDP, and the transformation of that mindset into what may be the effective end of Quebec separatist sentiment.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Musical interlude

EnMass - CQ

Leadership 2012 Candidate Profile - Niki Ashton

The final candidate to enter the NDP's leadership race was Niki Ashton. And initially, far too many observers seem to have been eager to write off her candidacy. But while there's little doubt that Ashton faces some hurdles in her candidacy, she's done plenty to establish herself as a strong contender since joining the race.


While youth and expanded appeal are obvious priorities for all of the NDP's leadership candidate, Ashton is the embodiment of both within the leadership campaign: a young MP from rural Manitoba, thoroughly at ease in both official languages, and sufficiently media-savvy to have won the likes of Michael Moore over to her local causes. And her experience in a political family (as the daughter of a Manitoba cabinet minister who ran an effective leadership campaign of his own just last year) may answer a lot of questions about how she can expect to hold up as a national leader at this stage of her career.

So far, the result has been a deep base of support on the prairies along with scattered endorsements elsewhere. And Ashton's effective first debate performance looks to have caught plenty of pundits by surprise - though the reason for that surprise is itself a problem for Ashton.


Naturally, Ashton's concerns start with the oft-heard line "if only she were a few years older". And at 29, with a few years of experience in Parliament but not a lot in particularly glamorous critic roles, there's no doubt that Ashton's resume isn't as well-developed as those of some of her competitors.

But the bigger issue for Ashton may be less her past resume than her present policy strength. While she's done well in highlighting specific issues for media consumption, she hasn't dealt with much on more than a bullet-point level either in the leadership race or in the parts of her parliamentary work that have been noticed by the media.

As a result, Ashton may have more to lose than anybody if the leadership race comes down to a soundbite war which doesn't allow her to show enough depth to win over members skeptical based on her age. And to avoid that fate, she may need to take one of her priorities such as foreign ownership and work on developing an intellectual presentation capable of winning over skeptical audiences, rather than limiting herself to introductions to the party base.

Key Indicator

So how will we know if she's succeeded? I'm not sure how many pollsters will be asking questions along the lines of "best prime minister" or competence as compared to their usual first-choice support and favourability numbers. But I'd consider those to be the most important factors for Ashton: if she can compare credibly to the perceived top tier of candidates on those numbers, then she'll have a serious chance to emerge on top.

Key Opponent

Much like most of the middle-tier candidates, Ashton's main hurdle looks to be a more prominent candidate with an overlapping supporter profile: in her case Peggy Nash who looks to have the early lead as both the candidate most effectively pushing for a female leader, and the favourite of the activist left. If Ashton can outlast Nash, then adding those groups to her rural and youth bases would put her in the thick of the race - but that doesn't figure to be an easy task.

Plausible Outcomes

Best-case: Narrow win based on a combination of strong early activist support and significant later-ballot growth
Worst-case: Early exit as a top-four-based narrative leaves insufficient room for growth

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jeffrey Simpson manages to write an entire column on important political developments he missed in 2011 without uttering the words "NDP" (or mentioning any member thereof). Which surely looks like an early nominee as a continued blind spot in 2012.

- Peter Thurley wishes for a national housing strategy in the new year. But judging from the Cons' insistence on casting blame rather than doing anything to address even the most glaring needs for which the federal government has the most direct responsibility, I don't see much reason for optimism.

- Meanwhile, more tax breaks for worker-busting figure to be on the table for a long time to come.

- Finally, Rick Salutin highlights the much-needed decline of deference to power and wealth. And on that front, Sixth Estate offers a preview of what's to come in the year ahead.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Leadership 2012 Candidate Profile - Peggy Nash

In some ways, Peggy Nash's candidacy is the easiest and most straightforward to analyze among the NDP's leadership contenders. She's drawn her core support from the intersection of the party and the progressive movement, meaning that her initial strength can be set at a level that should keep her on at least a few ballots. But there's still plenty of room for different outcomes depending on Nash's success in reaching beyond that initial base.


Nash has always loomed as a superb candidate on paper: a long-time labour activist with loads of experience as a union negotiator and NDP MP and president, all paired with a strong bilingual academic background. And the personal connections she's been able to build over the course of her career give her a strong base of first-choice support.

Moreover, Nash has supplemented those strengths with some effective strategic moves. On the economy, she's spoken mostly about stability and anti-speculation measures - which may give Brian Topp a bit of space to appeal to strong supporters of a greater equality of outcomes, but offers a useful frame of reference to emphasize the link between the Cons' market dogma and the uncertainty Canadians are facing in trying to plan their futures. And in positioning herself compared to the other candidates, Nash has effectively emphasized her place as the most prominent female contender. Which means that there's reason to think Nash can both grow her support in the leadership campaign (as suggested by Skinny Dipper's multi-ballot poll), and set herself up in a strong position for the years to come.


That said, there are at least a couple of possible gaps in Nash's case for the leadership. While I've found her English presentation to be effective, some observers have raised questions about her ability to engage audiences in both official languages. And there's been some question about her age, particularly if the party's intention is to allow the next leader a second chance to run in 2019 if the 2015 election doesn't result in a change in government.

I'd be surprised if those factors make a dent in Nash's first-choice support. But they might make all the difference to the extent Nash needs to count on down-ballot votes as part of a winning coalition.

Key Indicator

With that in mind, I'd keep a close eye on Nash's net favourability ratings. As long as supporters of other candidates (particularly Topp and Dewar) see her positively, she'll have an obvious path to add the votes she needs on top of her first-choice support. But if there's any significant controversy as to whether Nash can reach beyond her base, then the support she needs could instead find its way to Thomas Mulcair by default.

Key Opponent

Naturally, either of the top two contenders will need to focus on the other. And so Thomas Mulcair's positioning compared to Nash will be highly important: she can't afford either to let him put too much distance between himself and the field, or dictate the considerations members look to in deciding on their down-ballot support.

Plausible Outcomes

Best-case: Multi-ballot win as a consensus candidate
Worst-case: Mid-range finish based on a failure to add to early-ballot support

[Edit: fixed wording.]

New column day

Here, on the spread of bullying in the political sphere even as it's been rightly rejected elsewhere - and what we should do as citizens to make sure it doesn't pay off.

For further reading, Hannah Tepper interviews Sam Sommers some of the mental shortcuts that are all too easily exploited by political strategists. Dan Gardner (who's written plenty on the heuristics that shape our perception of the world in Risk and Future Babble) offers his own theory about the Cons' ruthlessness. And Josh Visser has more about the Cons' destruction of the federal Libs.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parliament in Review: November 4, 2011

Friday, November 4 saw another day of spirited question period debate on the economy. But for once, the main theme was total cooperation - even if much of the day was spent lamenting its absence.

The Big Issue

The main bill up for debate was the Cons' legislation dealing with military judges. But while the Cons tried and failed to get the bill passed in one fell swoop, it was Lib John McKay who seemed most frustrated about the idea of bothering to discuss and debate the legislation - at least until he declared that the Cons had brought non-cooperation upon themselves.

But then, there may well have been some reason for further discussion. After all, the Cons themselves noted that any urgency about the bill was based on a court decision issued June 2 - leaving no obvious reason why the bill was only introduced in mid-October. Jack Harris offered both a summary of where the bill came from, and a few other issues worth dealing with in the military justice system (including an arbitrary age limit which would seem to be up the Cons' alley to address). And David Christopherson and Harris rightly noted that it's the official opposition's job to make sure that the government's potentially-flawed assumptions are duly tested.

In case that wasn't enough cooperation for one day, though, the Cons' bill to implement a marine agreement with the Crees of Eeyou Istchee passed by unanimous consent.

In Brief

Francois Lapointe pointed out that AECL is costing $800 million to sell off as part of $21 billion in total costs, while Christine Moore kept up her questions about the minimal return on what look to be obscene prices for the F-35s the Cons can't bear to reconsider. Chris Charlton wondered whether a jobs plan is ever going to be forthcoming. Glenn Thibault noted that the TD Bank is withdrawing from a voluntary ombudsman which of course serves as the Cons' substitute for actual public regulation. Mathieu Ravignat questioned Maxime Bernier's links to an individual facing international drug trafficking charges. Tony Clement's failure to answer any questions about his G8 scandal was explained by his being busy waiting for opportunities to raise points of order to bash donations to former Lib leader Michael Ignatieff (while setting up a chill for all public servants who might think about exercising their right to donate to any party). Andrew Scheer delivered his ruling finding Russ Hiebert's anti-union bill to be out of order. And Lapointe pointed out the few Cons who avoided voting for continued unrestricted asbestos exports, while calling for more MPs to join the anti-asbestos side.

On top priorities

I've already linked to Postmedia's story setting out Brian Topp's first set of democratic reform priorities. But let's take a look at a couple of the proposals in a bit more detail.

To start off, I'm not sure anybody else has pointed out the significance of Topp's plan to "introduce proportionality" into Canada's electoral system through immediate legislation. In contrast, PR proposals at the provincial level have proceeded through an all-too-easily-torqued referendum process first - and even the NDP's federal platform has been limited to "propos(ing) electoral reform" in contrast to measures which would be implemented more quickly. Which means that Topp looks to be offering more than most candidates to PR supporters as part of his leadership push - though we'll have to see what he means by an element of proportionality. [Update: IP advises in comments that Topp has specifically referred to an MMP system.]

Secondly, Topp's intention to proceed simultaneously with Senate abolition has been criticized as unrealistic. And there may be reason for concern that he's packaged it in with his other Parliament Act proposals. But I'll argue that it's nonetheless an important theme for the next NDP leader to take up - regardless of how the odds of achieving abolition look by the fall of 2015.

Remember two crucial points about the Senate as matters currently stand:
1. Stephen Harper's unelected Conservative Senate appointees see themselves as fully entitled to overrule the will of Canada's elected MPs.
2. Stephen Harper's unelected Conservative Senate appointees will have a massive supermajority in the upper chamber at the time of the 2015 election.

As long as both of those points remain true, a push to abolish the Senate might not be all that much more difficult than, say, trying to pass a budget; indeed, it may be a precondition to being able to accomplish much of anything as a government. And what's more, the best means of changing the minds of the Cons' Senate hacks on #1 may be to advance the cause of abolition forcefully enough to convince them that playing nice will help them keep their publicly-funded sinecure as long as possible.

That means that while staying quiet about the Senate might seem like the path of least resistance for now, it could also carry serious consequences for the NDP's ability to govern after the next election. And so whoever wins the leadership would do well to take Topp's cue in recognizing the Senate as an immediate priority in one form or another.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The Edmonton Journal makes it clear that the Cons' efforts to stymie any global climate change agreement aren't without some serious controversy even in the party's Alberta core:
The year 2011 had better not go down in history as one in which Canada skated progress on climate change into the boards.

Because if it does, the Harper government has made an all-in wager that global warming is not being aggravated by human beings, and that proof positive of this fact will soon be established in a new global consensus.

And if that reckless Texas hold'em bet proves a loser, there won't enough public relations firms on the planet to sell a more positive picture of Alberta's energy industry, or of our Canadian commitment to fighting change to the political, environmental and meteorological environment on which our prosperity depends.
(I)f Canada really believed man-made climate change was an existential threat, we wouldn't be making a virtue of following the laggards, regardless of how the latter viewed the matter.
It should be a cardinal principle for an energy-producing land like Canada to be seen internationally as willing to act on climate change, and willing to sacrifice. We should recognize that what's important is not how we think foreigners should see us, but rather how they choose to see us, on the basis of self-interest and the evidence we give them.

And as evidence goes, failing to comply with Kyoto, and then arguing it was a failure because some countries didn't comply, wasn't the best. Neither was vowing not to take action more vigorous than the United States. And then there was the risibly illogical "ethical oil" argument, which effectively says we shouldn't worry about climate change because Venezuela violates human rights.
- But then, it's also worth noting that responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions is also rather unbalanced within Canada - and a similar level of responsibility would seem like a must in developing a strategy that can work for the entire country:
According to Environment Canada, Alberta was the country’s heaviest greenhouse gas emitter in 2009, responsible for almost 34 per cent of the 690 megatonnes released into the atmosphere nationwide. Ontario, and its manufacturing economy was once the largest emitter, but Alberta leapfrogged it in recent years as petroleum production for export markets soared.

Road transportation, which includes everything from motorcycles to heavy duty diesel trucks, accounted for 19 per cent of nationwide emissions. That’s still lower than what California tailpipes alone spit out.

Still, fossil fuel industries (coal, oil and gas) and transportation in Canada were the main culprits, making up the 17 per cent increase in emissions this country has experienced between 1990 and 2009.
- Meanwhile, to the shock and amazement of anybody paying no attention whatsoever, the Cons' gratuitous cuts to the public service have started to have a serious effect on the availability of the programs involved. But I'm sure we can count on the Cons to point out the problem is that we shouldn't bother with such frivolities as Employment Insurance in the first place.

- Nor for that matter running water, at least as far as First Nations are concerned.

- Finally, I don't doubt that it's worth exploring some new planning options in Saskatchewan's health sector. But is there a more sure sign of a project that's proceeding from questionable assumptions than to have the price suppressed in the name of efficiency?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Festive cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your afternoon reading.

- Alison Loat offers some suggestions to make political parties more responsive to Canadian voters:
(H)ow can parties reorient spending to encourage a more balanced focus across their responsibilities? Political parties serve at least four critical functions: engaging citizens in politics, selecting candidates for office, aggregating policy perspectives and contesting elections.

Today, most funds are directed toward elections at the expense of engaging citizens or developing policy ideas. Party financing should be structured to encourage volunteers and facilitate ways for the voices of these volunteers to be heard.
(H)ow do political parties encourage more citizen engagement between elections, particularly in policy development? The Study of Canadian Political Party Members revealed that fewer than half of party members engage in ongoing party activity. Six in 10 respondents said they spent less than one hour on party activity per month.

One way to address this is to establish political party policy foundations. These organizations, common in Europe, provide mechanisms for party supporters and experts to participate in developing policies that address a country’s longer-term challenges.
Political parties have the potential to touch Canadians in most communities across the country. More should be done to ensure they play a part in reinvigorating the connection between citizens and government.
- Of course, it doesn't help that the Harper Cons are indeed forging ahead with their efforts to render government as useless as possible. And if anything, Stephen Gordon is too generous in describing their impact, as they've done plenty to make sure that revenues don't rise to the level of current expenses.

- And Peter Van Loan makes it abundantly clear that listening to anybody else isn't going to be on the agenda as long as his party is in power:
Opposition parties have also complained the Tories are mechanically voting down every one of their amendments without paying attention to the substance.

In a much discussed incident this fall, the Tories refused to accept amendments to their crime bill from Liberal MP and legal scholar Irwin Cotler, only to later try — unsuccessfully — to re-introduce nearly identical amendments themselves. Cotler had sought to make it easier for victims of terrorism and their families to successfully sue the perpetrators.

Van Loan refused to say during the interview whether he thinks it is possible for an opposition party to have a good idea. He acknowledged, however, that the government had not accepted one amendment from the opposition.
- But there's some reason for hope in the latest on the NDP's leadership candidates, including Tobi Cohen's profiles of Nathan Cullen and Romeo Saganash along with Charlie Smith's feature on Peggy Nash.

Parliament in Review: November 3, 2011

Thursday, November 3 saw another day devoted largely to the Cons' seat reallocation bill and associated motion to shut down debate. But perhaps more important was a stark set of contrasts on the economy which the Cons now seem to be trying to undo.

The Big Issue

Peter Julian and Hoang Mai teamed up in question period to hold the Cons' feet to the fire on the economy. Julian started off by pointing out the potential for disaster in Europe as well as continued inequality and uncertainty in Canada, then noted that the availability of jobs has been degrading under the Cons and is projected to get worse. Mai then focused in on Canadian household debt - only to hear from Shelly Glover that the plan to reduce personal debt is to give free money to rich Canadians. But when Mai followed up seeking any explanation for the failure of the Cons' corporate tax slashing, Glover had nothing left in reserve but a "continue with our plan" loop.

Operation Shutdown

Again, Peter Van Loan moved to limit debate on government legislation - this time the seat reallocation bill. Joe Comartin questioned why the Cons were so determined to break the Libs' record on that front, while Charlie Angus suggested it made for just another form of contempt of Parliament. Massimo Pacetti wondered whether future debates might be reduced further from hours to seconds. Mauril Belanger pointed out that MPs had received effectively no chance to discuss a new seat allocation formula with constituents before having it rammed through Parliament. Mylene Freeman and Kevin Lamoureux highlighted the irony in the Cons shutting down debate by democratic representatives in the name of democratic representation. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe questioned the Cons on their constant spin that opposition parties should support their every bill and public statement without question - with Wai Young making no effort to defend the message track when challenged on it. And Elizabeth May offered a modest proposal that time limits not be used as a matter of course.

Meanwhile, there was also plenty of debate on the substance of the bill. Charlie Angus pointed out the difficulty faced by MPs representing ridings the size of major countries, while Claude Gravelle worried the problem would only get worse based on the Cons' failure to take into account the needs of rural ridings. Peter Julian and David Christopherson questioned why their home provinces were receiving less additional weight than in previous incarnations of the Cons' legislation. Linda Duncan and Megan Leslie questioned why the Cons insist on limiting debate to their own narrow idea of democratic reform, while Bruce Hyer and Lamoureux challenged each other to work toward proportional representation. And after years of his party working tirelessly to prevent any MPs from scrutinizing public spending, Chris Alexander shed crocodile tears over a need for greater accountability before his party pushed the bill forward.

Finally, in a development which seems to have gone unnoticed elsewhere, Comartin sought to accommodate Steven Fletcher to allow him to participate on the vote on time allocation - only to have Fletcher himself veto a unanimous consent motion. Which wasn't the only effort at conciliation to be rejected by the Cons, as Comartin's attempt to secure consent for the Bloc and Greens to comment on veterans in advance of Remembrance Day was again shouted down.

In Brief

Chris Charlton presented a petition for a national pharmacare program. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet lamented the continued presence of hunger in a country with Canada's wealth, with a particular focus on "food deserts" where it's not possible to find fresh and healthy food. Francoise Boivin and Comartin slammed the Cons for their attacks on defence lawyers, while Jasbir Sandhu and Sylvain Chicoine noted that the Cons have been making Canadian prisons less safe. Denis Lebel provided a classic example as to why MPs need to word their questions carefully to overcome a preoccupation with form over substance - effectively refusing to answer John McCallum's written question about the effects of extending stimulus funding due to the mention of a specific report which didn't include the requested study. Hyer introduced a private member's bill to ensure that cell phones could be unlocked for a consumer's benefit. Charlie Angus and Scott Brison challenged Tony Clement to answer for some of the more damning revelations to come out of his committee appearance. And Kirsty Duncan's direct question as to how the Cons would close the gap between greenhouse gas reduction promises and policies was met with Michelle Rempel's typical pablum.

On developing reputations

Yes, there's room to quibble about the credit Heather Scoffield gives the Cons for the At Home pilot program. But in the spirit of encouraging better policy from each possible corner, let's not focus on that for now.

Instead, the real question is whether the current pilot project will lead to a sustainable program to deal with homelessness that Canada can be proud of once At Home's trial period ends in 2013. And if the Cons choose not to build on the positive results so far (particularly given the highly dubious giveaways that they're using as an excuse for not investing in social priorities), that choice will more than undo any credit the Cons could possibly claim for gathering data they then choose to ignore.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Krugman comments on how Republicans' cheerleading for total corporate control - which has of course been matched at every turn by Canada's Cons - has resulted in their declaring war on any policy which could possibly result in environmental improvements:
(T)he payoff rules (on mercury emissions) is huge: up to $90 billion a year in benefits compared with around $10 billion a year of costs in the form of slightly higher electricity prices. This is, as David Roberts of Grist says, a very big deal.

And it’s a deal Republicans very much want to kill.

With everything else that has been going on in U.S. politics recently, the G.O.P.’s radical anti-environmental turn hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. But something remarkable has happened on this front. Only a few years ago, it seemed possible to be both a Republican in good standing and a serious environmentalist; during the 2008 campaign John McCain warned of the dangers of global warming and proposed a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Today, however, the party line is that we must not only avoid any new environmental regulations but roll back the protection we already have.

And I’m not exaggerating: during the fight over the debt ceiling, Republicans tried to attach riders that, as Time magazine put it, would essentially have blocked the E.P.A. and the Interior Department from doing their jobs.
(W)henever you hear dire predictions about the effects of pollution regulation, you should know that special interests always make such predictions, and are always wrong. For example, power companies claimed that rules on acid rain would disrupt electricity supply and lead to soaring rates; none of that happened, and the acid rain program has become a shining example of how environmentalism and economic growth can go hand in hand.

But again, never mind: mindless opposition to “job killing” regulations is now part of what it means to be a Republican. And I have to admit that this puts something of a damper on my mood: the E.P.A. has just done a very good thing, but if a Republican — any Republican — wins next year’s election, he or she will surely try to undo this good work.
- And in other dog-bites-man news, stay tuned for another potential prosecution against a right-wing Saskatchewan political party for an alleged violation of election law.

- Dave points out the disaster that's resulted from the B.C. Libs' privatization of BC Ferries. Meanwhile, Postmedia notes that Saskatchewan's truly public model for intra-provincial transportation is doing far better than private comparators.

- Finally, Colin Horgan compares the vote mob trend which received so much attention early in 2011 to the Occupy movement which emerged later in the year:
For now, Occupy has, arguably, accomplished at least one thing. It has managed to change the conversation — something vote mobs attempted, but at which they ultimately failed.

The difference between the two is perhaps as simple as the fact that vote mobs pushed youth back to the system from which they already felt disenchanted. Occupy, on the other hand, recognized that disaffection and offered the concept of an entirely alternative system, somewhere on the other side of a few internet photos.
Where a quasi-movement like vote mobs failed to make anyone talk about politics differently, Occupy has done exactly that. It has changed the way virtually everyone in Canada and the United States is now talking about its most specific target, the economy. Income disparity, corporate negligence, the concept of a homegrown plutocracy — these are ideas no longer relegated to fringe elements, but are beginning to be discussed widely, along with the idea that there maybe some rot developing at the core of the current system. With that accomplished, Occupy will likely hibernate happily.

As for the voting booths, they still await the day young faces start outnumbering old ones. Though perhaps not for much longer.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - December 26, 2011

Anybody expecting the holidays to make for a quiet spell in the NDP's leadership race was in for a surprise, as the last week has seen the first candidate departure along with a boost in the number of pundits' rankings and candidate profiles. But will the result be much change in who has the best chance of emerging as the NDP's leader?

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

Not at the top, that's for sure. I don't buy the Mulcair camp's spin that he was ever an underdog, but it seems that he's easily stayed at the top of the field from day one. And for reasons I'll expand on in a future post, I'm highly skeptical of the "anyone but" theory as to how Mulcair's current lead is supposed to cause him problems later on.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

While Nash's campaign has been relatively quiet over the past few weeks, her direct appeal to female supporters signals that she's not wasting her time developing an early-ballot base. And that combined with strong debate performances to win over second-choice support still adds up to a plausible path to victory for Nash.

3. Brian Topp (3)

Topp's positioning is still the greatest unknown of the race, as he continues to combine a high-gloss media campaign in which he sounds like the Platonic ideal of an NDP leader (recently adding some democratic populism to his earlier call for economic equality) with remarkably little evidence of member support beyond his list of high-profile endorsers. For now, that combination keeps him at the back of my top tier of candidates.

4. Paul Dewar (5)

The big question for Dewar remains his ability to win over down-ballot supporters. But his first ad release looks to have been at least a modest success, and his level of organization at least gives him a better chance than the candidates below him of turning better public performances into an ascent up the ballot.

5. Niki Ashton (4)

The flip side of Nash's effective appeal to female supporters is that Ashton doesn't yet seem to have done much to develop expandable clusters of support of her own. And while the concept of an alliance between the prairies and Quebec nicely fits Ashton's connections, I'll need to see some signs of strength from B.C. and Ontario as well as part of any winning candidate's base.

6. Romeo Saganash (6)

Like Topp, Saganash's recent media exposure has featured starkly contrasting analysis of his prospects. And as with Topp, I'm more inclined to treat the contrasting theories (with David Akin listing him as an upper-tier contender and Ian Capstick as a candidate for an early exit) as extreme best-case and worst-case scenarios respectively - leaving the current projection roughly on track.

7. Nathan Cullen (7)

Cullen continues to unveil some of the most detailed and best thought-out policy proposals of the leadership campaign, with his Arctic policy joining the list this week. But the main question for his candidacy remains his ability to turn an appeal for cross-party cooperation into a a wave of leadership support - and there's still little indication that's happening.

8. Martin Singh (8)

He eked his way out of the bottom position for a couple of weeks before Robert Chisholm's departure from the race. But from here on in, Singh has a long way to go to compete with any of the candidates ahead of him - and three weeks of radio silence aren't helping matters.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Boxing Day reading - with plenty of interesting news below the headlines.

- Naturally the Globe and Mail's headline focuses on a modest dip (to a 14-point lead) in Quebec rather than the NDP's strong national performance. But the more noteworthy development in the latest Nanos polling looks to be the NDP's gaining ground both nationally and in Ontario - even after a fall session where the media regularly edited the Leader of the Official Opposition out of political coverage. And with the NDP's leadership race now set to lead political coverage at the start of 2012, there's plenty of reason for optimism that the NDP can build from its current base.

- Meanwhile, Postmedia's own hand-wringing about the NDP in Quebec is at least based on the single poll which, taken alone, could explain the angle. But more striking than the current poll numbers is the line taken by the one party with the most obvious chance to take ground back from the NDP:
Elected the new leader of the Bloc on Dec. 11, Daniel Paille immediately leaped into the fray to attack the party that ravaged them so badly in May.

He said the NDP's inability to defend Quebec's interests in the same way the Bloc used to explains part of the NDP's slide.

"The NDP house members from Quebec are there because they are truly Canadian first," Paille said at his first news conference as leader. "If they have a question, if they have a problem, they have to go to the national caucus in Ottawa, wait to express their opinions about (issues related to) Quebec values in comparison to the (issues related to) Canadian values."
Now, it makes sense that the Bloc might see a hard-line anti-Canada approach as representing its best chance to rebuild a fund-raising and volunteer base. But considering that the NDP's message which resonated so thoroughly in Quebec was "travaillons ensemble", it's hard to see how a concerted attack on the idea of cooperation will be anything but a millstone around the Bloc's neck when it comes to winning over the general public.

- Also on the polling front, Eric points out one feature of more recent polling that's gone largely unnoticed so far:
The NDP is also poised to make gains in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In the context of the end of the Canadian Wheat Board, Conservative support has slipped to below 50 per cent in the two provinces, allowing the New Democrats to pull above 30 per cent. This puts them in a particularly good position in Saskatchewan, where there were a number of close ridings in the last election.
- Mia Rabson's year-end roundup features some make-or-break expectation-setting by the Libs:
Right off the top in 2012, the Liberals will hold a major policy convention in Ottawa. Scheduled for Jan. 13 to 15, the biennial convention will begin carving the road forward for the Liberals. They will elect a new president, and debate and pass a number of policy resolutions with the hope of generating policy positions for the party, which may once again interest voters and draw them to the Liberal fold.
Liberal organizers need this convention to re-engage everyday Canadians and attendance and interest in the convention alone will be telling for the party.

Outgoing president Alfred Apps predicts it will be a better attended convention than even the NDP and Conservatives have had recently. The party has a lot of work to do and whether it is dying or can come back from the nearly dead will remain a chief topic of conversation next year.
- Finally, on the subject of why it's so important to ensure the NDP is in a position to form government in 2015, Barrie McKenna points out that right-wing anti-tax spin serves as little other than a catalyst for long-term deficits:
Tax cuts actually increase demand for government services, in the same way that lowering the price of gas increases consumption. The result is ever-expanding budget deficits, according to Mr. Ura and Ms. Socker. Tax cuts create a “fiscal illusion” – a sense that life is good and a “perception” that government services are better value.
Even controlling for such variables as inflation, unemployment and the level of domestic spending, the study finds a statistical link between larger federal deficits and increased public demand for government. In essence, one follows the other.

The key for policymakers, according to Mr. Ura and Ms. Socker, is to steer clear of “revenue policies that obscure the actual costs of government programs and services.”
The Harper government has offered billions of dollars worth of tax breaks since taking power in 2006. It lowered the goods and services tax, cut corporate income taxes, introduced tax breaks for small businesses and manufacturers, and handed out a batch of small, targeted goodies for individuals.

Ottawa has so far made no commitment to review its lengthy list of tax expenditures as it prepares the next budget, expected as early as February.

That’s a lost opportunity. Tax expenditures are essentially government programs delivered via the tax system. The government must demonstrate that they work – that they produce the intended outcomes at a reasonable price – particularly as it moves to slash the size of government.

If, for example, the government is going to slash Industry Canada’s budget, it should also determine whether it’s getting good value for the nearly $4-billion a year spent on research-and-development tax credits for businesses. Similarly, if Natural Resources is taking a haircut, maybe it’s also time to review the resource company flow-through share deductions and mineral exploration tax credits ($335-million a year). The same questions apply to the $200-million a year in film- and video-production credits, which should be weighed against big cuts to Canadian Heritage. Or, as Ottawa ponders cuts to Health Canada, does it know whether five years of the children’s fitness tax credit ($115-million a year) has made children any healthier?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Parliament in Review: November 2, 2011

Wednesday, November 2 saw the House of Commons debate two bills dealing with democratic reform. And the result was a remarkable gap between the values the Harper Cons presented in justifying their party's policy orders, and the ones they actually apply in practice.

The Big Issue

The bill which received the most public attention - due to the Cons' decision to ram it through Parliament - was the government's new seat allocation legislation. And it was on November 2 that the Cons served notice of their intention to shut down debate - even as they complained about the unfairness of locking new MPs into the deliberations of a previous Parliament when that served as an excuse to scrap potentially-critical committee reports.

But perhaps more interesting was the debate on Mathieu Ravignat's anti-floor-crossing legislation. After all, I'm not sure anybody can remember the last time a Harper Con dared to speak out publicly against his or her leader's actual efforts to suppress any independent thought by individual MPs. And yet, here's what Michelle Rempel had to say as to the dangers of a bill preventing floor-crossing:
This bill would seriously undermine the independence of members of this House and I do not think that is something we should encourage or support.

This bill would have some practical negative consequences. The bill would impose restrictions upon members who wish to express a different position than the one endorsed by a majority of their caucus. This bill would also impede members of Parliament in representing the interests of their constituents, which is one of the fundamental duties under our Constitution.
(T)he roles, rights and obligations of individual members of Parliament are well established in Canada's legislation whereby members of Parliament are central actors in our Westminster system of government. Practically, the caucus system in our Parliament is joined with, but distinct from, the registered party system.

Bill C-306 would go against existing rules and traditions by allowing the party machinery to take precedence over individual rights and responsibilities of each member of Parliament and their caucus choices. This does not correspond to our system of government. As I stated earlier, I believe Bill C-306 would have negative and undesirable consequences on the roles of members of Parliament.
And Scott Reid was similarly concerned with some theoretical MP independence which was wrung out of his own party long ago - without suggesting for a second that he or his party's majority caucus might have any interest in reversing the trend toward total top-down control.

Meanwhile, Ravignat discussed the need to build trust in elected officials. Peter Stoffer pointed out that the Cons had a rather different take on the legitimacy of floor-crossing when it was Belinda Stronach exercising what she saw as her individual prerogative to jump between parties. Kevin Lamoureux rightly noted that Manitoba's NDP government passed a bill based on the same principle. And David Christopherson cited the example of David Emerson as an affront to the ability of voters to make informed and meaningful choices:
If we accept that (party identification) is a legitimate, rationale, understandable and important reason for people to think about voting for a candidate, the platform or the party, if one then bails out, as did Mr. Emerson, which is the richest example, and I do not like to personalize, it takes one's breath away.

I do not think the writs were even returned. The ink was hardly dry on the ballots, and this man was already trotting across the floor to join another party. He believed that was the right thing to do, for him, but what about all those constituents who had a reason to believe that once elected, the member would actually go about enacting the platform and policies of the party that member belonged to?

By crossing the floor, in many cases a member is throwing away what he or she believed in to join a party that is 180 degrees in the other direction. How do we think constituents feel? They would sit there wondering what happened. Constituents went out and voted in good faith, as did all their friends, and they expected that the money they donated to that campaign and the sign that they posted were all to help get enough seats on a particular platform so that the way the constituent would have liked to have seen Canada shaped on a particular issue would have actually happened. Now that would be gone, because the member could just cross the floor in order to remain a cabinet minister. It really is problematic.
Withholding Consent

It was well reported that MPs from the Bloc Quebecois and Greens were denied unanimous consent to make a statement in honour of Canadian veterans. But somewhat less attention was paid to a bevy of motions on other topics which were also denied, including:
- Alexandre Boulerice's motion to introduce the materials he had referred to in noting concerns about money handed to the Perimeter Institute without proper allocation;
- Tom Lukiwski's motion to allow an NDP member to speak first to a government bill;
- Frank Valeriote's motion for committee study into the Canadian Wheat Board; and
- Sean Casey's motion on travel by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

And while it's not clear which of those MPs (if any) had reason to think other parties would agree to their requests, it's not hard to see how the Cons' tough line on statements by the Bloc and Greens may have set an unfortunate precedent.

In Brief

Tyrone Benskin both celebrated the 75th birthday of the CBC, and worried about the Cons' witch-hunt against it. Andrew Cash demanded answers as to the lack of accountability for police abuses at the G20 in Toronto. Jean Crowder pointed out the absurdity of saying "get a job!" as an answer to poverty when a significant number of food bank users are children, while Linda Duncan highlighted the problem of poverty for First Nations in particular. Nycole Turmel raised the concerns of Quebec, Ontario and B.C. alike at being stuck with the bill for the Cons' dumb-on-crime policies. Mylene Freeman questioned the Cons about Canada's poor performance in pay equity, only to be told by Tony Clement he's proud that women receive 73 cents on the dollar. Scott Simms introduced a private member's bill to remove the GST and HST from funeral expenses. James Moore's answer to a question seeking information about cuts to Canadian Heritage "broken down by employee status, by title, and by program activity" helpfully identified cuts of 578 jobs with no further information about what had actually been slashed. Yvon Godin pointed out that the Cons' job posting for the Auditor General position actually failed to include any aptitude in French as even a preference (let alone a requirement). And Brian Masse questioned the Cons' cuts to border communications at the same time they were funnelling what was supposed to be border funding into Tony Clement's pork-barrel projects.

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Walkom tries to be optimistic about the year ahead, and likely settles on the best reason for hope that Canada's politics will see some change for the better:
Canada, like Australia and Brazil, is getting by on sales of raw materials whose prices are kept high by seemingly insatiable Chinese demand.

But the key word here is “seemingly.” The world has seen so-called Asian miracles before, starting with Japan in the 1980s and running through various so-called Tigers such as Thailand in the ’90s.

In the end, these miracles proved less than miraculous. And unless China’s Communist leadership has discovered how to operate a capitalist economy without boom and bust, the same must inevitably happen there — with effects that will ricochet across the globe.

Politically, Canada has entered a kind of deep freeze. The New Democrats have discovered, to their horror, that gaining official Opposition status at a time of majority government is largely meaningless.

The NDP hopes this will change when it chooses a permanent leader in March. To the extent that Parliament gives political leaders a pulpit, the party’s optimism is not entirely misplaced.
- But Joseph Stiglitz points out that a complete lack of perspective as to the relative importance of financial-sector profits and social priorities figures to be a problem for a long time to come.

- Alice dissects Nathan Cullen's joint nomination proposal:
It's a big leap to assume that the public will be accepting of a process run by a tiny proportion of the whole riding population to conspire to eliminate certain choices from the ballot in the hopes of torquing the election outcome. It's another big leap to assume that this would be done in a vacuum, given that the Conservative Party would be following along closely, and reserving all their strategic and tactical options.

Of course, for the NDP and the other parties, there are other strategic and tactical considerations, such as:

* would it actually even work, or would enough orphaned voters switch to the Conservatives or stay home if their preferred choice was not on the ballot?
* is it democratic or politically wise to be advocating the elimination of political choice for the public by a small group of political activists
* in particular could the NDP then run as effectively as one of the two main choices in the "consideration set" of the general election (a term coined by Innovative Research's Greg Lyle to describe the process by which consumer choice is whittled down to two viable choices, and drawing parallels to voting behaviour), if it was at the same time enabling the election of one of its non-"consideration set" competitors.
* tactically, what criteria would be applied for deciding whether a joint nomination would achieve the intended result or not in a riding with newly formed boundaries
* what is the cost-benefit analysis of foregoing the opportunity to build in that riding next time, foregoing the room under the national spending ceiling (which is affected by how many candidates a party runs in an election), and foregoing the rebate, organizational opportunities and other team-building in a riding association that result from waging a local campaign, even if it doesn't win, as against the probability of being able to defeat the incumbent in a riding
- Finally, Occupy Vancouver tracks the social benefits provided by its camp.

On sure signs

I'd think Don Martin would have dealt with political actors enough to know when he's being spun. But since his latest post suggests otherwise, let's offer up what looks to be a sorely-needed hint.

When partisan spinners declare that they can't lose, it isn't evidence of cleverness or insight. Instead, it's merely a common instance of self-interested actors using all means available to spread a sense of inevitability to their own self-interest - and it's only newsworthy as evidence of hubris.

Indeed, if the Cons honestly believed that any possible outcome to the NDP's leadership race presented nothing but upside for them, that would be as sure a sign as any that they're vulnerable to some serious losses to come. But I'd give them credit for enough of a link to reality not to fall into such an obvious trap - making it all the more inexcusable that Martin didn't think to question the spin.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Musical interlude

Chicane - Daylight

Parliament in Review: November 1, 2011

Yes, a couple of the Cons' more odious bills have already made their way into law. But let's at least resume a look back at the arguments they so flippantly ignored in pushing through their first set of legislation - with the November 1 debate on the gun registry offering plenty of cases in point.

The Big Issue

Once again, the main topic of discussion was the Cons' choice to trash the gun registry and the underlying data - with particular emphasis on the Privacy Commissioner of Canada's public statement that the gun registry data could be shared with a province by agreement. Both Dennis Bevington and Pierre Jacob questioned the gap between the Cons' privacy spin and the public position of the Privacy Commissioner, and Kevin Lamoureux, Anne Minh-Thu Quach and Rosane Doré Lefebvre noted that the effect of destroying the gun registry data was to impose utterly gratuitous costs on the provinces who have stated an intention to create their own versions. But of course, those points were met with precisely no substantive response - even when Quach posed her question to Peter Penashue, whose role as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs would seem to make him the cabinet member with direct responsibility to deal with the provinces on such issues.

Meanwhile, Mike Sullivan countered another of the Cons' lines of spin (about not being responsible for deregistering sniper weapons since they hadn't changed the classification structure) by pointing out that the classification structure itself was only becoming relevant due to the choice to scrap the long gun registry, while Carol Hughes pointed out that the bill was sorely lacking for consequential changes to patch over obvious holes in Canada's gun control system. Pierre-Luc Dusseault wondered why victims of gun crimes apparently don't rate any consideration as part of the Cons' usual spin about concern for victims. Quach noted the importance of the gun registry in border enforcement. Elizabeth May was appalled by the Cons' mockery of the importance of archiving and data preservation. Nathan Cullen lamented the gun registry bill as an example of wedge politics, and criticized the Cons for neither knowing nor caring what it would cost to destroy the data from the existing registry.

On the Cons' side, Lynne Yelich made an interesting statement about how she came to be elected:
On how many calls have come into my office, when we were elected, I would venture to say that 99.9% of my votes were what mandated us to end the gun registry alone. That is how many calls I received. People told us to get ride of the gun registry now that we had a majority government. They said that that they had sent us to Ottawa to get rid of it and that if we did not, they would start their own party and get rid of it.
Needless to say, the assertion that Yelich was elected solely to get rid of the gun registry would look to be a rather useful concession anytime the Cons try to claim a mandate to do anything else at all.

But in the end, the Cons voted down the NDP's proposed amendments and forced through the bill as written.

Hunger for Action

The other main theme of the day arose out of new data on food bank use - with Sean Casey and Jean Crowder focusing on the overall 26% increase since 2008, while assorted NDP MPs highlighted the even more drastic increases in food bank use among people with disabilities, seniors, Quebeckers and northerners and criticizing the Cons' utter lack of interest in addressing the deprivation that's led to those shameful figures.

But the Cons did make clear what type of social priority they do value - as Shelly Glover responded to questions about increasing food bank use by chastising the NDP for failing to support non-refundable tax credits carefully crafted to offer as little as possible to the families who might actually need to use one.

In Brief

Another bill also found its way to committee, as Joe Comartin's bill to eliminate a Criminal Code prohibition against single-event sports betting won all-party support on its way to passing at second reading. The Cons and Bloc voted down the NDP's asbestos motion. Romeo Saganash's question on the oil and gas sector received several remarkable answers, including that Natural Resources Canada hasn't bothered to conduct the slightest bit of analysis either as to how a carbon price would affect natural gas use, or as to how natural gas use might affect Canada's ability to meet its greenhouse gas emission targets. And Don Davies introduced a private member's bill to provide for a renewable energy development strategy.

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- If there's a more accurate description of the Cons' entire political strategy than "taking advantage of the prejudice that’s already there", I haven't heard it yet. And Chris Lawson is rightly frustrated that Canadian politics are being dominated by such cynical and destructive motives - though I'd argue that we should be less concerned with the Gerry Nicholls of the world who are willing to call it by name than the Harper Cons who try to pretend their minority-bashing is somehow based on the national interest.

- No, we shouldn't be surprised to see a National Post discussion on pensions devolve into a debate as to whether seniors in general or public employees in particular should be attacked first in the name of tax slashing. But it's worth pointing out that we've had plenty of opportunity to test whether throwing the federal government's fiscal capacity into tax cuts and investment incentives for the wealthy would produce the virtuous cycle of magical retirement freedom that all the Post's pundits seem to take as a given - and the fact that Canadians are less secure now than they were a decade ago would seem like rather compelling evidence to the contrary for anybody willing to look at such a thing.

- Which suggests that maybe it's time to take some advice from Seth Klein in dealing with inequality for all age groups:
(R)ising inequality hasn’t been driven by low incomes. Rather, as the Occupy movement rightly highlighted, the growing gap has been driven by the runaway-rich; the wealthiest 10% of households, and especially the wealthiest 1%, have been breaking away from the rest of us (as outlined in this CCPA report a year ago).

So if we are going to reduce inequality, we need to revisit our top tax brackets.
I’d argue that the BC government should not restrict itself to adjustments to the top rate alone. I think there is room to modestly increase the 3rd and 4th brackets as well (which kick in at incomes of about $73K and $84K respectively; again only impacting a small minority of taxpayers). As I noted in a blog post a couple years ago, I find my personal income tax rate to be remarkably low, given what we receive in public services, and the scope of unmet social and environmental needs.

If you too think that our upper tax brackets should be increased, may I recommend that you let our political leaders know. Too often our leaders are overly cautious, and presume we will not abide such increases. If we really want action on inequality, we need to tell them otherwise.
- Meanwhile, Emily Dee worries that the Cons have set up a ticking time bomb with their giveaways to Canadian banks.

- And finally, Jason Warick highlights how First Nations students are being shortchanged in Saskatchewan.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Profile - Thomas Mulcair

From the moment Thomas Mulcair chose to run as an NDP candidate for Parliament, he's earned both more scrutiny and more attention than any other NDP represenative other than the leader who recruited him. Indeed, during slow news months there were even highly speculative stories about Mulcair trying to take over the NDP on Jack Layton's watch - though those figure to have had more to do with political gossip columnists wanting to wring some additional use out of their "Liberal infighting" story templates than with any basis in fact.

Naturally, it can be problematic to try to cover today's story by simply substituting new names into coverage from the past. So rather than speculating about an "anybody but" movement or a personality conflict, let's take a look at the factors which figure to be most important in assessing Mulcair's prospects.


On paper, there's little doubt that Mulcair has plenty going for him. He alone out of the leadership contenders can point to experience as an elected government official; he spent several years before this May's election as both the NDP's main national voice and liaison on the economy and its all-purpose spokesperson in Quebec. And that experience has shown in Mulcair's forum performances and public appearances.

Moreover, as I've pointed out before, Mulcair is the only leadership candidate who can claim to be a popular household name in one of Canada's major regions. But that leads to the biggest question about Mulcair's campaign.


By all accounts Mulcair had plenty to do with the NDP's emergence in Quebec - and his organizational work has been reflected in the support he's received from dozens of the party's new MPs. And based on his positive public profile, he's naturally positioned to reap the rewards as new voters join the party.

But it's still a wide open question as to whether Mulcair's work has reached the point where the NDP can develop a level of Quebec membership in line with its vote and seat counts. And while Mulcair has put together at least a nominal organization across the country, his path to the leadership still looks to be a difficult one if he couldn't count on a large number of votes from his home province.

Key Indicator

Which means that the most important factor for Mulcair - or at least the difference between a possible romp and a nail-biter - will be the number of Quebec members signed up in the course of the leadership race.

Even members signed up by other candidates with a strong Quebec presence figure to work to Mulcair's advantage in light of his personal recognition in the province. But if the membership stalls at a number which leaves Quebec with no more influence than any one of B.C., Ontario or the prairies, then Mulcair will be limited to trying to persuade a lot of existing members to join his camp with a relatively modest organization.

Key Opponent

Naturally I'd see Mulcair's key opponent as the one who figures to loom closest among his competitors. But Peggy Nash's relative positioning is all the more important for two reasons: first, Mulcair's plan B looks to involve winning over exactly the urban professional voters who might be expected to gravitate her way; and second, she looks to have a relatively strong chance of winning over second-choice support from other candidates if the race comes down to a contest between her and Mulcair.

Plausible Outcomes

Best-case: First-ballot victory based on significant Quebec membership growth and strong national support
Worst-case: Little second-choice support leading to elimination on a late ballot

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alice offers her own take on Ian Capstick's leadership musings by questioning why a current candidate would see more prospect of influencing the race by dropping out now rather than staying in the field:
* It is worthwhile being able to win the second choice support of members supporting the candidates most likely to drop off the ballot first, in order to create a sense of momentum at the top.
* A leadership candidate may not have control over the direction of second choice support for his or her supporters, but there is one thing he or she can control after the first ballot – and that's when to drop out. If candidates have a good handle on the amount of second choice support they themselves have elsewhere, and also know where their own supporters are likely to go next, they can optimally time when to withdraw from the race, so as not to forego second choice support that might come their way soon, but also to free up second choice support they might be able to send elsewhere (or prevent it from being counted by staying in).

None of this is true before the first ballot is cast though. Which is why any suggestion that a candidate might drop out for strategic reasons now to "stop" someone, would have to be taken with a grain of salt, unless they could also deliver some other benefit, such as campaign organization, information, or something else.
- Sixth Estate points out another classic example of the Fraser Institute producing prepackaged spin on what looks to be the issue of a sponsor's choice. But it's worth noting in fairness that a firm commitment to non-disclosure is a part of Fraser's own business plan.

- Erin highlights some of the flawed assumptions in Kevin Milligan's attack on full taxation of capital gains.

- Finally, Sandy White asks rhetorically whether we want to be a society that encourages hope or extinguishes it in criticizing the Cons' crime policies. But I'm not sure the answer actually is all that obvious from the Harper Cons' standpoint: after all, isn't their long-term anti-government direction based largely on a desire to convince citizens to abandon hope that their public institutions can create a better society?

On growth strategies

Plenty of commentators have piled on Ian Capstick in the wake of his musings about the number of candidates in the NDP's leadership race. And I won't belabour the same point others have already made in refuting speculation about particular candidates dropping out.

But there's another part of Capstick's analysis that I'd think deserves a bit more of a challenge:
Capstick: “I can only hope that this bout of common sense is contagious and that we can slim down the field to a little bit more manageable number. [Ed: With Chisholm gone, eight are still vying for the job] I don’t think that Niki Ashton can go toe-to-toe with the prime minister. I don’t think that Romeo Saganash is somebody who can go toe-to-toe with the PM.
Now, the above passage is obviously a matter of opinion rather than a declaration of fact as to the prospects of Ashton or Saganash in serving as the NDP's leader. But I'll argue that it somewhat misses the point as to what NDP members should be seeking in the leadership race.

After all, none of the leadership contenders currently have anywhere near the national profile to go "toe-to-toe" with Stephen Harper in an election campaign if one were called for April 2012. And that's not a matter of personal weakness or failure: instead, it's inevitable as a contrast between a prime minister whose public image has been crafted by a decade's worth of headlines, advertising and careful image-building, and a challenger who hasn't yet been on the receiving end of the same level of attention.

And that's as much the case for the perceived upper-tier candidates as for, say, Ashton and Saganash. Thomas Mulcair is the only arguable exception to the extent he might qualify as a popular household name in Quebec - but for all but one candidate in one province, a leadership win will only be the start of building a personal profile to compete with Harper's.

Which is exactly why my focus in the leadership campaign is less on the profile any given candidate has enjoyed from day one, and more as to how effective the candidate proves in building on that base. Ultimately, the question of whether an NDP leadership candidate can go toe to toe with Harper by 2015 depends more than anything on the candidate's capacity and plan for growth - and the thinner and less diverse the field, the less likely we'll be to take our opportunities to expand beyond what might seem within easy reach at the moment.

New column day

Here, on the stark contrast between an election campaign where the Saskatchewan Party went out of its way to talk about nothing and the flurry of new legislation introduced within days of the legislature reconvening.

For further reading, the full list of bills introduced so far this fall is here. The Saskatchewan Party's 2011 platform is here. And any resemblance between the two is largely coincidental.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Lawrence Martin notes that the Cons' push for yet more layers of bureaucracy is based purely on a desire to cater to prejudice rather than any intention to improve the lot of Canada's First Nations:
Shortly after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives came to power in 2006, they moved to scrap the Kelowna Accord that had been negotiated by Paul Martin’s Liberals. It was Mr. Martin’s pride and joy. It had been so difficult to get a consensus from native leaders. But for this agreement, a new funding deal to improve living conditions for first nations communities, he had found one.

Conservatives were more concerned about the health of the existing funding than about any new funding. They wanted increased oversight. As part of their new system of accountability, they were broadening the auditor-general’s powers to scrutinize a whole new range of organizations. In so doing, they wanted Indian bands audited.

They went to auditor-general Sheila Fraser, whereupon Ms. Fraser, sources recall, told them to go jump in a deep river. She would have none of it. There was no need for her department to audit band chiefs, she reasoned, because they were already being audited heavily. They were being audited by municipalities, by provinces, by the private sector, as well as, in some instances, by Ottawa.

Ms. Fraser’s department had done a report before the Tories came to power showing that an average band produces close to 200 reports a year. If the bands didn’t file audited financial statements, their funding was cut off or delayed. The AG’s office thought that for any government to pretend it didn’t know where the money was being spent was foolhardy. There was likely some abuse, but no more or less than most other organizations.

The Conservatives’ motivation in pushing for the band audits was political, the AG’s office suspected. They wanted to score points with their base and the chiefs were an easy target.

This might help explain why the reaction in Attawapiskat to the government’s sending in a third-party manager to monitor the band’s financial affairs was so hostile.
- But when it comes to their own government, the Cons are rather less interested in listening to the many voices calling for more effective oversight.

- Meanwhile, Linda McQuaig points out that it isn't just in Canada that the Cons are managing to make life worse for the people who can least afford it:
What the Harper government is doing is disastrous for Canadians, but even more disastrous for those most directly under the heel of climate change — notably the one billion Africans who will be the first and hardest hit by climate change, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

So the Harper government, working arm-in-arm with some of the world’s least vulnerable people — international oil interests — has done its best to sabotage a process aimed at preventing the catastrophic climate impacts that particularly threaten the world’s most vulnerable people: food and water shortages, crop reductions, flooding and loss of land.

Such callous disregard for the plight of the globe’s most defenceless citizens — it’s not really a stretch to label this an “animus” toward the world — is distinctly out of line with Canada’s traditional approach as a leading nation working with other nations to advance international goals.
Sadly, we’re now using our considerable power to destroy any hope of heading off climate disaster. It turns out that we’re just as effective at undermining attempts to solve the world’s problems as we once were at attempting to find solutions.

Canada is still punching above its weight. But, under the animus of the Harper government, those punches are now low blows, landing on some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.
- Finally, Thomas Walkom and Tim Harper both point out some of the consequences of the Cons' unilateral move to deflate future health care funding.