Saturday, January 15, 2011

On arbitrary lines

Apparently Jim Flaherty is looking to keep pressure on the other parties in Parliament (and keep the Cons' excuses for an election open) by announcing that he won't be setting aside the HST transition funding demanded by the Bloc in the Cons' next budget.

Now, I'll leave aside the issue of harmonization in general, particularly since Quebec has had a different arrangement in place than the other provinces in the pre-negotiation stage. But let's remind ourselves that the last time they went on a harmonization kick, the Cons happily set aside $5 billion at a time when not a single province was expressing any interest in taking it. So there shouldn't be any doubt that their latest excuse is a matter of sheer politics rather reflecting than any principled reluctance to set aside money if there are a few Ts to be crossed and Is to be dotted.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Erin thoroughly debunks Jayson Myers' attempt to fabricate a nonexistent link between tax cuts and job creation:
Myers actually does not find a very close correlation between after-tax profits and employment (page 16), so he instead focuses on the unemployment rate (page 17). His summary mistakenly states, “Close positive relationships exist between: Canada’s unemployment rate and after-tax business profits” (page 3), implying that higher unemployment corresponds to higher profits. As noted later, “it is a negative relationship” (page 17).

This negative correlation is hardly surprising. In boom years, profits go up and unemployment goes down. In recessions, profits fall and unemployment rises. Indeed, Myers’ graph of profits and unemployment looks like a graph of Canadian business cycles (top of page 17).

However, correlation is not the same as a causal relationship. It is always possible that a third factor – such as the business cycle – is driving both variables.

Even if there is a causal relationship, it is unclear which way the causation runs. Myers’ story is that higher business profits cause more hiring, which causes lower unemployment. But an equally plausible story is that lower unemployment causes more consumer spending, which causes higher business profits.
Myers’ report is not about corporate tax rates or their possible incentive effects. In his model, corporate tax cuts matter only insofar as they increase after-tax profits. Rather than implementing planned corporate tax cuts at an annual cost of $6.2 billion, Ottawa might as well just write corporate Canada a series of postdated cheques for $6.2 billion each.
But of course, the Globe and Mail reproduces Myers' take without question. So the facts don't seem likely to matter when it comes to what actually gets published in the corporate press.

- Which means it falls to the rest of us to point out the obvious: demand creates jobs.

- Were you worried that Canada might have the necessary equipment to track down pollution in case of an oil spill? Don't worry: the Cons are shutting it down - so that anybody responsible for a spill won't be faced with inconvenient realities about what's actually been released.

- But of course, who has time to deal with environmental emergencies when there are volunteer efforts to be co-opted? Up next in the Cons' plan to attach themselves to anything popular regardless of their utter lack of contribution to it: new Senate appointee Larry Smith uses his influence with the CFL to make sure that next season's championship game is played for the Harper Cup.

- Finally, Linda Deibel documents the Cons' appalling efforts to stifle dissent in the public and private sectors alike. But perhaps the most telling part of her article is the Libs' typically timid response - which Deibel can't allow to pass without comment:
Asked about Liberal tactics, caucus member Lee responds: “We generally go into things being nice and we're not used to being elbowed in the corners. There's a reluctance to get down in the mud.”

It's frustrating, he adds. “I think the hope is that it will all go away . . . Maybe we are being naïve.”

Ya think?

On lessons learned

Jack Layton's take on Afghanistan has proven prescient in the past. Now, it might be worth taking note of his latest observations before we make matters worse:
The changing nature of Canada’s military mission from combat to training will only mean that Canada will train and equip many who will later join the insurgency, or at best, create a military machine for a corrupt and distrusted Afghan President, Mr. Layton said in a speech at the University of Ottawa.

“Every year, one in five soldiers walks out of the Afghan National Army for good. How many of these become Taliban fighters, taking their training and weapons with them?” he said. “You think you’re training government officers, but then you’re really training insurgents as well.”

Even if the military is loyal, it will serve a President, Hamid Karzai, “that’s very closely tied to rigged elections and rampant” corruption, and discredited with his own people, Mr. Layton said. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he added, is reluctant to send another dime of aid money directly to Mr. Karzai’s government, “but he’ll give him an army.”

No better off

It's undoubtedly fair to ask whether Canadians are in a better position now than they were five years ago, and point out that the answer is probably no. And it's not hard to see how the focus might be both more relevant to listeners and more likely to sway votes than the Cons' international comparisons.

But isn't it even more striking that the same question applied to the past 30 years would produce the same answer? And is there any reason to think the party which presided over the previous decade-plus of stagnation for working Canadians can expect to benefit from outrage over five more years of the same?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Musical interlude

Delerium - Flowers Become Screens

On prejudgment

Apparently we don't need to actually hold federal elections. Instead, Stephen Harper's hand-picked lobbying commissioner has helpfully decided to eliminate all but two parties from the ballot for her purposes:
Several (lobbyists) say they were told by Ms. Shepherd’s office that there would be no obvious conflict of interest if they were to work for the New Democrats because the NDP has no chance of forming government, but any work for the Liberals or the Conservatives could, potentially, create problems.
Of course, it's all the worse that Shepherd's advice looks to be as inaccurate as it is ill-advised - since even the man who appointed her can talk about little else but the prospect that the NDP may form part of a federal government in the near future.

But more importantly, it's utterly inexcusable for a supposedly neutral regulator to be presuming to know better than Canadian voters what the result of the next federal election might be. And Shepherd's eagerness to make partisan judgments looks all too likely to reflect what Harper seeks in his appointments.

(h/t to pogge.)

This is why news reports need laugh tracks

The most relentlessly partisan PM in recent memory, whose closest advisers have readily described his strategy as developing a war machine focused on little more then relentlessly attacking his opponents, is taking offense at the suggestion that he might be campaigning. And the limits of Bruce Campion Smith's written report just don't allow for enough skepticism to properly cover the moment.

Well said

Jeffrey Simpson doesn't go quite so far as to answer the question of why right-wing governments tend to run up massive deficits in office after campaigning on their commitment to do nothing of the sort. (Hint: they're perfectly happy to burn as much money as they can for their own political benefit if it means that their successors in office have no room to maneuver.) But it's still well worth pointing out his acknowledgment of the chasm between brand and reality:
Canadian Conservatives and U.S. Republicans have spent at least three decades pledging three things: lower taxes, smaller government and a balanced budget. Their record has been so dismal, and the gap between promise and fulfilment so large, that citizens have to wonder what’s been going on. Conservatives, who are very good at attacking other ways of thinking, might reflect themselves on why their ideology has so frequently produced this performance gap.
To this point, the Harperites have been much like conservatives everywhere. They’ve cut taxes but let spending rise in real terms and balanced the books only because of what they’d inherited. There’s every chance Mr. Harper won’t be in office the next time Ottawa shows a surplus.

Provincially, it’s been much the same story. In Ontario, the Harris-Eves Conservatives cut taxes and left a big deficit. In Saskatchewan, the Grant Devine Conservatives left a fiscal hole for the subsequent NDP government. In Alberta, the Conservatives cut taxes, but spending kept rising, so Alberta has one of the largest per capita governments in Canada. Only resource revenues let the government show surpluses. Once the recession came, the government dipped into the sustainability fund to help with shortfalls.
The conservative record across the continent for the past 30 years has been rather clear. Despite all the rhetoric, conservatives tend to deliver lower taxes, bigger spending and large deficits. The gap between promise and delivery has been, and remains, huge.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just wondering

No, it isn't necessarily inconsistent for an anti-government dogmatist like Stephen Harper to posture about "red tape" in the private sector while shackling public employees.

But Susan Delacourt's post of the Cons' form "message event proposal" does raise a couple of questions that I don't recall being asked the first time they were in the news. Namely, when does the government of Canada - as distinct from the Conservative Party or its MPs - ever engage in tactics such as direct mailouts and op-eds? And if the answer is "rarely if ever", then is there reason to wonder whether the resources used in developing MEPs are finding their way into partisan systems?

Burning question

So has Stephen Harper just admitted that a coalition will have the right to form government if it votes his party down following the next election?

Somehow I have my doubts. But if we can get Harper on record saying that now (and it seems like a necessary premise for his current spin), the admission would seem to make for a rather valuable precedent if that exact scenario comes to pass.

Ask and answer

In a more sane political environment, the NDP's list of conditions for supporting the 2011 federal budget would be seen as a modest, reasonable set of demands which any government would eagerly meet. But in this one, even though they likely make for the least the NDP can possibly justify asking for as the price of support, the odds of the Harper Cons actually going along with the proposals look to be slim to none.

Yes, the Cons were fairly slow to rule out increased pension benefits over the last year or so, waiting for Alberta to shoot down any proposal before doing so themselves. But they've since taken a firm public line that we have to avoid improving the CPP in order to save it. And the GIS has never apparently been on their radar, since it would involve what would likely turn into a permanent improvement in the type of social benefit that the Cons most loathe.

On eliminating the HST from home heating costs, the Cons have conspicuously avoided any substantive response to a proposal that the NDP has worked hard to sell over the course of the fall.

And on a home retrofitting tax credit, the Cons have already rejected the NDP's entreaties in last year's budget - even though the proposal makes for nothing but a slightly more environmentally friendly recasting of part of the Cons' much-ballyhooed economic action plan.

So while the NDP's laundry list may serve as a starting point if the Cons are particularly desperate to avoid an election, I wouldn't see much prospect of it serving as the basis for a budget otherwise - particularly when Harper can buy off the Bloc for a one-time payment to Quebec without doing anything to increase the scope of any social program in the long term.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday...

- You wouldn't know it from the focus on the Libs' tour launch over the course of the week. But yes, there is another Canadian leader currently making the rounds - and unlike Michael Ignatieff, he'll actually have something new to say:
NDP Leader Jack Layton is embarking on a pre-election tour taking direct aim at the Prime Minister in primarily Tory ridings across the country.

He kicked off the tour Tuesday in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where he called on Mr. Harper to “stop gouging” consumers and remove the harmonized sales tax on home heating fuel.

He'll hit another 17 communities from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador by Jan. 26, when the NDP caucus is slated to meet to plot strategy for the Jan. 31 resumption of Parliament.

Along the way, Mr. Layton intends to introduce a handful of new candidates and unveil a couple of platform planks – on Senate reform and Canada's future role in Afghanistan.
- Erin points out a particularly sketchy tactic use by the CME in unveiling its latest request for massive corporate tax slashing, as the study was apparently withheld from anybody who might disagree to make criticism more difficult.

- Meanwhile, Corporate Knights points to the fair tax idea as a means of reducing the use of loopholes. But in drawing the comparison to the fair trade movement, I'd think it's well worth noting the minimal effect that voluntary measures have had compared to what would be possible if all businesses were made subject to an equal set of rules.

- Finally, Jim Creskey slams Jason Kenney for attacking the people who deal with refugee issues every day in response to their attempt to improve his legislative choices:
Rightfully, and perhaps in part because Christianity is a religion founded on a refugee family—Jesus, Mary and Joseph—the bishops publicly objected to the government bill. The bishops sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who also happens to be a Catholic.

""References by representatives of your government to 'bogus' refugee claimants undermine Canada's obligations to refugee protection and question the credibility of refugees fleeing persecution and seeking to have their rights recognized," the letter read. "They also foster hostility towards refugees and fuel xenophobia in general."
Kenney might have responded to the bishops' criticism the way Catholics the world over have done on matters of conscience for centuries: argued heatedly and in passionate detail.

But Kenney would have none of it. Instead, he just shot down the bishops for being too dumb to know what they were talking about, and that they were being manipulated by their non-clerical staff.

The letter reflects a "long tradition of ideological bureaucrats who work for the bishops' conference producing political letters signed by pastors who may not have specialized knowledge in certain areas of policy," Mr. Kenney told Deborah Gyapong of the Canadian Catholic News service.

Instead of taking a hard public look at a bill widely seen as flawed, Kenny leapt into argumentum ad (hominem)—arguments about the person instead of the idea. Something my old Jesuit logic teacher taught me never to do.

Kenney must have missed that class.

On distinguishable precedents

It's most helpful of John Ivison to be concerned about the NDP's well-being only when it serves to promote continued Con government. But there are a couple of points worth making in response to his attempt to paint a coalition as more distant than it actually is.

To start with, there's the question of whether the NDP is in fact interested in pursuing a coalition, such that it's a viable strategy for the Libs to work toward forming one. And on that point, one would expect Ivison to read up on the NDP's past and present plans to bring together Canadians who want something better than continued Harper government.

That does leave the question of whether the NDP should be taking any cautionary messages from the UK Lib Dems' experience. But it's not hard to see how the parties' priorities differ - and how that would figure to affect public perceptions once a coalition is in place.

After all, the Lib Dems entered into their coalition as both the junior partner and the relatively nonideological partner, which left them with effectively no basis to make policy demands. As a result, they traded off virtually all of their policy commitments, treating high-profile positions within the coalition government as the main apparent goal - leaving little discernible benefit for supporters to point to as an achievement resulting from the coalition, and shedding voters who saw them as an alternative to Labour on the left.

Needless to say, that couldn't stand in much more stark contrast to the NDP's position, which has regularly focused on policy gains over personal profile, including by declining to be a junior partner where it would have resulted in a right-wing party taking power. And one can most clearly see the difference in the NDP's 2008 position - where it readily sent the message that it wouldn't pursue positions like finance minister or deputy prime minister, but held firm to a progressive set of policy priorities.

Of course, the above isn't to say that there wouldn't be some challenges in managing a coalition from the NDP's perspective. But there's plenty of reason to think the outcome of a coalition will be far better for a party which actually has some ideological grounding by which to measure government policy - and every reason to think the NDP's past efforts to bring progressive Canadians together will continue past the next federal election.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On battle lines

Shorter Matt Gurney:

The Harper Cons are invulnerable to questions about their prison expansion plans because Canadian voters don't care what it costs to deal with what they perceive to be a problem.

That is, except the areas where the Cons are already crying poor, like the need to improve health care. Or top up pensions. Or fight against climate change. But prisons, yessiree, those are bulletproof.

All you need to know

Ah, the prestige of being appointed into federal cabinet. The raised profile, the responsibility to make decisions on weighty matters affecting the country...wait, what's this?
We filed an ATIP request for Min/State Finance Ted Menzies briefing books: Answer today: There are none.
Never mind: apparently the main difference between being a Harper cabinet minister and a Tim Horton's cashier is that the cashier would normally be expected to learn the menu before starting.

Well said

Frances Russell nicely summarizes the outcome if the Cons get their way in decentralizing and defunding social programs:
Decentralism and provincial power appeals to the Canadian right for the obvious reason that the smaller the government, the less powerful and capable it is. Provinces do have the advantage of being "closer to the people," but that is of little use if they have no money to spend on the people, as was the case during the Great Depression. That economic cataclysm spurred the creation of Canada's equalization program, subsequently entrenched in the 1982 Constitution, and designed to ensure all Canadians enjoy reasonably comparable government services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.

Should Bernier, and presumably Harper, get their wish and cancel all shared-cost programs, replacing them with individual provincial tax points of vastly unequal value, the social and economic devastation in every province, with the possible exception of Alberta, would be calamitous.
(Edit: fixed typo.)

On obvious solutions

Andrew Jackson's post on the modest amount of resources needed to outright eliminate poverty in Canada is jarring enough on its own:
In 2008, the incidence of low income for all persons in Canada measured by the LICO After Tax measure was 9.4%, and the average gap or income shortfall relative to the LICO AT line was 33%. That gap in turn is equivalent to 1% of the after tax income of all Canadians.

In short, we could eliminate poverty by shifting just 1% of our collective income to the almost one in ten Canadians living in low income.
But Jackson's observation is particularly noteworthy when compared to the growing income shares of the wealthiest Canadians. After three decades of increasing inequality, the entire amount of money required to eradicate poverty in Canada is equal to only one sixth of the increase in the income share of the top 1% since 1977. Or if one prefers to start higher up the income chain, one third of the increase for the top 0.1% would do the job as well.

Of course, merely dealing with poverty wouldn't itself solve all the issues raised by the growing income and wealth gaps. But it's well worth noting the potential to completely wipe out poverty with only a small slice of the gains of the upper classes - signalling that the reason for inaction has nothing to do with an inability to afford steps to tackle poverty, and everything to do with a lack of will to do so.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Undercover cats.

Just wondering

Macleans apparently feels the need to set up an experiment as to the relative effects of stimulus vs. austerity - presumably on the basis it doesn't like the comparisons already in progress. But is it too much to ask that one of the options actually involve some actual stimulus?

By necessary implication

Let's leave aside whether or not Michael Ignatieff should be doing more to promote the concept of inter-party cooperation, and take a look at John Ibbitson's remarkable leap of logic on Ignatieff's actual strategy.

Apparently, it's now an indisputable fact (or at least enough of a media narrative to dominate coverage) that if two leaders are touring separate parts of the country in support of their own parties, then they must be in cahoots.

Which can only mean one thing: come election time, every single party leader in Canada will be in a coalition with one another. That is, except for the one who chooses to stay home rather than bothering to campaign - which is why Ibbitson's take is apparently good news for the Work Less Party.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday.

- Pogge nicely sums up the proper response to the Libs' declaration that voters should pretend that other, more viable alternatives to the Cons don't exist:
Based on the last several federal elections, the greatest threat to the Conservative incumbent in my riding is the NDP. Based on the last two elections, that's true by a large margin. If Michael Ignatieff comes into my riding right now and tells me that in order to get rid of Harper I have to vote Liberal, I have to conclude that either he's an idiot or he thinks I am. Neither explanation encourages me to vote Liberal.
- The Hill Times proclaims a change in language: while the Cons' completely unfounded claims of delay in the Senate were regularly described as unconscionable obstructionism, the new Con Senate majority's power to overrule Canada's elected representatives will merely give rise to "minor legislative battles".

- John Ivison points out that the Cons' direction on criminal justice policy is officially worse information than that of states like Texas and South Carolina:
The “hanging’s too good for them” brigade should read an eye-opening piece from last Friday’s Washington Post, co-written by Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and Pat Nolan, former Republican leader of the California State Assembly. They pointed out that the U.S. currently spends US$68-billion on corrections — 300% more than 25 years ago — and the prison population is growing at 13 times faster than the general population.

“Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high but, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If your prison policies are failing half the time, and we know there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners,” they concluded.

Even Mr. Toews wouldn’t accuse Texas of being soft on crime, yet the Lone Star State has instituted reforms that have strengthened its probation system, reduced its prison population and freed up money to be redirected into community treatment for the mentally ill and low-level drug addicts. Since the reforms were launched in 2004, the crime rate has dropped 10% to its lowest level since 1973.
At a time when every department in government is experiencing budget cuts, Canada should not be embarking on an expensive prison-building program. Rather it should be following U.S. states like South Carolina, which is reserving costly prison spaces for violent criminals and dealing with lower level offenders in more imaginative ways.
- Finally, we can certainly hope that the Cons' "ethical oil" spin will bring the environment back to the forefront as an issue. But is it too much to ask that the response to the Cons' attempts to change the subject not start with "we agree, but..."?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Well said

Brian Topp nicely sums up how faux populism has served to breed a violent political culture in the U.S. - and the description is all too apt here at home as well:
Their brand of right-wing populism – their appeal to unreason, to hatred, to anger, and their dance with violence (just as the previous generation of right-wing American populists danced with white racism) – invites what happened in Arizona on Saturday.
Why do populist right-wingers need to play these games? Because they can't defend their program on its merits.

Help for the poor through tax giveaways to the rich. Economic security by breaking people's pensions. Fiscal responsibility by bankrupting the state. Jobs by promoting economic recklessness that has produced a global economic crisis. A better society by promoting gross income disparity. Double and triple the police and prison apparatus to deal with a crime rate that has long been in decline. Better health care by making it available only to those who can afford it. Getting the state out of people's lives by imposing narrow religious views in the schools. Legislating responsibly by abdicating the legislative and budget process to corporate lobbyists. Peace by warmongering.

None of the central goals of American populist right-wingers hold up in rational debate. So a smokescreen is required. Take our country back! Respect the constitution! And... lock and load!

It's had a good run in the past two years, this latest manifestation of right-wing unreason in the United States. But perhaps this is the moment its real nature stands revealed. Like all right-wing populism, that is something it cannot survive.


Matt Bai:
The problem here doesn’t lie with the activists..., ordinary citizens who are doing what citizens are supposed to do — engaging in a conversation about the direction of the country. Rather, the problem would seem to rest with the political leaders who pander to the margins of the margins, employing whatever words seem likely to win them contributions or TV time, with little regard for the consequences.
Keith Beardsley:
(R)emoving the taxpayer funding will force them to streamline their operations, improve their fundraising mechanism and pay attention to issues that matter both to Canadians and their membership. To ignore that reality would mean that your fundraising would be unsuccessful and you would have to cut back your operations. You would get a pretty quick wake-up call to refocus on what mattered...

Good news, everybody!

Job losses are now officially being treated as state secrets. So as far as we know, everybody's doing just fine!

On blockage

Eric is right to note that most scenarios involving party disappearances or mergers would result in relatively little change in Canada's political stalemate. But he also confirms that there's one what-if which would make a world of difference:
The Bloc was born out of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. Had the accord succeeded, it is plausible to assume the Bloc Québécois would never have existed.

In such a case, the social democratic NDP would take the place of the social democratic Bloc Québécois in the province, winning 30 per cent of the vote in the next election. The Liberals, at 29 per cent, would not be far behind while the Conservatives would take 24 per cent of the vote. This would result in the NDP winning 34 seats in the province, most of them coming in francophone Quebec outside of the two main cities. The Liberals would win 23 seats, mostly in and around Montreal and in the Gaspé, while the Conservatives would take 17 seats, concentrated around Quebec City and the Saguenay region.

Using current projections for the rest of the country, this change in Quebec would boost the Tories to 146 seats nationally, still short of a majority government. The Liberals would win 104 seats. With more than half of their caucus from Quebec, the NDP would win 57 seats. It would give the Liberals and New Democrats the possibility of forming a majority coalition.
Of course, many a commentator has looked silly for predicting the end of the Bloc over the years. But it's worth noting that the Bloc looks to be the one opposition party whose share of votes and seats would lead to an almost certain change in government if distributed along current voting lines - and wondering whether a strong message about the need for progressives to work together inside and outside Quebec (regardless of the party structures involved) might serve to get things moving in that direction.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

We're Number Last! We're Number Last!

Just one more example of how the Harper Cons are getting Canada noticed around the world:
A new study ranks Canada dead last in an international comparison of freedom-of-information laws — a hard fall after many years being judged a global model in openness.
Canada was among the first dozen countries in the world to pass a freedom-of-information law, which came into effect in 1983 long before the era of the web.

As freedom-of-information came to be regarded as a building block of modern governance, countries around the globe would often seek Canada's advice on how to implement such legislation.

But today, with more than 70 countries on the FOI bandwagon, Canada has become a laggard — and, paradoxically, an occasional source of advice on how not to implement freedom of information, says Canada's information commissioner Suzanne Legault.

“I'm not surprised that they ranked Canada last,” she said of the latest study. “We were seen as the leaders. ... We have fallen behind.”

On incentives

Both Andrew Coyne and John Robson have pointed out the absurdity of the Harper Cons having the largest cabinet in the democratic world. But while I agree entirely with the sentiment, I'd wonder whether there's any realistic prospect of addressing the issue.

After all, I'm not aware of any point in the process of selecting a cabinet where there's any room for public or parliamentary input. The first step taken by a new government is to have its new cabinet sworn in, so presumably it's able to start doling out the perks of cabinet membership even in the absence of the budgetary review processes which nominally result in Parliamentary vetting and approval of government expenses.

Of course, there might be some ways to impose checks on the size of cabinet through legislation. But as things stand now, we can probably safely assume that the Cons aren't about to accept anything of the sort as long as they're in power. And indeed, it doesn't seem unlikely that many opposition MPs would prefer the prospect of someday holding a position in an expanded cabinet to a system that limits them to "ego gratification (which depends) on annoying the executive as effective committee members".

With that in mind, it would seem surprising that more parliamentary governments around the world don't abuse the ability to unilaterally proclaim that public dollars will be used to reward MPs from the governing party while quieting anybody whose ambitions might involve questioning a party's actions from within. And it may be worth watching whether the lack of a political price for the choice made by Harper (and other PMs before him) might set a precedent which leads to worse governance around the globe.

On second choices

Alice's post on second-choice preferences in the 2008 election is well worth a read. But the most valuable part of the information collected through the Canada Election Study figures to lie in its ability to present some background to calculations along the lines of Malcolm's guest post on the retention rate required to make a non-compete agreement the least bit useful.

For those who aren't familiar, Malcolm concluded that based on the 2008 federal election results, we wouldn't see a non-compete agreement result in a majority government (or in any party exceeding the Cons' seat total) absent an overall net retention rate of 70% in an agreement involving the Libs, NDP and Greens. So let's look at a simplified and perhaps unduly generous net retention rate for types of vote shifts based on the CES data, calculated as follows:

((votes to non-compete partner as second choice) - (votes to Cons)) / total votes for original party

Using that formula, here are the actual net retention rates for various types of votes in the 2008 election:

Lib to NDP: 13%
Lib to Green: -10%
Lib to (NDP + Green): 28%
NDP to Lib: 17%
NDP to Green: -2%
NDP to (Lib + Green): 36%
Green to Lib: 19%
Green to NDP: 13%
Green to (Lib + NDP): 46%

Now, it's worth highlighting that the above doesn't factor in any question as to the likelihood of the vote switching as intended in a non-compete scenario. And the numbers for the three-party scenario are almost certainly on the high side, since they assume that a voter whose first two choices are both part of the non-compete will vote for the other partner as a third choice in the absence of any data to that effect.

But even granting every favourable assumption to a three-party non-compete agreement, its application to the 2008 vote totals would result in...effectively the same situation we have now, with the Cons holding the most seats of any party, and any alternative requiring the Bloc's support to win power.

So Alice's numbers look to offer yet another indication that the more important work to be done involves shifting baseline vote preferences, as well as laying the groundwork for the argument that the confidence of the House of Commons trumps one party's claim to the most seats - not pretending that a non-compete agreement will have any meaningful effect.