Saturday, April 23, 2011

Big Movements Beat Petty Politics

At the start of this week, the word from Ottawa's talking heads was that we were in for two more weeks of trench warfare: that none of Canada's political parties had any hope of moving the current polls or seat counts more than a couple of inches, and thus we could expect the campaign to get dirtier and less relevant as everybody struggled for marginal gains.

Fortunately, they've been proven wrong as to whether or not anything could change meaningfully. And it's well worth noting why.

Take, for example, the news surrounding star NDP candidate Francoise Boivin in Gatineau over the last week.

At the start of the week, Boivin found herself both publicly outed and smeared in the press - presumably the result of an opponent deciding that in what figured to be a close riding race, a misinformation campaign could well be enough to keep the seat in somebody else's hands.

Then, something happened.

The NDP started gaining momentum in Quebec, rising from the low 20s to the mid-20s to 36% in CROP's poll. And with those rising numbers, the situation in Gatineau also figures to have changed radically. One local poll taken some time ago showed Boivin ahead by a relatively small margin, but with the NDP's province-wide gains the seat looks to be on the verge of turning into a lock for Boivin. Which is why she found herself introducing the campaign's most exciting rally yet today - while her opponents have to be close to figuring their chances are evaporating.

And so, the effect of a positive province-wide movement looks to be dwarfing the damage done by dirtiest smear anybody has suffered so far this campaign.

So far, the phenomenon looks to be limited to Quebec. But for those lamenting the state of politics elsewhere in Canada, the answer looks to be much the same: a strong movement behind a party which is genuinely committed to positive change can overwhelm the marginal gains possible in a petty model of politics.

Now, the question is whether the NDP's momentum within Quebec will spread further - at best taking it into government, or offering the possibility a sharply increased seat total and/or official opposition status. Which would result in a radical realignment in Canadian politics on two fronts.

Yes, it would be a major gain for the NDP in the competition among parties. But equally significant would be the takeaway that it's worth a political party's time and effort to work on building mass movements, rather than merely sniping for swing votes on the margins. And the better the NDP is able to do at the polls by going big, the more that lesson figures to resonate in the rest of Canada's political scene.

Saturday Morning Links

Plenty of good news for your weekend reading.

- When even Chantal Hebert can't help but to acknowledge the NDP's surge in Quebec, you know something significant is afoot:
By the time the election was called, the NDP had already overtaken the other federalist parties for second place among francophone voters.

Four weeks later, Layton has cracked the glass ceiling that insulated the Bloc Québécois from the federalist pack. He could not have achieved that without a hand from Gilles Duceppe.

Fatigue with the Bloc has been a recurring trend in Quebec for the best part of a decade. In this campaign, Duceppe’s tired approach has played to that feeling.

The old Gilles Duceppe would not have spent the first week of a campaign talking about how Stephen Harper had made a tentative deal with the Bloc to oust Paul Martin from power in 2004.

He would have realized that, for many Quebec voters, the salient point of his Ottawa insider’s narrative was that the Bloc had actively entertained the notion of accelerating Harper’s rise to government.

Duceppe’s call may have been in the spirit of the times in 2004 but two Conservative mandates later it is Layton’s decision to opt out of Harper’s opposition boat that comes across as prescient to many Quebec voters.

The 2011 French-language election debate will go down as the first that a Bloc leader did not win hands down. Duceppe had to share the honours with Layton and it was an uneven split in the latter’s favour.
- Which is just one more indication that the NDP is, in Dr. Dawg's words, smashing the Matrix:
The polls are now consistent over time: the NDP is surging, even in second place, and it’s not losing momentum. Prisoners no more, Canadian electors are learning that, even under the antiquated, undemocratic “first past the post” electoral system, their votes may well count after all.
The NDP juggernaut is sweeping on, crushing smug assumptions and leaving a trail of bruised pundits’ egos in its wake. Canadians are taking the red pill at last—and there’s not a damned thing the usual media suspects can do about it.
- While Murray Mandryk ends up being too generous to Brad Wall, he does ask some rather important questions about Wall's ill-advised posturing on the federal election:
(W)hat service is Wall providing Saskatchewan voters by repeating Harper's talking point that whichever party gets the most seats wins - even if that single party doesn't get a majority of the 308 House of Commons seats?

Where in either our constitution or our 1,000-year Parliamentary democracy tradition has Wall found this gem of democratic enlightenment? Why is being governed by a coalition government formed by two parties with 60 per cent of House of Commons seats a worse case of "overturning democracy" than being ruled by a single party with 40 per cent of Parliament's seats? Wasn't Wall's Sask. Party a "coalition" that "overturned democracy" by seizing opposition in 1997? Wasn't that against the rules? How is any government - minority or majority - having unfettered power for a specific period even healthy?

Really, sir, when you reach the point where you're arguing Canadians desperately need the stability of a majority government to deal with the current economic instability driven by the horrors of rising oil prices (I kid you not - this is what a premier of Saskatchewan told reporters Thursday), isn't it time to step back and rethink your position?
- At least one business expert is working on convincing Canadians that a Harper majority would be the absolute worst possible outcome for our country's economy:
Mintzberg’s critique of the Harper government has less to do with specific policy positions than with an attitude that he sees as embodying the same unhealthy values that dominated the presidency of George W. Bush. Some key elements are the glorification of overpaid corporate leaders and short-term profits. That’s tied to the denigration of government’s role in providing a regulatory and socially conscious counterweight to business.

The U.S. financial crash and its devastating recession were directly related to this skewed view of the world, Mintzberg believes. As a result of Canada’s having followed a different path, with more willingness to let government regulate financial institutions, “we’re doing better than the Americans,” with an economy that suffered far less and unemployment that’s lower.
- And finally, Tabatha Southey skewers the predictably embarrassing start for Sun News Network:
Sun TV has come unstuck in time. It’s as if, in its first few days, its pundits felt that they had a duty to diligently cover all the events they had missed before it existed. It’s a news network for the recently cryogenically unfrozen, who may be lying in bed and wondering about this Fidel Castro guy or the CBC “Vote Compass” story that was exhausted weeks ago.
So far, Sun TV is a network about being a network. It spent most of its first day congratulating itself for being there and most of its second day retelling its nascent creation myth with telethon-esque levels of self-regarding pathos, full of awe at the amazing odds its staff feels it overcame to make it to air.

That’s right: all the triumphalism of pirate radio, with absolutely none of the cool.
My son came downstairs while I was watching Sun TV. Fifteen minutes into his oatmeal, not five years from voting age, he laughed and said, “Wow, they’re like little kids who’ve built a cardboard fort, and now they’re pretending dragons are attacking it.”


Epic flail

I can only assume the Libs decided to make their latest ad by recording the first ideas blurted out in an anti-NDP brainstorming session without considering how they (a) fit together, or (b) fit into the broader campaign.

And I won't complain about the contradictory messages and general incoherence. But here's a helpful hint: when the loudest political machine in Canadian history has spent five years using taxes and crime as its main messages against you, you're not going to make gains on anybody suddenly echoing those exact themes in an ad against another party. About all that choice might accomplish is to help out the Harper Cons - which once again seems to be something the Libs are entirely willing to do in order to try to stop the NDP.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Friday, April 22, 2011

Musical interlude

Bellatrax feat. Tina Cousins - Can't Hold Back (Extended Mix)

Friday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- Steve Rennie surveys a few more responses to the NDP's surge. But for those tempted to pay too much attention to the Cons' bravado, keep in mind that this is the same Harper spin machine that's tried to paint every single scandal, mistake and abuse coming out of the Cons' government as a political plus.

So let's set the record straight: particularly if the NDP can emerge as the focus of a movement for change across Canada, its rise figures to be the absolute worst possible result for both the Cons' current electoral hopes, and their long-term project of shifting Canada to the right.

- In case we hadn't yet seen a definitive enough statement of Stephen Harper's complete lack of plausibility in trying to demonize any coalition or other structure besides "most seats wins", we now have text and video confirmation that he himself once saw cooperative efforts to take down a party which won the most seats as both possible and desirable - at least until they didn't fit his purposes.

- Which nicely complements James Laxer's latest:
As the Prime Minister of a long-established, if complacent, democracy, Stephen Harper is supposed to say that for him the will of the people is paramount. He is supposed to declare that whatever House of Commons Canadians establish through their votes, he will accept it and work with it. He is supposed to say that he is the servant of the people.

Remarkably, Harper says none of these things. He insists that the only House of Commons he can work with after the election is one in which his party has a majority of seats. Should his party end up with the largest number of seats in a minority Parliament, he has declared that he cannot work with the other parties.

He will not alter a single jot or tittle in the budget he presented in March in a bid to win the support of one or more of the opposition parties. Quite simply, he does not recognize the legitimacy of the members of the other parties in the House of Commons, even though their presence in the House is the result of the expression of the will of the people. He is not required, he is saying, to heed the voices, the wisdom or the ideas of other Parliamentarians.
Not only does Stephen Harper refuse to acknowledge the will of the people and the legitimacy of parties that are not his own, he calls into question the essential principle of the Westminster system of parliamentary government. The principle is that a ministry must enjoy the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Commons. Furthermore, if one ministry does not enjoy the confidence of the House, it is appropriate for the Governor General to seek to form an alternative ministry that does enjoy the confidence of the House.
In the democratic world, Stephen Harper alone wraps himself in the cloak of: “Sans moi, le deluge.”
- Meanwhile, the Cons apparently haven't given up hope of fending off their likely loss of seats in Quebec. But they've decided to offer up nothing more than a dose of xenophobia in the effort.

- And finally, Democracy Now tells the story of the type of non-democracy the Cons would love to establish - as thanks to a Republican Supreme Court, the Koch brothers at the centre of the well-known right-wing noise machine have started intimidating employees into voting according to their instructions.

[Edit: fixed attribution as per comments.]

Today's resolution for debate

Barrie McKenna's commentary on the assumptions behind the economic policies of Canada's political parties could have been a fascinating read if it lived up to its billing. But sadly, he doesn't bother actually answering the question when it comes to the crux of the economic battle between the NDP and the Cons.
Assumption: Targeted payroll tax breaks are a better way to create jobs than across-the-board corporate tax cuts.
Whether one agrees or disagrees, this is the most fundamental difference in economic philosophy we're seeing in the federal election campaign. So let's get the discussion going.

On weak responses

We've now seen a couple of days' worth of responses from the other political parties to the NDP's surge in Quebec. And as I'd suspected, there doesn't seem to be much in any of the answers to substantially dent the NDP's momentum.

From the Bloc, the response has been hinted at for some time, as Gilles Duceppe is now doubling down on trying to turn the election into yet another referendum.

But that doesn't figure to hold much appeal for anybody who's voted Bloc in the past based primarily on their apparent social democracy and desire to stop the Harper Cons rather than their preferences on the question of sovereignty. At best, it does at least represent a rational enough "save the furniture" strategy to try to prevent the NDP wave from completely wiping out the Bloc - but I doubt the NDP will complain much about splitting the Bloc's historic vote.

Meanwhile, the Cons look to be trying to pivot to meet the NDP while deviating as little as possible from their core campaign message, launching an ad that targets Layton directly on the possibility of a coalition.

But as I've noted before, there's plenty of reason to doubt that what ultimately amount to an attack on the ideas of planning and cooperation will actually win the day when it's tested in a campaign. And in fact, an assault on a leader who's actually willing to defend the idea of coalition may help Layton as much as it does Harper: for all the commentary about how Harper will happily accept an even split between people supporting and opposing a coalition if he gets one side lined up behind him, it's surely just as much of a plus for both the NDP and the cause of preventing a Con majority if the equal and opposing force coalesces behind Layton.

Finally, the Libs' answer has been to try to highlight experience in federal government as a difference between the two parties. Which looks to be the least effective response of the bunch for two key reasons.

First, by encouraging voters to compare the relative experience of the parties, the Libs are actually helping the NDP to pitch its own star candidates across the country.

Sure, the NDP hasn't governed nationally. But it boasts a leader who's served as part of the governing council of Canada's largest city, former provincial cabinet ministers in three provinces, and former provincial leaders in three more. And if the Libs want to highlight candidates like Marc Garneau and even Ignatieff himself as part of their "experienced" team without any actual time in office, then the NDP will be happy to raise them a Nycole Turmel, a Linda Duncan, a Romeo Saganash, a Lawrence Joseph, and so on.

But then, I'm not sure that would be the NDP's response unless the Libs stick their neck out even further. After all, the Libs' new message plays perfectly into the NDP's narrative about the other parties being stuck in the past while the NDP offers a change from the status quo.

In fact, all of the responses share that weakness to some extent, as they run head-on into NDP messages which have gained traction. The Bloc is looking to push sovereignty against a party whose Quebec appeal is based largely on a desire to move past that as the core question of the province's politics; the Cons are trying to fearmonger about coalitions against a leader whose popularity is centred on his willingness to work with others; and the Libs are arguing for their being part of "more of the same" against the party that's riding a wave of change.

Of course, it may be that one of the responses will end up working, or that something else will come along as the campaign draws to a close. But if the NDP's opponents don't have more of a counter to the Layton surge than they've shown so far, then there's little reason to think the NDP's progress is going to be stopped before election day.

On foreseeability

Warren Kinsella asks whether anybody managed to anticipate the NDP's gains in Quebec (which look to create the prospect of a strong ripple across Canada). And the answer is...yes, some of us did.

Not to say that I've made any strong predictions about what might happen. But the signs of a possible NDP surge have been readily visible for some time, even if the odds of a sea change actually coming to pass have never been clear.

Let's start after the 2008 election, when I noted this in discussing the NDP's path forward:
(T)he most obvious source of strength for the NDP is...the progressive Libs who for now have hooked onto a party which they see as more likely to take power. But the draw for those people has to be a strengthened NDP from other sources to persuade them that they don't have to accept playing second fiddle to the centre-right in order to win power.
Perhaps most intriguing is the question of whether the Bloc could be largely brought on board. If leftish Bloc members have any interest in joining a Canada-wide government in the making in order to boost progressive efforts both inside and outside Quebec, then the balance of risks and rewards would look to be by far the most favourable.
In sum, the NDP certainly should be building connections into all of the other "left" parties, and continuing to frame a message of unity similar to the Unite 4 Change concept which received some mention during the most recent campaign. But its efforts are almost certainly better directed toward winning individual supporters one by one, rather than looking to any formal merger as a short cut to the same final goal.
And it didn't take long for polling to show the NDP as the second choice of Bloc voters, hinting at the type of shift that's now taking place:
(B)oth the NDP and the Greens would seem to have ample room to make inroads among current Bloc supporters, with the NDP leading the way at 19%. And with so few current Bloc voters having any interest in either the Cons or the Libs, it would stand to reason that the solid second-choice numbers for the NDP might only be amplified if current "no second choice" voters find reason to start looking elsewhere - say, if Gilles Duceppe makes a long-anticipated departure which gets taken as a sign that the Bloc is on the decline.

Combined with the apparent fluidity between NDP/Lib/Green voters on the nominal left and the Libs' likely move to the right, that figures to open up plenty of opportunities for the NDP to build itself up by focusing its efforts on current Green and Bloc supporters in hopes of building up a 32% minority as a progressive alternative to both the Cons and Libs.
Meanwhile, the talk last year about the Cons and Libs both having reason to abandon any efforts in Quebec opened the door for the NDP to take its shot at winning over a broad swath of support in the province:
(T)he Libs' standing as the default federalist party in Quebec allowed them to build up both substantial riding-level war chests and incumbency advantages in dozens of seats. So their results from 2006 and 2008 can fairly easily be seen to reflect the most resources the party can possibly expect to put into the province - and the result was to come up somewhat short even at a time when less of the vote was being split with the NDP.

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

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

All of which leaves the NDP as the only national party that can claim to be within striking distance of gains in Quebec without having yet tested the limits of its ability to win votes.
And finally, some modeling from earlier this year tested what might happen in the absence of a Bloc, and fits nicely into the projections we're now starting to see:
(In the absence of the Bloc,) 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.
Again, none of the above is to say that anybody much anticipated the magnitude of the NDP's gains so far in the election campaign - to say nothing of those which may yet develop.

But the factors which have come together to give rise to the NDP's surge have been visible for quite some time for those of us who have looked past the conventional wisdom of perpetual Bloc dominance in Quebec. And there's plenty of reason for optimism that the second part of the overall NDP growth strategy - being a shift from the Libs to an NDP which is finally seen as a contender for government based on its Quebec gains - will similarly change expectations across Canada as election day approaches.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted material for your long weekend reading.

- Elly Alboim shares some observations on what we can expect out of a surge like the NDP's ascent in Quebec:
More often than not, these sorts of break outs cannot be reversed. They represent a collective decision making process that sometimes builds on mounting evidence or sometimes catches media by surprise after events or debates — although this would represent a very slow reaction to a debate. There are notable exceptions like the PC’s beating back the resurgent Liberals in 1988 but they are rare.

Often, the final results overshoot the initial wave. Momentum builds and begins to sweep into ridings that most think are not in play. I’ve been involved in dozens of CBC projection meetings where seasoned political reporters say that it is inconceivable that certain ridings and personalities are (sic) safe. And they weren’t. Canada is littered with former cabinet ministers who never should have lost. Some examples: Roy Romanow fell to a gas station attendant in her 20s. In the same election, the CBC did not put a mobile in Grant Devine’s riding in order to save money because his Tories could not possibly win...

The numbers don’t lie. On today’s numbers (if they hold), the NDP would be competitive in more than 20 ridings, not the two to four people speculate about.

Many say that without a ground game, it will be hard to take the ridings that are within reach
. Ground game is important to identify and pull core and/or unmotivated voters. But voters know how to find polling stations and vote. In a wave where they are motivated, they manage to vote without being pulled by GOTV machines. The best example of this was the Rae Ontario win. At the time, the Ontario ballot did not even specify the party, so voters had to know who the candidates were. But NDP candidates won in ridings that had literally no ground game.
- And Josee Legault echoes the view that the first wave may only be the beginning:
While new polls will confirm, contradict or mitigate the NDP's sudden surge, there's another thing Duceppe must be worried about: that the numbers that came out this week, as much as they might be overestimating NDP support, could end up influencing still more Quebecers to give Jack Layton a try.
- Sam Norris at the Mace projects possible seat distributions, with predicted results of Con 131, NDP 81, and Lib 73.

- Which is why Michael Hollett is right to trumpet the ability of progressive voters to back what they genuinely want rather than buying the Libs' spin that they don't have a choice:
We’re being told to vote for the Liberals when they haven’t made a compelling case for us to want to do it on their merits. The strategic voting clan only wants us to vote NDP when the Libs are a lock.

I’m just not that cynical, and I don’t believe elections are a math problem. Sometimes results don’t add up, but breakthroughs happen, and real change occasionally takes place.
Many Canadians who are newly supporting the NDP this election are energized and galvanizing around the one truly progressive party in this country that they can believe in rather than put up with.

If we spend the last two weeks of this campaign looking for progressive candidates we can trust and not getting hustled into empty choices we might all be surprised to find ourselves waking up to a Canada we can believe in, too, on May 3.
- Susan Riley touches on a point I'll expand on later in pairing a discussion of the NDP's breakthrough with a comment on our ability to decide the outcome of the election:
Most startling is news this week that Jack Layton’s NDP is leading the Bloc Québécois in Quebec (or was at press time), in two polls. Whether this surge is sustainable, or concentrated enough to produce new seats for the NDP, it is a head-turning and hard-won breakthrough. If it persists and spreads, it could change everything.

And it is largely to Jack Layton’s credit. Despite being hobbled, literally, by a hip fracture, and still recovering from his recent bout with prostate cancer, the NDP leader has campaigned with increasing vigour and more optimism than any of his rivals.
(T)oo much ink, time and breath has been wasted on strategic, or academic, or marginal issues — from coalition speculation, to mini-scandals, to seat projections, to “trust.”

Campaigns and media alike have nimbly avoided more pressing concerns like how we get out of Libya, soaring gasoline prices, the return of inflation, the cost and safety of nuclear energy, or the need for affordable prescription drugs — although these issues come up at rallies.

Maybe the silence is a confession of impotence.

Still, it isn’t too late for voters to take back the election: to ignore the trivial obsessions of the media, the fleeting judgments of polls and those cascading, self-cancelling attack ads.
- And finally, given Stephen Harper's track record in issuing flat denials, does his response to Dimitri Soudas' alleged political interference in the Montreal Port Authority make it more or less likely that Soudas actually did interfere?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yes we can

The NDP's latest, purely positive ad nicely captures the campaign's momentum in the final week and a half before the election:

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Joel-Denis Bellavance notes another noteworthy piece of the latest Quebec polling, as CROP shows the NDP's recently-increased support as being no less solid than that for any other party:
Mieux encore, les appuis au NPD se solidifient. Pas moins de 77% des personnes sondées qui comptent appuyer les troupes de Jack Layton ont «certainement» l'intention d'aller voter le 2 mai, jour du scrutin. Les électeurs qui comptent appuyer le NPD sont plus mobilisés que ceux du Bloc québécois (75%) et autant que ceux qui comptent donner leur appui au Parti conservateur.

Enfin, Jack Layton domine outrageusement tous ses adversaires fédéralistes quand on demande aux répondants d'identifier quel chef de parti ferait le meilleur premier ministre. En effet, 38% des personnes sondées choisissent Jack Layton et seulement 11% optent pour le chef conservateur Stephen Harper et 8% jettent leur dévolu sur le chef libéral Michael Ignatieff.
- It's probably too late to make the difference I'd hoped for. But the Tyee fact-checks each of Stephen Harper's outraged declarations of "that's simply not true!" from the leader's debates - and finds that Harper flat-out lied about three, while declaring clarity on a muddled issue for the fourth.

- Craig McInnes asks when compromise became a dirty word. But the more appropriate question seems to me to be where compromise is a dirty word - and the answer seems to be among Kool-Aid-addled Cons, but far less of the general public than they think.

- Finally, Bruce Campbell issues a challenge to Canada's wealthiest 0.1% to stop putting their short-term interests above the long-term health of Canadian society.

SaskBlogs - Regina Tweetup

For those interested, Saskboy and yours truly will be stopping by the Riddell Centre for a Tweetup at 5:30 this afternoon. Feel free to stop by for a bit of a break from the election campaign - or at least a good nonpartisan chat about it.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Bryan Breguet crunches the numbers as to how today's Quebec polling projects into seats, coming up with the following results:

NDP: 31 (CROP), 32 (EKOS)
Bloc: 28 (CROP), 22 (EKOS)
Libs: 9 (CROP), 12 (EKOS)
Cons: 7 (CROP), 9 (EKOS)

Which nicely matches my rough estimate of the relative position of the NDP, Bloc and Libs. And will hopefully help the media to stop coupling polls showing the NDP at 36% with analysis suggesting that it's only in contention in six seats.

- David Climenhaga is right to note that the Harper Cons' constant set of attacks on the Libs has worked to the NDP's advantage. But it's worth noting that plenty of other attacks have had a similar effect too.

After all, the Bloc's attacks on Harper for two election cycles have ensured that the Cons couldn't win more than a handful of Quebec seats. And the attacks on the Cons by all parties have played into the NDP's "Ottawa is broken" narrative to help the party appeal to good-government voters.

So the real story is that while the rest of the parties figured the NDP could safely be ignored (allowing Layton to build popularity and the party to build trust on policy issues) only to be marginalized once election day drew closer, the actual campaign is proving otherwise.

- Munir Sheikh is the latest to point out how corporate tax cuts may merely transfer revenue from Canada to the U.S. rather than encouraging investment or economic growth anywhere.

- Michael Byers has apparently converted to the view that strategic voting does more harm than good.

- It isn't particularly news that the Cons relish the opportunity to poke organizations like Planned Parenthood in the eye for having the nerve to try to improve sexual health around the world. But I don't think there's much doubt they'd hoped to avoid having that reality surface during the campaign.

- Finally, Barbara Yaffe notes that both the Cons and Libs are focusing their campaigns mostly on scare tactics which don't seem to be working.

A growing movement

In case anybody was under the misapprehension that the NDP's growth was limited to Quebec, we now have our first poll showing the NDP alone in second place across Canada - in both voting intentions and seat projections:
The NDP has made its largest gains in Quebec, with an astonishing surge past the Bloc Quebecois in decided and leaning voter support, but the party has also moved up in British Columbia, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where a rise in support can turn into new House of Commons seats for the party.
Nationally, the survey gave the Conservative Party support from 36 per cent of decided and leaning voters, 25 per cent for the NDP, 23 per cent for the Liberal party, and six per cent each for the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois. A separate Forum Research analysis, based partly on ridings won and lost in the 2008 election, suggest the survey results would give the Conservatives 149 of the 308 Commons seats if an election were held today, with 71 seats for the NDP, 64 for the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois would have 24 seats.
In other words, all previous strategic-voting scaremongering is now becoming as wrong in fact as it is in principle - both because the NDP is finding itself in the strongest position to challenge the Cons across the country, and because it may have a stronger baseline of expected seats to build from. And the prospects for a major change for the better in Ottawa are growing by the day.

The endgame

There's still more positive polling news for the NDP, including two polls showing the party in first place in Quebec with up to 36% support. But it's worth taking a closer look at what we can expect as a result of that jump.

In Quebec, I've already noted that the Bloc's main line of defence against the NDP was a strategic voting argument which is now utterly obsolete. And with nowhere near enough time left in the campaign to mount a brand-new set of attacks on a popular party and leader, that means the main question for the balance of the campaign figures to be how many seats the Bloc's election-day machine can save from the NDP's rising tide.

On that front, the most obvious precedent doesn't figure to work in the Bloc's favour.

After all, the 2007 Quebec election saw the ADQ make a jump to 31% on election day, with little ground game to go along with that boost in popular support compared to the province's two historic governing parties. But it doesn't seem to have suffered from any major inefficiency in converting votes to seats, winning 41 seats to the PQ's 36 (with 28% of the vote) and the governing Libs' 48 (with 33%).

Granted, there would figure to be relatively limited overlap between the ADQ's voters and the NDP's. But the example still goes to show that the Bloc/PQ doesn't have any special ability to prevent a third party's popular support from turning into seats.

Which means that the list I posted this weekend now figures to serve only as the first wave of possible NDP wins in Quebec. And barring some major turnaround in the polls based on a last-gasp effort from the Bloc (keeping in mind that the NDP may yet have room to grow now that it's been legitimized as an option), the default expectation looks to be that the NDP will emerge on May 3 as the leading federal political party in Quebec.

And that has ramifications going far beyond Quebec's borders.

To start with, the prospect of the NDP passing the Bloc in Quebec alone sets up a far stronger chance that a post-election government can be formed from two national parties holding a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.

But then, the sudden shift in Quebec also changes the relative positioning of Canada's national parties. If the NDP goes from 13 seats behind the Libs in Quebec to (let's say) 20 seats ahead, then there's effectively no difference in the parties' national starting points even if one ignores the NDP's campaign gains so far.

And unlike the parties who are now scrambling to rewrite campaign scripts which relied on strategic voting to make the NDP go away, the NDP's campaign message that voters do have a choice beyond the Cons and Libs is only reinforced by the party's strength. Which means that the surge in Quebec should only encourage voters across the country to vote for what they really want, rather than settling for the lesser of any number of evils.

In sum, the rest of the campaign now looks to come down to two questions arising out of the NDP's gains in Quebec: whether anybody can counter the momentum within Quebec, and whether the NDP can build on it nationally. And there's plenty of reason for optimism that both answers will turn out in the NDP's favour.

Update: Alice has more.

Update II: And for anybody wondering if the NDP still has any upside in Quebec, here's part of Frank Graves' EKOS analysis:
In a stunning but very real development, the NDP has moved from a curious afterthought to front-runner in Quebec. The patterns are clear. Quebeckers not only pick the NPD as their first preference, but also showing a clear lean to the NDP as their preferred second choice. And this is a direct transfer from the Bloc, where the NDP continues to be the by far preferred second choice and destination of BQ defectors.
So even after pulling into first place, the NDP may still have more additional votes within reach than any other party. Stay tuned - there may be another couple of peaks left in NDP support in Quebec.

Update III: More from Graves:
What happens next is uncertain. While the NDP have grown, they have held on to a major advantage on second choice and now lead all parties by a large margin in terms of their theoretical ceiling (around 50 points).

The rising fortunes of the NDP have been largely at the expense of the Bloc in Quebec and the Green Party in English Canada.
Place your bet now as to how many seats the Star will declare to be in play if the NDP does reach 50% in Quebec. The over/under is 12.

[Edit: fixed typos.]

New column day

Here, on the importance of showing up.

For further reading, see the Globe and Mail's study on votes missed by MPs, as well as its coverage of the Cons' cone of silence. And for another example that I didn't include in the column, some selected posts on the Cons' stragglers during the 2009-2010 prorogation of Parliament.

Update: The NDP nicely times its own platform plank on MP attendance - though I'd argue that any standard should be set well above missing half of the votes in the House of Commons.

Update II: Janyce McGregor has more on the list of debate no-shows across Canada, with the Cons predictably well ahead of their competitors.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


In case there's any particular doubt why the Libs have changed the subject from health care, Ipsos Reid offers the strongest answer yet:
Forty-six per cent of likely voters said they trust Jack Layton and the NDP most to manage health care in Canada, according to a new poll by Ipsos Reid. Thirty per cent of respondents said Stephen Harper and the Conservative party were most trusted and 20 per cent reported trusting Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal party more.
Now, this isn't the first time the NDP has ranked ahead of the Libs on health care among other issues - so there should have been plenty of warning signs even before the Libs developed their campaign plan. But the new polling offers a rather compelling signal that any focus on health care by the Libs would play right into the NDP's hands - and that likely explains the Libs' flailing to try to drive the election campaign in yet another direction.

(Hint: However proud the Libs are that their leader is roughly as popular as the man they consider unfit for office, any attempt to build a cult of Iggy will run into similar problems.)

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Assorted material for your midweek reading.

- With market-based quackery being pushed yet again as a quick-fix "solution" for our health care system, Brian Topp reminds us what the most thorough look at the future of health care in Canada actually found:
Roy Romanow rejected the American model for health care. Not just because it produces grossly inferior health outcomes compared to public systems. But because American health care is simultaneously grossly expensive, with out-of-control annual cost increases.

It is also true that Mr. Romanow proposed that Canada's public health system be built on – with a catastrophic pharmacare program, homecare, and a move toward a “primary care” model – change paid for through a modest increase (compared to American growth rates) in federal transfers.

These steps would improve health services – by ensuring people can afford critical drugs; heal at home; and be dealt with as a person instead of as a transaction by the health system.

These steps would also control costs in the public health system. Using the public system's power as a group buyer to hold down the spiraling costs of pharmaceuticals. Getting people out of crowded hospitals (the fundamental solution to crowded emergency rooms). And evolving toward a better model to compensate health providers.
- I'd like to think Douglas Bell is right in his view that Stephen Harper won't succeed in demanding an electoral do-over if he falls short of a majority. But I'd much sooner put money down on Paul Wells' take that there's going to be just as much of a fight after the election as during the campaign.

- Dan Gardner compares the Libs' dilemma to that of WWI-era Germany in being squeezed by strong rivals on each side. But I'd think that analogy only further exposes their folly in declining to try to turn one into an ally.

- Cliff nicely defines why many NDP voters don't have any interest in the Libs' invitation to fold for the greater glory of Michael Ignatieff:
To the casual observer, or the observer deliberately avoiding the details - liberals and social democrats may seem to have more in common than liberals and conservatives - but have you noticed that in provinces where the NDP is a legitimate, even default governing option that the provincial 'liberals' and 'conservatives' have long since merged into default chamber of commerce conservative parties? Have you noticed that in the UK the two parties that felt their policies were most aligned to form a coalition were the 'liberals' and the 'conservatives'? You don't think the same thing would happen in Canada in a heartbeat if it ever looked like the NDP was becoming a viable governing option?

When we say 'Liberal/Tory, same old story' that isn't just a slogan, we New Democrats really do believe that on the really important issues particularly on economics and social spending there is no real daylight between Liberal and Tory policy books.

So pardon us if we look for an alternative to either the 'liberal' or 'conservative' wings of the single corporatist Bay Street Party presented to us as our only options. Pardon us if we fight for every seat where we have a chance - usually because the local progressives are tired of being wooed in an election and then pimped out as soon as the vaguely more progressive sounding corporatists who call themselves 'liberals' beat the vaguely 'conservative' sounding corporatists they agree more than disagree with.
- Finally, Dr. Dawg serves up a disturbing list of what the Cons consider to be normal.


It's been obvious for over two years that much of the election campaign we're now seeing would be spent discussing the Cons' attempts to fearmonger about the prospect of a coalition government. And I've pointed out before that the Libs' strategy - ranging from failing to defend the idea to outright ruling it out - is self-defeating in numerous ways: it abandons an opportunity to campaign from a lead position, suppresses any hope that a change of government is in sight, and allows Stephen Harper and his party to skate around what should be some damning history.

Now, we're seeing the absolute worst-case result for the Libs from their ill-fated choice - one that even I didn't see coming. But thankfully, it's actually the one that serves the interests of progressive Canadians the best.

The main explanation as to why the Libs weren't prepared to defend the idea of a coalition is that it would have provided progressive voters with a license to support the NDP as well or instead - resulting in the Libs failing to gain seats relative to the NDP even as both parties won enough to replace the Cons. And that was seen as unacceptable based on the Libs' usual position that they'd prefer to suppress the NDP and cling to their status as a default alternative rather than working on replacing Harper.

But a campaign focused on a widespread push in favour a coalition would have had some other consequences as well.

In particular, the Libs would have been able to point to the terms of the 2008 coalition agreement as a precedent for future discussion. That in turn would have led to pressure on Jack Layton and the NDP as to whether or not they'd be prepared to accept a Lib-led government. And based on the NDP's interest in seeing a change in government, the likely response would have ended up harnessing Layton's trust and popularity for a cause which would have seen the Liberals as the senior partner in a coalition.

But the Libs weren't interested in an alignment which would have allowed the NDP to join them in making gains. So instead, they foreclosed on any possibility that the NDP could serve as a junior coalition partner in the hope of snuffing the NDP out entirely - ensuring that the NDP would instead be evaluated in direct competition with the Libs.

Which hasn't exactly gone according to plan.

Not that the actual outcome should be too much of a surprise. After all, one could hardly expect that the NDP would answer the Libs' attacks by rolling over and playing dead - even if the strength of the NDP's response might go beyond what the Libs anticipated. And the combination of Jack Layton's personal popularity and a growing swell of NDP support in Quebec has been readily visible for years.

But the Libs once again counted on inertia to drive voters back into their camp if Harper was within reach of a majority - apparently without anticipating that the NDP might be able to build up enough strength to challenge them at levels where a majority isn't in sight.

And now, there's not much left in the Libs' arsenal for the balance of the campaign. They most certainly don't figure to gain any ground on the NDP from a policy platform which mostly reads as a pale imitation of NDP proposals, nor a health-care focus which ignores the fact that the NDP is more trusted on the issue. And even if the Cons do have another surge into majority territory left, it's going to be difficult for the Libs to argue that the NDP can't do at least as much to stem the tide.

Indeed, the Libs' best hope may yet be to flip-flop on their willingness to consider a coalition once again. But it seems more likely that they'll keep on bashing the strategic-voting drum as rhythmic accompaniment for their march to oblivion - and they can't be said to have earned anything but their just deserts in the process.

Wednesday Morning Links

Content goes here.

- Scott Stinson is the latest to note that the Libs' sudden concern for health care looks to have been fabricated solely for campaign consumption:
In the month of March, which ended with the dissolution of Parliament, the Liberal party asked many questions about tax rates, election financing and ethics. It asked questions about prisons, Bev Oda, the CBC and the Champlain Bridge. It asked questions about the environment, child care and fighter jets.

It did not ask any questions about health-care funding.

The same is true of February: zero questions about health care, save for a couple here and there that asked why the government wasn’t rushing to hold clinical trials for the controversial “Liberation” treatment for multiple sclerosis.

It’s a record that is tough to square with the Liberals’ newfound zeal for health care, the latest evidence of which was an announcement on Tuesday that former prime minster Jean Chrétien would join leader Michael Ignatieff on the campaign trail “as the Liberal team shares the Liberal commitment to protect universal public health care.” That statement came just a few hours after Bob Rae and two other Liberal candidates held a press conference in Ottawa to accuse the Conservatives of plotting to slash health-care funding in order to balance future budgets.

But if the Liberals had always intended to make this long-awaited election about health care, they sure took their sweet time getting around to it. The NDP asked at least 10 questions about health care in the House in the past few months, from the sanctity of the Canada Health Act to the need for drug coverage to, er, bedbugs.
The Liberal party position as the only champion of public health would be just a touch easier to buy if its platform included anything about long-term funding other than a mushy promise to be “at the table for Canadians” when negotiating an extension to the 2004 deal with the provinces. Quality would be improved, costs would be contained, pressure on families would be relieved. Possibly pixie dust would be involved.

Mr. Ignatieff has been Liberal leader for more than two years, and he’s never said much about long-term health-care funding until now. But it seems to be the message he has chosen to try to revive a waning campaign. The question is, is it too late for the defibrillator?
- The Star calls for an end to the treatment of elected MPs like potted plants:
MPs of all political stripes ought to stand up for themselves – and, more importantly, their constituents. In a minority government situation, where a party needs each and every vote, MPs may find they have more power than they realize to effect the positive changes they feel they were elected to do. The parties – so eager to blame their rivals for turning Parliament into a gong show – should look themselves in the mirror. They need to examine how they choose candidates, and the kind of discipline they enforce once MPs get to Ottawa.
- Ho-hum, just another story about the public face of the Prime Minister's Office trying to arm-twist an independent organization into hiring the Cons' choice of chairs, then falsely denying that he so much as had any contact with the group involved. No need for ministerial responsibility here.

- Also, under-the-table cash payments to cleaners at 24 Sussex Drive. Move along, nothing to see here.

- Finally, Wheatsheaf points out the sad excuse for a response from Kelly Block when the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting asked about her position on funding the CBC:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Bagged cats.

Trop drole

The NDP has some fun with Jack Layton's popularity in Quebec:

On jiu-jitsu

Little noticed in Jack Layton's interview with Peter Mansbridge is a nifty little inoculation against the Libs' inevitable late-campaign strategy:
In an interview with CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, Layton said the difference between his NDP and the Liberals is that his rivals have been in power.

"They were [in power], and they broke their promises," Layton said. "We have yet to be in power. We're making some commitments, and we've got a strong record of delivering on what we say we're going to do in minority parliaments. And now we'd like the opportunity to do it as the leader of the governing party."
Needless to say, the Libs don't figure to have much left in their quiver other than to say it's pointless to vote for any other party based on their standing as a past government.

But Layton's message looks to nicely turn that contrast into a positive for the NDP - painting the Libs as part of the broken Ottawa which the NDP is looking to fix, while noting the upside of a party which can come to power with a clean slate. And that in turn only serves to complement Layton's challenge to any effort to narrow down voters' choices.

Not that it should be too much surprise that Layton has been able to develop an increasingly effective response to a tactic he's dealt with in four election cycles as NDP leader. But it's particularly noteworthy that he's going on the offensive in pointing to a new start as a plus for swing voters and for Canada - and that push may be just what the NDP needs to keeping building on its successful campaign so far.

Well said

April Reign responds to the Libs' attempts to artificially narrow our voting choices by making it clear what she wants to vote for:
I want to vote for a party that has a commitment to health care and the bona fides to go with it.

I want to vote for a party with a commitment to labour, to protecting pensions and with a vision to bring dignity and hope to the lives of the poor including poor seniors.

I want to vote for a party with a commitment to human rights, women’s rights and respect for the environment.

In short I want to vote for a leftist party, which Ignatieff says the Liberals are not.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- While there's plenty of reason for optimism that the NDP can win enough seats to make change for the better, there should never be any illusion that politics as usual will go down without a fight. Today's sad examples: Dr. Dawg slams the Libs for outing star NDP candidate Francoise Boivin (in a move which will hopefully produce enough backlash to put Boivin over the top), while Rick points out that Bob Rae is once again serving as the Libs' designated spoiler in ridings where they'd apparently prefer to see Con incumbents hang on against strong NDP challengers.

- In what should be a bigger story than it seems to have become so far, Marco Fortier points out that the Cons have tossed aside any requirement for experience or competence in order to permit religious-based charities to receive large amounts of federal money.

- There's plenty of good news in the vote mobs which are working to get students and other young Canadians voting. But Susan Delacourt points out that as per usual, there's plenty of work being done by less positive actors to suppress turnout as well:
Valeriote also says that people with Liberal signs on their lawns have been getting visits from volunteers identifying themselves as Conservative campaign workers, who are warning these would-be Liberal voters that voting for Michael Ignatieff will result in handing control of the country to Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe.

Like Volpe, Valeriote is saying that this is all part of a voter-suppression effort. Green Party leader Elizabeth May talked about this at the Star's editorial-board meeting a couple of weeks ago -- the nasty tactics may not drive any votes toward a particular party, but instead, disgust people enough about politics that they simply stay away from the ballot box on May 2. Much of the Liberals' whole campaign this time has been focused on boosting turnout, so these 12-year-old-kid pranks could be a real problem.

Then again, it all does give average citizens a glimpse of what's become business as usual in Ottawa in recent years.
- And finally, Alison clarifies what the Cons mean in saying they're "Here for Canada".

- Update: Also, what Rick Mercer said:

- Update II: I didn't liveblog last night's Palliser forum due to a lack of wireless reception. But I'll point out that one of the most impressive parts of Noah Evanchuk's perfomance was his consistent stand to the effect that all voices - including those opposing him - should be heard at the forum and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this fact check misses the mark on the same point in suggesting that it's somehow a failing for a couple of Libs to have not removed critical comments from their Facebook pages.

Too little, too late

Chantal Hebert notes that the Libs are once again changing messages in the middle of a campaign that isn't going their way. But the most important point is why their decision to take on the cause of health care now is likely to ring hollow:
For months prior to the campaign, the provinces and the many protagonists of the health-care system pushed for some statement of federal intent on post-2014 medicare funding.

In response to this flurry of behind-the-scenes activity, the NDP raised the issue a number of times in question period since the new year. It did not make it once on the Liberal 2011 line-up.
So the health-care issue ultimately looks to reinforce the NDP's message that the Libs have been missing in action when it comes to the priorities of Canadians. And that can only help the effort to promote the NDP as the stronger defender of Canada's cherished public institutions.

Monday, April 18, 2011


One might think that facing the strongest challenge his party has faced from a national party in over a decade, Gilles Duceppe would develop at least some substantive argument against the party involved.

But one would be wrong.

In fact, Duceppe is only reinforcing the positive aspects of Jack Layton and the NDP while trying to make a flawed strategic voting argument. And it's not hard to see how that content-free response might make it all the easier for the NDP to turn its current popularity into an even bigger breakthrough than already seems possible.

Monday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- David Climenhaga critiques the questionable Star coverage given to Angus Reid's polling showing the NDP catching up to the Libs nationally:
(A)sk yourselves this: If a new poll had showed a huge surge in support for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, would reporters have "balanced" their stories by noting in the lead, "but their support could collapse by the time voters go to the polls"? Unlikely.

If the poll had shown a huge jump in support for Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals, would the Toronto Star have observed, "their support could collapse by the time voters go to the polls"? Impossible!
Plenty of voters, myself included, have voted strategically for Liberals when we preferred New Democrats because in the ridings where we lived the No. 3 party, whichever it was, didn't have a chance.

If the New Democrats are on the cusp of becoming the No. 2 party, it may in fact be the Liberals who see their support peeling off toward the NDP by the time voters go to the polls.

Count on it that if that possibility rears its head, the mainstream media -- and not just the perennially Liberal Toronto Star -- will pull out all the stops to prevent it from becoming reality.

So look for plenty of stories in the next few days like the Star's, full of qualifiers, hedges and explanations of why what you're seeing isn't really what you're seeing.

But who knows where that might lead? As Layton observed in the same story, "A lot of Canadians don't like to be told what to do, and so we're seeing a lot of enthusiasm on the ground."
- Alice points out how "strategic voting" sites play directly into the Cons' hands:
You would think that with all these sites ganging up on Conservative candidates, that party would be up in arms for fear of losing its shot at a majority, right?


To the contrary: they are gleeful, as evidenced by the fact that they have not said one peep about the three sites publicly since the campaign began.
If you didn't read my plea not to vote strategically in the last election, I urge you to take another look now. A vote "against" someone or something is a vote in favour of nothing. It gives no mandate to elected officials, creates all the wrong incentives for the politicians who are elected that way, and guarantees that Parliament will descend even further into the partisan barking we see there now. Indeed the perverse problems with the methodology itself have led respected website Democratic Space author Greg Morrow to stop publishing his "strategic voting guide" from previous elections.

In this election, read the platforms, watch the debates, take a measure of the leaders and the candidates, and vote your heart. If everyone did that, who knows what we might come up with together.
- Environmental Defence catalogues where Canada's federal parties stand on key environmental issues. Predictably, the answer from the Cons is "nowhere in sight".

- Douglas Bell suggests that the Libs may want to start making an election issue out of the treatment of G20 protesters. But I have to wonder whether anybody would be fooled by their suddenly raising the topic at the end of an election campaign when they've been perfectly happy to ignore it until now.

- Finally, Hugh Mackenzie highlights why there's no such thing as a tax cut which primarily helps the middle class - and notes what's really afoot when political parties pretend to offer that impossibility:
(T)ax cuts are presented as if they are some kind of magic key that benefits everyone equally. So in the current election campaign, the Conservatives are running on their tax cut platform as if it benefits everyone in the same way, when in fact the cuts are very tightly targeted to people who have enough disposable income to double their savings in their tax free savings accounts, or who have children in arts programs, or who are in a couple with one very high income earner and one very low (or no) income earner and when by far the biggest tax cut goes to corporations in the financial services and energy industries.

In the same vein, in the early 2000s, a smattering (of) broadly-based personal tax cuts masked a massive cut in corporate tax rates and a huge cut in capital gains taxes that stands as the single most regressive tax change in Canadian history.

Equally important, talking up tax cuts without coming clean about their impact on public services is profoundly dishonest. Every cut in public fiscal capacity results in cuts to public services that we depend on – services that a study by the CCPA estimated in 2006 were worth an average of $16,000 to every Canadian woman, man and child. To illustrate the point, that study found that if the Harper government had turned the money raised by 2 percentage points of the GST over to local governments to spend on local services instead of cutting the GST, 80% of Canadians would have been better off.

What that means is that, when you take into account what happens to public services as a result of tax cuts, there really isn’t such a thing as a middle-income friendly tax cut.

On room for growth

Sure, the latest party polling is great enough news for the NDP. But what may be even more noteworthy is the potential for even more improvement based on the leadership preferences also observed by Angus Reid:
The performance of NDP leader Jack Layton in the televised debates has led to the highest approval rating recorded by any Canadian federal politician in an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll over the past three years. Half of Canadians (50%) approve of the way Layton is doing his job.

One third of respondents approve of Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper (33%), while one-in-four feel the same way about both Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff (24%) and Green Party leader Elizabeth May (also 24%).

Layton’s momentum score stands at +26, with more than a third of Canadians (36%) saying that they now have an improved opinion of the NDP leader. The remaining contenders all posted negative momentum scores.

There is a virtual tie in the preferred Prime Minister question, with large proportions of Canadians choosing either Harper (28%) or Layton (27%) for the country’s top political job. Ignatieff is a distant third with 13 per cent, while Duceppe and May are in single digits.
Which means that the NDP isn't merely converting some of Layton's usual leadership advantage into temporary voting intentions.

Instead, it's improved both its party and leader scores by a substantial amount during the course of the campaign. And that means that there's room to grow even between the NDP's party scores and Layton's preferred Prime Minister number - which in turn can only raise the hopes that he'll reach that position by the end of the campaign.

Momentum building

Something's happening here:
An Angus Reid poll shows one quarter of Canadians say they would vote for the New Democrats, an increase of four percentage points since early this month.

That puts the party in a tie for second place with the Liberals, who are also at 25 per cent after seeing their support drop by two percentage points over the same period.
And here:
But the big winner from the debates in the short run is NDP Leader Jack Layton—at the expense of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his party, the Forum Research poll of 2,241 Canadians found.
The poll of voter preferences nationally for the four main parties and the Green Party showed the NDP was the only party to significantly gain ground since the results of the last Forum Research poll conducted April 5 and April 6, edging up to 22 per cent support from the 20 per cent in the earlier poll.
And even here:
A new poll, done exclusively for QMI Agency by Leger Marketing, shows that Layton and the NDP are the only party to win significant new support on the campaign trail in the last two weeks.

The party is now the preferred choice of 22% of voters, up from 18% two weeks ago.

"Both ends of the country are turning to Jack," said Leger's Christian Bourque.
Of course, all of the pollsters are quick to pair the NDP's gains with a declaration that they might not last until election day. But however tempted some respondents might be to shift their votes, they'll have absolutely no reason to do so when there's no meaningful advantage to doing so - which means that the NDP's effective parity with the Libs (paired with greater popularity on issues and in leadership) may offer exactly the right set of conditions for lasting change for the better.

On logical conclusions

Neil Reynolds' musings about how the Bloc could be offered the chance to form the government of Canada obviously don't have any real chance of coming to pass. But it's worth pointing out whose rhetoric would take Reynolds' scenario a step further.

After all, the Cons are trying to push Canadians to believe that the only party who can legitimately form government is the one who wins the most seats.

It's theoretically possible that the Bloc could be that party, as a near-sweep of Quebec combined with a relatively equal split among the four national parties could position Gilles Duceppe with the highest seat total. Which means that if Stephen Harper actually believed a word of his own rhetoric, he'd find himself supporting a Gilles Duceppe government for the sake of preserving the sanctity of "most seats wins".

In contrast, the reality-based line is that what matters is whether a party can win the support of a majority of the House of Commons. And on that front, any risk of a Bloc government fades away in a hurry - regardless of whether or not the opportunity is offered.

Which nicely contrasts how Canadians should view the requirements for a new government to be legitimate. Would we be forced to accept a Bloc government simply because it ends up on top of the party standings? Or would the national parties have any capacity at all to work on putting together an alternative?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On unifying campaigns

I haven't dealt with the B.C. NDP's leadership race on this blog to any meaningful extent. But it's great to see that Adrian Dix has earned a close win to lead the charge toward a new NDP government in 2013. So congratulations to all of the candidates and campaigns - and I'll look forward to the party's direction as it works on cleaning up the wreckage of the Campbell Libs.

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your weekend.

- Ralph Surette nicely summarizes the Cons' economic plan for Canada - and the less opportunity they have to focus on forcing it on the country, the better:
(D)espite the huge wealth of its oil boom, the Alberta government is all but bust: deficits in the billions, schools and hospitals being cut back to pinch pennies, inadequate infrastructure, and accumulated oil money from the past being depleted to pay the bills. All this is the result of basically giving it away to oil companies — in the middle of a resources boom!

Someone sent me a link to a B.C. online investigative magazine called The Tyee which interviewed Allan Warrack, a minister from the Peter Lougheed government of 40 years ago when plans were laid down to preserve Alberta’s oil wealth for future generations, and to diversify the economy. He says the province is now being run like a "banana republic" for failing to extract fair rents from its resources; the Alberta Heritage Fund which he helped set up hasn’t had a cent added since 1987; and a huge legacy of environmental "carnage" is building up with no money to fix it. Worse, the economy has not diversified, having become even more dependent on oil.

Even a $300-million fund for medical research, set up in 1980 to attract scientific talent to the province, has been shut down, despite its arm’s-length status and the fact that its endowment had grown to $825 million. "It’s hard for me not to fly into a rage when I recount what happened," says Warrack.

This is the "vision" that’s playing out for Canada on a larger scale: an increasingly resource-dependent economy with its booms and busts, massive giveaways to oil and mining companies (including tax cuts), environmental controls out the window, the dollar up and down, and manufacturing taking hit after hit. And no plan for tomorrow, except to seek more resources jobs with ever more corporate giveaways as our manufacturing shrivels, thanks to a high and volatile dollar.
- Which fits nicely James Laxer's list of differences between the Cons' plans and what Canadians actually want:
Canadians list health care and jobs as their top priorities. Harper’s leading issues are: corporate tax cuts, crime, jet fighters, deficit reduction, and income splitting. A Fortress North America security deal with the United States is very much on his to-do list. Further down the list is the privatization of CBC television and a much expanded role for religious organizations in the delivery of social policy.
Harper’s advice to young people looking for jobs will be to act eager, be polite, wish your customers a nice day, smile and don’t worry too much about the pay. (The Harper government actually has no job creation strategy, apart from lower corporate taxes. Their stimulus program----forced on them by the opposition----has expired. Now their strategy is to sell oil sands oil to the Americans and pray for economic recovery south of the border. Prayer is undoubtedly good for the soul, but only in business schools is it regarded as an economic policy.)
- So the best hope under a Con majority might be for Harper and company to be too imcompetent to carry out their plans. Though as pogge points out once again, that's a distinct possibility.

- But as kirbycairo notes, the issue with an economic and political system designed to disempower the public goes beyond the Cons alone, leading to an obvious prescription for change:
A century and a half ago republicans and leftist naively thought that universal suffrage would solve many of the problematic and exploitative aspects of capitalism because they thought that people would elect representatives who would act in their interests. The problem is, however, that over time, the rich and powerful trained their economists and technocrats to essentially convince people that they HAVE to choose certain kinds of economic policies and that a more cooperative society is simply impossible. As a result, much like war, many of the most exploited have been cheerleaders in their own exploitation.

But it is all a lie. A very large, elaborately constructed lie. All the wealth of a nation, of the world, comes from the labours of people who make things and grow things, not from people who push papers around. And if all those people decide to create a cooperative society in which 90% of the wealth isn't in the hands of 10% of the population, then that is precisely what they can do. We are many, they are few.

A friendly reminder

Needless to say, there's plenty of reason for confidence if the rest of the election campaign comes down to a contest as to who can best be trusted to strengthen Canada's health care system. But the Libs who are obsessed with replaying their same false grievances so thoroughly debunked in 2006 might want to be particularly careful about reminding Canadians what happened to cause their previous government to fall.

Let's not forget that when the NDP withdrew its support of the Martin government in 2005, it was over a single difference in priorities.

The NDP proposed to strengthen the Canada Health Act as its lone condition for supporting the government through the fall of that year.

And the Libs refused.

So if the question now is who has a track record of fighting for health care (and who's prepared to try to excuse doing nothing about it)...well, the more the Libs want to remind Canadians how they've been out of touch with the priorities of Canadians, the better.

Sunday Morning Links

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- No wonder the Cons have fought so hard to suppress their Statement of Operational Requirements for F-35 fighter jets. After all, who would want to have to justify leaving out the part about engines?

- For more on the passing of Allan Blakeney, you'll find Malcolm's take here.

- Memo to Jessica Earle and anybody else buying the spin that a cap-and-trade system is political poison in Quebec: you'll want to check whether your sources said the same about the Cons' promise of the exact same thing in 2008. And if not, then you're peddling partisan spin rather than meaningful analysis.

[Update: See Kate Heartfield for an example of how it's done. Though the words "blatant lie" might be necessary for a truly descriptive story.]

- Finally, Armine Yalnizyan rightly criticizes the cult of zero when it comes to corporate taxes:
Corporations benefit from public policy, public institutions and public services, without which profits would be far, far lower.

If the argument is that corporations should pay nothing for these privileges and benefits, it’s like saying they have rights but no responsibilities. And that flies against every principle of justice society holds dear.

A revolutionary war was fought and a nation was formed on the principle of “no taxation without representation”.

You can try, but any theory that suggests it is in the public interest for the most powerful entities in society to have representation without taxation is unlikely to pass the sniff test of democracy.
But while it's worth pointing out the extremes being demanding by the tax-slashing brigade, I'd think it's even more important to highlight the need for a real alternative.

After all, the main argument for perpetual corporate tax cuts is apparently that higher corporate tax rates in one jurisdiction might lead big businesses to shift their profits elsewhere to avoid it. But that does indeed lead to perpetually diminishing returns for every single jurisdiction competing for businesses.

That makes for a classic prisoner's dilemma which can only be solved through collective trust and action. So let's start pushing back with a call for to establish uniform corporate tax rates among the world's developed economies which eliminate the incentive to shift paper money around - lest the cult of zero otherwise make that the default rate.

[Edit: fixed wording.]