Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- About the only caveat I'll add to Jesse McLaren's election analysis is that the NDP's almost universally-improved position benefitted at least somewhat from the party starting behind the Cons who turned out to be the ultimate competition. But it's otherwise hard to disagree with McLaren's take:
The electoral map represents Parliamentary elections, but the main source of change happens between elections, driven by what happens outside Parliament. So to truly understand what has happened to people's consciousness between the past two elections we need to look at the shift in vote. From 2008-2011 the NDP gained votes in 293 of 308 ridings, had the same vote in 10 ridings, and only lost votes in five ridings (one in Newfoundland & Labrador, three in Nova Scotia and one in Ontario). This is better than any other party, and shows that the "orange wave" was truly pan-Canadian.
(T)he Harper majority is not based on a surge to the right, but a Liberal collapse. The corporate vote became concentrated in the Tories (who were endorsed by nearly every mainstream newspaper), while the real surge across the country was towards the NDP. This is an important step forward in quality as well as quantity. The aspirations of Quebec previously rooted in the corporate Bloc Quebecois, the "strategic voting" for the corporate Liberals to stop the corporate Tories, and the isolated "neither left nor right" politics of the Green Party have shifted to a pan-Canadian labour party with links to the antiwar and other social movements.
- Niki Ashton offers some good advice to the NDP MPs who have taken her place as the youngest representatives in Parliament:
Ashton said the NDP caucus is a welcoming place for young people, with colleagues often asking her what she thinks on a given issue — if she has not already told them. That is not always the case for the broader political sphere, especially Question Period, so Ashton advises her new caucus colleagues to stand their ground. “Absolutely you’re going to come up against a wall of discrimination or condescension or paternalism and you’ve got to push back,” said Ashton, who hopes the influx of youth to politics changes the tone. “You’ve got to call it for what it is and you’ve got to raise your voice a little louder and make sure they don’t silence you.”
- It shouldn't come as much surprise that the B.C. Liberals are once again looking to pull a fast one on their province when it comes to the HST. But it's much more shocking that this time they gave some advance warning - and I'd fully expect the latest bait and switch to ensure that an issue which has animated B.C. voters for the past two years remains live whenever the next provincial election takes place.

- Finally, Matt Taibbi has a must-read article on how the complete lack of accountability for Goldman Sachs' financial manipulations looks to be a test case as to whether or not the U.S. can be said to be even slightly governed by the rule of law as opposed to the rule of the wealthy.

On losing proposals

Jeffrey Simpson's latest column rightly recognizes the need for political parties to seek out voices beyond their elected MPs. But he seems to completely miss the point in his argument as to where that input can best be generated.

The problem is most visible in Simpson's oddly rhetorical question:
Every election, especially one with big voter swings, brings to Parliament dud MPs (and good ones, too) and sweeps out some excellent ones. It wasn’t the fault of many of the losing Liberal MPs that they were defeated; the political tides just ran strongly against them. With the best organized effort in the world, they were toast.

It wasn’t the fault of New Democrats that they didn’t win in New Brunswick or rural Western Canada, because the party is very weak in those parts. But the party needs input from those regions if it hopes to become a more national institution. Who better to provide it than former candidates?
Let's answer that question by asking one in return: aren't a party's weakest regions also bound to be the ones where it's most likely to have nominated paper candidates, or candidates who have relatively limited connections to the riding on the ground? In effect, while a forum for consulting defeated candidates might create an additional link to ridings with enough of an ongoing presence to already have a strong local candidate, it might serve only to further isolate the regions where there's actually the most need for input.

And what's worse, to the extent input might be based on the conditions as of the previous election date, a council dedicated to defeated candidates would only figure to exacerbate the tendency for parties to seek to re-fight the last campaign rather than getting prepared for the next one.

Which isn't to say that parties can't do more to get all kinds of people involved. And indeed, strengthened roles for locally-based riding associations would provide a forum for former candidates and other party supporters alike. But the answer surely isn't to give defeated candidates a privileged position over the rest of a party's activists and supporters - and I'd fully expect that a party which took up Simpson's suggestion would have plenty more defeated candidates to add to its list in future elections.

The strategic analysis

Earlier this week I put together a brief look at the effects (and failings) of strategic voting sites in the marginal seats from this month's election. But Alice has provided the definitive analysis of the sites' effect, with duly scathing critiques of both the effect of strategic voting generally...
I'm being told that the groups view their efforts as being a success, and that they're planning to repeat them all over ahead next time. Oh brother. I think we need to be really clear on their record in that case.

The problem with the strategic voting websites is that their electoral analysis was incompetent and utterly wrong in most of the ridings where it could be said to have mattered — leading to incorrect recommendations in many cases where it would have made a difference, and no recommendations in others that were overlooked.
The maddening thing about the seat projection sites and strategic voting campaigns, from the perspective of party riding campaigns, is that it was nearly all they wound up hearing about at the doorstep if they were one of the targeted seats, and the strategic voting canvasses also sucked up a lot of volunteer resources for fool's errands, taking them away from the actual candidates' campaigns.
The strategic voting campaigns also printed material that was distributed in the ridings (shown is an example from Edmonton Centre), leafleted people on their way into the subway (seen here), and conducted phone blasts in the days leading up to Election Day urging people to vote for the endorsed candidate as "the only way to stop Harper" (this happened in Brant), which detracted from the campaigns' ability to get their own vote out, as they parried numerous calls from confused voters.
...and particularly the one site which is trying to claim credit for some great accomplishment even in the face of its obvious failures in both assessing and converting opportunities to defeat Con candidates:
So, Project Democracy proved unable to rally sufficient voters to prevent 19 Conservative gains, completely missed the opportunity to even recommend strategic votes in 10 other cases where the Conservatives gained a seat, and got the recommendation right in just 8 cases where Conservatives were actually defeated, leaving 33 targeted Conservative MPs in place.

And the Conservatives were reelected with a majority government. No wonder they loved Project Democracy.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Musical interlude

Blue Rodeo - Better Off As We Are

Friday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to end your week.

- Yes, this is the right response to the inexplicable claim that the NDP's complement of new Quebec MPs will somehow affect its ability to represent constituents and interests from across Canada:
(Said Jack Layton,) "(i)n our last caucus, two-thirds of our caucus were from Ontario. And yet we worked as a national party across the board on the issues. And I think people respected that. Our view is that we are all Canadians and the goal here is to work together."

He said he will continue that approach now that he is leader of the official Opposition.

"Each region and aspect of the country has grievances sometimes with the centre, with Ottawa. We'll take those grievances up but we will also work in a spirit together to try to build a better country."
But it's also worth noting that the NDP's caucus boasts better geographic balance than, say, the Cons' 2004 equivalent - in which 61 of the party's 99 MPs came from B.C., Alberta or Saskatchewan (which collectively held 78 seats in the House of Commons). Which makes this just one more example of the NDP being held to standards never applied to any of its competitors.

- Sixth Estate points out that having been deceased for several years is no obstacle to serving as an editor for the Fraser Institute.

- While it's still outrageous that the details of a brand-new oil spill were hidden until after there was no risk that they'd affect the federal election, the previous few thousand oil spills from Alberta pipelines pointed out by Emma Pullman would seem to have offered more than enough reason to be wary of the environmental effects of the tar sands.

- Finally, in case Canada's asbestos industry (supported by the Harper Cons) wasn't enough of an international embarrassment already, the Daily Show picks up on the absurdity of promoting a product deemed unfit by the developed world.

Spot the pattern

Yes, the individual stories have been covered by plenty of others. But it's well worth taking a step back and noting the consistent theme coming out of Wikileaks' revelations about the Harper Cons as seen through the eyes of our closest international ally.

When it came to Copenhagen, Harper and company claimed both that the outcome was a major step in addressing climate change, and that they'd had some significant role in its coming to pass. But behind closed doors, Harper didn't want to be there at all (and didn't do much while he was).

When it came to Afghanistan, Harper continued to pretend through most of 2010 that he planned to stick to the promised 2011 pullout date. But behind closed doors, he promised NATO that his Canadian positioning was a lie - and indeed committed to a training extension as soon as the Libs gave him an opening. [Update: And at other times, even an extension to a combat mission was on the table even as Harper pretended otherwise.]

And when it came to Arctic relations, Harper has constantly pointed to Canadian sovereignty as an excuse for all kinds of military spending and posturing, particularly his government's stubborn insistence on buying F-35s no matter how implausible their price promises look. But behind closed doors, Harper made clear that he doesn't see defending our sovereignty as a serious issue.

So Harper has spent the better part of his time in office providing one message to Canadians in public, and another one to the international community in private. And all indications are that we're the ones getting played for fools when the truth comes out.

On issue identification

For all the talk about the NDP's surge to Official Opposition status being based primarily on Jack Layton's popularity, the reality is that there's much more to the upswing - including strong party-based issue identification that significantly predates any improvement in voting intentions. And in keeping with the lessons learned in 1988 about focusing too much on personality in a "big issue" election campaign, one of the challenges for the next four years will be to take ownership of as many issues as possible in building toward 2015.

And on that front, the first post-election push on pensions has been followed up by a concerted effort on ethics and accountability, featuring both a proposal to protect whistleblowers and an appeal for the Cons to follow through on releasing Afghan detainee documents.

Of course, there's no longer any ability to even theoretically compel the Cons to respond as long as they're prepared to stonewall. But the answer to "or else what?" is that if we don't see any action in the wake of a persistent opposition message, then the NDP to be able to take the upper ground in areas which have served the Cons well in the past. And if the party can build a strong enough connection to the issues where it's already managed to build a positive image, that will figure to benefit the NDP for a long time to come.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On splits

Ken Boessenkool and Brian Topp offer their own take on vote splits in the recent federal election. And they're absolutely right to note that the Libs appear to have been the main beneficiary in last week's election: in fact, the full list of ridings where a party won 50% or more of the vote includes only two Lib seats (both in Newfoundland).

That said, though, I'm not sure that the observation speaks to much more than the inherent relationship between a party's baseline support and its top riding results.

By way of comparison, the same list from 2008 includes only seven NDP seats to a handful more Lib ridings, while the list of ridings with the lowest winning share included numerous NDP seats - suggesting that there isn't a huge structural difference between the two parties in how many vote splits they rely on when their party support is in a similar range. And it stands to reason that as a party's national support level drops, it will have a more difficult time compiling massive margins of victory in any given seat - not to mention little incentive to fight for them if it's possible to win a plurality with less.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your midweek reading.

- There's one more addition to the list of growing influences on the political scene which seem to have responded positively to the NDP:
“That’s just the sheer reality of minority politics – people may not do these other activities that are worthwhile,” (Con MP Rod) Bruinooge said. “Perhaps we’ve found peace in our time and maybe it will make a difference in getting in touch with more aboriginal youth.”

They need to do more than that, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said. He called the rival NDP’s aboriginal policies “pretty progressive,” and urged MPs to come to the aid of 75,000 aboriginal Canadians with unsafe drinking water, commit to a gathering of first nations and Crown leaders, and back a summit on aboriginal energy and mining development.
- deBeauxOs points out the development in the recent election which should be seen as truly outrageous:
the critical story is the increasing use of US-style political dirty tricks exploited before and during election campaigns...

(I)t puzzles me that nobody in the purported *liberal* media has produced a thorough investigation of the MASSIVE amount of robo-calls deployed in specific ridings to deliberately irritate electors and to present false information.

It's been determined by tracing some of them to their source that most if not all originated with one US-based company. It is critical to establish who produced this carefully-crafted harassment campaign and how it was paid for.

Did #Contempt Party political operatives encourage supporters to fund this initiative and did they tell them to direct their financial contributions to a US-based company in order to evade the purview of Elections Canada?
- And Aaron Wherry rightly questions the tedious whining about on the NDP's new Quebec MPs compared to far broader issues in our political system:
Ms. Brousseau willingly put her name forward as the NDP candidate in a riding the NDP has never won. Her predecessor in Berthier-Maskinonge finished fourth—19,000 votes behind the winner—and spent just $1,358 on his campaign. Ms. Brosseau had, at the outset, almost no reasonable prospect of winning and, as noted, did nothing to improve her chances. One imagines that if the NDP had seen some reasonable expectation of victory in the riding, it would have found a more obviously qualified and committed candidate. And there seems to be some agreement that all parties allocate their candidates and resources depending on their chances of victory in particular ridings—ie. the major parties do not mount full (or at least equal) campaigns in all 308 ridings, but focus instead on the ridings they think they have the best chances of winning. Whether or not there are any candidates who failed even to visit their respective ridings, there are surely more than a few who mounted half-hearted or inadequate campaigns. The only difference is that Ms. Brosseau, quite inadvertently, won.

Is that better or worse than the various candidates who, counting on a riding’s traditional support for a particular party, avoided public forums and the like, comfortable in the knowledge that they would likely win anyway? Which is preferable: not bothering because you expect to lose or not bothering because you expect to win? Which more offensively mocks our democratic process?
(C)onsider Ms. Brosseau’s story from one more angle: What is the difference between a placeholder candidate who inadvertently wins office and a conscious candidate who campaigns to become a placeholder MP? Is Ms. Brosseau really that much different from the other names that appear on the ballot or is she just the most glaring manifestation of a system that has rendered the actual individuals running for office almost entirely irrelevant?
- Finally, the terms "reasonable", "Saskatchewan Party" and "labour relations" haven't often appeared anywhere near each other. But the Star Phoenix rightly notes how the Wall government has taken on a responsibility to ensure fair bargaining (which it's menifestly failing to meet):
After passing a far-reaching essential services law that requires, in some cases, for 100 per cent of employees to refrain from taking job action, the government is in essence asking that union members take a cut in their real wages.

And to drive its position home, the government has denied requests for binding arbitration, and provided out-of-scope employees with pay increases as high as 37 per cent along with additional benefits.
It makes eminent sense to enact legislation that prohibits the withdrawal of services by workers whose absence endangers the lives of Saskatchewan citizens. But in putting in place such a law the government then has a moral responsibility to act reasonably.
The government has the responsibility to strive for a fair contract, not leave the impression that it's at war with public servants. Ultimately, it will be the patients and taxpayers who are caught in the middle - and that is the most unSaskatchewan-like outcome imaginable.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The future coalition

In figuring out the likelihood that the NDP can keep up the momentum that's propelled it to official opposition status, one of the major questions figures to be whether votes last week will translate into additional support in the future. And there's more great news on that front: in addition to winning the support of 41% of recent immigrants, the NDP also nearly doubled its opponents when it came to attracting the youth vote (after a period of years where support had generally been split four ways among Canada's national parties).

Of course, there's plenty of work to be done from that starting point - both to turn one-time support into a long-term habit among voters in both groups, and to try to boost turnout among younger voters. But one would be hard-pressed to identify two sources of support which bode better for the NDP's chances of building on its 2011 success in the longer term.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats in cahoots.

By the skin of their teeth

As disastrous as the recent election results were for the Bloc, it's worth noting that they were nearly much worse. Here's the list of the closest races in the country - and it can't escape notice that three of the Bloc's four seats were won by less than 3% of the popular vote, with Richmond–Arthabaska ranking as the 12th-closest race in the country, Ahuntsic 15th, and Bas-Richelieu–Nicolet–Bécancour 31st. (In contrast, only two of the Bloc's losses were by 5 points or less, with the closest of those ranking 25th.)

Of course, we can fully expect matters to change in one direction or another by 2015. But it's surely worth noting that the Bloc's loss in seats didn't in fact reflect their losing a lot of close races - and in fact the party wasn't far from being reduced to a single seat in the House of Commons.

On strategic failures

Following up on this post, let's take a closer look at how the recommendations of the strategic voting sites which claimed to offer the only chance to stop Stephen Harper matched up with the list of ridings being pointed to as having given the Harper Cons their majority - looking both at whether the riding was correctly identified as one likely to affect the election outcome, and whether the strategic voting sites actually recommended that voters support the party with the best chance to defeat the Cons.

Riding Identified Correct Opponent
Labrador 0 0
Nipissing-Timiskaming 1 (PD) 1 (PD)
Bramalea-Gore-Malton 2 (CAW, PD) 0
Etobicoke Centre 0 0
Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar 3 3
Elmwood-Transcona 1 (C22) 1 (C22)
Montmagny-L'islet-Kamouraska-Riveire-du-Loup 2 (C22, PD) 0
Lotbiniere-Chutes-de-la-Chaudiere 1 (PD) 1 (PD)
Don Valley West 3 3
Mississauga East-Cooksville 0 0
Winnipeg South Centre 2 (CAW, PD) 2 (CAW, PD)
Yukon 0 0
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River 0 0
Palliser 3 3
Total 18 14

So what can we tell from the chart?

To start with, strategic voting sites did an absolutely woeful job of identifying the ridings which proved decisive. Given free rein to identify as many seats as they saw as justifying an endorsement, the sites had 40 total chances to identify which ridings could actually stop a Harper majority (allowing for the fact that the CAW seems to have avoided endorsing candidates in Quebec). And their success rate in doing so was less than 50%.

What's more, the fact that the sites recognized that a riding mattered didn't guarantee that they'd get it right, as two ridings saw the NDP emerge as the leading challenger to the Cons contrary to "strategic" recommendations. Which leaves the strategic voting sites with a total success rate of a measly 35% in making the correct recommendation for a riding which proved decisive (to go with an epic fail rate of 10% where they actually endorsed the wrong party).

In fact, as the election turned out, a simple "vote NDP" strategy would have resulted in the correct vote in more of the ultimate swing ridings than following the advice of strategic voting sites. (And indeed the same would have applied to a simple "vote Lib" strategy.)

Now, none of the above is to doubt the sincerity of those who put together the recommendations in the first place. But there should be less doubt than ever that the more important work is to be done in building a broader electoral movement, not in trying to game the electoral system.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- PLG rightly questions the sudden rush of stories proclaiming that since the NDP achieved unprecedented electoral success, it must have moved to the centre to do so (even while promoting many of the same policies it's backed for decades):
Just recently, I've seen a lot in the media about how Jack Layton has taken the NDP to the centre. But this is a narrative that accompanies his success. He made massive electoral gains, they conceive the votes as being at the centre, therefore if he's been successful he must have moved to the centre. They're certainly not going to say "Jack Layton successfully persuaded a large percentage of Canadian voters of the truth of more left wing ideas," or, "Many Canadian voters, disillusioned with the failure of the business approach to governance in the wake of major economic crises caused by that approach, looked to the left and Jack Layton for solutions". So, "Jack Layton moved to the centre" is the narrative they are left with. This is not all bad--if the meme is "Jack moved to the centre," then presumably the policies he led with are now officially respectable, centrist policies (even if a few months ago they definitely were not).
- Anthony eviscerates Denis Coderre's attempt to attack Ruth Ellen Brosseau's by pointing out that applying the same standard, Coderre himself would have been equally ineligible to have his name on the ballot. And if a court challenge goes ahead against Brosseau (particularly at the Libs' behest), hopefully the same will happen to Coderre.

But the ridiculous spin from other parties who collected their nomination signatures in exactly the same way also serves as a prime example of another phenomenon that matches the recent stories about paper candidates and discussions of monetary policy. Simply put, the regular practices of every political party in Canada are now being pointed to daily as reasons to criticize the NDP alone - which signals both that opponents have absolutely nothing reasonable basis to attack the party, but also that we can expect to be subjected to a far higher standard than mere historical governing parties.

- One would think that for all the talk about how the ability of businesses to operate globally as a major factor in economic policy, that same reality would be recognized in monitoring their activities. But when it comes to regulating what's routinely pointed to as Canada's most important industry, one would be wrong.

- Finally, Alice nicely sums up how the strategic voting sites set up for the past few Canadian elections have relied on obviously flawed assumptions.

Oh dear

The Cons describe what they're looking for in an Auditor General to replace Sheila Fraser (whose term ends this month):
Auditor General Sheila Fraser's term expires May 30, and sources say the Conservative government will announce her replacement by that date.
Last October, the government provided a clue of what it was seeking when it published a job notice for the position. It said the next auditor general must have "integrity, tact, and sound judgment", and be a "team player."

Moreover, it said the person must "possess a constructive approach" and have the capacity to anticipate the "implications" of their actions.
So the Cons want to make sure that the next Auditor General cares more about not making waves and fitting into the Harper messaging plan than actually holding anybody to account. We know where this is going, don't we?

Monday, May 09, 2011

On hiring practices

It's probably not surprising to see the NDP taking a look at staffers from defeated Bloc and Lib MPs to ensure that constituency offices have at least some experienced hands (while also allowing for some new blood). But it's a bit more noteworthy that at least one Lib MP is actively supporting that process:
NDP Whip Yvon Godin (Acadie-Bathurst, N.B.) said he sees nothing wrong with the recruits from Quebec, many with no experience in politics, hiring assistants from either Bloc Québécois, or Liberal ranks.

"It could happen that you take one of the other team, they have experience, and they work together with some other people," Mr. Godin told The Hill Times. "It's always a possibility, but it's not up to us to make that decision, the Members that hire the person, they have to live with that person."

The prospect of the NDP recruiting experienced Bloc Québécois staff in the vast majority of ridings the party swept in the province, rural and Québec City ridings outside Montreal and even within the city, could add to the difficulties the Liberal party faces as it attempts to rebuild with a base of only 34 seats in the House of Commons.
With the NDP in need of roughly 220 new political staffers to support its...Quebec caucus, Mr. Godin said the new MPs may turn to experienced Bloc Québécois staff, and, to an extent, Liberals looking for work in the Montreal area, as the NDP beefs up rapidly for the 41st Parliament. The first session could begin as early as May 30.
One of the seven Liberals in Quebec who survived the May 2 vote massacre, Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler, told The Hill Times the NDP should also reach out to Liberal assistants who will soon be out of work.

"I would like to think that they might look to some of the people from the Liberal party," Mr. Cotler said. "For example, Marlene Jennings [defeated by the NDP in Notre-Dame-de-Grace-Lachine] had a great executive assistant, why wouldn't the NDP say, 'Look, here's a good person, he could help out.'"

Mr. Cotler went further, saying he intends to contact Mr. Godin to make the case for the young Liberals now helping their former MPs pack up their offices, and offered his own assistance to the flood of New Democrats coming in.
Of course, it's natural that Cotler and other Libs would be concerned with making sure that the staffers they've come to know over the past few years would find another opportunity in the wake of a change in political winds. And Cotler deserves credit for making a public appeal to ease them into new positions.

But it surely can't escape notice that the recruitment of staffers from other parties may have a couple of other consequences: not only will they end up contributing their talents to the NDP's efforts leading up to the next federal election, but their arrival will also figure to build links between the parts of federal parties which have been under different umbrellas in the past. And both of those results would figure to strengthen the NDP's hand as it builds its Quebec presence over the next four years.

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Alice posts her scorecard for the 2011 election. And the NDP's overall results serve as a classic example of big changes overwhelming narrow-casting, as the party managed to make roughly equal gains in seats, 2nd-place finishes and rebate-eligible ridings despite the limited to non-existent overlap between the three measures of progress.

- It doesn't look to me like the numbers add up entirely. But Ipsos Reid's exit poll notes the striking breakdown of the NDP's support:
The New Democratic Party, which won 30.6 per cent of the popular vote, scored highest among recent immigrants, taking 41 per cent of the vote of newcomers who have been in Canada less than a decade.

But the Conservatives, who seized 39.6 per cent of the overall vote, won 43 per cent of immigrants who have been in the country longer than a decade.
In general, the Conservatives did slightly better among those born outside Canada (42 per cent) than those born in Canada (37 per cent).

The NDP was the only one of the three major parties to score higher than their popular vote among those born in Canada, winning 36 per cent of their ballots.

The left-leaning party captured 29 per cent among those born in another country.

The Liberals -who obtained 18.9 per cent of the national vote -did slightly better among foreign-born voters (22 per cent) and slightly poorer among the Canadian-born (15 per cent).
Which looks to me to signal that for all the talk about the Cons' ethnic outreach, it's the NDP which has actually built the strongest connections to communities of new immigrants. And at the same time, it also managed to both change the minds of many people who had voted for other parties (particularly the Libs) in the past to more than double their count among Canadian-born voters. All of which would seem to leave ample room for growth in 2015, particularly to the extent the NDP can follow the Cons' efforts in reaching out to longer-established immigrants through multi-language media and community development.

- Murray Dobbin asks whether the NDP needs to become the Liberals in order to match their past electoral success - which seems to me to be something less than clear given its second-choice support at its current ideological positioning. But I'll certainly endorse part of Dobbin's take on what civil society will need to do over the next four years (based on the real lesson to be learned from Bob Rae's tenure in Ontario):
Should those outside the party focus on keeping the pressure on the NDP to be true to its philosophy and Canadian values – doing what we can to counter the inevitable fire-storm of criticism the party as the official opposition, will face from the media? This is not really an option – it is a necessity. When Bob Rae won unexpectedly in Ontario, the left there – inexperienced with NDP governments – decided to implement a sort of honeymoon period during which time they did not criticize the government.

It was a fatal mistake. The media and business groups launched a merciless attack. What Bob Rae needed was thousands of unionists, anti-poverty activists, women and youth in the streets demanding progressive change – a force he could point to, to justify keeping his promises. But there was no one. While not wishing to give Rae a pass on his policy failures (backing away from public auto insurance being the biggest), the left helped drive him to the right by failing to demand he keep to the left.
- Don't worry pogge, I'm sure a Con majority will end the problem of reports showing the idiocy of their crime policies being suppressed by declining to have them written in the first place.

- Finally, Armine Yalnizyan talks about inequality and democracy:

Good problems to have

Paul Wells' latest chapter on the 2011 election includes an observation about the NDP's Quebec breakthrough which looks equally applicable to the road ahead:
Cédric Williams, a young researcher for the NDP in Ottawa, openly admitted the wave of popularity caught the party off guard. “We didn’t expect this. We’re not running full campaigns in all the ridings in Quebec. More and more people are calling to volunteer. The challenge is to organize it.

The big screen behind the stage showed the NDP’s Quebec slogan: “Travaillons ensemble,” work together, precisely the message the Angus Reid dial groups sent during the debates. Marc-André Viau, an NDP media spokesman, echoed the concern about the speed of the party’s rise. “It’s a challenge to put resources on the ground in the ridings where we have the best chance,” Viau said.
Fortunately, the NDP now has four years to work on organizing its new wave of Quebec support into the type of infrastructure which can win elections on the ground for years to come. And that greater capacity to channel public support into electoral results should work wonders in preserving and building on the gains which were made primarily through leadership appeal.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Post-Election Questions: The Greens

Seldom has a political party considered an election a success while posting a result like the Greens'. Elizabeth May's party lost 40% of its votes and vote share, fell by 60% in the number of seats where it ranked among the top two parties, and watched its vote share stay the same or decline in 294 out of 308 ridings - actually performing worse than the Libs by all of those standards.

That said, the Greens did succeed in their primary goal of getting May elected - and by an impressive margin at that, as May finished over 10% ahead of Gary Lunn in Saanich-Gulf Islands. But the election outcome raises a question made all the more difficult by the shifts among the other parties:

Just how much is one seat in Parliament worth?

The good news for the Greens is that the resources available to an MP should indeed make some difference in their ability to connect with Canadians. By earning a place which allows her to participate in Parliament, May has gained plenty of formal ability to play an active role in Canada's governance over the next four years. And the constituency funding available to all MPs will ensure the Greens will no longer need to absorb the cost of building a connection between May and her riding out of their own pocket.

Here's the bad news, though. While the Greens have managed to win at least the basic provisions for a single MP, the odds of their getting any more than that look remote at best.

At the moment, May is making a pitch that she ought to be allowed to sit on committees, take a regular place in question period, and generally hold the privileges of an official party in the House of Commons despite being well short of the number of MPs normally required for that status. And under some circumstances, she might have been able to make those types of arguments successfully.

But the Bloc's drop in seats complicates matters significantly.

After all, we now have a majority government whose recent campaign across most the country included regular declarations that Bloc MPs couldn't legitimately play a full role in governing Canada, and indeed some promises framed around an explicit desire to kill the Bloc as a party. So we most certainly can't expect the Cons to be willing to make any accommodations for a party which ranks ahead of the Greens in the standings.

That being the case, it would come as a major shock if the Cons are any more generous with May. Which means that she'll likely be limited to MP resources rather than winning any of the privileges normally associated with official parties.

And in the meantime, there will be plenty of rebuilding to do in order to push the Greens back toward the 2008 support levels which presented at least fighting chances in multiple seats - particularly now that the NDP seems to have won over at least some portion of the Greens' previous support.

So it's far from clear that the Greens will gain as much as they've been hoping from their first-ever election of an MP. And there's reason to wonder the Greens will be as happy with Monday's election result another cycle down the road.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Burning question

Postmedia has taken the time to provide a brief biography of the NDP's new MPs. And now that we're seeing the full list rather than the half-dozen most sensational examples, is there any serious doubt that the NDP's Quebec slate boasts a higher level of qualification for public office than, say, the Cons' prairie delegation of 51 MPs?

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Mother's Day reading...

- Orwell's Bastard issues a call to action for the next four years:
Liberal friends, it's time for some tough love. Those of you who want to stay all Bay Street friendly and do what you did for most of the the last four years and not alienate the corporate media, there's a party for you. It's called the Conservative Party. Those of you who want to embrace progressive principles, preserve what's left of the social safety net, and keep people who think like Charles McVety from criminalizing abortion and gay sex might want to work with Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Like it or not, for the next four years that's the NDP.

And once again, lest anyone think this little corner's gone all orange, that goes for New Democrats too. I'm willing to cut the rookies in your parliamentary caucus as much slack as reasonably practicable, as long as you remember an overarching strategic principle: effective opposition to the Harper government will have to have extra-parliamentary roots and focus. It's not pleasant, but it's a fact of life. Steve doesn't need your help or your consent. He's got a majority now.
We've got a lot of work ahead of us. It's going to be a long four years of engaging our fellow citizens and working to build bridges. We're going to have to reach out to our neighbours, including those who voted Conservative and those who stayed home, and we're going to have to talk to them without being condescending or retreating into truisms or lecturing them about civic duty.
- And it isn't just Canadian bloggers looking for that outcome, as the Guardian describes the role of the NDP in similar terms:
(H)aving conquered Quebec, the NPD is a true national party and Layton's rise is being compared to the journey of Aesop's tortoise. "I'll never forget in 2008 when Mr Layton started talking about applying for the job of prime minister," said his campaign architect, Brad Lavigne. "People said that is not credible, and we didn't care if the media thought it was credible. What we wanted to do was establish among the electorate that you have a leader here that you preferred. And you could vote for him locally to get him to that job."

Layton has an immediate agenda to start making trouble: a deal between the provincial government of Ontario and its public sector workers for a 3% pay rise – to the astonishment of the rest of the country, across which other groups will now demand parity, and probably back their claim with industrial action. As recession bites, Layton can flex his constituency's muscles.
- Meanwhile, Jim Stanford points out that the Cons' reassurances about a majority government somehow resulting in an instant economic boost have proven entirely false so far.

- Finally, Don Braid fleshes out the story of the largest Canadian oil spill in decades which was covered up until after Stephen Harper's PetroParty had been elected as a majority government:
(W)e certainly didn't hear the whole story Friday. The initial release said the leak involved "an undetermined volume of crude oil." It added that the oil was 300 metres from any flowing water or runoff, and that pipeline leaks are very rare in Alberta.

All very reassuring, you'll agree. We didn't learn the rest until 3: 07 p.m. Tuesday, when the ERCB issued another release saying, rather causally, that 28,000 barrels of oil had leaked.

That's the biggest oil spill in Alberta in 35 years. It's larger by nearly 10,000 barrels than the Enbridge pipeline spill in Michigan last July. That spill, you'll recall, was damaging enough to turn hostile American eyes on Alberta just after the mammoth BP Gulf blowout was capped.
New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley, who grew up in the area when her late dad, Grant Notley, was a local MLA, says she quickly started getting text messages from natives who were deeply concerned.

"I'm quite suspicious about the timing of all this," she says. "This was something significant enough to have a whole school shuttered Friday. It's really hard to imagine it took them four days to take somebody up there to assess what's going on.

"Either there's an unforgivable level of incompetence among the people responsible for regulation and health, or there were some political considerations about the timing, about when they would come clean about the extent of the breach."

Post-Election Questions: The Bloc

Susan Delacourt's big question about the Libs looks to apply even more strongly to the other party which saw its caucus decimated by the recent federal election. And that leads to my question as to where the Bloc goes from here:

Will sovereigntists see any value in rebuilding the Bloc as a federal party?

At the outset, I'll note that I don't doubt for a second that given enough effort, the Bloc can recover some of its presence in the House of Commons in future elections.

For all the spin about how the end of per-vote financing would be catastrophic for the Bloc, I don't see much indication that it couldn't fund-raise enough to keep going if it perceived the need to do so. And the PQ's election machine doesn't figure to stop being a substantial force anytime soon - meaning that there's a base of volunteers and supporters ready to be tapped into at any time.

But it remains to be seen whether those with the ability to rebuild the Bloc will see the task as anywhere close to a top priority.

After all, the downside of accessing the PQ's base of donors and volunteers is that it might sap energy which is seen as better applied on the provincial scene. And while the Bloc's normal contingent of dozens of MPs and seemingly guaranteed electoral victories has developed a cycle of support based on the self-interest of actual and prospective MPs, the current group of four members lacking party status nearly eliminates that incentive to maintain a federal party apparatus.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the combination of an anticipated PQ government in Quebec and a Harper government whose attempt to sell access for votes was thoroughly repudiated could make for the most combative relationship we've seen between Quebec and the federal government in ages. And that raises the possibility that the PQ's musings about a sovereignty referendum in the not-so-distant future might well come to pass.

That means that the Bloc's electoral wipeout offers an opportunity for serious evaluation of the long-discussed theory that its presence in Ottawa may only have diluted the sovereigntist movement by offering a less drastic outlet for the province's frustrations. And if the Bloc doesn't resurface in future elections, much of the reason figures to be that its supporters have decided their effort is best applied elsewhere.