Saturday, December 17, 2011

Musical interlude

Parker & Hanson - Aim High Shoot Low

Room for progressivity

Yes, I know some commentators are treating the latest from Kevin Milligan et al. as somehow proving a point that raising high-income tax levels won't accomplish anything. But I'd think one has to strain rather hard to draw such an interpretation from a column that includes the following:
What might an increase in taxes for the highest earners look like? Brian Topp, one of the front-running federal NDP leadership hopefuls, has recently proposed a new 35-per-cent federal tax bracket for those with incomes over $250,000. A new tax bracket like this wouldn't actually hit very many of us. Fewer than one per cent of us earn more than $250,000, and the tax on dollars earned under that threshold would not change. So, more than 99 per cent would see no change under this proposal. The combined federal-provincial top rate in B.C. would be 49.7 per cent instead of 43.7 per cent. This isn't out of line with other jurisdictions: the top rate in the U.K. is 50 per cent and the proposed top rate for 2012 in California is 46.3 per cent. For those with longer memories, the top rate in Canada 40 years ago in 1971 was 80 per cent.
Brian Topp assumes his proposed 35-per-cent federal rate would yield $3 billion in new revenues. Economists have fairly good estimates of how much revenue "slippage" we might expect for top earners, and these estimates suggest the additional revenue might slip down closer to $1.5 billion. These same estimates suggest that if we pushed the combined top tax rate too close to 60 per cent, higher taxes would stop yielding much new revenue at all.
So Milligan et al. see room to increase our current high-earner tax rates by upwards of 15 per cent of income before we'd approach the optimal level of public revenue. And that revenue would include not only the added $1.5 billion per year anticipated as part of Topp's plan, but the inflow from increasing the current rates substantially more (albeit with diminishing returns along the way).

So there looks to be ample room to increase taxes on those who can afford it most - and substantial returns to be generated in the process. And we should be eager to highlight those opportunities as the Cons try to tell Canadians that we can't afford anything but an era for austerity for everybody but the corporate sector.

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- No, there's no doubt that the Harper Cons' position on greenhouse gas emissions has been both amoral in its disregard for climate change, and ill-founded in its pretence that Alberta's failing "intensity" targets will do anything positive. Which makes it all the more sad that the position has carried some sway as a matter of politics even where it's failed miserably as policy.

- David Climenhaga points out how Canada's right has echoed the anti-immigrant nuttery and total disregard for human rights of Joe Arpaio.

- Kim Mackrael reports on the price tag for the Cons' dumb-on-crime strategy - featuring both massive hikes from the Cons' past spin, and yet another huge chunk of pointless costs imposes on Canada's provinces:
Tabled in response to a rebuke from former House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken in March, 2011, the documents offer partial estimates for the cost of more than a dozen law-and-order bills previously introduced by the Tories, including several that were bundled into the omnibus legislation this fall.

The section on changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which are now part of Bill C-10, offers a “mid-range projection” that the cost of keeping youth in custody will grow by about 33 per cent each year as more young offenders are put behind bars for longer periods.

Noting that it is “virtually impossible” to project actual increases, the document pegs the total cost of changes to legislation on young offenders at $717-million over a five-year period. It adds that the federal government would likely end up paying half of the price tag.

Federal officials have suggested recently that Bill C-10 in its entirety, which includes eight other previously introduced bills, will cost Ottawa $78.6-million over five years.
No estimates are provided in the documents on the added cost of new mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of drug offences and sexual offences against children. A bid to end house arrest for some crimes will have the greatest impact on provincial and territorial institutions, the documents state, but no estimates are provided.

Quebec’s Ministry of Public Security has estimated that Bill C-10 will cost the province an extra $294-million to $545-million to expand the province’s prisons and $40-million to $74-million every year to service the additional inmates.
- Finally, Thomas Walkom points out that Ontario looks like just the latest jurisdiction to impose an austerity cure that's worse than a temporary credit disease.

Friday, December 16, 2011

On reasonable standards

A quick thought on how Canadian pundits may want to evaluate how political parties do their jobs - which looks to be particularly relevant given the entirely justified criticisms being levelled at the Harper Cons.

In evaluating how a party handles any given issue, it might be worth taking a close look at what a party demands of its political opponents (either explicitly or implicitly), and asking whether that expectation can fit into a reasonable democratic system of government. If the answer is "no", then that serves as reason to question whether a party is participating as a good-faith actor in our political system - and if it's "yes", then it's worth avoiding lumping the party in with general systemic criticisms lest we end up with a false "they all do it" perception that only rewards the most unreasonable obstructionists.

And needless to say, the contrast this fall couldn't be much more stark.

The Cons have doubled down on demanding that the opposition parties cheerlead for them at every turn or be branded as anti-patriotic, while insisting that Parliament pass massive bills without debate or question. In contrast, the requests from opposition benches have generally been both modest and seemingly unobjectionable: enough time and information to meaningfully consider the effect of bills, and the occasional willingness to consider the legality and practical effect of particularly worrisome policies before ramming them down the public's throat.

So while it's worth pointing out that our political system is broken, it's also worth keeping the focus on the party determined to break it at every opportunity.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- pogge points out the Cons' suppression of news that a lack of running water on First Nations reserves facilitated the spread of H1N1 - offering a case in point as to both how neglect of social needs can carry widespread ramifications, and how little interest the Cons have in improving matters. But the story looks like another prime example as to how we could and should be doing better for people facing third-world conditions in our midst - as Dan Gardner rightly points out.

- Of course the Harper Cons' end-of-session spin is that their ramming through tons of legislation without meaningful review or debate somehow represents a positive change from having to pay attention to any factor other than their own partisan ends. But John Ivison, Jeffrey Simpson and Chris Selley all write from a common theme that the Cons' determination to shut down democratic discussion is the real story of this fall - and a sad testament to the state of Canadian politics under Harper.

- Ken Georgetti comments on the need for CPP reform rather than yet another set of "retirement security" plans which do nothing for anybody without tens of thousands of spare dollars to sock away - and a high tolerance for having their retirement fund siphoned off by the financial sector:
People can be forgiven for steering clear of the retirement savings industry. Market meltdowns have decimated portfolios no fewer than five times in the last two decades. Industry management fees and expenses are also a serious turnoff.

A Morningstar study published this year gives the Canadian mutual fund industry an F for having the highest fees among the 22 countries surveyed.

With a median total expense ratio of 2.31 per cent for an equity fund, Canadian investors can expect to lose more than half of their investment account balance to fees by the time they retire.
Fortunately, we have a pension plan that delivers secure, predictable retirement benefits at low-cost. Virtually all employed and self-employed Canadians already contribute to the CPP, which is fully portable and provides an inflation indexed lifetime retirement benefit to millions of retirees.

The CPP enjoys low costs on account of its large scale, efficient administration and professional governance, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board oversees a diversified and professionally managed fund on behalf of the plan. Benefits are paid for by contributions and investment income, not government tax revenues.

But CPP benefits were intentionally limited from the beginning to replace just 25 per cent of average pensionable earnings - ironically, to leave room for workplace pensions that employers are now deserting in droves. We could double future CPP benefits for today's young workers through a modest, phased-in increase in contributions over time. Those pundits who claim this would discourage hiring should remember that the CPP contribution rate rose fully 65 per cent between 1997 and 2003, when the unemployment rate fell to 7.6 per cent from 9.1 per cent.
We've got to get moving and improve the best features of the system we have - the CPP. That's what the finance ministers should commit to in Victoria.
- Finally, Skinny Dipper has set up a fully-ranked poll for the NDP's leadership campaign. I'd see the first-ballot numbers as more likely to indicate a focus on this particular poll rather than actual candidate strength, but the results look to be instructive as to where support turns on subsequent ballots. (And so far, Peggy Nash looks to be doing rather well on both fronts.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

So that's the trick

Apparently it took a community housing crisis for the Cons to finally commit to...building a school which Attawapiskat has desperately needed for years.

Which means that the housing problem too might be solved eventually - just as long as there's another even larger and more immediate disaster that the Cons are trying to paper over.

Update: Though as Dr. Dawg notes, the Cons have promised the school before - only to fail to follow through once the heat was off.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Thomas Walkom notes that based on the Cons' Kyoto embarrassment, Canada is now the odd man out on the world stage when it comes to climate change discussions:
(I)n terms of international efforts to curb global warming, Kyoto is the only serious game in town. It is the only effort that all nations except Canada and the U.S. (which never joined) can agree upon.

Its deliberate two-track strategy is the only way to draw newly industrial nations, like China, into a better and more comprehensive climate change treaty.
Kyoto lives. It is what it always was — necessary but not sufficient, a binding if virtually unenforceable first step on the way to a better climate change treaty.

Most other nations recognize its worth. Like Canada, Japan was not prepared to sign onto a second Kyoto round. But unlike Ottawa, Tokyo understands that scrapping the existing treaty can only reduce the world’s ability to negotiate a more comprehensive climate change pact — which is why it too, along with Britain, France and Germany, criticized Canada’s withdrawal.

Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out whether Canada’s Conservative government is venal or merely clueless. At times, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s approach to climate change appears venal: He really doesn’t seem to think global warming merits attention.

But Ottawa’s take on international relations also has a disturbingly feckless quality. Canada, which was determined to squelch Kyoto, misread the international mood. It now finds itself again the odd man out, the only nation in the world planning to withdraw from a treaty that virtually every other country thinks indispensable.
- Ossie Michelin points out that the housing crisis at Attawapiskat can be traced in no small part to exactly the type of dependence on corporate development that the Cons want to push on First Nations across the country.

- John Ivison is right to note that federal health care funding figures to be a major issue in the years to come. But he glosses over a rather important part of the story: most of Canada's provinces may (and by all rights should) push back hard against any plan sets a limit on federal contributions that bears no resemblance to actual anticipated costs, particularly if it directs more of that money where it's least needed.

- Finally, Romeo Saganash implores the Cons to stop their push toward regressive policies on copyright and other technological issues.

New column day

Here, on how both the city and the province are only exacerbating the Regina rental housing crisis that's been festering for years.

For further reading, see recent stories on the near-zero vacancy rate and skyrocketing prices in the rental market, as well as the City's response in focusing instead on office construction. And for some righteous indignation about the City's plan to open up the field for condo conversions, see Paul Dechene and James Brotheridge at the Prairie Dog.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On logical choices

One might read Kady's report on the Cons' efforts to move all committee business in camera - making many of the key actions of our elected representatives completely inaccessible to the public - and ask whether it wouldn't be easier to simply duct-tape the mouths of all MPs other than those approved to speak by the PMO.

But on further reflection, it should be obvious why the Cons might prefer this option. After all, even the most ardent Con mouthpiece could hardly blame opposition MPs for struggling free of duct tape. But a ludicrous set of rules dictating that nothing done to hold a government accountable can be discussed in public will give the Cons a shiny new set of process-based distractions to change the subject anytime the sad truth about their government leaks out.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Bruce Campbell comments on the link between rising inequality and declining democracy, while Rachel Mendleson notes that the erosion of workplace democracy and the labour movement is a key factor in both.

- Meanwhile, Erin points out that while decades of corporatist policy haven't done anything to improve productivity, the greater consumer demand from a better distribution of wealth might well help matters.

- pogge rightly questions why the CBC continues to trumpet Fraser Institute propaganda as newsworthy. But I wonder whether the answer is simply to turn the apparent incentives on their head: if the media indeed finds pre-packaged news irresistible and doesn't bother to present competing views, maybe we should start putting our critiques of astroturf organizations into a similarly media-friendly form to be similarly reported without question.

- Finally, is there any surprise that in the midst of constant admonitions that we need to harmonize (read: torch) laws between provinces and countries to the greatest extent possible, the one time our regulators want to strike out on their own is to increase the volatility of casino capitalism when the U.S. is looking to install some meaningful "circuit breakers"?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Movers at work.

Burning question

An even faintly ethical government, confronted with reprehensible behaviour that escapes any ramifications based merely on a technicality, might be expected to at least turn its mind to trying to fill in the gap.

Anybody want to take bets on who'll even waste their breath suggesting that the Cons could have enough interest in honest politics to consider the possibility?

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Yes, it's absolutely asinine that the Cons' attacks on Muslim women have been extended to denying citizenship based on a particular type of clothing. But after the Cons' repeated efforts to suppress veiled voting, we shouldn't expect anything less from them. And indeed the goal looks to be the same: having been rebuffed in their attemps to prevent citizens from voting while wearing burqas, the Cons have apparently decided instead to deny suffrage to a substantial group of immigrant women by decreeing that they're not allowed to become citizens in the first place.

Instead, let's focus on those who should know better - like Chris Selley, who somehow lauds Kenney for openly sending the message that we should debate which minorities to attack and how, rather than considering the possibility that maybe a government could focus on starting public policy discussions that don't involve gratuitous culture wars and the opening lines of of a "first they came for _______" parable.

- John Ibbitson comments on the Cons' unfortunate withdrawal from Kyoto:
The Harper government’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol tarnishes Canada before the world. Liberal and Conservative incompetence and mendacity are to blame. You and I are to blame. And Lehman Brothers had something to do with it as well.

It isn’t easy for a country to descend, in the space of a single decade, from crusader to pariah, as Canada has done on the environment. But our political leaders were up to the task.
The Conservative Prime Minister made no effort to hide his skepticism over the treaty and his determination not to allow carbon caps or carbon taxes to undermine the Canadian economy. Still, polls showed that most Canadians were deeply concerned about climate change and wanted the government to take action.

The first effort, in 2006, was such a mess that it cost Rona Ambrose her job as environment minister. After that, Mr. Harper took a personal interest in the matter, and that interest consisted of vetoing any meaningful action. The Conservatives were willing to take steps to reduce the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions, but not the actual level of emissions, which would have crimped the oil sands’ expansion plans.
Canada gave its word to the world. Canada broke its word. The final confession was as shameful as it was inevitable. No one should feel anything other than ashamed. Not the Conservatives, not the Liberals, not us.
- Which would surely come as a deep personal embarrassment to this fellow:

- At the same time, we shouldn't be surprised that as part of the Con/industry campaign to obstruct action on climate change, we've also seen tar sands operators backing off of whatever nominal effort it was once prepared to make to feign concern.

- But lest it appear there's no reason for optimism, Lawrence Martin places Niki Ashton at the forefront of a youthful brigade in Parliament, while Barbara Yaffe profiles Peggy Nash's leadership run.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Profile - Paul Dewar

From the moment his leadership campaign launched, Paul Dewar has been positioned as a compromise candidate. And prior to the first debate, it's arguable that none of the candidates had done more to improve their standing in the race. But there are now some open questions as to whether Dewar will be able to sail through the campaign unchallenged.


There are no doubts about Dewar's political pedigree or experience, with his extensive work in foreign affairs and endorsement from the ousted staff of Rights and Democracy looking like an especially promising basis for comparison to a government that's gone out of its way to embarrass Canada abroad.

Moreover, Dewar's campaign has been effective in turning his pluses into some of the most positive coverage the campaign has seen. And he seems to have impressed a decent number of members while making the rounds this fall.


But Dewar's middling performance in the first official debate points to a couple of potential pitfalls. Most obviously, his ability to communicate in French isn't up to par - and while it's within the realm of possibility that Dewar could improve over the course of the leadership campaign, it will take some substantial work to shake the first impression.

Equally importantly, though, the exchanges with Brian Topp that made for a headline story coming out of the first debate suggest that Dewar won't be able to come up the middle without being substantially tested by other candidates. And that means Dewar's campaign will face far more of a challenge in defending an "everybody's second choice" brand without alienating supporters of the candidates who are looking to attack it.

Key Indicator

Fortunately, it should be fairly easy to determine whether Dewar is succeeding in that task by taking a look at his net favourability ratings as the campaign progresses. Either a lack of positive impressions or an excess of negative ones could doom the compromise candidate strategy - while a generally positive view of Dewar figures to be the key to his overcoming any deficit he faces on early ballots.

Key Opponent

While I've pointed out that Dewar looks to be the key opponent for Topp, the converse doesn't look to be true. Instead, it's entirely plausible that Dewar could end up behind Topp on a couple of ballots then make his way to the front of the pack - as long as he can find his way ahead of Peggy Nash, whose supporters are likely to be fairly suspicious of Topp's pitch as a progressive spokesman if there's another alternative on the ballot.

Plausible Outcomes

Best-case: Later-ballot win as compromise candidate
Worst-case: Middle-of-the-pack finish as second-choice support doesn't materialize

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Evening Links

Assorted content for your evening reading.

- While I'm less than convinced about his desire to break down party loyalties, David Thompson highlights the need for progressives to fight back against decades of corporatist dominance in both political messaging and policy development:
To win over the long run, progressives will need, among other things, each of these three key elements. Policy wonks and activists will need to get outside of the mainstream comfort zone and articulate big ideas that can move the Overton window. They should not fret about whether their policy ideas will be "dismissed" as unthinkable, or that they may be seen as outliers in the political debate. That's their job.

Unions will need to ramp up funding of progressive thought and communication by orders of magnitude, supporting an infrastructure of success. They will need to get out of the comfort zone of immediate, short-term, bread-and-butter work; indeed their survival may require it.
Progressives involved in these three areas will need to understand their very different roles and strategies; they are not interchangeable. They will need to co-operate and be mutually supportive, however, which may prove challenging for some. Even more challenging is that they will be operating outside of their comfort zones. Anyone involved in a competitive field will confirm that's what it takes to win.

However, the big question remains: do progressives want to win? Some may prefer to lose and be honourable outsiders. It's certainly easier, and it won't upset anyone. For those who do want to win, there is much work to be done.
- Kathryn May proposes a "moral contract" between politicians and civil servants to ensure that public resources actually serve the public. But of course, the next time the Cons show any particular respect for either will be the first.

- Speaking of which, the Cons have wasted no time engaging in something they themselves know to be an unfortunate surprise.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk (in between his mandatory gratuitous slams at the NDP) expresses hope that Saskatchewan's new auditor general will help keep the Sask Party somewhat more honest than it's been to date.

Leadership 2012 - Policy Roundup 2

Following up on my earlier post, let's take a quick look at the policy proposals that have been unveiled by NDP leadership candidates over the last couple of weeks.

- Niki Ashton's plan for a more inclusive economy includes plenty of noteworthy ideas, including a direct attack on structural discrimination and engaging labour and other partners in economic development along with many of the same proposals emanating from most of the contenders. There's plenty of room to flesh out the details, but Ashton's plan should give her a strong base for discussion as the campaign progresses.

- Rather than heavily promoting his own policy ideas, Robert Chisholm is asking interested voters to submit, discuss and vote on their own policy suggestions alongside his proposals. And no matter where Chisholm ends up in the leadership campaign, that looks to be a fantastic precedent for the party to follow.

- Paul Dewar's proposal to reinstate per-vote electoral funding with a focus on promoting women's participation has been fairly well received among members so far. But I have to wonder whether the latter purpose undermines the best rationale for the former: per-vote funding serves as an alternative (however meager) to proportional representation in making sure that every vote counts equally in a substantive sense, while Dewar's proposal would eliminate that effect.

- As part of a concerted effort to paint himself as the leading choice for environmental voters, Thomas Mulcair launched his climate change proposal (PDF). But it's worth noting that Mulcair's focus also includes some obvious efforts to win over relative skeptics of climate-change action - featuring both a strong economic case for putting a price on carbon through a cap-and-trade system, and a promise that revenues will be reinvested in the regions where they originated.

- Peggy Nash unveiled her broad economic vision (PDF) including both stronger income security programs and a direct link between those and economic goals. And she followed that up with an announcement on her LGBT priorities.

- Finally, Martin Singh released his pharmacare plan (PDF), consisting of not only a national funding mechanism but also a Canada-wide formulary and tendering process.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- If you're only going to read one analytic take on the NDP leadership campaign, make it Alice's - featuring this take on Thomas Mulcair's strategy in cultivating later-ballot support:
I'm fairly sure I was privy to the exchange between Paul Wells and "Mulcair guy" or at least one very similar between "Mulcair guy" and some other opinion leader in the Ottawa press gallery after the first debate. But the spin I heard there, and from Mulcair operatives since then, leads me to believe they now have a very clear path to victory in mind. Namely: to build up the very clip-able Nathan Cullen in BC as a way of limiting Topp's base there, and energetic Niki Ashton on the prairies to likewise stymie Paul Dewar, and then benefit from both their support on subsequent ballots and/or the preferential ballot in advance. Mulcair's people will tell you that Cullen and Ashton are the only other two who showed any charisma in both languages. Coincidentally or not, the two of them showed up at Mulcair's post-debate party at Brixton's Pub last Sunday, rather than Topp's which was held in the opposite direction, and in Cullen's case in spite of his declared preference for Peggy Nash in the debate question on second choices, whose party was steps from the convention centre where the debate occurred.
But for those interested in discussing the race more, there's still plenty more on its way from this corner.

- Meanwhile, Thomas Walkom (in a column I missed during my brief hiatus at the start of the month) points out the subtle differences in economic messages between Brian Topp and Peggy Nash. But it's also worth noting another element of Nash's economic message which figures to resonate in the leadership race and beyond: more than any other candidate she's focused on the need for *stable* economic development, setting up a nice contrast between the right's preference for casino capitalism and the prospect of a more diverse and less crash-prone system.

- Gar Pardy points out that the latest U.S. border security agreement follows the all-too-familiar pattern of trading real sovereignty for vague promises of future economic access.

- Finally, John Ibbitson points out that our culture of political disengagement may have something to do with a lack of mediators between citizens and governments. But while Ibbitson focuses on groups outside politics, I'd note that part of the problem may lie in how at least some parties currently choose to practice politics - with particular emphasis on the Harper strategy of consolidating power within his own office by eliminating any competing voices or interests within his party.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

On eroding bases

It's far too early to declare anything decided as to what's going to happen in Canada's next federal election. But for anybody looking for an early indication as to whether or not we'll see a Bloc resurgence, about the only more clear sign than this...
The Bloc Québécois had held 47 of Quebec's 75 seats in the previous Parliament before its near-total wipeout.

Party membership has slumped since the election.

More than a quarter of the party's 53,000 members didn't renew their card and won't be able to vote for the next leader
is this:
Mr. Paillé, 61, was elected Sunday with less than 40 per cent of party members bothering to vote, a dismal participation rate that indicates the magnitude of the challenge he faces rebuilding a party that was not so long ago a formidable political force.
All of which suggests that the Bloc has gone from being the party with the most active federal base in Quebec, to one with a lower per-capita participation level than such regional powerhouses as, say, the NDP in Alberta. And if (as seems entirely likely) the NDP can overcome starting from a base twenty times lower to turn out more Quebec leadership voters than the Bloc, then there's plenty of reason for optimism that this year's federal election results were just the beginning of its success in the province.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- It's bad enough that what's passing for climate change discussion is an agreement to keep meeting for years on end that doesn't really advance matters any from the early '90s.

- But lest there be any doubt, the Cons aren't quite happy enough with the results of their obstructionism to be willing to live up to even the deal they describe as "fair and balanced":
"Canada has been clear that we would not undertake a second Kyoto commitment period. Nor will we devote scarce dollars to capitalize the new Green Climate Fund - part of the Durban agreement - until all major emitters accept legally binding reduction targets and transparent accounting of greenhouse gas inventory.
Anybody who can see the slightest difference between that direct statement that the Cons will ignore the Durban agreement and the Libs' lack of interest in living up to Kyoto from day one is invited to start spinning now.

- NPR tests whether anybody within the Republicans' much-touted group of "millionaire job creators" is willing to go on record saying that their taxes shouldn't be raised. And not surprisingly, nobody seems to want to take up the offer - while at least a few are entirely happy to pitch in a fairer share.

- Meanwhile, Eric Reguly highlights how Europe's embrace of gratuitous austerity is only making matters worse.

- Finally, Martin Regg Cohn has some valuable advice for Dalton McGuinty - which could well do wonders on the economic front as well as the political one:
The NDP’s suggestion: rather than give corporations a blank cheque, let’s reward them with specific tax credits for creating jobs. Boss, you were just saying the other day that setting targets is the best way to get results, so this is right down your alley.

You’re always saying, “there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.” This is the right time to recalibrate, because we’re hemorrhaging revenues with the depressed economic outlook. And we can truthfully tell business they’re still getting a good deal: “You have to talk about the entire bargain you’re getting.”

This is about fairness and optics, tactics and timing. And surviving. Enjoy the holiday, it won’t last long.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Profile - Nathan Cullen

Nathan Cullen was the third candidate to join the NDP's leadership race. And initially, he figured to be a strong contender to win over soft support within the party as the campaign progressed.


After all, Cullen's bio includes experience as a successful critic or committee chair on issues ranging from the environment to resources to ethics. In his home riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley, he's perfected a strategy of uniting the interest in protecting nature shared by hunters, fishers, First Nations citizens and environmentalists - offering a distinctive and potentially-effective template to build the NDP in rural areas. And he's a charismatic, tri-lingual speaker with a fairly strong profile developed over seven years as an MP.


But then there's the elephant in the room. Cullen chose to launch his leadership campaign with a call for pre-election cooperation with the Liberals. And the downside of that strategy has been obvious ever since, as plenty of NDP members who are fans of Cullen's other traits have moved him to the bottom of their rankings as a result.

So how can we tell whether Cullen can overcome that alienation of NDP members who don't see Liberal MPs as an acceptable substitute for building the party in 308 ridings?

Key Indicator

Well, there are a couple of constituencies who would seemingly offer some counterbalance to that effect, consisting of both some segment of the NDP's membership, and the nominally non-partisan groups who have launched "strategic" voting efforts in the past few election cycles. And their support is a must for Cullen.

But I'd think the clearest indicator for Cullen will involve his reaching one step further: in order to assemble the early-ballot support he needs to have a chance of emerging victorious, he'll need some organizational strength from other parties working in support of his cooperation strategy. With the possible exception of Elizabeth May, I wouldn't expect that to consist of public expressions of support - but if Cullen can't get some Lib MPs concerned about their seats to at least tacitly approve of their supporters joining the NDP to give Cullen a boost, then he doesn't seem to have much chance of positioning himself where he needs to in order to win the leadership.

Key Opponent

And that positioning will make for an awfully high hurdle, as the competing candidate whose supporters might most plausibly rally around Cullen is Thomas Mulcair - the presumptive favourite and former provincial Liberal cabinet minister (albeit in Quebec's radically different political dynamic) who's made his own appeal to look far beyond current party affiliations in building the NDP for the future. Based on that campaign strategy and his relatively centrist positioning, Mulcair's supporters look to be easily the most likely to consider choosing Cullen as a second choice. But it'll be a major surprise if Cullen can position himself to force them to move off their primary option.

Plausible Outcomes

Best-case: Late-ballot win based on unifying a nonpartisan "unite-the-left" movement
Worst-case: Middle- to bottom-tier finish as NDP activists reject pre-election deals