Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Musical interlude

EnMass - CQ

Leadership 2012 Candidate Profile - Niki Ashton

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


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

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


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

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

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

Key Indicator

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

Key Opponent

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

Plausible Outcomes

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

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

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

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

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

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

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Leadership 2012 Candidate Profile - Peggy Nash

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


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

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


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

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

Key Indicator

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

Key Opponent

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

Plausible Outcomes

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

[Edit: fixed wording.]

New column day

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

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parliament in Review: November 4, 2011

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

The Big Issue

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

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

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

In Brief

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

On top priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Festive cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your afternoon reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament in Review: November 3, 2011

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

The Big Issue

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

Operation Shutdown

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

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

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

In Brief

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

On developing reputations

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

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

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2011

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - December 26, 2011

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

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

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

2. Peggy Nash (2)

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

3. Brian Topp (3)

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

4. Paul Dewar (5)

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

5. Niki Ashton (4)

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

6. Romeo Saganash (6)

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

7. Nathan Cullen (7)

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

8. Martin Singh (8)

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

Monday Morning Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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