Saturday, March 03, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- The blogosphere is now out in force in chasing down new angles on Robocon. Dave pointed out that the misleading calls look to be linked to a "target seat management unit" set up by the Cons' central brain trust; Saskboy connected that same unit to familiar Harper apparatchik Ryan Sparrow; Sixth Estate both highlighted how the Cons' desperation has pushed them into several easily-disproved lines of spin and caught a Con donor trying to change the subject and sully the good name of Elections Canada all at once; and Alison neatly tied all the news together.

Meanwhile, one of Richard Nixon's co-conspirators declared the vote suppression scam to be worse than Watergate, with Susan Delacourt concurring; Scott Tracey noted the direct pressure the Cons' national campaign exerted in Guelph; Chantal Hebert tied Robocon into the Cons' greater disconnection from anything resembling what Canadians want out of our government; Nycole Turmel cited Robocon as just another example of a broken Ottawa which needs to be fixed by a progressive government which has respect rather than contempt for its citizens; and Gerald Caplan nicely summarized the real danger posed to Canadian democracy by the Cons' war-against-all-dissenters mindset.

- EKOS' latest poll shows the NDP holding in the high 20s - meaning that even without a permanent leader, the party is within the margin of error against a collapsing Con vote.

- SOS Crowns points out the latest example of how the Sask Party can't pretend to show interest in, say, renewable energy without setting up a nine-figure corporate giveaway which undermines the ability of the province's public sector to provides services.

- Jesse Brown notes the failure of Canada's ISPs to impose usage-based billing has only led to another attempt to use the CRTC's regulatory scheme as a means to ensure government-endorsed price-fixing at consumer expense.

- Finally, Rob Anders made news. No further comment necessary, though followup invariably only makes the story even better.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Musical interlude

Sophia May - Another Day

On non-factors

Having raised what I see as significant issues for Thomas Mulcair's NDP leadership campaign, I'll take a moment to contrast those against the trumped-up story that's become the latest shiny object to catch the media's attention in the race.

Simply put, we don't trust Con spin or leaks generally because we know them to be politically motivated and often easily disproven. And it's not hard to see the incentive involved in attacks on Mulcair - not merely to stop him from winning the leadership as suggested by Lawrence Martin, but to cultivate negative sentiment about him within the NDP to give the party a tougher path ahead regardless of what happens in the leadership campaign.

No matter what one's take on the leadership race, that's a result well worth avoiding. So let's make sure the rest of the leadership campaign focuses on how best to get the NDP working together - and not waste time echoing outside efforts to push us apart.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- In the last couple of days' worth of developments on Robocon, the Cons defaulted to their standard setting of admitting nothing and misleading about everything - though it's hard to see that strategy working out well given the amount of information that's already coming to light. Dan Arnold and Michael Harris considered the necessary ingredients to make the electoral fraud into a lasting scandal. Trish Hennessy ran some numbers on vote suppression. Andrew Coyne lamented the state of Canada's institutional accountability, while Chantal Hebert hopes Elections Canada can get to the bottom of the fraud. While the Cons' latest spin is that their national party (which is of course already an admitted electoral cheater) had nothing to do with the scheme, Harold Albrecht has already acknowledged otherwise when it came to false calls in his own riding. And Sixth Estate identifies the various parts of the Cons' vote suppression organization while rightly suggesting that we focus on full disclosure and investigation rather than getting caught up the prospect of by-elections.

- Meanwhile, Helene Buzzetti exposes a new incarnation of Conadscam, as Quebec ridings once again plowed tens of thousands of dollars of claimed election spending into they-can't-explain-what in an apparent effort to shift expenses down from the national level.

- Barbara Yaffe compares the Cons' no-price-is-too-high attitude toward prison spending with their miserly attitude toward Canadian seniors. Which is surely the kind of unflattering comparison the Cons want to shut down by hiding the books from Parliament and the public alike.

- If we were lacking for reasons to doubt the spin of corporate tax-slashers, Erin provides them with a particular focus on an attempt to keep racing to the bottom ahead of the United States.

- Finally, the main difference between Richard Evans and a good chunk of the right-wing noise machine is that he's foolish enough to connect the dots in combining eliminationist rhetoric with hatred for anybody who isn't in the tank for the oil industry. But it's well worth highlighting just what happens when the dirty truth manages to seep out.

Leadership 2012 - Preliminary Endorsement

I've run through a high-level analysis of the NDP's leadership candidates this week knowing that paper ballots are being mailed out, that online voting starts today, and that the leadership candidates will soon be racing to lock in as many votes as possible (with little focus on the down-ballot impacts on other candidates which may ultimately decide the campaign). And so there's not a moment to lose as I implore NDP members to...

1. Be Patient

Yes, the voting window is opening. But there's still plenty of time for additional developments in the race: the positioning of the candidates ranked 2nd through 5th still seems to be in flux, and there's plenty of reason to reserve judgment until we have as much information as possible as to exactly what our options are. (As a particularly interesting possibility, Alice notes that Romeo Saganash's name will be on the first ballot - making for a useful parking spot for any concerted effort at an outcome such as "Cullen minus joint nominations".)

Otherwise, the danger is that a reasonable explanation as to Thomas Mulcair's plans for the party or a compromise as to Nathan Cullen's joint nomination pitch might come too late, as enough votes are already locked in to push the outcome in another direction. Which is why I'll be waiting until convention to vote - and encouraging readers to do the same.

2. If You Must Vote Now...

(a) Rank Brian Topp 1st

I've come to the conclusion that Topp is the best of the candidates as matters stand now based on his obvious strengths in policy command and organizational acumen, as well as the progress he's made in his public presentation.

But equally importantly, even if he's indeed at the bottom of the second tier for the moment, a candidate who's written the book on how to make deals under fire looks like the best option to use his voting bloc to secure the best possible compromise outcome at the leadership convention. So if I had to vote today, it would be Topp leading the way.

(b) Rank Nathan Cullen over Thomas Mulcair

My two preferred outcomes actually involve one of these candidates winning after what would hopefully be considered a palatable change in course. But while there's no apparent prospect that Cullen will win an easy early-ballot victory, there's a real possibility that Mulcair might get exactly the sweeping mandate he's requesting rather than having to answer the concerns of other camps. And a stronger showing for Cullen will again improve the leverage of other candidates to secure compromises.

(c) Rank Paul Dewar over Peggy Nash

Finally, among the candidates perceived as compromise leaders (as distinct from strong candidates who may need to compromise on their mandate expectations), the choice comes down to a candidate whose weakness (Dewar's French) can be fixed, against one whose major flaw (Nash's difficulties under pressure) won't likely improve with time. And so I'll recommend putting Dewar ahead in the head-to-head matchup.

Again, though, my immediate preference is for as many members as possible to reserve enough judgment to be able to influence what the candidates see fit to offer as the campaign draws to a close.

New column day

Here, on the opportunities and limitations associated with the City of Regina's new open data portal.

For further reading, see David Eaves generally, but particularly his analysis of data licensing (where the City looks to have met rather well).

Leadership 2012 Candidate Analysis - Niki Ashton

Let's finish my series of relatively brief NDP leadership candidate evaluations with a look at Niki Ashton.

1. What direction will she set for the NDP?

There's plenty to like about Ashton's central themes of pursuing equality, engaging younger Canadians and non-voters and mounting a direct challenge to the Cons in the West: if anything, the "new politics" mantra she's repeated throughout the leadership campaign may undersell the significance of those plans. And Ashton can also point to a few of the campaign's more noteworthy policy proposals amidst a generally strong (if slightly inconsistent) platform.

2. How will she respond when pushed off course?

But the perception that Ashton has ranked below the top tier of candidates has kept her from being tested in the same way that the five main contenders have all had to answer pointed questions from each other. Which means that it's been difficult to add much to the information we already have on this point - which does include a noteworthy stand to vote according to her promise to constituents on a previous incarnation of gun registry legislation.

3. How do her personal traits affect her ability to reach the destination implied by the answer to question 1?

Ashton has been fairly effective in the debates and other public appearances throughout the campaign, and there's at least a reasonable prospect she could extend her appeal to the general public (particularly the groups she's targeted in her leadership campaign). But other than an unexpectedly strong performance in the first debate back in December she hasn't stood out within the field.


In retrospect, it's a shame that Ashton hasn't received more of an opportunity to show how she could compare and compete against the perceived upper-tier candidates - and she'd rank ahead of at least a couple of them if I were assembling a ballot today. But I can't go much further than that without more direct evidence as to how Ashton would handle the pressures of the leadership, and it doesn't look like there's time for that in advance of this month's vote.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leadership 2012 Candidate Analysis - Nathan Cullen

Nathan Cullen has managed to put together than some observers (myself included) expected when he first raised the idea of joint nominations as a campaign centrepiece - and all while emphasizing that controversial proposal. But has he overcome the initial concerns?

1. What direction will he set for the NDP?

Well, I'll have to mention the joint-nomination plan as by far my largest concern on this point - even if I don't plan to repeat myself as to the issues it raises. But the initial concerns are now compounded by a sense that Cullen is now sticking to the joint nomination idea as a matter of showing resolve - which doesn't entirely fit with his justification for the plan in the first place of considering different possibilities in the lead up to 2015.

Otherwise, Cullen has generally presented well-thought-out policies which combine a progressive populist message with ideas that can be pitched to a wider audience. But when priority #1 is as problematic as Cullen's, it's hard to consider this question to be anything other than a significant weakness.

2. How will he respond when pushed off course?

Which is a shame, since Cullen is one of the top contenders on both other fronts. He's spent nearly the entire campaign under fire due to the joint nomination proposal, if more by design than as a matter of surprise - and he's made about as strong a case as can be made for the plan in the face of tough criticism from the bulk of his competitors.

3. How do his personal traits affect his ability to reach the destination implied by the answer to question 1?

And the occasional question from the commentariat about his French aside (which seems an overblown concern based on his debate performances), Cullen has been stellar as a retail politician from the start of the race - combining a command of issues second only to Mulcair's with by far the best sense of humour among the contenders. So all else being equal, there's nobody in the race I'd expect to perform better as the face of the NDP if given the chance.


But Cullen is seeking a mandate for something other than a full focus on building the NDP. And while he's managed to win over substantially more members than I'd have thought possible, that's still a bridge too far from my standpoint.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The revelations just keep on coming in Robocon, to the point where the news of an offensively-named burner cellphone account used to leave fraudulent messages with Racknine has already been overtaken by more ridings and staffers being implicated - even as the Cons embarrass themselves with some of their least plausible talking points yet (along with a completely cavalier attitude toward electoral fraud).

- Meanwhile, Stephen Hume notes that the Cons' legitimacy is at stake - and rightly in question as long as they keep on hiding and distracting from the facts. Alison's post complements that point by noting how many close races were affected by Robocon. And Tim Harper wonders whether such crime simply turns off voters in keeping with the Cons' general goal of vote suppression - though I have to think this may be the point where they've crossed the line where Canadians may be encouraged to vote out of outrage.

- In other news, the Cons have officially confirmed (as if there was any doubt) that they think their desire to impose total message control is more important than any poor sap's job or ability to plan for the future.

- And they've also managed the brilliant trick of shutting down in-person job centres in favour of online processing at the same time that their online job bank is down - sending a similarly clear message to students as to how little interest the Cons have in connecting them to sorely-needed summer jobs.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Analysis - Paul Dewar

Paul Dewar has been the quintessential middle-of-the-pack candidate thus far in the NDP's leadership race, combining one obvious weakness with a strong organization and personal appeal to place himself within the second tier of contenders. So where will he place as the campaign draws to a close?

1. What direction will he set for the NDP?

As with most of the party's veteran MPs there's little doubt about Dewar's commitment to progressive principles, with his "more caring Canada" theme serving as a useful central message. And he's also been able to point to a relatively detailed plan to get the NDP organized from day one after the leadership convention.

But Dewar's policy offerings have been inconsistent at times, ranging from terse bullet points (see for example his urban strategy) to plans made up almost entirely of low-content aspirational language (see e.g. point 4 here) alongside his more thorough proposals.

2. How will he respond when pushed off course?

Dewar has been strong in dealing with challenges (subject to the language issues described below), notably by turning the somewhat controversial announcement of Charlie Angus as a provisional deputy leader into "Charlie envy" on the part of his competitors. And there's no reason to think he'd have any trouble responding similarly in a leadership capacity.

3. How do his personal traits affect his ability to reach the destination implied by the answer to question 1?

The obvious concern here is that Dewar's French is still a work in progress: he's been able to identify topics and provide effective basic statements with increasing ease, but still looks to be a long way from having the ability to process, analyze and speak to complex policy issues.

Otherwise, Dewar has shown plenty of personal appeal in own-event settings while becoming more comfortable with debate formats since the start of the campaign.


Dewar's strategy over the second half of the campaign has plainly been to try to push ahead of Brian Topp in order to position himself for later ballots. And based on the polling numbers available to date, he seems to have done fairly well on that front. But I have him falling just short of Topp on all three considerations - meaning that he'll place similarly on my ballot.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Analysis - Thomas Mulcair

Thomas Mulcair has held the pole position from day one of the NDP's leadership campaign, and only looks to have entrenched that status as the candidates behind him have focused largely on trying to make the final ballot.

1. What direction will he set for the NDP?

And that's much to Mulcair's benefit, as there's some significant reason for skepticism as to what he'd choose to do as leader of the NDP. On substantive policies he's mostly stuck to the contents of the party's 2011 platform, generally accompanied by messaging twists intended to make the policies sound like less significant changes than they ought to be. Which neatly fits Mulcair's "bring the centre to us" philosophy - but also risks falling into the trap in which a lack of anybody strongly pushing a progressive frame leads to a perpetual drift to the right.

Even more problematically, Mulcair has taken to talking regularly about substantially reshaping how the NDP operates - while being one of the few candidates who hasn't released a platform plank as to what his NDP would look like. Rob Silver notes the immediate ideological implications of Mulcair's call for a sweeping mandate to overhaul the NDP, but I'm equally concerned about the organizational ones: even if one doesn't think Mulcair himself is likely to substantially change the NDP's direction, a top-down structure which empowers the party's leader to exclusively define its priorities at the expense of members would create the conditions for full large-L Liberalization, with leader-driven factions rather than values defining the party.

2. How will he respond when pushed off course?

On the bright side for Mulcair, his political seasoning has been obvious throughout the leadership campaign. Mulcair hasn't only defended himself from challenges by competitors and outsiders alike, but has frequently made the attacks look silly: take for example his defusing in a matter of days a citizenship issue that dogged Stephane Dion for a substantial length of time.

3. How do his personal traits affect his ability to reach the destination implied by the answer to question 1?

Meanwhile, Mulcair's greatest advantage is the fact that he's the lone candidate who can point to actual status as a household name and political rock star (at least in Quebec), rather than merely projecting how the public might come to see him. And he's done little to suggest he'll have much trouble extending that reach across much of Canada if he gets the chance.


I'll hope to see Mulcair expand on his plans for the NDP over the next few weeks, and may well see him as the best option by the end of the race if he offers some reassurances that his plans to modernize the party mean updating and strengthening its values rather than making them subject to leader-driven control. For now, though, Mulcair seems to be asking too high a price for his obvious political skills - and so I can't put him at the top of my ballot.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tabled cats.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Analysis - Peggy Nash

From the start of the NDP's leadership campaign, I've been just one of many commentators anticipating a final ballot of Thomas Mulcair vs. Peggy Nash. But while Mulcair still looks like a safe bet, Nash is looking less so - and the factors at play in that assessment match my take on her as a candidate.

1. What direction will she set for the NDP?

Based on her longtime involvement with the NDP and the labour movement, Nash seems to have calculated that she doesn't need to prove her left-wing bona fides with appeals comparable to Brian Topp's call for higher taxes on the wealthy. And a result, her plans have actually played just as well in the press as with party members (though there's plenty to like in her party-building proposal as well).

Despite that strategic choice, I'd still classify her as the candidate who would figure to implement the most progressive policy program over the course of a term of majority government. And yes, I see that as a massive plus.

2. How will she respond when pushed off course?

But in order to have a chance to implement any of her policies, she'll need to show far better political instincts than she has in the course of the leadership campaign.

At times her difficulties have involved completely unforced errors - such as somehow mentioning the gun registry in response to a question on how to win in Western Canada. At others she's fallen into strategic traps set by opponents, such as Paul Dewar's question about user fees. And in many cases she's simply failed to adapt to circumstances; in the question periods of at least a couple of recent debates she's stuck to lines of questioning which merely duplicated in weaker terms what the candidate immediately before her had already asked.

But the common denominator has been regular difficulty in responding quickly to the types of immediate pressures that face a leader of the Official Opposition every day. And it's hard to see much prospect of improvement at this late stage of the leadership campaign.

3. How do her personal traits affect her ability to reach the destination implied by the answer to question 1?

Aside from that problem, Nash has acquitted herself well in the leadership campaign, addressing concerns about her ability to inspire a crowd while also making a conscious effort to run a more positive campaign than some of her competitors. And even when she's gone off course, her campaign has normally put matters back on track in fairly short order.


But it won't be so easy to make up for any questions about unsure political footing once a new leader faces a Con government eager to spread banana peels everywhere then run attack ads about a lack of balance. Which is why Nash has gone from being my initial first choice to near the bottom of my ballot - and why NDP members may need to tread carefully in approaching Nash's candidacy.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Leadership 2012 Candidate Analysis - Martin Singh

Let's turn to the second candidate to be reviewed as a contender for the NDP's leadership. Martin Singh still looks to trail most of his competitors in the leadership campaign, but has undoubtedly raised his profile both inside and outside the party. So what would we expect if he were leader?

1. What direction will he set for the NDP?

Singh hasn't had to answer many questions about his organizational philosophy. And so the main information we have on this point comes from his platform and debate messaging.

On that front, Singh has been quite clear that he's concerned about appealing to business with a particular focus on entrepreneurship, while building those interests into his other platform planks on health care and the environment. Which means that he ranks further to the right than any other candidate in his core message.

2. How will he respond when pushed off course?

And how we've heard that core message throughout the campaign. Singh gets credit for knowing what he wants to say and repeating it, but he's taken even the most basic questions on unrelated issues as an invitation to launch into his platform. Which means that we don't much know how he'd respond in substance to a serious challenge to position.

3. How do his personal traits affect his ability to reach the destination implied by the answer to question 1?

Singh has impressed some by holding his own in debates against far more experienced politicians, and his claimed membership numbers certainly look impressive as a measure of his ability to win over first-choice followers. But he hasn't stood out as a performer among the field of contenders, and wouldn't figure to have any particular advantage under this question either.


Singh has nicely laid out the groundwork for a future as a relatively centrist NDP MP. But based on his inexperience and the limited scope of his leadership campaign, it's likely for the best that he's in the lower tier of candidates for now.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Erin notes that the revenue gap being used as an excuse to demand massive cuts in Ontario is nearly entirely closed with a more plausible set of underlying assumptions and projections - and that's without taking the look at revenue which was omitted from Don Drummond's mandate.

- thwap points out that Canadians need to highlight the importance of Robocon to make sure it leads to lasting consequences for the party which sees fraud as a valuable strategic tool. Which means it's well worth noting the followup reporting from Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor, the repentance of Victor Pocaterra, and new columns from Barbara Yaffe, Warren Kinsella, Chantal Hebert, Dan Gardner, the Calgary Herald and the Telegram. And even the dissenting voices of Nik Nanos and Colin Horgan questioning how voters will respond may make for a useful discussion as to whether Canadians will and should be outraged.

- Meanwhile, those looking to tie Robocon into larger issues of human nature will find some perfectly-timed reporting on the link between greed, unethical behaviour and wealth inequality.

- Bruce Cox opines that dissent is a vital part of democracy - rather than a bug to be crushed as the Cons seem to believe.

- Finally, Rights and Democracy hasn't gone away - and Paul Wells notes that the same issues he so carefully addresses over the past couple of years are now reported to have been equally obvious to the Cons for some time before that.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Analysis - Brian Topp

As promised, let's take a look at each of the NDP's leadership candidates through the lens of my three basic considerations - starting in reverse alphabetical order with Brian Topp.

1. What direction will he set for the NDP?

Topp has been more clear than any other candidate in the leadership race as to the basic set of values he'll apply, with equality presented as the core goal. And while his policies aren't always the most detailed, they nicely fuse that core value with a healthy dose of objection to the unfairness of the status quo.

If there's any reason for concern on this point, it has less to do with Topp's current policy message than the question of whether he'll follow the pattern of spending more time repairing the federal fiscal framework than using it to achieve the goal of greater equality. But on the balance this looks to be a strength.

2. How will he respond when pushed off course?

And not surprisingly, Topp has lived up to his billing as a strategist by handling controversy well throughout the leadership campaign. He's met flawed calls from his own campaign with genuine denunciation, and defused questions both fair (as to his plans to win a seat in Parliament) and unfair (as to whether his desire for fairer taxes should be treated as harming charities) - all while taking little time to pivot back to his own intended message track.

3. How do his personal traits affect his ability to reach the destination implied by the answer to question 1?

This of course is the big question for Topp. I'm far from convinced of Paul Wells' theory that charm can be learned or swept aside as a consideration for the NDP. And even if it can be improved with time, Topp figures to need the better part of the lead-up to 2015 to approach the profile and HOAG factor of a couple of his competitors - particularly if he faces the Cons' attack machine while trying to train up to the role.

But Topp has improved his camera presence during the course of the leadership campaign, suggesting that there's room for some growth.


I'd still consider the ideal role for Topp to be that of strategic second-in-command alongside a more charismatic leader. But in a campaign where most of the candidates who fit that bill seem skeptical of Topp's direction, such an outcome may not be an option. And Topp has a plausible path to the leadership if he can convince NDP members to put values over charm - at least for now.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- In the surest sign yet that the Robocon scandal involved a calculated decision by political operatives rather than having anything to do with mere overzealous volunteers, the Star reports that call centre staff hired by the Cons to perform live calling actually tried to correct the false information supplied to them by the party. [Update: And Susan Delacourt rightly zeroes in on the script as a major piece of the puzzle.] Meanwhile, Exigenomicon distinguishes between the two scams at play; Scott wonders whether there's any prospect of outright dismissing Stephen Harper from office; the Star, John Ibbitson and Michael Den Tandt all say that however much Harper tried to insulate himself from the fraud itself, he'll bear full responsibility if he tries in the slightest to cover up or deflect from the scandal; and Lawrence Martin fits the electoral fraud in with the Cons' pattern of behaviour.

- Meanwhile, the revelation that the Cons may not have won a valid mandate in the first place should surely lead to far more question about their legitimacy in trying to ram harmful legislation through Parliament. And Danny Graham suggests that their omnibus dumb-on-crime bill would be a great place to start with some serious debate.

- Michael Geist points out that online surveillance involves some intersection between a government which wants to be able to intrude on citizens' privacy without accountability, and private-sector profiteers who see the potential to make money off of state-mandated snooping. Which is just one more reason we should be glad to know the Cons are running scared on the issue.

- Finally, Michael Marin and Anouk Dey note that greater equality serves as an important part of encouraging the education and innovation that all parties see as necessary to our future economic development. And Ricardo Fernholz and Robert Fernholz contemplate the need for ongoing equalization to counteract a natural tendency toward the concentration of wealth.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to close out your weekend.

- Erica Alini points out that the effect of the Cons' lobbying on behalf of the tar sands has been solely to make sure that the absolute worst polluters force the public to pay the cost of their activities, as anybody actually operating cleanly in the oil sands would actually have a competitive advantage under the European Union's proposal which is now temporarily on hold:
(T)he basic message from Brussels is one we should listen to. The oilsands are, after all, a dirtier kind of fuel feedstock and we’d probably be doing a lot better in our global PR crusade if we had made more of an effort to make Alberta’s oil cleaner. Besides, the FDQ, as currently formulated, contains a clause that allows oilsand producers to obtain a lower-carbon fuel label if they can show that their emission performance is actually below the default value associated with their feedstock type, notes Pembina’s Jennifer Grant. Some of Alberta’s producers may already qualify for this.
- Others have already responded to last week's trial balloon by noting the fundamental unfairness involved in charging more taxes on poor Canadians in order to hand out yet more free money to the rich. But there's another aspect to the assumptions underlying the theory as well: in effect, that it's not worth anybody's time to try to figure out how to make fairer taxes work, such that tax policy should be based almost entirely on ease of enforcement (which will of course mean wringing as much as possible from people who can't afford to plan around tax changes rather than pursuing anything even faintly linked to principles of justice or fairness).

- Which leads nicely to Susan Delacourt's take on Robocon highlights the fact that the Cons' political success rests almost entirely on the assumption that voters are easily turned off of the political process - highlighting the need to make sure that assumption won't hold up:
"Voter suppression" is the alleged purpose of the calls. The idea was that if you phoned people, told them the voting location had changed, they'd just decide it was too much of a hassle to go and cast a ballot. Think about that for a second. To pull this off with any success, you had to count on people being so lazy, busy or disengaged that they'd throw away their democratic franchise because of a minor inconvenience. Cynical? Or just realistic? Voting, the most basic act of our democracy, rests on the idea that people will make a physical effort to participate. Someone (or many someones) calculated that the prospect of even slightly more effort would kill voter motivation. That's kind of insulting, actually. Not as insulting as calling people child pornographers, I guess, but still a rather minimalist view of the Canadian public -- as robots, easily reprogrammed.
- Meanwhile, the NDP digs up the direct connections between Racknine and the Cons. Sixth Estate is neatly charting the ridings affected by the Cons' electoral fraud.

- Finally, pogge notes that we should be entirely willing to listen to any actual examples of problems pointed out by Cons as well. And indeed I wouldn't be at all surprised if, as Stephanie Levitz theorizes, the end result is a long-needed discussion as to how voter data should be handled by political parties.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - February 26, 2012

Today's debate didn't do much to resolve the continued uncertainty surrounding the NDP's leadership campaign, particularly among the candidates I've had ranked between 2nd and 5th for the bulk of the race. But let's see if the last week has changed any of the rankings...

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

Mulcair still ranks well ahead of the pack, and indeed is largely rising above the most contentious exchanges as the candidates below jockey for position. But his new "strong, structured opposition" catchphrase rather cries out for explanation - and I wouldn't be surprised if plenty of NDP members have serious concerns about the prospect of top-down organization and message control if that's what he has in mind.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

I count myself in the crowd that's long expected a Mulcair vs. Nash final ballot. But I'm becoming less and less convinced that Nash will indeed be the final candidate left to challenge Mulcair - and she holds this place on the list for another week mostly for lack of a clear indication who's set to step into the position.

3. Brian Topp (4)

Topp could well be that candidate, as he once again showed his ability to drive the narrative this week, first seeing his camp join Mulcair's in suggesting the next leader has to come from Quebec before launching a strong challenge to Mulcair. But at least from my observations of the debates so far, Topp has all too often conveyed a much higher personal opinion of his performance than the audience has offered - and it's hard to see that being a recipe for down-ballot success.

4. Paul Dewar (3)

Meanwhile, Dewar had a good week on a couple of fronts, winning over key support from Romeo Saganash's former camp while sounding convincing on the party-building front in today's debate. But his French is still at best borderline for a serious contender, and it'll be tough to place him higher then Nash or Topp in the long run without either showing a similarly fundamental weakness.

5. Nathan Cullen (5)

Today offered a first indication as to how Cullen will respond to being seen as a serious threat to the rest of the upper-tier candidates. And while he wasn't able to play the jokester to quite the same extent as a result, he generally held up well under the pressure.

6. Niki Ashton (6)

Once again Ashton had her moments in today's debate, particularly in a rousing warning to Stephen Harper at the end of her closing statement. But she was somewhat inconsistent as well, starting the same address sounding somewhat flustered and uncertain - and she's running out of time to show she can stay consistently effective throughout a debate.

7. Martin Singh (7)

Singh took a couple of steps beyond his core campaign messages today, and with one key exception that generally served him well. But his repeated challenges to Brian Topp look to have been utterly misplaced: the last thing the NDP can afford in trying to promote a progressive economic message is to have prominent figures promoting generous tax regimes for the wealthy in order to fund the charitable sector, and Singh's one-note questioning on that front did more to call his own judgment into question than Topp's

Three questions

Plenty of others have already discussed the factors they'll be taking into account in evaluating the NDP's leadership candidates as the campaign progresses. But as we approach the point where members will be casting ballots which will ultimately determine the outcome of the race, I'll set out my three basic questions in approaching each candidate (which I'll then use to evaluate each contender before making an endorsement).

1. What direction will he/she set for the NDP?

This question encompasses a variety of considerations including underlying values, specific policies and organizational strategies. The leader of the opposition (and hopefully Prime Minister to be) figures to have more ability than all but a few other people to set the tone for Canadian political activity over the years to come - and the most basic question for any leadership candidate is whether members actually agree with the goals and priorities that candidate will set if elected to the leadership.

2. How will he/she respond when pushed off course?

But then, the political scene doesn't allow any single leader to completely dictate the course of events. And so I'd consider it similarly important that a leadership candidate possess both the right values to apply in addressing the unexpected, and strong enough political instincts to avoid getting caught off guard.

3. How do the candidate's personal traits affect his/her ability to reach the destination implied by the answer to question 1?

Finally, there's the question of how a candidate's personality, organizational style and other personal traits affect the likelihood of being seen positively enough by the general public to be able to reach his or her goals - as the most noble of ends won't do much to help the NDP or the country if a leader can't connect enough with Canadians to advance them.

Again, I'll be examining each of the candidates through the above lens in determining how I'll be voting. And I'll encourage other NDP members to do the same - even if the result is to reach different conclusions than I do.