Saturday, March 17, 2012

Leadership 2012 Roundup

The latest couple of days worth of news as the NDP's leadership campaign enters its final week - aside from multiple candidates including Niki Ashton, Paul Dewar and Peggy Nash all taking the opportunity to call for unity in the wake of the continued overreaction to Ed Broadbent's latest comments.

- Ashton made the case for the NDP to hold a prairie breakthrough conference.

- Cullen was profiled by Allan Woods, while earning endorsements from Stephen Elliott-Buckley and a noteworthy set of Saskatchewan stalwarts including Peter Prebble and Nettie Wiebe.

- Thomas Mulcair won a number of endorsements for himself, including a massive media push from the Star. But the show of support which best reflects what I'd hope for in a Mulcair-led NDP (albeit extended far beyond the acceptance speech) is Gerald Caplan's:
He can immediately reassure the entire party in two critical ways. He can in his acceptance speech give voice to those magnificent social democratic ideals and principles – equality, social justice, peace – for which the New Democratic Party has always existed. And he can show his magnanimity in victory and his understanding of the need for a strong, united, inclusive movement by embracing not only his worthy opponents but their talented and committed workers as well.

My support explicitly assumes him doing exactly that.
Meanwhile, other voices weighed in on Mulcair including Joanna Smith, Chris Selley, Paul Wells and Barbara Yaffe.

- Peggy Nash made the case that being from Quebec isn't a prerequisite to connecting with the NDP's new Quebec voter base, while also making an appeal for respect for Canada's democratic system:

- Martin Singh answered questions from Macleans' Gabriela Perdomo.

- Aaron Wherry rounded up some of the candidates' recent video clips. Smith reviewed the latest fund-raising numbers showing Cullen again performing well at the end of the campaign. And Justin Ling echoed Brian Topp's theme that the NDP can win with a social democratic message.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Mark Kennedy reports that once again, Canadians are largely opposed to the Cons' plans to attack social supports:
The poll found that 49 per cent of Canadians are preparing for a "bad news" budget from federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and that 57 per cent do not "trust" Harper and the Conservatives to make the "right choices" to ensure the budget is "fair and reasonable."

As well, more than two-thirds of Canadians oppose the view that the country needs to "sacrifice" pensions to keep taxes down or increase the retirement age to control rising pension system costs.
- 70 per cent of Canadians disagree with the statement that "social programs, seniors' pensions, and other benefits in Canada are more generous than we can afford to pay for."

- 70 per cent also disagree with the statement that "we need to keep taxes down, even if it means we have to sacrifice in terms of seniors' pensions and other social benefits."

- 68 per cent disagree with the statement that "given the financial pressures on Canada's public pension system, it is necessary to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67."
- Jeff rightly argues that there are no shortcuts toward replacing the Harper Cons with a more progressive government - and any attempt to merge the NDP and Libs may only create more long-term faultlines among groups which might otherwise be able to work together on a more limited basis:
Wanting to stop the Conservatives is no reason to mash two groups with very different philosophies and beliefs together. It’s like a couple that don’t love each other getting married for the good of their child. In the long run, an unhappy marriage won’t do the kid any good, and you probably divorce anyway...
We all need to offer something more to Canadians than “we’re not Stephen Harper.” That’s not going to engage anyone but the most ardent partisans and, besides, most Canadians don't dislike Harper as much as Trudeau and other partisans do. Offer Canadians a more compelling alternative and you’ll get somewhere; a negative option will get you nowhere, even with all the coalitions in the world.
- Pauline Tam reports that the same drug companies which have caused shortages of generic drugs in Canada may stand to profit by importing emergency replacements at a premium. This may be a good time to discuss some alternatives which don't leave us at the mercy of the corporate sector.

- Paul McLeod notes the Cons' "Mission Accomplished" moment, as a government planning to push seniors into poverty to save money spent nearly a million dollars to sing its own praises over participation in the air campaign in Libya. But as Thomas Walkom points out, the Cons are having to walk back their rhetoric on a military vanity project with a far higher price tag.

- Finally, Angela Hall reports on the possible privatization of laundry services within Saskatchewan's health regions - featuring this observation on who might hold the ability to shut down public services:
He also said most of the employees who work at the Regina laundry facility were deemed “essential” under Saskatchewan’s essential services legislation and it doesn’t make sense for the province to consider contracting the work to a company not bound by that law.

“If the government is that concerned and (the workers) are that essential why would you have it potentially go to a privatized outfit where you have no control over essential services?” Haughey said in an interview.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Musical interlude

Kaskade - Steppin' Out

Update: Also, this:

On saintly proclamations

Ed Broadbent's recent foray into the NDP's leadership campaign has certainly attracted plenty of media attention. But it's worth taking a skeptical look as to why the story has been such a media favourite - and why we should resist the temptation to focus our discussion of the race on the shiny-object factor associated with Broadbent speaking out.

First, we shouldn't mirror the media's eagerness to declare that a commentator like Broadbent may singlehandedly create an issue worth discussing where none existed before. Most of the questions have been addressed at other points in the campaign by candidates and other observers alike - and indeed we should have been able to expect some response from Mulcair whether or not Broadbent added his voice into the mix. And if the press is only finding a story to report on now that it better recognizes one of the speakers, that should be seen as all the more reason not to rely on its news filter (rather than an excuse to buy into the hype).

At the same time, it's also worth highlighting that a well-respected party elder doesn't cease to be a member who's entitled to hold - and express - his own views simply by virtue of having led the party in the past.

I won't deny that it serves plenty of purposes to divide a party up into less-experienced members useful only as disposable operatives for higher-up forces within the party, a middle-aged cadre which actually makes decisions, and a group of "saints" who are supposed to be above mere politics. But I'll argue that the purposes served by that division are rather incompatible with the NDP's goal of being more diverse and more representative of the will of citizens than its competitors. And to the extent we either privilege Broadbent's comments or declare them offside based on his prior leadership, we only play into the desire to set up tiers of membership which undercut the goal of basic equality in participating in party affairs.

Of course, Broadbent has used his profile to great effect in pushing Brian Topp's campaign before. And so there's little doubt that he's taking full advantage of his opportunity to become a story unto himself so as to take the campaign in a direction preferred by his choice of candidates. But we shouldn't presume that he or any other NDP member (other than those playing specific roles in the leadership campaign itself which demand neutrality) is bound to avoid commenting on the party's future direction.

At the same time, though, the rest of us aren't bound to follow the views of a Broadbent (whether to attack them or to echo them) any more than we're stuck accepting the leadership camps' choice of brands. And so we should focus on the merits of Broadbent's comments only to the extent they actually present important considerations - rather than buying into the all-too-easy media framework that what Ed says is more important than the real decisions at hand.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- On the Robocon front, Terry Milewski connects the dots between identification of voters as non-Con supporters and the deceptive robocalls that followed. Steven Chase and Daniel Leblanc discuss how Elections Canada figures to determine who placed the Cons' fraudulent calls, while Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher suggest it's already making plenty of progress. The Chronicle Herald and the Star implore the Cons to ensure Elections Canada has the authority it needs to investigate properly. The Ottawa Citizen writes about the link between Robocon calls and suppressed voter turnout. Parker distinguishes between illegal deception and legitimate voter contact. And Sixth Estate takes a closer look at CIMS.

- The CCPA has released its Alternative Federal Budget, pointing out both the global need for countries not to engage in gratuitous austerity and the benefits that would be possible if we had a federal government interested in investing in an improved Canada.

- Sarah Schmidt reports on the form of copyright bill the Cons forced through committee after deciding they could afford to trample on consumers' rights:
Charlie Angus, digital affairs critic for the NDP, said he's been pressing for a new copyright bill since 2004, but this is "still a flawed" piece of legislation.

"It seems they're choosing a corporate business model over the rights of average Canadians, and that's not going to help build the creative economy here. The digital locks provisions are huge for us."

Angus added that the Tories "talk about the market deciding, but they're constructing a market that favours one set of corporate interests over the rights of average citizens."

Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, said it's "certainly disappointing that the government was unwilling to find a compromise on the digital lock rules," saying defeating amendments "that groups representing those with perceptual disabilities feared create barriers to access for the blind is simply unconscionable."
- Meanwhile, Kyle Kipp follows up on the NDP's revelation that nearly 85% of federal funding for disability projects is being funnelled into Con ridings.

- Finally, Susan Riley comments on the Cons' war against anybody who doesn't parrot tar sands talking points:
While European countries experiment with cap-and-trade and Norway socks away oil wealth in a $500-billion fund, Canada's government is still pitting the economy against the environment - refighting last decade's battle instead of preparing for the future.

Every day, the economic benefits of the petro-economy are oversold and environmental consequences trivialized.
There is a lunatic fringe, of course, anti-Canadian zealots unconcerned with how many jobs are shipped offshore or how much we poison the planet. They fiercely defend foreign oil companies' right to exploit our resources without limits, or conditions.

You won't find them at clandestine gatherings of green extremists, however. They sit in the Senate of Canada.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

New column day

Here, on how the Wall government's spin on an essential services appeal seems to be largely ignoring some of the most important conclusions reached by Justice Ball in his decision.

For those interested in seeing exactly what Justice Ball concluded about Wall's overreach, see generally paragraphs 174-222 of the decision. But I'll particularly highlight the following:
[205] No further comparative analysis is required. It is enough to say that no other essential services legislation in Canada comes close to prohibiting the right to strike as broadly, and as significantly, as the PSES Act. No other essential services legislation is as devoid of access to independent, effective dispute resolution processes to address employer designations of essential service workers and, where those designations have the effect of prohibiting meaningful strike action, an independent, efficient, overall dispute mechanism. While the purpose of all other essential services legislation is the same as the PSES Act, none have such significantly deleterious effects on protected rights under s. 2(d) of the Charter.
[217] In summary, I find that the PSES Act transfers all of the power previously held by the unions to the public employers, who are backed by the considerable additional powers of the Legislature. Considered in its entirety, its provisions do not satisfy the minimal impairment requirement of s. 1 of the Charter.

[218] In my view, the PSES Act would be substantially less impairing of the right to strike protected by s. 2(d) of the Charter if in every case it made provision for an effective, independent dispute resolution process to address the propriety of public employer designations of employees required to work during a work stoppage. In addition, the PSES Act would be substantially less impairing if it provided compensatory access to adequate, impartial and effective overall dispute resolution proceedings in those cases where employer designations effectively abrogate the right of employees to engage in meaningful strike action. The latter process may not be an issue for many of the public employers within the scope of the PSES Act, but it is a fundamental issue for many others, most notably police officers and health care workers. Every work place is different, and every work place must be dealt with according to its own set of circumstances.
[220] As an overall assessment, I have accepted that the previous labour relations structure in Saskatchewan gave public sector Unions unrestricted power to unilaterally decide what essential services, if any, would be provided during a strike. I have accepted that the Government’s objective in enacting the PSES Act was to ensure the continuation of essential services to the community during a strike — an objective that is pressing and substantial. However, in the preceding two stages of the proportionality analysis I have explained why, in my view, the deleterious effects of the PSES Act substantially outweigh the public benefits it confers. Quite simply, I do not accept that the manner in which the PSES Act transfers all of the Union’s former powers to the employers is minimally impairing of protected s. 2(d) rights.

[221] A number of options are available to reduce these concerns. Some are:

• in every case, provide an impartial and effective dispute resolution process by which a union may challenge public employer designations under s. 9(2) of the PSES Act;

• in cases where public employer designations under the PSES Act remove a meaningful right to strike by the employees, provide an adequate, impartial and effective dispute resolution process;

• enable public service unions to have meaningful input into determining which employees will work during a strike;

• require public employers to consider the availability of other qualified persons to provide essential services during a strike.

[222] In summary, I conclude that the provisions of the PSES Act go well beyond what is reasonably necessary to achieve the Legislature’s stated objective.
For more about the case, here's my earlier column post.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

A couple more days' worth of developments in the NDP's leadership campaign...

- Niki Ashton argued that Canada's grain supply should be considered a strategic resource in evaluating takeover bids for Viterra, and earned a glowing profile from Carol Goar.

- Nathan Cullen unveiled another caucus endorsement from Bruce Hyer (who also listed Thomas Mulcair and Paul Dewar as his ballot choices), while earning some fund-raising support from former B.C. Premier Glen Clark. And as pointed out by Dan, he also clarified that joint nominations aren't the only possibility on the table to beat the Cons:
Yahoo!: Are strategic alliances the only way to beat Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in the next election?

Cullen: No, it's just one of the better ways. It's a way that reflects progressive values and it reflects the NDP's experience.
- Thomas Mulcair won the support of Jack Harris. Bill Tierney profiled Thomas Mulcair as a successful political risk-taker, while Jooneed Khan suggested his Quebec establishment support should be seen as a kiss of death.

- Alice discussed Martin Singh's candidacy on Power Play:

Meanwhile, Singh himself released a denial which directly recommends that his supporters list Mulcair 2nd on their ballots - and I'm curious to find out whether that will stick out like a sore thumb for the balance of the campaign, or whether other candidates will follow suit in trying to shape how their supporters fill out their preferential ballots.

- Brian Topp unveiled a rare endorsement switch, as MP Sana Hassainia retracted her earlier endorsement of Mulcair to join Topp's backers.

- Tariq Jeeroburkhan graded the leadership candidates - though with a few seemingly questionable conclusions (does anybody else rate Cullen at the back of the pack for media presence?). John Doyle's belated debate analysis featured plenty of praise for Nash. Alice Klein suggested that voters list Cullen 1st and Mulcair 2nd, while Jeremy Richler made his case for Mulcair. And Joanna Smith reported on the candidates' social media attention, with Cullen leading the way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- William Black suggests that we consider applying the "broken windows" theory to the financial sector - particularly since the signs of a severely damaged system are still obvious.

- Jim Stanford proposes one way to make sure that resource extraction actually does benefit the broader Canadian economy. But then, as Bruce Johnstone notes in discussing the possible takeover of Viterra, any benefits to Canada's economy are currently well down the list of government priorities - particularly when they're in conflict with corporate control.

- Meanwhile, Thomas Walkom points out the futility of Dalton McGuinty's attempt to make up for reckless tax slashing with gambling revenues.

- And finally, Frances Russell discusses Stephen Harper's war mentality:
Parliament is chief among the institutions to be attacked by the prime minister. The December 2008 prorogation allowed the Harper Conservatives, then in minority, to avoid defeat on a non-confidence motion.

Empowered, the Harper government reversed the core principle of parliamentary democracy -- that the government is accountable to Parliament. Now, Parliament is accountable to the party in power. Incredibly, even its committees operate largely behind closed doors. MPs who break that secrecy risk contempt citations.

This is a "war" government. It fights the media, the courts, Elections Canada, the opposition parties and Canadians who support them, the civil service, its own departments and agencies, anyone with a contrary view. All now are "enemies" of the state -- attacked, discredited and vilified.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Interlocking cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your afternoon reading.

- Linda McQuaig writes that Robocon is placing Canada at the forefront of dubious electoral results in the developed world. Which of course means it's time to evaluate the Cons' fraud merely as a matter of political damage control, rather than focusing on who's responsible for what abuses of democracy.

- Peter Gillespie comments on the effect of tax havens, including this list of the resources siphoned out of other countries as a result:
In the United Kingdom, a parliamentary public accounts committee estimated that tax losses due to the offshore system are at least £8.5 billion annually; the Trades Union Congress, however, estimates that the real figure is more than £25 billion. A U.S. Senate investigation of offshore tax abuse assessed the cost to the U.S. treasury as $100 billion annually.

In 2002, Canada’s Auditor-General warned that corporate “tax arrangements with foreign affiliates have eroded Canadian tax revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars over the past ten years.”

A June 2008 study by the University of Quebec at Montreal concluded that the five major Canadian banks avoided $16 billion in federal and provincial taxes through offshore affiliates between 1991 and 2003.

A 2004 Library of Canada report noted that, between 1990 and 2003, Canadian corporate investments in Barbados increased from $1.5 billion to $24.7 billion, exceeding the GDP of Barbados by a factor of six. The report concluded that at least some of these investments could only be explained as tax avoidance measures.

Statistics Canada reported that $88 billion of Canadian corporate assets were held offshore in 2003, mostly invested in the tax havens of Barbados, Ireland, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas.
Wealthy people are also escaping their tax obligations. Financial institutions have aggressively pursued “high net worth individuals,” encouraging them to move their assets to offshore accounts and trusts. The London-based Tax Justice Network estimates that US$11.5 trillion of the wealth of the world’s richest individuals is held offshore, resulting in lost tax revenues of $255 billion annually. The Cayman Islands alone holds US$1 trillion of the assets of the world’s wealthiest people.

A 2006 U.S. Senate subcommittee report concluded that wealthy Americans avoid $40 to $70 billion in taxes each year by holding their assets offshore.
- Gloria Galloway reports on the Cons' committee efforts to effectively eliminate any environmental oversight by setting inflexible timelines and granting automatic approval if a project proponent can run out the clock. And Mike de Souza notes a separate Harper Con scheme to gut protection for fisheries.

- Finally, Kady documents another blatant form of anti-accountability from the Cons, as Helene Laverdiere's order paper queries about the Office of Religious Freedom were answered with nothing but oft-recycled talking points which utterly failed to respond to the actual questions. But scooping my next Parliament in Review post (which will likely be postponed under after the end of the NDP's leadership campaign), that shouldn't be seen as a particularly radical development: just take a look at the non-answers and irrelevant spin provided in response to questions 233, 259, 322, 325 and 378 here from the first sitting day of 2012 - as well as the flat-out refusal to answer questions like 379 and 382. And for added fun, compare the detail provided in response to #246-249 (Brent Rathgeber's questions about CBC costs) with that (not) offered to #253-255 (Tyrone Benskin's queries seeking similar information about the PMO).

On voter information

Andrew Coyne raises some noteworthy points about what political parties know about us and how they use that information. But while I agree as to the need for parties to treat voters as something more than a resource to be exploited, I'll sound a note of caution that some of his plans may only make matters worse.

To start with, I'll note that the PIPEDA which governs commercial activity sets up accountability requirements which make sense for a commercial organization which doesn't face "black ops" on the scale of, say, Robocon. But it would be difficult to imagine a more easily-abused system than one imposing the same standard for political parties - who could face the prospect of thousands of coordinated complaints around election time (or at another moment designed to cause problems in light of a party's limited resources, which Coyne then proposes to reduce further). So the obvious potential for manipulation of any formal system to hold parties accountable needs to be kept in mind.

But more importantly, improved collection and use of personal information offers an opportunity for better and more responsive interaction between citizens and political parties - which we should be eager to encourage in deciding how parties should be able to collect and use information.

Yes, it's a serious problem if voters are being targeted based on their age, location and party support for false robocalls intended to discourage participation. But the fundamental issue lies in the falsehoods and suppression tactics, not the mere fact that parties can develop customized appeals to specific types of voters.

And ideally, better voter databases hold out the possibility of parties being able to connect and listen to voters only on the issues where they're most interested in participating, rather than engaging in the blast strategies that have been the Cons' main form of voter contact. Indeed, more information (put to its highest and best use) may well be a solution to the irritation of unfocused robocalls and other broadcast political communications tools - while limiting parties in what information they have about citizens may discourage that type of development.

Of course, the above doesn't deal with all of Coyne's suggestions. And I'll readily agree that parties should be bound by the do-not-call rules and general consent principles applied to other businesses (since I see little value in allowing parties to intrude where a citizen has already declared they're not welcome), as well as that a more fair electoral system would work wonders in eliminating the incentives that have made the Cons so determined to drive down turnout among opponents' supporters.

But we shouldn't go too far in presuming that the asymmetric flows of information between citizens and parties should be dealt with by making it more difficult for parties to engage the public - as that may only enhance the rewards available to the party which best capitalizes on the detachment of low-information voters.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Sixth Estate rounds up the party and organizational affiliations on Canada's major opinion pages. And in case anybody was wondering why our political dialogue so often has nothing at all to do with the public's real concerns about inequality and instability:
I identified a total of 218 op-eds, of which 104 were written by people with a direct connection to a political party, an economic interest group (business executives and unionists), representatives of those groups (progressive think tanks, business think tanks, trade associations, etc.), and social conservatives. Of those 104, 21% came from big-C Conservatives and allies like the ADQ, 13% were contributed by Liberal insiders and politicians, and just 6% came from the NDP.

The differences were even more stark with respect to the supportive think tanks and other groups which feed into these parties. (It’s worth noting here that despite election rhetoric to the contrary, Liberals are for the most part pro-business.) An astounding 70% of the op-eds were written by business executives, free-market think tanks, and trade associations. In contrast, just five articles came from progressive think tanks (and a sixth from the Mowat Centre, which I counted as progressive even though it really isn’t), and just one from a trade unionist.
- Meanwhile, Dr. Dawg points out how coverage of Robocon has largely glossed over public demand for by-elections and a thorough investigation, while Dave questions why the Cons' electoral fraud school and talking-point dispenser is receiving publicly-funded not-for-profit treatment. And Union Blogs offers at least one source of balance against that normal slant.

- But then, the Cons are also working on tilting the playing field even more - with opposition MPs working to ensure neither our electoral boundaries nor our Parliamentary system are reshaped for the sole benefit of Stephen Harper.

- Finally, for those who haven't seen enough NDP leadership coverage from this corner, you can look forward to a Saskatchewan provincial leadership campaign in 2013.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Followup commentary from the final NDP leadership on Sunday, as well as a couple more days worth of developments in the campaign.

- Most of the post-debate coverage focused on a Thomas Mulcair-vs-the field contrast, while Quinn and Adventures in Socialism offered a few more interesting observations.

- Niki Ashton released her arts and culture policy, including a couple of proposals which could offer far better rights for art consumers and producers alike:
•Promoting ideas like the “creative commons” which provide a means for artists to protect the use and integrity of their work while allowing others to build on their work;
•Fighting censorship and protecting free speech by ensuring that decisions about arts funding or tax incentives are based on objective criteria and are made by independent juries of artists, not by politicians or bureaucrats, and by rejecting proposed Conservative legislation that would force Internet Service Providers to invade Canadians’ privacy...
- Nathan Cullen was the subject of Barbara Yaffe's latest column.

- Paul Dewar provided a first example of what his issue-based advocacy might look like - though he's a little bit behind the curve in encouraging leadership voters to pay attention to the Cons' attacks on retirement security.

- Mulcair's anti-coalition stance is starting to attract some attention, with Ian worrying that a refusal to work beyond party lines will undermine the NDP's message in Quebec.

- Finally, Bill Tieleman raised some questions about the timing of the last debate within the voting window. Greg Morrow endorsed Mulcair based on experience and leadership, while Marc Laferriere gave his nod to Paul Dewar based on his grassroots building approach. Chantal Hebert is sticking with the line that Mulcair and Cullen are two of a kind no matter how diverge on the central theme of Cullen's campaign. Lysiane Gagnon reminds us how quick some in the media were to anoint Topp as the next leader - but makes the same mistake again by pretending he and Mulcair are the only two candidates in the race. The NDP's Persons with Disabilities Committee offers questionnaire responses from four of the candidates.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Best days behind them

Shorter Stephane Dion:

How I long for the days when my party could win dozens of Quebec seats by default simply by picking fights with sovereigntists. Can't we all agree to make it 2000 again?

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Alison draws the links between Robocon and an American firm proud of its efforts in some of the Republicans' most odious causes, while Sixth Estate provides a timeline of shady election dealings by the Harper Cons. Dr. Dawg asks the media to stay focused on the "fraud" part of the Cons' Robocon scam; Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher seem set to oblige by hinting that the infamous Pierre Poutine may soon be coming forward, while John Geddes speculates about just how far up the rot within the Cons actually goes. Allan Woods notes that the scam seems to have been largely aimed at older voters, while Andrew Potter points out the importance of context in determining how individuals act. The NDP is working on making sure Elections Canada has the necessary authority to deal both with Robocon and future abuses, while plenty of citizens rallied yesterday to demand a full inquiry.

- But perhaps the most interesting comment on Robocon is Don Martin's - which makes it clear that the Cons offered weeks of categorical denials of any national-level election fraud before making even a cursory attempt to determine whether it held any truth. (And does anybody think that being shut in a room with a raging Harper was going to encourage anybody to step forward?)

- Meanwhile, Karl Nerenberg points out Jason Kenney's refusal to provide refugees with any escape from international human rights abuses if they don't fit the Cons' political plans.

- Michael Geist notes that unfortunately, some of the loudest lobbying on the Cons' copyright bill wants to make bad legislation even worse by making consumers' privacy and ISPs' business both subject to the whims of media conglomerates.

- Thomas Friedman draws a contrast between countries which rely on natural resources and those which develop based on education - making it particular problematic that the Cons are so determined to emphasize the former at the expense of the latter.

- Finally, David Cay Johnston discusses how Sweden's social-democratic orientation has resulted in a radically higher standard of living for much of its population:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On shifting alliances

Having pointed out the effect of Peggy Nash's willingness to consider cross-party cooperation in my rankings post, I'll double back to one of the other noteworthy developments today - as Thomas Mulcair may have utterly reshaped the expected movement of down-ballot support.

Since the start of the campaign, plenty of commentators have tried to divide the candidates into two camps - with the two consistent divisions being Mulcair/Nathan Cullen on one side as the candidates seeking to challenge party orthodoxy, and Peggy Nash/Brian Topp as the comparative traditionalists.

But by announcing that he's not open to cooperation with the Libs on any front (including post-election coalitions of the type the NDP has organized in the past), Mulcair effectively severed ties with a good number of Cullen voters. After all, surely nobody drawn to Cullen based on his appeal for cross-party relationships can then turn around and offer second-choice support to the lone candidate who's ruling out anything of the sort either pre- or post-election.

Now, I'm not sure the shift is necessarily a damaging one for Mulcair: it could be that he'll win over more support from other candidates' backers who see the move as assuaging any question about his party allegiances than he'll lose votes from Cullen backers. But for anybody who sees the NDP's Quebec gains as the result of a combination of Layton, Mulcair and a willingness to work beyond party lines, Mulcair has made clear that members will have to give up the latter in order to present him as the face of the party. And that may force plenty of commentators to rethink their assumed voting patterns.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - March 11, 2012

Over the past couple of weeks, we've seen what look to be a couple of noteworthy efforts among the NDP's leadership candidates to reach out to other campaigns' supporters in order to win over the down-ballot support that will likely decide the outcome of the campaign. So how have those efforts changed my rankings as to who's most likely to emerge as the winner?

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

Not much at the top, as Mulcair still looks like at least an even-odds candidate to win. He didn't offer a great deal in response to a series of direct questions as to his plans for the NDP's future, but he once again performed well otherwise.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

However, the recent shifts in campaign strategy play a significant role here. I probably would have moved Nash down the rankings this week if her campaign hadn't positioned her to benefit from Nathan Cullen's supporters with a focus on both proportional representation and co-operation short of joint nominations. But she now figures to have a much better chance than the other second-tier candidates of rallying enough of the combined 2-through-5 support to overcome Mulcair's lead - and Paul Dewar's debate effort to draw a contrast on the latter point may have helped Nash more than himself.

3. Paul Dewar (3)

Which isn't to say Dewar is lacking for some pluses of his own as the campaign winds down. He's conspicuously positioned himself as the leading defender of cooperation within the NDP, and looks to have a relatively direct path to a final-ballot photo-finish if he can get ahead of Nash early to win the votes of her supporters.

4. Nathan Cullen (5)

Cullen was the other candidate to make a smart appeal to an important source of potential down-ballot support - as his question to Martin Singh about his attacks on Brian Topp will likely make Topp's set of vocal defenders see him in a new and more positive light.

5. Brian Topp (4)

I agree with the view of many pundits that Topp performed very well in today's debate - as the punchlines which fell flat through much of the campaign suddenly seemed to land at every turn. But unfortunately for Topp, that success is more than offset by the fact that the media which so willingly listed him as a front-runner from the beginning seems to have concluded he's an afterthought. And I'm not sure he has another path to victory if he's indeed lost the media air war.

6. Niki Ashton (6)

Ashton delivered her best debate performance today as well - which was to be expected given the fit between the topics and her campaign themes. But even if she sneaks ahead of one of the second-tier candidates on the first ballot, it's not clear where she'd have room to grow enough to win.

7. Martin Singh (7)

Finally, Singh's late-campaign decisions may have gone past the point of being useless in the context of the leadership race to actually hurting his future within the NDP. While I'm skeptical about the Mulcair alliance theory, his refusal to back down from his attacks on Topp will make it difficult for a victorious Mulcair to give Singh a prominent role without raising questions and hackles - and Cullen's appalled reaction during the debate itself figures to nicely sum up how the other candidates and NDP members view his choice of targets and messages.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Assorted news and notes from the NDP's leadership campaign as we approach today's final debate...

- Niki Ashton pointed out how the NDP should be able to tap into the desire for democratic decision-making that once motivated the Reform Party before it was turned into a top-down organization under the thumb of Stephen Harper.

- Nathan Cullen is suggesting that he may have enough momentum to come up the middle at the leadership convention. And in an interview with Planet S, he had this to say about some of the major challenges to the Cons' corporate-driven agenda:
PS: Are you optimistic about the (Gateway pipeline) hearings?

NC: Do we have the money and lawyers that Enbridge has? No. But we have people, and there are more of us than there are of them. And we’re right. I’m resolved, and my people are resolved. I’ve never felt so determined about something.

How maddening is it for Harper to call people who care about their homes and communities “foreign radicals”? By calling Canadians who care about the environment enemies of the state, while obviously taking sides with foreign-owned oil companies, he’s laying the seeds of his own demise.
PS: What, if anything, do you think the Occupy movement contributed to Canadian politics?

NC: It opened up a question for many people: how did we end up with such a rigged system? The movement has tapped a sentiment and asked the questions that are important to people, but it remains to be seen what we all are going to do about it.
- In the same Planet S interview series featuring Cullen, Mulcair offered this on the effect of the Occupy movement:
PS: What, if anything, do you think the Occupy movement contributed to Canadian politics?

TM: It was a wake-up call that the root causes of the crash of ’08 have not been addressed, and there are a lot of people in our society who are being left behind. The people who brought that crash are still in charge and they’re still making the same decisions. I can tell you that a lot of the analysis that is being done by leaders of the Occupy movement has a foundation in fact, and it’s the first time since the environmental movement in the ‘60s that the public has taken such direct action.

But it does seem to have run out of steam. More long term, the answer is going to have to be political.
Meanwhile, Mulcair also released a new video to define himself as the campaign draws to a close:

But I'd have to consider the result fairly unimpressive: not only does it fail to answer any questions about his campaign, it also falls into some process traps that I've readily pointed out when other parties have considered their own treatment at the hands of the Cons more of an outrage than the effects on Canadian voters. And indeed I wouldn't be surprised if a better video could be cobbled together from Mulcair's answers within any of the English debates.

- Joanna Smith profiled Peggy Nash, including this on the need for citizens to stay engaged in their government:
(Nash's travels abroad) made her thankful that she lived in a peaceful and politically stable country, but also somewhat wistful that Canadians were not more politically aware and engaged, something she still wishes were the case today.

“We all know, vigilance is key,” she says of the importance of political awareness even when a country is not experiencing the kind of crises she witnessed during her travels. “Every generation has to fight for things all over again.”

She explains that she is talking about the rights of women being threatened by the Conservative government doing things like refusing to include funding for abortion in the G8 initiative on maternal child health, but also about growing economic inequality through job losses and attacking collective agreements.

“There has been pressure building for several years, but it’s increasingly gaining velocity. It’s accelerating and I think we should all be concerned about it,” says Nash.
- Brian Topp released his immigration plan (emphasizing the treatment of new Canadians as people rather than economic tools) just in time to greet the Cons' anticipated budget going in the opposite direction.

- Finally, Jeffrey Simpson and Joel-Denis Bellavance both compare Mulcair and his plans for the NDP to Tony Blair and the Third Way - though neither offers any particular explanation as to what that actually means in terms of the NDP's organization. KK offers up some reasons to vote for Paul Dewar. And Marc Laferriere offers an overview of the candidates who recently appeared in Brant, while making this suggestion for the end of the campaign:
A united NDP, no matter who becomes leader, will be able to achieve the dreams set up before us by leaders like Tommy, Ed and Jack. These candidates, and even more importantly their teams, have done an incredible job separately and have learned much. When we all get back on the same team, watch out.

My challenge to all New Democrats from every leadership team is this: The leadership race has to end on March 24th. No camps, no grudges, no hurt feelings. Let's see what we can do together and where we are a year from now as a united force for a better, more progressive Canada.