Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Susan Delacourt writes that laughable conspiracy theories look to be the Cons' stock in trade as they fight against any accountability for electoral fraud:
(I)t may be true that Ford has left-wing opponents on council and that the Council of Canadians, which has launched the legal challenge on so-called robocalls, would prefer that Harper had not win the last election.

But these are not illegal views in this country — at least not yet. Demonization of your adversaries is a spin tactic, not a legal defence.

Besides, Hamilton knows that the concern over misleading calls in the last election doesn’t start or end with the “left-wing” Council of Canadians.

Elections Canada was in touch with Hamilton a few days before the May 2, 2011, vote, according to recently released documents, asking why the organization was receiving multiple complaints of misleading, voter-misdirection phone calls coming from Conservative campaign headquarters.

Moreover, a criminal investigation is underway in Guelph, Ont., as well as dozens of other ridings across the country where voters have reported waves of fraudulent calls, trying to divert them from proper polling locations.

If this is just some crazy left-wing scheme, it’s a remarkably large one, mapped out and executed in advance of voting. With that many resources at its disposal, you’d wonder why the left wing didn’t go to the extra trouble of winning the election 18 months ago.
- Robert Macdonald and Tracy Shildrick report that right-wing attempts to moralize about a loss of work ethic based on existence of bare-bones social programs have about as much basis in reality as "tax cuts for rich = win!!!" (which is to say none whatsoever):
(W)e managed to recruit 20 families where there was long-term worklessness across two generations and interviewed family members in depth. It was clear that these families did not inhabit of "a culture of worklessness". People told us that they deplored "the miserable existence" of a life on benefits. Families experiencing long-term worklessness remained committed to the value of work. Workless parents were unanimous in not wanting their children to end up in the same situation as themselves.

They actively tried to help their children find jobs (for example, by accompanying them to job interviews to provide moral support). As one 50-year-old father said: "What I want is for my family to have jobs. They're not asking for anything big, that's the thing, they are not, like, being greedy." Unemployed young adults in these families were strongly committed to conventional values about work as part of a normal transition to adulthood. They were keen to avoid the poverty, worklessness and other problems experienced by their parents.

The long-term worklessness of parents in these families was a result of the impact of complex, multiple problems associated with living in deep poverty over years (particularly related to ill health). In an already tight labour market, these problems combined to place them at the back of a long queue for jobs.
- Meanwhile, Jonathan Kay recognizes that Canada's relative equality compared to the U.S. has long offered an economic advantage - and that we only stand to lose out as the Cons try to push us toward a less fair distribution of income and tax obligations:
Applying social-justice arguments, many leftists have seized on this data to make the case that American capitalism, in its current state, is fundamentally immoral. But even die-hard laissez-faire types should be concerned by America’s increasingly U-shaped income profile. The very poor don’t buy much. And the very rich spend a relatively small amount of their money on consumer goods. A mass-retail capitalist economy cannot function if it is not being fuelled by a prosperous middle class that’s too rich for Family Dollar, but too poor for Saks.

Income polarization also gives rise to all sorts of more intangible losses for a society — including in the areas of trust and social mobility. A society of haves and have-nots is a society of gated communities side-by-side with trailer parks, the sort of scene one witnesses in Latin America. The polarization of wealth also has a corrosive effect on democratic politics, because it encourages plutocrats and entrenched corporate interests to funnel billions into whatever corps of political ideologues are willing to robotically defend the status quo — a phenomenon that was on display in the recent U.S. election campaign.
- Finally, it isn't only opinion columnists making the case that greater equality is an essential goal for Canada, as Aaron Wherry's year-end interview with Tom Mulcair includes this on intergenerational equity as an emerging question of equality:
When we see 330,000 temporary foreign workers brought into this country, deprived of their rights, bringing down working conditions for Canadians, when we see the loss of hundreds of thousands of good manufacturing jobs that had enough of a salary for a family to live on and a pension, people are worried. You know, for the first time we’re being told by a government that you have to settle for less, that your kids are going to have to settle for less. We think that we can still continue to grow and to have a greater country and a better place for the greater good. So we want prosperity, but the difference between us is we want prosperity for everyone.

In the past 35 years, the top 20% only have seen their revenues increase, the other 80% have seen actually seen their revenues drop. So we’re on the verge of becoming the first generation in Canadian history to leave less to our kids than what we got. And we find that unacceptable. That’s why we have this theme of sustainable development. If I could dial it back, the base of a social democratic approach is to remove inequalities in society. The big battle of generations ago was working people, making sure they had their rights and that they had a decent standard of living. One of the basic inequalities in our society today is an inequality between generations, it’s intergenerational equity that we’re talking about.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Musical interlude

Tragically Hip - Little Bones

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- Paul Dechene interviews Marc Spooner about Saskatchewan residents left behind in the province's boom:
One way that our growing income gap can be hand-waved away is by pointing to the fact that every other province that goes through an economic boom faces this.

Perhaps it’s just a natural result of us going through a transitional phase?

Spooner doesn’t find that argument compelling.

“That implies a very non-responsive government,” he says. “Can we not learn from our neighbours in the west? Can we not see what happened in Alberta and be forward-looking and do precisely what a government ought to do and that’s step in when the market fails?

“It comes as no surprise that in times of boom that the marginalized get further marginalized. So why not step in and have a rainy day fund for precisely these reasons and see this as an opportunity to invest in the commons?”
- But it isn't just boom provinces who are engaging in the same pattern of handouts for the rich and clawbacks from its citizens - as Maria Babbage reports that Ontario's Lib government has let $1.4 billion in outstanding corporate taxes go uncollected while putting the screws to teachers and other workers in the name of deficit reduction.

- Megan Leslie and Peter Julian ended the fall sitting of Parliament by co-writing a piece on the need to develop clean energy in Canada. And Ian Bailey and Gloria Galloway report on Nathan Cullen's continued advocacy on behalf of British Columbia in fighting the Northern Gateway pipeline.

- Paul McLeod and Dr. Dawg both comment on Andrew Scheer's inevitable decision that a governing party can't shut down debate and voting on proposed amendments simply by declaring that it won't allow its members to consider them.

- Meanwhile, pogge examines an off-hand comment about a "devil's advocate in the PMO", and wonders why our Official Opposition isn't instead being allowed to carry out its intended purpose of holding the government to account - and how the Cons have managed to get away with declaring that disagreement is a sign of disloyalty.

- Finally, both Andrew Coyne and John Geddes express their disbelief that the Cons still haven't stopped spinning even after being force to acknowledge that years of bare declarations that an F-35 purchase was finalized and necessary were utter nonsense.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On needed advantages

Thanks in large part to an extremely active provincial leadership campaign, I haven't discussed the evolution of the federal NDP over the past few months in as much detail as I'd like. But while there will be plenty more to talk about over the next little while, I'll comment on a couple of the new stories emerging at the end of the fall sitting of Parliament.

Let's start with this from Lawrence Martin:
For New Democrats, it’s time for a national powwow. National leader Thomas Mulcair is planning to bring together all provincial NDP leaders for a party conference in January. The goal is to set a coherent and cohesive policy agenda for the party moving forward.

It’s an unusual step. Federal party leaders don’t normally collect all their provincial counterparts in one room. It’s risky — it could expose divisions. But Mr. Mulcair is confident that the huddle will produce a united front, one which gives Canadians a clear idea of where the party wants to take the country.
Of course, the flip side to that "risk" is that it serves to nicely distinguish Mulcair from some federal leaders who are rather more frightened to share space with their provincial counterparts. And the exercise in team-building will also provide a noteworthy contrast to the Libs' individual-driven leadership race (which otherwise figures to continue to receive outsized media attention.)

But the content of the meeting looks more noteworthy than the mere fact that it's being convened. I'm all for encouraging cooperation between the federal and provincial NDP in building a common message on issues of interjurisdictional consensus - and indeed one of the greatest advantages the NDP may hold is its common brand across Canada.

That said, it's somewhat striking to see the meeting aimed at setting a policy agenda taking place in advance of the federal party's spring federal convention. And we'll want to make sure that agreement among party leaders isn't taken to override the NDP's membership.

Meanwhile, Mark Burgess discusses the increased NDP presence in national lobbying firms. And there, I'd think it's worth pushing back somewhat against the premise of the spokespeople playing up such links as a sign of development.

After all, one of the NDP's most effective messages in 2011 was the theme that "Ottawa is broken." And the Cons have done nothing but give the NDP ample ammunition to argue that government capture and closed-door decision-making have resulted in the needs of the general public getting crushed under the weight of corporate interests.

Under those circumstances, I'd much prefer to see the NDP pressing its advantage as a party which hasn't been co-opted by the same old vested interests - and indeed which has enough membership strength to avoid such a fate. And the more high-profile party figures talk up the concept of fighting for turf within a broken system, the more difficult it may be to make the case that the NDP can and will fix it.

New column day

Here, on the need for the labour movement to reach beyond currently-unionized workplaces to address the needs of unrepresented workers - and the positive signs on that front.

For further reading...
- Thomas Walkom recognizes the same common interests between workers in different types of workplaces, but worries that the labour movement hasn't yet done enough to bridge the gap.
- Meanwhile, We Move to Canada documents a few of the more promising signs in recent months; Laura Clawson discusses the Black Friday protests; Josh Eidelson reports on the New York City fast-food strike; and David Dayen notes that Michigan's attacks on unions may not be the law of the land for long.
- Finally, Pat Atkinson weighs in on the Saskatchewan Party's massive employment legislation, pointing out in particular how it figures to impose longer hours on service-sector workers.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Suzuki makes the case for evaluating our well-being through Gross National Happiness rather than GDP alone:
There’s more to happiness than just having a clean environment – and Bhutan has yet to get there. According to research for the UN Conference on Happiness, “The happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Netherlands).” Although these countries are wealthy, the study points out that money isn’t the only factor, as happiness is decreasing in countries like the U.S. “Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries,” the researchers write. “At the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are crucial.” Note that the happiest countries all have healthy economies and robust social programs.
There’s an old saw that says the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. In the case of leaders who focus almost entirely on economic growth and corporate interests, it’s a recipe for disaster. As George Monbiot recently wrote in the U.K.’s Guardian, “In return for 150 years of explosive consumption, much of which does nothing to advance human welfare, we are atomising the natural world and the human systems that depend on it.”

As light gradually returns to the north and we celebrate a season of sharing, our leaders could brighten all our lives by considering what really makes our societies strong, healthy and happy.
 - Don Lenihan discusses how the Cons' F-35 debacle represents a classic example of the type of government capture that flourishes when decisions are made without transparency:
Purchasing a fleet of fifth-generation fighter jets, for example, is an extremely complex and technical task. On files like this, expert advice not only informs policy, it usually drives it. For a minster who may not know a cockpit from a wing flap, this can be a challenge.

While bureaucrats, lobbyists and vendors may call themselves advisors, too often they turn out to be the real decision-makers on the file. There’s a term for this in policy circles: capture. If the reports are right, the F-35 story looks like a textbook case.
Secrecy plays a big role in capture. It is supposed to give the inner circle (and the government) a critical advantage over opponents. If your opponents know what you know, they can challenge you on it, perhaps publicly. If the issues at stake rest on technical knowledge and expertise — as in the case of the F-35 file — there is always a risk that your opponents’ analysis will be better than yours, or that they might be better at persuading others that it is. If they win, you lose.

Secrecy counters this. It positions the inner circle for battle and helps ensure they are in control of the process.

Ministers and advisors alike find this kind of argument convincing and reassuring. For ministers, however, it has a fatal flaw. The minister’s role in the policy process is fundamentally different from that of the advisors. Ministers must account publicly for their decisions.
 - But Michael den Dandt has a few more terms for the Cons' disastrous excuse for government in addressing the F-35 purchase:
No matter what happens now, the F-35 episode will stand as a spectacular example of how not to manage an important public project. One can call it ramshackle, slipshod, inept, dishonest and incompetent, and not even begin to do events justice. Had they deliberately set out to spiral-dive their reputations for sound management and probity into the ground, Peter MacKay & Co. could not have done a better job than the record shows these past three years.
In unveiling their new-new process, chastened ministers will shelter beneath Ambrose’s personal Harry Potter invisibility cloak, which she has earned by not engaging in the asinine talking-point babble that has become a substitute for reason in this House of Commons. They will continue to exploit Alexander’s reputation, until it too no longer functions.

What they cannot so easily address is why MacKay, Fantino, the apparatus of the Prime Minister’s Office, and Harper himself, ignored so many credible warnings, which came from so many credible quarters, that sole-sourcing the F-35 was a terrible idea. Nor can they undo that, for months on end, they met these legitimate voices, such as that of Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, with contempt. Page, who was just doing his job, was proven almost exactly right. The government, which was not doing its job, was proven almost exactly wrong.

The jet purchase they can fix, with a competition. The cast of mind that got them here, not so much. Absent a radical overhaul of cabinet, and a miraculous transformation in their approach to wielding power, they will wear it. It’s too colossal a bungle to set aside.
- Finally, Stuart Trew writes that there's predictably one part of the TPP that the Cons are trying to eliminate - as any enforceable labour standards are once again intolerable to the Harper Cons.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Clingy cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- John Cameron highlights the importance of liberal arts education - as well as the fact that only a few people (who happen to nicely coincide with the Wall government's base) stand to benefit from a citizenry with less of a tendency toward critical thinking:
But anyone who can think critically – a liberal arts value, ironically enough – can see that there’s way more to this issue than simply a matter of that right-wing bugaboo, the Bloated Bureaucratic Salary. There’s issues of university transparency (Why is the public and university community dealing with the budget shortfall late and learning about cuts to departments secondhand?), issues of lax government funding (Why has the Saskatchewan government, which proudly touts the Saskatchewan advantage and the unimpeded, juggernaut-like growth of the Saskatchewan economy, been consistently shorting the universities by a paltry four million each for the last five years?), issues of societal attitude towards universities and university education (Why are the liberal arts and fine arts the first ones to get targeted? What purpose did changing the engineering faculty’s name to include the ominous-seeming qualified noun “Applied Sciences” serve? Who benefits from the university’s shift from philosophical educations to vocational ones? What benefits are there to that, exactly?).

If we care at all about the liberal arts and what they stand for – if we believe there is value in having people in our society trained in the vocation of parsing the world and trying to figure out ways to make the arcs of history and politics and language and thought make sense for the average person, the way we believe there is value in having people who know how to build wells and how to keep the books of a small business in line – then we won’t let the discussion stop at an infographic, and if I can be blunt then we shouldn’t allow the discussion to start there. Scrapping over a few thousand dollars a year isn’t going to change the way we perceive the humanities, nor is it going to save the humanities. What it will do is keep us from trying to figure out who benefits from the humanities being cut, being de-emphasized, being discarded and ultimately forgotten – and how they benefit.
- Lawrence Martin rightly notes that there are plenty of available means to investigate Robocon - and that we should expect both the media and Elections Canada to treat deliberate vote suppression as a top priority in deciding how to allocate resources.

- Dan Leger writes that we should see a leader's willingness to say "I don't know" or "I was wrong" as a sign of rather than political weakness. But he also hints at a larger issue that I've already discussed in making the point that we shouldn't set up our political system to demand the impossible from leaders:
Yes, politicians should be consistent and maintain clear ideals. But they shouldn’t get beaten up simply for being human.
- Finally, pogge points out that the age of austerity doesn't apply to the financial sector any more in Canada than elsewhere.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Paul Krugman discusses two theories behind the ever-growing divergence between soaring profits and stagnant wages. But it's particularly important to note that neither of them calls for "free money for rich people" as a rational response:
Why is this happening? As best as I can tell, there are two plausible explanations, both of which could be true to some extent. One is that technology has taken a turn that places labor at a disadvantage; the other is that we’re looking at the effects of a sharp increase in monopoly power. Think of these two stories as emphasizing robots on one side, robber barons on the other.
I don’t know how much of the devaluation of labor either technology or monopoly explains, in part because there has been so little discussion of what’s going on. I think it’s fair to say that the shift of income from labor to capital has not yet made it into our national discourse.

 Yet that shift is happening — and it has major implications. For example, there is a big, lavishly financed push to reduce corporate tax rates; is this really what we want to be doing at a time when profits are surging at workers’ expense? Or what about the push to reduce or eliminate inheritance taxes; if we’re moving back to a world in which financial capital, not skill or education, determines income, do we really want to make it even easier to inherit wealth?

As I said, this is a discussion that has barely begun — but it’s time to get started, before the robots and the robber barons turn our society into something unrecognizable.
- I've wondered before whether Elections Canada would contribute needed factual detail to the Council of Canadians' Robocon litigation way it stepped into Ted Opitz' Etobicoke Centre challenge to minimize any concerns about the results in that single riding. But it's for the best that the answer is an emphatic "yes".

- Mike de Souza reports that after gutting fisheries legislation as part of their spring omnibus monstrosity, the Cons are now refusing to follow through on a promised consultation process to minimize the damage through regulations.

- Finally, Michael Harris theorizes that the Cons' out-of-control spin machine is set to crash head-first into reality.

#skndpldr Roundup

News and notes from Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign...

- I wasn't sure whether Ryan Meili's reddit appearance would result in much difference from other forms of candidate interaction. But the outcome looks to have been a noteworthy discussion - both in a range of creative questions (indeed more than Meili could answer in the time allotted), and in the free-flowing responses including an amended take on what government can do to encourage honest and open political debate.

- Meili also released his platform on education and child care - with the latter looking to give him a ready answer to each of his competitors as it combines a $7 per day child care system with increased access to pre-kindergarten and supports for stay-at-home parents.

- With much of Saskatchewan's political scene responding to the Provincial Auditor's latest comments on the provincial books, Erin Weir pointed out that we should draw two lessons from the province's current fiscal reporting: that we should indeed have a single, accurate set of books, but also that we should use the more accurate picture to raise revenue at a time when we can't justify running a deficit.

- Finally, Brett Estey and Tracey Mitchell were again the best sources for live coverage of this weekend's forum in La Ronge. And it's particularly worth noting that Trent Wotherspoon faced a direct challenge from Cam Broten as to his position on revenue sharing with First Nations - though I'll be curious to see the question and answer in detail.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jim Stanford responds to the claim that we should be eager to import whatever capital we can for lack of other means of developing our own resources:
Measured by foreign direct investment, Canada has been exporting capital, not importing it. During the four years ending 2011, Canadian companies invested almost $75-billion more in their own foreign subsidiaries than foreign companies invested here. By this measure, too, Canada supplies capital to the rest of the world, not the other way around.

Even if we simply equate foreign capital with “money,” we clearly don’t need it. Canadian non-financial businesses are sitting on $600-billion in cash balances (“dead money,” in Mark Carney’s parlance). After-tax corporate cash flow substantially exceeds new capital spending, so that stockpile is growing even further. Business has deleveraged dramatically: Debt-equity ratios are at their lowest levels in decades. Corporations could clearly releverage if money were genuinely in short supply – and Canada’s resilient banking system would be happy to oblige.

There are certainly cases when foreign investment adds value to a project: supplying proprietary technology or expertise, integrating Canadian operations into global product development plans, accessing international marketing opportunities. In those cases, I fully support more foreign investment. But none of these criteria fit the CNOOC and Petronas cases. Those takeovers add nothing to our economic capacity to develop and sell our resources. The only thing these foreign investors bring to the table is money – and we’ve got plenty of that. Our real national capacity to produce isn’t enhanced by these transactions, and may actually be undermined (given the risks posed by foreign control over a strategic, non-renewable resource).

In short, there’s no real economic sense in which Canada truly needs foreign capital (whether physical, human or financial) to develop our own natural resources. We’re quite capable of doing it ourselves, thank you – and we’d be much better off if we did it that way.
- Meanwhile, Michael Laxer comments on the human cost of prioritizing price cuts over all else. And Les Leopold documents how the wealthiest Americans have succeeded in hijacking public policy for their own purposes.

- And there's little doubt that the same is happening at home, with Michael Geist pointing out how the TPP is being forced through in total secrecy to ensure that citizens don't know what we're losing in the name of investor protections.

- Heather Mallick writes that Saskatchewan's latest provincial time capsule serves as an example of how our (official) records are both boring and lacking in substance:
Carpet swatches from the legislative chamber. An iPad manual. (Not an iPad. Just the manual.) A photo of Premier Brad Wall. A list of 2012 curling champions. Barley seeds. Chickpea seeds. Other seeds. A photo of the legislature’s cafeteria’s price list. A report from the Saskatchewan Provincial Constituency Boundaries Commission. A photo of an owl. A description of the previous time capsule from 1909, which appears to consist of a very thin phonebook.

“I hope these items convey to those 100 years hence the optimism and the energy, the vibrancy that is Saskatchewan today,” said Premier Brad Wall. I hope they don’t, sir.
Time capsules should be marvels, nuggets from life as it was actually lived: ketamine, locks of bleached hair, shiny things. Instead, left up to the politicians and protocol officers, they become encased festivals of propriety and quiescence. For every piece of birch bark biting (bark that native Canadians decorated with teeth marks), we have a copy of SaskBusiness Magazine’s “Top 100” companies in Saskatchewan for 2012.

Could anything be more stale? What this time capsule says is, “Behind all this dusty paper, people all over the vast grasslands of Saskatchewan were dusty.” I hope this isn’t true, but in this year of 2112, there will be no evidence to the contrary.
- Finally, Gerald Caplan discusses how bullying has become the default governing style for right-wing Canadian governments - even as most Canadians recognize it as both wrong and contrary to our national identity:
Bullying and abusing opponents is a way of life for Toronto’s mayor, and hundreds of thousands of Torontonians – the “Ford Nation” – still seem to love it. He won close to half of all votes cast in a three-man mayoralty race, and even now, after two years of enough self-inflicted wounds to finish off a T-Rex, he still commands significant support. Only the rash would bet against his re-election. Olivia Chow, be warned!

Maybe the traditional hype about us Canadians being such a caring, sharing bunch is all wrong. The evidence that we actually cherish bullies is pretty impressive. Our public broadcaster knows that. On the one hand, CBC Radio is awash in earnest little anti-bullying segments. On the other, you can barely turn on CBC TV without finding that menacing Dragon, Kevin O’Leary, glowering at you from one or another of his innumerable shows. “Business is war,” proclaims Mr. O’Leary. “I go out there, I want to kill the competitors. I want to make their lives miserable. I want to steal their market share. I want them to fear me.”

This is the very same CBC that the Conservatives and their Sun media pals demonize for its flagrant left-wing anti-business bias. And whose Don Cherry will be back sooner or later, another fine role model and champion for kids of every age.

You’d think Stephen Harper would embrace this new and nasty CBC as his government moves steadily to demolish the caring, sharing identity Canadians used to revel in. The Conservative technique for smearing their opponents is simply a form of political bullying. And it’s been enormously successful. They’ve made chopped liver of Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff and have begun their assault on Thomas Mulcair. As columnist Lawrence Martin reminds us, the PM “is still running a campaign of lies” against Mr. Mulcair on the carbon-tax issue, and Martin confidently predicts that “Harper’s attacks on [Justin] Trudeau will be vicious."

#skndpldr - Swift Current Debate Notes

As Scott has already noted, Saskatchewan NDP's Swift Current leadership debate included plenty of familar themes:

And indeed, one of the more interesting issues facing both the candidates and the debate organizers is how to account for the difference between an audience which may be seeing the candidates for the first time, and the relationship between the contestants themselves based on regular responses to the same questions. My preference would be to ensure that the candidates face a wider range of questions during the course of the campaign, meaning that the pattern of maybe 2 new questions at each debate falls short of what would be ideal - but there are certainly sound arguments to be made in both directions.

That said, even with the questions largely echoing the previous debates there were once again a few relatively new developments worth pointing out - which I'll cover in a quick candidate-by-candidate review.

Cam Broten's performance wasn't quite as effective in the Swift Current debate as in some of the previous ones - which may be explained in part by his having to carry out double duty between the Legislative Assembly and the debate. But the most noteworthy part of his answers on a couple of questions (those related to revenue and free trade agreements) was a tendency to emphasize an undefined concept of "balance" first, then only afterward point out some of the problems with the Sask Party's current direction.

Of course, few candidates will want to argue for imbalance in those policy areas (nor indeed in any other). But it may be telling that Broten's instinct is to triangulate rather than emphasizing contrasts on issues where there's a strong case to be made that we're a long way from balance by any reasonable measure.

The most noteworthy development in Ryan Meili's performance was his most direct audition yet for the role of leading off question period against Brad Wall. Meili identified an issue of substantial ambiguity in Cam Broten's Saskatoon answer on uranium refining, and pressed Broten to explain why he would treat refining differently from reactor construction (which all candidates have ruled out altogether). 

But Meili's style still looks to have some way to go: he's speaking more clearly and effectively in his opening and closing statements, but reverting to a softer, faster pace when answering questions (and still regularly running out of time in his responses). And future debates should tell us whether he'll be able to develop the same habits in speaking off the cuff that he's working on in his prepared speeches.

Erin Weir received the most significant gift of the debate in the form of a question from Trent Wotherspoon. So far, I've found Weir's strategy somewhat surprising: he hasn't entirely pivoted away from lumping all three of his opponents together in order to criticize a lack of focus on short-term costing and legislative priorities, leaving me to question how he'd expect to make up ground in later ballots.

But Wotherspoon positively invited Weir to speak in terms of broader principles rather than short-term proposals - which looks to me to be exactly what his campaign has all too often glossed over. And while Weir's follow-up response drifted back into policy detail, he'll be well served to focus on being able to demonstrate to other candidates' supporters that he can be as effective as anybody in motivating citizens to deal with the underlying principles that have mostly been endorsed by all sides.

Finally, Wotherspoon's own performance was somewhat improved from earlier debates. He was once again tripped up by relatively simple questions of policy detail - one from Weir asking him to choose how to pay for feed-in tariffs, and one from Meili on rural land ownership. But in each case the issue was more tied to a failure to choose among options than difficulty recognizing the choice presented to him. And in general the repetition of questions looks to have assisted Wotherspoon in developing more detailed answers as the debates have progressed. 

In closing, I do disagree with Scott's view that the candidates "have all hit their strides", as each looks to me to have room to grow as the campaign continues. But all have certainly built from the first debate to the fourth - and there's ample reason for optimism that the result will be a strong set of choices for NDP members.