Saturday, March 09, 2013

#skndpldr - First Ballot Analysis

The Saskatchewan NDP leadership's first-ballot results and ensuing developments are in. And while the balloting may be somewhat shorter than it could have been due to Trent Wotherspoon's withdrawal, there's still plenty of intrigue surrounding the second and final ballot.

The safest assumption may be to assume that down-ballot voting will mirror first-ballot results - in which case Ryan Meili will of course emerge ahead. And the absence of any endorsements in Cam Broten's favour will leave him without an obvious source of additional momentum to try to sway the few voters participating today (with only about 700 additional votes beyond those collected in advance).

But there's still a possibility that enough down-ballot advantages could push Broten ahead of Meili in the end: while a win by a net margin of about 20% over Meili among all voters who cast a ballot for Wotherspoon or Erin Weir doesn't seem particularly likely, it's within the realm of possibility.

My guess is that we'll see the two theories converge - that Broten will do better as compared to Meili, but not necessarily by enough to meaningfully close the gap (let alone overtake him). But there's plenty of intrigue either way as we proceed to the final ballot.

#skndpldr - Convention Decision Points

With upwards of 70% of eligible voters having already cast a ballot (and plenty of question as to how many more will do so), it's anybody's guess as to whether new votes today will substantially influence the results of Saskatchewan's NDP leadership race.

But for those still looking for a point of reference in deciding, I'll offer a reminder that it's possible to learn important lessons about a candidate by seeing how well he manages a public showcase whose planning is entirely under his campaign's control. And so while I don't expect to see any of the candidates radically change their campaign message, I'll be keeping a close eye on their ability to assemble a cohesive presentation within a 15-minute window - and whether anyone lets videos and supporter speeches get out of hand at the expense of any opportunity to connect directly with remaining voters.

Barring any major surprises out of the the showcases, I'll limit my posting today to a bit of Twitter commentary, plus blog posts analyzing the results from each ballot. For further coverage of the convention as it happens, see media blogs from John Cairns and the Star-Phoenix along with the always-active Twitter feed.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Musical interlude

Underworld - Mo Move

On poison pills

I've already pointed out the absurdity of Gordon Campbell anti-NDP acolyte Joyce Murray pretending to run as a pan-progressive candidate in the Libs' leadership race. But if we needed any more indication that she can't be taken seriously, Tim Harper provides it by looking at the fine print of her "cooperation" plan:
Under the Murray plan, seats held by the Conservatives in which the governing party received less than 50 per cent of the vote would be targeted for co-operation.
She would blend the 2008 and 2011 results, to eliminate any onetime anomalies. One such anomaly, she said, was the Jack Layton-led 2011 NDP conquest of Quebec.
Now, one of the main criticisms of strategic voting schemes has been their inevitable reliance on re-fighting the last war - with results ranging from ineffective to downright counterproductive.

But Murray apparently isn't satisfied with even that well-established level of failure. Instead, she's going a step further into the past, seeking to incorporate yet another layer of past (and outdated) data from the 2008 election in order to try to make her proposal palatable among supporters who apparently want to live in denial that the most recent federal election actually happened.

Moreover, she's explicitly declaring that a plan nominally aimed at expanding the number of progressive seats in Parliament will operate on the assumption that the largest actual grouping of such seats is an irrelevant "anomaly". (Not that the NDP's success in winning Quebec ridings from the Cons and Bloc would be subject to her cooperation plan in the first place - as in another familiar failing of strategic voting schemes, Murray doesn't seem to recognize that a viable coalition needs to hold and build on the seats it actually holds rather than simply assuming the rest of the election will proceed exactly like the previous one.)

Again, I normally wouldn't wade into another party's leadership campaign. But a candidate trying to run on cross-party cooperation can't expect to avoid questions as to whether her plan represents a slap in the face rather than an outstretched hand. And Murray's desire to dismiss the 2011 election and the enduring growth of the NDP falls squarely into the former category - meaning that anybody seeking a standard-bearer for a progressive coalition needs to look elsewhere.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Public Interest Alberta takes a closer look at that province's rhetoric about taxes, and finds that in fact most Albertans pay more income tax than they would under the more fair and progressive systems applied in other province:
“Albertans who believe the myth that we pay the lowest taxes in Canada will be surprised to see that they are paying more income tax than if they lived in BC or Ontario. At the same time, people in Alberta with very high incomes are paying tens of thousands less in income tax than in other parts of Canada,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta.

An Albertan with a taxable income of $1 million will pay $41,095 less than if they lived in BC and $75,157 less than if they lived in Ontario. However, an Albertan with a taxable income of $70,000 will pay $1434 more than if they lived in BC and $919 more than if they lived in Ontario.
- Andrew Jackson rebuts a few of the zombie arguments against higher minimum wages. And Scott Clark and Peter DeVries highlight not only why there's ample reason for concern about the federal budget, but also why Jim Flaherty's obsession with austerity and naive faith in the confidence fairy may cause yet more economic problems in the years to come.

- Meanwhile, Chantal Hebert wonders whether the Cons' move to claw back billions of dollars for EI training will lead to a backlash from the provinces involved. And that's doubly so given the question of whether the Cons' purpose has anything at all to do with achieving results, or whether it's simply a matter of wanting to be able to engage in another round of gratuitous self-promotion.

- Geoffrey Stevens and the Macleans editorial board both make the case that it's time to take a serious look at abolishing the Senate.

- Finally, Frances Russell contrasts Preston Manning's one-time concern with building a party and a movement which would be broadly acceptable to the Canadian public against his current embrace of Ron Paul and other dubious figures.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Selling the lie

Shorter Brad Wall:

Of course neither Stephen Harper nor any of his provincial mini-petro-states has any interest in actually dealing with climate change. But as long as we rev up our PR machine to claim otherwise, surely Barack Obama will be none the wiser.

#skndpldr Roundup

With this weekend's convention approaching, we're starting to see plenty more media coverage of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. So for those who haven't yet voted (or those looking for some new material generally), there's discussion on offer through:
- Metro's brief profiles of each of Cam Broten, Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon;
- Murray Mandryk's latest, features each of the candidates defining their view of leadership; and
- assorted other radio and TV appearances by the candidates (which I'll post if links are available).

Meanwhile, Wotherspoon's campaign is nicely prepared for the convention, having already circulated a video invitation to his hospitality suite. And Jason Hammond has put together a video review of Meili's campaign.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Lawrence Martin discusses how the B.C. Libs, Harper Cons and other governments have responded to transparency requirements by deliberately refusing to record what they're doing and why:
News from the government of British Columbia. Sorry citizens, we have no files. There is no written record of our decisions. You want to know how we operate? Sorry.

It’s no joke. A report from Elizabeth Denham, the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, says the rate of ‘no records’ responses to freedom of information requests is soaring. At the premier’s office, no less than 45 per cent of requests were turned back for that reason.

The file cupboards are increasingly bare, the commish says, because emails are being destroyed and senior officials are communicating orally rather than putting anything in writing.

If you want a formula for deniability, it’s a hard one to beat. It means that on any controversy that emerges, there is no documented way to establish culpability. No records. No accountability.

If the oral culture of governance is booming in British Columbia, how might it be doing in other provinces and in Ottawa? I remember first learning about this kind of thing while writing about the Afghan detainees’ affair. A bureaucrat from the defence department described it this way: “I get a call from the Privy Council Office. They’re setting up a conference call. The first thing that is said is, ‘No note-taking, no recordings, nothing. We don’t want to see anything in writing on this.’” The bureaucrat said this was the way policies were being developed. “It’s scary.”
- Meanwhile, Canadians for Tax Fairness notes that the Cons' attitude toward tax revenues lost to overseas tax avoidance is "don't know, don't want to know". And Murray Brewster's report on soaring defence contracting costs led the Cons to hastily reallocate nearly $800 million to try to save face - suggesting that there's all the more reason to worry that the Cons indeed lack any clue how public money is being used (and want to make sure nobody else can piece the truth together).

- Kathryn May reports on Donald Savoie's conclusion that business-style decision-making has done nothing but damage to Canada's public sector:
The drive to improve management flopped. An industry mushroomed within the bureaucracy to fabricate a bottom line with new oversight units designed to help evaluate and audit programs, manage risk, measure performance and hand out performance bonuses. These shops are filled with bureaucrats and hired consultants who, Savoie says, “turn cranks attached to nothing,” and churn out reports for Parliament that are barely read. Savoie argues this oversight bureaucracy has come at the expense of front-line services.

The public service added about 70,000 jobs over the past dozen years, concentrated in the National Capital Region where most departments are headquartered, rather in the field where the “rubber hits the road” and public servants deliver services to Canadians. Thirty years ago, 72 per cent of public servants were in regions, and today that has shrunk to 57 per cent.

He puts much of the blame for the growth of oversight on the auditor-general, whom he calls “the biggest proponent of new public management,” and on other parliamentary watchdogs.

“The essence of the public service is to provide front-line services to Canadians and we have lost sight of that. The public service is tasked with managing the paper burden, feeding the beast and managing processes and we can lay much of that at the doorstep of the auditor-general and other parliamentary officers.”
- Finally, while I've seen plenty of others discuss the massive gaps between inequality in reality, as it's believed to be and as it ought to be, a video reminder is always a plus.

New column day

Here, on how the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign winding up this weekend looks to be well ahead of the party's 2009 campaign in voter turnout and fund-raising.

For further reading...
- The current financial reports from this year's campaign are here. 2009 numbers are from James Wood's post-campaign report, showing full-campaign donations of $131,132 to Dwain Lingenfelter, $62,231 to Ryan Meili, $21,725 to Yens Pedersen and $21,064 to Deb Higgins.
- Voter turnout numbers from 2009 are here.
- And for those interested in reading more about the leadership campaign as we approach this weekend's convention, see my own reference page (updated today) along with Leftdog's aggregator.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Paul Adams highlights how the Cons and their anti-social allies have spent decades trying to convince Canadians that it's not worth trying to pursue the goals we value - and how the main challenge for progressives is to make the case that a better future is possible:
This is a huge issue for progressives — perhaps the most important they face.

This lack of faith in government is partly the product of 30 years of increasingly conservative governments which have shed any social ambition in favour of tax cuts and austerity — and their cheerleaders in the media, academia and the polling industry. Conservatives have lost many ideological battles in this period, mostly on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. However, they have succeeded in persuading many Canadians that governments are impotent when it comes to unemployment, the environment and First Nations.

Bricker and Ibbitson essentially ratify the trend to smaller, more austere and limited government and its companion ideology, which they think has created a Canadian society which is good — “not great”.

The challenge for progressives in Canada as elsewhere is to convince voters that the crises of climate change and inequality require us to shake off that complacent view of what we can collectively achieve.
- But an equally important step may be to ensure politicians have a better idea what the public actually believes. On that front, Ezra Klein discusses new research showing that U.S. politicians from both major parties tend to overestimate their constituents' level of conservatism, leading them to wrongly believe that right-wing policies reflect public demand. And the Alberta Federation of Labour unveils yet more polling data showing that even in the province whose political class serves as the main driver of corporatism in Canada, upwards of 70% of the general public opposes austerity and supports more progressive taxes.

- Meanwhile, Katrina vanden Heuvel makes the case for a financial transactions tax.

- Finally, Jim Stanford interrupts the Cons' admonition that nobody is allowed to discuss Dutch disease by pointing out that the vast majority of academic work on the subject finds it to be a significant problem for Canadian manufacturing.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Active cats.

#skndpldr Candidate Rankings - March 5

So far, I've limited these rankings to the question of which candidate I see as most likely to emerge victorious at the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership convention.

But since the rankings haven't produced any substantial movement, I'll include a bit more to this week's prognostication, adding my best guess as to the candidates' first-ballot support andestimated chance of victory.

1. Ryan Meili (1)

While I'm not entirely convinced that Meili is set to double the vote totals of his two remaining competitors, he still looks to be in the pole position heading into this weekend's convention. And the large number of votes cast in advance looks to be good news for Meili on two fronts: it minimizes the likelihood or effect of any concerted joint effort by the remaining two candidates, and it raises the number of votes likely to be cast in advance for one candidate only (which will limit the opportunity for another candidate to gain ground).

Best-guess 1st ballot support: 42%
Best-guess probability of victory: 65%

2. Cam Broten (2)

Once again, Broten may have more room to maneuver his way from second place into an eventual win. But it's still an open question whether he'll stay close enough for his down-ballot advantages to come into play - and even then it's not clear how many votes will remain to be won.

Best-guess 1st ballot support: 31%
Best-guess probability of victory: 25%

3. Trent Wotherspoon (3)

Finally, Wotherspoon's chance of victory is based largely on the possibility that we don't have perfect information about the candidates' first-ballot support. But he faces a tough road in down-ballot support even if he starts out ahead - meaning that like Meili, he may be best off with a high number of one-choice advance votes which reduces the count needed to win on a second ballot.

Best-guess 1st ballot support: 27%
Best-guess probability of victory: 10%

#skndpldr Candidate Review - Trent Wotherspoon

Let's close out my series of candidate reviews with a look at Trent Wotherspoon.

At the start of the campaign, Wotherspoon's campaign looked to have plenty of room for variance in multiple directions.

On the upside, his flashy and well-attended launch and early spending spree raised the prospect that he might be able to position himself too far ahead of his competitors for anybody else to catch up. But on the downside, he also faced questions about his ability to deal with tough challenges, as well as a risk that he might take on negative impressions due to the perception of a candidate with ties to Dwain Lingenfelter following a similar shock-and-awe path to victory.

In retrospect, all of the questions about Wotherspoon look overblown. He's generally held his own in the leadership debates both when challenged directly and in testing his competitors, and he's kept up his friendly persona throughout the race. But he also hasn't given much indication of building up a particularly large following as the campaign has progressed, meaning that he doesn't figure to be able to pile supporters onto a bandwagon based on an aura of inevitability.

As a result, Wotherspoon is finishing the race much where he started it, only without the room for sudden shifts. He's still near the head of the pack when it comes to the HOAG factor, but without a lot of evidence that his ease in connecting with all kinds of people has translated into a large number of committed volunteers; he's still slightly behind his fellow candidates when it comes to detailed policy discussion, but he's built up a few signature issues with the potential to resonate among the NDP's base and the general public.

Given the composition of the race as it now stands, it looks unlikely that Wotherspoon can emerge on top even if the three candidates are close to evenly matched on the first ballot. So what have we learned about Wotherspoon during the leadership campaign that could determine his ideal role within the NDP in the years to come?

Well, Wotherspoon has consistently included listening among his top priorities. And while he's proposed regular caucus listening tours as one of his main promises, I'd think his personal comfort as an ambassador for the NDP might offer an alternative.

If the party can increase its outreach by having both a new leader and Wotherspoon engaged in regular visits around the province, it figures to be in a much better position to connect with a wider audience and develop regular activity in a greater range of communities. And so the NDP's next leader may be best served to test whether Wotherspoon is interested in continuing his relentless touring schedule even after the leadership campaign comes to an end.

#skndpldr Candidate Review - Erin Weir

Following up on yesterday's candidate review posts, let's move on to a look at Erin Weir's Saskatchewan NDP leadership campaign.

Weir's launch came at a time when it wasn't clear who (if anybody) would join Cam Broten and Trent Wotherspoon in the race. And under those circumstances, Weir looked well placed to serve as the outsider candidate.

But once Ryan Meili entered the fray and started to build his grassroots campaign, Weir was left with few options to carve out a distinct niche. And his resulting message track about the virtues of costing and planning didn't do much to overcome the perception of a somewhat aloof candidate - a factor which may only have helped Meili to sound inspirational in comparison.

As expected, though, Weir was extremely effective in both asking and answering questions during the leadership debates - and he put together enough fund-raising support and organization to keep himself in the mix with the other candidates. So if Weir didn't get enough of a foothold to emerge as a top contender in this year's campaign, he did position himself to be an important voice within the party for years to come.

While I'm still not sure that a focus on serving as the voice in response to every available economic story made for a particularly compelling case for a potential leader, it should rank near the top of the to-do list for an opposition party. And throughout the leadership campaign, Weir also offered the strongest opposition voice challenging the Saskatchewan Party's policies in substance.

Adding that track record to Weir's economic credentials and eye for policy detail, there shouldn't be much doubt that any new leader can put his talents to good use. In the short term, he'd be an ideal choice to take charge of the NDP's media and policy response operations. And Weir should be able to play a central role in assembling and costing the NDP's platform for elections to come.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Cory Doctorow duly blasts the Harper Cons for meekly complying with an onerous copyright treaty which isn't even in force. Which raises the question: if the Cons were really interested in demonstrating some independence as a response to the U.S. declining to rubber-stamp Keystone XL, wouldn't this be the best time to show some backbone?

- Mike Blanchfield reports on the conclusions of the UN's right-to-food envoy - including that the Harper Cons have managed to make food less accessible for Canadians through means ranging from the destruction of the long-form census to an insistence on signing ill-advised trade pacts.

- Meanwhile, CBC highlights Vic Toews' stunning claim that if the Cons appointed a desperately flawed candidate to head up Canada's security watchdog, it's the fault of other parties for not sufficiently pointing out that the Cons are utterly clueless and unfit to govern. So in the interest of helping Toews out: YOU ARE UTTERLY CLUELESS AND UNFIT TO GOVERN. PLEASE STOP YOUR CURRENT ACTIONS BEFORE YOU DO ANY FURTHER DAMAGE.

- James Stewart tests the theory that income tax rates result in any meaningful movement among the 1%. And not surprisingly, our corporate overlords are much less likely to move themselves than their assets into tax havens.

- Finally, Tim Harper wonders whether crossing the floor should carry a penalty for MPs.

#skndpldr Candidate Review - Ryan Meili

As I mentioned in offering my endorsement, Ryan Meili has managed to cover all of the most important bases for a leadership candidate over the course of the campaign. On the first primary question as to what vision he'd present for the party and the province, Meili always held an advantage based on the thought he's put into his book - and he's had no trouble defending that vision or applying it to all kinds of policy discussions.

But Meili has also been highly effective on the organizational front - eventually leading the way in fund-raising and volunteer activity, while also unveiling the most creative and detailed platform. And it's particularly noteworthy that he's reached that position as the last entrant into the race, and after making a conscious choice to get a late start on the policy front.

In other words, Meili has provided the most obvious example as to how the NDP can expand its existing reach. Meili himself has managed to move well beyond his already-strong showing on all fronts from 2009, and his campaign has proven the most adept at adding new members and integrating them into an existing plan.

But that strength shouldn't be taken to say that Meili doesn't have some room left to grow as a spokesperson and face of a party. His contributions to the candidate debates have remained far stronger in substance than in style - and his "inside voice" particularly looms as an area for improvement given the need to be able to rally ever larger crowds as the NDP builds its strength.

And while he's managed to emerge ahead of his competitors, there's still work to be done in continuing that growth past the leadership campaign - particularly given that his two remaining competitors seem to have managed to hold their own following Meili's emergence as the front-runner.

Ultimately, though, if the most important question facing a leadership candidate is whether he can keep up what's worked during the leadership campaign, that looks to bode well for his future prospects.
Mind you, I don't take for granted that a Meili victory is set in stone. So what would be the ideal role for him aside from party leader?

My guess is that Meili would be mentioned again as a leading candidate to lead the NDP's next policy review process. But if he were to lose to Broten (which looks like the most plausible outcome other than a Meili victory), it will be difficult to claim that there's much doubt what Broten will want the NDP's immediate policy to look like. And Meili's creative thinking could probably be put to better use than wordsmithing existing policies.

With that in mind, I'd suggest that if Meili doesn't win the leadership, his best alternative role might be a bit more specialized. Rather than being charged policy development generally, he'd be ideally suited to lead a "skunkworks" policy development team - tasked with thinking up (or seeking out) and developing innovative ideas which need further work before being formally incorporated into party policy, but which might serve to meaningfully expand the political playing field if they find sufficient support.

That said, the combination of principle, flexible thought and organizational skills which might make that a potential role for Meili also looks to form an ideal mix for the NDP's next leader - particularly when added to Meili's ease in winning over new supporters. And so I'll be hoping to see him emerge on top at next weekend's convention.

#skndpldr Candidate Review - Cam Broten

Apparently nearly 60% of Saskatchewan's NDP members had already voted for a leadership candidate as of Friday, and the remaining candidates are all launching determined efforts to lock in all the support they can before Tuesday's advance voting deadline. As a result, it's a distinct possibility that the result of the leadership race will be all but decided early this week.

That said, there's still plenty of room for maneuvering in how the candidates approach the convention and beyond. So I'll take the opportunity to review how the campaign has reinforced or changed my initial perception of the leadership candidates (including Erin Weir) - and what roles I'll hope to see each candidate playing within the NDP regardless of how the vote turns out.

I'll take the opportunity to note that this exercise has offered a useful reminder as to how strong a field of candidates the NDP enjoys. While I've pointed out relative differences and weaknesses to the extent they're relevant in sorting out the options available to voters, it's not hard to see how a party could succeed with any of the four as leader. And as I'll discuss, each of the candidates offers a complementary set of strengths which should serve the party well in the years to come.

As per usual, let's start with...

Cam Broten

At the start of the campaign, my impression of Broten was that he was likely to place in the mid-to-upper ranks of the leadership candidates by nearly any conceivable measure. But as the campaign has developed, he's shown both one distinct strength and one important weakness which look to me to define his candidacy (and his place within the Saskatchewan NDP).

On the plus side for Broten, he looks to have outdistanced his competitors in terms of developing and executing an overall campaign strategy - starting well before the formal leadership race and continuing throughout.

Broten started off the campaign with an immediate show of readiness, giving himself more leeway than his competitors to treat policy questions as having been dealt with (even if he was largely eclipsed on that front by the holiday break). While Broten has never looked to hold a lead in member support, he's always had enough in reserve to show momentum when it's mattered - particularly as the voting window approached. And even where his campaign has shown signs of weakness, he's been able to offer ready-made explanations (such as an appeal to donate money to the provincial party around the time of his mid-campaign fund-raising lull).

Similarly, he's developed a clear plan within the candidate debates and has mostly succeeded in sticking to it. And as I've pointed out, the "variations on a theme" principle looks to be highly important for the NDP's ongoing strategy in the legislature.

But while Broten has been highly effective in applying the techniques that the opposition needs to use to make a story stick to a government, he hasn't been quite so dependable in choosing his themes in the first place. Instead, he's left the most room for interpretation and doubt as to what goals he'd pursue.

Part of that looks to be the result of Broten's highly specific range of experience. Broten has the best command of the legislative process and media relations out of the contenders, but he's been prone to fixating on those areas of strength rather than broader issues which actually resonate with voters.

More importantly, though, Broten has all too often failed to set a distinctive direction for himself: he's proven his ability to make a case for progressive values and policies when challenged to do so, but has preferred to focus on jokes and platitudes rather than a broad vision when given an open microphone. And while it might be easy for him to speak from experience about process issues while leaving substantive policy to future consultation and review, that combination doesn't figure to motivate the base of volunteers and donors the NDP needs to build over the years to come.

In sum, Broten's managerial skills are at the head of the pack among the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership candidates. And I can see how he might be the first choice for anybody who sees the role of a party leader primarily in terms of organization and discipline.

But those factors shouldn't represent the first order of business for a party which needs to build its base of supporters rather than merely working organizing the base it already holds. And so my best-case scenario would see Broten serving as deputy leader and key strategist - while another leadership candidate with a better record of drawing in new supporters serves as the face of the party.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Chrystia Freeland comments on the disproportionate influence of the super-rich in a democratic system which is supposed to value citizens equally:
“I think most Americans believe in the idea of political equality,” Callahan told me. “That idea is obviously corrupted when in 2012, one guy, Sheldon Adelson, can make more political donations than the residents of 12 states put together.”

The Demos study draws in part on the quantitative research of Martin Gilens, a professor of politics at Princeton University and author of “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.” Gilens, who focused on the divide between the top 10 percent and everyone else, found a high degree of what he calls political inequality.

“I looked at lots of survey data that indicated what people at different income levels wanted the government to do, and then I looked at what the government did,” Gilens explained.

“For people at the top 10 percent, you could predict what the government would do based on their preferences,” he said. “But when the preferences of people at lower income levels diverged from the affluent, that had no impact at all on the policies that were adopted. That was true not only for the poor but for the middle class as well.”

Gilens is a social scientist who is careful to stick to his data. But he told me he was “definitely surprised by the extent of the inequality.”

“If you value democracy, if you value the ability of people at all levels of income to shape government, which is what it means to be a democracy, then, yes, you should be very worried,” he said.
- Michael Smyth discusses the chaos surrounding the B.C. Libs, who aren't having any particular success running damage control after using public resources for a partisan ethnic voter strategy. And even one of Gordon Campbell's former chiefs of staff is pointing out that a combination of untrustworthy government and transparent corporate interference is only making the NDP look all the better by comparison.

- I'm not sure there's ever going to be much basis for confidence in the Northern Gateway pipeline. But an Enbridge witness trying to make the case that oil spills would be good for northern B.C. doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the project's backers are taking the dangers of a spill seriously.

- Finally, Noah Evanchuk wonders whether the Cons' stranglehold on much of western Canada is as safe as most pundits seem to presume - and notes that a track record of patronage and waste like the one amassed by the Harper Cons tends to give rise to a backlash on the prairies:
For two decades, Conservatives have been able to campaign in Alberta and Saskatchewan as Hill outsiders, vowing to go to Ottawa to “stand up” for the region. This “nail ‘em up” ethos has a long history in Western Canada and, going back to Louis Riel and the Red River Rebellion, no area of Canada has as consistently sent non-traditional parties to the House of Commons as Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Hot-button issues like the Liberal long gun registry and the Firearm Act allowed the Conservatives to tap into deep regional dissatisfaction with Ottawa. Their consistent dominance on the Prairies has fooled some Ottawa-based commentators into thinking the area is a lost cause for the NDP.

But the winds are changing direction for Tom Mulcair and the NDP in the West, where — along with the changing demographics that have given rise to the Idle No More movement — they will be taking seats directly from Conservatives, and electing a truly national NDP government in the process.

#skndpldr Roundup

With the advance voting window closing on Tuesday and the Saskatchewan NDP's convention set to take place next weekend, we've seen a flurry of leadership activity in the last few days - including both late appeals from the candidates themselves, and additional material for discussion.

On the candidate front, Trent Wotherspoon's campaign released his closing argument:

And Ryan Meili's latest video features CCF/NDP pioneers lending their support:

Meanwhile, the latest financial report served mostly to confirm that there's still a tight three-way race. Cam Broten took a small advantage over Meili for the most recent reporting period, while Meili still has the most cash in hand (by an eyelash over Broten). Which looks to signal that there's no significant gap in financial resources between the remaining contenders.

Finally, with the vote approaching we can expect to see more outside commentators adding their take into the mix. And Murray Mandryk's latest on the race offers a useful summary of some of the pros and cons of the NDP's leadership contestants - though I'll look to expand on that theme this weekend.