Saturday, December 03, 2005

Well said

From The Amazing Wonderdog:
This is how the Liberals lead social change these days: they wait until something has already happened, and then pretend that they were leading the parade -- rather than blundering around in the street in a state of abject confusion.

And of course, the Conservative reaction has been, as we have seen, not to bother attending the parade. Afterwards, they pretend that there was no parade, and try to pass laws declaring that the parade never happened.
Give it a read.

Fun comparison

May 7, 2004: Stephen Harper rightly slams Paul Martin for claiming to defend public health care while making use of a doctor who offers private services:
We have a Prime Minister who denounces the practice of chequebook medicine and it turns out that he is actually practising it himself, queue-jumping at private clinics. I have a simple question: How is the government ever going to explain its hypocrisy on health care?
December 3, 2005: Stephen Harper, fresh off a declaration that his party won't encourage a parallel private system, indicates his willingness to not only use a dual clinic, but pay for private services:
On Vancouver's CKNW Radio open-line show Warren on the Weekend, host Peter Warren asked Harper and Layton at different times on Saturday if they would use a private clinic if their wife needed a hip replacement and were in pain...

Warren: You would have gone private?
Harper: If that's what I had to do.
Which leads to the obvious question: How is Stephen Harper ever going to explain his hypocrisy on health care?

As a bonus, note that one party leader not only backs the public system with words, but cares enough about public delivery that he plans to continue using it himself:
Layton said he and his wife Olivia Chow, a candidate in Toronto's downtown Trinity-Spadina riding, would rather suffer than go private.

"We would work for the public, for the system, because we believe in it," he said.
And better yet, here's the Layton quote from a more thorough version of the story:
"I can understand the choices people are having to make here," Layton said in Burnaby, B.C.

"My dad had Parkinson's, my wife (Olivia Chow) was diagnosed with cancer, I ended up in the emergency ward with appendix (problems). These are real human decisions.

"Olivia and I have talked a lot about this. We would not support the idea, personally, of buying our way to the front of a line."
And that's the right answer from anybody truly committed to health care. Which obviously doesn't include the leaders of the Libs or the Cons.

(Edited to add new quote.)

Crowd displeaser

Harper's drug strategy was the big election news today...but surely it has to be a bad sign that it fell flat when presented to those most affected by drugs:
On Saturday, Harper met with local residents at the Burnaby recreation centre and heard some of their horrifying experiences with drugs.

Lori, a recovering crystal meth addict who does not want her last name used, said she doesn't vote and was contacted by his staff to attend the event.

But she wasn't very positive on Harper's plan...

Lori hadn't been shown the details of Harper's drug crime platform and wondered if it contained anything about recovery programs. It did not.

"If it's not in there, that's really going to make me angry," she said, after offering her advice and sharing her story with Harper's team.

"I'd really like to know why he'd not say anything."
The Con response was to claim that recovery funding will be dealt with later...which sounds like a useful way of claiming to be interested in the issue to try to save some face. But surely it speaks volumes that the Cons not only didn't give the issue a single thought in planning out their drug strategy, but also wrongly assumed that sentencing alone would make the platform a popular one with the people with the best knowledge of the problem.

For all his raised profile this week, Harper has succeeded in doing nothing more than proving that he's a master at unveiling policies which people don't support. And that plays nicely into the "not scary, just wrong" line of attack from Layton...while making Martin look silly for considering Harper a serious threat to anything.

Prairie offensive

Most of the polls this week haven't looked great for the NDP, but the latest EKOS poll has the NDP on the rise with the dichotomy in decline:
In terms of party support, the Liberals' frontrunner position has slipped almost five points from last week to 34.1 per cent, according to the poll conducted by EKOS Research...

Support also slipped away from Stephen Harper's Conservatives in the first days of the campaign. They dropped two points from last week to stand at 27.4 per cent...

The NDP stands at 18.4 per cent nationally, up from 16.9 per cent last week and the NDP outpaced the Conservatives in both the Prairies (34 per cent versus 27 per cent) and in British Columbia (30 per cent versus 26 per cent.)...

Nightly polling found a gradual decline in Tory support as the week went on, with support dropping from about 34 per cent on Tuesday to 24 per cent on Thursday.
What's more, there doesn't seem to be any artificial advantage to the NDP which would have swayed the numbers in their favour. In fact, Harper went westward a day earlier than Layton to stump for support, though I suppose that could be seen as more a detriment than a benefit to the Cons.

In any event, Harper's PR offensive doesn't seem to have done him anything but harm so far. And if these numbers can hold up, particularly in Western Canada, that'll work wonders to counteract any Ontario fears about a Con government. We can only hope the Cons will keep trending downward and opening the door for the NDP.

Canada in the crosshairs

Following the well-documented takeover of several Con nominations by Focus on the Family, another all-too-well-known U.S. pressure group is making its presence felt in the Canadian election:
The National Rifle Association, arguably the most powerful lobby group in the United States, has been enlisted to help shore up the influence of the Canadian gun lobby during the federal election campaign — something opponents say smacks of foreign interference and is indicative of the NRA's widening influence around the globe.

Glen Caroline, director of the NRA's grassroots division, is a keynote speaker and is giving a seminar today in Scarborough at the general meeting of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, an umbrella organization of recreational firearms groups...

While the association hasn't officially endorsed a party, it likely will this weekend.
And anybody in doubt as to which party will win that endorsement really hasn't been paying enough attention. But like the Focus on the Family story, the NRA's effort to push its position in Canada could well lead to a backlash - particularly if, as expected, its endorsement results in even more obvious U.S. influence over a party pretending to want to "Stand Up for Canada".

Lest that be taken as reason to favour the Liberals, not so - particularly given the Libs' ineffectiveness in dealing with gun violence. The only way to cut back on the influence of U.S. pressure groups is to make sure that the Cons know that foreign involvement will be seen as a liability. And that means not only leaving the Cons short of power this time out, but also replacing them with a genuine Canadian opposition.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Peace, order and goodwill among men

Sure, Harper can make promises directly out of the 1993 Red Book, and Martin can promise...well, to not be Harper. But only Jack Layton is fighting to take back Christmas:
Perhaps with his heart warmed by the Christmas spirit, NDP leader Jack Layton is hoping the parties will agree to a campaign truce this December. But so far, the other parties seem reluctant to agree.

"I'm hopeful that the stories that we're hearing back from those discussions don't turn out to be true," Layton told reporters in Regina.

The NDP leader had wanted to avoid a Christmas election altogether back in early November, proposing a motion to ensure a mid-February election day.
Now, it's tough to be too optimistic when both Harper and Martin have already refused opportunities to avoid a holiday campaign. But at the very least Jack seems to be onside with most Canadians when it comes to giving the campaign a rest around Christmas. And that'll leave Harper and PMPM the choice of either highlighting Layton's unique ability to broker deals, or being responsible for once again missing the chance for relative peace during the holidays.

Buzz cuts

In a sense, it's a plus for the NDP's image to be linked to more than just large unions...but that doesn't mean there's any benefit for the party or the union in Buzz Hargrove's willingness to side with PMPM...even if Hargrove's words weren't quite as harmful as his actions:
Earlier, Martin received a ringing endorsement from CAW boss Buzz Hargrove, who said the record of the minority Liberal government in just 17 months shows they should be returned to Ottawa with even more seats, even though the CAW has officially endorsed the New Democrats.

Hargrove explained he'd like to see a Liberal minority with a strong NDP opposition, and said CAW members should vote Liberal if the local New Democrat candidate doesn't stand a good chance of winning.

Harper "doesn't deserve a chance" to undo Liberal initiatives such as same-sex marriage legislation, Hargrove said.
Now, it's hard to see Hargrove's comments as a particularly strong endorsement in any event. After all, his best-case scenario would essentially be the same as the NDP's, but would be a slightly disappointing result for Libs who presumably have their eyes on a majority. Those semantics aside, Hargrove's action is still problematic on many levels.

Part of the problem comes in Hargrove's apparent failure to mention the flip side to his anti-Harper argument: i.e. that to produce his desired end result, voters in weak Liberal ridings would similarly have a strong motivation to vote NDP. More important than Hargrove's words, however, is his willingness to appear at Martin's side and tacitly endorse a wrongheaded Martin speech - particularly in light of the union's official endorsement of the NDP.

I'm not entirely sure how the body which made that endorsement relates to those who decided to invite Martin to the meeting. But it seems fairly contradictory for a union which has endorsed the NDP to now be used as a platform for a Martin attempt to pretend the left side of the political spectrum doesn't exist. And if Hargrove's action was contrary to the will of the bulk of his members, then PMPM is now a contributor to a democratic deficit within the CAW as well as to the one in Canada at large.

Of course, maybe the union has outright turned toward the Liberals, as the article does suggest that PMPM got a standing ovation. If so, then Layton may be forced to turn far more attention than he'd like toward Ontario in an effort to bring the unions back in the fold. But if that's true, then it'll simply direct NDP attention away from ridings across the country where they'd otherwise have been able to challenge the Cons, and thereby help the Cons' chance of getting toward government. Needless to say, it's tough to see that as a win for the CAW either.

We'll find out shortly whether Buzz has pushed the NDP light-years behind their planned standing in the campaign. But either way, it looks like his willingness to help the Libs may be a loss for both his traditional allies and his members.

Rally cap

A slightly belated commentary on the NDP's Saskatchewan campaign launch this morning:

The big news was Layton's response to Harper's GST cut as being expensive and inefficient, and I have to like the NDP's angle. Harper's proposal is obviously less targeted toward the needs of most Canadians than the NDP's proposal to eliminate the tax altogether on necessary goods...and the mere fact that both involve GST reductions doesn't make Harper's idea a desirable one for the NDP.

Moreover, even if there was reason to think that an across-the-board GST cut could be as effective as a targeted one, there's still ample reason not to give Harper a free pass on anything at this point. The worst-case scenario for the NDP is for the Cons to pick up steam now so as to cause an anti-Harper swing late in the election. Layton thus needs to keep firing at both other parties - and he kept the guns blazing toward both this morning.

Not too much else was different from the NDP's usual message - lots of talk of equalization, failure to stand up to the U.S. on trade, health care, and "Harper is wrong rather than scary", all of which makes plenty of sense given the crowd. There was still no mention of any goal aside from "more seats in Parliament", though that was understandable given the regional nature of the rally. And the local Cons took a well-deserved beating for their failure to get anything accomplished.

In sum, the Saskatchewan campaign is off to a good start, and the national message is still very much on course. Hopefully that'll continue, and will be enough to take advantage of the NDP's obvious potential to connect with a large number of voters this time out.

(Edit: typo.)

A receptive public

While the Globe and Mail focuses on the Tory message in the latest Strategic Counsel poll, the news looks even better for the NDP (even if the party's number is slightly lower):
According to the survey, 66 per cent believed the Conservative notion that "the election is about the need for change."

By contrast, 44 per cent of those surveyed said they accepted Paul Martin's message that only the Liberals can ensure the right "kind of economic management to keep the economy strong."

The NDP message — that the election is about finding a strong voice for Canadians in Parliament and that neither the Tories nor the Liberals can provide it — was found believable by 60 per cent of those polled.
What the Globe and Mail's reporting ignored was that the stated Conservative message is essentially contained within the NDP message, which is itself driven by a need for change. The real question is who can answer that need...and from the survey results, 60% of those surveyed don't trust either the Libs or the Cons to provide it.

Mind you, the NDP still has to make its case over the course of the campaign that it can take the role as the voice of the public. But if a strong majority of all Canadians already believes that neither the Libs nor the Cons can speak for Canadians generally, then there's a huge opportunity waiting for the NDP.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

On the importance of direction

The Globe and Mail points out that CIBC is taking a cue from the recall election concept in its corporate affairs:
Under CIBC's new rule, a director who does not receive majority support from shareholders must submit his or her resignation to the corporate governance committee of the CIBC board of directors. The committee will decide whether to recommend that the board accept the resignation, and the board will make a decision within 90 days of the annual meeting and issue a press release either way.

CIBC said that in the absence of extenuating circumstances, the committee “would be expected” to recommended that the resignation be accepted...

(Two shareholder rights activists) predicted that there will be a more substantial change in the future. The CCGG and others have been lobbying the federal government to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act to change the rules around shareholder voting.
Presumably the measure itself is in some part a means to deflect attention away from CIBC's rough year in terms of both profits and jobs. (Though that fact is one readily explained by the aftermath of Enron.)

The problem is that while it seems a popular choice among the people interviewed for the article, it's not an idea that deserves attention. In fact, the recall model may be even worse suited to corporate direction than to politics (and I'm no fan of it there either).

At least in politics it's possible to justify the recall process by the fact that the duty of a representative must be to his or her constituents. Indeed, the representative's power is derived purely from the voters' intentions. (Again, I present that simply as a theoretical justification; the practical experience with recall elections isn't one that I'd want to see replicated.)

Directors, on the other hand, owe their duties to the corporation generally, including some duties to all stakeholders within the corporation, rather than to the immediate interests of a majority of shareholders alone. The changed policy would either place the directors in completely unworkable conflicts between the desires of the shareholders and their other obligations, or would be used as justification to narrow the directors' focus further to nothing but immediate share value. And that's a recipe for even more of the kind of shortsighted corporate direction that got CIBC in trouble in the first place.

What's worse, from the sound of the article the standard applied by CIBC will be a particularly hazardous one. As best I can tell (and I hope it's just a matter of either me or the article having this wrong), directors will essentially be removed by default if there isn't demonstrated majority support, rather than removed only if there's a demonstrated majority against. I'm not sure what proportion of shareholders normally exercise their voting rights, but it sounds like it could only take an unusually apathetic group of shareholders to leave a corporation completely directionless. And that would be so even if the inactive shareholders had no desire to see the directors removed.

Even if that potential flaw isn't ultimately in play, the idea is still a dubious one. Hopefully the trial balloon will be allowed to float by once it's done the job of distracting investors from CIBC's job cuts. If not, it seems likely to eventually blow up in the face of all involved.

Learning from past mistakes

It hasn't taken Jack Layton long to point out the folly of strategic Liberal votes:
(I)n Oshawa – and in more ridings than you’d think across Canada – (some Canadians) voted Liberal thinking they’d get a Liberal MP. And in Oshawa – and across Canada – they got a Stephen Harper Conservative instead.

Make no mistake about it. In places like Oshawa, where the Liberals run third. A vote for the Liberals helps elect Stephen Harper Conservatives. Conservatives who don’t reflect your values. Conservatives who are just plain wrong on the issues I was just talking about, and who were ineffective in parliament.
I'd still love to see this supplemented with the question of whether Canada can ever be safe from a Harper-type government as long as the Cons are seen as the top government-in-waiting. And we can never be sure that even Layton's toned-down message now will be remembered by January 23.

But at the very least, the Libs' main strategy from 2004 isn't going unchallenged. And with the Libs' guns so far trained almost entirely on the Cons and the Bloc (not to mention each other with regard to Ignatieff), that has to have the NDP headed in the right direction.

Bigger stakes, bigger money

The Star reports on one of the unusual effects of a campaign that spans two calendar years, as the time frame may allow for twice the usual fund-raising:
Federal candidates and parties will be able to double the money they're permitted to raise during this current election campaign because it falls in two calendar years, circumventing the goal of new campaign financing rules...

All parties pay for their election spending by fundraising before, during and after a campaign. But historically, the most effective time to raise funds is during the campaign period, which may make this technicality more important...

The new rules, which came into effect at the beginning of 2004, limited the amount a corporation or union can give to a political party to $1,000 each year. Individuals can now give a maximum of $5,000 to a political party each year. But the year-long period defined in the law is a calendar year, stretching from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

And since the current election period straddles 2005 and 2006, the parties can raise up to $10,000 from individuals and up to $2,000 from corporate and labour interests.
The article speculates, and not without some justification, that it'll be the Liberals who gain the most from the ability to double up on fund-raising. But neither the NDP and the Cons seems likely to benefit much based on their representatives quoted in the article, and it's anybody's guess as to which of the two opposition parties has the most to gain from the added money.

While I'd like to think the NDP will be able to make up some of last year's fund-raising gap during the campaign, the effect could well be to instead double the Cons' current lead in funding. And if the two main parties win an unexpected advantage from the timing of the election, that would be an unfortunate side effect to a set of campaign finance rules which otherwise seem helpful in cutting down on the role of cash within a campaign.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Settling for nothing

Given how much ground there is yet to cover on the issue of climate change, all parties should be embarrassed that the best that's come of the Montreal convention is an agreement to follow already-negotiated rules. But predictably, the Liberals seem entirely satisfied with that result:
The United Nations conference on climate change today adopted most of the rulebook for the Kyoto Protocol...

“With this (the meeting) has made a landmark achievement,” Environment Minister St├ęphane Dion, the conference president, told delegates.

“This is a historic day; a great day for the citizens of the world,” said Pierre Pettigrew, head of the Canadian delegation. It will “breath (sic) life” into the Protocol.

The rules – known as the Marrakesh Accords, because the groundwork for them was laid in the Moroccan city in 2001 – details how measures in the Protocol are put into effect. They include how greenhouse gas emissions are measured, targets for cuts are set, and how the system for trading emissions works.
Obviously expectations had to be lowered once the U.S. put an end to any doubt as to whether they'd consider trying to accomplish anything. But the countries who have already shown their willingness to deal with the reality of climate change should be looking to do far more than keep their current position. And with Dion and Pettigrew declaring victory based merely on not losing ground, it's tough to be optimistic that they're looking to get anything more done.

A chance for civilized debates

The parties and networks have agreed to a debate format, and it sounds like we'll have some debates worth looking forward to:
There will be a pair of debates before Christmas, Dec. 15 in French and Dec. 16 in English, and another pair after Christmas, Jan. 9 in English and Jan. 10 in French. Each debate will last two hours.

The first set will be staged in Vancouver, the second set in either Montreal or Gatineau, Que. All four will be conducted in closed studios, without audiences to egg on their favoured leader...

The leaders will respond, one at a time, to each question. As one leader is speaking, the microphones for the other three will be cut off.

In another novel twist, panels of journalists will no longer pose the questions. The Vancouver debates will employ videotaped questions from ordinary Canadians, with the moderator authorized to ask follow-up questions if necessary. For the Quebec debates, all questions will be posed by the moderator.
I suppose the downside of the format is that the lack of confrontation between the leaders will mean less opportunity for one leader to respond instantly to another's remarks, however deserving of criticism those may be.

But then, there's always a chance for the leaders to do that later, not to mention for bloggers to do the job in real time. And that delay should be a small price to pay for the leaders to have a chance to talk policy rather than spending the entire time trying to shout each other down.

Norquist North

Murray Dobbin reminds us of PMPM's real legacy:
While Martin's (1995) budget has gone down in history as the "deficit slaying" budget, this is not how Martin himself described it in the House of Commons on February 27, 1995. He proclaimed that he intended to "redesign the very role and structure of government itself. Indeed, as far as we are concerned, it is … the very redefinition of government itself that is the main achievement of this budget.… This budget overhauls what government does." Announcing over $25 billion in spending cuts over three years, he boasted: "Relative to the size of our economy, program spending will be lower in 1996-97 than at any time since 1951."

The deficit was gone in two years. If Martin had simply frozen spending, the deficit would have disappeared just two years after that...

In slashing Medicare funding and eliminating the EPF, Martin created what neocon strategists call a "useful crisis," weaknesses in the system that critics can use to promote for-profit as the solution. The evidence that the "crisis" was deliberate is irrefutable. Mr. Martin could have easily reversed the cuts if he had chosen to. Between the years 1999 and 2002, Martin, again deliberately, underestimated the accumulated surpluses by over $36 billion. I say deliberately because others were consistently making more accurate estimates, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives whose estimates were out by less than one billion.

The surpluses were so enormous that by 2000, Martin could no longer simply hide them. So he cut taxes by $100-billion over five years (77 percent of the personal benefits going to the wealthiest 8 percent of the population). Billions also went to Canada's largest corporations. Paul Martin gained the reputation as someone who dealt decisively with the deficit crisis. But that lasted just three years of his term. He should be known as the man who solved the surplus crisis, because for a politician who wants to take government programs back to 1951 levels, a chronic surplus really is a crisis.
No wonder there's plenty of surplus money to be promised around election time. Though it hasn't hurt matters any that PMPM and company could also be secure in the knowledge that their recent spending promises wouldn't stand a chance of making it through Parliament anyway.

Of course, the past cuts and inflated estimates have been election issues before. But voters should still keep Martin's past refusal to acknowledge the real state of Canada's finances in mind before buying into any claim that the Liberals are particularly competent as money managers. And any Liberal claim to want to fix our ailing social programs should be met with the reality that it was PMPM who eagerly broke the programs in the first place.

Higher learning experience

With the winter campaign resulting in both challenges and opportunities not normally present during campaign season, all parties are having to adapt their strategies...and one has to like the NDP's early focus:
University students will be a new factor that could influence the upcoming election, predicts NDP leader Jack Layton, who notes that previous early summer elections have not allowed for campuses to get out the student vote.

Speaking to a small gathering of students at the University of Toronto campus, NDP leader Jack Layton said his party would restore what he estimates was $4-billion in cuts to post-secondary education made by the Liberals in the 1990s.

Mr. Layton said the new spending would be paid for by scrapping the corporate tax cuts the Liberals announced in this fall's fiscal update.
The combination of one of the best NDP issues and a ready pool of potential voters is one that could do wonders for the party in university ridings. An NDP forum at the University of Saskatchewan last month has already received some media attention, and it's great to see the strategy now being applied nationally.

Rebuilding FNUC

The Leader-Post reports on the final recommendations from the FNUC task force:
The 32-member board of the First Nations University of Canada (FNUC) should be reduced to 13 people by April 1, with far fewer chiefs and no provincial or federal government representation, says an eagerly awaited task force report on the university's future...

Other recommendations include:
- Develop a plan to promote healing within the university and to improve relationships with outside groups such as government, the media and other First Nations communities;
- Develop a strategy to make FNUC an autonomous degree-granting institution. The U of R grants degrees for FNUC;
- Improve internal audit controls;
- Have more open hiring and recruitment policies;
- Clarify the "congruence" between indigenous knowledge and academic freedom.
Most of the recommendations listed in the article seem fairly obvious, but apparently they needed to come from the task force before being acted upon. Hopefully the current stakeholders, especially those who stand to lose seats on the board under the task force's plan, will realize that it's better to have a less formal role in a successful FNUC than a seat on the board of an institution paralyzed by politics.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Looking for old blood

Canadian political parties aren't the only groups trying to muster all available troops, as the U.S. Army's lack of recruits has pushed the Army into targeting past military members:
The U.S. Army, fresh off missing its latest annual recruiting goal, has launched an unprecedented effort to coax former troops to sign up again for active-duty military service, officials said on Tuesday.

The Army this month began contacting 78,000 people who previously served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to pitch them on the idea of leaving behind their civilian lives and returning for another stint in uniform, said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon...

Fiscal 2005 was one of the most difficult recruiting years since the birth of the all-volunteer U.S. military in 1973, with the active-duty Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard all missing their goals.
I have to wonder how long it'll take the Army to notice that some of those recently-active troops may be in no condition to return to the battlefield thanks to the lack of funding for Veterans Affairs. It's bad enough for Bushco to have dishonoured the returned troops by ignoring their needs...but all the worse if that was only an effort to make another stint in Iraq look good in comparison.

Stonewall

Can we be sure that this headline...
Silent out of loyalty
...doesn't belong on this story?
Former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall ran out the clock on Parliament this morning, remaining out of sight and out of reach of a special summons ordering him to appear before a House committee to answer questions about his lobbying activities.

Mr. Dingwall, who in one case charged lobbying contingency fees in violation of government guidelines and in another failed to register as a lobbyist, refused to show up for a scheduled appearance Monday afternoon to testify before the government operations committee.
I'm somewhat surprised that Dingwall wasn't willing to make another appearance, given that he seemed to have pretty solid answers to the charges against him last time he testified. And his failure to appear now has to lead to speculation about what he doesn't want to talk about in another round of questioning. But for the Liberals at large, it's almost certainly a plus to limit discussion of a scandal (even if a relatively trivial one) to Dingwall's absence rather than to any new testimony before the party goes to the polls.

Mind you, it has to be a worse sitution for voters generally to go to the polls with less information than they should have. But it shouldn't be much of a surprise that that's not the top priority of a Liberal loyalist.

Requiem for a DJ

Farewell Gurmant. Your entertainment value will be missed.

Thank you, Mr. Harper

So much for the theory that Harper would need 8 weeks to really damage his party, as he's already dedicating his media attention to publicly fighting lost battles:
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper would try to reinstate the traditional definition of marriage if Parliament supported the move in a free vote.

Harper says he would not rein in cabinet ministers as Paul Martin did last summer when Parliament legalized same-sex weddings.

The Tories would restore the traditional definition of marriage - between one man and one woman - if that's what MPs decide.
This is great news for the NDP. While Harper's speech yesterday already seemed more aimed at the Con base than at swing voters, the decision to make this the Cons' first message of the campaign makes it all the more clear that there's no risk of the Cons getting their strategy together sufficiently to win anything close to a majority. And with the Cons firmly entrenched in second place with no upward momentum, the NDP/Lib swing vote has no reason to panic its way into Martin's camp as it did in 2004.

(Via Babble.)

Staying visible

Maclean's kicks off the campaign with John Geddes' interesting piece on Jack Layton. And Geddes' analysis of Layton's job at this point seems entirely accurate:
It's a highly unusual position for an opposition leader entering a campaign: Layton is running on his record. Yet it might be his knack for courting media attention -- not the concrete budget measures he now has under his belt -- that ends up mattering most. In what's shaping up as a nasty, negative-ad-fuelled struggle between the Liberals and Conservatives, the NDP's biggest worry is getting muscled off the main stage. Already in last week's clash between Martin and Harper over the Tory leader's charge that the sponsorship affair linked Liberals to organized crime, Layton was on the sidelines. He'll need all his wiles to claim a share of the spotlight over the next few weeks.
All too true. Hopefully Layton got the NDP campaign off to a good start with the press yesterday by being the sole national leader willing to face questions in the immediate aftermath of the non-confidence vote. But there's only going to be so much limelight to go around for the next couple of months...and it'll take every trick in Layton's book (and every contact on his BlackBerry) to make sure that the NDP is able to get anything close to its share.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Clean hands

Another useful point of comparison between the Libs and the NDP, as the Saskatchewan NDP government goes out of its way to avoid using public money to influence voters during the election campaign:
The flags could soon be coming down at Premier Lorne Calvert's "raise a flag for fairness" campaign.

The provincial government launched the broadcast, print and internet campaign earlier this month to pressure Ottawa to give Saskatchewan a better deal on equalization payments...

Calvert said if the no-confidence vote passes, the public campaign for a "Saskatchewan energy accord" will be shut down.

"I want no perception that we're using public dollars to engage in what might be construed to be some kind of a political effort in the election campaign," he said.
Well done on Calvert's part: while the Raise a Flag campaign may have been all the more likely to produce results when election promises were being handed out, Calvert has helped to highlight the fact that one party actually makes a genuine effort to run an immaculate campaign. At the very least, voters will hopefully recognize that fact when they go to the polls...and it'll only be a bonus if the Raise a Flag message has sunk in enough keep the equalization issue alive even without continued advertising.

Responsible government indeed

And now comes the flip side of an appointment from on high, as Michael Ignatieff tries to claim that the anger of Liberal riding association members is merely a trick to hurt the Liberals:
Author and scholar Michael Ignatieff pledged his affinity Monday to Canada's Ukrainian community and branded efforts to discredit him on the eve of the federal election campaign a “transparent attempt” to twist his writing and sow dissent within the Liberal Party...

He also branded the criticism as an attempt to sow dissent in the riding in a “transparent attempt” to create division and strife ahead of an expected January vote.

“I am satisfied that tactics of this sort tend to rebound heavily on their perpetrators when weighed against the truth,” said Mr. Ignatieff who also said he shares a “deep, personal affinity with the suffering of the Ukrainian people at the hands of Soviet Russia.”
Never mind the NDP trying to paint PMPM and company as being no better than Harper's conservatives. Between the chosen heir to Martin claiming that dissent within his own party is nothing more than a political trick and the finance minister invoking the "I saw nothing wrong, so nothing is wrong" defence to what was at best a glaring miscommunication within his office, maybe it's within reach to portray the Liberals as little more than Bushco North in the degree to which they value patronage over common sense.

No wonder Martin seems to want to extend the campaign as long as possible. Not only will that give Harper more time to shoot himself in the foot, but the Liberals need the time for their own self-inflicted bullet holes to heal.

Blame where blame is due

It figures that now that climate change is in the headlines due to the Montreal convention, Glen Murray has started pulling punches against PMPM:
The increased warming of our planet as a result of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) poses a huge threat to the delicate ecology of our land and water and creates an unprecedented challenge to Canada's economy. Our commitment under the Kyoto Protocol is to reduce GHG emissions by 6 per cent below their 1990 levels by 2012. We are now 26 per cent above 1990 levels. But the Kyoto targets are just the start — scientific consensus suggests that to avoid a climate crisis, Canadians will have to reduce GHG emissions by approximately 60 per cent by the middle of this century.

Canada will require changes in industrial, environmental, natural resources, finance and foreign affairs policy. Our national response also requires an unprecedented level of intergovernmental co-operation, as energy is a provincial responsibility and municipalities manage transportation systems, land-use policy and landfills, all of which are critical pieces of the solution to reducing GHG emissions...

This is not a criticism of our government, but rather an endorsement of the approach taken by our Prime Minister to integrated policy delivery and the need to extend this approach to this national priority.
Contrast the above web comment against the commentary surrounding the NRTEE's draft report, which rightly pointed fingers at current governments (both federal and provincial) for failing to recognize the importance of the issue or take meaningful action. While Murray's political affiliation makes it obvious why today's comment wasn't quite so scathing, it's unfortunate that he isn't willing to highlight the desperate need for change.

After all, if there is as much to be done as Murray points out, then surely those responsible for a decade's worth of inaction deserve to bear some criticism. And I have to figure that the chair of the national body charged with investigating climate change can tell the difference between the current plan to rely mostly on hope to barely meet Canada's Kyoto commitments, and a plan with a chance of decreasing emissions by 60% in any time frame.

Murray deserves credit for turning attention to some of the necessary solutions on global warming. But any discussion of solutions also has to involve some recognition of the current problems. And whether or not Murray is willing to say so publicly with an election campaign about to start, the Liberals' track record falls squarely into the latter category.

Duke takes the fall

U.S. Rep. Duke Cunningham has pled guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes, as well as tax evasion, mail fraud and wire fraud. I can't wait to hear how this is a politically motivated guilty plea that really amounts to criminalizing conservatism.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Consciousness-raising techniques

My biggest worry after hearing about this strategy is the thought that it might change more Canadian minds on global warming than anything that's been done yet:
Many Canadians go to their local outdoor hockey rink to skate and live the dream of scoring that winning Stanley Cup goal.

But this quintessential slice of Canadian life in wintertime is slowly melting away because of global warming, says a collection of young environmentalists...

(T)he campaign, launched over the weekend, has been joined by about a dozen environmental groups, including the heavy-hitting World Wildlife Fund.

Hudema said volunteers "frustrated with having to play hockey games on slush" have already started to hand out postcards at NHL games across the country urging people to pressure Ottawa to take action.

They are also organizing a series of protest outdoor hockey games. One game scheduled for Whitehorse was cancelled last week because of warm weather.
It's certainly an innovative focus for the environmental movement, and to the extent that the campaign may change some minds I'll have to give due credit to those involved. But I'd hate to think that anybody could genuinely be more willing to act based on concerns about outdoor hockey than based on the combination of extreme weather, melting icecaps and rising water levels that's already well within the public consciousness.

Faster response

Gordon Brown proposes an international fund to respond to natural disasters and other shocks:
Gordon Brown is pushing for a shake-up of the international response to natural disasters amid growing concern about the plight of earthquake victims in Pakistan.

As the first snowstorms of what has been predicted will be a particularly hard winter were forecast for the region this weekend, the Chancellor and Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, are concerned that while charities can deploy at a moment's notice to get emergency aid to a crisis, international institutions such as the UN are much slower at grinding into action...

Brown flew to Saudi Arabia this month for talks on his plan for a new 'shocks facility' at the International Monetary Fund, which would allow countries to borrow money quickly for reconstruction after natural disasters which demand rebuilding on a massive scale - as well as to cushion themselves against other kinds of shock, such as a sharp rise in oil prices...

The Chancellor has also been discussing plans for a new UN humanitarian fund to kick into action immediately in a crisis. The existing emergency response fund is worth only $50 million and can only be used to loan money to UN agencies which have received pledges from donors - designed to fill in the gap between donors offering help and actually transferring cash.
While anti-UN commentators are always quick to try to blame the institution for responding slowly when it's needed, Brown's call highlights the reason why immediate response isn't even possible under the current funding model. And the problem is a policy which can be easily redesigned, rather than a fundamental disagreement among the member states or an inherent flaw in the institution.

But then, it will take some effort to change the policy, especially if the U.S. once again insists on forcing concessions on unrelated issues before signing onto common-sense reforms. Hopefully the memory of this past year's disasters will push the U.S. and the rest of the world to ensure that both the UN and the IMF are better able to react next time the need arises.

Another chosen one

The democratic deficit gets a little bit deeper:
Toronto residents with Ukrainian roots are protesting Michael Ignatieff's bid to run for the Liberals in their riding.

The Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding is held by Liberal MP Jean Augustine but she has reportedly resigned so Mr. Ignatieff can run for election...

Members of the Etobicoke Lakeshore Federal Liberal Riding Association claim the Liberals are trying to make it easy on Mr. Ignatieff at the expense of other contenders.
Unfortunately, last time Martin and company imposed their will on a local riding association they weren't quite punished with a loss at the polls. And as Etobicoke-Lakeshore won't have an incumbent pushing back, it doesn't look like Martin's lack of respect for the locals will cost him anything within the riding.

That said, hopefully the rest of the country is paying attention to the fact that PMPM remains more than willing to impose edicts from on high if it'll push another high-profile supporter into Parliament. And that's a far more clear statement on his true views about democracy than the number of cabinet ministers supposedly charged with reforming or renewing it.

Equal treatment

It's already been noted elsewhere, but kudos to the British Columbia NDP for moving to a one-member, one-vote system. In particular, I have to agree with Jim Sinclair's comment:
"I support this resolution because it's not about loosening ties with the labour movement, it's about reaffirming ties with working people and making sure that this is the party that represents ordinary British Columbians," said Jim Sinclair, B.C. Federation of Labour president.
The action won't put an end to opponents' complaints that the party is too tight with labour. But it will ensure that the decisions made by the NDP truly express the will of the party's members. And whether or not party policy changes significantly, that policy will have more legitimacy as a result.