Saturday, July 07, 2007

Political Sabermetrics II: Notes on Atlantic Canada

With the political scene quieting down for the summer, I'll be taking the opportunity to significantly bulk up my political sabermetrics series (with a little help from Elections Canada's financing database). For now, I'm only at the point of assembling the data needed for a more thorough analysis...but there are at least a few points worth noting based on the data from Atlantic Canada that I've put together so far.

- First, in what's both a cautionary note for the series generally and an important issue on its own, it seems that a surprising amount of candidate information isn't available on the Elections Canada reporting site. At least in the database I've worked from so far, data from the 2006 election is only available for roughly 1/2 to 2/3 of all candidates in each province I've looked at - which will leave plenty of holes in any attempt to connect funding to electoral results. And the issue doesn't seem to be one related to particular parties or candidate types: the missing information includes that from six sitting MPs representing all three national parties with a current place in Parliament. While some data may be missing, though, there's still more than enough to make for some interesting discussion.

- For example, the Atlantic award for Biggest Waste of Money goes to the Christian Heritage Party's Baird Judson, who managed to spend $5,346.77 in the Charlottetown riding to win a grand total of 97 votes. Despite his spending far more money than most small-party candidates, Judson's vote total was half the total of the Marijuana Party candidate in the riding, and indeed was the third-lowest of any candidate in the Atlantic provinces. The lowest vote total was that of Marxist-Leninist Charles Spurr in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour (56), with Labrador Green candidate Gail Zwicker not far behind at 82.

- But what about the Biggest Waste of Money, Substantial Political Party Division? Look no further than the Cons' Paul Francis, whose expenditures of 59,102.04 were the highest in Sackville-Eastern Shore. For that investment, Francis finished a distant third behind the NDP's Peter Stoffer (who cruised to victory with over 52% of the vote), as well as a Lib candidate who spent half as much as Francis.

- Leaving money out of the equation for a moment, the Greens did surprisingly poorly in terms of votes for a region where they seem to expect to elect their first-ever MP in the next general election. Despite the NDP's relatively weak presence in Newfoundland-Labrador and Prince Edward Island, the Greens didn't manage to beat out the NDP in a single Atlantic riding. And in two ridings, they dropped down to fifth place - falling behind the Christian Heritage Party's James Hnatiuk in South Shore-St. Margaret's, and independent Danny Gay in Miramichi.

- Meanwhile, the Greens' primary target riding looks to include one of the largest "could've beens" in the region. It's been often noted that the NDP's Alexis MacDonald finished a strong second behind Peter MacKay - but much less often discussed that MacDonald's campaign spent only $28,582.28, significantly less than a number of other NDP candidates who wound up with far less votes. I'll be hoping to learn more about the relationship between spending and political success as the series progresses, but it seems entirely possible that if MacDonald's campaign hadn't been outspent 2-to-1 by the Cons, MacKay wouldn't even be in Parliament to be considered Elizabeth May's preferred target.

- Finally, if you're looking for an incumbent who received a disturbingly easy ride, look no further than Con Greg Thompson in New Brunswick Southwest. Thompson only had to spend $32,170.17 to coast to victory with 54% of the vote - presumably thanks in large part to the fact that he faced both the worst-funded Lib in the whole region (Stan Smith at $21,541.46), and the worst-funded Dipper in the province (Andrew Graham at $3,438.46). This may offer an opportunity for any smaller party to win a disproportionate share of the vote by putting resources into a neglected riding - or it could be an aberration that other parties will make up for next time Canada goes to the polls.

There's plenty more to deal with even in the Atlantic region - and probably all the more to be discovered in the numbers across the country. And hopefully we'll be able to figure out both how political parties have chosen to spend their money in the past, and how they can do better with it in the future.

The selloff goes nuclear

Over the last couple of days, word has come out that the Cons are talking with private-sector "partners" about Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. And while the Cons are trying to pretend that there are no "formal negotiations" worth talking about (even though they acknowledged discussions over a year ago), it appears clear that nuclear energy is yet another area where the Cons are looking to push low-risk profits into the private sector while leaving the public purse to deal with the downside:
Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe, said past partnerships with AECL have left taxpayers on the hook for huge cost overruns and liability for messy production.

Meanwhile, he said, the private company has walked away with the profits. But Adams said Lunn has personally been campaigning to sell off parts of AECL since he became minister of natural resources.

"It's a complete disaster for taxpayers," Adams said. "That's AECL's track record when it comes to privatization, and that raises a major concern about what AECL's up to now."
Given AECL's track record of cost overruns, as well as the valid concerns that surround the use of nuclear energy, this isn't a clear-cut case where the federal government should be looking to continue the current operations of AECL without looking for ways to lessen the risks. But one can always count on the Cons to find a way to make a bad situation worse - and AECL looks to be just one more example of that reality.

After all, the Cons' apparent direction would result in the worst of all words. By actively seeking private-sector investment, the Cons are pushing to increase the amount of funding going into Canada's nuclear industry generally...and correspondingly placing a lower priority on less dangerous and more environmentally-friendly power sources. And while it appears that a private partner would take the profits associated with an added nuclear focus, it's the Canadian public which figures to once again be left on the hook for the obvious potential downsides of future nuclear development.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The cost of distrust

The Halifax Daily News reports that the federal government has offered Nova Scotia an equalization buyout which, on paper, would hand the province a billion dollars more than the deal Rodney MacDonald is asking for. But the projected benefits would be entirely dependent on the Cons keeping their promise - and MacDonald seems to have understandably concluded that even a billion-dollar risk premium isn't worth banking on Deceivin' Stephen:
Ottawa has offered Nova Scotia an offshore revenue agreement that's arguably $992-million better than what the province is demanding under the Atlantic Accord, according to a federal source.

Two economists who studied the accord dispute for the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council said Friday that option does seem to be more lucrative than what the province is demanding. But Wade Locke of Memorial University in Newfoundland and Paul Hobson of Acadia University both doubt the federal government could guarantee the terms would remain unchanged for the life of the agreement...

Nova Scotia's demand boils down to full offshore revenue plus O'Brien money, without any clawbacks. According to projections contained in Locke and Hobson's June 13 report, it adds up to $23.999-billion over the life of the accord, which expires in 2019-20.

The federal source said the deal Ottawa offered weeks ago could be worth $24.991-billion, using the same APEC figures. The province was apparently interested, before MP Bill Casey broke ranks with the Conservative Party and voted against the budget...

The problem, according to Locke, is every province that receives equalization might be better off if it was allowed to stay with the old fixed formula. If Nova Scotia gets to choose a richer equalization program than the rest of Canada, Ottawa will be under pressure to give others the same option, or reduce that 3.5% fixed growth rate.

"The issue comes down to a matter of trust that a sworn promise is not going to be violated or a commitment is not going to be changed later on when other people are coming to your door saying hey, what about me?" Locke said.
Of course, the Cons have a well-established track record of broken promises - not to mention efforts to pick fights with anybody who dares to point them out. So it's clear why MacDonald would see his province as better off with an arrangement which minimizes the chances of another Harper reversal.

But if even a Con premier and former Harper supporter is willing to leave that much money on the table out based on Harper's untrustworthiness, it shouldn't be a tough decision for voters to decide that the cost to Canada of Deceivin' Stephen's reputation is far too high to tolerate.


Chantal Hebert discusses the NDP's strategy to parlay Jack Layton's personal popularity and the party's stance on Afghanistan into votes and seats in the upcoming Quebec by-elections:
According to Decima's Bruce Anderson, more voters say that their opinion of NDP Leader Jack Layton is improving than fading, a distinction he shares only with Green Leader Elizabeth May these days.

That is particularly true in Quebec where Layton now ranks second to the Bloc Québécois' Gilles Duceppe.

This summer, Layton will attempt to parlay that personal appreciation into votes for the NDP by turning three soon-to-be-called Quebec by-elections into a mini-referendum on the Afghan mission. Over the course of a news conference (scheduled before the latest casualties in Afghanistan came to light), Layton made his intentions crystal clear Wednesday. And he reiterated his call for bringing the troops home before Canada's current commitment to NATO ends in February 2009.

The NDP seized on the Afghan issue last summer in part to stake distinct ground from the surging Green party. To this day, its position also sets it apart from the bulk of Quebec's establishment...

This may be a case where Quebec's sovereignist and federalist tenors are out of synch with mainstream voters. Or it could be that the 70 per cent of Quebecers who tell pollsters they oppose the mission are answering a black-and-white question that leaves no room for nuances. The by-elections will provide part of the answer.
Of course, no political strategy with any realistic chance of success figures to go unopposed for long. And even the first steps in the NDP's effort to discuss Afghanistan have resulted in plenty of backlash from media figures and bloggers alike, who have been eager to throw reality out the window to claim that Layton's already-scheduled announcement was somehow a reaction to the forthcoming news of more Canadian casualties.

But while it remains to be seen how the situation changes as the attacks on Layton become ever more shrill, for now all indications are that Layton is both gaining respect from voters, and positioned on the right side of Quebec public opinion. And as Hebert notes, the NDP's stance figures to have positive effects both for the NDP as a party, and for Canada's internal debate about Afghanistan in general.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

About nothing

The CP reports that Deceivin' Stephen's much-ballyhooed trip to Saskatchewan today was for the purpose of announcing...nothing in particular. Which leads me to think that if only the Cons weren't already better defined by deception, incompetence, hypocrisy and gratuitous secrecy, we'd be able to label Harper's regime a Seinfeld government.

Strings attached

There was already no lack of reasons to be highly skeptical about the Cons' travelling patronage show. But CUPE points out that part of the small print for all Con infrastructure funding figures to cause serious problems for communities who don't share the Cons' privatization agenda:
Stephen Harper's Conservative Government is putting on a road show this summer, with a series of meetings and negotiations about its "Building Canada" plan, announced in the spring budget. This $33 billion fund doesn't actually include any additional money, but is just a repackaging of currently planned infrastructure funding with a new caveat: municipalities and other proponents will now have to fully consider public-private partnerships (P3s) as a condition for receiving funding.

"The need to demonstrate that they have "fully considered" the P3 option, even when public delivery is known to be more cost efficient and accountable, is extremely unreasonable," stated CUPE National President Paul Moist. "Simply preparing a P3 proposal can be very expensive for most municipalities, and prohibitively expensive for smaller municipalities."

"Under no circumstances should the federal government impose P3s, or an obligation to consider P3s, on municipal or other governments as a condition of receiving infrastructure or other funding," he continued. "Local governments are accountable to their taxpayers for the services they provide and understand their community needs and resources. They shouldn't be forced to risk public funds to comply with the ideological bias and private interests of upper levels of government."
Now, it's bad enough to see yet another example of the Cons' willingness to spend more to get less if it means transferring money and resources away from governments. But the Cons' move looks all the more absurd if one contrasts the P3 requirement for infrastructure spending with the Cons' complete lack of interest in accountability when it comes to provinces spending federal money in areas such as child care and health care.

It speaks volumes about the Cons that the sole condition they seem willing to attach to public money is that it has to be used in substantial part to remove public infrastructure from public hands. And the more attention the Cons receive for such a warped sense of priorities, the more likely Canadians are to decide that they can't be trusted with the public purse.

Open-wound federalism

The Globe and Mail reports that Deceivin' Stephen has started off his summer by making it clear once again that any provincial premier who dares to call one of his bluffs won't be invited back to the table. And the Cons' pettiness seems to have resulted in an even more dangerous step than we'd known about to date:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will appeal directly today to the people in two of the three provinces that have been at loggerheads with his government over the control of resource revenues...

Neither Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald nor Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert, who publicly condemned the federal budget for including resource revenues in the equalization formula, have been given formal notice of the visits...

Mr. Calvert caught a plane to Iqaluit yesterday to attend a conference of western premiers and will be out of his province when the biofuels announcement is made at a grain terminal near the Gardiner Dam.

There has been little or no communication between his officials and the Prime Minister since Saskatchewan decided to ask the courts whether the budget violates the constitutional right of a province to own its non-renewable natural resources and whether it contravenes principles of fairness.

Mr. Calvert says the fact that resource revenue has not been removed from the equalization formula, as Mr. Harper promised during the last election campaign, will cost an estimated $800-million annually to Saskatchewan...

Mr. Calvert accused the federal Conservatives of using this type of funding as a dodge on the equalization issue. And "one would have liked a certain sense of prior knowledge of the Prime Minister's visit," he said. "It doesn't help relationships when we're surprised."
What's most striking about the above is that the Cons' strategy appears to have progressed well past the point of merely snubbing premiers for individual events. Indeed, with Calvert out of the province attending a well-publicized conference, the Cons could plainly have informed Saskatchewan's government of today's announcement without any risk that Calvert himself would attend.

But apparently, based on Saskatchewan's acceptance of Harper's own invitation to sue, the Cons are simply refusing to communicate with Saskatchewan as a matter of course. Which can only confirm just how disinterested the Cons are in listening to Saskatchewan - as well as hinting at how far the Cons might go in dealing with all but the most friendly of groups if they ever managed to win a majority.

Update: Greg has more on Harper's shunning tactic.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pressing the point

The Cons may be looking for ways to change the subject from Deceivin' Stephen's claim that he wouldn't extend Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan without consensus agreement to do so. But fortunately, the other major federal leaders seem to have their own consensus that the Cons won't be let off the hook that easily:
It's looking more like Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pledge not to extend Canada's combat role in Afghanistan without the consensus of all four federal parties means the combat mission will end in 19 months.

Two party leaders were unyielding in their positions Wednesday as news filtered back from Kandahar that six more Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter had been killed by a roadside bomb.

With Canada's death toll in Afghanistan reaching 66 soldiers and a diplomat since 2002, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion told a news conference that Harper should have informed NATO allies weeks ago that Canada would not be renewing its combat commitment in the Central Asian country.

"The prime minister has said that he needs to have a consensus in order to extend the mission beyond February of 2009," Dion said. "This consensus will never exist."...

(Jack Layton) said Harper needs to show leadership by urging the United States to stop high-altitude bombing in the face of more than 270 civilian deaths so far this year. Furthmore, Canada should withdraw its 2,500 troops from what he characterized as a hopeless mission.

"It's the wrong mission; it's not working; it's not going to accomplish the goals," said Layton, adding his party will ensure the issue is front and centre in coming federal byelections.
There are still obviously some major points of difference between the NDP and Libs when it comes to Afghanistan, and the article points those out as well.

But it's for the best that despite those differences, both Layton and Dion are shaping their message to fit neatly into the narrative that the Cons are wasting their breath blustering that Canada has no choice but to stay in its current combat role indefinitely. And if the opposition leaders can keep their primary focus on that target, then it shouldn't be long before a pullout no later than 2009 becomes a genuine consensus expectation.

In search of a problem

Shorter Jim Flaherty:
My top priority this fall is to break down internal trade barriers. I'm hoping somebody will justify the policy by actually identifying some this summer.

On social irresponsibility

Embassy reports that there's some talk of trying to include references to corporate social responsibility in new trade agreements. But it appears all too obvious that the actual corporations involved have no interest in such agreements including anything but a weapon to wield against governments:
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which is leading the business community in the consultations, has made a submission to the government, said the chamber's international policy analyst, Brian Zeiler-Kligman...

"We would support a reference being made to voluntary corporate initiatives in free trade agreements, provided that the reference is directed to [the two countries] and not to companies," it adds. "The reference should remind the parties of their role in promoting and facilitating, but certainly not mandating, voluntary corporate initiatives."...

The letter goes on to state that any reference should be carefully crafted to prevent foreign governments from using it to bilk money from a Canadian company, and it should appear in the preamble to reflect that it is voluntary and non-binding.

Mr. Zeiler-Kligman said the chamber does not generally support the idea of including corporate social responsibility in free trade agreements.
The article notes other difficulties in trying to include as nebulous a principle as corporate social responsibility within a trade deal. And it's worth pointing out how far removed even the principle of corporate responsibility would be from any binding agreement on social or environmental issues to parallel the seemingly unquestioned obligation to facilitate trade.

But Canada's business representatives apparently aren't willing to countenance even as small a step as recognizing corporate responsibility as a matter of substance. Instead, they're fighting tooth and nail against any portion of an agreement which could possibly suggest that any interest other than trade could matter, or that anybody besides the governments involved should take on any obligations. And that should speak volumes about which interests are met and which ones are entirely ignored as the current unbalanced form of agreement spreads.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

On mixed messages

CSR points out some interesting comments from Jean-Pierre Blackburn on the Cons' plans surrounding Canada's combat role in Afghanistan. But there are a couple of additional points worth discussing within Blackburn's message.

First, as CSR notes, Blackburn's quoted passages suggest that the Cons are planning for an extension vote in February 2008. And that would likely be the time where the Cons would most likely manage to eke out a majority vote for an extension.

But there's little reason to think the opposition parties will want to play along by abandoning the issue in the meantime. After all, with the Van Doos headed to Kandahar before long, this fall figures to be the time when the Cons can be portrayed as most out of step with the desires of Quebeckers in particular and Canadians concerned about the mission in general.

While the opposition parties unfortunately let their Afghanistan motions this spring get sidetracked, it seems entirely likely that they'll be able to agree on a motion this fall when the result is to leave the Cons defending continued involvement when public opinion is most strongly against that position. And a united opposition vote against any extension in 2007 would make the Cons look like sore losers at best if they tried to reverse that outcome in 2008.

Meanwhile, Blackburn's comments also retreat noticeably from Deceivin' Stephen's recent talk of a "consensus". Instead of continuing with the idea that a relatively united stance among multiple parties would be needed, Blackburn's message is based on the premise that the Cons' planned "vote" will determine whether or not any extension is approved as a "choice of the House of Commons".

Of course, it could be that the Cons are simply trying to send different messages to different audiences. But it also seems entirely possible that Harper's initial comment was simply a trial balloon to test whether Canadian pundits were prepared to play the same cheerleader role played by their counterparts to the south. And if so, Blackburn's change of pace may reflect an attempt to change course now that the "consensus" comment has instead come to be interpreted as evidence that Canada's combat role will end in 2009.

Nothing new

A couple of notes on the fund-raising story which is inexplicably getting so much attention today:
- First, these numbers aren't news; in fact, the CP reported on them two months ago. But at the start of a slow news season, Jane Taber is apparently now rummaging through clippings from the previous few months to be recycled into headlines.
- Second, in my posting on the first story, I criticized the CP for discussing the parties in an arbitrary order rather than actually listing them in order of fund-raising success - which would have resulted in more press for the NDP and Greens, and less for the Libs and Bloc. But Taber manages to take several additional steps in writing major pieces out of the story: despite the NDP's success in raising over twice as much as the Libs, Taber doesn't even mention them (or for that matter the Greens or Bloc) until the postscripts.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Mulcair Effect

While it's no secret that Thomas Mulcair's arrival as the NDP's Quebec spokesman has given the NDP a significantly stronger media presence in the province, I don't think anybody expected him to be publicly talked up by a high-profile Lib as a direct challenger to the Cons. But based on Pablo Rodriguez' comments in the Hill Times challenging Michael Fortier to face the will of Quebec voters, Mulcair appears to have become just that:
Public Works and Government Services Minister and Quebec Senator Michael Fortier is "like a ghost floating around Parliament," say his political foes on the Hill.

Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier, Que.) declared last week of Sen. Fortier of the previous spring House session: "You know he's somewhere around, but you never see him."

Over 102 sitting days of the Senate, where Sen. Fortier represents Rougemont, Que., he has voted only five times all in one day.

Sen. Fortier was unavailable for an interview last week. But his press secretary, Frédéric Baril, said the Public Works minister is hoping his days in the Senate are numbered as he focuses on winning the Quebec riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, as highlighted in the website,

However, Mr. Rodriguez points out that the federal government could call a byelection for the Montreal riding of Outremont, left vacant by the resignation of former Cabinet minister Jean Lapierre. Sen. Fortier, who also serves as the minister responsible for the Montreal region, could easily throw his hat in that race, said Mr. Rodriguez, who added that the NDP has a candidate–former Quebec Liberal environment minister Thomas Mulcair–ready to run whenever an election is called.
Of course, it's entirely likely that Rodriguez will ultimately throw his support behind whichever Lib candidate ends up running in Outremont.

But it's still noteworthy that even the Libs are showing some willingness to shine the spotlight on the NDP's star candidate where the result is to highlight Con unaccountability. And that decision could bode well both for the ability of the NDP and the Libs to cooperate to a greater extent, and for the NDP's chances of a major breakthrough in Quebec.

Limiting knowledge

There's been some comment already on Ian Urquhart's column about Ontario's MMP referendum. But while it's for the best that some prominent Libs are willing to back MMP and Urquhart himself seems to see the referendum succeeding, it's worth noting yet another obstacle that the governing Libs may have put in the way of a strong campaign on the issue:
Given the widespread public ignorance of the electoral reform issue – a recent Environics poll showed 70 per cent of Ontarians are not familiar with it – how, then, will voters learn about the pros and cons of MMP?

The government plans a major public education campaign, run by Elections Ontario, which is a reliably neutral body.

Unfortunately, however, neutrality imposes severe limits on messaging. John Hollins, head of Elections Ontario, last week told a meeting of representatives of the political parties that, because of the requirement that he not take sides, the public education campaign will dwell on the "mechanics" of the proposed new electoral system rather than the "consequences."

Of course, the devil is in the consequences.

Hollins also told the meeting that the referendum regulations could be interpreted as meaning the parties must stay out of the electoral reform campaign. That would put a crimp in NDP plans to make support for MMP a part of their platform.

Taking into account all of the above, it is quite possible Ontarians will be making their choice on the referendum question with minimal knowledge of what is at stake.

Referendum experts say that in such circumstances the voters usually opt for the status quo over the unknown.
Hopefully there'll be some clarification from Elections Ontario as to who may and may not be involved in the referendum - and that clarification will make sure that political parties aren't prevented from expressing a position on a vote which may have far more long-range consequences for Ontario than the election itself. But if Hollins' current interpretation is correct, then it looks far too likely that electoral reform will get lost in the shuffle of this fall's election.

As it was, Ontario's party machines figured to have far more experience in securing media attention than the limited-resource, ad hoc coalitions being set up for the referendum. And the referendum already figured to face the problem of not fitting neatly into the talk about personality politics that tends to dominate election coverage.

But the likely gap in coverage will only become far worse if the parties are prohibited from even discussing the issue. Parties with a strong view on the issue be prevented from simply stating one of their uniting principles - and volunteers and organizers would presumably face far more of a burden in having to divide their activities between party support and issue advocacy. Which would figure to offer a boost to the Libs, Cons and electoral status quo, while hurting the chances of the NDP, the Greens and the MMP side of the referendum.

Hopefully Urquhart is right in figuring that MMP will be able to reach the referendum thresholds in any event. But with the Libs apparently both limiting any discussion about the effects of MMP and silencing a significant number of its supporters, the 60% number is only looking all the more daunting.

On non-enforcement

The Winnipeg Free Press reports on yet another example of Elections Canada's failure to deal with campaign financing issues, as Belinda Stronach appears to have settled the accounts from her 2004 Con leadership campaign well past the official deadline with no explanation for the delay:
Elections Canada let Liberal MP Belinda Stronach skirt a deadline for the settling of outstanding financial questions about her 2004 campaign run in the leadup to the last federal election.

Documents obtained by the Free Press show Stronach's campaign was officially notified on Sept. 12, 2005 that an Elections Canada review had determined she failed to dispose of a $31,000 campaign surplus from her first successful run as a Tory.

In that letter from the director of Elections Canada's political financing and audit unit, Stronach's official agent was told the surplus had to be resolved by Nov. 18, 2005.

The letter also included a pointed reminder that failure to deal with the surplus as required could result in convictions under the Canada Elections Act.

However, Elections Canada discloses it wasn't until May 2006 -- six months after the deadline initially issued -- that Stronach's campaign finally complied with the order.

Elections Canada is now under fire for not only turning a blind eye to the deadline issued to Stronach, but for also refusing to disclose the outstanding problem during the last federal campaign when the Free Press and other news media asked questions about the electoral expenses of the Newmarket-Aurora MP.

"How can they (Elections Canada) allow her to avoid that deadline and then run again?" asked NDP ethics critic Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre).
In fairness, Stronach's situation seems less problematic than some others might, since any outstanding issue dealt with a surplus rather than a deficit. But it's worth wondering what the precedent means for later on - particularly in 2008 when the deadlines pass from the Libs' recent leadership race.

After all, it's quite likely that at least some Libs were familiar with Stronach's late filing in the course of their own leadership race. If so, then knowledge that Elections Canada hadn't insisted on deadlines being met in the last high-profile leadership campaign could only have encouraged the Libs' candidates to count on similarly favourable treatment. And with the Libs' fund-raising currently tanking, there's every reason to suspect that a good number of their leadership candidates will indeed put the ball in Elections Canada's court to decide whether to deal with a failure to settle accounts - or to simply allow supporter loans to be written off.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

On needless secrecy

Thanks in large part to NDP MP Charlie Angus, there's been no lack of talk about the Cons' about-face on Celebrate Canada funding, which like so many programs has only grown by leaps and bounds under Deceivin' Stephen after forming a frequent target for the Cons while in opposition. But the Montreal Gazette points out that in addition to throwing more money into the pot, the Cons have also gone out of their way to make the funding more difficult to trace:
In 2006, a Citizen analysis of Celebrate Canada records found that after the 2004 election, 79 per cent of funding went to projects based in Liberal ridings. The government denied political considerations factored into funding decisions.

The Liberal ridings may have appeared to do better because many of the larger projects were based in urban areas, where Liberal representation tends to be strongest. Applications for projects are sent to provincial and territorial Celebrate Canada committees, which then make recommendations on funding the federal government.

A similar comparison with records for this year is not possible because the government, citing privacy concerns, will not release the address of organizations and events it funds.
Now, frequent readers of this blog will know that I'm one of the first to recognize and highlight real privacy concerns when they turn up. But it should be obvious that in this case, the only privacy that's being protected is the Cons' ability to funnel money where they see fit without oversight.

After all, the funding in question is public money being granted to public organizations for the purpose of organizing public events...meaning that nobody involved could have a reasonable expectation that the details would be hidden from public view.

Moreover, there's similarly no reason to think that any information involved consists of anything more than the names and addresses of the organizations who are putting together the events. And it's generally understood that such "business card" information isn't considered protected information under any but the most unusual circumstances.

Which means that the Cons' concern for "privacy" seems limited to making sure that the media can't compare their riding-by-riding breakdown to that of the Libs. And if the Cons are willing to offer up such a painful excuse for keeping the information hidden, it seems fair to infer that it's because Oda's management is matching - or exceeding - even the Libs' high standard for patronage.