Saturday, October 27, 2007

Crowning achievements

Shorter Murray Wood:
Given the chance, the Sask Party would obviously do everything it can to undermine Saskatchewan's Crowns while technically honouring a promise not to sell them off just yet. And it would be for the best if the province had a full debate on the issue. But shame on the NDP for trying to start one when Brad Wall doesn't find it politically convenient to defend his side.

Friday, October 26, 2007

First things first

While there are other good questions circulating about the Cons' veiled voter law, I'm particularly curious about the timing involved.

After all, the Cons admitted just this week to having made a serious mistake in their last attempt to limit voting access. And I'd think it would only make sense to deal with a major issue like the negligent disenfranchisement of over a million voters at the first possible opportunity.

Obviously the Cons disagree, based on their choice to deal with the veiled voter issue sooner and separately. But what does it say about their interest in restoring the vote to rural citizens that they're making it a higher priority to further restrict voting first?

Legitimate doubts

L. Ian MacDonald fleshes out Hugh Segal's strategy to use a referendum on abolishing the Senate as an excuse to impose the Cons' preferred U.S.-style chamber. In short, the goal is to have a majority vote for keeping the Senate, such as to confer "legitimacy" which is currently lacking, then claim that legitimacy as reason to reform the chamber.

Now, I'm far from convinced that the vote would be to keep the Senate in any event. But even if that part of Segal's plan worked, there's still another serious question about the whole scheme: if the Senate is "legitimized" through a national referendum - particularly one where the referendum question doesn't actually include any mention of reforms - wouldn't that confer a similar amount of legitimacy on the current Lib Senate majority to stonewall against any attempts to reshape the chamber?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Poor excuses

Shorter Con response to allegations that some of their political hires could have received their jobs as a reward for participating in Conadscam:
Nobody can prove that any hirings were a direct reward for participation in an illegal scheme. After all, it's equally plausible that the staffers were already first in line at the trough.

On progressive choices

In this post, I dealt with federal Lib supporters who continually seek any excuse to complain that the federal NDP is in league with the Cons, yet are entirely willing to explicitly help the conservative Sask Party provincially in order to try to cut down the NDP. And you can see the continued hypocrisy in full bloom over at Abandoned Progressive Principles, where Saskboy can't hand Brad Wall a majority fast enough if it'll win David Karwacki some of those gold-plated benefits he's always complaining about.

But let's leave aside the personal motivations and contradictions of the bloggers involved, and ask a more basic question about the provincial Libs' position. Namely, will the "Brad Wall Government Is Inevitable. You Must Assimilate" strategy actually work?

It's obvious that the provincial Libs see some appeal in trying to paint the election primarily as a battle for second place rather than a contest of governing values. And obviously the Sask Party isn't complaining about having the Libs declare victory on their behalf. But let's momentarily take the Libs' current argument at face value.

If the main question in the election is that of which party will offer the best progressive opposition to a Wall government, why would any voter answer "the party which conceded government to Wall in the first place"?

And the picture for progressives only looks worse if one takes a closer look at the Libs' actual policies. The Libs' current stances would actually take the Sask Party to the right in some areas, calling for a selloff of at least some Crown assets and demanding that the government do nothing to save Saskatchewan jobs. Meanwhile, judging from their current issues page, the Libs have no apparent interest in prescription drugs, child care, or broader environmental programs than curbside recycling - suggesting that these areas of progressive accomplishment under the NDP simply aren't priorities for Karwacki, and will be soon forgotten if the Libs and Sask Party have the two loudest voices on the province's political scene.

In sum, a Wall government with a Karwacki opposition - while obviously the Libs' current goal for the campaign - would be the worst possible outcome for progressive voters. And there's plenty of time for Calvert and company to not only highlight that fact to bring any Lib/NDP swing voters back into the fold, but also make clear that it's not too late to stop the Sask Party.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The chopping block

Buckdog asks one interesting question about the Sask Party's long-term plans for the province. But there's another one which seems to me to require a more immediate answer.

After all, the Sask Party's first priority is to artificially cap the size of Saskatchewan's civil service.

But the Sask Party's other platform planks include several which will require additional government resources. In addition to needing a crew for the Starship Enterprise Saskatchewan, they're planning at least three new health care structures (plus likely adding to the administrative burden on the province's Drug Plan through a means-tested program), and their numerous promised spending increases will presumably have to be administered by somebody.

With that in mind, which existing civil service jobs do they plan to axe in order to fit within their own public service cap?

Credibility issues

Current announced funding for Saskatchewan's Green Initiatives Fund:
$350 million.

The Sask Party's proposed funding for Saskatchewan's Green Initiatives Fund:
$70 million.

The Sask Party's explanation (roughly paraphrased):
"If you ignore over 90% of the currently-announced funding, we'll more than double the size of the fund!"

Evaluate the rest of the Sask Party's promises accordingly.

See the story from CBC.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blocking the vote

The CP reports that as the NDP warned all along, the Cons' Canada Election Act amendments designed to make voting more difficult appear likely to affect much of their own base more than anybody. And months after the fact, they're just now trying to fix their avoidable mistakes:
Recent changes to the federal Elections Act will wind up disenfranchising more than 1 million rural voters, Canada's elections watchdog warns.

Just four months ago in a bid to clamp down on voter fraud, Parliament amended the Canada Elections Act to require that each voter produce proof of identity and residential address before being allowed to cast a ballot.

But Elections Canada now says more than one million rural Canadians do not have a proper residential or civic address - complete with street name and number - as envisaged by the legislation.

Rural addresses are more often post office boxes. On native reserves, a resident's address is sometimes simply the name of the reserve.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus is one of those who stands to be disenfranchised. His driver's licence lists his address as Mileage 104, a reference to the original distance markers on the railway line through northern Ontario indicating that he's 104 miles from Timmins.

In a report to political parties, Elections Canada says 4.4 per cent of eligible Canadian voters do not have the legally required residential address. The problem is most acute in the northern territories, where over 80 per cent of Nunavut voters don't have a residential address.

Among the provinces, voters in Saskatchewan would be the hardest hit, with potentially 27 per cent being refused the right to vote because they have no proper residential address
...

(Peter) Van Loan characterized the problem as an oversight and called on all parties to "enthusiastically support efforts to correct this deficiency."

Should the minority Tory government be defeated before further amendments can be introduced to rectify the problem, Van Loan said the chief electoral officer has assured him that he's prepared to use "his adaptation power to ensure that no Canadian loses their right to vote" in the ensuing election.

Angus said he raised the concern about rural addresses when the amendments were being considered last spring. He said all other parties dismissed or ignored his concerns and only the NDP opposed the bill in the end...

NDP Leader Jack Layton accused the Liberals and Conservatives of only belatedly caring about the rights of rural voters.

"Now we see this law was a bad law and other parties that supported these changes are now trying to scramble to fix the problems that we flagged at the outset."
It would have been the ultimate irony if the Cons' quest for a majority this fall had died in urban/rural split seats where their own electoral changes had prevented supporters from voting. But the Cons don't figure to take long to re-enfranchise rural voters while looking for a way to exclude the urban transient voters who were presumably their target all along - at least, if either the Libs or the Bloc decide to once again go along blindly with the Cons' electoral measures.

It certainly doesn't look like the Cons have learned anything given that they're now brazen enough to say that what the NDP had pointed out from the beginning should be classified as an "oversight" because they (and the other parties) didn't bother to listen. But the story should offer another prime example of why it's long past time for the other parties and Canadians in general to start paying far more attention to what the NDP has to say - and spending far less time cleaning up the messes that result when they don't.

A thought experiment

Over the last couple of years, a consistent theme has developed among the now-Red Green alliance. In an effort to blame the federal NDP while painting the Libs as innocent victims completely unresponsible for their own demise, apologists have tried desperately to find evidence of a grand conspiracy against the Libs. And in the process, they've accused the NDP of being in bed with the Cons based on the most ridiculous of "evidence", ranging from Con supporter entreaties rejected by NDP supporters, to idle speculation about things which will never happen.

But let's put to a test just what kind of principle underlies the Red Green position.

Suppose there were an election pitting a long-time centre-left government against a right-wing opposition party which had spent a decade trying to moderate its image. Suppose the governing party had brought up the election's most progressive ideas on child care, the environment, health care, and electoral reform, while the opposition's platform consisted largely of targeted tax cuts (but with enough promised spending to take away some of the fear factor).

Now let's add a third party to the mix - one with nowhere near either the current seat count or the current support level of either of the two main parties, and whose most recognizable contribution in recent years had been to support the left-wing government when it was limited to a minority.

Suppose that third party tried to position itself as an ostensibly left-wing alternative to replace the "tired" government. But in doing so, the third party failed to offer any substantially different left-wing policies from those already proposed (and indeed implemented in part) by the governing party, instead running primarily on a platform of accountability in an effort to build up a perceived need for change.

And suppose as well that the third party not only withheld its fire from the right-wing party, but outright conceded the election to the conservative party in an explicit bid to position itself as a future opposition.

I bet those principled Red Greeners would be positively howling with outrage at the third party's damage to the progressive cause, and probably pointing out the likelihood of an active conspiracy between the third party and the right-wing party. Don't you?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Just a thought...

Based on the Cons' track record for projection, there's little reason to lend much credence to their counteraccusations in response to the information-for-benefits scandal. But if the Libs want to respond with an actual demonstration of commitment to privacy (which would also have the added bonus of putting the Cons on the defensive), wouldn't it make sense to answer with legislation to make sure all parties are required to deal fairly with Canadians' personal information?

Politics first

Shorter Sask Party message on health care:
The biggest problem with health care in Saskatchewan is that too many resources are diverted to peripheral structures rather than front-line care for patients. And we plan to create several new peripheral structures to prove it.

First steps

The Hill Times only includes the latest on the amended Bill C-30 as an afterthought in an article on the Cons' crime bill intransigence. But if the opposition parties are indeed able to cooperate, a new private member's bill could lead to one of the most significant results of the current Parliament:
NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.), his party's environment critic, said the Conservatives are "cutting off their nose to spite their face" because they are unwilling to work with the opposition on climate change issues. "They put a filter or almost a complete block on the Clean Air Act. They wanted to be able to reference it without actually doing anything about the environment and they're also not going to bring back parts of the bill that the Conservatives voted for, so they're cutting off their nose to spite their face," he said. "They're so determined to have their own way, not do much for climate change, only because what I can get out of it is an ideological bent, or some allegiance to the office towers in Calgary."

Mr. Cullen introduced a private members' bill last week that resembles Bill C-30.
It's still anybody's guess whether or not Cullen's bill - or one to a similar effect from another opposition member - will be able to work its way through Parliament before the Cons are brought down.

But at the very least, this should remove any doubt about whether or not there's some possibility for cooperation between the opposition parties. And if the Libs and Bloc can once again agree on the contents of Cullen's bill, then there's a clear opportunity for the opposition parties to join forces to get something positive done.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Unprincipled

Stephane Dion is apparently trying to counter the growing perception that he's lost any claim to oppose the Cons on principle by drawing at least one line in the sand where he'd actually stand up to the Cons. But on a closer look, it's hard to imagine a more empty statement of "principle":
In Winnipeg yesterday, Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion pledged to stop any anti-environmental Conservative legislation.

While Dion stopped short of saying Liberals would defeat a confidence motion to trigger an election, he said the party would not support legislation that could endanger the environment or Canadians in general.
So what's wrong with the statement? Let's note first that Dion's "pledge" is limited to saying the Libs "would not support" anti-environmental legislation...when it's already been made clear that the Libs aren't formally supporting the throne speech either, but merely refusing to vote against it so that the Cons can pass it. And it's hard to see that apparent loophole as an accident given the Libs' obvious fear of an election anytime soon.

But it gets worse. After all, it's seemingly agreed by all parties that the current state of Canada's environmental statutes is far short of satisfactory. Otherwise the Cons wouldn't have introduced their now-dead Clean Air Act originally, and the opposition parties wouldn't agree on the importance of the amended version of the bill.

From Dion's non-threat, though, the Libs apparently don't plan on bringing down the Cons unless they propose legislation to change the status quo. Which suggests that whatever gaps exist in the law as it stands - and however weak the Cons' environmental regulations (which set out any actual greenhouse gas emission targets) may be - the Cons can avoid an election triggered by environmental issues as long as they simply avoid putting any legislation up for a vote.

Now, it's not impossible that the opposition could itself get something done, particularly if it cooperates to pass the amended terms of Bill C-30. But it's clear from Dion's failed attempt to look tough that the Cons won't face any real pressure from the Libs to improve their own direction. And that should leave all the more reason to doubt whether Dion will ever present a substantial opposition to Harper's government.