Saturday, July 19, 2008

On social visions

Gerald Caplan offers his suggestions as to how the NDP should look to position itself in the wake of the CCF's 75th anniversary. But while Caplan's points about policy choices are certainly worth considering, let's note that the U.S. netroots are currently setting the pace when it comes to the type of truly democratic policy-making which may offer the best foundation for the NDP's future:
this year's Netroots Nation marks the launch of a bold experiment in participatory democracy: together, the Netroots will craft our very own policy platform to be submitted to the DNC in advance of the Democratic Convention.

To ensure the final platform we submit to the DNC reflects the views of the entire Netroots community, we want this process to be as inclusive and democratic as possible - so we're not just limiting it to those who've made it to Austin...

We've divided the platform into 5 planks (foreign policy, economy, healthcare, etc.) and we may add others by popular demand.

Within each plank, the way it works is that people submit different versions of the plank, edit each other's versions, and mix and match from different versions to create new ones. People can rate each version, and the version with the highest average rating is the one we'll submit to the DNC.
Now, it makes sense that the idea is being pioneered within a subset of a party, since any unanticipated outcomes won't then make for a binding platform. And it would be entirely understandable if a similarly cautious approach were applied to any Canadian adaptation.

That said, however, the model is one that the NDP should be looking to apply as well as a means of encouraging grassroots involvement in the party's policy process. And the end result could be both to cement the NDP as Canada's people-powered party, and to develop a progressive vision which moves far past what the CCF's founders could have imagined.

Open questions

Following up on this post, I'll offer a bit of food for thought. As I note in the linked post, Elections Canada is likely to have ample reason to deny the Cons any party rebate if - as seems likely - they use the Conadscam model in the next federal election.

If that happens, and with the Cons both gleefully slamming the current system and holding a significantly larger advantage in individual donations than in public funding in any event, how likely is the existing campaign-finance system to survive a Con majority (or minority where the Cons think to take on public funding and spending caps directly)? And if Harper is likely to try to attack the current system, how should the opposition parties take that into account in making their own plans for the next election?

Friday, July 18, 2008

On points of distinction

In the wake of yesterday's discussion about what kinds of issues the NDP should be highlighting (however misguided it may have been), it's worth noting that the NDP is making a strong push on another issue where there's ample room for distinction from the Con/Lib corporate line. And Russell McOrmond looks to be taking the lead in highlighting the NDP's stance in defending Canadians at large when it comes at copyright issues, providing a brief history of how the NDP arrived at its current position, as well as Q&As with two of the party's star candidates on the subject.

It remains to be seen just how large a role the ongoing discussion about copyright will end up playing once an election campaign gets underway. But based on both the strength of existing movements such as Fair Copyright for Canada and the sheer number of Canadians who stand to be affected by draconian restrictions on their ability to access and share information, the issue looks to be one where the NDP can do plenty of good for the country as a whole and itself as a party by raising awareness. And there's plenty of reason for optimism based on the effort the NDP has put in so far.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Elite consensus-building

Shorter J.L. Granatstein:
If the Libs were to keep giving in to the Cons' every defence policy whim in the name of "bipartisanship" as they did on Afghanistan, just think how much more mature we could claim to be as a country!

On potential recovery

CanWest reports that 17 Con candidates received reimbursements from Conadscam expenses which may eventually be rescinded if the scheme is found to be illegal. But on a closer look at the Canada Elections Act, I have to wonder if there may be far more money at stake.

In particular, the Canada Elections Act's rules for national party reimbursements are found in section 435:
435. (1) On receipt from a registered party of the documents referred to in subsection 429(1), the Chief Electoral Officer shall provide the Receiver General with a certificate that sets out the amount that is 50% of the registered party’s election expenses that were paid by its registered agents as set out in the return for its general election expenses, if
(a) the Chief Electoral Officer is satisfied that the registered party and its chief agent have complied with the requirements of sections 429 to 434;
(b) the auditor’s report does not include a statement referred to in subsection 430(2); and
(c) candidates endorsed by the registered party received at least
(i) 2% of the number of valid votes cast at the election, or
(ii) 5% of the number of valid votes cast in the electoral districts in which the registered party endorsed a candidate.

(2) On receipt of the certificate, the Receiver General shall reimburse the amount set out in it to the registered party by paying that amount out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
All major parties received reimbursements under this section - with the Cons' ranking as the highest at over $9 million. But what happens if the Cons had never validly complied with section 435 when they submitted their election returns to Elections Canada?

The "requirements of sections 429 to 434" referred to in the above section include a requirement to accurately describe a party's expenses (s. 429(2)) and a requirement not to submit material that the party's chief agent "knows or ought reasonably to know contains a materially false or misleading statement" (s. 431). If the Cons end up losing their legal arguments regarding Conadscam, then there's little plausible basis for the Cons to argue that either of these requirements were met - such that they would never have been entitled to be paid the reimbursement amount based on the information submitted.

Which isn't to say the Cons wouldn't have at least some argument to keep the reimbursement money from 2006. There's at least a plausible case to be made that the purpose of s. 435 is to facilitate a final payment rather than permit later attacks, such that there's no ability to recoup the payment once the Chief Electoral Officer certifies the information required in the section.

At the same time, though, it's at least equally arguable that s. 435 is intended to reflect substance rather than form - in effect, that a party shouldn't benefit from successfully misleading Elections Canada into believing it had complied with the law. In that event, any party which was later found to have substantially failed to comply with its reporting obligations would apparently be disentitled to a refund (at least until it submits accurate information).

Needless to say, if that interpretation is accepted, then the Cons' financial risk arising out of Conadscam might well be large enough to put a serious dent in their much-trumpeted financial advantage over Canada's other political parties.

Moreover, the significance of the section may not be limited to the 2006 reimbursement. Even if Elections Canada doesn't plan on pursuing money which may have been wrongly paid to the Cons, the Chief Electoral Officer will have the ability to decline to certify any future Con election return which includes more Conadscam-style manipulations.

Which means that Conadscam has the potential to both take a bite out of the Cons' current bottom line, and prevent them from taking advantage of public reimbursements in the future if they insist on flouting the law. And that may explain why the Cons are so willing to launch kamikaze attacks on Elections Canada in hopes of avoiding the consequences of their actions.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


The BBC's report about Colombia's misuse of the Red Cross symbol may be the most subtly surprising story of the day, if only because of the Colombian government's reaction. In particular, has Alvaro Uribe officially disqualified himself from the Bush/Harper circle of neocons by actually having some shame about violating the Geneva Conventions?

For the sake of consistency...'s surely only a matter of time before Jonathan Kay comments that the "day Ezra Levant had anything defensible to say about politics and world events seems to have come to an end", while a National Post headline writer describes Levant as "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's one-man fan club". Right?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On fabrications

The CP follows up on today's Ethics Committee proceedings. And not surprisingly, Pierre Poilievre and the Cons aren't going to let mere facts get in the way of their ever-less-plausible attempt to claim victimhood:
Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre and Scott Reid testily pressed Mayrand about an internal review he conducted in response to Tory claims that the raid details were leaked in advance.

Mayrand said only he, four of his top officials, the office of the elections commissioner and the office of the director of public prosecutions were aware beforehand.

He said he was assured no one in his office talked to anyone outside Elections Canada before investigators from the commissioner's office, accompanied by RCMP computer specialists, arrived at Tory party headquarters.

The chief electoral officer surprised MPs by disclosing not only that he had opposed the raid's timing – because a Federal Court hearing on the case was scheduled for the next day – but that news reporters and photographers did not even arrive at the Conservative office until more than two hours after the raid began.

"I was not too enthusiastic," Mayrand said, adding his opposition to the timing led to a "difficult conversation" with election commissioner William Corbett...

Poilievre told reporters after the meeting that Mayrand's testimony has not allayed the Conservative contention that he and Elections Canada have it out for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Though Mayrand – who was later appointed by Harper – was not chief electoral officer at the time, Harper battled Elections Canada all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2000 over a ban on advertising by third parties, including the ultra-conservative National Citizens Coalition that Harper led at the time.
Needless to say, it shouldn't come as any surprise at all that the Cons' strategy of stoking supporter outrage far outweighs any interest they might otherwise have had in dealing with reality. But Poilievre's shows just how ridiculous the Cons' facade of indignance really is - and offers another strong indication of why the Cons' public messages simply aren't plausible enough to be taken at face value.

Update: Of course, the Cons can always count on CanWest to report their absurd spin first and a watered-down counterargument second, while entirely omitting the facts which make the Cons' position as nonsensical as it is.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Another great moment in accountability

Shorter Pierre Poilievre from this morning's Ethics Committee hearings as liveblogged by Kady O'Malley:
Elections Canada has some nerve offending the dignity of the Conservative Party by actually investigating its electoral activities, rather than simply taking its word that Conadscam was entirely legal.

Monday, July 14, 2008

For the long haul

I'll leave aside for now the merits of Michael Byers' proposal for an NDP name change, as well as the positive signs for the NDP pointed out in Lawrence Martin's column today. But it's definitely worth noting that just weeks after Byers chose the NDP over the Libs in the face of direct appeals from both, he's already publicly showing a strong interest in building the NDP in the long term - both in offering suggestions in how the NDP can brand itself, and in what sounds like a concerted effort to bring an increased activist base into the fold.

Of course, it remains to be seen both how Byers will fare in Vancouver Centre, and what role he'll end up playing in the longer term. But it does seem clear that the NDP's star candidates are focused on far more than merely getting into the House of Commons themselves - and that can only bode well for the prospects of building the party for the future.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On mad government

Alison points out the connection between the ongoing reality of BSE in Canada and the Cons' choice to eliminate any federal testing as part of their compulsive attacks on government. But there's another part of the calculus which makes the Cons' decision all the more ridiculous (warning: PDF):
The economic implications (of BSE) for the livestock sector, meat and animal feed manufacturers, and the vast array of service sectors, such as trucking, sales yards and brokers, which provide support to the livestock industry, are
widespread. For the overall Canadian economy, it is estimated that for each $100 million in exports by the cattle sector, $80 million is added to the national gross domestic product (GDP) (at market prices), $228 million is generated in total output, $41 million is added to labour income, and 3,000 jobs are created. Therefore, the potential negative impact on the Canadian economy from a $2.5 billion loss in cattle and calf exports due to BSE translates into a $2 billion loss in GDP, a $5.7 billion decline in total output in the Canadian economy, a $1 billion decline in labour income and a loss of 75,000 jobs.

According to a report prepared for the Canadian Animal Health Coalition, the direct economic cost to the Canadian livestock industry by early 2004 was estimated at nearly $3.3 billion. An additional loss in equity to the cow-calf sector was estimated at $3.0 billion, for a total economic impact from BSE of $6.3 billion.
Now, it's precisely the testing regime now in place which has ensured that later cases of BSE haven't resulted in quite such severe consequences. And it's clear that the private interest in avoiding the worst possible results wasn't enough to ensure that similarly thorough testing took place before the 2003 outbreak.

But for the Cons, the danger of billions of dollars in economic damage is apparently seen as a small price to pay for being seen to hack away slightly at the federal government. And some of the rural voters who otherwise support the Cons ought to take a far closer look at how willing Harper and company are to jeopardize their well-being for a ridiculously small cost reduction.