Saturday, January 10, 2009

Winning friends and influencing people

The National Post's story on how the NDP is working to strengthen its financial credentials is worth a look from a couple of different angles. For now, let's start with the plus side, as the party looks to be winning nothing but accolades for its moves to engage with financial issues.

Most notably, after three years of Con government which has ranged from useless to outright embarrassing abroad, one of the NDP's top figures seems to have had little trouble making a positive name for himself and for his party around the globe with a call for effective financial regulation:
To his compatriots, Tom Mulcair might not have been the most obvious Canadian representative to (a) two-day gathering to discuss the new world that will emerge from the most profound financial and economic crises in decades.

But the finance critic for the New Democratic Party was much in demand among guests including Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize winning economist, after making a strong impression during a presentation to the group the previous day, according to a French diplomat.

The participation of Mr. Mulcair reflects a quiet but determined effort by the social-democratic party to deepen its knowledge of the challenges facing the financial system and to strengthen its credentials in developing new policies that will impact the banking system, according to aides...

Mr. Mulcair, speaking from Paris, says the crisis in the banking system has made it imperative for policymakers and regulators to engage much more closely in the workings of financial institutions and markets.

He says this was one of the key points of consensus during the gathering in Paris, and was driven home forcefully by Mrs. Merkel.

"There is a fundamental agreement across borders on this," he says, adding: "The world has changed and we have to change with it."

"For too long we tolerated it when financial institutions told us 'not to worry our pretty little heads, that they knew what they were doing.' Well they didn't. They have shown that," he says.
Of course, the message hasn't yet filtered through the Canadian political scene to the extent it seems to have been picked up internationally. But with such a strong consensus among Canada's allies, it only makes sense to recognize the common themes of lax regulation and enforcement which have led to the economic difficulties now sweeping across borders. And it has to be a plus for Mulcair to be able to lead the charge at home and abroad.

Mind you, political effort to establish regulations undoubtedly has to be paired with internal knowledge of the industries to achieve the best possible effect. And it's noteworthy that even two out of the three bank lobbyists contacted by the Post had positive things to say about the NDP's engagement on financial issues:
(T)he NDP caucus has been calling on external advisors and allocating more resources to strengthening its research on financial policy.

"There as been an effort to expand the capacity of the caucus," says an aide, who points to meetings with outside economists such as Glen Hodgson, chief economist for the Conference Board of Canada...

One bank lobbyist remained highly skeptical of the party's contribution to the debate, and was disparaging about attempts at dialogue with the party.

But other current and former bank lobbyists say they have observed a gradual shift in the NDP's approach.

"I think you can see in Mulcair a fairly pragmatic approach to our issues. It is probably a more effective approach. I think he is on to something," says one bank lobbyist.

One former lobbyist still active on Bay Street says during meetings with senior party figures they had consistently shown themselves to be "thoughtful and backed up by good research, though we didn't always agree."
The latter quote looks to be a particularly strong statement in the NDP's favour. By way of contrast, even in the rare cases where they've deigned to talk with any of their preferred political targets, the Cons have seldom been seen to put any thought or effort into the interaction. (Mind you, the Cons apparently don't have much idea what they're doing in their perceived areas of strength either.)

Yet even in the course of publicly raising concerns about bank profits and ATM fees, the NDP has managed to present a reasonable enough case that representatives for the banks themselves appreciate the contribution.

Now, the article may raise a separate question as to where the NDP's efforts are best directed - and I'll deal with that issue in a future post. But for now, it's worth highlighting that the list of groups which the NDP has anaged to impress now extends beyond both international and ideological borders.

Not yet silenced

Shorter (or at least more accurate) Gerry Ritz on the most recent set of Canadian Wheat Board directors' elections:

The farmers have spoken - despite our best illegal efforts to drown out their voices.

(H/t to Buckdog and 900 ft Jesus.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

On baselines

It's been somewhat of a disappointment that the opposition parties haven't spent more time branding the Cons with the economic downturn and establishing a low set of base expectations which would enable a coalition to claim success from relatively modest results.

But it's worth noting for future reference that Jim Flaherty appears to be saving them the trouble. After all, the Cons would figure to have trouble throwing blame for future difficulties on any other party when even the Cons' finance minister is telling Canadians to expect a "very difficult year" featuring "substantial job losses" before anybody else has had a say in the country's direction.

On available options

Yesterday, I discussed how a wait-and-see strategy from the Libs may lead to the best prospects for a coalition government. By way of followup, it may be worth taking some time to classify the options available to the Libs over the next month, and how they might be interpreted in divining the Libs' intentions.

As mentioned in the earlier post, the Libs' have generally demurred as to what they'd require to support a budget, or whether or not they plan on proceeding with the coalition. In effect, there would seem to be two possible reasons for that stance: either they genuinely don't know what they want to see done, or there's some reason to avoid making their demands public.

Now, it may not be entirely beyond the realm of possibility that the Libs are no more organized than Deficit Jim, and are thus avoiding any firm positions for lack of any decision as to what position to take.

But it would seem more likely that the Libs simply see some political advantage in not being wedded to any course of action. And it would seem that the end goal of installing the coalition is the one which is best served by declining to make any decisions for now - though it could be that the Libs instead want only to make Harper squirm and his party face some internal uncertainty before ultimately passing the budget.

So what other avenues are open to the Libs? If their main goal was to get particular policies passed through the budget, then the obvious step would be to put those front and centre - either with an ultimatum that their support for the budget depends on the inclusion of those policies, or as part of an invitation to the Cons to jointly formulate a policy direction for the budget.

Of course, the danger of that path is that the Cons won't hesitate to grab the most popular ideas, bastardize them and then take credit for the results. Or alternatively, there's the risk that an attempt to cooperate will be taken as weakness which leads the Cons to tempt fate with some more fiscal update-style surprises. Which probably explains why there hasn't been much indication that the Libs plan on putting much of a push behind any particular policy demands.

Now, that's not to say that the Libs haven't mentioned some general policies such as EI reform - and one might theorize that Ignatieff's "as Prime Minister, I would..." musings yesterday about tax cuts and infrastructure might be seen as a step down the policy-suggestion path. But I don't think there's much room for doubt that the Libs' message has been based on their planning to judge the Cons' budget when it's released, rather than on demanding the opportunity to shape it in detail beforehand.

The other obvious option available to the Libs would be to essentially ignore the Cons' budget process and put on a full-court press in favour of the coalition. Again, though, any such action would put Harper on notice that he faces a non-confidence vote from the Libs. And that could only make the nominally desired outcome all the more distant.

Which isn't to say there couldn't be some reason to pursue such a path, particularly if the Libs figured the damage done to Harper's image by another hyperpartisan overreach would be worth the resources from their end. But there wouldn't be any way for the coalition to actually take office unless Harper decided to let democracy run its course while facing a significant risk that it it would reduce him to the dustbin of history. And while that might be a positive enough backup plan, I'm sure the Libs know better than to bank on that end result.

In sum, the option of deferring judgment for now is likely both the best one available to the Libs, and the one most likely to lead to a coalition government in the near future. And while I'll certainly be watching closely for signs of another strategy, it looks to be the Libs' plan for the time being.

On shared philosophies

Impolitical has been nicely chronicling the consistent stream of problems with Con senate appointee Patrick Brazeau.

But let's be fair to Brazeau in the wake of today's report that his organization suspended the membership of one of its provincial wings to prevent allegations about his misconduct from being made public. After all, within the Harper government, that kind of experience in suppressing the facts for political gain is more likely to make Brazeau a role model than a liability.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Extraordinary times, ordinary incompetence

Congratulations to Deficit Jim for reaching the conclusion that he should try to get the upcoming budget right. But is there much reason for optimism about a finance minister who apparently saw no problem taking a mulligan on his fiscal update?

A simple choice

Paul Wells rightly points out that regardless of what happens on the impending budget vote, Harper is virtually certain to try to run the next federal election campaign as "a binary choice between Our Lot and That Lot". (Indeed, if I have any quibble with Wells' post, it's with his failure to acknowledge that Harper already spread the same message in the last federal campaign.)

Which raises the question: would the opposition parties prefer to be judged on Harper's puffin-poop-grade caricature of a hypothetical coalition, or on the real results of a cooperative government?

Update: More from Wells.


Shorter Deceivin' Stephen:

Sure, my reason for visiting the patronage trough will no longer apply in a few weeks. But as long as I'm there, I may as well keep gorging.

On openings

While Douglas Bell and Robert Silver have been in the midst of an argument over the NDP's position and perception, it's worth noting that perhaps the most important news comes from Bell's offhand comment as to where the Libs now stand:
Ig, late and reluctant though he may have been, did sign on to The Deal along with every other Liberal MP. And while the Libs may well decide to back out (one of Ig's hench thingys told me Monday that "it is still way too early to make that call")...
Now, I haven't made much secret of the fact that the decision for the Libs looks to be an obvious one. But it's worth noting that remaining noncommittal for the moment may ultimately make for the smoothest path to bring it to power.

After all, in the wake of a wave of commentary rightly bashing Harper's irresponsible hyperpartisanship, the Cons are obviously looking to shed that label by appearing to work with the Libs rather than looking for excuses to take as many gratuitous potshots as they normally would. Which means that as long as the Libs remain publicly open to the idea of working with Harper and supporting the budget, it'll be awfully tough for the Cons to mount a strong public campaign against the coalition.

And perhaps more importantly, Harper can hardly justify once again playing games with the timing of votes on the budget and throne speech if the Libs haven't indicated their intention to vote against them. As a result, a measure of uncertainty - and indeed some public optimism about the Cons' budget - may be the best way to avoid Harper's intention to cling to power at all costs.

In contrast, if Ignatieff's message were that he planned to go ahead with the coalition, then the Cons would undoubtedly come out with guns blazing once again. And it's far too likely that Harper would simply choose to shut down Parliament once again and resume ruling by fiat: having fled democratic non-confidence votes twice already, there's little reason to think he'll willingly face one now.

Mind you, the above isn't to say that the Libs couldn't stand to significantly refine their message. In particular, Ignatieff (like Layton) should be emphasizing that the Cons need to earn the trust of the opposition and the country regardless of what is or isn't included in their budget.

And of course it's entirely possible that Ignatieff's current equivocation is based on an attempt to avoid alienating coalition supporters before he ultimately sides with Harper. (Though as I've noted, the NDP should be in a great position to punish him for that result if it comes to pass.)

But at the very least, there's a strong case to be made that a strategy of saying now isn't the time to make final decisions may be the best way for the Libs to lay the groundwork for the democratic coalition. Which means that the next few weeks will best be spent making sure that Ignatieff takes the best of the options he's left open.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

No reason for confidence

In case the likelihood of the Cons abusing confidence motions once again if their budget passes wasn't obvious enough from this afternoon's post, the Cons are now explicitly declaring their refusal to close the door on a repeat of the move:
The official said the government "reserves the right" to determine what constitutes a confidence matter. But he indicated that the government's fate is unlikely to turn on "secondary" matters not directly related to the economy.
Much like John Ivison's column mentioned in the earlier post, Joan Bryden's article attempts to paint the statement as evidence of the Cons not declaring frivolous confidence votes. But the official's statement can equally be interpreted to suggest that the Cons fully expect to make use of their same old tactics, with the Libs once again lacking the backbone to bring down Harper over "secondary" matters after giving in on the budget. And we're surely far past the point where the Cons could receive the benefit of any doubt as to their willingness to put political attacks first.

Canada's Single-Issue Government

Apparently in addition to being unable to find its own ass with a map and a flashlight, the Harper government also lacks the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time:
Conservative politicians turned aside questions about other issues, stressing that the upcoming budget was their top priority. Raitt, for example, was asked about an ongoing strategic review of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. That review was initiated nearly a year ago by her predecessor, Gary Lunn, with a view toward examining whether all or part of that Crown corporation should be privatized.

Raitt would only say that review will be dealt with in due course. "Right now, it's all about the budget," she said, noting that she's had 12 briefings since Dec. 8 focused on the economy.
Of course, there's little doubt that the budget figures to be important - for the country no less than for the Cons' political survival. But that's no excuse for apparently abandoning every other responsibility of government, particularly when Harper has obviously been able to find enough time to send his political cronies to the Senate (if perhaps not to properly vet them first). And the fact that the Cons seemingly can't deal with more than one task at once even with the entire governing apparatus in support should offer another reason to reduce their responsibility to that of the official opposition.

Foreseeable risks

A couple of recent columns look to form a nice summary of the conventional wisdom as to what's supposed to happen on Parliament Hill over the next month. But even as pundits set out their expectation that a Con budget will pass, they're also offering plenty of reason for doubt that the result would be positive for anybody other than Harper and his party.

Let's start with John Ivison - but look behind his far-too-charitable interpretation of the Cons' current spin:
When asked whether the justice bills will still be treated as confidence measures, the Prime Minister’s Office seemed to suggest only money bills will be deemed confidence votes going forward. “The government is focused on the economy. At this time, other issues are secondary,” said Kory Teneyecke, director of communications.
Rather, Conservatives say the Prime Minister is “reaching out” during the budget process, after being chastened by his near-political death experience before Christmas. The hope is that Mr. Harper will be more focused on the deteriorating economy than on inflicting political ill-health and penury on his opponents.
In other words, the Cons have at best hinted that "at this time", they're focused on the economy rather than on other issues. And even in the face of the Cons' complete lack of shame about breaking previous commitments, Corn Cob Kory won't bite on an opportunity to reassure the opposition and the public that Harper won't try to force a hard-right agenda through confidence votes this spring.

Moreover, even other Conservatives are left having to "hope" that Harper has somehow decided to change from his well-established track record of putting politics above good governance, rather than having any substantive reason for believing that to be the case. Which can hardly inspire any confidence for the rest of us whose jobs don't depend on feeding positive reviews of Harper's performance to the media.

All of which means there's ample reason for Chantal Hebert to be skeptical that any vote to prop up the Cons on their budget will actually buy political peace for any significant length of time:
Ironically, the prospect of a popular Conservative budget only acts as an accelerant on the election flames.

That's because the opposition suspects the Conservatives are preparing for war even as they overtly seek peace, by crafting a budget designed to become the stepping stone to a spring campaign. Having consolidated their advantage in public opinion with a well-received budget, they would be free to engineer their defeat on an issue of their own choosing later in the session.
Of course, Hebert considers that outcome as reason to expect that another election will be forced at some point in 2009, as the parties aside from the Libs find a theoretical "community of interest" in wanting to go to the polls before Michael Ignatieff settles in as the Libs' leader. But surely any Lib with an iota of foresight would anticipate the danger of ending up in that position - and recognize that there's a course of action which doesn't involve being forced into another election on Harper's chosen timing and terms.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Promising signs

It remains to be seen whether the latest hints on Facebook will prove as illusory as the attempt to draft Andrew Thomson last fall. But with both a Deb Higgins Politician page and a "Deb Higgins for Sask NDP Leader" group popping up over the last week, there may be some signs of life in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race yet.

Passing the buck

Shorter Con stimulus plan, as conceived by their new communications guru Moe Szyslak:
Can't somebody else do it?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Harper's Failing State

If Paul Wells was looking for more fodder to show that the Harper government isn't even competent enough to follow through on its own stated priorities or basic functions of the state (or indeed find its own ass with a map and a flashlight), today provides two worrisome new examples.

First, there's a promised set of vehicle emission standards which figure to be delayed a full year due to the Cons' missing their own deadline for the end of 2008:
Almost a year ago, Lawrence Cannon, then federal transport minister, vowed to publish new fuel-efficiency standards by the end of 2008. Those standards, he said at the time, would take effect with the 2011 model year.

"We made a commitment to implement fuel-consumption regulations for the 2011 model year that are benchmarked against a stringent, dominant North American standard, and we are keeping our word," Cannon said on Jan. 17, 2008...

The Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act, which became law late in 2007 during the Conservatives' second year in office, requires the federal government to give auto companies three years' notice before any new standard comes into effect.

By failing to publish the new figure by the end of 2008, the earliest the government could force car companies to meet new fuel-efficient standards would be the 2012 model year, a year later than Cannon had promised.
For those wondering, the Cons responded with their usual openness and competence:
After the October election, Cannon was replaced by John Baird, who moved over from the environment portfolio. A spokesman for Baird said Tuesday that Environment Canada was now the lead department on the file. Environment Minister Jim Prentice was not immediately available to comment.
And then there's a government's basic obligation to protect its citizens abroad, where the Cons have similarly failed miserably by dragging their heels in working to bring Canadians home from Gaza:
Canada only asked Israel for help in getting its stranded citizens out of Gaza after hundreds of other foreign nationals were able to depart, and as a ground assault was preparing to roll in.

More than 200 foreigners, including 39 Canadians, were to leave war-ravaged Gaza Monday, but the Israelis said security risks forced them to shut down access to the Erez Crossing into Israel. They said they would try again to get them out Tuesday.

It's unclear why Canada's officials did not ask sooner for Israeli assistance to get Canadians out – before the start of the ground war on Saturday that made travelling in Gaza far more dangerous.

Several countries clamoured last week for Israel to help their citizens leave Gaza, before an expected ground assault, prompting the Israelis to allow about 300, including Americans, Russians, Ukrainians and Moldovans, to leave on Friday.

A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa, Rodney Moore, said that's the day that Canada sent a list of 36 Canadians who wanted to leave Gaza, and asked for Israeli assistance.

But Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israel government civil administration in the occupied territories, said Canadian officials only approached them for help the day after, on Saturday.
And lest anybody think the Cons could be excused for not knowing any better:
During the 2006 Lebanon war, Canadian officials were criticized for the slow pace of their efforts to evacuate about 13,000 citizens from Beirut, as they struggled to arrange safe passage for ships for days after the United States and several European countries began ferrying out their nationals.

In this case, it's not clear why Canada did not ask for help sooner, before the situation on the ground in Gaza became dramatically more dangerous.
So to sum up, the Harper Cons have broken their own self-imposed deadline to do something about fuel efficiency by flat-out forgetting it existed, and left dozens of Canadians in danger due to their failure to learn anything from an equally well-publicized mistake two years ago. Which would seem to confirm that about the only thing Canadians can count on from Harper is continued incompetence - and offer all the more reason to hope to see some adults in charge at the earliest opportunity.

Between the lines

Perhaps the most significant development in the CP's report on the Libs' restructuring is one area which Michael Ignatieff isn't focusing on:
Mr. Ignatieff has not yet put his stamp on the Liberal shadow cabinet and Ms. Fairbrother said there has been no discussion about the various roles caucus members will play. She said Mr. Ignatieff may choose to make no significant changes to the lineup of critics assigned by Mr. Dion.
Given that the article describes wholesale organizational changes from the group which existed under Stephane Dion, it's highly improbable that Ignatieff's choice of shadow cabinets would be identical to his predecessor's. But wouldn't it make sense that Ignatieff might spend little time thinking about shadow critic assignments if he doesn't expect to be on the opposition side of the House for long?

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Equal time

As a counterpoint to Hassan Arif's column which I linked to yesterday, let's take a look at the strategic thinking behind the case for the Libs choosing to prop up Deceivin' Stephen once again. Here's Tom Kent:
Mr. Ignatieff can lay Liberal arrogance finally to rest. He can replace it by common sense. He has only to say, soon and firmly, that this is not the year for another election. We face prolonged uncertainty about jobs and incomes, about prices and savings. Adding political uncertainty to the mix could only worsen our economic troubles. A responsible opposition would recognize that, for the present, steadiness is more important than changing the government through the conflict of election campaigning.

Such a statement would not give Mr. Harper a blank cheque. Further outrages would compel the coalition to defeat the government. But short of those, it should be held accountable not through daily debate and polling, but after enough time for the people to remake their electoral assessment. The Liberal Party, meanwhile, will probe, question, suggest; and if the government nevertheless introduces measures that Liberals cannot support, they will as a party abstain.
So in the name of "steadiness" and avoiding an election, the Libs would leave in place a government which regularly pulls the pin on live grenades just to watch its opponents squirm, rather than replacing it with a coalition which can produce at least a year and a half of stable government.

And if the Cons once again go too far? Well, then the Libs can register their disagreement through the power of suggestion (maybe even going so far as to set down "markers" as to what policies they oppose?), while giving Stephen Harper what he wants whether or not it's in the best interest of the country.

Needless to say, it's a wonder nobody thought of this strategy sooner. If only Stephane Dion had that kind of foresight.

Let's give Kent this much: his column does perform a public service by highlighting just how thoroughly the Libs would have to disregard recent history in order to think they have anything to gain by propping up Harper at this point. But when it's made clear that a decision to pass the Cons' budget can only set the Libs up for even more embarrassment and irrelevance to come, it should be obvious how they should handle the budget vote.

Spinners anonymous

Impolitical nicely dissects the Cons' latest sad attempt to humanize Deceivin' Stephen. But it's worth noting just how comical the effort is:
A Conservative official confirmed that the Prime Minister was deeply moved by the experience, particularly as he came to understand how the schools affected not only the former students, but their children.

"He was clearly, personally, very moved by it," the official told The Globe and Mail. "As he learned more about what had gone on, [he] went through an evolution in his own thinking, and I think it was very heartfelt and it was very personal."
That's right: the Cons can't even roll out a PR campaign based on something supposedly "very heartfelt and...very personal" without delivering it through anonymous internal sources. But then, it might make sense that any person would be embarrassed to attach their name to a branding effort which is so obviously contrary to reality.

On finality

In trying to defend the appointment of two senators who have spent decades living outside the provinces they're supposed to represent, the Cons have repeatedly claimed that all that matters is whether the constitutional requirements are met by the time any new senators are sworn in. Which would strongly imply that the appointments themselves don't have any constitutional effect until that time either. After all, surely a senator-in-waiting can't have a confirmed right to a position at a time before one can properly assess whether the individual actually qualifies for the job.

Needless to say, that fact may be worth keeping in mind when it comes to deciding whether the cushiest patronage appointment in Canadian history should go to somebody under investigation for sexual harassment. And if the Cons managed to miss that kind of time bomb in even a high-profile appointee in their rush to stack the Senate, then it may be best for evreybody concerned if they hold off on finalizing anything until they've had time to do their homework.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Rumours of the coalition's death have been greatly exaggerated

There's still a long way to go to make up for a month of the media parroting Con spin about the democratic coalition. But ironically, the consistent refrain that the coalition is dead may only have softened some of the possible opposition. And now that the case for the coalition is beginning to find its way into the public eye, could it be that the tide will turn just in time for the coalition to become a reality?

Burning question

Is it possible to design a Con talking point so glaringly flawed that even Tim Powers would be ashamed to proclaim it a brilliant insight?

On high-risk strategies

There's been far too little mention in the press of the obvious dangers to Michael Ignatieff and his party if they decide that Stephane Dion's strategy of giving Harper everything he wants is somehow worth repeating. But Hassan Arif nicely sums up the options now facing Ignatieff:
If the Liberals vote to support Harper's budget (or at the very least abstain) while the NDP votes against it, then Ignatieff's standing as leader could be severely damaged. For progressive-leaning Canadians, he will be seen as "collaborating with Harper" and "abdicating his role as Official opposition leader," both of which would gravely damage the Liberal Party among a crucial group of voters.

This would open the door for Jack Layton and the NDP to be the dominant voice of progressive Canadians.

The Coalition may not have caught on with the public at large, but it does enjoy a significant degree of popularity among progressive and left-leaning Canadians...

If Ignatieff can articulate a vision that inspires Canadians, and if he can rise to deal with the economic challenges of the current downturn, showing that he understands the problems of Canadians worried about their jobs and livelihoods, then he could be a successful leader.

This could be derailed in the eyes of many Canadians if he is seen as collaborating with Stephen Harper and selling out on progressive values. This is a prospect which Michael Ignatieff must be keenly aware of if he is to succeed.
Indeed, for those looking for the quickest possible path to Liberal destruction (which of course tends to be the Cons' fondest hope), it likely involves Ignatieff taking on for himself exactly the same mantle of weakness and ineffectiveness that sunk Dion. And that negative impression would almost certainly spill over onto the party's image as well: while the Libs could relatively easily paint Dion's mistakes as his own based on his seemingly accidental ascension to the leadership and limited ties to the party structure, they would have a much harder time shaking off Ignatieff's failures when the party has effectively chosen him by acclamation.

Moreover, there's ample reason to think the Libs' current base will be less than happy with any move to keep propping up Harper. After all, Liberal voters have not only shown themselves to be strong supporters of the coalition, but have also expressed their willingness to switch their vote if it leads to a better chance to stop the Harper Cons. And if two Lib leaders in a row demonstrate that they're not up to the task, then the result can only be to strengthen the NDP's hand as the best available alternative.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Action and reaction

The Cons' unauthorized recording of an NDP caucus meeting may have taken a back seat to Harper's prorogation crisis last month. But it's good to see that the NDP is keeping the issue alive - and the latest reports may only hint at what's coming:
The NDP wants the names of "any and all individuals" involved in the Conservative decision to record and distribute copies of a New Democrat caucus meeting – and it is threatening legal action to get them.

A letter from NDP counsel presses the Conservatives for the information and strongly suggests litigation will follow unless the names are forthcoming.

"Our client will, if necessary, take appropriate measures to protect its interests," says the Dec. 23 letter from lawyer Steven Barrett to Arthur Hamilton, counsel retained by the Conservatives...

The letter from Barrett reveals a Dec. 3 conversation in which Hamilton is said to have told him the Conservatives would stop publicly referring to the recording, and that they were prepared to address NDP concerns.

The letter also notes the NDP's demand for the names of everyone who participated in the recording and distribution of the tape, as well as those involved in the decision.

"Please let us know how you would like this matter to unfold and provide us with the information we have been waiting for, or in the alternative, confirm that you are authorized to accept service on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada and its various members and employees of any legal proceedings my client may initiate."
Now, it's worth noting that the above paragraphs - especially the last one - suggest that the NDP is doing far more than simply maneuvering to get the names of the Cons involved. Indeed, any attempt to get the names now looks to be merely a means of setting a broader litigation process in motion to claim damages from the Cons for their wrongful taping and distribution.

At this point, the only apparent obstacle to the NDP issuing a claim is that aside from John Duncan's role, it doesn't know for certain who bears responsibility for what.

There are a few ways around that problem. The apparent preferred option is to have the Cons supply that information, which would make it a relatively simple matter to include the relevant names within the original claim and serve it personally on the Cons involved.

Of course, the Cons don't figure to be eager to cooperate, as the list of names and descriptions of actions would have obvious political implications. But there is another equally viable option alluded to in Barrett's letter.

Some of the defendants can be identified only by their actions for now rather than names, so long as the NDP can show that the claim was properly served on those affected. Which is where the request to have Hamilton accept service on behalf of all Con members and employees becomes significant: if he agrees, then the NDP won't need to worry about the names for now, and can fill in the blanks based on information which the Cons would be required to provide as the litigation proceeds.

If the Cons aren't willing to cooperate even to that extent, then the final recourse would be to seek a court's approval to serve the unnamed defendants through another means. I'd have to think the Cons would think twice about going down that route, since the NDP could frame a request to involve putting public notices in newspapers about the Cons' wrongdoing at their own expense. But if the Cons are determined to obstruct as much as possible, that would be the fallback option.

Again, the important point is that the NDP looks to have everything in place for a claim against the Cons except a means of determining who it needs to serve and how. And the fact that the Cons have already tried to "address NDP concerns" in a likely attempt to minimize the eventual damages suggests that they fully expect the end result to be in the NDP's favour - meaning that there's every reason to look forward to what will happen with the claim.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The reviews are in

Paul Wells again with a panoply of amply descriptive phrases for the Harper government. Indeed, the biggest question is which one may be most worth highlighting to define the Cons' stay in office: "a failing state"? "No coherent government"? "Canada has become a more genteel Somalia"? Or the slightly longer option:
(I)t’s not hard for this government to do what it promised it would do. Or rather, it would not be hard if the current government, the one run by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, could find its own ass with a map and a flashlight.
(Edit: fixed typo.)


Lorne Gunter is determined to bash Jack Layton for having the nerve to cooperate with anybody other than Deceivin' Stephen. But in so doing, he only offers up another stark reminder of the petty and destructive view of Canadian politics which still serves as the Cons' main governing focus:
First, he had a chance to do the Liberals in and replace them as the default selection on the left had he gone along with the Tories' plan to end public funding to parties. Next to the Tories, the NDP have the best chance of replacing public handouts with private donations. Layton could have crippled the Liberals, instead he tried to vault himself into cabinet by riding into power as the Liberals' shotgun.

With the revealing of the coalition, Layton was also exposed as a self-serving opportunist...
So let's review how the above statements compare to each other. In Gunter's world, Layton ought to have lent his support to a fiscal update that was both antithetical to the NDP's policy vision and likely to hurt them as a party as well, all for the sole purpose of helping Harper to inflict a death blow on the Liberals. Which would apparently be considered a selfless act of principle.

Instead, Layton cooperated with the opposition parties to work out an agreement which would not only improve the NDP's standing on the federal scene, but also help to ensure that policies closer to its values would be put in place (both in dealing with the recession and in governing over the next year and a half). Needless to say, that earns Gunter's condemnation as "opportunism".

Ultimately, Gunter's column looks to be just another example of the Con base's warped attitude that Harper's goal of destroying the Libs matters more than anything. But the more the Cons and their flacks try to project the same pathology onto the NDP, the more clear they make it that there's only one party which truly puts a perceived political war above the good of the country. And the Libs should be careful to keep that distinction in mind in deciding whether they want to leave Harper in control.

(Edit: fixed wording.)