Saturday, March 28, 2009

Burning question

If the Speaker in the House of Commons is indeed shutting down NDP questions about Con political scandals as unrelated to the administrative responsibilities of government, then why on earth are the Cons' open invitations to opposition-bashing not being subjected to the same treatment?

A new suggestion

Andrew Potter's take on the name-changing debate within the NDP is definitely worth a read as one of the better arguments I've seen on the side of keeping the name as is:
What the left in Canada should be trying to do is secure their base and push it out, not sacrifice it in the name of centrism.

Which is why the last thing they should do is drop the "New" from their name. The "New" in the name isn't a statement of the party's origins, like "New Coke." It's a promise that offers the ongoing hope of political change, social progress and institutional renewal. This is the very core of the NDP's brand identity, and far from giving it up, they should make it the activating ideal of their platform and messaging.

The party actually took a step in this direction during the last election, with their "New Strong" ad campaign. It was easily the best set of ads from any of the major parties, and it did a very good job of repositioning their policy negatives (anti-Americanism, anti-corporation) as strength. If I were in charge of the NDP's new brand strategy, I would put the promise of New at the very centre: New Environmentalism. New Economy. New Sovereignty. The New Democrats.
Of course, Potter's suggestion doesn't exactly break new ground, as similar messages have been used to good effect. But it's certainly worth wondering whether an all-out emphasis on "new" as part of the NDP's message might do more to help the party than eliminating the term.

Mind you, there's one major risk involved in that strategy on its own: the more the NDP relies on "new" as part of its message in a single election campaign, the more public fatigue may develop with the term as part of the party's brand.

But fortunately, the party may have an ideal opportunity for a litmus test as to whether the term has run its course.

After all, the resolutions before this weekend's convention will include an option to send the name issue for study as well as one to make the change immediately.

Obviously if the party sees value in keeping the "new" it won't want to go with an immediate switch. But might it make sense to support the deferral option as a compromise at the convention, then get as much mileage out of a "new" message as possible in the next election campaign to produce a fresh batch of information as to the impact the term is currently having on the NDP's brand?

A new suggestion

Andrew Potter's take on the name-changing debate within the NDP is definitely worth a read as one of the better arguments I've seen on the side of keeping the name as is:
What the left in Canada should be trying to do is secure their base and push it out, not sacrifice it in the name of centrism.

Which is why the last thing they should do is drop the "New" from their name. The "New" in the name isn't a statement of the party's origins, like "New Coke." It's a promise that offers the ongoing hope of political change, social progress and institutional renewal. This is the very core of the NDP's brand identity, and far from giving it up, they should make it the activating ideal of their platform and messaging.

The party actually took a step in this direction during the last election, with their "New Strong" ad campaign. It was easily the best set of ads from any of the major parties, and it did a very good job of repositioning their policy negatives (anti-Americanism, anti-corporation) as strength. If I were in charge of the NDP's new brand strategy, I would put the promise of New at the very centre: New Environmentalism. New Economy. New Sovereignty. The New Democrats.
Of course, Potter's suggestion doesn't exactly break new ground, as similar messages have been used to good effect. But it's certainly worth wondering whether an all-out emphasis on "new" as part of the NDP's message might do more to help the party than eliminating the term.

Mind you, there's one major risk involved in that strategy on its own: the more the NDP relies on "new" as part of its message in a single election campaign, the more public fatigue may develop with the term as part of the party's brand.

But fortunately, the party may have an ideal opportunity for a litmus test as to whether the term has run its course.

After all, the resolutions before this weekend's convention will include an option to send the name issue for study as well as one to make the change immediately.

Obviously if the party sees value in keeping the "new" it won't want to go with an immediate switch. But might it make sense to support the deferral option as a compromise at the convention, then get as much mileage out of a "new" message as possible in the next election campaign to produce a fresh batch of information as to the impact the term is currently having on the NDP's brand?

One-upped

The main criticism of the leadership debate schedule announced by the Saskatchewan NDP earlier this month was the lack of any northern event. And it didn't take Dwain Lingenfelter long to propose a forum in La Ronge - but scheduled for after the membership deadline to participate in the June leadership vote.

Now, Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen have gone a step further by organizing a joint forum to be held before the already-scheduled debates:
NDP Leadership Candidates Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen have jointly organized a public leadership forum in La Ronge for April 14, 2009. Northern Saskatchewan was not included on the original leadership forum circuit organized by the party's office.

Pedersen and Meili agree that the people of Northern Saskatchewan deserve an opportunity to hear from all of the candidates. The NDP leadership election will take place on June 6, but memberships must be purchased by April 24, 2009 to be eligible to vote. Pedersen and Meili agree that a public forum before the April 24 deadline offers Northerners full participation in the democratic process, rather than what could be seen as merely token consultation...

The April 14 Leadership Forum will be held at the Kitsaki Hall, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Candidates Deb Higgins and Dwain Lingenfelter have been invited to the April 14th forum but have yet to confirm their attendance.
Getting the obvious out of the way first, it would seem clear that it's for the best if the NDP can indeed have a full northern forum in advance of the membership deadline. And I'd expect the Meili/Pedersen forum to take precedence as the candidates' best opportunity for a northern debate - based on both the agreement of multiple candidates, and the improvement in timing. But why stop there when one can speculate about how it will affect the dynamics between the candidates?

To start with, the joint announcement may raise some eyebrows as to the cooperation between two competing candidates - particularly ones who thus far have seemed to be targeting the same pool of potential voters. But it's worth being cautious in reading too much into the Meili/Pedersen cooperation on the forum.

As the two candidates with less name recognition to date, they both likely have the most to gain from exposure to a wider range of people. And with the front-runner in the race having already proposed an event on his own, it seems likely that it would take agreement from more than one of the contestants for another proposed event to eclipse Lingenfelter's.

That said, it may be worth watching whether Higgins and Lingenfelter will hedge on any commitment to attend. For both, adding another event at the front end of an already-grueling debate schedule might be seen as a risky bet. And for Lingenfelter in particular, there's some danger that he'll be taken as admitting that his own proposed event was inadequate if he participates in the Meili/Pedersen one instead.

But then, both would presumably also see a significant danger in being the lone candidate not to attend. So I wouldn't be at all surprised if both avoid committing one way or the other, figuring that each is relatively safe to sit it out as long as the other does the same.

We'll find out soon just how Higgins and Lingenfelter choose to respond to the Meili/Pedersen forum. But however important the event itself proves to be, the more interesting result may be how it precipitates cooperation and opposition among the candidates as the campaign continues.

The reviews are in

My only quibble with Dan Gardner's latest is that it's limited to a discussion of crime policies when the message rings equally true for virtually every other file as well (tax policy, anyone?). But this would still seem to be an important message to spread:
The essential thing to bear in mind when examining the Harper government's policies on crime is that they are not about crime. They are about politics.

I do not write this lightly. People generally believe what they say they believe. If the Tories say they believe their policies are important and necessary for the public good, we should take them at their word -- unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Since taking power, in part thanks to tough talk on crime, the Harper government has consistently introduced small, cheap, crowd-pleasing reforms at the most politically opportune moments. It has passed redundant laws. It has passed laws it knows will be struck down by the courts. It has delayed passing popular bills, preferring to keep them handy for the next political opportunity. And, most tellingly, it has refused to make serious and substantial changes that wouldn't be so politically sexy -- tackling the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, for example.

So we should be suspicious about the government's announcement that it will eliminate so-called sentencing discounts for time served awaiting trial.

Is it broadly popular? Absolutely. Will it please the Conservatives' disgruntled base? Certainly. Will it make streets safer or the justice system more just? Not in the slightest.

It's just another small, cheap, crowd-pleaser tossed out to score political points.
Edit: added Geddes link.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Musical interlude

Cassius - 1999

Bouncing back

Remember all the talk about how Jack Layton's participation in the opposition coalition would make him so permanently unpopular that the NDP would have no choice but to dump him as the party leader? Because the public apparently doesn't:
Nationally, NDP Leader Jack Layton got a favourable rating from 42 per cent, with 39 per cent unfavourable.
Of course, there's still a ways to go before Layton regains his place on top of the list for public leadership impressions. But he's already back ahead of Stephen Harper in the net ratings, with relative favourability shooting up from -12% last month in the wake of the Libs' decision to prop up the Harper government, to +3% now even as both the Cons and the Libs have tried to marginalize the NDP. Which would tend to suggest that Layton's brand was always durable enough to recover quickly from bearing the full brunt of the Cons' attacks.

Moreover, the prospects for Layton only figure to get better as time goes by. After all, Stephen Harper wouldn't seem to have much room to grow after three years of polarizing government - which might explain why he's trying to reach eyes outside Canada rather than dealing with the voters he's already alienated at home. And the costs of Michael Ignatieff's choice to support Harper are just now starting to be reflected in the commercial press and in Lib circles, meaning that the relative lack of negatives which gives him the best relative ratio for now doesn't figure to last much longer.

So while some are eager to bury Layton based on the flimsiest of assumptions, the reality is that he figures to once again serve as a positive factor in the NDP's push to bring in new voters.

Deep thought

Last I checked, there was a difference between being a "master of nomination-winning tactics" and relying on one's party to prevent real nomination races from happening.

Then and now

Then:
Peter Van Loan, a fiery House leader who thrilled colleagues with his frequent finger-jabbing diatribes against the Liberals, moves to Public Safety.

Government insiders say his replacement by the less-partisan Jay Hill is in keeping with Harper's desire to strike a more convivial tone in the next Parliament.
Now:
Mr. Jack Harris (St. John's East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, my point of order refers to the response of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons (Hill) to the traditional question as to what will be going on over the next few days so that parliamentarians can prepare for debates. I did not understand that this was an opportunity for the government House leader to make partisan swipes at other parties of the House or engage in debate that cannot be responded to. Is that not an abuse of the traditions of the House?

We'll tell you how you can oppose us

Gerry Ritz is understandably backtracking from his party's concerted effort to block any Parliamentary investigation into last year's listeria outbreak and other food safety issues. But Ritz' apparent theory about the committee looks to be even more disturbing than that of the Cons who disrupted it from within:
The meeting adjourned before members could vote on the competing proposals because a Conservative member of the committee "filibustered for over an hour" and "ran out the clock," Allen told the House of Commons.

Ritz shot back: "If we did not want the committee working, we could have just vetoed the whole darn thing up front. We actually are looking forward to a non-partisan report from the opposition, working in conjunction with our government members."
Which raises a couple of questions: when exactly does Ritz think the Cons were granted a "veto" over the proceedings of a committee where they're in the minority? And how likely is it that a party so obsessed with immediate perception will actually provide meaningful cooperation to a potentially embarrassing investigation if their starting point is a belief that they're entitled to shut it down by fiat?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Panel review

Berlynn posts an interesting piece by Jim Harding on Dwain Lingenfelter's views about the nuclear industry. And it may make for a useful jumping-off point to bring up the main unanswered questions about Dwain Lingenfelter's effort to get in front of the issue.

Remember Lingenfelter's effort to find a position which can oppose the Sask Party's full-speed-ahead view while still leaving the door wide open for future nuclear development:
I do not support the construction of a nuclear reactor to generate power within Saskatchewan’s borders unless a public, transparent study has been conducted by a blue ribbon panel of independent experts, showing the people of Saskatchewan that such a project could be sustainable, from both the financial and environmental perspective. This blue ribbon panel would hold public hearings around the province so that every citizen could have their say on the future of electrical generation in Saskatchewan. The panel would explore the costs and benefits of nuclear power compared to both renewable energy options and conventional electrical generation sources such as coal, natural gas and hydro. The energy options we choose for the next twenty years will impact everything from our provincial finances to our economic growth, from our population’s health to our quality of life. These decisions cannot be made without full, public input and understanding.
On its face, Lingenfelter's carefully-hedged position allows him a clear line of distinction from the Wall government while still leaving the door wide open for expansion of the nuclear industry. But the current plan leaves significant questions which would seem to demand an answer during the course of the leadership race.

Namely, does Lingenfelter see a panel merely as a precondition to nuclear development alone? Or does he think that no new energy development should take place without it? And how will that affect how a Lingenfelter government would in fact approach the decision of whether or not to convene a panel?

Taken at its least broad interpretation, Lingenfelter's statement could plausibly be taken to say only that in the case of nuclear development in particular, a public consultation process should be a precondition to any final decision. Which would mean that the Sask Party's plans are wrong for the moment, while suggesting nothing to the effect that he'd actually put in place a process designed to facilitate nuclear power in the future. Indeed, one could make the case that at this level, Lingenfelter's position would hint against nuclear power as the only energy source which would be subject to a need for a panel.

But Lingenfelter seems to hint that he would indeed convene a panel due to the potential importance of the type of power sources chosen, and that its decisions would determine the province's future energy mix. That sounds reasonable enough on its face, but might raise a host of additional issues - ranging from the risks associated with delaying any type of development during the time required to hold the type of hearings suggested, to an inference that he doesn't see any particular difference between nuclear power and the other types of sources which he sees as possible candidates for discussion within that process.

Beyond those dangers, there's also a risk in basing one's position on procedural grounds rather than substantive ones as Lingenfelter has done. It would surely be a simple enough matter for the Wall government to set up a process which looks enough like Lingenfelter's proposal to severely undercut his argument, and all without actually doing anything to substantially change course from the Sask Party's plan to make nuclear development its first priority.

As a result, there's a serious need for Lingenfelter to clarify just what he means with his policy proposal in order to determine whether he can effectively oppose the Wall government, and what he'd do given a chance in government. And while he never figures to be a favourite of anybody who's particularly opposed to nuclear development, the answer could make a significant difference as to how much opposition he'll face during the leadership campaign.

Gall

Con MP Larry Miller:
"Unfortunately we've wasted a whole damn meeting," Conservative MP Larry Miller told reporters after the post-meeting argument had died down. As chairman of the agriculture sub-committee, Mr. Miller allowed his colleague David Anderson to filibuster the hearings for nearly two hours.
And if that seems bad enough to start with, just wait until the Conservatives' willingness to allow other Conservatives to shut down committee proceedings gets put forward as evidence of "dysfunction" which is somehow supposed to justify electing more Conservatives.

The reviews are in

Once again, your Star Phoenix editorial board:
If for no other reason than to convince Canadians that his party has learned the importance of accountability, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff should have shown more backbone regarding the Harper government employing a special fund to rush through $3 billion in stimulus spending.

However, the Liberal leader, who just three weeks ago blustered he wouldn't be "writing a blank cheque on $3 billion (because) no Canadian would respect me if I did," did precisely that on Tuesday by backing off to allow the government's spending bill to pass...

Under the hapless St├ęphane Dion, Canadians got accustomed to seeing too much bluster and empty threats emanating from the Liberal camp, and Mr. Ignatieff runs the risk of eroding the gains the party has made since he took the party's helm if he's perceived to be taking the same tack.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On forgotten precedents

Not to pick on Impolitical too much after this weekend's back-and-forth on the Mulronification of the Libs. But this cries out for correction:
On getting more from the Conservatives at the moment or on any issue in this minority parliament, and in light of the Auditor General's recent grumblings, where is the evidence that the Conservatives are rational actors? They've shown themselves to be utterly incapable of making parliament work, of working with other parties in the interests of Canadians.
Now, it's entirely true that the Cons have never been willing to make reasonable deals with other parties based on what's best for Canadians in general. But that doesn't mean a determined opposition party can't get what it wants out of the Cons if it's smart:
Rather than trying to win a better deal only by haggling with Harper himself, Layton instead brought other actors into the picture who had an interest in making sure the funding went through. The end result was that Harper went from making a ludicrous demand to caving completely, giving the NDP almost everything that Harper offered originally at absolutely no cost to the NDP. And it's hard not to think that Harper was worried about trying to work out a deal where the NDP gave something up for fear that Layton would keep the pressure up and get all the more for the NDP as a result.
So no, the Cons don't respond to reason. But they do respond to serious public pressure.

Of course, the most obvious example dates back in 2006 when the Cons first took office - with more recent examples (mostly involving funding renewal) involving smaller concessions. But the only major change since that time is that Harper has gotten into the habit of pushing first the Bloc and then the Libs into agreeing to exactly what he puts on the table - rather than compromising as any minority government should have to expect to do. And it's hardly to the Libs' credit that they've allowed that expectation to develop.

Mind you, the Libs probably wouldn't have been able to summon a major public outcry over attaching conditions to the Cons' slush fund alone. But that reflects only a problem with their aiming low in the first place: if they'd demanded budget amendments which gave a large number of people a significant stake in the Libs' position passing, then it's entirely possible that Harper would have reacted no differently in response than he did when the NDP stood its ground. And the fact that neither the Libs nor their supporters seem to have noticed the one strategy which has proven effective to force changes out of the Cons would go a long way toward explaining Harper's success in pushing his agenda on the country.

Well played

Dan Cook juxtaposes. You read.

A vicious cycle

Kudos to Steve and Scott for recognizing at least part of the problem with how the Ignatieff Libs have handled the Cons' demand for a $3 billion slush fund. But it's worth noting that the issue goes far beyond one of mere optics.

Here's Steve:
I find it hard to defend the Liberals decision to let the 3 billion "slush fund" pass, given our voluntary and unprovoked rhetoric. I would classify our "climb down" over this stimulus as the first potentially major gaffe of the Ignatieff reign. I remember well, the Ignatieff scrum, full of provocative language, entirely confident in saying Harper must "walk back down the hill", there will be no "blank cheques". I also recall many of us bloggers defending our stance, dismissing any suggestion that a Dion redux was on the horizon. In the end, all the bluster looks unnecessary, the strategy questionable, the frame entirely unproductive.
And Scott:
Look, if there are advisers in Ignatieff’s corner or if the caucus in general are still afraid to go to an election this early into Ignatieff’s tenure, and we were going to let this go through anyhow, there was no point of sending Ignatieff out there a few weeks ago claiming he would not give this government a blank cheque, when the Liberals did exactly that in my view (non-binding Liberal motion calling on the government to specify which departments and programs will have access to the $3 billion fund notwithstanding). That at the LEAST is bad optics.
Implicit in the message is that if the Libs had indeed planned to give in to the Cons' demands all along, then they'd have been better off signalling that fact from the beginning - or at least not feeding into a confrontation which they once again planned to concede. And it's true that that type of strategy would have avoided the "flip-flop" type of label.

But the greater issue isn't that of how the Libs are perceived, but instead what the Cons are able to get away with while they remain in power. And in that respect, Harper's knowledge that the Libs will eventually give in no matter what point they choose to press makes for a loser for the Libs no matter how any issue is framed.

In fact, it's not hard to see how the Libs might see their current strategy as carrying less costs for the party than being honest about their intention to keep Harper in power. As long as their supporters are willing to try to argue that the latest confrontation is different (and put their credibility on the line in support of the proposition that this time the party is serious about standing up for something), the Libs can count on having at least some positive statements being made about them even if those statements prove not to be true. And if the result is that Lib supporters spend 75% of their time defending the party for its posturing and only 25% expressing disappointment that it's once again caved in substance, the net result is almost certainly seen as being positive for the party - especially compared to the inevitable demoralization that comes from not even putting up a facade of opposition.

Here's the problem, though: the result for the country as a whole is based on the Libs' substantive votes, not their attempts to play to the cameras. Which means that by defending the Libs based on little more than a bare hope that the latest set of posturing means more than the previous few dozen, Lib supporters are ultimately only enabling the party in rationalizing that it can get away with propping up the Cons.

That makes for an obvious asymmetry in expectations: even as the Libs' supporters have gone out their way to argue that there's no link between past performance and future results, the Libs' party apparatus is taking entirely for granted that it can count on past supporters maintaining that position no matter how odious the party's next capitulation might prove to be. And in the absence of any reason to believe the Libs will start developing any inclination to stand up to Harper anytime soon, that cycle only figures to end if Lib supporters start wising up rather than pouncing on every available scrap of hope that next time will be different.

Deep thought

This could be spun as "Vic Toews supports an increasing crime rate" - and that line would be more accurate than most of the Cons' attacks on the opposition parties.

Pining for the fjords

Apparently there's been some confusion about the Libs' plans in response to the Cons' demand for a $3 billion slush fund. But just to clear things up, what Michael Ignatieff meant to say is that he'd be watching the Harper government like an ex-hawk.

Failing inspection

The Star's reports on what's happened within the Canada Food Inspection Agency since last year's listeria outbreak. And the picture only seems to look worse and worse as time goes by.

Sure, it's bad enough that CFIA inspectors were ordered to start conducting tests without being trained to do so:
Swab tests collected in meat plants over the past month are being questioned because the testers have not yet been trained, says Bob Kingston, head of the agriculture union that represents CFIA inspectors.

He says some inspectors will be trained shortly to conduct the tests according to proper protocols – training that hadn't been done when the program was first announced.
But isn't it even more problematic that the CFIA is shutting down its own enforcement operations at the behest of the industry it's supposed to be regulating?
Inspectors for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency started testing in food plants in February, looking for traces of the deadly bacteria in poultry and ready-to-eat meats.

But the testing has been put on hold until next month after some inconsistencies were found in the initial tests, and because the inspectors have yet to receive proper training...

Paul Mayers, associate vice-president for programs for the CFIA, said meat plant operators raised concerns about a lack of consistency in the way inspectors were conducting the tests.

"We identified some training gaps," he said in an interview yesterday. "It's very reasonable that the industry itself, where it sees slight differences, will raise those to our attention. That's useful to us."

Despite questions about the validity of the test results, Mayers said they will still be assessed. "If there are positives, they'll be acted on."...

CFIA inspectors must do their own testing in each plant at least six times a year.

That testing, according to CFIA officials, will begin next month.
Just so we're clear, then...

The recommendations arising out of last year's outbreak included a requirement that the CFIA carry out its own testing "at least six times a year" in each plant - i.e. at least every couple of months starting this January.

Despite the fact that the Cons didn't bother to ensure that CFIA inspectors were trained to do their jobs, they're at least able to conduct tests with enough validity that the results are worth following up on. So it doesn't appear accurate to say that the testing lacked any value in improving food safety.

But based on what sounds like relatively minor complaints from meat packers, the inspectors were instead ordered to stop performing tests until the end of March. Which means that they'll now be carrying out zero direct oversight of meat-packing plants, rather than the bi-monthly testing which has been identified as necessary to ensure the safety of Canadian consumers.

And if there was any hope of matters improving based on a greater focus on food safety, that's not about to happen either:
"The more layers an organization has, the people at the top don't get to hear very much from people at the bottom in terms of readiness to carry out a program," said Kingston. "(The CFIA) have no additional resources to deliver this program."
So in sum, the CFIA:
- is dumping new work on its employees without any increase in available resources to carry out the added tasks;
- doesn't communicate with the staff responsible for carrying out those orders; and
- is willing to shut the inspection process down entirely based on the word of the industry it's supposed to be regulating.

All of which suggests that the Cons are once again spreading their anti-regulation message by putting Canada's actual regulators in a position where they can't do their jobs.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

They said it themselves

The Westmount Examiner focuses on the fact that at least some Libs are dissenting from Michael Ignatieff's leadership. But perhaps even more significant is the response offered up to those who see some problem with the party's shift to the right:
A Laval Liberal later confirmed that there indeed remains a small pocket of dissenters from Ignatieff's leadership, but that they are so far to the left, their political values have more in common with the NDP.
Which raises the question: if even the Libs are saying that anybody with concerns about Ignatieff's leadership is better off in the NDP, is there any reason to doubt that conclusion?

Edit: fixed wording.

Auditioning for opposition

Without looking, what parties would you expect to be the questioner and the subject in the following statement?:
However, ____________ has not answered any of the questions being asked by Quebec voters.

Who paid for this trip to Washington? Which members of congress did they meet and what party do they belong to? What did they talk to them about? Did they merely cross paths or did they have real meetings? What kinds of documents did they give to the members of congress?
All those who guessed that the speaker was a Con MP (Daniel Petit) trying to pretend that he's in opposition to a Bloc government, give yourselves a pat on the back.

Of course, the Cons would never deign to answer similar questions from other parties when they involve formal state-to-state dealings which might actually affect Canada's standing in the world. But when it comes to trying to distract attention from their own failings, they're apparently quite eager to start taking on an opposition role. With just one problem in Petit's case - as there wouldn't figure to be many election results putting the Cons in opposition which would involve him still getting to play the part.

Edit: fixed wording.

Still no change

The latest talking point to attempt to distinguish Michael Ignatieff from his predecessor:
Ignatieff chief of staff Paul Zed says that his boss is trying to remove a lot of the "partisanship" from the Commons and focus on the facts. For example, Mr. Ignatieff praised Manitoba's NDP Premier Gary Doer in a speech last week in Winnipeg, saying, "Family and tribal allegiance doesn't prevent me from recognizing good leadership when I see it, and Gary Doer's done a good job in this province."
But there's just one tiny little problem with any attempt to claim that trying to ingratiate themselves with NDP premiers somehow represents a departure for the Libs:
Dion did say, however, that Manitoba NDP Premier Gary Doer and the party's former Saskatchewan premiers Roy Romanow and Calvert are "reasonable people."
So as with the strategy of propping up the Cons, the Libs' plan is to do exactly what failed miserably under Dion, while trying desperately to convince themselves and others that it represents a radical departure. And all in the hope that Ignatieff's sheer Igginess will overcome not only the reasons why the same plan failed miserably in 2008, but also the obvious self-delusion involved in the claim that anything has changed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

On unclaimed territory

When Yens Pedersen released his platform in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, I noted that he'd likely have to retool his message to adapt to a race where the youth/renewal message had largely been claimed by Ryan Meili. But Pedersen may now be hinting at a reinvention which could well provide him with a strong narrative for the rest of the race - even if it also makes him some adversaries in the process.

Here's a piece of Pedersen's latest blog post, which deals generally with qusetions from the Saskatchewan New Democratic Women about the candidates' views on gender parity within the party:
We also need to elect more women - not just nominate them. If we are to achieve this goal, an obvious place to begin is in our strongest seats. As leader, one of my first actions will be to privately discuss with our MLAs their plans for the next election. If any MLA is overdue for retirement, I will not hesitate to pointedly (but respectfully) encourage him/her to move on. All organizations need to continually renew their leadership.
Now, the post raises some obvious followup questions as to just which MLAs Pedersen would classify as "overdue for retirement". And while I wouldn't anticipate his naming names, the fact that he views at least some current caucus members in that light figures to raise more direct resistance than Pedersen might otherwise have encountered from those who might see the description applying to them.

But then, the hope for one or more of the last outstanding caucus endorsements aside, Pedersen didn't figure to get all that much traction among the current occupants of the Legislature in any event. And with nobody else in the race taking on the title of shoot-from-the-hip populist, Pedersen may well be able to carve that out as his niche (not to mention attract media attention) if he plays up that angle between now and June.

An uphill battle

The Cons' apparent plan to rely on additional B.C. seats as part of their faint hope to push into majority territory may not be quite as implausible as it first sounds, as various incarnations of Reform/Alliance did manage to win more than the 22 current Con seats in the province. And there are obviously a couple of seats which the Cons weren't far from tipping into their column.

But it's still worth noting how unlikely any significant gains may be for the Cons in a province (a) where they already hold a strong majority of the seats and (b) where the 2008 election results for both the NDP and the Libs reflect drops from the previous two elections. And if they're actually down to hoping for gains in a province where they look to have a tough time even treading water, then the worst threat for a Con majority would seem to have passed.

Well, that's one point settled

Dave Barry:
"Try to think up a campaign slogan even more inane than 'I Like Ike'. Hint: This is not possible."
...meet Michael Ignatieff:
The red has returned.

On impending endorsements

Following up on last night's post about endorsements in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, let's take a closer look at whose endorsements might mean the most for the leadership contestants - and how likely those endorsements might be.

To start with, though, one needs to ask why a particular individual wouldn't have made an endorsement to date - which may be a particularly important question when it comes to current MLAs whose colleagues have largely made a choice already.

I'd see three obvious possible explanations for the current MLAs. Some might simply prefer to maintain their neutrality rather than taking one side or another. Others might have effectively decided already, but may figure that they can better help out their preferred candidate by announcing that support later on in the contest. In either of those cases, any effort by other candidates to woo a particular MLA would likely be a lost cause - though of course it's possible that an MLA could be persuaded to change course.

That leaves the third possibility: some MLAs may be open to an endorsement, want to wait to see what happens during the leadership campaign itself before deciding exactly who to endorse. That type of sentiment may be particularly strong for anybody looking to decide between Meili and Pedersen as the preferred candidate for party renewal. But it could easily operate on some other levels as well, based on either candidate momentum during the leadership campaign or the candidates' platforms on any issues of particular concern.

It'll be tough to say from the outside which factors might be at play for any particular MLA. In light of the past talk about Taylor himself entering the race, it could be that he just hasn't had all that much time to look at the candidates as possible endorsees as opposed to potential competitors - and it would make sense that he'd want to have the maximum impact with his endorsement to position himself for the future. Forbes and Morin are strong, younger forces within the caucus, and their calculations in balancing long-term party strength with the likelihood of supporting a winner or strong challenger may offer an instructive example for the rest of the party.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is John Nilson. Having been a longtime colleague of both Lingenfelter and Higgins, he wouldn't figure to need any more information in order to endorse one over the other if he planned to do so. Of course it wouldn't be particularly surprising if he did decide to stay neutral - but his endorsement might be the highest-impact one possible for either of the younger candidates.

While it remains to be seen what the current MLAs will do, one can safely say that the most obvious narratives in the campaign so far haven't managed to sway those who are still on the fence. And since it seems relatively unlikely that experience-based messages from longtime cabinet ministers will be amplified to any great extent during the course of a leadership race, one has to figure that Meili and Pedersen have strong chances to attract some support from within the current caucus.

So what about those outside the caucus? The additional point to keep in mind for those figures is that one more option exists which isn't on the table for current MLAs: it could be that some of the listed individuals simply don't plan to be involved in the race or even the provincial party, and thus don't have any interest in endorsing a candidate.

Now, it's unlikely that description will apply to the younger names who will plan on running again in the future. In that department, Maynard Sonntag and Graham Addley are likely in a fairly similar position to the current MLAs, as they'll offer both caucus experience and recent organizational heft. But at the same time, they may not yet have quite the same ability to turn heads as the NDP's party elders.

In contrast, longtime figures like Eric Cline, Eldon Lautermilch, Clay Serby, Dick Proctor or Lorne Nystrom should be able to make some significant waves with their endorsements if they choose to get involved. And again, that will go doubly where any of the longtime MLAs throws support to a candidate who wasn't a caucus colleague ahead of those who were.

That said, there are very few potential endorsers who can help any candidate in both the "big name" and "current organization" departments - with the current MLAs, Sonntag, Addley and Nettie Wiebe likely topping that list. And with that few major endorsers left to be won over, just one or two well-timed nods from that list could make all the difference in how the race plays out.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Week in Review, March 22

With Deb Higgins announcing an endorsement from Andrew Thomson this week, there would figure to be relatively few high-profile figures left to throw their support behind any of the leadership candidates. But let's take a look at where the endorsements of current NDP MLAs, recent cabinet ministers and other key party figures have gone so far - and who might be able to significantly shift momentum as the race continues.

Here's the current set of individual endorsements among current and former MLAs as well as party officials - feel free to mention any I may have missed:

Dwain Lingenfelter: Harry Van Mulligen, Kim Trew, Ron Harper, Trent Wotherspoon, Kevin Yates, Buckley Belanger, Andy Iwanchuk, Judy Junor, Darcy Furber, Doyle Vermette, James Ford (SYND President)

Deb Higgins: Warren McCall, Cam Broten, Frank Quennell, Pat Atkinson, Andrew Thomson

Ryan Meili: Dion Tchorzewski, Peter Prebble, Lon Borgerson

Yens Pedersen: None yet

So who do that leave for possible future endorsements - assuming that the party's former leaders in Blakeney, Romanow and Calvert won't intervene in the race?

Current MLAs: David Forbes, John Nilson, Len Taylor, Sandra Morin

Recent cabinet ministers (2003-present): Eric Cline, Joanne Crofford, Maynard Sonntag, Clay Serby, Graham Addley, Doreen Hamilton, Eldon Lautermilch, Mark Wartman

Recent former MPs (1997-present): John Solomon, Lorne Nystrom, Dick Proctor

Omitted from the above lists due to party switches: Chris Axworthy, Rick Laliberte, Joan Beatty

Other key figures: Janice MacKinnon, Nettie Wiebe, Don Mitchell, Dennis Gruending, Leah Sharpe (SNDW), Angie Merasty (ANDS)

Feel free to speculate in comments as to where (if anywhere) these endorsements are most likely to go; I'll follow up with a few thoughts tomorrow. But on a first glance, it looks like there's a fairly limited number of endorsers left who will carry a particularly high profile - and many of those don't seem all that likely at first glance to pick a side in the race. Which means that one has to expect all the candidates to be working hard to draw anybody they can from these lists into their camp...and that those who succeed may win a particularly strong return for their efforts if there aren't all that many more major endorsements to come.

Update: Corrected list of open MLAs.

On fast reactions

My post yesterday afternoon as to what Michael Ignatieff's entreaty to Brian Mulroney might say about his future plans has evidently struck a raw nerve with at least one top Lib blogger (while finding support elsewhere). But Impolitical's response seems to raise more questions than it answers.

First, there's the focus on who it was that reported Michael Ignatieff's unprompted call to Brian Mulroney, rather than the substance of the call.

Of course, it's fair enough if Bob Fife isn't exactly the Libs' favourite figure in the media. But that doesn't mean there's any apparent reason to think he'd go so far as to outright manufacture a story along the lines of Ignatieff's call to Mulroney. And absent some serious reason to doubt the integrity of the underlying story, an attempt to focus on who's doing the reporting rather than what's being reported seems like a sure signal that the latter isn't helpful to one's cause.

Second, Impolitical points to the previous agreement of the opposition parties of the need for a broad inquiry into Mulroney/Schreiber as evidence that the call to Mulroney should be ignored. But it's hard to see how an agreement which dates back to April 2008 and a previous Lib leader offers any response to the concern that Ignatieff has moved his party to the right, particularly when Ignatieff has obviously been eager to tear up what was once the most obvious example of opposition cooperation. Indeed, if anything the contrast between the stronger position under Dion and total silence under Ignatieff only amplifies the concern that Ignatieff is comparatively willing to overlook the problems surrounding Mulroney.

On correlations

In trying to figure out exactly what factors play the greatest role in determining a party's electoral prospects, one of the thorniest problems is the difficulty in separating outcomes from each other. Virtually any positive result (more money, more members, more votes, more public attention) can plausibly be painted as either a cause or an effect of any other - making it difficult to determine what a party should focus on first in trying to build itself up.

Which makes bluegreenblogger's efforts to separate out the correlations between various factors with voting outcomes into a highly interesting read, even if they're based on a limited sample (riding results for Ontario Greens in 2007):
Correlation between spending and % Vote: 0.76573958
Correlation Between 2007 EDA Assets and %vote: 0.53411402
Correlation between Transfers into campaign and % vote: 0.72692593
Correlation between campaign contributions and % vote: 0.27744132
Correlation between spending and total votes: 0.75095156
Correlation between EDA assets and total votes: 0.57536407
Correlation between transfers into campaign and total votes: 0.6979957
Correlation between campaign contributions and total votes: 0.3293264
What strikes me as noteworthy about bluegreenblogger's findings is the difference in correlation between the factors which seem to reflect strength within a riding, and those which are based solely on party spending choices.

After all, two of the factors discussed would seem to speak to the support within a riding association: the existing asset base and the contributions received during the campaign. But these are the two factors with a lower correlation to vote outcomes - suggesting a relative disconnect between the strength of a riding association and electoral outcomes.

In contrast, the strongest correlation is between the raw amount spent by a riding association and the votes received. And it's particularly interesting that even "transfers" from outside a riding into campaign coffers appear to relate more closely to the votes received than do contributions from a riding's members.

Of course, it's worth wondering to what extent the effect might differ between parties or election types - or indeed whether the cause and effect may lie outside the transfer numbers. But to the extent the Ontario Greens' experience is representative of political parties in general, it could be that anybody wishing to maximize the bang for their donation buck might be best advised to fund a party's central coffers to be distributed where the money can do the most good.