Saturday, April 04, 2009


As you'll see shortly, I'm in the early stages of using Photoshop to add a bit more visual punch to some of the ideas from this blog. Here's a first installment inspired by Michael Ignatieff's birthday greeting to Brian Mulroney.

As you may have guessed, I'm not entirely settled on a punchline. So additional suggestions are welcome.

On targets

I'll deal later with the less-than-surprising results of the Sask Party's attempt to push nuclear development on the province. But let's note that Dwain Lingenfelter's policy statement on the environment also came out yesterday - and while it doesn't figure to get as much public attention as the UDP report, it may have some interesting effects in both the NDP leadership race and the broader political scene:
Unfortunately, with per capita greenhouse gas emissions that are three times higher than the Canadian average and the highest of any Canadian province, we are not fulfilling our responsibility to protect our environment and show public policy leadership in embracing the green economy. I believe it doesn’t have to be this way. I believe there are public policy solutions that can make Saskatchewan a green economy leader.

In 2007, the NDP government moved to remedy this situation by introducing a comprehensive plan to secure our long-term economic prosperity through the setting of aggressive targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. While the Sask Party committed to adhere to these targets during the last provincial election campaign, the Wall government scrapped the NDP’s climate change plan, and then refused to release a plan of its own. In a recent report, the David Suzuki Foundation congratulated the NDP for having put in place a “reasonably ambitious target for greenhouse gas emissions” but slammed the Sask Party for adopting the NDP’s target with “no plan or strategy to get there.”

Elsewhere too, the Wall government is moving our province backward on the environment. Brad Wall:

• Abolished the NDP’s $320 million Green Future Fund that provided funding for projects to fight climate change

• Eliminated the Saskatchewan Office of Energy Conservation

• Scrapped the Climate Change Secretariat

• Gutted renewable energy programs

• Bought his Cabinet Ministers brand new, gas-guzzling SUVs

Brad Wall’s Minister of the Environment has mused about not only backing away from the NDP government’s targets, but adopting targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases that are even “less stringent” than the extremely minimal targets set by the Harper government.

Due to Brad Wall’s lack of leadership, Saskatchewan will fail to meet the NDP government’s target of stabilizing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2010, and we will waste valuable time as other jurisdictions work to build their green economies and create green jobs...

Electrical generation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Saskatchewan and the decisions we make in this area will be key for our future economic prosperity as well as environmental sustainability. Instead of recognizing the important role that renewable energy plays in a vibrant green economy, the Wall government has halted the progress on renewable energy that had been made under the NDP. In doing so, Brad Wall is out of step with the rest of the world. All of the member countries of the European Union recently agreed that 20% of their energy consumption would come from renewable sources by 2020. Similarly, sixteen American states now have legislated a ‘renewable energy portfolio standard’ that requires a certain percentage of their future electrical generation to come from renewable sources.

Consistent with Peter Prebble’s 2006 report on Renewable Energy Development and Conservation, I believe Saskatchewan should legislate a renewable energy and conservation portfolio standard that will require at least 50% of our electrical generation to come from conservation measures and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and hydro electricity by 2025. In order to reach this target, the provincial government should provide financial incentives to Saskatchewan communities to build small-scale renewable energy projects such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass projects. These projects could sell their excess production to the SaskPower grid.

At the same time as Saskatchewan gets serious about building its renewable energy capacity, we should strengthen our energy conservation efforts. I believe we should introduce energy efficient building codes, provide larger grants and tax incentives to retrofit homes and businesses, and require the provincial government and municipalities to lead the way by improving their energy conservation practices. This should include a commitment to install solar panels or other renewable energy sources on all new public buildings and in all planned renovations of existing public buildings.
The first point worth noting about Lingenfelter's policy position is the angle it takes toward the Calvert government's efforts. I've mentioned a few times that to my mind, Deb Higgins figured to be the leadership candidate best positioned to take credit for (and stand up for) the legacy of the outgoing NDP leader. But with her campaign apparently placing the focus elsewhere, it looks like Lingenfelter is making a play for that position on the environment file at least.

In the absence of anybody else taking on the continuation of Calvert's legacy as part of their leadership message, it wouldn't be at all surprising if Lingenfelter tries to take on that role on more issues as the campaign progresses. While that type of move might seem to be counterintuitive, an effort to bring Calvert's more devoted supporters under Lingenfelter's tent (however unlikely that may have seemed at the start of the campaign) could well be as significant an incremental gain as Lingenfelter can expect to make now that his head start is over with. And that boost might in turn offer the best chance for Lingenfelter to try to get back toward a message of inevitability even in the face of three strong opponents.

Meanwhile, considering that it represents the most nuclear-friendly take among any of the NDP leadership candidates, Lingenfelter's policy position also figures to be an interesting one in response to the UDP's report. In particular, his endorsement of Peter Prebble's recommendations for Saskatchewan's power mix would seem to make Lingenfelter's stance incompatible with the UDP's recommendations. And with the Sask Party likely looking to hide behind the UDP rather than sticking out its neck with a separate suggestion as to what percentage of power it wants to hand to the nuclear industry, a firm commitment to that position could go a long way toward ensuring that the NDP ends up on the right side of the nuclear issue next time it gets debated in the Legislature.

Then and now

Shorter Cons last week:

Sure, funnelling $3 billion into a slush fund with no accountability except to a secretive and highly-partisan government might seem like a bad idea. But we pinky-swear to have oodles of federal accountability mechanisms in place.

Shorter Cons today:

We take absolutely no responsibility for how stimulus money is spent. Buyer beware, suckers.

CanWest math

The latest numbers show only 40% of respondents approve of the Cons' handling of the economy, with 48% disapproving. And the Cons' approval rating is down to 38%, with 51% disapproving.
Which evidently has little overlap with CanWest World:
Like most Canadians, we are satisfied that Mr. Harper has handled the recession in a measured, serious way.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Musical interlude

Orbital - Illuminate

Selective comparisons

Shorter Jim Flaherty:

And furthermore, our government's track record for honesty and openness looks far better if your point of comparison is Apate, Greek god of deception.

The reviews are in

Paul Wells, with another in our continuing series of reviews which apply equally well to most files under the Cons' control:
“There’s nothing to hide, we’re sticking to the plan,” (the communications director who suppressed the Transportation Safety Board's report on the death of Laura Gainey) said. Well, not quite: the plan, as the new emails show, was to hide. So there was something to hide, but they were sticking to the plan.

This is unacceptable. The latest round of denials is as transparently false as the first several rounds of denials were.

For further study

While the Saskatchewan NDP caucus' handling of yesterday's nuclear development motion was definitely problematic, that's not to say the Sask Party is emerging unscathed on the issue. And indeed a couple of Lyle Stewart's comments from yesterday's question period hint at just how vulnerable they see themselves as being.

Remember that last year, Sask Party ministers happily joined Bruce Power in announcing both the start of its "feasibility study", and the government then declared its fealty to Bruce Power after the study was done. And of course all indications are that Bruce Power figures to be the main beneficiary of any actual nuclear development that takes place.

Which makes it rather stunning that Stewart is now trying to distance the Wall government from a study which it did so much to promote:
Mr. Calvert: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions today have to do about the Bruce Power feasibility study. We‟ll come to the UDP [Uranium Development Partnership] in a few moments but right now we're talking about the Bruce Power feasibility study, of which many paragraphs and pages have been blacked out. But interestingly enough, Mr. Speaker, some sentences that have been released have some points of interest. It is indicated by this document that the Bruce Power feasibility study began by public announcement on June 17. But
interestingly enough, Mr. Speaker, this document indicates that the government was aware of the findings of that study by September 29 — September 29. Mr. Speaker, that's a period of about 15 weeks.

Does the minister believe a period of 15 weeks was an adequate time to do a full, comprehensive feasibility study about the future of a nuclear reactor or reactors in Saskatchewan?
Hon. Mr. Stewart:
Mr. Speaker, on that specific question, the answer is that that was Bruce Power's study. I don't know if that's enough time or not. It has nothing to do with this government.
Mr. Calvert: — So, Mr. Speaker, we are predicting then and planning the future of the electrical supply of Saskatchewan —
never mind what it might cost the electrical consumer in this province — on a feasibility study to which the minister now volunteers in the House that he's not sure if it's any good or not, Mr. Speaker. It's a very peculiar situation.
Hon. Mr. Stewart: — Mr. Speaker, as I have stated repeatedly in this House and in public forums and privately, this government was not responsible for the Bruce Power . . . whatever it was. Whatever it was.
Now, the contradictions in the Sask Party's position are certainly worth pointing out in and of themselves. But it seems even more noteworthy to me what Stewart's refusal to defend Bruce Power's report says about the province's relationship with the company which is driving the entire process.

After all, there's no indication that Bruce Power sees any problem with its feasibility study. Yet the Sask Party government is effectively conceding that it's so woefully inadequate - both in the limited amount of time involved and apparently its contents - that even one of ministers who proudly announced its creation has been reduced to describing it as "whatever it was".

On its face, that position seems to be based on an attempt to avoid answering for the contents of the study. But it raises an even more important question: if the Sask Party doesn't disagree with the conclusion that Bruce Power was hurried and sloppy in putting together a mere feasibility study, why in the world would the Wall government trust Bruce Power to run a nuclear reactor?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bad for everybody else

The good news for Lib supporters: for one brief and shining moment, Michael Ignatieff actually took a principled stand based on common sense rather than parroting the spin of corporate interests...
Last weekend, on a tour of Vancouver Island, Ignatieff was asked about his position on asbestos, and he said he favoured banning exports.

"I'm probably walking right off the cliff into some unexpected public policy bog of which I'm unaware, but if asbestos is bad for Parliamentarians in the Parliament of Canada, it just has to be bad for everybody else," he said. "Our export of this dangerous product overseas has got to stop."
But needless to say, a complete reversal wasn't far behind:
But in a scrum with reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, Ignatieff was asked about his statement and he didn't mention a ban.

"We have had 60 years of experience with this product. What I said in answer to a question is that we have an obligation to international agreements to the countries that we export to, to make them aware of the risks. That is all I said."
It's left as a challenge for any reader to figure out how one can square the statement that Canada "has got to stop" exporting a "dangerous product" with the recent position. But that figures to be no less an exercise in futility than any other effort to justify most of Ignatieff's actions since he took over the Libs.

On one-sided votes

Apparently Saskatchewan's current NDP MLAs saw a different political calculus than I did in responding to the Sask Party's attempt to favour nuclear development over all other priorities. Rather than voting down a motion which seems like nothing but a poor attempt at political cover for Brad Wall's nuclear obsession, the NDP caucus (an abstaining Deb Higgins excepted) voted in favour of the motion.

Needless to say, that makes for a disappointing result - and one that presumably would have been different if Dwain Lingenfelter had joined his leadership competitors in raising concerns about the motion. But the good news is that with three of the four leadership contenders rightly opposing the motion, there's still a strong chance that the NDP will soon have a leader who recognizes the folly in prioritizing nuclear power over every other concern in the province. And while that may not take place in time to factor into the Sask Party's farce of a consultation period, it hopefully won't be too late to turn the tide before anything irrevocable gets done.

Ready. Aim at foot. Fire.

It won't come as much surprise to those who have followed my thinking on the federal gun registry that I'd view Michael Ignatieff's declaration that he plans to whip a Senate vote in favour of the registry as an utterly boneheaded stance. And it's doubly so to the extent that it actually feeds into two of the Cons' long-standing hobby-horses, as Harper will be able to blame the Senate for the move even though the strategy comes from Ignatieff himself.

But let's leave that aside for a moment to consider Ignatieff's timing.

After all, the gun registry has been in the news regularly over the past few months, revolving primarily around Garry Breitkreuz' Bill C-301 (which I discussed here). And even after the Harper government effectively signalled its approval for that bill - which would loosen other restrictions beyond the gun registry alone and also invite the Auditor General to criticize gun laws through regular audits - Ignatieff didn't bother to take a position one way or other.

Now, Ignatieff has been presented with a bill in the Senate which is mostly tailored toward doing nothing but dismantling the registry as it concerns long guns. But it's in response to that seemingly lesser threat that he's personally decided to whip his party's vote. And in doing so, he's also used phrasing which suggests that he doesn't see any basic difference between the two bills - which can only make it easier for the Cons to justify ramming C-301 down the Libs' throat (or at least appearing to do so for financial gain).

Again, that calculation is only made worse by Ignatieff's extra misstep in whipping the Senate vote rather than allowing the bill to be voted on by the elected members of the House. But there's plenty of reason to question why Ignatieff would attack both bills simultaneously now after leaving Breitkreuz' bill untouched for months. And the answer figures only to highlight the fact that Ignatieff has once again missed the boat.


Following up on my earlier posts about endorsements in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, let's add one more public show of support to the list, as SNDW President Leah Sharpe is included in Deb Higgins' list of supporters. Aside from Sharpe's statement (which seems to have been publicized only through Higgins' website), it's been an extremely quiet couple of weeks on that front - but we'll see how long that lasts as the candidates move into the stretch run to sign up party members.

The judicial reviews are in

Kelen J. of the Federal Court on Jason Kenney:
(I)n his 13-page ruling yesterday, Justice Michael Kelen said the minister "may have breached the duty of fairness" for not giving the group notice that an annual $1 million funding contract would be cancelled and for not providing the group with reasons for the cut.

"The court finds that the evidence to date demonstrates that the respondent minister did probably breach his legal duty to act fairly to the applicant," Kelen wrote.

"This is a serious issue, an elementary principle of administrative law, and the minister and his officials must act according to the law."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A step forward

There is some good news on the environmental front, as the Libs were apparently cowed enough by the backlash against their plan to abandon any binding targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions to vote in favour of the NDP's Climate Change Accountability Act:
Climate change harmony has been restored between the Liberals, New Democrats, the Bloc Québécois and Ottawa environmentalists – for now.

The three opposition parties joined forces Wednesday afternoon, winning a 141-128 second reading vote on a NDP private members bill dealing with climate change. The bill will now be studied by the House of Commons environment committee.

New Democrats stirred up a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign over the weekend after receiving signals that Liberals intended to break ranks with a long-standing opposition pact on climate change targets.
"We're going to take this bill to committee and we're going to examine it. We're going to examine the targets," Mr. McGuinty said. "And we're going to rework it."

Whether the targets will be reworked up or down, Liberals aren't saying. But for now, all of this is fine with Mr. Layton.

"We're certainly open to fine tuning but this bill," the NDP leader said.
Mind you, it's not clear that the Libs' new position - to the effect that it's the targets within the bill that they want to see reworked - makes the least bit of sense given their rhetoric last week. After all, McGuinty's previous stance was supposedly based on disagreeing withthe idea of implementing binding targets at all without a complete plan to reach them - in effect holding any progress on the emission reductions hostage as long as Michael Ignatieff keeps the Cons in power.

But even if the Libs have contradicted themselves, they at least come out on the right side of the issue for today's vote. And hopefully they'll remain there as the bill continues on its way through Parliament.

Edit: fixed typos.

We've heard this one before

And the award for worst April Fool's joke of the day goes to...

Jim Prentice, for reusing the Cons' one-liner about planning to implement fuel efficiency standards that was unfunny enough the first time.

Poll position

All the usual caveats about reading too much into poll results are only amplified when a poll is taken early on in a race involving unfamiliar candidates. And Sigma Analytics' survey on the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership race looks to be particularly problematic in that it seems to have polled the general public rather than the NDP members who will actually decide the leadership race. But there are still a couple of points worth noting about the results:
Relatively few Saskatchewanians are following the race for the leadership of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, but among who are, the clear favourite is former cabinet minister Dwain Lingenfelter, a new Leader-Post-Sigma Analytics poll says.

He drew the support of about 62 per cent of those who expressed a preference.

Coming second was Moose Jaw MLA Deb Higgins with 16. 7 per cent, followed by Yens Pedersen and Ryan Meili at 11.9 per cent and 9.1 per cent, respectively.

“I think that what you’re seeing is that Dwain Lingenfelter is a known name — and has been for a couple of decades,” said pollster Cam Cooper. “He’s kept up his profile even though he’s been away, so he’s sustained his position in the public consciousness whereas the other candidates have a much lower profile.”
It's difficult to disagree with Cooper's analysis that the numbers likely have far more to do with merely recognizing a name rather than detailed individual preferences. But it's worth highlighting how the candidates seem to have lined up in that department.

In principle, one would think that Higgins' profile would be relatively close to Lingenfelter's level. After all, in addition to being the lone current MLA in the race, she too has spent a substantial amount of time in cabinet, including some files which (for better or for worse) have placed her at the centre of attention at times. And of course her time in the spotlight was more recent than Lingenfelter's.

But from the looks of the poll results, Higgins doesn't seem to be benefiting from much more of a profile than relative newcomers Pedersen or Meili. Which would apparently serve as evidence either of strength on Lingenfelter's part in getting his name back in the news since the race started, or weakness on Higgins' when it comes to building up her public image.

Again, all of the candidates have reason to take the results with a truckload of salt. While there doesn't seem to be much doubt that Lingenfelter holds the lead, it would seem highly likely that his majority-plus in the Sigma poll is based at least in a part on a combination of name recognition with respondents who aren't following the race closely, and his relative right-wing position which might make him the preferred candidate of other parties' supporters who wouldn't be voting in the NDP race. But Sigma's findings do suggest that the competition behind Lingenfelter is far closer than might have been suspected - which can only bode well in giving all the candidates reason to keep the pedal to the floor as the membership deadline approaches.

The reviews are in

Carol Goar:
The only opposition leader who has put forward a clear alternative to the government's position is Layton. His New Democrats want every Canadian with 360 hours of paid work to qualify for EI benefits.

The NDP has been consistent on this issue since the budget was tabled on Jan. 27. Last month, the party put a resolution before Parliament, proposing this reform. The Liberals and Bloc Québécois supported it.

The Liberals said afterward they voted for "the spirit of the motion." Ignatieff would unveil his own proposals soon.

Last week, he accused Harper of "trying to patch EI with duct tape while evading the real issue, which is eligibility." When asked what he would do, he said it was the Prime Minister's job to govern.

Ignatieff has done this repeatedly. He could have proposed an amendment to the budget, calling for specific EI reforms, but didn't. He could have endorsed the substance of the NDP motion as well as the spirit, but didn't. He could have told Canadians what changes a Liberal government would make, but hasn't...

Unfortunately, neither the New Democrats nor the Bloc have enough votes in Parliament to force this issue. That puts the onus on the Liberals to spell out what they want and what they're prepared to do about it.

This is not a time for posturing. Canadians are losing their jobs at a rate of 3,800 a day. Many paid EI premiums, believing they were entrusting their money to the government for a rainy day. Now it's pouring and they can't claim it.

Finley doesn't want to hear any more "whining" about it. Ignatieff doesn't want to commit himself to anything concrete.

The EI system isn't the only thing that's broken in Ottawa.

Forum shopping

When Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen announced their plan for a joint La Ronge forum, I theorized that the other two Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidates might see it as being in their interest to rely on each other for cover in not attending. But a source now suggests that Deb Higgins has confirmed her attendance at the April 14 forum.

That would then leave Dwain Lingenfelter's camp alone in trying to delay any northern appearance until after the April 24 membership deadline. As I'd noted before, though, Lingenfelter would seem to have a far more difficult time holding out with Higgins on board. And while it's never easy for a front-runner to be seen to back down, it would be surprising if Lingenfelter is so bent on pushing ahead with what looks to be a solo forum as to snub one which all three other candidates will be attending.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Direct from the mouth of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, we bring you John Ivison

John Ivison is begging to be Fisked. Who's up for it?

Friendly reminders

Tonight is the end of the first quarter for 2009 fund-raising. And while the Libs are surely hoping that their shift to the right under Michael Ignatieff will give them a financial advantage, now might be the perfect time to help the NDP keep pace.

And for those in Saskatchewan who haven't yet taken out or renewed an NDP membership in advance of the leadership vote, the deadline for that is April 24. But why not beat the deadline and make sure you're able to vote?

Core issues

It's never been much of a secret that nuclear development was going to be a key issue in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race - and two of the candidates are taking strong stances in the face of an impending vote on a Sask Party motion. But while it's not surprising to see positions being staked out for later, it's worth noting that there wouldn't seem to be much basis for disagreement when it comes to the motion itself.

On the policy side, both Yens Pedersen and Ryan Meili have come out with strong arguments against nuclear development generally. Here's Pedersen in his earlier blog post:
Why would we go with the most dangerous, most complex and one of the most expensive options, when we have safer, simpler and cheaper options available? I am not opposed to new technology, but I do insist that there be clear benefits to embracing new technology which outweigh the costs. In all the research that I have done over the last year (which is a lot), it is clear to me that the costs associated with proven nuclear technology outweigh the benefits. The benefits are:

-a tremendous ability to produce energy from a relatively small amount of material (but the real issue is not the quantity of material, rather the energy return on energy expended),
-economic development, and
-a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The costs and risks are significant, including:

-the low (but still significant) risk of an enormous incident,
-the health costs of exposing a population to ongoing low level radiation (which we are just beginning to understand),
-the economic costs of building the reactor (no reactor has ever been built without taxpayer money),
-the economic costs of ’spinning reserves’ (backup power) equal to the size of the reactor required for NERC standards,
-the economic costs of building transmission lines (at $1.5 million/km),
-the economic costs of the costs of decommissioning (which are huge and will fall to the taxpayer),
-the risk of building a reactor which may not work (eg. Gentilly 1, the Maples) or which fails before the capital investment is recovered, and
-the economic costs of permanent waste storage (which hasn’t been proven or developed yet anywhere in the world).

You also have to compare the options that we have available - in which case you find that there is better economic development with renewable energy (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass), more grid reliability with renewable energy, better greenhouse gas reductions with renewables, and less concern about the availability of water with renewables. Despite the protestations of dinosaurs stuck in old paradigms, other places in the world are showing that renewables like wind and solar can be integrated into the power grid in much greater proportions than we are currently doing. The best dollar spent is on conservation and efficiency which could reduce our electricity demand by at least 10%. We could easily expand our wind power production 9 fold.
And Meili from today's press release:
• Nuclear power isn’t cheap. A nuclear reactor is a very expensive undertaking and the people of Saskatchewan will pay for it on their electricity bills for a long time to come, if it is allowed to be built. We pay 10 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity now. Whether its Bruce Power or SaskPower, no one will build a nuclear reactor in Saskatchewan for less than 20 cents per kilowatt hour – double the current price of electricity. That simple fact is why most private sector utilities in the United States have been avoiding nuclear power – they know there are too many hidden costs and that most nuclear power construction projects have huge cost over-runs. Add to that expensive repair bills, the high cost of disposing of radioactive nuclear fuel waste and the very high cost of decommissioning a radioactive reactor core. When compared to wind power at 11 cents per kilowatt hour and electricity conservation at less than 6 cents per kilowatt hour, nuclear power’s economics make no sense.

• Nuclear power puts our environment at risk. Yes, nuclear power can reduce the carbon footprint. But that assumed you ignore the massive carbon emissions involved in building the reactor – particularly if it is built in a remote area. A nuclear reactor will also produce intensely radioactive waste materials which no country on earth has successfully disposed of. Why should the next generation of Saskatchewan residents bear the burden of disposing of this radioactive waste material, with the worry that it must be kept out of ground water supplies for tens of thousands of years into the future.

• Nuclear power doesn’t address our immediate energy needs. Nuclear reactors are not designed and built quickly. Sites are not chosen quickly. Even if the process started today, it would be nearly 20 years before a proposed nuclear facility contributed a single watt to the energy grid.

• Nuclear power doesn’t address our long-term energy needs either. It is simply another non-renewable resource which, by current projections, will have exhausted itself well within a century and possibly within a generation.
Of course there are some subtle differences in the two positions: in particular, Meili's stance rightly takes issue with two of the supposed positives mentioned by Pedersen, as nuclear development is neither sustainable indefinitely nor necessarily an effective means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But on the whole, it's certainly a plus.

But what about the political side? Here's where it gets interesting from today's statements. First, Pedersen's statement makes a couple of noteworthy diversions from the pure policy issue:
He says nuclear power is expensive and risky — with dangers to health and the environment that are not fully known. Pedersen says if politicians think it's safe, they should build a nuclear power plant on Wascana Lake near the legislature or in downtown Saskatoon.
Now, there are some problems with Pedersen's geographic argument. To the extent one perceives the reports created to date as reasonable assessments of potential development, it would be implicit that other sites such as Saskatoon or (particularly) Regina would lack some of the factors which have resulted in reactors being proposed for elsewhere in the province - meaning that the ultimate problem is with the credibility of the reports, not necessarily a politically-driven choice as to where to potentially place a reactor.

Pedersen then went to say this:
Pedersen is also worried that if the NDP supports nuclear power, it could push rank-and-file New Democrats to vote for the Green party.

"This is not some innocuous statement about 'considering' options — it is a slanted and one-sided motion and supporting it could cause thousands of Saskatchewan people to 'consider' supporting the Green party," he said in a news release.
As I'll get to below, Pedersen's take seems to be exactly right in describing the motion. But it's interesting to see him publicly raise the danger of losing votes to the Greens in that context, offering a high-profile mention to one of the NDP's competitors which normally wouldn't seem to be the subject of much direct attention from the party even if it shares some common areas of concern.

Meanwhile, Meili's press release takes a shot at Dwain Lingenfelter's position that a "blue-ribbon panel" could justify nuclear development:
Many of us will remember countless expert panels on this issue over the years. My fellow leadership candidate Dwain Lingenfelter has proposed a panel of his own to study this issue. Many progressive activists have become quite cynical about these “studies / panels / commissions.” Too often, their final recommendations have appeared to be predetermined. That is certainly so in this case. It is likely to be the case regardless of who appoints the panel.
We need to consider our energy future. Limiting that consideration to an either-or discussion of nuclear power narrows the debate and ignores our best options.
There's certainly plenty of force to Meili's critique that any study aimed solely at discussing nuclear development has the effect of narrowing the perceived options available. And that figures to make for the main point of disagreement within the NDP's leadership race.

But it's worth noting that even Lingenfelter's proposed panel would "explore the costs and benefits of nuclear power". Which would seem to me to stand in stark contrast to the rah-rah position of the Sask Party motion, which tries to tie nuclear development to "growth and prosperity" with absolutely no hint of the costs or risks involved.

So while there are significant areas of difference between the leadership candidates on some aspects of nuclear development, there shouldn't be much reason for any split within the NDP when it comes to Thursday's vote.

Not according to plan

One more note on the Libs' message as to why they apparently intend to vote against the NDP's Climate Change Accountability Act and its binding greenhouse gas emission reductions:
Though he supported the bill in the past, Mr. McGuinty now suggests its targets are fiscally irresponsible because there is no accompanying plan to accomplish them.
There's just one problem with McGuinty's position: it's not as if the opposition parties are lacking a plan in principle. After all, it was over two years ago that they agreed on amendments to the Cons' ineffective legislation which would have set out both targets and a legislative framework to meet them. And the main divergence among the parties since then would seem to have been eliminated now that the Libs have scrapped their carbon tax plsn.

Which means that the Libs have a choice between passing the NDP's bill and pointing to a plan which already has majority approval in Parliament as a starting point, or starting once again from scratch. And the fact that they apparently see zero progress as their preferred option should speak volumes about how seriously Canadians should take any future proposal.

See more from pogge.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Change for the worse

It's been well chronicled that Michael Ignatieff has adopted all of the worst aspects of Stephane Dion's failed tenure as leader of the federal Libs, combining empty rhetoric and confidence-vote brinksmanship with a consistent willingness to give Stephen Harper whatever he wants. But lest anybody think there hasn't been any change under Iggy, it's worth noting that the Libs are distancing themselves from any real interest in the environment:
Michael Ignatieff pulled his Liberals away from a coalition with NDP leader Jack Layton. Now Liberals are hinting they may no longer support Mr. Layton's climate change bill.

Liberal MP and environment critic David McGuinty said he and his party have yet to decide what they will do Wednesday when the bill, C-311, comes to a vote.

Originally introduced in the last Parliament by Mr. Layton, the bill would put into law deep targets for reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. The bill calls for reductions of 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 and interim targets starting in 2015.

When Stéphane Dion led the Liberals, the three opposition parties worked together to move the bill through the House, agreeing on amendments and consulting with environmental groups, but the bill died when the 2008 election was called...

In an interview, Mr. McGuinty said a lot has changed since the last Parliament. His list of new factors includes the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president, the change in Liberal leadership and the fact that his party was defeated in the last election after releasing a detailed environmental plan centered around a carbon tax.

"I think we've learned from that," he said.

He said Mr. Ignatieff will announce a new environmental policy in time, but that it won't be rushed simply because of the upcoming vote on Mr. Layton's bill, which is now sponsored by NDP MP Bruce Hyer.
So in other words, the Libs' new stance on the environment consists of refusing to set any targets, and announcing some vague intention to develop a plan at some point in the future after the U.S. acts first. Which, for those keeping score at home, is exactly the same position which the Libs have been rightly bashing when it comes from the Harper government.

Fortunately, there is some upside to the Libs' position, as Hyer points out:
The bill's sponsor, Mr. Hyer, said he was "hugely disappointed" by Mr. McGuinty's comments. He said he hopes the Liberals do some "soul searching" before Wednesday's vote.

"I'm beginning to wonder if they have an ethic that they stick to on anything," Mr. Hyer said. The first term NDP MP did say however that he thought it might be good for the NDP if the Liberals change their position.

"To be honest, it will probably be really good for the NDP and me if the Liberals vote against this," he said, "because I think they're going to wear it."
Update: Cam has more.

On life rafts

It's entirely true that there's little for the Cons to like in the latest Leger Marketing poll. But while the poll obviously shows that respondents have little confidence in the Harper government, it also hints at how the Cons can drag the Libs down with them.

The latest numbers show only 40% of respondents approve of the Cons' handling of the economy, with 48% disapproving. And the Cons' approval rating is down to 38%, with 51% disapproving.

Which makes it less than surprising that both the Cons as a party and Stephen Harper individually now find themselves in a weak position compared to the Libs - but due in large part to their surprising strategy over the last month or so. Remember that rather than accurately portraying the Libs' budget capitulation as a sign of agreement, the Cons instead tried to take sole credit for its contents - apparently gambling that if the economy turned on a dime, then any ability to take sole credit would make for an easy path to a majority.

Of course, with the budget now properly seen as insufficient, the Cons have instead been alone on the hook for its failings. But absent any realistic prospect of the Libs bringing them down anytime soon, the Cons would still seem to have time to take the road which seemed to make more sense from the beginning - particularly now that they've managed to sow the seeds for an "Ignatieff is weak" argument later on through their recent brinksmanship.

Rather than playing up conflict with the Libs, they still have every opportunity to paint the budget as a bipartisan effort which could never have passed without Ignatieff's support - ensuring that Ignatieff gets to wear an equal share of the blame when it proves unpopular. And the leadership numbers which show Ignatieff ahead can be particularly easily turned against the Libs given that he himself stated an effective preference to keep Harper in power.

Again, that course of action may hold less perceived upside for Harper than the current plan, as it would seem likely to reduce the ability of either the Libs or Cons to create a gap compared to the other. But with the current path clearly not leading the Cons where they want to go anytime soon, one has to figure that there's another change of direction in the Cons' future. And if the Cons can succeed in sticking the Libs with an equal share of responsibility for their own continued economic mismanagement, then the Libs' current numbers based on a contrast with the Cons would figure to have nowhere to go but down.

Manipulating the numbers

Lest anybody think that Vic Toews' plan to track crime based on surveys rather than actual reported crimes was the only example, Dr. Dawg points out another triumph of the Cons' propensity putting perception over reality - this time when it comes to employment equity:
Barrados said the (Public Service Commission) devised a new way of counting, which showed 17.3 per cent of all hires last year are visible minorities compared with earlier estimates of 9.5 per cent. To complicate matters, Treasury Board released, on the same day, its long-overdue employment equity reports showing visible minorities are still under-represented and their numbers are about half of those estimated by the commission.
No word yet as to when the Cons will claim that there isn't actually a recession taking place based on self-reporting from a focus group of Jason Kenney.

Deep thought

Surely a longtime Reform/Alliance supporter should know better than to believe the Harper government could care less about the homeless.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Week in Review, March 29

Over the last 7 days, the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race managed to completely escape any media attention (at least according to Google News). But that doesn't mean there hasn't been plenty going on just below the radar - as you can tell from my archives on the subject. And there looks to be plenty more news on the horizon.

Most notably, one of the more surprising omissions of the campaign so far looks to have been corrected without any public fanfare. Deb Higgins' original web page was remarkably weak in both style and substance for one of the political veterans in the race - and its replacement with first an error message and then a placeholder didn't do much to ease any concerns. But Higgins' full site has finally gone live, featuring all of the elements (a simple donation process, event and policy information, etc.) which were sorely lacking in her campaign's first design.

And in turn, Higgins' campaign theme has also been unveiled: "True Commitment. Real Leadership." Like the other most recent development in Higgins' campaign, the slogan looks innocuous on its surface, but figures to highlight a weakness in Dwain Lingenfelter's campaign even without offering up any direct criticism.

Remember that Higgins' political funding proposal criticized the influence of "Alberta's corporate elite" on Saskatchewan politics - referring directly to Brad Wall's Calgary fund-raising, but with at least an underlying inference that Lingenfelter carries some of the same problem. Likewise, the inclusion of "commitment" in her theme does more than just highlight a strength for Higgins based on her record of service within the NDP: it also creates an implicit contrast based on Lingenfelter's time out of province, not to mention the seemingly remote odds that he'd run for the party if his leadership campaign proves unsuccessful.

Coming on the heels of the similarly implicit criticism of Lingenfelter's original plan for a northern forum in the announcement of a joint event by Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen, it seems clear that while Lingenfelter's opponents are being careful about opening up any irreparable chasms within the party, they're not going to be shy about pointing out Lingenfelter's possible downsides as a means of drawing in support. And with perhaps the most important month of the campaign about to begin, it'll be extremely interesting to see how much further the candidates and their supporters end up going over the next few weeks.

On unrepresentative samples

Not-really-shorter Jason Kenney:

I have an MP's salary and pension. So poverty and unemployment aren't real.

Relevant possibilities

On further reflection, I probably aimed too low in my suggestion that the Speaker of the House of Commons should merely apply the same standards to questioners from all parties. Instead, if a relevance filter is being applied to questions, then why wouldn't the Speaker follow the exact same principle for the Cons' answers?

Just think about it: every Con non-response (which for the moment covers virtually all of their answers in question period) could be met with the Speaker's reply that the answer is out of order for failing to deal with the subject matter of the question.

Needless to say, constant statements to that effect - with video readily available for public consumption - would almost certainly serve as a source of immense embarrassment to the Cons. That would carry obvious pluses in and of itself - but even better, it could help to force a retreat from the Cons' all-talking-points, all-the-time communications strategy at least within question period.

So, I'll encourage Peter Milliken and his deputies to police question period to ensure that all sides are forced to stick to relevant issues - as nobody has more to lose from such an edict than the government which to this point has refused to do anything of the sort.