Saturday, May 02, 2009

Turning back the clock

A couple of noteworthy developments in the Saskatchewan Legislature this week don't seem to have found their way into the media. But let's take a moment to note just how the Sask Party looks to be moving itself and the province far into the past.

First, there's Christine Tell's explanation as to why the Sask Party plans to spend millions of dollars at the 2010 Winter Olympics:
Mr. Nilson:... To the minister: why are Saskatchewan taxpayers shelling out more than $4 million for the Vancouver Olympics while families pay more to camp in Saskatchewan parks?

Some Hon. Members: — Hear, hear!

The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister Responsible for Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport.

Hon. Ms. Tell: — Mr. Speaker, all we have to do is look at 1986 Expo. The Government of Saskatchewan spent over $6 million to have Saskatchewan House at the Expo and the pavilion, Mr. Speaker. We are talking more than 20 years later, Mr. Speaker, and we are putting, we are putting our best foot forward . . .
Naturally, John Nilson responded Tuesday with the following:
Yesterday the minister compared the $6 million spent by the Devine government on the 1986 Vancouver Expo with the 7 million the Sask Party is spending on the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Mr. Speaker, the opposition is willing to concede the point that this government manages public finances as prudently as the government of Grant Devine.
But while one would expect to see a government led by a Devine-era party apparatchik imitating that government's rationale to throw money down the drain, it might be a bit more surprising to see gender parity being set back several decades further. And Deb Higgins revealed a fairly stunning bit of news on Wednesday suggesting that's exactly what's happening within the Sask Party:
(T)he average Saskatchewan woman is paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to the average Saskatchewan man. But figures provided by the government show that women working for the Sask Party are paid just 53 per cent of the median salary earned by men working for the Sask Party.
Needless to say, the Sask Party wasn't about to actually answer Higgins' questions about that fact, even given another day to prepare for followup questions on Thursday. But their choice of how to pay men as opposed to women working under their own banner likely says more than enough already - and Higgins and the NDP would figure to have plenty of opportunity to highlight the Sask Party's gender gap in election campaigns to come.

On disclosures

While we await some definitive answers about the membership lists coming out of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, there's more definitive information available about the funding of the province's political parties. And while the party picture looks to be a positive one (with the NDP not only holding more of its total election-year funding than the Sask Party even while losing office, but substantially beating out the Sask Party in individual donations), a couple of details about the 2008 donation list (warning: PDF) may be worth looking at in conjunction with the financial information from the race.

For the most part, there looks to be relatively little change in circumstances from my previous post looking at the donations to date. But the disconnect between Dwain Lingenfelter's leadership donors and the party's base of support looks to be all the more striking now that we know who gave what last year. In particular, of his fairly lengthy list of corporate donors, not a single one donated a disclosed amount to the NDP in 2008.

And the candidates themselves? Both Higgins and Pedersen gave substantial contributions in 2008, which won't come as any great surprise given their positions as an MLA and party president respectively. But the other two candidates don't show up on the donation list - which is particularly striking for Lingenfelter, who was of course the only leadership candidate to have declared his candidacy for the leadership for the last few months of 2008.

On rapid responses

Eddie has already pointed out the CBC's story on complaints about some NDP membership sales in northern Saskatchewan. But while there isn't enough information available yet to comment one way or another about the allegations, it's certainly worth highlighting how the party has dealt with them:
The party's CEO, Deb McDonald, says the party has had phone calls from people in the north who expressed concern.

However, she wouldn't say what those concerns were or how many people had complained.

"We can't be sure the memberships that they're speaking about — whether it was only one camp that has sold these memberships," she said.

The party leadership committee will be meeting Friday night to discuss the issue and will spend the weekend investigating, McDonald said.

"We're going to take a look at these memberships and we'll phone some of the people and we'll talk to them and just check out with regard to how they obtained their membership — if they're happy with their membership, if they really wanted a membership — and just give them options," she said.
Compare that response to what would figure to have happened if a similar internal party issue had been raised when it comes to, say, the Harper Cons. From them, the default responses would be an angry denial to start with, followed by an attempt to point at some unrelated issue in another party or to smear whoever raised the issue, with the possibility of temporarily punishing a lower-level operative kept in mind as an absolute last resort. And at no point would getting at the facts behind the matter be seen as a priority.

In contrast, the Saskatchewan NDP has rightly acknowledged that the allegations exist at least in the eyes of some callers, and has placed its focus on figuring out exactly what happened. And whatever the result of the investigation, the party looks to be far healthier for that response.

Update: Eddie provides a few more details.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Musical interlude

Wide Mouth Mason - Companion

Deep thought

In fairness, Michael Ignatieff probably didn't have much choice in declaring his fealty to Gordon Campbell. After all, the last thing he wants is for anybody to get the idea to ask whether a right-wing reactionary might be hiding behind the Liberal party name.

No hubris here, nosiree

Take your pick of Michael Ignatieff's latest messages and decide which is the most laden in arrogance and hubris. Is it the call for a Liberal one-party state?
We want to be that great big tent that includes every single Canadian.
Or is it the declaration that Canada owes its existence and success to the Liberal Party?
We are not an election machine. We are a national institution that inspires our country to greatness, and that holds our country together.

On quarterly returns

Pundits' Guide has posted the fund-raising numbers for the first quarter of 2009. And there are a couple of factors worth highlighting in evaluating the NDP's performance, which shows a drop from the party's usual first-quarter numbers over the last few years.

I'll start off by noting that the drop is probably less significant than it looks due to the fact that the NDP's focus was elsewhere for a substantial chunk of the quarter. For nearly the entire month of January, the party's top priority was to promote the progressive coalition in the eyes of the public and the Libs, which presumably left less resources available for party-specific messaging and fund-raising. So there's ample reason to doubt the significance of the year-to-year comparison.

What does seem significant, though, is that the party's effort to pivot from that point seems to have been less effective than hoped. Remember that immediately after Michael Ignatieff decided to prop up the Cons, the NDP responded with an ad campaign intended to start defining Ignatieff on its terms - and concurrently put out a fund-raising call to promote the ads.

One would figure that if all had gone as hoped, the ads would have inspired enough of a response to make up for the earlier lost time. But the first-quarter returns suggest that they didn't do much to bring in donations - which likely explains both the relatively short shelf-life of the ad campaign, and the rebranding work that the NDP has done since then.

It remains to be seen whether the trends from the first quarter prove largely to be blips for the NDP along with for the other federal parties. (And it's worth wondering how sustainable the Libs' pace in particular might be, considering that nearly a third of their fund-raising came from donors who are now at or near the annual maximum.) But it does seem safe to say that the NDP's most creative attempt to turn the outcome of the coalition into a fund-raiser fell short of what the party was apparently hoping for - and that will make it interesting to watch where it goes next to keep the money flowing.

Update: As a reader notes in comments, David Akin reports that the NDP also held back on its own fund-raising due to the provincial campaigns over the first quarter. Which means that we can likely expect a relatively soft second quarter as well, since three of the four campaigns involved are still ongoing (or just about to get underway in the case of Nova Scotia).

On easy reporting

I'm not sure if the National Post plans to make a regular feature out of its post entitled "Good question, lousy answers from Thursday's Question period". But while that might be a useful way of generating dozens of separate pieces of content for every day Parliament is in session, wouldn't it be more newsworthy if the Cons actually provided just one good answer for a change?

Ignatieff on Asbestos Still a Health Hazard

The Tyee points out Michael Ignatieff's latest attempt to weasel his way out of his earlier reversal on asbestos. But all indications are that Ignatieff is still looking for excuses to change the subject from Canada's continued production and export of a hazardous product:
What does he think now?

“The complication in the issue is simply chrysotile asbestos in the Eastern Townships of Quebec,” he said. “I've had strong representations since I said what I said, which has been my basic position, that there is a form of chrysotile asbestos that is not as harmful as other forms.”

Whether that's true is a matter of science, not opinion, he said. “The issue is whether that is factually correct or not. The government has a study on chrysotile asbestos they have not released. They should release that and then we can resolve this once and for all.”

He added, “It doesn't substantially alter what I said in Victoria. It simply says on that issue we need further scientific clarification.”

If it is harmful, he said, it should not be exported or produced. “No country, certainly not Canada should export materials that are known to be harmful. Nor should we produce them.”
Of course, there are a couple of major problems with that position. First, Ignatieff didn't seem to have much interest at all in the study - or the subject generally - until he first got himself in trouble. Which gives him little credibility in now trying to put the focus on whether and how this particular study is released.

But more importantly, even if the full study hasn't been released publicly, its main findings have been reported. And they couldn't be much more clear in reaching a conclusion on exactly the question which Ignatieff is looking to paint as unresolved:
For more than a year, Health Canada held onto a report by a panel of international experts that concludes there is a "strong relationship" between lung cancer and chrysotile asbestos mined in Canada.

While the panel found the relationship between chrysotile asbestos and the rare of form of cancer mesothelioma "much less certain," there is a "strong relationship of exposure with lung cancer," panel chairman Trevor Ogden wrote in the newly released introductory letter to the report...

In an interview, panelist Leslie Stayner, director of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, said while the panel agreed the link between exposure to amphibole asbestos -- another form of the mineral -- and mesothelioma was stronger than chrysotile asbestos, the experts couldn't agree about the actual degree of that difference.

"The most important thing is what it doesn't say, which is some people have alleged it would say. What it doesn't say is that exposure to chrysotile asbestos is safe," said Stayner.

"I think the bottom line here is that all forms of asbestos cause both mesothelioma and lung cancer. We will probably for many years still be debating this question of relative hazard of chrysotile. The fundamental question of whether it's hazardous or not is clear. I think the answer to that is, yes, chrysotile is a hazardous substance.
In other words, even while professing to believe that Canada shouldn't be exporting hazardous substances, Ignatieff is going out of his way to ignore the findings of exactly the study which he says should be the final word as to whether or not chrysotile asbestos falls into that category.

Mind you, it's hard to see how that position helps the Libs in the long run. At most, it deflects a small amount of current attention toward the Cons on an issue where the Libs haven't historically done anything differently. And Ignatieff will have to address exactly the same findings once the full report is made public.

But the fact that Ignatieff's latest attempt to tap-dance around the issue looks to be a political failure doesn't make it any less wrong as a matter of substance. And Ignatieff's attempt to keep one foot in the denialist camp should give a strong indication of how he'll handle the issue later on.

Update: Dr. Dawg has more.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

On priorities

Shorter Michael Ignatieff:

When it comes to what's truly important - namely, easing my personal road to power - the Harper government has been a smashing success. So why should I worry if a few of the little people aren't doing so well?

On growth patterns

Following up on last night's post about the total number of memberships sold for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, let's note that the timing of the new influx of members may be highly significant in figuring out what's likely to happen in the June leadership vote. Just over a week ago, Murray Mandryk was writing this:
(W)ith a week to go before voting registration closes, party memberships are likely around 10,000 (9,344 as of a week ago Monday, according to NDP sources) and will now likely be half the 2001 total. While that's better than the estimated 5,700 members in January, it doesn't constitute a new groundswell of support.
So why does that timeline matter? Remember that one of Dwain Lingenfelter's initiatives since entering the race last fall was the 1,000 Club, intended to get a thousand supporters to recruit 10 members each for a total membership influx of 10,000. (Which in retrospect would have been plenty to swamp his competitors.)

But there's little indication that the membership numbers moved at all when Lingenfelter had the field all to himself. And indeed it sounds like the totals actually bottomed out in January after he'd had three months to build support.

In turn, it's only after the other leadership candidates entered the race that membership numbers started to grow significantly. And even there, it looks like there was a huge flurry of activity late in the game when all of the campaigns were presumably working to full capacity, with more members added to the list over the final two and a half weeks before the deadline than in the previous three months.

From my standpoint, that pattern would suggest that it's unlikely that Lingenfelter has managed to turn the new membership numbers in his favour to any degree. It's possible that his campaign decided to hold back before an all-out April blitz - but it seems far more likely that the boom since the other candidates got into the race in earnest points to a relatively balanced inflow of new or renewed members. And that can't bode well for Lingenfelter's chances of overwhelming his competition on the first ballot.

Deep thought

After being told by their leaders for the last two years that there's no choice but to back the Cons' spin and policy undiluted, the Libs may well have come to believe it to be true. But that doesn't make it so.

Choosing the wrong side

It's definitely worth pointing out that the Libs have once again undermined an effort to pass anti-scab legislation in Parliament. But perhaps more noteworthy is the list of Lib MPs who made an individual choice to do so.

As with the vote which torpedoed a bill at third reading in the last Parliament, there were Libs on both sides of the issue. And the list of Libs who voted down the bill included the likes of Siobhan Coady, Bonnie Crombie, Martha Hall Findlay, John McCallum, David McGuinty and Dan McTeague. (Oddly enough the list didn't include Stephane Dion, who made the choice to fight against the previous legislation after supporting it at second reading.)

As evidenced by yesterday's EI vote, the Libs had the ability to work with the opposition parties to get progressive legislation passed over the Cons' protests. And the fact that they've once again chosen not to should offer plenty of reason for skepticism that a Lib government would do much to improve the lot of Canadian workers.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Burying the lede

The bad news: CBC is just now getting around to reporting on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership fund-raising numbers which were made public nearly three weeks ago.

The good news: As an afterthought, the article tosses in what may be the most important campaign information for the next little while:
The party said Wednesday that party membership has tripled in recent months as a result of interest in the race. Membership now stands at 14,169.
Which means that the membership total is basically in line with the party's earlier predictions - albeit with 7,085 as the apparent magic number rather than 7,501. But we'll have to wait to find out just who's managed to add thousands more names to the membership list over the last month, and who stands to benefit from that influx when it comes time to vote for the next leader.

Maclean's Interview: Jason Kenney - Now Partially Annotated

Since Kenneth Whyte's interview with Jason Kenney seems to have missed a few key points, I've taken the liberty of adding a touch of context to Kenney's first few answers.

Q: When you’re speaking at citizenship ceremonies, you tell new Canadians our history is now their history, that you don’t want Canada to be viewed as a hotel where people come and go with no abiding commitment to our past, or to citizenship. What is the meaning of our citizenship?

A: Legally speaking it gives people status in Canada and certain rights like voting, but I think we need to reclaim a deeper sense of citizenship, a sense of shared obligations to one another, to our past, as well as to the future. In that I mean a kind of civic nationalism where people understand the institutions, values and symbols that are rooted in our history.
In case it actually needs to be said, the government knowing or suspecting something about a Canadian citizen isn’t enough to essentially exile him. Ottawa’s incredibly churlish behaviour on this file—endlessly setting conditions, then arbitrarily changing them when they’re met—brings the very foundations of government and citizenship into disrepute. It has to stop.
Q: They don’t understand those things now?

A: Well, heck, if you look at polling data—there’s a massive historical amnesia about the Canadian past, and massive gaps of knowledge about our parliamentary institutions, our democratic procedures. There’s a massive civic illiteracy.
Just how valid is Harper's claim that changing governments without a new election would be undemocratic?

"It's politics, it's pure rhetoric," said Ned Franks, a retired Queen's University expert on parliamentary affairs. "Everything that's been happening is both legal and constitutional."

Other scholars are virtually unanimous in their agreement. They say Harper's populist theory of democracy is more suited to a U.S.-style presidential system, in which voters cast ballots directly for a national leader, than it is to Canadian parliamentary democracy.
Q: For old Canadians as well as new Canadians.

A: Yeah, for younger Canadians in particular, whether they’re new or well-established.
Audio recordings, photographs and documents that were leaked from a recent Conservative Party student workshop at the University of Waterloo expose a partisan attempt to take over student unions and undermine Ontario Public Interest Research Groups (OPIRGs) on campuses across Ontario.

At a session held in early February by the Ontario Progressive Campus Conservative Association (OPCCA) and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, campus Conservatives, party campaigners, and a Member of Parliament discussed strategies to gain funding from student unions for the Conservative Party and ways to run for-and win-positions within student unions.
"Yeah we had a front group like that: the Campus Coalition for Liberty. It was really just a front for the Conservatives, but it gave us like two voices." said Lee-Wudrick.

He added: "Don't think that the Party doesn't like that, because they do. They're things that will help the Party, but it looks like it's an organically-grown organization and it just stimulated from the grassroots spontaneously. They love that stuff... Remember all of the Rallies for Democracy ... that's just an example of how big those things can get."
Q: But if the problem is general, why are we doing it as an immigration program?

A: Because I’m not in charge of the schools, I am in charge of the citizenship process.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made no apologies yesterday for ending the flow of funds to the Canadian Arab Federation...

CAF executive director Mohamed Boudjenane was surprised by the minister's comments, and surprised to learn about the end of funding for programs the organization runs to help settle newcomers and give them English lessons.

"We have a contract to provide English for newcomers," Boudjenane said. "The LINC (language instruction for newcomers to Canada) school and we have a workshop for newcomers. The agreement is until March 2010. I don't know what he is talking about," he said, adding that contracts were signed for two years.
Q: There are questions about civic literacy on the citizenship test. Are they inadequate?

A: It’s pretty weak. We’re reviewing the materials with a mind to improving the test to ensure that it demonstrates a real knowledge of Canadian institutions, values, and symbols, and history. Right now, if you look at the preparatory booklet for the test, there’s three sentences, I think, on Confederation history, and not one single sentence about Canadian military history. It’s bizarre to think that someone could become a Canadian citizen without ever being told what the poppy represents. It doesn’t even show up in the book but it talks about food processing in New Brunswick and how you recycle.
(Kenney) said the information booklet that leads to the citizenship test has a page on recycling, but he said he doesn’t recall seeing one paragraph on Confederation.

Really, minister? Here is the booklet. Flip to page 12.
Need we go on?


Following up this morning's post, it had sounded initially like Andrew Steele had come to much the same conclusion. That is, until his post went off the rails entirely:
Harper must recognize that forcing the NDP to sustain his government is self-defeating; a divided NDP will allow the Liberals to consolidate more centre-left votes and potentially defeat Conservative incumbents in Ontario and the Maritimes. The Lower Mainland of B.C. is one of the few places where the NDP and Conservatives go head-to-head, but even there the Liberals remain a threat to come up the middle if the NDP vote falters.

Instead, the Conservatives can help maintain a healthy NDP protest vote (and a split on the centre-left) by finding ways to get the Bloc to abstain.

Abstentions by the BQ cost Duceppe's party nothing, allow the NDP to maintain its symbolic opposition to the Conservatives and keep the Conservatives in power, while freeing all three of those parties from losing seats against a resurgent Liberal Party in a sudden election.

The fact is that the renewed vigour of the Liberals has created a new majority coalition in the House of Commons: a Conservative-Separatist-Socialist coalition that will almost definitely secretly conspire to keep themselves in office for another year.
So in Steele's mind, the likely result is that the NDP will at no point back down from its record to date of voting against the Cons, meaning that Harper will have to rely on the Bloc to prop up his government. Which is an eminently reasonable theory to start with, and still probably the most likely outcome going forward.

But if Steele is indeed of the view:
- that the NDP won't vote with the Cons under any circumstances, and
- that Harper will deal solely with the Bloc because of that fact...

... then how on earth could he even pretend that the NDP would be part of a "coalition"?

And even Steele's talk of an "understanding" fails to make the slightest bit of sense. After all, how would it serve any purpose for Harper to try to deal with the NDP - however informally - if he plans on relying on Duceppe alone to prop up his government in any event?

Of course, the likely answer to both questions is that Steele is more eager to try to turn the "socialists and separatists" language against Harper - with an added bonus of building an illusion of Con/NDP agreement - than to think through the actual implications of his theory. But it's hard to see how that leads to a message any more honest than the Cons' original bluster which Steele is impliedly criticizing.

The reviews are in

The Toronto Star:
For a program that's supposed to get people working by cutting red tape, Ottawa's $4 billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund seems overburdened with onerous tangles. Indeed, there are so many restrictions on federal money for municipalities that a cynic might question Ottawa's dedication to contributing to what Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has dismissively called "the pothole business."

Although Flaherty announced the new stimulus fund in his January budget, municipalities only received the criteria for acceptable projects two weeks ago – and the deadline for applications is this Friday. That didn't give cities much time to complete their paperwork.

Municipalities across Canada are scrambling to meet the deadline. For example, York Region council last week considered a hurriedly assembled $223 million list of potential projects. "It's like dangling a carrot out there," said Vaughan Councillor Joyce Frustaglio at the council meeting. "The timing is so short they (the federal government) obviously have no idea how local governments work."

On joint efforts

Duncan Cameron discusses how the parties in Parliament figure to handle the rest of 2009. But perhaps his most interesting point is to suggest a possibility for cooperation which might prevent either the Cons or the Libs from picking their preferred time for a federal election:
While it is in Harper's best interest to keep the Bloc and the NDP divided, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe can work together behind the scenes to exact concessions from Harper, and forestall an unnecessary election.
As Cameron notes earlier, the Cons can theoretically stay in power with the support of any one party in the House of Commons. Which on its face would seem to give them significant leverage even if they come to the conclusion that they can't rely on the Libs supporting their every move.

But both the NDP and the Bloc also have strong reasons not to be left supporting the Cons either on their own, or for anything short of massive concessions. After all, the NDP's current branding is based largely on its being the lone party never to have propped up the Cons alone - and I for one wouldn't want to see that change without an awfully good reason. And the Bloc's 2008 campaign message was aimed entirely at holding the Cons short of a majority. Which makes the likelihood of NDP support on its own virtually nil, while the Bloc too has reason to be wary.

So what would happen if the NDP and Bloc worked together to develop a common set of demands, and agreed that neither would support the Cons unless all of those demands were met?

At that point, Harper's leverage would seemingly be down to zero if the Libs ever did get around to acting like an opposition party. Rather than being able to play opposition parties against each other, he'd face an all-or-nothing decision as to whether or not to accept the NDP/Bloc platform.

There's little reason to think that he'd be able to take much off the table in his effort to hang on. Which means that there would actually be a realistic prospect of both bringing about substantial positive change, and of keeping the Cons' worst instincts in check. (In effect, the obvious questions as to whether the Cons can be trusted could be dealt with by strong enough terms within the deal itself.)

Meanwhile, both the Bloc and the NDP would be able to point to a multi-party consensus which would seriously dilute any criticism about voting with the government. And indeed to the extent a joint platform was based on the principles underlying the progressive coalition which they signed onto, the Libs might have little choice but to vote for it themselves.

Of course, the best option for the opposition parties is still likely to take down the Cons at the earliest opportunity, particularly given the risk that the Libs could get cold feet again. But if the NDP and Bloc can get to the next election being able to show significant policy results for a single confidence vote as compared to none for the Libs' 62 and counting, that could well be the point at which it's worthwhile to see just how much Harper will give to hang on a little longer. And their chances of making that happen are far better if they join forces.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

daveberta points out that there's a battle brewing for the Con nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona to challenge Linda Duncan. And in a party where MPs and candidates aren't allowed to speak for themselves on actual issues, a show of skill and creativity in the party's usual content-free personal attacks would figure to be just the ticket for either Ryan Hastman or Rahim Jaffer to beat out his competitor.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And in other Saskatchewan leadership news...

Apparently the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race won't be the only one to be decided in the province this spring, as the Greens have replaced Amber Jones with Larissa Shasko.

Now, it can't be an ideal result that even the Greens themselves don't seem to have publicized the leadership election in advance: oddly enough, the only public indication seems to have been in Amber Jones' own message in the last edition of the party newsletter. But they can at least be proud that there was enough interest within the Greens to lead to a contested race - which is more than we can say for some parties.

Meanwhile, the Greens' change in leaders also raises a serious possibility that the Sask Party might be the only one which runs the same leader in 2011 that it did in 2007. So who's up to take over the PCs from Rick Swenson?

Leadership 2009 Links

Not surprisingly, there hasn't been a lot of official material on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race the last couple of days as the candidates wait to find out just how many members they'll be looking to win over. But for those not getting their fill from my musings, give a read to Jason's post on suggested strategies for Ryan Meili, as well as Eddie's on why reports of a generation gap within the party may be greatly exaggerated.

The reviews are in

James Bow:
After Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon backed out on several promises to return the Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik to Canada, citing national security concerns without any offer of proof, representatives of the Canadian government are calling upon Mr. Abdelrazik to admit that he is “a senior al-Qaeda operative”.

I cannot understand the government’s actions in this case. It has every appearance of a petulant set of ministers stamping their feet and making excuses for not doing the right thing. Don’t they realize how bad this makes them look? Don’t they care? This and this alone is enough for me to want an election so we can throw these bastards out.
There are few judgements too harsh for what the Conservative government has done here. It is either incompetent with our national security, or it is mean-spirited enough to deny a Canadian citizen abroad the right to return home to his wife and children. It has either sought to duck due process and this country’s responsibility to prosecute accused Canadian terrorists in a Canadian court, or it has put an innocent Canadian citizen through one of the worst hells imaginable. Either way, it has failed us miserably. It has failed to uphold the law, it has failed to deal competently with the affairs of government, and it has failed to stand up and defend the rights of a Canadian citizen.

Burdens and benefits

About my only quibble with Andrew Potter's post on the Fraser Institute's perpetual tax stunts is his assertion that the institute is becoming any more respectable with time. (Though sadly it's tough to disagree on the "influential" side.) But he nicely highlights the sheer absurdity of the institute's latest anti-social tripe:
Get it? Food and clothing and housing are “necessities”. But taxes? That’s a “burden.”

Let’s look at it another way: Since 1961, the amount that Canadians spend collectively providing themselves with defence and other forms of security, health insurance, unemployment insurance, pensions, clean air and water, consumer protection, infrastructure, research and education, and other public goods has increased by 1,783 percent per family. Astounding? I’ll say! Burden? Hardly.

Despite what the Fraser Institute wants you to think, this is an entirely good thing. Only in the bizarro-world fantasies of anti-tax conservatives could a world where families spend over half their income on private necessities be considered preferable to the one we have today. If it’s invidious contrasts the Fraser folks are after, why look to 1961? Today, the average North American spends about 10 percent of disposable income on food alone. In 1933 it was more like 25 percent.

Ahh, but the tax “burden” was so much lower then.

Burning question

The Cons are obviously scrambling to pull out every last page of Dubya's playbook - no matter how thoroughly discredited - to try to escape answering for their own failure to protect a Canadian citizen. So how long will it be before they accuse Abousfian Abdelrazik of hiding Saddam's weapons of mass destruction?

Monday, April 27, 2009

A foul odor on the Polar Breeze

A Con-friendly spokesman makes an eminently reasonable point to justify an Arctic surveillance program:
Prof. Huebert compared it to policing a highway. "How can you give a ticket to somebody [for infractions] in an area you claim if you don't even know they are up there?"
So why haven't we heard about the $130 million program before?
Polar Breeze is a military project so cloaked in secrecy the Department of National Defence at first categorically denied it even existed.

Today - apart from backtracking on their denial - the military is refusing to answer any questions on the project that experts believe has a role to play in protecting Canada's Arctic sovereignty and security.
Despite National Defence's refusal to comment, clues about Polar Breeze can be gleaned from the more than 50 pages of heavily censored files obtained by the NDP. These suggest the project involves the Canadian Forces' secretive directorate of space development, computer networks and geospatial intelligence - data gathered by satellite.

Polar Breeze also appears to be sponsored by the Chief of Defence Intelligence, an organization that's grown into one the largest intelligence-gathering services in the federal government. Unlike the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the CDI is not monitored by independent civilian oversight.
National Defence initially denied any knowledge of Polar Breeze after taking five days to respond to a request for details on the program.

"No such project exists in DND ... called Polar Breeze project or anything close to that," spokeswoman Captain Isabelle Riché told The Globe and Mail April 14.

But last week the military changed its tune after being supplied with evidence from published documents that it is funding Polar Breeze. Still, DND refused to discuss the project beyond acknowledging its existence, saying everything, including its name, is a classified secret.
Which raises an obvious question: would anybody care to ask Professor Huebert how the public should be able to verify that Polar Breeze is properly policed?

A definite improvement

Having criticized Murray Mandryk last week for a column which essentially glossing over the "race" part of the NDP leadership race, I'll give him some credit for his more recent one arising out of last week's debate.

Which isn't to say that I entirely share his analysis. In some areas, Mandryk looks to have overlooked some interesting policy disagreements among the candidates. And in others, he looks to be minimizing some areas of agreement to fit a storyline: in particular, it seems to me that all of the candidates have spent a substantial amount of time talking about putting together a winning campaign in 2011, contrary to his attempt to divide the contenders into three renewal candidates and a 2011-focused Lingenfelter.

But it's definitely a plus to see at least a couple of the creative ideas from the leadership race getting some wider exposure. And hopefully by the time June rolls around, Mandryk will have found reason to be more interested in the contest than he sounds for the moment.

(h/t to Buckdog.)

In a nutshell

Garth Turner (via Aaron Wherry) serves up one more set of quotes which nicely encapsulates the governing philosophy of the Harper Cons:
“You’re a journalist and we all know journalists make bad politicians. Politicians know how to stick to a message. That’s how they are successful. Journalists think they always have to tell the truth.”
— (Stephen) Harper

“We play as a team or we lose as a team. We have no room for an independent thinker on our team.”
— Conservative MP Guy Lauzon

“What Garth has to learn is that you’ve got to support the prime minister, absolutely no matter what.”
— Senator Marjory LeBreton

“There will be impacts in some of your ridings. They will affect people, and you may be tempted to talk about them. But don’t. Anyone who has anything to say about this will soon find out they have a very short political career.”
— Harper, announcing program spending cuts during a caucus meeting
Of course, it's worth noting that Stephane Dion is quoted as taking virtually exactly the same position as Harper when a Turner blog post proved inconvenient. And at least one Con MP is quoted showing enough principle to back Turner's right to think and speak for himself. But when the history of the Harper government is written, its constant demand for unthinking fealty looks to be one of the defining features.

Leadership 2009 Week in Review - April 27

Following up on yesterday's series of Candidate Checkpoints, I'll take the prognostication up a notch and offer up my guesses as to the likelihood of the possible outcomes in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. For those looking for a 538-style mathematical model, this is nothing of the sort - but it reflects my observations of what data is out there to assess candidate support.

I'll take a look at the following factors:

1st Ballot Win - the likelihood that a candidate will take 50%+ of the vote on the first ballot
Final Ballot - the likelihood that a candidate will appear on a final ballot after the first one
Final Ballot Win - the likelihood that a candidate will win on a ballot after the first one
4th on 1st - the likelihood that a candidate will be eliminated on the first ballot, shifting votes to that candidate's voters' next choice for the second ballot
Total Win - should be self-explanatory, the sum of a candidate's chances of winning on the first ballot and on a subsequent ballot

Note that for ease of comparison, the latter three columns will add up only to the likelihood that more than one ballot is required, since they don't figure to be relevant if the outcome is determined on the first ballot.

There's probably some room to toss in more guesswork as to the permutations and combinations possible on a second ballot as opposed to a third. But for now, it would seem to be largely the above factors that will determine the shape of the convention.

So without any further ado, my current projections as to the possible results of the leadership race:

Candidate 1st Ballot Win Final Ballot Final Ballot Win 4th on 1st Total Win
Dwain Lingenfelter 35 55 20 0 55
Deb Higgins 3 28 20 5 23
Ryan Meili 2 32 18 10 20
Yens Pedersen 0 5 2 45 2

On low points

Shorter National Post editorial board:

Michael Ignatieff's decision to hide any sympathy for the plight of innocent Tamils behind closed doors due to his fear of Conservative smears is a sign of profound moral courage.

Update: While Dr. Dawg has nicely summarized the deeper point, I'll go a little bit further in pointing out the problem with Ignatieff's actions. The starting point is that the Harper Cons have consistently tried to set a "guilt by association" standard when it comes to groups who don't fit into their pool of prospective voters - such that even the slightest public show of concern for the plight of the Cons' designated undesirables is met with shrieks of "they support the terrorists!"

What Ignatieff has done is to validate that exclusionary tendency, instructing his party to flee from an entirely peaceful demonstration - even one that's been carefully sanitized of controversial material, however absurd that standard is to begin with. And to add insult to injury, Ignatieff still has the gall to meet behind closed doors with leaders of the community that he's embarrassed to be seen with in public to try to pretend that his party will defend their interests.

Of course, the National Post couldn't be happier with that outcome, since it means that Harper is calling the shots as to which types of discourse are acceptable and which groups are unworthy of public sympathy. But for the reasons pointed out by Dr. Dawg, that should be reason for embarrassment rather than pride on the Libs' part.

Edit: added label.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tributes and tribulations

Sure, one wouldn't think the Libs could top this as a way to rub salt into a past leader's wounds at their convention. But just wait until John Gomery delivers his stirring salute to Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.

Yens Pedersen Candidate Checkpoint - The Lone Wolf

The Candidate

At a time when the Saskatchewan NDP was going through its lowest levels of enthusiasm in ages, Yens Pedersen was one party member who stepped up. In the 2007 election, he ran against a well-known municipal figure and nearly holding a Regina South seat which figured to be a tough battle for the NDP. At the 2008 convention he took over the party's presidency, only to step down in the fall when he started talking publicly about making the leadership his next goal.

In fact, Pedersen was the one eventual candidate who spoke publicly about the race before the new year, and became the second one in the contest in January 2009. But in retrospect, one has to wonder whether Pedersen nonetheless waited too long to get into the race.

The Strategy

While each of the other candidates apparently waited to have a solid base of organizational support before entering the race (even if Ryan Meili's didn't include much of the party establishment), all indications seem to be that Pedersen took the plunge in large part based on the hope that support would soon follow. Which might not have proved to be a disadvantage if he'd been alone in the race to try to build support as the only "anybody but Lingenfelter" candidate.

Instead, though, Pedersen's entry into the race was followed in short order by Higgins and Meili - both of whom were able to bring high-profile endorsements with them in relatively short order. And that's left Pedersen looking particularly lonely for lack of any endorsements that he's seen fit to highlight.

Not that Pedersen hasn't managed to make his presence felt in the race - by raising issues, inserting himself into the media narrative on others, and connecting with a substantial number of supporters. And he's consistently held his own when the candidates have shared the same stage.

But in the absence of others willing to lend their reputations to his campaign, Pedersen has been left with the steepest hill of any of the candidates. And while Pedersen has done his best to seek out voter pools that the others may have missed, there isn't much reason to think he's going to be able to make the climb on his own.

The Result

So what can Pedersen do to win? At this point, the answer looks to be that there isn't much of a path to victory that doesn't involve a total collapse or two among the other candidates.

That will leave Pedersen with a choice as to how to handle the rest of the campaign. On the one hand, he can try to make high-controversy, potentially high-reward moves to get his name into the public eye - even if that means alienating other factions within the party. But it's hard to see that being a winning move - and it may only serve to make it more difficult to capitalize even if another candidate does stumble and create an opening.

Which means that the better option for Pedersen looks to be to build as much support as he can around the margins without making enemies for himself out of the current contest. And if that leads to his taking a cabinet position under another leader grateful for his contributions to the party and to the race, then Pedersen may have an easier time attracting followers if be makes another run for the leadership in the future.

Ryan Meili Candidate Checkpoint - The Movement

The Candidate

At the start of the leadership race, Ryan Meili looked like an ideal candidate on paper. But regardless of what was on his resume, it was anybody's guess as to whether or not he'd be able to put together a successful campaign - and especially whether he'd manage to build support in a party where each of the other three candidates seemed to have some obvious connections.

Over the course of the campaign, Meili has managed to put those questions to rest, performing well enough on a personal level and on the debate circuit to bring in a substantial amount of support both within the NDP's inner circles and beyond.

That is, among those who have had a chance to meet or see him personally. But judging from what little polling is available, Meili still has a ways to go in getting his name known beyond those who have taken an active interest in the campaign. Which is hardly a bad position to be in at this stage of the race - but means there's plenty of work left to do in advance of the June convention.

The Strategy

In principle, a substantial part of Meili's appeal rested on the potential to carry out an Obama-style campaign, as I and others suggested early in the campaign. But despite his adoption of "community organizer" language along with a few other echoes of Obama's campaign, it's probably fair to say that Meili's model is quite different from the one that propelled Obama into the White House.

A couple of the major differences may arise out of the types of party systems involved. Meili has apparently spent a greater proportion of his time and effort on specific policy development rather than general themes. And in a system of strict party discipline, he hasn't extended his message of positive politics to the point of talking up bipartisanship.

But more interesting is an organization difference that looks to be largely a function of the resources involved. Obama had a year and a half to build on a national foundation put in place by Tom Daschle, and was able to dedicate huge amounts of time and money to training an army of volunteers. Not to mention that he was already at least moderately well-known among U.S. Democrats for his 2004 convention speech and work in the Senate.

In contrast, Meili has had to start nearly from scratch with far less time to work with. In some respects, that may have limited how much he's been able to do - but if anything, it may also make the movement for renewal and change that he's been able to build into an even more authentic expression of support.

The Result

But how far can that movement go in swaying relatively casual party members when it counts? That's the big remaining question which Meili's campaign will need to answer over the next month and a half. And the road may only get tougher from here on in.

While the Lingenfelter and Higgins campaigns will be able to spend their time trying to play up the relative merits of candidates who are relatively well known, Meili will still have to focus on introducing himself to members who haven't been following the race all that closely - and then persuade them to send their votes his way only after that task is carried out. Which means that there will be more work for Meili's volunteer-based organization to do over the next month.

And complicating matters even further, Meili can't count on a straightforward road through the convention even if he succeeds in his first goal of at least working his way ahead of Higgins. As I mentioned in my earlier post on Higgins' campaign, there would figure to be at least a reasonable number of Higgins first-ballot supporters who might switch to Lingenfelter on a later ballot. Which may mean that it won't be enough for Meili stay on the third ballot: instead, he'll likely need Lingenfelter's earlier-ballot support to top out the low 40s at most to push the odds into his favour by the end.

The bright side is that Meili may have already accomplished much of what I'd hoped to see done during the course of the leadership race: whatever the results in June, the movement that Meili has managed to build over the past few months has the potential to serve as the backbone of progressive politics in Saskatchewan for years to come. But it remains to be seen whether Meili will be able to overcome stalwarts past and present to win the leadership of the NDP now.

Edit: added tag.

Deb Higgins Candidate Checkpoint - The Comeback

The Candidate

On paper, Deb Higgins figured to start the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race solidly in second place. While she couldn't match Dwain Lingenfelter's head start, she was the only other candidate to have caucus endorsers from the beginning. And all expectations were that the rest of her campaign would similarly be near the head of the pack.

But as the weeks went by, it seemed like Higgins' campaign was in hibernation. Her initial web page was severely lacking in both design and content, and for at least a couple of days it was replaced with error messages or placeholders. And she didn't unveil much by way of endorsements or policies for at least a month after entering the race, leading to some question about how seriously she was taking the leadership campaign.

While it took some time, though, Higgins has since worked her way back toward the front of the pack. And indeed from the chances I've seen to see the leaders, I've reached the surprising conclusion that the one contender with recent cabinet experience - who on paper should have had plenty of strengths to start with but proportionally less ability to improve - has actually done the most to boost her campaign and her standing over the last month-plus. Having taken awhile to start saying anything of substance in the campaign, Higgins didn't take a back seat to anybody in her policy strength at the Regina leaders' debate in particular.

The Strategy

But where does Higgins go from here? I've noted a couple of possible themes for her campaign going forward. First and foremost, she needs to broaden her support beyond the present caucus and her strong riding - and organized labour presents the most obvious opportunity for her to add followers to help persuade undecided members over the next month and a half.

Then there's her Link-tweaking strategy, which seems like it may have missed the mark in at least one respect. While Higgins may well have hoped to turn the race into a one-on-one confrontation between the two putative frontrunners, Lingenfelter has preferred to avoid any direct confrontation - which makes for a logical response, since it isn't in his interest to accept his weaknesses as the battleground for the contest.

That said, Higgins still figures to be able to get at least some more mileage out of a similar strategy. Even if Lingenfelter doesn't respond directly, Higgins can still see some obvious benefit in raising doubts about him. And she'll surely be happy if she can turn the race into the two-person battle at the top which it once figured to be.

The Result

Despite her slow start to the race, Higgins has a fairly clear potential path to victory. But it depends on her finding the right balance between a couple of conflicting goals.

On the one hand, she needs to dampen Lingenfelter's support enough to make sure that he doesn't win on the first ballot. Which in principle should mean that she'd be relatively happy to see strong showings by the other two candidates in the race, while having little reason to reinforce any of Lingenfelter's messages.

But the ascent of Ryan Meili has raised another problem for Higgins. As a result of the momentum that he was able to build while Higgins's campaign was largely silent, there looks to be a serious possibility that Higgins could finish behind Meili on an early ballot. And that's particularly so if Yens Pedersen gets eliminated on the first ballot and throws his support to the other youth/renewal candidate on the second.

Which means that Higgins needs the help of Meili and Pedersen to hold Lingenfelter short of a majority on the first ballot, while needing to simultaneously ensure that their combined support doesn't exceed her own. As a result, she'll have to guess just right as to how to weigh an experience-based message that might reinforce Lingenfelter's strengths and increase the risk of a first-ballot romp against a renewal-based one that undercuts Link and boosts the younger candidates.

Mind you, if Higgins can thread that needle to get to a final ballot against Lingenfelter, then she probably is the challenger best positioned to sweep the support of the candidates below her.

After all, it's relatively plausible that some Higgins supporters who value her experience and past involvement - or whose primary loyalty is based on their experience with her personally rather than the principles at play in the race - might list Lingenfelter as a second choice. In contrast, there figure to be few if any reasons why a member would support Meili or Pedersen first that would suggest a final-ballot vote for Lingenfelter over Higgins.

So Higgins still has a path to victory from here. But one has to wonder how many regrets there are in her camp about the fact that her initial disadvantages have made the terrain far less certain.

Edit: added label.

Dwain Lingenfelter Candidate Checkpoint: The Collective Memory

With the end of the official candidate debates and (more importantly) the passing of the deadline to sign up new members, the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race now figures to be entering a new phase. But before that starts in earnest, I'll take some time to discuss how the campaign so far has gone for each of the candidates from my standpoint - as well as to toss in some armchair prognostication about how the campaign figures to go from here.

Not surprisingly, we'll start with Dwain Lingenfelter.

The Candidate

Lingenfelter's front-runner status in the race was never an accident, and by most indications he's stayed out in front so far. Having apparently made his decision to enter the race based on the promise of a strong volunteer and fund-raising base, he's put those advantages to good use to stay at or near the head of the pack in virtually every poll, survey or other means of measuring support.

And his time in the private sector doesn't seem to have hurt Lingenfelter's political skills. As Jason noted, Lingenfelter's public speaking has stood out from the pack to go with a thorough command of the underlying policies. And there isn't much doubt that he's kept up his ability to work a room or drive a media narrative.

But there's one additional factor in play that might deserve more attention than it's received. Simply put, it's worth asking why it is that Lingenfelter didn't have to doubt that it would be possible to line up volunteer and fund-raising strength.

The answer may not be obvious to those of us who weren't paying close attention to politics during Lingenfelter's formative political years. But while the younger set within the NDP may tend to see support for Lingenfelter as a matter of bandwagon-jumping or crass calculation, there's no lack of people within the party who built strong loyalties to him personally during the course of the fight against the Devine government. And that factor may go a long way to explaining some of the more curious moves by Link's campaign.

The Strategy

As I've noted, Lingenfelter seems to have largely abandoned his early-campaign effort to play everything to everyone by talking up renewal strategies and youth involvement. Instead, his campaign has focused almost entirely on taking up immediate opposition to the Wall government, and in so doing he's frequently brought up past fights which most would have considered to be behind the province.

But then, the fights surely aren't forgotten by those who participated in them. Which means that there's sure to be some latent willingness to buy into much the same message now. And that figures to be a largely untapped resource, as the circumstances surrounding the last leadership campaign (held while the NDP was in government) didn't much allow for a similar strategy.

If Lingenfelter can tap into the same opposition mindset that built the party to its early-'90s apex - spread by his loyalists through a population that surely hasn't forgotten the era entirely - then he'd naturally serve as the face of the effort. And when one considers that the NDP of that time was five times the size of the party now, that strategy would provide Lingenfelter with an obvious path to take up the mantle of leadership without having to attack his opponents in the process.

The Result

The problem, though, is that such a strategy is fairly limiting for the rest of the campaign. While Lingenfelter can likely move first-ballot support toward himself by accessing fond memories of NDP strength past, it's hard to see how that kind of focus will win him any significant later-ballot support.

Which makes Lingenfelter's campaign into somewhat of an all-or-nothing effort at this point: he'll either manage to draw on enough of the NDP's collective memory to win on the first ballot, or he'll find out too late that there's more of an appetite to work toward the future than there is unmet demand to repeat the past.