Saturday, May 16, 2009

On misplaced criticisms

As I've noted in posts since the release of the Hale report, there are still some issues which can't be considered closed - particularly the question of what Lingenfelter's campaign will or won't do by way of accountability toward the two main figures involved. But the Star Phoenix completely misses the point in its editorial today, choosing instead to focus on utterly nonsensical criticisms of the Hale report:
Mr. Hale refused to name the "local Dwain Lingenfelter Campaign (DLC) volunteer." But given the gravity of the problem confronting the campaign of the front-runner for the party's leadership, it's surprising that Mr. Hale did not pursue with more vigour his attempts to interview the person on whom he entirely pins the blame -- perhaps by personally visiting the north to try to locate him, or at least delegating that task to a constituency official in the Meadow Lake riding.
Because given less than a week to investigate the matter, Hale would apparently have been best served spending the bulk of his time seeking out a refusal to talk at the volunteer's doorstep to match the refusals to talk that Hale received over the phone.
Perhaps it is this former senior NDP official who is solely responsible for obtaining from the band offices the names that were placed on the applications without the knowledge of those individuals, of fabricating their years of birth and signing their names to the forms. Yet, it's difficult to fathom someone with experience within the party and who surely understands its policies and procedures being so "over-exuberant" as to attempt to perpetrate a fraud on such a scale, especially when the harm from the scheme backfiring is so great.
Or in shorter form: one senior official would know better than to come up with the scheme, so we must assume that many officials were involved - and indeed consider the entire party tarnished.

Mind you, there's one portion of the editorial which is slightly less misplaced. But even there, the Star Phoenix goes out of its way to try to invent a larger conspiracy than would make any sense under the circumstances:
Among the most puzzling aspects is something to which Mr. Hale refers but doesn't explore in depth in his report. He notes that "it is of significant concern" that the 1,100 applications, which have since been rejected by the party, all included the local band office as the address.

"The striking concern is that if ballots had arrived at one address and if members were not expecting to receive ballots then there is an opportunity for abuse," he notes.

"We may never know what he intended to do or what would have happened if these ballots had been delivered. But we can say with certainty that by having the ballots delivered to one address and by not informing people that they would be receiving ballots he did increase the opportunity for abuse to an unacceptable level."

It defies logic that one person, however excited he was at the prospect of his candidate winning the party's leadership, would go to the bother of signing up 1,100 people as members of a political party without their knowledge unless there was some plan to actually translate those memberships into votes at the convention.
So, who exactly would have been doing the voting, and could one person arrange for such an undertaking without support from a candidate's organization?
It's true that we don't have much of an answer to the first half of the question - and if the matter does get investigated further, then presumably the intended followup would come into question. But there are plenty of possible answers to the second half of the question which wouldn't involve any coordination with the campaign, requiring at most either an accomplice in a band office or an assumption that the bands would allow the volunteer to distribute the party's voting packages himself. And indeed it's hard to see what a central campaign would actually be able to add to an individual scheme to turn the memberships into votes by phone or by mail.

But then, the Star Phoenix also wilfully misses the most important point: whatever intentions may have been involved in the scheme had were easily thwarted. So while there's still reason for substantial concern about Lingenfelter's efforts to declare the issue closed as a matter of personal responsibility within his campaign, there's absolutely no basis to pretend that the "NDP brand" should be impacted by anything but the party's immediate and proper push for the best possible investigation under the circumstances.

On illogical suggestions

I'm not entirely sure how much bulletin-board material is needed to motivate any of the challengers' campaigns in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race - or how much effect it might have at this point in the contest. But Dwain Lingenfelter's response as to why he wouldn't have been involved in the Meadow Lake membership controversy looks to offer up about as strong a motivator as any challenger's campaign could ask for:
Lingenfelter said he was putting the controversy behind him.

He said it was illogical to suggest his campaign would even try to manipulate the outcome of the leadership vote.

"The point is that our campaign believed at that time we were winning strongly on the first ballot, strongly on the first ballot," Lingenfelter told CBC News. "Why would anyone in their right mind do this to get more votes? We didn't need more votes."
Now, in hindsight it may be that Lingenfelter will prove to have been right. But at the time before the membership deadline, his campaign presumably wouldn't have had any way of knowing exactly how many memberships would have been sold by his competitors. And in a race where the party was (reasonably accurately) estimating that 15,000 members would vote in the leadership race, Lingenfelter's total of 5,000 would seem to have made him anything but a sure thing for a first-ballot win.

Mind you, as I've mentioned before there's probably a strong case to be made that the incremental likelihood of those 1,100 memberships making the difference would have left no reason to limit any scheme to that number. But the more Lingenfelter makes it sound like his campaign simply isn't taking the leadership race seriously (and how else can one characterize a statement that "we didn't need more votes" in a one member, one vote election?), the more NDP members may wonder whether they need to send a message to Lingenfelter that he can't take the party for granted.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Musical interlude

Dirty Vegas - Ghosts

Leadership 2009 - Yens Pedersen Opposition Projection

I noted in my post on Ryan Meili that there's a bit more guesswork involved in projecting the future of the candidates who haven't yet sat on opposition benches in the Legislature. But in Yens Pedersen's case, that may be made up for at least in part by the fact that he's largely built his leadership campaign around an opposition-style strategy. So what can that tell us about the aftermath of a Pedersen victory?

In the party-building department, Pedersen would figure to carry less of a support structure into the LO's office than any of his leadership competitors. While that would present some challenges, it may also raise some opportunities in allowing him to pick and choose the best of what each campaign has had to offer in the leadership race, rather than having a group of loyalists expecting to be rewarded for their efforts in the leadership campaign.

Unfortunately, though, Pedersen's oppositional style has also made him a target for criticism from within the Lingenfelter camp in particular. And with Pedersen apparently not backing down from his view that Lingenfelter should step down from the race even after the flak he's already taken for that position, there would seem to be a significant danger that a number of Lingenfelter's supporters would have trouble working with Pedersen at the end of the campaign.

Which could be particularly problematic since Pedersen might be the lone candidate without an obvious path into the Legislature. One option would be for him to try to claim Saskatoon-Riversdale - but given that Meili was organizing there even before the leadership race, that move could well create even more internal divisions.

More likely Pedersen would seek a seat in Regina. But unless John Nilson agreed to step down in Regina Lakeview, that would involve either convincing a Link supporter to make way for his greatest critic in the campaign, or replacing another young and strong caucus member.

Once he got into the Legislature, though, Pedersen's leadership campaign tactics would seem to have the potential to translate well into opposition.

Lacking the connections to raise many new issues for himself (though he's tried to do that as well), Pedersen has followed a largely reactive approach. But he's done an effective job of inserting himself into the narrative surrounding hot-button issues like nuclear power and the Lingenfelter membership controversy.

It's not hard to see how an opposition leader who responds quickly, forcefully and consistently to the Wall government's failings - rather than sticking mostly to a predetermined strategy ala Higgins, or adopting Lingenfelter's sometimes scattershot approach - could serve the NDP well in turning public opinion against the Sask Party, particularly if a scandal or two turns up over the next couple of years. And the combination of Pedersen's persistence and the full weight of the NDP's research resources might maximize the chances of making any such scandals stick to Wall and his government.

On barriers to growth

Blogging Horse points out one interesting twist in Elizabeth May's latest musings about where she might run next. But the more significant fact about May's new position seems to be less the number of ridings she's targeted in the past than the number (and nature) that she's keeping open for the next election:
Michael Bernard, head of the Green Party's national communications team said Bruce-Grey Owen Sound is among ridings under consideration for a run by May, given the strong showing the Greens received in last fall's vote.

"Owen Sound was our second-highest riding in the 2008 federal election, so certainly it's one of the ridings being looked at," Bernard said.
Bernard said the Green Party is also keeping an eye on two byelections -- after the resignation of MPs in Nova Scotia and B. C. -- and whether May should run as the party's candidate there. Both votes must be held before October, but a general election could precede the two byelections.

Bernard said Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound is among "seven or eight" ridings across Canada that May is considering running in if an election is called this year. Canada has 308 federal ridings.
So what's wrong with May's indecisiveness? Well, it seems fairly safe to figure that the "seven or eight" ridings that she might run in likely reflect the Greens' best perceived chances to win a seat, or at least expand their popular support. And the inclusion of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound on the list would seem to confirm that theory.

But as long as May has declared her interest in those ridings without choosing one, there's a strong disincentive for anybody else to organize their own campaign in any of them - not only because of the possibility that May would decide to parachute her way in regardless of what anybody else does, but because any effective organization on a riding level might only raise the risk that May would see her chances as being improved and select the riding as a result.

Which means that in leaving the door open for herself to pick from the Greens' strongest ridings, May figures to be substantially damaging the likelihood that the Greens will actually build up their strength in any of them. And while that trade-off might make sense for May's own purposes, it's hard to see how the Greens as a whole would stand to benefit from their leader undermining their ability to cultivate their best opportunities.

Leadership 2009 - Ryan Meili Opposition Projection

While the opposition projections for Deb Higgins and Dwain Lingenfelter were assisted by the fact that both have actually spent time on opposition benches before, the task is somewhat tougher when it comes to the other two leadership contestants. That said, there are still some highly distinctive themes to be picked up from how Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen have handled the leadership campaign. So let's look at Meili next.

When it comes to party-building, Meili's success in developing a relatively strong and widespread network over the few months of the leadership campaign would figure to offer a sound model to further build up the NDP over the next two years. And the fact that Meili has stayed positive in his dealings with the other leadership candidates would seemingly raise the likelihood that he'll be able to get the party's current supporters united behind him, rather than having to spend much time nursing wounds from the leadership race.

On the other hand, there could be some question as to whether a primarily volunteer-based model from the leadership race would require significant adaptation when applied to professional staff. And the task of keeping a full party's worth of ego and self-interest reined in toward the greater good may raise challenges which Meili has largely been able to avoid in the leadership race.

As for the task of opposing the Sask Party, Meili's first hurdle would be to find his way into the Legislature - though he wouldn't seem likely to have much trouble winning what otherwise figures to be a tough Saskatoon-Riversdale nomination race with the title of party leader to his name.

From there, while Meili would undoubtedly grow into the role of chief critic of the Sask Party, one would still expect him to keep the NDP's opposition tactics on the civil side. As in the leadership campaign, Meili would figure to focus on policy-based critiques in order to set up a broad clash of visions in 2011, while leaving the personal and political to his partymates to the extent they need to be dealt with.

As a result, Meili's opposition would figure to be the least focused on tearing down Wall personally. But while that likely runs against conventional wisdom, it might well make for the NDP's most viable strategy for 2011, particularly if the province is still on the upswing at that point. If the NDP can spend two years building up Meili's image and turning the next election into a question of whose hope best reflects the values of Saskatchewan's citizens, then it might well be able to win in 2011 despite Wall remaining personally popular and the mood in the province remaining optimistic - rather than counting on a "throw the bums out" attitude developing toward the Sask Party in a relatively short span of time.

Of course, the downside to running on one's own vision in opposition is that it gives the government something more concrete to attack outside its own ranks rather than having to campaign on its own record. Which means that the main question for NDP members in comparing Meili's opposition strategy to that of the other candidates may be whether they think they can sell the positives of the NDP's vision more easily than the negatives of Wall's government.

By way of comparison

After a three-week span where the Lingenfelter membership controversy in the Saskatchewan NDP has been discovered, discussed, investigated and publicly reported on, word leaks out that questions about the legality of membership recruitment tactics have also surfaced in the Ontario PC leadership race. So how much commitment to transparency will one find on the right end of the spectrum?
Provincial party president Ken Zeise, who was copied on Finley's missive, said it's a moot point now since the cutoff to join the PC party to vote in the June 27 leadership contest passed at 10 p.m. yesterday.

"Doug's letter didn't go into much detail and I didn't feel the need to follow up," Zeise said in an interview. "As of Thursday at 10 p.m., who will care?"

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Two farewell hypotheticals

It's a shame that the release of the Hale report ended up coinciding with (and largely overshadowing) the last day in the Legislature for Lorne Calvert. So I'll take a moment to thank Calvert for the time and effort he's put into building his party and his province. But let's put the leadership campaign and the previous party leader in context with some idle musings about what might have been.

How different would the Saskatchewan NDP look now if Calvert hadn't stepped down, but had instead decided to lead the party through the 2011 election? Would the party have had trouble getting members motivated for another run under Calvert - or would a concerted internal renewal process have been easier without a two-year wait for a leadership race to set the party's future direction?

And where would readers rank Calvert if he were on the leadership ballot against the other current contenders?

For the record, I'd think that the leadership race has been a positive process as a whole despite the downsides which may have dominated the news lately - and there should be plenty of time for the NDP to unite behind its new leader going into 2011 and build on the momentum it's picked up over the past few months. But given the chance to include Calvert among the leadership candidates, I'd have no hesitation slotting him at or near the top of my ballot. And while his tenure as premier may not have produced quite the transformative change that some NDPers would have hoped for, whoever succeeds him will have a tough act to follow.

On responsibility

The Hale report on the Dwain Lingenfelter membership controversy has been released. And as I'd figured, the biggest issue now looks to be less the contents of the report than Lingenfelter's response.

I'll start off by noting that the fact that the volunteer involved (named as "Morin" in the Leader-Post's coverage) apparently avoided any contact with Hale shouldn't necessarily be taken as a serious problem in assessing the report. Keep in mind that neither Hale nor the party had any jurisdiction to require Morin to do anything: from that starting point, it's not fair to anybody involved to criticize them for failing to do the impossible by requiring Morin to provide answers involuntarily. And while second-hand information is never ideal, the fact that two individuals have attached their names to those details - and exposed themselves to liability to the extent they're wrong - gives at least some assurances as to what Morin would have said in any event.

From that starting point, it seems fairly clear that the bulk of the responsibility was properly held by Morin. But that raises a serious question as to what the Lingenfelter campaign plans to do about Morin personally.

In that respect, Lingenfelter's response seems to signal that he doesn't intend to do anything more in the wake of the report. But at the very least, it's hard to see how Lingenfelter can avoid making a clear statement that Morin shouldn't have any further role in this campaign or any member recruitment in the future - particularly now that Morin has refused to cooperate with Hale's investigation and tried to pretend that no-consent signups are "acceptable in an aboriginal community" as well as causing the problem in the first place.

Likewise, there looks to be an open question about the various problems laid at the feet of Lingenfelter's campaign manager, Garry Aldridge. Based on the Hale report, Aldridge:
- was responsible for overseeing the membership process generally;
- pre-approved Morin's plan to pay for the memberships "if people could not afford them"; and
- arranged for payment for all of the memberships - in two batches a week apart - without following up as to whether or not any financial need existed.

And while Hale doesn't place any more direct responsibility with Aldridge, it seems to me highly significant that while the NDP's provincial office picked up on the problem immediately, Lingenfelter's campaign didn't apparently notice until it was provided with membership lists after the fact. That would seem to me to fall within Aldridge's oversight responsibilities, and make him directly responsible for the lack of "significant diligence to confirm that the applications are legitimate" which Hale notes should have been expected.

Even allowing for the stress involved in the membership deadline, it's hard to see how that series of problems can be overlooked. Which means that I'd expect to see either some action toward Aldridge personally, or a compelling explanation for failing to provide it. And if Lingenfelter chooses to stick by his declaration that the matter is closed, then NDP members will have to weigh very carefully whether they consider it a matter of appropriate governance for a campaign, a party or a province to let actions like Aldridge's pass without repercussions.

Leadership 2009 - Dwain Lingenfelter Opposition Projection

For Dwain Lingenfelter's opposition projection, there's a little bit less guesswork involved than for the other candidates, as we've already seen some direct evidence as to how he plans to handle the Wall government. But there's still room for some further predictions based on how the leadership campaign has progressed.

On the party-building side, there's little doubt that Lingenfelter's support base would be kept at work trying to expand the NDP's reach. But there are still a couple of question as to what the NDP might look like a couple of years from now.

First off, it's not clear how much of Lingenfelter's early-campaign talk about party renewal will actually be put into practice, particularly when he's largely let it fall by the wayside since the leadership campaign started heating up. So while a Lingenfelter-led NDP would presumably see increased membership and a rebuilt traditional political machine, there's some uncertainty as to whether or not that machine will be modernized for a new era of politics.

Secondly, there's a huge question mark as to whether Lingenfelter will seek to engage party members who have been involved in other leadership camps, or whether he'll exert control over the party by surrounding himself only with leadership supporters. It would seem fairly obvious from my standpoint that the latter option would both reinforce the attacks which Lingenfelter surely knows will come from the Sask Party and constrict the enthusiasm of current NDP supporters to take up his side - but there's reason for concern that the view might look different from the front-runner's seat.

As for Lingenfelter's handling of the Sask Party, we know pretty well already what to expect. Lingenfelter's connections within the province will serve him well in gathering up every potentially embarrassing tidbit on Wall and company, and Lingenfelter himself has shown no hesitation in throwing those concerns at Wall with gusto. Which means that Lingenfelter's time in opposition would figure to involve a constant stream of well-publicized issues, potentially offering the NDP's best chance of putting a dent in Wall's image.

Of course, that strategy does carry some downsides as well. In particular, Lingenfelter has primarily zeroed in on personal and procedural issues which offer a steady diet of questions for easy public presentation, rather than emphasizing broad differences in vision and policy. But that message only figures to go so far if the province is still doing well generally by the time the 2011 election rolls around, as a two-year span doesn't offer a lot of time to build up government fatigue in the absence of any major scandals.

Moreover, even if Lingenfelter succeeds in casting a cloud over the Sask Party, it's not hard to anticipate Wall responding by effectively encouraging a message of "they're all the same" which would favour the incumbents. And the Sask Party doesn't seem to be lacking for enthusiasm of its own in trying to tar Lingenfelter and the NDP with that narrative or worse - which makes sense since it largely reinforces the themes which worked for Wall in 2007.

So while Lingenfelter looks to be fairly well-positioned to hit the ground running and end Wall's extended honeymoon period, it's less clear that he'll be the candidate best positioned to present a strong alternative.

Leadership 2009 - Deb Higgins Opposition Projection

For obvious reasons, most of the discussion about the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race has focused on where the leadership candidates stand at the moment. But it's worth keeping in mind that the goal of the leadership race will ultimately be to elect a leader of the opposition for the next two-plus years, and hopefully (depending on their success in that role) a premier for years to come beginning in 2011. So let's cast an eye to the future and ask what the campaign so far can tell us about how the candidates would perform in those roles - starting with what we might expect from Deb Higgins as the leader of the opposition.

From my standpoint, the LO's role over the next two years will involve three main tasks: rebuilding the NDP internally, developing policy for the 2011 campaign, and opposing the Sask Party publicly. So how might we expect Higgins to handle those tasks?

On party renewal, Higgins (like all of the leadership candidates) has talked up the need for further growth and outreach. But it's worth noting that her actual campaign structure has been relatively top-heavy, with lots of caucus support but few shows of strength at the grassroots level. And her apparent strategy of presenting herself as the default alternative to Dwain Lingenfelter doesn't figure to change that much over the next month - meaning that Higgins may largely have to start from scratch on the party-building front.

On the bright side, Higgins can take pride in her own strong riding as evidence of her ability to maintain support. And one would figure that at least some substantial portion of the grassroots development in the other camps would be perfectly happy to shift allegiances to Higgins.

As for policy development and opposition strategy, we may be able to take some strong hints from how Higgins has designed her leadership platform. While she's shown a broad command of policy when speaking in the debates, her actual proposals on the NDP's core social justice issues have consisted mostly of incremental shifts in existing priorities, suggesting that she wouldn't present a particularly broad or distinctive vision for the NDP. But then, that doesn't seem to have been her intention in designing her platform.

As I've noted before, some of her policy proposals and messages have been neatly tailored to include subtle jabs at both Dwain Lingenfelter and Brad Wall. Which would seem to me to hint at what we could expect from Higgins in shaping the NDP's message as a party: a relatively narrow range of issues to be highlighted, but with those carefully selected to play into a potentially winning theme.

Higgins' success as leader of the opposition would then seem to be predicated on her identifying the right pressure points to begin with - with her proposed ban on out-of-province political funding looking to be an obvious theme with some potential to resonate, along with a strong anti-nuclear position. From there, the main task would be to keep tying other issues into the selected points of attack, and making sure that Wall can't find a way to wriggle his way out of his party's vulnerabilities.

That strategy under Higgins' leadership would figure to carry at least a fairly strong chance of success, particularly since she might also have less of a learning or readjustment curve than any of the other candidates. But it would also risk falling short if Higgins were to misread the strength of either the issues involved or the NDP's ability to push them, or if Wall were to defuse any particularly strong issues at the last minute to minimize the effect of Higgins' work.

In sum, then, Higgins would seem to be ready to start identifying and challenging the Sask Party's weak points from day one. But the question is whether that strategy will be either too limited to turn the tide against a government which is still seen positively a couple of years into its term, or too predictable to win out against a government which doesn't seem shy about going along with the political winds.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On adjustments

Shorter Jim Prentice:

On behalf of a government which has consistently stalled global progress on greenhouse gas emissions by insisting that reductions be required of all countries, I'm outraged that the U.S. would even a consider a policy which might actually lead to that result.

On possible outcomes

Murray Mandryk sets out most of the possible outcomes to the Hale report in his latest column. But he does seem to miss one crucial distinction in assessing the road forward.

As Mandryk describes the options, the first three are effectively the ones which reflect the decisions which the NDP itself will have to make. And on that count, I agree entirely with his conclusion that there's effectively no way for the party to think that anything other than releasing the report will be an acceptable outcome.

But that leaves the question of how Dwain Lingenfelter's campaign will respond once the report is released. And while Mandryk discusses a couple of those options as his fourth and fifth possibilities, he seems to miss the two most obvious possible results.

After all, it's entirely possible for Lingenfelter to respond to any problems by tracing them back to their source and removing those involved from their positions with his campaign. Which would seem far more likely as a way for Lingenfelter to be seen acting on the report than to abandon the race entirely.

Likewise, Lingenfelter could declare that while he'll cooperate with any further investigations, his campaign won't be punishing anybody personally for their actions. I'd classify that as a negative outcome for both the party and for Link's leadership campaign (since it would leave the issue live for the rest of the leadership race and beyond) - but it would be a somewhat defiant response without going to the extremes of attacking the NDP as a whole as Mandryk suggests.

Now, it's possible that Lingenfelter could instead present the more extreme possible response in one direction or the other. But I have a hard time seeing what he'd stand to gain by lobbing grenades in the general direction of his party, which would both crystallize any concerns about him in advance of the leadership vote and make it more difficult for him to lead the party afterward if he did eke out a win. And barring some finding that Lingenfelter was personally involved in the controversy contrary to his later comments, I wouldn't see it as a desirable result for him to drop out either. Which means that while there's naturally not much positive to be taken from the controversy, the results don't need to be as damaging as Mandryk's column might suggest.

On taxing considerations

Among Auditor General Sheila Fraser's latest findings, the fact that some corporations are apparently deliberately overpaying taxes to the Canada Revenue Agency in order to benefit from generous interest rules would seem to be one which cries out for correction. But it's worth pointing out a few other questions about the practice.

After all, if a total of $4 billion is currently held in federal coffers primarily in order to claim interest until the CRA picks up on the mistake, that would seem to cast into doubt whether the federal government's reported corporate tax revenue actually represents the amount which should have been paid. And while the $4 billion might seem like a small drop in the bucket compared to corporate tax revenues generally, it could easily represent the difference between a deficit and a surplus - particularly for the 2008-09 year when the Cons were otherwise hoping to claw their way into the black against all odds.

So is there reason for concern that Canada's fiscal situation is worse than it's been presented due to the CRA's practice?

And on a more flippant note, if the Cons do properly rectify a problem which has apparently existed for nearly two decades, how long will it take for a "grassroots" Canadian Association of Canada Revenue Agency Depositors to spring up to demand a reversal?

Leadership 2009 Linkage

Jason covers the official public launch of Ryan Meili's campaign videos, and features some discussion of the online presence from each candidate. I'll note that while I agree with Jason's take that Meili is well ahead of the pack among the leadership candidates, I'd hope that whoever ends up winning the leadership takes several more steps upon taking the reins - in particular by building online communities with a specific goal of reaching potential supporters in regions where it may be relatively difficult to assemble in-person meetings, and by putting together mechanisms to enable members to participate in traditional party-building activities such as phoning and fund-raising from their own homes.

Meanwhile, LRT has put together a series of SWOT analyses of the candidates which nicely encapsulates some of the strengths and weaknesses of each contender going into the home stretch.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


While we're still waiting on the Hale report on the Dwain Lingenfelter membership controversy, one of the more important questions which remains to be answered regardless of Hale's findings is that of how Lingenfelter will deal with those within his campaign who were directly involved in the incident. And unfortunately, today offers another test of how Lingenfelter will handle problematic actions within his camp, as one of his featured endorsers has delivered by far the ugliest personal attack on any of the candidates from within the NDP.

Not that there's any indication that James Ford actually purported to speak for the Lingenfelter campaign rather than for himself alone. But one would have to figure that at least part of his motivation in coming out with guns blazing toward Yens Pedersen would be to audition for a position as one of Lingenfelter's proteges later on. And while Lingenfelter can't figure to control what Ford says, he does have the ability both to let his supporters know that kind of intra-party attack won't be seen as a positive for their future within the NDP, and to decide whether to keep pointing to Ford as somebody who members should listen to in evaluating the leadership race.

So it'll be very interesting to see whether and how Lingenfelter reacts to Ford's letter. And the answer may say plenty about what the NDP would figure to look like under Lingenfelter's leadership.

h/t to ToonDipper in comments here.


As if the Sask Party's plan for an "equivalency agreement" didn't look bad enough to begin with, the federal Environmental Commissioner's latest report has managed to raise another fairly fundamental question. Namely, how is Saskatchewan supposed to figure out whether its plan is equivalent to outcomes which the Cons aren't even bothering to track?

A shaky cornerstone

It's not at all surprising that the Sask Party's announcement on greenhouse gas emissions consisted of nothing more than the usual filler designed to give the illusion of action while putting off any substantive decisions. But remarkably, this one managed to be even more obviously meaningless than most:
The “cornerstone” of the government’s climate change plan is an “equivalency agreement” with the federal government that will allow the province to keep money collected from the fund in Saskatchewan even if a likely national or international cap-and-trade system is created.

There is no equivalent agreement yet in place, but on Monday, Heppner announced she had signed a deal with Conservative Environment Minister Jim Prentice to negotiate an agreement.

However, such an agreement will not be signed until this coming winter.

Heppner said she hoped to have a deal in place before a potential federal election. If there is a change in government before an agreement is reached, she expressed hope that a future government would also sign on to an equivalency agreement.
Now, it's bad enough that the "cornerstone" of the Sask Party's excuse for a plan involves an agreement to maybe get around to reaching a deal with the federal government later - particularly when Heppner can offer nothing more than hope that anybody other than the Sask Party's federal puppetmasters would even consider coming to the table.

But it's even more bizarre to consider an equivalency agreement to be the cornerstone of an emission reduction plan when it has nothing at all to do with reducing those emissions. In fact, the only apparent effect of an agreement would be to try to guarantee that Saskatchewan doesn't find itself obligated to do more to reduce emissions if a more ambitious plan gets put in place on a national or international level.

Not that it should come as any surprise that the Sask Party's idea of "real action" is a non-binding agreement to work out a way to do as little as possible. But if they really can't even be bothered to pretend their plan is based on something that would actually serve to reduce emissions rather than providing an excuse not to, then it looks all the less likely that their current promise to reduce emissions will prove any more plausible than their last one.

On distasteful samples

It didn't figure to take long for somebody to push the boundaries of insight-free commentary on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. And Les MacPherson looks to have set a new low. Shorter MacPherson:

Oh, how I wish the NDP had some alternative to Dwain Lingenfelter. But since learning the names of the other candidates is hard work, let's declare Lingenfelter the winner and start bashing him in preparation for 2011.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On public goods

While the Sowing the Seeds campaign looks to encourage a broader dialogue about the role of government in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership campaign, Dwain Lingenfelter has unveiled what looks to be one of his more interesting policy planks which may raise many of the same issues.

Not that "restoring the mandate of SaskEnergy" sounds particularly novel on its face - and indeed Lingenfelter seems to go out of his way to tie the measure to past practice as much as to future planning. But the question of how Crown resources can best be used for the public good is undoubtedly an important one:
SaskEnergy doesn’t own any natural gas reserves. It buys all of its supplies on the open market at the going price. The Devine government’s privatization of these natural gas reserves was driven more by right-wing ideology than common sense. They left our province forced to buy back our own natural gas at the going world price in order to supply our homes, businesses, and institutions with the fuel needed for heating, power generation, and industrial processes.

A province with abundant reserves of natural gas should be able to use that natural bounty as a strategic advantage in economic development and to shield its people from frequent spikes in the world market price. We can’t do that in Saskatchewan today, because we no longer own any natural gas reserves.
Each year, a portion of the utility’s budget could be set aside for the purchase of natural gas rights from the Crown, putting this public company on the same footing as any other private sector company when searching for and developing natural gas reserves. If the opportunity presented itself, SaskEnergy could even pursue the purchase of existing reserves on the open market. The public utility could pursue these opportunities on its own or in partnership with other companies. The Wall government and some of its supporters in the media have denounced this concept as “socialism”. I call it competition; something I thought the Wall government and its friends in the large energy companies believed in. Perhaps the Wall government chooses not to believe in competition when it might actually benefit the public?
If the people of Saskatchewan own the natural resource, why can’t the people of Saskatchewan benefit from that ownership with lower prices? If energy pricing will be a significant determinant of future economic growth and prosperity, why can’t the people of Saskatchewan use their ownership of this resource to encourage economic growth and prosperity through lower energy costs?
It's particularly positive to see Lingenfelter taking up a message which I've thought has been woefully underused. While the Sask Party has pretended for years that the public sector should flee from any sector of the economy where it might compete with any private actors, it makes all the sense in the world to recognize that competition between public and private can be an entirely appropriate option in some areas to determine which actually is more efficient. And the fact that Lingenfelter is raising that prospect in the energy sector would seem to open the door to a far more wide-ranging discussion.

Mind you, Lingenfelter himself seems to be hesitant to take that conversation beyond the natural resource sector. But there's no reason why similar principles can't be applied to other areas. And indeed some compelling arguments can probably made that there are even greater competitive opportunities to provide a counterweight in areas where current private-sector practices tend to produce anti-competitive results. (Ryan Meili has already highlighted one of those with his SaskPharm proposal, while my suspicion is that agricultural research may hold equal potential for government investment to both lower costs within the province and create profit opportunities abroad.)

Whatever one's preferred area for public-sector development, though, it's a necessary first step to start breaking the current taboo against any such proposals. And if even the candidate branded as the most business-friendly in the leadership race is willing to speak up for public investment, then the chances of making progress look far better than they would have otherwise.

On regeneration

While the candidates in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race have all presented some significant policy ideas, they're not the only ones who see the contest as an opportunity to debate the direction of social democracy within the province. And Don Kossick writes about what looks to be one of the more intriguing efforts to do just that:
The Sowing the Seeds document begins by clarifying that it does not provide set policy but instead wants to spark a debate and discussion among progressives inside and outside the party about how they would envision a regenerated social democracy: “This short paper is not a manifesto, but a document to start conversations. The issues presented…are framed as questions, not answers. We want the leadership campaign specifically, and the political culture more generally, to be about real ideas, real choices and serious exchanges. If it is not, the outcome of either the leadership campaign or the next election(s) will be less significant than we would hope.”
Sowing the Seeds is based on three core ideas. “First, social democracy matters – indeed we think the future of the planet depends on its succeeding market conservatism as the dominant political philosophy in the coming decades. Second, Saskatchewan is an ideal place for articulating an updated and inspiring concept of social democracy, especially now, in the context of a leadership campaign and in opposition. Third, if we succeed in creating a compelling fusion of philosophy, principles and platform, the NDP could regenerate itself.”

Basic questions on social democratic principles are posed, such as: What is the social democratic expression of a caring and compassionate society, in both economic and social terms? What is the social democratic definition of social justice? What is the balance between equalizing opportunity and equalizing circumstance? How can we reduce social and economic disparities while increasing well-being for all? When should government be the prime agent of intervention, when should it be the institution of last resort, and when should it stand down? In what circumstances and on what basis should it be a legislator, regulator, investor, owner, contractor, deliverer of services, bystander? How does social democracy conceive of the economy, well-being, and measures of human progress?

The paper also includes sections on specific topics such as food and agriculture, energy, justice, liveable cities, health, and education.
Of course, it may not be possible to reach final answers on any or all of the questions raised by the Sowing the Seeds paper over the next month or so. But they would seem to offer an ideal opportunity to focus discussion on the policy side of the leadership race and give candidates a chance to describe their long-term vision for both the province, and the party which plans to govern it.

Never the same the second time around

Michael Ignatieff's latest attempt to distance himself from the idea of a progressive coalition has been met with rightful concern in the Libs' camp and derision from the NDP's. But it's worth asking the question of why Ignatieff would want to bring up the topic again.

It would seem likely that Ignatieff was looking to change the channel from the Cons' nonstop shrieking that he'd raise taxes. But one has to wonder why his first choice of subjects was one which tends to thoroughly enrage plenty of Lib supporters and progressives even as it won him temporary cynical acclaim from most of the corporate media.

After all, most of the voices who supported the decision the first time around because it served to help the Cons have little reason to show any generosity to Ignatieff now. As a result, raising the coalition issue again may serve only to raise the ire of those who have been unhappy with Ignatieff from the start, while doing little to inspire any real defences.

Which is a serious problem for Ignatieff, since that means that his message will stand or fall on its own rather than actually replicating the effect it received the first time. And the more Canadians ask what it actually means when a politician thinks the best thing he can say about himself is that he's kept the keys in the hands of the party which he spends most of his time criticizing, the more Ignatieff figures to regret having made the wrong choice in the first place.

British Columbia Election Links

With this blog's recent focus on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, I haven't written much about the provincial election in British Columbia - which of course features both a furious battle between Carole James' NDP and Gordon Campbell's Libs for provincial power, and a vote on BC-STV which may have widespread implications for electoral reform. But for those looking for must-reads before tomorrow's election, here are a few of the pieces worth keeping in mind before going to the ballot box:

- Andrew Coyne delivers his summation in favour of BC-STV.

- The Tyee has the two must-read articles on the B.C. Rail scandal, including a status report along with its discovery that a related trust fund is breaking the law to avoid reporting investment losses until after the election.

- Alison points out that the Campbell government has not only pushed the Ministry of the Environment to exempt private-sector power producers from environmental laws, but asked that any refusal to do so be escalated to the Minister for easy political reversal.

- One more from the Tyee, this one as to which provincial party has overseen the most economic growth while in office. (Hint: the "bust" part of a right-wing boom and bust pattern tends to do a lot more harm than good.)

- And finally, Peter Kelly calls for progressive voters to back BC-STV and the NDP.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Return on investment

Last month, I was one of many to point out the Tyee's experiment in providing readers with coverage of the areas they wanted to see addressed within the B.C. provincial election campaign. Today, the Tyee follows up with the results - and it's remarkable how much a single independent newspaper was able to uncover in a short period of time. So kudos again to the Tyee and its donors for finding an innovative way to meet some obvious demand for greater attention to issues in the campaign.

But the Tyee's success in breaking multiple stories with an investment of $25,000 for a month raises some other serious questions. To wit, why is it that such significant stories - especially those about ballooning health records costs and a lack of required reporting from a B.C. Rail trust which figures to show a significant loss - managed to slip through the cracks until it was too late for them to be fully canvassed before the election? And if B.C.'s corporate press has been as negligent in documenting the provincial government's activities as appears to be the case, then how much more figures to be lurking just below the surface, presumably to be disclosed at just the right time to make sure that voters can't pass an informed judgment on the Campbell government?

Leadership 2009 Week in Review - May 10

For all the developments in the leadership race in the last week, there's remarkably little change in the newest outcomes chart. That's based largely on the fact that while the week has been an extremely difficult one for Dwain Lingenfelter's campaign, the news this week as to how many memberships his campaign actually sold would have given him a larger lead to begin with if I'd known about it sooner. So in putting together this week's numbers (which are of course based purely on my own personal impressions rather than any scientific process), the damage to Lingenfelter's campaign so far is almost entirely canceled out by the fact that he probably should have been placed further ahead to start with.

That said, there might now be even more of a gap between Lingenfelter's chances of winning on the first ballot and those of his prospect of picking up any meaningful support if more than one vote is required. And this week was the first point where it's seemed remotely plausible that Lingenfelter might manage to get eliminated early in the proceedings - particularly if he holds out against any action when it comes to the campaign volunteers who end up getting pointed out in the Hale report.

Meanwhile, Deb Higgins's campaign had another relatively quiet week. But unlike earlier in the campaign when Higgins' silence seemed to reflect some disorganization, staying mostly below the radar may be an understandable strategy for the apparent second-place candidate when the front-runner's campaign is at a point of potential collapse.

The primary development in the Meili campaign this week was the release of a number of issue-based videos. Along with his restrained take on the Lingenfelter controversy, that strategy is undoubtedly building an impression of Meili as an exceptionally positive and substantive candidate - but it's still an open question whether that message will get to enough members before the deadline to make up for the initial gap in name recognition.

Finally, Yens Pedersen made plenty of waves with his call for Lingenfelter to step down. Those can't hurt from the standpoint of getting his name into the public eye, but would figure to make Pedersen a tougher sell for anybody in any camp who's more focused on party unity than the differences between individual contestants - making it tougher for Pedersen to collect votes on later ballots even as it likely increases his odds of sticking around to see them.

So where do I see that combination of developments leaving the candidates? Here's the chart once more, again with last week's estimates in parentheses:

Candidate 1st Ballot Win Final Ballot Final Ballot Win 4th on 1st Total Win
Dwain Lingenfelter 35 (30) 44 (52) 12 (18) 2 (0) 47 (48)
Deb Higgins 4 (5) 30 (32) 23 (21) 3 (5) 27 (26)
Ryan Meili 3 (3) 33 (34) 21 (20) 8 (10) 24 (23)
Yens Pedersen 0 (0) 9 (6) 2 (3) 45 (47) 2 (3)

On explanations

In an update to this post, I noted that Yens Pedersen's campaign had provided a correction to the timeline which appeared to apply to his call for Dwain Lingenfelter to step down from the leadership race. But I'll take a moment to highlight the update for anybody who missed when it first appeared.

Meanwhile, the Pedersen campaign has also provided an answer on the internal poll numbers which had raised eyebrows a few weeks ago. Yens confirms that the poll cited is the one which followed his automated voice message, and notes that his campaign doesn't take the results to be a statistically representative sample of NDP members.

Now, ideally that kind of disclaimer would be included alongside the poll results so that there wouldn't be any need for a clarification after the fact. But at the very least, it's for the best that there's indeed a reasonable explanation as to how the posted results were reached. And as I'd theorized at the time the poll was released, it sounds like Pedersen can at least accurately claim a fairly strong raw number of respondents stating their intention to support him.