Saturday, June 13, 2009

Up and atom

While the Sask Party's laughably short consultation period in response to its nuclear wish list is coming to a close, there's still plenty of discussion of the issue yet to come. And a couple of recent contributions to the debate are worth highlighting.

First, while I've previously discussed the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce's (thankfully failed) attempt to dominate the public consultation hearings on nuclear development, Joe Kuchta deconstructs the details behind the Chamber's FAQ:
The two “anti-nuclear sources” that McLellan proudly boasts of being included in his organization’s FAQ are buried on page 25 of the 27 page document. All it provides are links to the organizations homepages and not to any specific report. The Chamber leaves it up to the reader to do the research. Nowhere else in the document are the two group’s mentioned. And McLellan has the nerve to call this “balanced”?

The Chamber incredibly ignores the Pembina Institute, a well-respected national not-for-profit organization dedicated to developing innovative sustainable energy solutions. In May 2007, the institute published three documents studying the life cycle of nuclear. These include: Clearing the Air About Nuclear Power, a summary report of the larger Nuclear Power in Canada: An Examination of Risks, Impacts and Sustainability released in December 2006; and the related fact sheets Clearing the Air: Nuclear Power and Climate Change, and, Clearing the Air: Uranium Mining: Nuclear Power’s Dirty Secret. Together, these reports manage to blow apart many of the Saskatchewan Chamber’s arguments for supporting nuclear power.

The Chamber’s credibility implodes completely when it becomes apparent that the majority of the “expert and reputable sources” its information is drawn from have vested interests in expanding the nuclear industry. The suspects include: World Nuclear Association, Canadian Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power Expert Panel, Nuclear Waste Management Organization, Uranium Development Partnership, Bruce Power, and Cameco Corporation.
Meanwhile, Murray Mandryk offers his advice to those concerned about nuclear power, suggesting in particular a focus on SaskPower's interests and on cost rather than environmental considerations and process concerns.

Now, it's difficult to disagree that those figure to be both the strongest points against nuclear power, and the areas where a decision will ultimately be made. And I've criticized the NDP before for focusing unduly on process rather than the actual problems with nuclear power. But I'd argue nonetheless that it's important to keep at least some attention on the additional issues in the meantime as well.

After all, at least some people do figure to be more easily swayed by environmental concerns or the obvious unfairness of a process driven by the corporation which stands to profit at the province's expense if nuclear power becomes a reality - meaning that there's some potential to get more people into the anti-nuclear camp by highlighting those concerns now to present the stronger points later.

And there's also an obvious need to counter the efforts of the pro-nuclear forces who have gone out their way to try to claim the high ground on both issues. In particular, the dubious claim that nuclear energy is somehow "green" might well be a factor which tips the scales in favour of citizens tolerating somewhat higher prices if goes unchallenged - so there's an obvious need to set the record straight now in order to ensure that the cost of nuclear is put in its proper context, even if "swaying like an elm tree" may only be a first step in dealing with that side of the issue.

Construction in progress

Still waiting on the federal stimulus funding, but you'll note that this blog is now undergoing renovations (with the comments section currently blocked off).

For some reading in the meantime, a few links worth visiting if you haven't already:
- Erin's confirmation that the Cons' budget revisions are apparently designed to inflate the federal deficit rather than to accurately describe the federal financial picture; and
- two interesting posts from Devin: one on how some persuasion hints may signal that past efforts to encourage youth voting have gone in the wrong direction, and another on the role of digital activism in building political parties.

Buying in early

I can only assume that Patrick White and Jane Taber's exercise in sycophancy toward Brad Wall - which, among other glaring defects in fact, conveniently edits out the reality that Saskatchewan was fully in the midst of its current boom well before Wall ever formed government - reflects some effort to one-up CanWest's consistently fawning Wall coverage. But there is one fairly telling anecdote:
By Grade 6, Brad's budding political nerdiness was playing out on a board-game battleground. Poleconomy (yes, nothing screams childhood abandon like this wonky fusion of politics and the economy) required players to buy corporations and then take turns as a prime minister whose taxation policies could buoy or sink everyone's investments.
That, presumably, would be this game:
Poleconomy is a successfully marketed boardgame where the dynamic world of politics and business are combined in a novel and exciting game.

Players take on the role of both politician and tycoon, with the sole objective of building a business empire and acheiving (sic) the pinnacle (sic) power as President or Prime Minister.
Players need to form alliances and sometimes break them. They need to mount corporate takeover bids and compete in elections to perpetuate or overturn a government.

This is all to aquire (sic) as much wealth and power as possible within the recommended two hours.
Over 1.5 million games of Poleconomy have been sold, supported by the participation of 260 major corporate sponsers (sic) who have leased advertising space in seperate (sic) national versions in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and the United Kingdom.
And it gets even better at the detailed rules, which while slightly less amateurish than the promotional page feature includes important explanations as to the perceived difference between the game and reality...:
The most important figure in the game is not the Banker but the Prime Minister... economic starting points...
The Banker pays each player $300,000 Starting Capital. plus 4 times his Basic Income... fiscal responsibility...
A player need only pay Tax to the extent he has Cash or Savings Interest Cards available and need not sell Government Bonds, Insurance Policies, Company or Advertising Squares to obtain cash.
...and in separation between government and business:
The Prime Minister is paid by the Bank his Prime Ministerial Salary of $100,000 whenever the "Inflation Marker', on the Inflation Index lands on Government Salary. This is in addition to his Income which he will receive as a player by moving around the board.
(The Prime Minister's) dilemma as a player is how to retain that support while keeping the economy buoyant and the Treasury liquid and all the while trying to win the game privately as a tycoon.
And then there's the Grant Devine rule:
If the Government bankrupt's the Treasury, the game ends in a draw.
Needless to say, these underlying assumptions as to how the political system works may explain plenty about how the Sask Party government plans to manage Saskatchewan's public money. And the corporate sponsors who funded the spread of a business-first-and-only ideology would presumably be happy with the return on their investment from Wall.

But fortunately, unlike in the game, it isn't only corporate tycoons who get a vote come election time. And the more Saskatchewan voters realize that Wall's rules don't take their interests into account, the less likely he'll be to get another turn in charge.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Musical interlude

Kaskade & deadmau5 - Move For Me

Burning question

Is there a less credible source for prognostication than a Con fund-raising letter? (That is, aside from a Con ad in any other medium.)

Deep thought

The Cons' claim that they need to be left in power to dole out stimulus spending would be slightly more plausible if Jim Flaherty wasn't actively looking for excuses to stop providing it.

Leadership 2009 - Dwain Lingenfelter Afterword

It seems like a fairly safe bet that the outcome of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race wasn't exactly what Dwain Lingenfelter hoped for. But he does emerge from the contest with the main prize from the race - along with plenty of potential to harness the positive elements of the other candidates' campaigns to help propel him into the premier's office in 2011. And even if Lingenfelter wasn't otherwise inclined to change course somewhat from the leadership race, the province's political realities figure to leave him little choice.

For all the talk of his being on the right wing of the NDP, Lingenfelter was likely the leadership contestant whose message will be least easily transferred to the province at large. While "we must beat Brad Wall in 2011" makes for an easy enough theme for the NDP to get behind, it figures to run into problems among the general population of a province where Wall still has high approval ratings after nearly two years in office (no matter how much that may be due to a free pass from the media). Which means that Lingenfelter's strategy will have to include some combination of changing his message, or radically shifting the mindset of the province as a whole before the general election rolls around.

Of course, Lingenfelter hasn't hesitated to do what he can on the latter front during the leadership campaign: not only did he direct a couple of direct shots the Sask Party's way during the leadership contest, but even his policy proposals have tended to consist of equal parts positive content and criticism of the Wall government. From that starting point we can presumably count on much more clash with the government to come, particularly once Lingenfelter has the opportunity to lead the NDP's efforts in question period. And there's every reason to think Lingenfelter will more than hold his own in the give-and-take with Wall.

But having left ample room for the party behind him to renew its policy direction, Lingenfelter would seem to have a significant chance as well to assemble a strong case for change in 2011 without creating too much resistance among voters who don't share the NDP's view of Wall personally. And barring any major scandal which makes Wall so toxic that the NDP can win by default, it's the NDP's ability to develop a compelling positive vision which offers a readily-apparent contrast to the Sask Party's direction that figures to be the deciding factor in Link's pursuit of the position of premier.

A case study

Remember that it's because Canada has relied on nuclear reactors for a supply of medical isotopes that the Cons were able to ram through legislation to overrule the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's concerns about the 50-year-old Chalk River reactor back in 2007. And now that the Chalk River reactor has been shut down due to leaks of radioactive water and visible corrosion, there's a movement afoot to fire up two MAPLE reactors to provide a backup supply even though "the reactors did not function as predicted and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation that owns them, could not figure out why".

So the full extent of any current backup plan for aging or malfunctioning nuclear reactors is apparently either to go without whatever they produce, or to run the faulty reactors anyway in hope that nothing goes wrong. Just something to think about next time somebody tries to claim that any combination of regulation or experience in the industry means there's absolutely no reason at all for concern about relying on a nuclear reactor or two as Saskatchewan's main source of power.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The reviews are in

Paul Wells:
Let us strain past the limits of this town’s attention span to recall a few simple things. The reason Stephen Harper was in Cambridge today was to update the country on the status of budget implementation. Excellent idea! Whose was it? Michael Ignatieff’s. The Prime Minister didn’t mention that, and yet it was really not long ago — the end of January — that Ignatieff cooked up this whole “probation” scheme. He’d vote for the budget, but he didn’t have to like it. In return the feds would have to report in March and June and December. There’s even a website. So you know it was a serious deal.

Now here’s the thing about probation. It is a daily state of binary possibility: Pass-fail. If I’m the opposition leader and I have Put The Government On Probation, then every day I do not announce the government’s failure is an endorsement. Tomorrow Michael Ignatieff will find a microphone somewhere and announce, at extravagant length, that he is endorsing the government again. The NDP and Bloc will announce they were ready to vote yet again to bring this government down, but yet again the Liberals have chickened out. It’ll all work out precisely as Ignatieff designed it to.
(T)here’s always a reason not to make a decision. Was it 10 days ago the opposition parties, led by the Liberals, were demanding the finance minister be fired because he’d dug a $50 billion deficit? Stephen Harper ignored them. They did nothing in response. Paper tigers. Now they will wait until the recovery is in full swing and force an election on a good-news budget. That’s how Michael Ignatieff messes with you until he’s done.
About the only problem with Wells' post is that it neglects the fact that there's only one opposition party doing less than it can to hold the Cons to account. But as long as the Libs stick to their Stephane Dion-approved paper tiger strategy, the Cons will continue laughing all the way to the podium to once again sing their own praises at Ignatieff's request.


For all the sound and fury of the Cons' budget update roadshow, the key phrases to take away from their spin are these:
...and projects are selected or funds are flowing for federally owned infrastructure...

Funds are flowing, or have been committed, for 80 per cent of the Action Plan.
Throughout the tables in the report, the Cons draw absolutely no distinction between infrastructure projects and other stimulus measures which have merely been "selected" or announced, and ones for which a single penny has actually flowed so far. Which means that as far as they're concerned, as soon as they've held a first press conference to announce a project, their work is done.

Not that this should come as news. In case anybody's forgotten, the Cons have consistently left a massive gap between the infrastructure funding they've publicly taken credit for and what they've actually delivered.

Which means that they surely had to know that they'd be under scrutiny as to how much of their supposed plan has moved beyond PR to any real action. And in case anybody would still be inclined to give them the undeserved benefit of any doubt, let's ask this: how likely is it that the Cons would have lumped money "committed" to "selected" projects with money actually spent if the news on the latter front reflected well on them?

(In fairness, there are a few details about spending to date in the update on the Cons' $3 billion slush fund. But more money there looks to have been spent on general budget measures than on the fund's supposed purpose of infrastructure - and items like $222 million toward "strengthening Canada's nuclear advantage" can only look like a cruel joke in light of recent events.)

And as an added bonus, the Cons offer "funding to flow" start dates for every item in their report, with exactly zero details as to end dates or progress in between even for categories as broad as "infrastructure stimulus fund".

In sum, then, the Cons' report card is best seen as a poor attempt to avoid actually answering the questions which Canadians should have about how their public funds are (or aren't) being used. Which can hardly offer any reason for confidence that Harper and company should be left in power until it's too late to get any stimulus into the economy before the end of the recession.

Leadership 2009 - Ryan Meili Afterword

I've discussed earlier some of the possibilities for Ryan Meili after his remarkably narrow defeat in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. But the main choice facing him is similar to the one in front of Yens Pedersen - and all indications so far suggest that Meili is headed down exactly the right path out of those options.

To see how that's so, let's look in a bit more depth at the forces at work behind Meili's decision not to run for the NDP's nomination in the impending Saskatoon Riversdale by-election.

For the most part, Dwain Lingenfelter's statement that he'd like to see Meili and Pedersen in the Legislature as soon as possible can and should be seen as a sign of unity coming out of the convention. But there's another possible side to it as well, as it might also hint at a preference to move the two renewal candidates into roles where they'd be subject to caucus discipline and heavier influence from Lingenfelter's loyalists - in effect co-opting them personally as a means of minimizing the effect of their supporters within the party.

And that perception would only have been stronger if Meili had pushed ahead with the Saskatoon Riversdale nomination. With Danielle Chartier having spent a substantial amount of time building a membership base in the riding while Meili was busy with the leadership campaign, Meili would have faced at best an uncertain road to victory based on the amount of support he could muster before the membership deadline.

To have more than a highly uncertain chance of winning, then, he'd have had to lean on Lingenfelter either to implore members to vote for Meili over the candidate who signed them up, or worse to state an intention not to recognize a Chartier victory. Which would have run counter to Meili's commitment to democratic nomination processes and created a huge split between him and at least some of his leadership-contest base.

Instead, Meili has lived up to his message from the leadership campaign, rightly passing on an opportunity to advance his own political career at the expense of the principles which made him such an appealing alternative to Lingenfelter. And that can only reinforce his credibility as a leading voice for progressive New Democrats in the years to come.

And there's no lack of areas where that brand can only be a positive for the Saskatchewan NDP. Within the party, Meili's effective leadership platform and strong reputation for listening to the party's membership make him a natural choice to lead the impending policy review process. And in the department of expanding the NDP's tent, the party will surely want to apply Meili's organizational skills and innovative outreach techniques - particularly to bring in support from the left which will be coming together around issues like the Sask Party's nuclear push.

That may make for a heavy workload over the next couple of years even if Meili doesn't find another by-election to pursue in the meantime. But among the other lessons learned during the course of the leadership campaign, we surely now know better than to underestimate what Meili and his movement can accomplish.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Theatre of the absurd

Sure, the Cons may not have actually accomplished anything useful during their time in office. But one has to give them credit for pushing the boundaries of politics as purely as a matter of stage management rather than actual governance - and it looks like they're setting another new low in that department:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to present a rosy picture of his Conservative government's handling of the recession Thursday in a slick made-for-TV presentation designed to forestall a quick summer election.
The presentation will be moderated by Senator Mike Duffy, a former television journalist, and feature Harper, flanked by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley and Gary Goodyear, the local MP and Minister of State for Science. It will include a staged interview segment between Harper and Duffy.
That's right: a Con hack "moderator" will not only get to conduct something designed to look like a panel discussion rather than the Con infomercial it's sure be in terms of content, but will also get to hearken back to his career in journalism without the work of doing anything but asking exactly the questions which Stephen Harper has had scripted for his own political benefit. And rather than being embarrassed about that fact, the Cons apparently see that format as more deserving of advance press than the content of their report - which can only speak volumes about how little they can even pretend to have accomplished in substance.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

The importance of feigning action

So Jim Prentice, seeing a need to deflect attention from something or other, took the opportunity to declare his dedication to putting a carbon trading system in place:
Environment Minister Jim Prentice unveiled two key draft documents Wednesday related to the offset system at a speech before the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa.

The documents set out the rules and requirements for generating offset credits that represent emissions reductions and guidelines for checks to ensure those reductions are real and quantifiable.
The environment minister opened Wednesday's speech by emphasizing the importance of taking action.

"I don't think that any of us … can afford, for the sake of our children or our grandchildren, not to succeed in the battle against climate change. The consequences are too great and the stakes are too high."
So just how much commitment has Prentice shown to the federal government's role in a carbon market? For the answer, let's take a quick look at the historical record. It was nearly a year ago that former Con Environment Minister John Baird's office released this:
Two other guidance documents will be published later in the summer: the Guide for Project Proponents and the Guide for Verification Bodies.

Each of these documents will first be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I for a 60-day public consultation. It is anticipated that revisions may be made and the final guidance documents published in the fall.
In case there was any doubt, the Guide for Project Proponents and the Guide for Verification Bodies are the two documents which Prentice released today. Which means that after eight months on the job as Environment Minister, Prentice is just now getting around to what Baird was supposedly ready to do in two weeks when the Cons precipitated the 2008 election.

But let's not give Baird too much credit for getting anything of substance done either. After all, the publication of the guides doesn't figure to accomplish much of anything absent some actual emission regulations which would make trading into a viable commercial endeavour. And Prentice is now the third Con Environment Minister in three years to declare that he'll get around to it "next year".

In sum, then, this looks to be an example of a Con minister pointing to his own inability to find his own ass with a map and a flashlight as a diversion from deliberate decisions to use his ministry to benefit the Cons' oil-patch benefactors. But while the Cons may figure they'd rather have Canadians focused on their neglect than on their cronyism, both should serve as ample reason for a change in government.

On potential for change

Stephen Larose offers up his own closing thoughts on the NDP's leadership convention. But while a few of his points are definitely ones to keep in mind, he also looks to go even further than Murray Mandryk this morning in looking for problems where they don't exist - particularly in his description of the result as "the worst of all possible worlds for Dwain Lingenfelter and the party".

So what reasoning does Larose offer up for that claim? Let's take a look:
Firstly, imagine what would have happened if Link’s ‘Waterhengate’ had gone undetected? Well, Link would have had a first round victory by a substantial margin … instead, he goes to a second ballot and has to face the fact that a good chunk of his party will demand to have their voices heard, especially on nuclear energy. Lingenfelter is not going to go in as the Master of His Domain: he’s got to compromise, schmooze, and massage some wounded egos. He’s not good at that. Never has been. It never was in his job description: it never was what he was hired for.
Now, it's probably true that Lingenfelter personally would have seen his position as stronger if he could more plausibly claim not to have to listen to anybody else within the party. But it's hard to see how that would be a better end result for anybody involved in the longer term: the party aside from Lingenfelter would obviously have been worse off in both the short and long term for being given no say in the NDP's direction, while Lingenfelter himself is probably best off dealing with any weaknesses in accomodating party members now rather than discovering only in 2011 that the base wasn't behind him.
Secondly, I’m more than a bit surprised about Higgins’ poor showing. I thought the coalition that elected Lorne Calvert would have done better. This, frankly, shouldn’t bode well for the NDP establishment.
Of course, the problem with this paragraph is that it neglects the fact that the "establishment" under Calvert was split between three different camps - including the winning one as well as that of the near-miss runner-up.

Mind you, as I've mentioned before I was surprised that Higgins didn't do more to position herself as the Calvert candidate. But given that she chose not to, it makes no sense to equate her leadership result with the strength of the party's recent governing structure.
And lastly, there’s some serious problems for the NDP in its ability to recruit members and attract new ones (membership – especially membership sales – is critical to the NDP because its volunteer base, theoretically, offsets the deeper financial pockets of the Sask. Party’s corporate backers). The NDP had about 18,000 members voting at the 2001 convention which brought Lorne Calvert to the premiers’ chair (Wikipedia): just over 9,000 voted on June 6, with another 3,600 members sitting this one out (Murray Mandryk, one of the few reasons to buy the Leader-Post).

So either there’s a number of NDP members who feel alienated from the leadership process of their own party … or there’s a couple more Waterhengate-style membership sale fiascoes the party doesn’t want to talk about.
Leaving aside the last evidence-free assertion, it's undoubtedly true that the relatively low number of votes from an already modest total membership hints at some issues in member involvement which the NDP will need to deal with. And presumably that will be one of the first tasks which Lingenfelter looks to undertake.

But if revitalizing the party is indeed the next priority for the NDP, surely that's going to be far more likely to happen in a party which gives its members a meaningful role in shaping its future direction. Which brings us to Larose's finale:
All in all, the NDP has a lot of work to do in order to convince Saskatchewanians that they’re ready for governing this province. A lot of people within the NDP think that getting re-elected is merely a matter of marching. I don’t think they really understand how the psychology of this province has changed: and they’re unable or unwilling to contemplate the changes that they need to make in order to take on Brad Wall in a meaningful way.
Which is precisely why a Lingenfelter romp would have been likely to lead toward disaster, since that's the result which might have allowed Link to rest on his laurels and figure nothing about his leadership strategy needed to change.

But after narrowly hanging on to win a race which once seemed to be no contest, there's every reason for Lingenfelter to keep an open mind about every available opportunity to bolster the NDP from within and pick up some new ideas from his younger opponents. And while it remains to be seen how far the party will get in that process over the next couple of years, it's surely likely to get further based on the role played by new political tactics in the leadership campaign.

On non-stories

It's a plus that Murray Mandryk has realized that the Sask Party's facade is far different than what lurks below the surface. But it would be even better if he didn't feel the need to toss in several paragraphs of unfounded concern trolling about the NDP in doing so:
Lingenfelter announces Monday that he will be running in the Regina Douglas Park seat that is being vacated by 23-year MLA Harry Van Mulligen -- what should be a good-news announcement for the NDP. However, with Van Mulligen winning 52 per cent of the popular vote in that riding in 2007, any Saskatchewan Party candidate coming within 20 percentage points (its Douglas Park candidate received only 30.9 per cent in 2007) wins a moral victory.
Now, it's probably fairest to say that Van Mulligen's announcement was less a good-news announcement than an entirely expected one from the NDP's standpoint. But it's downright remarkable that Mandryk manages to both present a misleading analysis about what would be a "moral victory" for the Sask Party (since by-elections figure generally to result in a closer race with all parties able to focus all their attention on one or two ridings) - and then assume that outcome in advance in order to claim bad news for the NDP.

But wait, there's more:
Tuesday's news that NDP leadership runner-up Ryan Meili won't be seeking Lorne Calvert's Saskatoon Riversdale seat means that Meili and Lingenfelter won't be sitting together in a unified Opposition caucus, allowing the Sask. Party to hammer away at the perceived split in NDP ranks for a while yet.
Of course, it's almost certainly true that the Sask Party will look to "hammer away at (a) perceived split" regardless of what happens in reality. But there's no apparent reason why Meili's decision to work outside the Legislature would offer any actual evidence of a split. And indeed, Meili's decision not to run in Riversdale is best taken as evidence that he wants to keep the NDP's members working in the same direction for now rather than facing a potentially divisive decision in the riding.

(As a bonus, let's offer up a counterfactual: if Meili had declared his intention to run for the Riversdale nomination, how long would it have taken Mandryk and others to point out his competition with a strong female candidate as an indication of fissure within the NDP? Yeah, I thought so.)

Finally, there's this:
But perhaps more importantly, this signifies a strategic change for the NDP.

For most of the past four decades, the NDP's two safest seats (Riversdale and what's now Regina Elphinstone-Centre) were occupied by the NDP's leader or deputy leader. With all due respect to current Regina Elphinstone-Centre MLA Warren McCall and political novice Danielle Chartier (who likely will be the NDP candidate in Riversdale), we are no longer seeing NDP heavyweights in these rock-solid seats. In fact, many of the party's safer Regina and Saskatoon seats are occupied by MLAs who aren't exactly heavy contributors.
Now, it's worth noting that Mandryk's premise looks to be faulty in the first place. McCall can already claim the contribution of a major report as well as significant cabinet experience well before the age of 40, and given Chartier's strong bio and organization to date there's every reason to think she'll join any list of "heavyweights" in a hurry.

But even taking the premise to be true, is it really such a plus for Wall if Meili runs in a riding which the Sask Party might otherwise have some hope of winning - or better yet, uses his developing public profile to flip a riding currently held by the Sask Party?

If anything, one essential element of any 2011 victory for the NDP would seem to be attracting the strongest possible candidates in the closer ridings which will determine which party holds power. And while Meili may yet find a safe riding in which to run, I'd have to think any Sask Party MLAs or candidates who might have to face off against him in a riding with more potential impact on an election outcome would have to be less comfortable than if Meili and his enthusiastic base of support were safely ensconced in Riversdale.

Of course, it may be that a few speculative or ill-advised shots at the NDP are a minimum requirement for any CanWest column which dares to point out internal problems in the Sask Party ranging from "explosive frustration" to potential retirements or defections. But if the non-issues raised by Mandryk are the worst dangers the NDP faces, then Wall may really have reason to worry in 2011.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

How times change

Stephen Harper today:
This government has been working since November 2007 to address the delicate situation we have in isotope supply,” he said. “No one has been more prominent in those efforts than the Minister of Natural Resources and her officials who are working around the clock and around the world to address this problem.
The actual Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn, explaining why he and his office didn't take any action until December 2007:
On the following Monday, December 3, my office was briefed on the licensing and its potential implications for the health and safety of Canadians. It was at this point I was informed.
It's just a shame that the Cons have used their time-travelling ability for such mundane tasks as working on problems before they were informed of them, rather than actually using the added time to get anything done about the crisis which promises to endanger patients in Canada and elsewhere for plenty of time to come.

Leadership 2009 - Yens Pedersen Afterword

There's plenty of reason for optimism about Yens Pedersen's future in the Saskatchewan NDP in the wake of this weekend's convention. It was enough of a plus that he exceeded expectations both in his convention speech and first-ballot results - but the fact that Dwain Lingenfelter has stated his intention to work toward getting Pedersen into the legislature should suggest that the rifts that sometimes appeared between the Pedersen and Lingenfelter's supporters during the leadership campaign are a thing of the past.

That said, while there looks to be no question that Pedersen has a bright future in the party, there are a couple of different directions that future could take.

The path of least resistance for Pedersen would likely be to leave the leadership race behind and effectively start from scratch in working his way up through the NDP's ranks. That would presumably see him look to blend into caucus to start with while learning under Lingenfelter and his more experienced team, with every reason to expect that Pedersen would have a seat at the cabinet table once the NDP comes back to power.

That said, the more interesting possibilities would involve Pedersen looking to maintain one or both of the two main messages he's sent during the leadership campaign in addition to planning for a seat in the relatively near future. The less controversial of those possibilities would be for him to look to put his "democratic socialist" stamp on the upcoming policy renewal process - which might do less to brand him personally for the long term, but could conceivably have the most impact on the NDP's direction over the next few years.

Even more intriguing, though, is the prospect that Pedersen might look to transform his most visible public persona from the campaign into a long-term position in the province's political scene. As matters stand now, Pedersen has won accolades from inside and outside the party for his own commitment to character and ethics in politics as well as in his career in law. From there, it would seem a natural progression for Pedersen to build on that reputation in the years to come as an outspoken advocate for transparency and accountability on all sides.

Of course, that might occasionally put Pedersen at odds with NDP supporters when figures within the party fall short of the standards he's set so far. And indeed to the extent Lingenfelter might plan to apply a "never explain, never complain" strategy, he'd likely want to avoid having anybody playing a similar role to the one which Pedersen occupied during the leadership race.

But I'd think there's a strong case to be made that the NDP would be better off on a couple of fronts if Lingenfelter offers Pedersen some leeway to carry on as a voice of critical analysis from within the party. For those within the NDP, it would send a strong message that the party plans to hold itself to high ethical standards - which can only figure to raise the bar for the party's own actions. And in dealing with the broader political scene including opponents and the media, the credibility that Pedersen could build up as an voice for ethical politics where his own party is concerned would make his critiques of any failings by the Sask Party resonate far more than would be the case for any politician who's seen to operate solely on a partisan basis.

Of course, it remains to be seen both whether Pedersen wants that type of responsibility in the longer term, and whether Lingenfelter would be less forgiving of disagreement now that he's the party leader. But nobody is better positioned than Pedersen to serve as the conscience of Saskatchewan politics for years to come - and both the NDP and Pedersen would figure to benefit significantly from the work which he could do in that role.

A well-deserved win

Congratulations both to Darrell Dexter's Nova Scotia NDP for their majority election win, and to Nova Scotia's voters for making it happen. And if anybody was waiting to see just how festive the NDP's federal convention would likely be this summer, there shouldn't be much doubt now that the party will have ample reason to celebrate.

On deferral

Ryan Meili has announced that he won't run for the NDP's nomination in Saskatoon Riversdale, citing the announced candidacy of Danielle Chartier as the main reason.

Now, it'll be a bit disappointing for Meili not to be pursuing a seat until a future by-election or even the 2011 general election. And there's always some concern when nominations are seen as being claimed rather than contested - no matter how strong the candidate may be, and there appears to be plenty to like about Chartier.

But on the balance Meili likely made the right call: it ensures that Meili's positive perception coming out of the leadership race won't be stopped in its tracks by a nomination battle, avoids any rift with Chartier's already-established base of support, and allows him to keep his focus on building the movement which coalesced behind him during the leadership race. And hopefully it don't be long before Meili finds himself in the Legislature representing another riding.

Update: See the official release here, with a heavy focus on Meili's plan to be at the centre of the NDP's policy review process.

On positioning

I've mentioned a few times that I'd expect Dwain Lingenfelter to come around to the idea of joining with the bulk of the Saskatchewan NDP in opposing nuclear power as a matter of political calculation even if he doesn't change his mind personally. And the Star Phoenix' utterly misguided editorial along with Les MacPherson's love letter to Brad Wall look to offer an ideal starting point to expand on that view.

About the one relevant point which MacPherson actually makes is that sitting on the fence when it comes to nuclear power doesn't figure to be a viable strategy:
New Democrats are further divided over nuclear development. Lingenfelter has said he is for it, his party, against it. Successive NDP leaders managed to tiptoe around this contradiction, but tiptoeing won't be as easy when it comes to taking sides on nuclear power generation, as it seems we must, and probably sooner rather than later.
So given that the issue isn't going away, what are the NDP's options? The Star Phoenix looks to present a false choice between being in tune with the province generally or some marginalized (even if "not-uncommon") view that we should focus on alternatives to nuclear power. But let's consider what happens if Lingenfelter buys that argument.

At this point, there isn't much room for doubt that Wall and company are looking to make nuclear power the big issue going into the 2011 election. And they'll have even less reason to change course if the NDP doesn't launch a full-on counter to the Sask Party's direction.

After all, if the main opposition party's response on the issue which dominates political coverage over the next two years is "we'd do the same through a slightly different process", that answer figures to convince exactly zero nuclear supporters to actually join the NDP (since the Sask Party would already be offering exactly what they want) while undermining the party's own base support. Which sounds to me like a recipe to hand Wall an increased majority.

On the other hand, by navigating away from support for nuclear power and toward alternatives, the NDP can turn the tables on Wall, creating some real wedges which make life difficult for the Sask Party. With Link already planning to repeat his journey to every riding in the province on an yearly basis, wouldn't it make an ideal point of contrast for him to be able to bring along an outline of a renewable energy project which the NDP would support in each one, forcing Sask Party MLAs to defend centralizing power production elsewhere rather than bringing development to their own ridings?

And based on the turnout at the public consultation meetings so far, there can't be much doubt that there are thousands of citizens fired up to turn the tide of public opinion which has thus far been shaped largely by the pro-nuke tag-team of the Wall government and Bruce Power. Which means that the current polls likely don't reflect what the public balance would be if the NDP actually takes a stand against nuclear power.

Simply put, there aren't a lot of issues where the NDP can create enough of a contrast to bring down a government which has mostly sailed through nearly two years - and Lingenfelter's focus on crown corporations almost certainly won't fit the bill unless Wall is crazy enough to outright sell off one or two before the election. But the nuclear question is the lone obvious one which inspires enough passion to potentially create an anti-Wall groundswell. And even allowing for the fact that Lingenfelter personally might be sympathetic to the Sask Party's stance, it's beyond me how a party focused on the best chance of winning in 2011 could voluntarily take a pass on the issue.

Fair and balanced

Shorter Les MacPherson:

In my completely neutral, unbiased opinion, the greatest premier EVAR!!! Brad Wall who's absolutely wonderful (and dreamy!!! and will probably be Prime Minister, and then global overlord, and then I forget what ranks above that) will likely win the next provincial election against big meanie Dwain Lingenfelter and the NDP, who I hate.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Maintaining the momentum

Most of the public speculation about Ryan Meili's plans in the wake of the NDP leadership race has focused on the prospect of his running in Saskatoon Riversdale. And we'll find out tomorrow whether that will happen. But it's worth noting that there's little indication that either Meili or his supporters will be focusing their efforts solely on winning him a seat in the Legislature.

Instead, Meili looks to be ideally positioned to play a key role in the NDP's policy renewal process - which needless to say is an area where he's already shown he can be effective. And in what may be even better news in the longer term, there are some rumblings that the principal players in the Meili campaign are looking to turn the base developed during the course of the leadership campaign into a permanent group which could serve as a focal point for progressive policy development and activism in Saskatchewan.

Of course, there's a long way to go in turning a one-time campaign into a fixture in Saskatchewan politics. But it's not hard to see how the combination of enthusiasm and effective organization shown by the Meili campaign could offer an ideal foundation on which to build - and both the NDP and the province could be far better off in the long run for the effort.

Leadership 2009 - Deb Higgins Afterword

Let's run through the leadership candidates one more time at the end of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race to look at how (if at all) their position in the party looks to have changed coming out of this weekend's convention and what figures to come next - starting from the bottom of the vote standings and working our way up.

In some ways, the leadership race will likely be seen as somewhat of a disappointment for Deb Higgins, as she went from a strong second in name recognition to fourth in the leadership results. But it's worth putting those results in context compared to the last leadership race.

In 2001, Joanne Crofford and Buckley Belanger both ran as experienced cabinet members who likely figured that their prominent positions within the party would bring in a decent number of votes. But in a race with over twice as many ballots cast, the two barely won more first-ballot votes than Higgins alone managed this past weekend. And in percentage terms, Higgins' 14% first-ballot support was just below the 14.5% first-ballot vote of Crofford, Belanger and fellow cabinet minister Maynard Sonntag combined.

Of course, this year's race featured different dynamics - which resulted in Higgins dropping off after the first ballot, rather than getting to try to pick up support for another round (or two as Sonntag could have done if he hadn't chosen to withdraw). But while Higgins and her supporters may have hoped for more, she can certainly take credit for a respectable result in the vote totals to go with a solid performance as a candidate.

The question for Higgins is now whether the campaign will have much impact on her place within the party. If the Lingenfelter camp wants to hold grudges, it can certainly find some of Higgins' comments to hold against her - but for now I'll operate under the assumption that they're not about to go in that direction. Conversely, while somebody looking for reasons to promote Higgins within the party could probably find them in the leadership race (such as the fact that she managed to take what was already a well-developed constituency and earn the "most improved" title at the convention), she doesn't seem to have carried much public momentum out of the campaign.

Which means that Higgins will likely finish the leadership campaign exactly where she started it: as a well-respected MLA who figures to hold down a mid-ranking cabinet position in any NDP government she sits in, but likely won't be one of the main faces of the party. And while that may fall well short of her supporters' hope to make her the first female NDP leader and Saskatchewan premier, hopefully her work will help to ease the way for the woman who eventually blazes that trail.

On breaking news

So far on the Saskatchewan NDP front there's been one entirely expected development, as Harry Van Mulligen will step aside to allow Dwain Lingenfelter to run in Regina-Douglas Park. And there's been one deferred, as Ryan Meili has announced that he'll make his plans known tomorrow morning.

But there's also one piece of news which comes out of the blue somewhat, as the RCMP has announced that it's carrying out a "preliminary investigation" into the Lingenfelter membership controversy based on a verbal complaint without supporting documentation.

Mind you, the process makes some sense based on the previous impasse between the NDP offering to cooperate if asked and the RCMP declaring it didn't see itself as able to do so. But it's somewhat odd to see the RCMP now allowing for a different path toward a full investigation which seems to contradict its earlier position that it would "need supporting evidence in a complaint".

And in case the RCMP's position wasn't confusing enough, there's also this from CanWest's coverage:
“We interpreted this matter to be independent from the recent NDP leadership convention. It’s our opinion it had no bearing or association with the election or the election results,” said (RCMP Inspector Stewart) Kingdon.
Of course, it's presumably true that the results of any investigation would be unlikely to have any impact on the leadership race when the memberships in question were pulled by the party. But particularly given the RCMP's reluctance to say much of anything about the merits of the complaint at an early stage of the investigation, it's worth wondering why the RCMP would see either a need or a sufficient evidentiary basis to comment on the leadership election results.

On policy development

As Murray Mandryk notes, it doesn't appear that Dwain Lingenfelter's comments on how the Saskatchewan NDP will end up handling the nuclear issue are quite as problematic as they appeared at first. But while Lingenfelter's answer appears to have instead pointed to the party's policy development process rather than claiming that his view as leader would be the final word going forward, the same issue figures to resurface before long.

Here's the initial CP quote that gave rise to the issue:
Dwain Lingenfelter, who won the leadership Saturday, says every NDP leader in the province has supported the development of Saskatchewan's uranium industry in some way. Lingenfelter says most recently there was support to study the idea of building a nuclear reactor. He says he too supports that idea, but also believes the party must review its energy policy and consider alternatives.

The comments come after party members passed a resolution stating that an NDP government would not pursue the building of a nuclear reactor, but would look at other energy sources.

Lingenfelter has noted that a couple of hundred people supported the resolution at a convention in Regina, but not all of the party's 13,000 members were in attendance.
From that passage, the first impression would seem to be that Lingenfelter had effectively made a decision for himself as to what the party's policy would be. But as Mandryk and others have noted, it appears that Lingenfelter's response made specific reference to the NDP's policy renewal process - which will of course culminate in a policy convention where NDP members will receive exactly the same opportunity to vote on policy which they enjoyed this weekend.

Mind you, that doesn't mean that the issue will go away entirely. After all, the policy convention too figures to be attended by only a portion of the NDP's members - so to the extent that Lingenfelter actually questions whether a "couple of hundred people" should have the ability to express the will of the party through a duly constituted convention, that could lead to more direct conflict if the NDP membership holds to its current position at the policy convention. And there's some question as to whether Lingenfelter's view of grassroots involvement - which included explicit approval of members' ability to be heard individually during the policy renewal process, but no direct mention of respecting the will of the NDP's members - might be intended to give him the last word regardless of how much of the party disagrees.

But there's a difference between the existence of some significant questions yet to be answered, and the apparent concern that Lingenfelter had already answered them in the wrong direction. And for now, the jury is still out on Lingenfelter's willingness to listen to his party.

On machinery

There's apparently plenty happening on the Saskatchewan NDP front today, with the Star Phoenix reporting that Dwain Lingenfelter will both announce an intention to run for a Regina seat and make organizational changes to the party while Ryan Meili likely announces his candidacy for the nomination in Saskatoon Riversdale. And I'll have more to say about those developments as they happen. But I'll take a moment to note one positive theme from yesterday which hasn't yet received public comment that I've seen.

One of the more interesting moments of the executive elections came when Wilson Olive - a longtime party stalwart and Lingenfelter supporter - was introduced by Noah Evanchuk (a key figure within the Meili campaign). And Olive followed that move toward unity by discussing a focus on developing NDP talent at all levels of political organization, including school boards, municipal councils and the like.

For long-time readers of this blog, it should come as no surprise that I see it as a huge plus to hear that message coming from within a party which has too often hesitated to make a concerted effort to develop its members and spread its values on other levels. And Olive's commitment was only reinforced in Lingenfelter's Sunday speech, where he told Jack Layton that the party would plan to deliver at least two federal seats in the next general election as well.

Of course, there's still a need to recognize that the purposes of a political party go far beyond merely acting as an election machine. But that machinery is also a necessary part of political success - and it's for the best that Lingenfelter and his team plan to work on its development at all levels rather than keeping a narrow focus on the provincial scene.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

On wrong turns

For the past couple of months, my discussion of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race has featured charts with my guesses as to the outcome - the last of which can be found here. In the absence of detailed polling data or other information providing a direct indication of voter intention, I've tried my best to make predictions based on the factors that seemed to me to be at play. But in retrospect, there are a couple of areas where my assumptions were apparently off the mark - and I'll take a few minutes to point those out.

The first and most obvious is my relative treatment of the candidacies of Yens Pedersen and Deb Higgins. In Pedersen's case, I underestimated the strength of his campaign, focusing too much his comparative lack of public endorsements when there were probably signs of solid organization that could have been given more weight, particularly the logic underlying his phone poll process.

In Higgins' case, I likely did just the opposite, overemphasizing her positive moments due to her endorsement base and giving plenty of weight to media narratives which in retrospect were likely based more on her name recognition than on anything happening during the course of the campaign. And the result was my regular ranking of Pedersen as far more likely to finish last than Higgins (contrary to the final results this weekend). So my apologies to Yens for missing the relative strength of his campaign - and hopefully he can take some small moral victory in having proven one self-appointed pundit wrong.

The second broad area has to do with the relative likelihood of a first-ballot win for Dwain Lingenfelter and his prospects for victory later on. In retrospect my analysis wasn't far from the mark in placing the two most likely results as a Lingenfelter first-ballot victory or a final-ballot showdown again Meili, with little to choose between the relative likelihood of the two. But I likely didn't account enough for the chances that a Lingenfelter first-ballot lead would get him within a small number of votes of the 50% mark such as to make a later-ballot win difficult for his competitors as proved to be the case.

I'll leave the personal navel-gazing at that for now, and hopefully learn a few lessons to be applied to future analysis. But thanks to all who have taken the time to read my off-the-cuff predictions - and I'll try to be closer to the mark next time.

Sunday convention notes

While the most talked-about events from the Saskatchewan NDP convention may have been over with, there were a few points worth mentioning in today's proceedings.

First off, the party's executive elections featured only one contested vote, that for the at-large vice-president positions. And the results there were rather disappointing: with six candidates for five seats, the lone one eliminated was Mitchell Anderson, a young delegate from Saskatoon Nutana who had been an active and well-spoken participant in Friday's policy panel. While there were plenty of pluses about the candidates elected, it would have seemed a more positive step for the party to have voted Anderson a seat at the table (alongside the SYND's nominee) rather than passing him over in favour of a decidedly old-guard set of nominees.

Second, Don Mitchell offered the one intervention in the morning plenary which hints at some discontent with Dwain Lingenfelter's leadership so far. Mitchell raised a point of order about Lingenfelter's comments to the effect that the convention's nuclear resolution wouldn't necessarily affect how he handled the issue as leader - making for a good point in substance, if not one that was likely to go anywhere as a matter of procedure.

Finally, it might not come as much surprise that Lingenfelter's speech today kept up a his election-focused message rather than spending much time on longer-term renewal. But it's particularly noteworthy that Lingenfelter actually broke out of the usual set of political cliches in order to do so.

Commenting on the analogy of the leadership race being a marathon rather than a sprint, Lingenfelter told the crowd that the real marathon is one with a finish line in 2011 - a take which would seem to make for a fairly significant break from the usual line that a party's work really only begins when it wins power. That said, it may not make entirely for bad news for those of us who hold a longer-term focus; instead, it might suggest that there's a great opportunity to develop the policy agenda that accompanies Lingenfelter's drive for power.


There's plenty about this weekend's leadership race that deserves some comment in the days to come. But for now, I'll note one remarkable number as to how the votes were cast:
The vast majority of votes - 8,793 out of 9,444 - had been cast in advance using preferential ballots.
I'd noted last week that even the numbers released at that time - with over half of all eligible voters casting ballots ahead of time - could change the dynamics of the race. But in retrospect, that number far understated the relative importance of advance balloting and convention momentum in determining the final outcome.

With that in mind, it's worth wondering how the possibility of the result being effectively locked in before a convention will affect future leadership races. Will campaigns spend more time focusing on less committed supporters (or even identified non-supporters) to leave their possibilities open in case of a close race like the one yesterday? And will the principle of "vote in advance so you're able to work the convention floor" become less of a priority if campaigns conclude their time is better spent locking in outside support in advance?

Of course, we're at least a few years away from finding out. And it could be that this weekend was an anomalous result rather than an indication of how all future leadership races will run. But it seems entirely possible that yesterday's results will lead to a radical shift in focus away from the convention itself and toward the advance voting period.