Saturday, August 29, 2009

On pledges

Jeff and James provide some excellent thoughts on what Stephen Harper would be doing if he really cared about reforming the Senate. But let's toss one more possibility into the mix.

Most of Harper's current criticism of the Senate consists of complaining about its impact on the speedy/immediate/retroactive passage of legislation which has emerged from a democratically-elected House of Commons. Which seems to me to be an entirely misplaced criticism which I'll address in more detail in a future post.

But if that rather than naked partisanship were his main concern, then why doesn't the set of pledges he's extracted from his new nominees include a commitment not to stand in the way of legislation which passes the House in the future, regardless of which parties supported it along the way?

Deep thought

If Stephen Harper is indeed more concerned with "God's verdict" than what mere humans think, he owes Canada an awfully thorough explanation of what he thinks God wants him to do.

Update: Particularly since, as Greg points out, his treatment of the "least" in his eyes wouldn't seem likely to stand him in good stead under the teachings he apparently follows.

On immediate impacts

There's plenty of speculation flying around as to the possible impact of Gary Doer's appointment as U.S. ambassador. But surprisingly, none of it seems to focus on the area which holds the most potential for Doer to either achieve something of importance despite the weaknesses of the government which appointed him, or permanently tarnish his image.

At the moment, much of Doer's reputation - both in terms of his policies as premier, and his connections built within the U.S. - is based on his having been one of the driving forces for progress in fighting climate change. And in particular, his work with the Western Climate Initiative has helped to set up the most promising means of getting around what was then complete recalcitrance at the federal level on both sides of the border.

Now, the playing field has changed: the U.S. administration looks to be trying to take a lead role on the issue, leaving Stephen Harper's government as the most determined to halt any international progress. And with the Copenhagen conference set to take place this fall, Doer's first couple of months on the job would seem to have potential to either create a path toward a deal, or undermine any hope of getting one signed.

How might Doer make a difference for the better? We know all too well that Harper is seldom one to listen to anybody who might challenge his orders. But there will be an obvious need for Doer to be in regular contact with Harper and his office in managing Canada's most important international relationship.

Which should create a significant opportunity: to the extent both the Obama administration and Doer himself see action on climate change as an integral part of the economic relationship between the two countries and make that message clear to Harper, it'll be awfully difficult for the Cons to justify their usual vocal opposition to a global deal which has U.S. backing. So Doer's appointment could lead to a joint effort by Canada and the U.S. to push toward agreement in Copenhagen rather than being the two main holdouts against international consensus.

In the long run, that would seem to make for the best outcome for everybody involved. And even Harper would seem to stand to benefit from being seen as willing to work toward international solutions rather than being just as petulant in the world as he is at home.

But then it's equally possible that Harper doesn't have any intention of moving from his usual position. In that case, Harper might well be hoping that Doer's previous credibility on the issue will reduce the U.S.' inclination to criticize Canada's position, and make him at least marginally more persuasive in spouting the same old lines about how we'll never agree to cut emissions until the developing world agrees not to develop.

Of course, few outside the tar sands (and their analogues around the world) figure to be particularly eager to see Canada successfully stand in the way of global agreement based on Doer's current profile. But Doer himself might well be the biggest loser if that's indeed Harper's strategy.

The initial surprise of having him suddenly lined up against any international agreement might well play a role in shaping the relative positions of Canada and the U.S. this fall, giving him at least some claim to have influenced global events (if contrary to the principles he's espoused during his public life so far). But the result once that initial impact wore off would be to undermine his own credibility on the issue - and the few friends he'd make in Harper's camp for sacrificing his good name to the interests of the oil companies would seem to be far outweighed by the current goodwill that he'd lose.

For now, we don't have much way of knowing exactly how much autonomy Doer will have as ambassador, and how much (if it all) Harper is willing to listen to him on climate change or on any other issue. But with Copenhagen just a few short months away, we may find out in a hurry whether any good will come of Doer's appointment, or whether Harper is simply looking for somebody else whose reputation can be thrown under the bus to further the Cons' agenda.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Musical interlude

Moloko - Sing It Back (Todd Terry Remix)

More reviews are in

Andrew Coyne:
As ever with Stephen Harper, there is an in-your-face element to the latest batch of Senate appointments. It’s almost as if he said to himself, okay, if I’m going to get slammed for these appointments anyway, what are the most obnoxiously partisan, disgustingly sycophantic choices I can make? I know — I’ll name my former press flack! No, wait — I’ll name the president of the party! Or maybe — yes! — the most hyper-partisan, Grit-hating thug I know, my former campaign manager!

I’ve got it! I’ll appoint all of them!

Yes, I know, the Liberals did just the same for years — the same Grits who are now assailing the appointments, just as the Tories used to attack theirs. This is the cycle we have become caught in, each party justifying its own excesses by the other’s, each hypocritically accusing the other of hypocrisy. And the public, educated by long useage to expect no better, cannot even be roused to outrage any more. Time was when this sort of flagrant cronyism would have caused a scandal. Certainly in any other country it would. But not here, not any more.

We have a deeply, deeply cynical political culture, and the Senate is a big part of it. A country that teaches itself to accept that one of its two legislative bodies should be composed almost entirely of appointed party hacks and bagmen (the other being made up of obedient ciphers) can accommodate itself to a great many things.
Of course, there's one key flaw in Coyne's reasoning, as there's one party which continues to work to point out the rot which goes to the core of each of the Libs and Cons. Which means that the main question arising from Harper's latest excesses is that of whether genuine outrage and desire for change can surface amidst the kabuki theatre playing out as ever between the two parties who have made the Senate into the dumping ground that it is.

The reviews are in

The Ottawa Sun:
It was just five years ago when Harper said, “Despite the fine work of many individual senators, the upper house remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister.”

But that was then and this is now, and Harper seems to have no problem making sure that “dumping ground” is filled with his friends. Among yesterday’s appointees are Harper’s former communications aide, his election campaign chair, and the president of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Harper’s description of the Senate five years ago is no different today — it’s just his friends he’s dumping there now.

On diplomacy

Following up on last night's post, one would have to figure that any chance of Gary Doer looking to take any major new steps in his last months as premier would be ruled out by his expected appointment as U.S. ambassador. But it'll definitely be worth watching what happens once he actually takes up that post.

From what I can tell, while the Harper government has sought the occasional "bipartisan" cover through individuals who shared his (see e.g. the Manley panel on Afghanistan), Doer's appointment would make for the first time that a prominent figure from another party has been offered a position where some of his personal views might differ significantly from those of the Cons. Which means that this may be the ultimate litmus test as to whether Harper is capable of allowing even the most qualified and distinguished of public servants to apply some of their own values and ideas, or whether he'll limit Doer to doing nothing more than putting his name on the same old message.

Unfortunately, I don't see a lot of reason for optimism - and indeed find it a bit curious that Doer would have enough hope of being allowed to do anything useful to even want the appointment. But time will tell whether what looks to be a poor attempt to deflect attention from Harper's latest bout of Senate patronage will actually lead to some cracks in the Cons' wall of insularity.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday Night Link Blast

Clearing out a few random links currently taking up much-needed browser tab space...

- Yes, the Libs deserve to be mocked more than any one post can handle. Fortunately, Greg, NBC Dipper, pogge and Cameron are all up to the task.

- One piece of Gary Doer's announcement that he'll be stepping down as Manitoba's premier which doesn't seem to have received any attention yet is the question of whether he sees his legacy as set already, or whether there will be anything big to come this fall. Though it's probably true that Doer's previous governing style suggests he'll go out quietly rather than even considering any major initiatives as he steps down.

- For those who haven't seen it yet, Kent Peterson's Humble Opinion is the latest addition to a growing stable of Saskatchewan NDP blogs - and worth a read particularly for his youth-oriented perspective on politics.

- Finally, Michael Geist's post on federal copyright consultations this morning focused largely on the fact that submissions from some activist sites may have been wrongly lumped together. But it's interesting as well to take a look at the compiled numbers of submissions - particularly since in addition to an expected number of mainstream pro-user perspectives, they show more submissions backing outright "open copyright" than supporting stronger penalties for infringement, more support for eliminating copyright altogether than for halting "illegal file sharing", and more respondents endorsing the status quo without changes than backing the industry-driven bill which the Cons tried to foist on Canadians.

Inspirational message for the day

Shorter Lib positioning before the fall session of Parliament:

So it turns out that our last set of confidence threats involved an issue that we don't think matters enough to be worth an election. But that's just as well, since we've been doing a lousy job of laying the groundwork for one anyway.

Incidentally, if there was any hope left for the EI panel, can there be any doubt that the net result will be zero now that the Libs have happily and voluntarily given up whatever leverage they could possibly have held?

On comparative options

I posted yesterday about my theory that tax harmonization may be just the issue to set up an election campaign where all of the opposition parties might stand to come out ahead. But in case there's any doubt, I do figure the NDP would likely be the largest beneficiary - in particular thanks to one side of the HST debate which has yet to be fully addressed at the federal level.

After all, the Cons' reflex action in response to any opposition call for substantive policy of any kind - particularly in the case of EI recently - has been to whine about future tax increases, on the premise that none of their current budgeting would be altered by a future government. The NDP sought to fight that argument in 2008 by attacking corporate tax cuts, but couldn't generate as much outcry on that front as I'm sure the party hoped for.

But the pools of money set aside for the HST would figure to present an ideal opportunity to point out some obviously-available fiscal capacity which is being used for ends which a large number of people would be glad to reverse.

So the NDP would not only be able to use the large costs involved as an argument against harmonization in particular, but would also get to point to the money as a source of funds for its electoral platform. Based on the cost estimates from its 2008 platform, that would pose a choice between paying off Ontario and B.C. alone to force their citizens to pay more in taxes, or any one of:
- two years of funding for the NDP's health care plan (including home care transfers and a catastrophic drug plan) and child care plan;
- two years worth of funding for improved intergovernmental fairness, including meeting the equalization accords with the provinces, reallocating a cent of the gas tax to municipalities, increasing funding for First Nations and investment in Arctic infrastructure and northern development;
- four years of funding to build increased social housing, along with investment in a national literacy strategy, nutrition, healthy living, drug and mental illness initiatives; or
- four years of funding for economic and educational priorities including student and research grants, student loan reform, sectoral strategic investments, apprenticeship funding, border infrastructure and an immigrant credentials qualifying program.

And of course, there's every opportunity to apply a similar principle to other ideas - say, improving EI in both the qualifying hours threshold and the amount of income replaced for a two-year period.

Again, any one of those would cost only what the Cons already have sitting around waiting to be handed to Ontario and B.C. as an incentive to harmonize. Which means that there should be plenty of opportunity to draw a strong contrast between an expensive, undesirable scheme from the Harper Cons, and an opportunity to use money already available in the federal budget to fund priorities which Canadians actually want to see addressed.

Try, try again

There's no word yet as to whether or not Regina's municipal elections this fall will include a real race for mayor. But there's good news from Saskatoon at least, as 2006 runner-up Lenore Swystun is making another run at incumbent Don Atchison (and assembling supporters at an impressive rate in the process).

Mind you, Swystun will have a long way to go in making up the 25,000-vote gap from three years ago. But the combination of more experienced organization and improved name recognition for Swystun since her last run should help to level the playing field - and hopefully Swystun will end up joining Sean Shaw and others in bringing some much-needed renewal to Saskatoon's municipal government.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Burning question

Speaking of damage to the Cons' core brand, when exactly did "every bit as much patronage as Jean Chretien" become a selling point?

On harmonized interests

Every time the possibility of a vote of non-confidence in the Harper Cons is raised, one of the main arguments against the possibility of an election is the need for the NDP, Bloc and Libs to all join forces when a peak for one in the polls often coincides with a trough for another. And while the claim that diverging poll numbers will always leave somebody prepared to support the Cons loses some force when all three opposition parties define themselves primarily as the alternative to Harper in one form or another, it's still all too true that we haven't yet reached the point where all three opposition parties actually vote to topple the Cons.

But as alluded to in this post, to the extent a perfect storm is needed to create a situation where all three opposition parties would vote non-confidence at the same time, that may have arrived in the form of an issue which plays nicely for all three opposition parties in different ways.

That issue is the sales tax harmonization which has been pushed by the Cons for years - but has just started to give rise to massive public outrage now that two provinces have taken up the offer. So let's take a closer look at how a campaign focused on the HST would affect all four parties in Parliament - and in particular how a campaign fought on the issue could take enough of a bite out of the Cons for all three other parties to benefit.

It's no secret that the Cons see finger-pointing and distraction tactics as their best hope in dealing with the HST. But no matter how much they try to throw blame around, they haven't succeeded in evading responsibility.

And that spells disaster for a party whose core brand is based in large part on populism and tax-cutting. With provincial parties from all sides of the spectrum laying rightful blame on the Cons for paying off the provinces to raise taxes on their citizens, the Cons look to see at least some of their core support either sitting out an election based on the HST, or outright turning on them.

Mind you, I wouldn't expect any of the other parties to go to any great lengths in trying to win over the tax-cutting crowd. But for the NDP, any tarnish on the Cons' populist image figures to feed perfectly into the "On Your Side" message premiered at the Halifax convention. And that would raise the potential for a substantial amount of the Western populist swing vote to turn from the Cons' column to the NDP's (based on B.C. voters outraged about the current harmonization plan and Saskatchewan and Manitoba voters who recognize the future risk for their provinces), while also likely opening some doors in Ontario as well.

While the NDP fights harmonization, the Libs will likely be perfectly content to let the Cons take a PR hit, while presenting themselves as the party which actually defends the idea in principle while using the issue primarily as a matter of bad governance and deception on the part of the Cons. And indeed the Libs may be able to retake their longtime mantle as the party of big business by actually defending tax harmonization (as they too encouraged in office) while the Cons hide away and try to deny any responsibility.

And what about the Bloc? At the moment, Quebec's provincial sales tax is "blended" and administered provincially rather than being harmonized like those of the other provinces - and the Bloc has long argued that Quebec should receive inducements along the lines of those offered to the other provinces for that state of affairs. Which means that the HST as an election issue sets up exactly the kind of provincial grievance and claim to federal money which would allow the Bloc to stand out from its competitors as putting Quebec first.

So what would happen if the issue plays out based on those lines, resulting in the HST serving as the main issue damaging the Cons in different ways in different regions? I wouldn't expect the Libs to get anywhere near majority territory based on their taking a pro-harmonization stance - but it's not at all outside the realm of possibility that the damage to the Cons' brand could result in the Libs nonetheless taking a fairly solid lead as the Cons drop below their usual floor. The Bloc would be able to play up the lack of funding to Quebec against all of the national parties, meaning that they'd stand a strong chance of maintaining if not improving their current position. And the NDP would probably benefit the most of all, adding the anti-HST vote to its current level of support.

Let's say that results in a division of the vote along the lines of Libs 32, Cons 27, NDP 21, Bloc 10, Greens 8 - all numbers within a plausible HST-based shift from current support levels. Does anybody think that a single one of the opposition parties would have a second thought about pushing for an election which produces that outcome?

Of course, the issue may not play out exactly as I theorize above. And the picture may get a lot more messy if the Doer government undercuts the NDP's anti-harmonization message by going along with the scheme, or if the Libs try to take an anti-HST stance for themselves at the federal level. But the potential should be apparent for the opposition parties to see the HST as just the issue which can both topple the Cons from power and strengthen their own hands if they all play their cards right.

Single payer, single message

With the overlapping Saskatoon events held by the Canadian Medical Association and Canadian Doctors for Medicare taking place the same weekend as the federal NDP convention, I didn't get much opportunity to comment at the time. But fortunately, much of the message of Canadian Doctors for Medicare has been nicely distilled into a handy video which deserves plenty of play on both sides of the border - and which features a couple of familiar faces:

Not that it's likely that the direction in the U.S. will change from its current course - which appears to have a fairly strong chance of including a public insurance option, but doesn't look likely to radically change the system's funding structures. But if the Democrats want to look toward a more ambitious plan now that it's long since been made clear that they're not going to win bipartisan support for anything of substance, this would be an excellent place to start.

Quote of the day

Greg cuts through the equally bizarre spin from both the Libs and Cons surrounding yesterday's confirmation that the NDP will stick with its record of opposing the Harper government:
Jack Layton must be the greatest political mastermind since Machiavelli. Or, he has the looniest opponents, ever.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On zealotry

Shorter Globe and Mail HST cheerleading squad:

All business savings will be passed onto consumers! But no increased taxes will be! Praise be to Free Market Jesus for this unexplained miracle! Thus concludes our dispassionate, impartial commentary.

Burning question

So when's the last time the Libs bothered organizing a public protest against the party which actually holds power?

And it begins...

Of course Michael Ignatieff couldn't even hint at an election for a matter of days before bending over backwards to say he doesn't want one:
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is showing the party flag in the Northwest Territories.
It's not just white, it's bright!
During a visit to Yellowknife Ignatieff tried to dispel rumours of a fall election. He says federal Liberals want good government, not an election.
And apparently Ignatieff is part of a shrinking minority still holding out inexplicable hope that "good government" might be forthcoming from the Cons after three and a half years of incompetence and thuggery. But even if Iggy himself is on the fence as to whether Harper would govern better than he would, shouldn't someone within the Libs be pointing out how self-defeating it is to take that position publicly?

The vicious cycle

When Michael Ignatieff first chose continued Con government rather than the progressive coalition, I noted the obviously fleeting nature of whatever gains Ignatieff could possibly have hoped to make. At that time, my focus was on the influence of Con-friendly media which wasted no time in declaring that the exact decision which they demanded ultimately served as a sign of weakness. But in retrospect, it's natural that the same forces would be at play in public perceptions as well: having opted for the short-term boost of having Harper supporters approve of his decision to roll over, Ignatieff set himself up for a slow bleed of support which has been playing out ever since.

And Ignatieff has only exacerbated that result by wrongly figuring that the formula would work again. Having built his original reputation on an elite-friendly choice to prop up the Harper government, Ignatieff has apparently assumed that he could keep boosting his numbers by setting up new confidence tests and then once again pretending to be a voice of conciliation. But in what should have been a predictable outcome, the response has been rather different when Ignatieff has manufactured his own crises in the absence of any leverage against the Cons. And that's resulted only in Ignatieff falling into the same vicious cycle as his Lib predecessor.

Every single time the Libs roll over, they lose at least a bit of confidence and support as demoralized voters realize that they're backing down in exchange for nothing. Which has served to accelerate the decline which Ignatieff was bound to face anyway - and made it more difficult for the Libs to break out of the cycle, as the opportunities for a confidence vote in the rear-view mirror look ever better than the ones up ahead.

That background brings us to the latest polling which the Libs are so eager to dismiss out of hand. The most obvious example is the latest Ipsos-Reid offering, which may well be rightly seen as an outlier in terms of party preferences. But the signs of weakness on Ignatieff's part go much further than that - and they can't be explained away by the Libs' current excuse about opposition parties having a tough go of it during the summer.

After all, even if one throws the Ipsos-Reid poll out the window entirely, the Libs have indeed dropped over the course of the summer in most polling - which can't be said for either the NDP or the Greens despite their facing the same obstacles as opposition parties. And the Ipsos-Reid result itself is best viewed as part of the polling picture rather than discarded entirely - both for the sake of completeness in taking into account all available data, and because there's plenty of reason for suspicion that it merely fits the pattern of Lib decline rather than serving as a result out of the blue.

Perhaps most notably, though, Ignatieff himself now has sunk to the lowest approval rating of any of the national leaders in Parliament, to go with a net rating comparable to Harper's. So rather than maintaining any political capital personally based on his post-budget warm-and-fuzzies, he now figures to act as a drag on his party.

Now, it may well be true that the Cons can be expected to lose a couple of points of relative strength once they're back under the scrutiny of Parliament this fall. And I'll deal shortly with the one issue which looks like it could well create the conditions for a vote of non-confidence where all of the opposition parties would have an obvious interest in bringing down the Cons.

But there are plenty of pitfalls waiting for the Libs as well. Not only will they have to answer for the apparent failure of their EI panel, but Harper has set up some obvious traps to try to bully the Libs into once again backing down.

And Ignatieff's current message itself seems like an ideal setup for another decision to roll over. For all the Libs' brinksmanship, they aren't sending any consistent message that the Cons need to be brought down (which would itself seem problematic since the current issues are the same ones where the Libs have already given Harper a pass).

Instead, Ignatieff's musings about "when to call an election" invite the Cons and the corporate media to respond with themes of "not now!" and "voters don't want one!". Which makes for the same old no-win situation for the Libs, who don't figure to earn many points in the elite opinion department either by raising the stakes or by backing down.

Of course, we surely know by now that the Libs consistently answer those questions in favour of hoping that factors outside their control will make the next election window a more promising one (even as their position deteriorates in the meantime). But that just leaves the Libs in the same old cycle. And if they haven't yet managed to shoot themselves in the foot enough times to make the Ipsos-Reid numbers into the baseline level of public support, that reality can't be more than a couple more capitulations away.

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk:
The problem for the Wall right now is two-fold: First, his government is now completely reliant on the private sector for such forecasts after purging departments like energy of civil servants who supposedly did not share the Saskatchewan Party's vision. The loss of such professional objectivity in the civil service was the same mistake that the Devine government made, one that would later prove to be costly.

Second, that Sask. Party "vision" for the province has been an exceedingly rose-coloured one that offers only so much room for the supposedly negative forecasts. The March budget did rightfully project that the province would take an approximate $1.7-billion hit on oil revenue and Crown land sales from the $2.4-billion it took in 2008-09. One gets the distinct impression that it didn't want to be talking about a further $1.3-billion hit on potash revenue because a $3-billion revenue decline somehow just didn't properly reflect the government spin that Saskatchewan is a booming island in the middle of this recession.

This, too, was all too similar to the Devine approach.

So if Wall wants to avoid any more such Devine comparisons in the future, here's one alternative: Just stop budgeting like Devine did.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The races are on

While the NDP has been laying the groundwork in both ridings for some time now, the by-election campaigns in Regina-Douglas Park and Saskatoon Riversdale are now officially underway.

The current conventional wisdom is that the timing is set up to avoid a federal election campaign later this fall. But from my standpoint (and acknowledging that the NDP isn't about to take anything for granted), the timing would seem to suggest that Brad Wall's goal is primarily to have a losing set of by-elections register as little with the public as possible rather than seeing them as opportunities to pick up seats. After all, one would have to think that a short campaign at the end of summer which is bound to be overshadowed to at least some extent by the release of Dan Perrins' nuclear development consultation report will make for about the worst possible set of circumstances for the Sask Party's chances of making up the gap in two strong NDP ridings.

The race to the bottom

For all the criticism this space levels at Michael Ignatieff, let's give him credit for being more efficient than his predecessor in at least some ways. After all, while it took Stephane Dion a year and a half to end up on the wrong end of a double-digit polling gap against the Cons, Ignatieff has managed the feat just three months after his official coronation.

Update: In fairness, the latest from Harris-Decima shows a dead heat between the Libs and Cons. But as I'll discuss in more detail later, it's hardly a great success for the Libs to be somewhere between those two extremes.

On coalition politics

In case anybody thought Michael Ignatieff might have learned anything since his first few sets of predictably flawed decisions as the Libs' leader, he's now managed to deal himself by far the weakest hand in an unavoidable discussion about the merits of coalition governments:
In an e-mail exchange with Brian Topp, Les Campbell argues that, as the way forward, the NDP should “pursue serious negotiations for a pre or post election progressive alliance.” If there’s any doubt what he has in mind, he refers elsewhere in the exchange to “discussing the possibility of pre and/or post election coalitions.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff pours a gallon of cold water on that idea in the last paragraph of a long interview in Le Devoir: “I am not against political arrangements between/among parties to make a minority Parliament work. I am prepared to negotiate with the other parties to move legislation forward. But, let’s be clear, I’ve always spoken of arrangements, not of a coalition.”
So to clarify, Ignatieff has just told anybody who supported the progressive coalition this past winter (consisting of 40-45% of voters depending on the poll) that they can go pound sand, as he has no interest in any similar effort to replace a Harper Con government with a more progressive one on the terms which the Libs and NDP have already been able to agree to. Which should allow the NDP to step into the breach as the lone national party in Parliament advocating a progressive coalition as the best means of securing better government for Canada, while painting Ignatieff as too stuck in his own sense of Liberal superiority to countenance working together.

But that doesn't figure to do much to quiet down the Cons' critics who see "coalition" as a dirty word. After all, Ignatieff has still left the door open to some unspecified "arrangements" - which will allow the Cons to pester him constantly with questions about what kind of arrangements he'd accept and under what circumstances. And "we'll have to wait and see" doesn't look to be an option in response, since Ignatieff seems prepared to categorically reject any future coalition without any similar need to take context into account.

In sum, then, Ignatieff has managed to make himself and his party into an undesirable option both for anybody who wants to see their federal leaders make coalition politics work, and for those on the centre-right who bought Harper's message that cooperation means other parties doing what he tells them as a reason to reject the progressive coalition when it arose. But if there's any good news, it's that a message so fatally flawed from both sides can only increase the chances that Ignatieff will be in no position to dictate the terms of any inter-party cooperation after the next federal election.

The reviews are in

Walter Cordery:
There is another culprit contributing to the coming disaster known as the harmonized sales tax, a $2-billion ripoff of B.C. consumers. And to date Stephen Harper's teflon coating appears to have deflected the controversy surrounding his government's decision to bribe British Columbians with their own money.

Would Gordon Campbell have agreed to merge the provincial sales tax with the goods and services tax and remove exemptions for some items if Ottawa hadn't dangled a $1.6-billion carrot in front of the increasingly cash-starved B.C. government?
With talk of a fall federal election in the air due to Harper's inability to reform Canada's EI system, federal Tories in both Ontario and British Columbia are growing nervous they will suffer the electorate's wrath concerning the HST. As well they should.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On opportunities

It seems entirely likely that the Greens will end up following Lib-style anti-democratic advice as to handle pesky outbreaks of riding-level democracy, in this case Stuart Hertzog's intention to challenge Elizabeth May for the party's nomination in Saanich-Gulf Islands. But if they have the slightest bit of foresight, wouldn't they see a nomination contest featuring candidates taking somewhat different angles (but where May would presumably have the far stronger chance of winning) as their best chance of actually assembling the type of organization which they're currently lacking in the riding?

Update: Due credit to the Greens for resisting the temptation to follow the Lib-style advice.

The reviews are in

Jim Harding:
If former federal governments had invested in non-reactor technologies that weren't designed for nuclear weapons and adapted for nuclear power, we could have avoided this isotope shortage. If the risks of low level radiation, in medicine as well as along the nuclear fuel chain, weren't so downplayed to try to make nuclear power more palatable, we might also have become less dependent on nuclear medicine.

So let's get it right this time round. Wall's government should stop playing politics with nuclear medicine.

Compare and contrast

There's still plenty of ground to be covered in examining the Cons' responsibility for bribing Ontario and B.C. to raise taxes on their citizens. And one of the more interesting areas for further discussion comes in comparing the process followed for the HST payoff with the one applied to the Cons' much-ballyhooed infrastructure spending.

In the case of infrastructure, the Cons made a pool of money available with a stated intended purpose. But rather than actually proposing any projects, the Cons have left it to municipalities and provinces to apply with their own "ideas" for spending - pausing at most to filter out some spending for partisan gain, then passing money along based on proposals from the provincial or municipal level.

And the predictable result? Con actors from Stephen Harper down to to rank-and-file MPs have spent the entire summer running to the nearest camera to claim full responsibility for every announcement they can fit into their schedules.

In the case of the HST, the Cons actually spent more time and effort trying to convince the provinces to go along with a scheme which actually originated at the federal level. But the rough process has been the same: money was set aside for a specified purpose, and the Cons have responded to provincial interest by signing on to pay out money as they initially proposed.

But the Cons claim they bear no responsibility that since the provinces made a decision to go along with their payoff.

So let's assume that there's some validity to the Cons' effort to flee any responsibility for the HST. By the same standard, hasn't every single infrastructure project initiated this year been the result of a proposal and decision from one or more other levels of government? And applying the same standard which they're trying to apply to the HST, shouldn't the Cons be scrupulously avoiding any credit for infrastructure spending which doesn't come from their own ideas?

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

In some ways, Friday night's game again the Alouettes made for as positive a loss as a team can hope for. Facing the cream of the CFL crop this season, the 'Riders kept the game within reach virtually all the way - but lost by just enough that it's tough to cast blame or second-guessing on any one player or play. But there's obviously room for concern that the team's weaknesses this season only seem to be getting more glaring with time - and the bye week would seem to be the last and best chance to bring in some new personnel to deal with those problems.

While most of the focus after the game has been on the 'Riders' offence in both its effectiveness moving the ball and the number of turnovers that kept Montreal ahead, the biggest plus from the game looks to me to have once again come on the defensive side of the ball.

For the second week in a row, the 'Riders dedicated their defensive efforts to limiting the effectiveness of a red-hot player. And after holding DeAndra Cobb to 29 yards against Hamilton, Saskatchewan again did the job, holding Anthony Calvillo to by far his weakest passing totals of the season, with 170 yards in the air compared to a previous low of 236.

But there were two problems with that approach. First, the Als's dink-and-dunk offence based on short passes and a solid ground game from Avon Cobourne was effective in limiting Saskatchewan's ability to force turnovers - which put the pressure on the offense to similarly hold onto the ball. And conversely, the Als often started with superb field position - meaning that the yardage totals didn't mean limiting the Als' scoring, as the defence gave up touchdowns on drives of 22, 28 and 57 yards.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' offence followed exactly the opposite approach, piling up big yardage (8.5 per play to 5.2 for Montreal) but losing the field-position and turnover battles. In particular, while Darien Durant deserves full credit for making plenty of big plays, his interceptions ended one promising Saskatchewan drive and gave the Alouettes a short field for two of their touchdowns. And the 'Riders seem to have relied almost entirely on Durant rather than establishing much of a running game - making it all the easier for Montreal to focus in on his passes.

As for the special teams, this was once again a case of the less said, the better. But it's particularly noteworthy that the kick coverage teams - which had been the one relative strength for the 'Riders' special teams this year - managed to sink to the same depths as the rest of the unit, giving up two massive returns to Larry Taylor. That might be a sign of the special teams spending more time than they could afford trying to paper over their weaknesses - but with a bye week ahead, there can't be any excuses if the 'Riders aren't able to start improving some of the problem areas, whether or not that can be done with the talent now on the roster.