Saturday, November 07, 2009

On clunkers

Now that the first snarky response to Andrew Steele's latest HST sales pitch is out of the way, let's deal with the more substantive problem with Steele's most recent posts. Steele tries to rely on a report by the University of Calgary's Jack Mintz as demonstrating that the HST (along with a number of other moves by the McGuinty government) will create 591,000 "net new jobs" over the next decade, and argues that the report will fundamentally change the terms of Ontario's debate over the HST.

Let's leave aside for the moment that Steele's first post on the subject falsely tried to attribute that entire amount of theoretical job growth to the HST alone. Even looking solely at what Mintz' report actually says rather than the spin Steele is so eager to place on it, there's simply no basis for taking its numbers seriously: while Mintz' highly specific number speaks of "net new jobs", it doesn't actually take into account any of the costs of the HST or other associated policies to provide a "net" picture.

To start with, Mintz utterly fails to take into account how factors other than theoretical investment through global capital markets might affect Ontario's economy. Even other backers of the HST acknowledge that it'll result in higher costs for consumers, which is bound to create a cost in jobs in the meantime as well as undercutting the supposed gains in incomes. But Mintz cuts that out of the picture in order to focus solely on corporate investment.

And there are problems with that unduly narrow focus as well. Others have pointed out that corporate tax cuts like those included in Mintz' study may simply change the recipient of the same corporate tax amounts, rather than providing even a theoretical increase in economic activity.

But again, Mintz doesn't mention that as a factor, looking solely at the nominal "marginal effective tax rate" payable to Ontario rather than the amount which American companies in particular would actually pay. Which makes for a particularly glaring omission given both Ontario's interdependence with U.S. markets, and Mintz' attempt to paint changes by multijurisdictional businesses as one of the main benefits of reducing marginal tax rates.

In effect, Mintz' job estimate is the equivalent of a clueless would-be businessperson excitedly declaring "Eureka! If we sell 5,000 widgets for $200 apiece, we'll make a million dollars in net profit!". And the fact that it takes such an obviously distorted study to make the HST look good has to seriously call into question whether there's any benefit to be had for anybody but corporations looking to boost their share of public wealth.

Mind you, Steele tries to paint Mintz as the "Cadillac of Canadian public policy and economics" in hopes that nobody will look too closely at what he's actually done. But it may bear pointing out that businesses which actually put reliance on brands like Cadillac over creating quality products haven't exactly fared well for themselves - and indeed have contributed to Ontario's downfall in the first place.

Update: Erin points out a few more problems with Mintz' report.

On false equivalencies

Shorter Andrew Steele:

"Cutting corporate taxes" (by transferring costs to mere citizens) is the new "saving childrens' lives".

Friday, November 06, 2009

Musical interlude

Weekend Players - Into the Sun

The reviews are in

Don Martin:
It takes considerable effort to become a complete embarrassment.

Congratulations Senator Mike Duffy, you've finally done it.

With his wild rant on a CBC national politics show this week, the television icon has accomplished the difficult feat of offending all those in his parliamentary orbit -- his former journalistic occupation, the Conservative party, senators, MPs and even the prime minister who appointed him.
It's not easy for me to write this because Mike Duffy was a personal friend until I derided his appointment to the Senate, but Thursday's antics have cost him any lingering credibility.

Many senators are decent types trying to make intelligent and constructive contributions to public policy.

But Mike Duffy's only value has become that of poster boy for why the Senate needs, at very least, major reform if not outright abolition.

On perpetual campaigns

So what can we take away from the Sask Party's announcement that just halfway through its mandate, it's already making the 2011 election its main focus? From my standpoint, there are two crucial points worth mentioning.

First, it said enough about the weakness of the Sask Party's caucus when Wall named Bill Boyd as Minister for Everything the Government Cares About. But apparently Wall's opinion of the rest of the Sask Party's supporters isn't any higher, as he's now piling party responsibilities onto Boyd as well.

The choice of Boyd over not only his caucus-mates but also party staff and community supporters suggests that however much money the Sask Party is able to bring in, its list of members Brad Wall trusts to carry out any task more complex than tying their own shoes consists of exactly one name.

That leads nicely to the second point, as Wall seems to have sent a clear signal as to his party's focus for the next two years - and it's hardly one that figures to play well with the public.

Others can correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the first time I'm aware of a governing party explicitly starting its re-election campaign this early. And that timing is especially striking in light of everything else that's already on Boyd's plate.

At a point in time when Boyd's departments are supposed to be making major decisions over the course of the next few months, Wall apparently figures Boyd's time is better spent on the politics of getting elected two years down the road than on actually governing in the meantime. And that order of priorities should raise a serious question for Saskatchewan citizens as to whether or not they're satisfied with a half-time government.

In need of abolition

There's been plenty of talk about the yesterday's showdown between NDP MP Peter Stoffer and Con Senator Mike Duffy over Senate expenses. But while many people have noticed the contrast between Stoffer's calm demeanour and Duffy's sputtering rage, I'm not sure anybody has pointed out what looks to me to be the most glaring problem with Duffy's attacks on Stoffer.

While Duffy did indeed get angrier and angrier over the course of the appearance, there's little indication that his attacks on Stoffer were a matter of going too far personally in a single outburst. Duffy first went to the "fakers" line at a point when nobody else was speaking in a way that could even be argued to have set him off - and repeated it several times intertwined with other Con talking points thoroughout the interview. Which suggests to me that the problem isn't Duffy going off message, but that he's being given more and more inflammatory messages to deliver.

Now, there's some obvious logic as to why the Cons might want to set up a strategy where their unelected, unaccountable, unfireable Senate hacks are the ones sent out to deliver the most personal attacks they can. Anytime an MP or candidate who faces the voters is the one to be associated with such a message or to show unbridled anger in public, they face the danger of a backlash at the polls.

But with Duffy and his ilk put in front of the cameras, there's no similar risk of direct consequences. Instead, the Cons can claim some degree of deniability if comments are construed as being offensive. And if any stunt isn't immediately met with public outcry, then their elected officials can move in and start repeating and reinforcing it.

In effect, then, the Cons seem to have turned Duffy into a Canadian version of a Rush Limbaugh or a Glenn Beck: somebody responsible for pushing the boundaries of acceptable debate, road-testing extreme and personal messages with no electoral repercussions. And the only obvious differences are ones where the Cons' version looks even worse: while Limbaugh and Beck are at least nominally in control of their own message and financially affected by their choices, Duffy is proud to take orders directly from Stephen Harper and money from the Canadian public.

In other words, yesterday's appearance is probably best seen less as a problem with Duffy alone, and more as yet another turning point where the Cons have abused public institutions for their partisan ends. And the fact that the Senate is ripe for such misuse offers up an even more compelling argument for abolition than the waste and patronage that Duffy was so eager to deflect from in the first place.

Update: For those who haven't seen it yet, Glen Pearson's take is worth a read.

On blocked channels

Shorter Brad Wall:

Any public servant who thinks we're covering up a public safety issue should be entirely satisfied pointing that fact out only to the same people responsible for the cover-up.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The appropriate response

For all that's been said about Brad Trost's attempt to eliminate federal funding to Planned Parenthood's international operations, the definitive word so far goes to Stephen Whitworth:
Reasonable, tolerant people do not launch petitions against Planned Parenthood because it provides legal abortions. I'm officially calling it and I'm sticking to it: Saskatoon MP Brad Trost is unfit for public office and frankly he's a threat to human rights, freedoms and civil society.

On alternatives

In case there was any doubt whether the NDP's efforts in the Hochelaga by-election are bearing fruit, it's worth noting just who the Bloc is attacking in order to try to keep the seat. Apparently the Libs (who actually finished second in the riding in 2008 and have plenty of history winning seats including the Hochelaga area) don't even rate a mention in the Bloc's late-campaign advertising efforts, while the NDP alone is on the receiving end of a campaign criticizing a position held in common by the NDP and the Libs. Which would seem to send a fairly compelling signal that the Bloc is treating the NDP's Jean-Claude Rocheleau as its sole perceived competitor.

Of course, that's a double-edged sword for the NDP to at least some extent, particularly given the Bloc's track record of cutting their main opponent down to size. But it's surely better to be seen as the main competition heading into Monday's vote than not - and we'll find out before long just how many inroads the NDP has been able to make during the by-election campaign.

Deep thought

The Wall government's efforts to turn Saskatchewan's governance over to the corporate sector have sure done wonders to ensure business confidence in the province.

Thursday Morning Link Blast

Time to clear off a few tabs...

- Ontarians worried that the province's decision to impose the HST on them (with federal inducement of course) was made without their views being taken into account will surely take plenty of solace in the fact that some of McGuinty's MLAs are in the same boat.

- Joe Kuchta details the fact that a decision on nuclear power isn't the only one that the Wall government is looking to force by the end of the year without full information. Instead, after promising not to sign the TILMA, it's looking to sign onto an arrangement which differs (if at all) only in its application to municipalities and Crown corporations who have been allowed into the inner circle - while once again freezing the public out of the process.

- Canada's correctional investigator points out the obvious fact that a more punitive penal system does nothing to help public safety. But I'm not sure that anything much was said in response: the Cons even bother with their rote "we know better than any so-called 'facts'", or did this particular report simply get entirely ignored?

- Finally, it shouldn't be a huge surprise that Con candidate Diana Dilworth is going to comical lengths to avoid talking to the media in the New Westminster-Coquitlam by-election. But one has to wonder whether anybody remembers what happened the last time the Cons tries the same flee-the-media strategy in a by-election where there's plenty of attention being paid to what the individual candidates actually have to say for themselves. And it may be worth sending them a reminder by pitching in for the NDP's Fin Donnelly.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

On partisan screening

The news that applicants for federal civil service jobs are being forced to write essays on the Cons' economic policies is unsettling enough on its own. But there's another seemingly-overlooked piece of the story which leaves little room for doubt that the move is designed to serve the Cons' political goals:
Spaces are in high demand among university graduates.

But this year, for the first time, candidates need to provide more than a list of qualifications and good marks. They also must to write 1,000 words on the federal government's last budget, promoted widely as the Economic Action Plan.
Applications need to be submitted by Monday. It's the first time recruits have to submit an essay. It's also the first time recruiting has been led by the Privy Council Office. Treasury Board spearheaded the program in previous years.
Now, the move to require job applicants to write paeans to the Cons' policies would seem problematic enough if it had been the lone change to the hiring process (and implemented by the same body normally responsible for recruitment). But it's surely not by accident that the move coincides with the secretive, domineering Harper PCO taking over. And considering how determined Harper's office has been to politicize everything else it's touched, it figures to be a near certainty that positions in the training program will be allocated based on the Cons' political ends.

The reviews are in

Greg Weston:
Canadians who fear their hard-earned tax money is disappearing down a black hole will no doubt be relieved to learn they are actually investing in government mismanagement on a grand scale.

Auditor general Sheila Fraser's latest compendium of federal misdeeds calls into question the basic competence of a Conservative government already under fire over stimulus squander and the current flu-shot fiasco.

Surprising only to those awaking from a long coma, Fraser concluded that Stephen Harper's government of big cardboard cheques is far better at making announcements than actually implementing them.

Some of Fraser's findings would be worthy of a comedic spoof were the consequences not so dire.


...those looking to impose an NDP litmus test in favour of the federal gun registry may want to take a look at the history behind its implementation. The "yea" votes for Bill C-68 included a grand total of one NDP MP (Svend Robinson), while the "nay" votes when the registry first passed included the rest of the NDP caucus - including such familiar names as Audrey McLaughlin, Bill Blaikie and Simon de Jong.

Which isn't to say that the party couldn't rightfully change its mind in the interim. But surely there would be some significant explanation needed as to how the position held by all but one NDP member when a measure passed initially would be grounds for punishment when it comes to reversing course.

Off the mark

Somewhere, Stephen Harper is laughing his ass off over the intraparty fighting he's managed to provoke by pushing Candace Hoeppner's private member's bill to eliminate the federal long gun registry. But I'll suggest that for those who are eager to fight over today's vote (and future ones), the current strategy of attacking NDP and Liberal MPs over their willingness to vote against the gun registry is at best marginally productive for a single vote, and thoroughly counterproductive in the long run.

So far, the lone apparent strategy has been to try to pressure rural opposition MPs (some of whom actually ran on repealing the gun registry) to vote with their party leader instead of with their constituents. But to the extent the issue is seen as one involving a rural/urban split, doesn't it make more sense to instead put pressure on urban or suburban Con MPs to listen to their constituents as well, rather than setting up a situation where opposition MPs are the only ones in the line of fire?

It's obvious that the Cons are trying to have it both ways by playing up the "free vote" line for opposition MPs while their party looks to be entirely whipped. But that messaging can be used against them by the opposition parties: they can embrace the free-vote principle for themselves (rather than calling for whipped votes as some are doing), then turn a spotlight onto Con MPs as to their individual choices.

From there, it should be an easy step to turn the tables on urban and suburban Cons - not only by pointing out the support of police chiefs for the registry, but also by highlighting crimes which have taken place in a particular community where the gun registry would be a useful tool in law enforcement, and asking why the Con MP doesn't want to see them solved.

Again, I'm far from sure that the gun registry is in fact a hill that any opposition party should be willing to die on. But if the issue is one that's going to be a public fight (at the expense of the patronage and incompetence themes that were starting to take hold), then surely it's at least better to make Con MPs the battleground - rather than assuming that Harper's hold over his party can't be challenged, and thus needlessly taking on damage to the opposition that can be avoided.

Update: Steve V makes the case for free votes as a matter of principle.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Zero confidence

Now this is why it pays to read the fine print of a Sask Party initiative. Sure, a "Mission: Zero" strategy seemingly aimed at putting an end to work injuries would seem to be a plus on its face. But apparently a more accurate title for the Wall government's view of workplace safety would be "Mission: Zero Reporting".

Deep thought

Mark Sakamoto has some nerve thinking he's entitled to respond to a "street interview" with anything other than the statement, "I'm a Liberal, so my opinion doesn't count".

HUAC north indeed.

(Edit: corrected name.)

The reviews are in

The Star-Phoenix editorial board:
Oh, how eager was newly minted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to do the public's business in a transparent and accountable way, as he rode to power in 2006 on a wave of promises to govern differently from the entitlement-minded Liberals who'd worn out their welcome with Canadians over the adscam fiasco.

But that was then and this is now, with Mr. Harper's second-term Conservative government going even further than its predecessors to erect an opaque barrier between itself and citizens employing what an alarmed Information Commissioner Robert Marleau described in January as a "communications stranglehold" on the bureaucracy.
It's hard to believe that the mealy-mouthed utterance, "administrative alternatives, such as enhanced guidance and training that can be equally effective," actually came from a cabinet minister of a Conservative administration that took power on a promise to overhaul the system.

Four years in power is all it's taken for political sclerosis to set in.

On incentives

Your Brad Wall government, in a nutshell...

Gross incompetence which results in an inmate serving time for sexual assault being set free before his sentence is up? No problem there as far as Wall is concerned.

A cover-up to ensure that nobody knows said sexual offender has been freed? Fine by the Sask Party, and indeed expected.

But if somebody has the nerve to let the truth out? Now that's time to start not just pointing fingers, but punishing public servants based on mere suspicion.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Egowarriors indeed

Shorter Kelly McParland:

It's impossible to take environmentalists seriously when a few of them have an unrealistically inflated sense of self-worth. Now stay tuned for part 738 of Ezra Levant's 2,105-part series, "Why Me and the Other Speech Warriors are like Gandhi, Jesus and Superman All Rolled Into One".

On misinformation

You probably don't need me to tell you that the Cons' excuses for not providing information to Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page are absolute nonsense. But just in case there was any doubt, the Cons' excuses for not providing information to Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page are absolute nonsense.

Here's the latest excuse from a John Baird spokesflack:
Mr. Baird said that the amount of pages is large because there are 7,600 projects underway. Mr. Day said that the reason why these files were hard copies was because of the nature of the documents, information gathered as part of the application process, some of which can be confidential commercial information that could not be released without the consent of third parties.

"We would have to go through and get consent and permission from every single one of our proponents and we're bound by privacy laws," said Mr. Day. "We provided [the Parliamentary Budget Officer] with the data, some of it is sensitive information, it may include some financial statements, budgets, board information and all that stuff. We've got thousands of pages worth of documents to him and his staff can go through it and do their due diligence, do the financial analysis."
Now, one might read that response and ask, is the PBO's office really set up so that its efforts to shed light on Canada's public finances can be stymied by third parties who refuse to consent to the disclosure of relevant information? Fortunately, the answer is "not by a long shot":
79.3 (1) Except as provided by any other Act of Parliament that expressly refers to this subsection, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is entitled, by request made to the deputy head of a department within the meaning of any of paragraphs (a), (a.1) and (d) of the definition “department” in section 2 of the Financial Administration Act, or to any other person designated by that deputy head for the purpose of this section, to free and timely access to any financial or economic data in the possession of the department that are required for the performance of his or her mandate.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply in respect of any financial or economic data

(a) that are information the disclosure of which is restricted under section 19 of the Access to Information Act or any provision set out in Schedule II to that Act; or

(b) that are contained in a confidence of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada described in subsection 69(1) of that Act, unless the data are also contained in any other record, within the meaning of section 3 of that Act, and are not information referred to in paragraph (a).
For those wondering, the exemptions referred to in section 79.3(b) include personal information under section 19 of the Access to Information Act, information subject to a statutory prohibition on disclosure under Schedule II of the Access to Information Act (none of which would appear to apply to infrastructure spending), and information which the Privy Council Office chooses to make confidential. And I doubt the public would have reason for sympathy if the records surrounding the use of stimulus money are of "personal" use or are being suppressed by the Cons' own choice.

What's more, the PBO has been set up to scrupulously avoid the disclosure of any information whose release might affect third parties:
79.4 The Parliamentary Budget Officer, and every person acting on behalf or under the direction of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, shall not disclose any financial or economic data that come to their knowledge under section 79.3, unless the disclosure is essential for the performance of his or her mandate and the financial or economic data to which the disclosure relates are not information described in subsection 13(1), section 14, any of paragraphs 18(a) to (d), section 18.1, any of paragraphs 20(1)(b) to (d) or section 20.1 of the Access to Information Act.
So to sum up, then: the federal government isn't entitled to refuse to disclose information to the PBO merely because it's "commercial information"; there's no reason why any third party would have to consent to the disclosure of information to the PBO; and even if one wanted to ignore the PBO's entitlement to the information requested, there's no plausible reason to suggest that sensitive information which does get disclosed would be at risk.

Now, I'm sure the Cons will simply give the Wheel of Excuses another spin even if it does get pointed out that their supposed concern for protecting information has no basis in reality. But it's still worth pointing out just how implausible their explanations actually are to make sure that the next round receives the skepticism it deserves.

On ceasefires

Michael Byers' proposal for cooperation among the national opposition parties in the next federal election figures to be a major topic of conversation over the next little while. So let's take a closer look at what Byers suggests, as well as the impact it figures to have on the political scene.

To start off with, there seems to be little indication that Byers' suggestion is based on anything more than a personal idea. Significantly, he doesn't even begin to discuss the obvious practical hurdles associated with a plan - particularly the question of how (if it all) the plan could be approved within the NDP's existing structures which don't allow for the same degree of top-down control exercised by other parties' leaders. And aside from raising an issue as to how democratic such a proposal would be, that hints to me that Byers hasn't looked ahead as to whether the proposal could practically be implemented - nor discussed the idea in detail with anybody who has considered the question.

So what about the substance of his proposal? I've posted before about my take on what elements a deal for electoral cooperation would have to include for me to see it as a plus overall - and while Byers' plan comes somewhat closer to the mark than some others I've seen, it still seems to be lacking in a few key areas.

First and most fundamentally, there's little reason to think that an electoral ceasefire would actually hold much of a chance of success.

Byers bases his argument on the raw 2008 vote totals for the NDP and the Libs, without so much as recognizing the possibility that one party's votes wouldn't necessarily transfer en masse to the other. But even that would lead to a Parliament where the two parties' combined seats would fall short of a majority - leaving little prospect that a referendum on proportional representation would be allowed to take place without the Cons and Bloc voting down any new government.

And even that scenario is likely too generous an interpretation of the probable outcome. After all, the track record of multi-party deals suggests that any combined effort tends to add up to less than the sum of its parts - a problem which seems particularly obvious for NDP ridings under an agreement where a substantial number of Lib votes would bleed to the Cons. And there's equally some history of completely unforeseen consequences: see e.g. the B.C. effort by the two traditional parties to suppress the CCF, which instead led to the rise of Social Credit as it unraveled.

Meanwhile, there are also pitfalls in Byers' plan if it succeeds beyond anybody's expectations. Byers himself notes that there would be a chance of the Libs winning a majority government if a combined effort manages to turn the tide strongly enough against the Cons. But he doesn't note the obvious implication of that possibility: a Lib majority government would have absolutely no incentive to follow through on a promise to do anything about proportional representation, and the NDP would have no hammer at its disposal to force the issue. So Byers' plan falls short on the question of enforceability as well.

And as an added problem, the focus on 2008 results would lead to a complete lack of flexibility. To the extent both parties were to agree on a common goal of toppling the Cons, it would seem obvious that it's in nobody's interest for a party to be arbitrarily assigned a seat where it doesn't have the best chance of winning. But the allocation of seats based on past results combined with the elimination of any other opposition candidates would ensure that there would be no way to correct for any realization that a particular candidate or party actually doesn't have the better chance to defeat a Con opponent.

Finally, I'll note that there are serious questions to be raised about the timing of Byers' proposal. I could see a far better argument for the necessity of cooperation at what's seen to be a particularly crucial decision point in Canadian politics. But Ignatieff already broke an agreement with the NDP at the last one of those to leave the Con government in charge of dealing with Canada's recession. And the threat of a Harper majority isn't a particularly new one either, as it loomed as a distinct possibility through most of the 2008 campaign.

In sum, then, I'm not clear on what's changed since a year ago to justify a deal along the line of Byers' proposal. Which means that while he deserves credit for looking to spread a message of cooperation, there doesn't seem to be much prospect that his suggestion will find much traction.

Update: Pogge is much more succinct.

(Edit: fixed wording re: B.C. example.)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

By necessary implication

It's understandable to a point that the opposition's messaging about the Cons' misuse of public money to take credit for even the most mundane actions has been based on direct confrontation rather than trying to seek any admissions out of a government notorious for stonewalling its opponents. But it seems to me that there's an available next step where the current allegation against the Cons actually becomes their defence to an even more irresponsible implication coming from their current position.

There's plenty of material already available where the Cons send the following messages:
- First, that their "economic action plan" is synonymous with stimulus spending.
- Second, that they see stimulus spending as a temporary measure which they're eager to end at the earliest opportunity.
- Third, that the vast majority of any stimulus spending (90% by their reckoning) has already been committed.

Based on that combination, can't it be said that Canadians should look at the type of activity that's being included within the "Economic Action Plan" by Cons' own advertisement - and conclude that the Harper government has no intention of investing in any similar priorities at any point in the foreseeable future once their "exit strategy" from stimulus spending plays out? And shouldn't the opposition parties be eager to draw exactly that connection?

As best I can tell, that argument would create an extremely target-rich environment. Any opposition MP could point to, say, a stretch of a national highway with an Economic Action Plan sign (ideally in a Con riding); point to another stretch of highway in obvious need of repair without such a sign (ideally in an opposition riding), and announce that the Cons have declared that the latter won't be dealt with as long as they're in office since the stimulus money has basically run out.

Or better yet, point to maintenance being carried out with "Action Plan" publicity, and announce that it's going to stop as soon as the stimulus period is done with. From my standpoint, the strategy gets even better with each example of an "Action Plan" sign where it doesn't belong - i.e. in an area which obviously had to be invested in regardless of whether or not there was any need for immediate stimulus.

One option in response to such examples would be for the Cons to answer that they have no intention of investing in any federal infrastructure once the recession is over. But that would raise the spectre of the Cons effectively allowing federal institutions to go to seed, playing to some of the public's worst fears about the party.

Or instead, the Cons could try to start drawing fine distinctions as to what types of "Action Plan" spending will continue and what types won't. But that would create some significant contradictions against their current message, and indeed result in their effectively admitting that their PR campaign goes far beyond anything that can plausibly be claimed as stimulus.

The above is a far less direct strategy than the one currently being used. But I'd have to think it's far more likely to create some real contradictions in the Harper government's message - and that should pay far more dividends than the current he said/she said when it comes time to use the Cons' own words against them.

The reviews are in

Greg Weston:
In the world according to federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, the national deficit will disappear when the Conservatives stop printing those big cardboard cheques for roads, sewers and new door knobs.

The finance minister's recent economic report went so far as to promise the country would "return to budgetary balance" without raising taxes, or cutting support to seniors or families.

Canada will be back in the black, Flaherty promised, without reducing employment insurance benefits or funding to the provinces for health care, social services or regional equalization.

Instead, the author of federal budgets lucky to get the page numbering right would have us believe that when the recession ends, the deficit will too.

Or not. A closer look at what is actually driving the government $55 billion into the red this year shows much of the shortfall is the result of permanent Conservative tax measures and other factors that won't simply vanish in an economic recovery.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Most of the talk about yesterday's loss to Hamilton looks to be painting the game as a writeoff for the 'Riders as a whole. But I'm not sure that analysis is fair either to the parts of the team which did play pretty well, or to the offence which needs to look at the game as a sign of serious room for improvement rather than than a mulligan.

The relatively bright side starts with the special teams, where Jason Armstead again managed to give the offence plenty of opportunities with superb field position, and the kick and cover teams were both solid (though Luca Congi was just off on a couple of long field goals which could have changed the complexion of the game if they'd succeeded).

More importantly, Saskatchewan's defence held up remarkably well for a game where it was stuck on the field for 39 minutes. While Deandra Cobb had a big game in the final numbers, he at least faced tough going most of the game until the final drive when the outcome wasn't really in doubt. And a depleted secondary managed to hold Kevin Glenn to his lowest numbers since he took over the Ticats' starting job, completely shutting down any deep passing game and causing enough trouble on shorter routes to keep Hamilton from pulling more than a couple of scores ahead.

But that of course leads into the real problem for the 'Riders, which was that scores of any kind seemed to be beyond the capability of Saskatchewan's offence. And the problem wasn't limited to any one player or strategy: while it would be easy to focus in on Darien Durant's early turnovers and later inaccuracy, there were equally obvious issues with receivers dropping passes, the offensive line collapsing under pressure and Wes Cates finding absolutely no room to run.

In effect, yesterday looks to be the flip side of what I noted last week. Even when it's been fairly productive, Saskatchewan's offence has functioned mostly by spotting the small holes created by aggressive defences and targeting those with precision timing, rather than by actually controlling the game for itself. And yesterday's outcome is a vivid example of what happens when the usual precision is lacking: after missing the narrow windows offered up by the defence, the 'Riders can end up getting swamped at every turn.

Of course, it's probably too late for any major changes to Saskatchewan's game plan. So hopefully the 'Riders will be able to get back to their previous pattern of living on the edge - rather than watching the season end early as their offence plummets off a cliff.

Shocking, positively shocking

So the Cons are no longer even pretending to care about doing anything about the Senate now that their unelected partisan hacks are about to outnumber the Libs' unelected partisan hacks. Who could have suspected?