Saturday, January 23, 2010

One more Regina rally picture

Since I didn't get a picture myself, a reader is kind enough to pass along probably the most distinctive message from Regina's rally:

Regina Anti-Prorogation Rally Photos

A few photo highlights from today's event...

NDP Palliser candidate Noah Evanchuk with organizer Brendan Pyle.

Brendan with some of the handmade signs for the event.

Update: Crowd shot.

Emcees Tamara Harder and Mike Medby.

Sign in the crowd: "Whatever happened to accountability?"

Sign in the crowd: "Prorogue Harper Permanently"

"Stephen Harper" (along with "Cheddar!") takes the stage to say a few things which the real Stephen Harper once claimed to believe.

Another crowd shot with sign: "Parliament for the People".

The hands-down winner of the "Best Dressed" award.

Finally, the crowd as Evanchuk, Lib MP Ralph Goodale and Green candidate Larissa Shasko take the stage together.

On new politics

Earlier this week, I noted that while the NDP's proposal to limit the abuse of prorogation makes for a good start (a view which seems to be winning widespread approval), the NDP's public message could easily stand to include a strategy to make government more accountable while Parliament is actually in session.

Having noted that, it's worth pointing out that Jack Layton's accompanying speech does at least hint at issues going far beyond prorogation alone. While the current proposal is obviously aimed at prorogation in particular, the gap between the "old politics" decried by Layton and the "new politics" to be aspired to isn't found solely in Harper's prorogation - and it would seem to be implied that there's plenty of room for improvement to how Parliament functions the vast majority of the time.

So for those looking to turn today's protests into something more, I'll suggest a focus on that aspect of what can be done to fix Ottawa. For those with specific ideas as to what can be done to limit the executive's ability to control Parliament, now is the time to make them public and push for a Parliament that's far better able to do its job once it returns. And failing that, all of the parties - yes, including the NDP - should hear a message that they should ensure that the executive branch can't hide out any more easily while Parliament is in session than it can by shutting the place down.

The reviews are in

Jerad Gallinger:
While the anti-prorogation movement began online, it was not contained there for long. In communities across the country, Canadians opposed to prorogation have come together to say, "Enough is enough."

Today, rallies against prorogation will be held in Halifax, Truro, Sydney, Inverness, Antigonish, and in towns and cities from coast to coast to coast. Canadians from all political parties, as well as those with no partisan ties, will take to the streets together in support of democracy.

We condemn Mr. Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament. We are appalled by his abuse of prime-ministerial powers, and his abuse of our trust.

It is not only our right, but our responsibility to protest abuses of power by those charged with safeguarding our democracy. If Canadians do not show our opposition to the abuse of power, there will be nothing to stop this or any future prime minister from sending members of Parliament home on a whim.

We must send a clear message to Prime Minister Harper and all those who would subvert our political system. Together, we say: No to prorogation! No to the abuse of power! Yes to a stronger, fuller democracy!
And James Travers:
It's taken less than 50 years for prime ministers, beginning with Pierre Trudeau, to take for themselves powers that 500 years ago belonged to kings. They now rule mostly in secret, are counselled by beholden whisperers and treat the Commons with disdain reserved here for the politically impotent.

One result was the Liberal sponsorship scandal, a scheme so opaque that Justice John Gomery couldn't find where the buck stopped. Another is the Conservative campaign to keep Canadians from knowing what and when ministers and generals learned about Afghanistan torture.

Symptoms of a worse disease, that criminal scheme and this political stonewalling prove that prime ministers can't be trusted, that they are no longer held in check by loose rules and precedents that rely so heavily on individual ethics and goodwill.

As Jenkins wrote at the beginning of the last century – and Canadians can demonstrate again Saturday – the cure is citizens who come down from the bleachers when taken for granted and abused.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Musical interlude

Headstones - Settle

CAPP - Saskatchewan Events

The full list of CAPP protests scheduled for tomorrow across the country can be found here. But for those looking for the Saskatchewan events, here's the time and place to show your support for democracy against Stephen Harper's decision to shut down Parliament:

Prince Albert:
Saturday, January 23
1:30 pm
PA Union Centre, 107-8th St. E.

Saturday, January 23, 2010
1:00pm - 2:00pm
Scarth Street Mall (South Side by the Buffalo)

Saturday, January 23, 2010
1:00pm - 2:30pm
City Hall Square (South Side of City Hall)
222 3rd Ave. North

On possible outcomes

Having quoted Murray Mandryk's latest this morning, I'll take some time to deal with his somewhat more questionable column from yesterday on the effects of the RCMP's decision to charge Ernest Morin for (as Mandryk prefers to describe it) his "alleged criminal activity" in signing up the members of the Flying Dust and Waterhen Lake First Nations without their consent.

Off the top, it would seem obvious enough that to the extent the Morin story stays in the news, the result figures to be a negative one for the NDP - no matter how exemplary or correct the party's response to Morin's activities may have been. And I won't pretend that the apparent agreement between the NDP's investigation and the RCMP's changes that fact.

But there's a glaring disconnect between the issues which Mandryk seems to want to see discussed further, and the possible content of any Morin trial. Here's Mandryk on what he thinks a trial would involve:
But such a trial would also produce a lot of collateral damage to both Lingenfelter and the party -- damage that the aforementioned NDP sanitized version of the "controversy" isn't now talking about.

Was it really the Lingenfelter camp that first came clean on the membership "controversy" or was it those in rival camps that brought it to light? Why did no one in Lingenfelter's camp notice the alleged forgeries? Why did they simply forward them to party head office, and why did Lingenfelter's camp attach $10 and $20 bills to each membership application instead of writing one cheque?
Now, there's room to argue as to which of those questions have already been answered by the Hale report. But I'm not sure there can be much room for argument as to whether there's any likelihood of a Morin trial shedding any further light on the subject.

After all, in making out a case against Morin, what reason would the Crown have to call evidence about what happened as the membership forms were processed by the campaign office? Or about the NDP's subsequent investigation? Simply put, any "criminal activities" being alleged of Morin were complete at the point when the membership forms went from his hands to the Lingenfelter campaign.

In effect, there's no reason why either side would be expected to delve into subsequent events if they're focused on what a trial would actually be oriented toward proving or disproving. And likewise, any plea agreement by Morin would seem to involve only the facts as to what Morin did - not any further information about the responses by the Lingenfelter campaign and the party.

From that starting point, any actual talk about the questions raised by Mandryk as a result of the charges would have to be based on Morin fighting the charges and choosing to use a trial as a soapbox to point fingers elsewhere. But there's little apparent reason why he'd choose to do that now after keeping quiet while the matter was being investigated before - both by the NDP initially, and by the RCMP in the course of deciding whether or not to lay charges.

Of course, it's undoubtedly true that the Sask Party will want to keep up as much speculation as it can surrounding the events which wouldn't be addressed at trial, and they'll have a more ready excuse to do so if the charges offer an opportunity to raise the issue in the media. And the NDP may have reason for concern if Mandryk is signalling that he plans to join in.

But the answers to the questions which actually have some bearing on the NDP as a party have long been in the books. The party investigated immediately and made the results public; Lingenfelter chose not to punish anybody involved for the oversight issues raised by Hale, and won the approval of a majority of the party's leadership voters even with that fact known.

So the biggest question surrounding any idle speculation about the membership controversy is whether it'll be allowed to take the province's focus away from more important issues about how it's currently being governed and wants to be governed in the future. (Say, has anybody thought to ask Bill Boyd just how it was that he had no clue what he was supposed to be testifying about last fall? Or is mere cabinet incompetence something that doesn't merit follow-up?) And while it's indeed hard to see any positive outcome for the NDP in that event, it's equally difficult to see the province as a whole being better off either.

(Edit: fixed typo, wording.)

On trade-offs

Environmental Defence makes a great point about the consequences of the Cons' attempt to pretend that what's good for tar sands operators must be good for the rest of the country:
A recent study by a University of Ottawa professor and others estimates that 42 per cent of the job loss in Canadian manufacturing over the last few years resulting from the rise in the dollar can be attributed to our rise in oil exports, and identifies the computer and electronics, textile, transportation, machinery, paper and plastics sectors as those most affected. Ontario and Quebec are home to the majority of these industries.

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of Canada, Jeff Rubin, former chief economist for CIBC World Markets, Frank Stronach, chairman of Magna, and many others have pointed to the damaging impact that a high Canadian dollar has on the manufacturing sector. The Ontario government estimates that a sustained five-cent change in the dollar has a $6 billion impact on the Ontario economy.

Instead of being Canada's economic engine, the tar sands could actually prevent many regions from recovering from the recession as oil prices continue their relentless upward march due to global scarcity.
Sadly, there hasn't been anywhere near enough pushback yet against the Harper line that the rest of the country should be glad to have a government that puts the tar sands first.

But there's every opportunity to make the case that the actual public policy tradeoff isn't between the environment and jobs but between dirty, one-time resource extraction and cleaner, more sustainable manufacturing. And the more that choice is presented to Canadians, the better the chances that we'll be able to orient our economy toward the latter rather than accepting the argument that the oil industry should be able to buy our silence.

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk:
(I)f Gantefoer and his government have been unfairly criticized for their work in math class, they surely deserve the criticism they've received for their poor grades in basic philosophy and economics. This is a party that clearly drank it's own bath water, convincing itself that its mere presence in government offices as believers in the free enterprise system somehow magically turned around the cyclical nature of Saskatchewan's commodity resources and the revenues that governments derived from them.

Perhaps worst of all, this is a government that didn't pay attention to the details of budgeting. Believing that the tide of money would just keep flowing in, it allowed the operational spending of government departments to increase to $10 billion (as of the mid-year update of the 2009-10 budget) from $7.7 billion (in the 2006-07 budget, the last full year of the NDP administration).

As has been previously stated, the Sask. Party government has had more of a spending problem than a revenue problem.

The good news, judging by what we've been hearing this week from Gantefoer and Wall, is that there's a realization that you can't keep spending more money than you take in.

The bad news is that you may not like the Sask. Party's new math.

For a full accounting

Needless to say, good on The Scott Ross for getting the media to pick up on the costs of Stephen Harper's decision to shut down Parliament. But I'll offer up one suggestion for a rewrite of the figures involved: as much as the Cons may want to see Parliament as nothing more than a vehicle to pass government bills, shouldn't private members' bills and committee work (which are also at least delayed by the prorogation) also factor into the costs of Parliament?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Memo from your corporate media overlords

Dammit Wherry. We were making such good progress in writing any 2008 pro-coalition sentiment out of the history books. But then you had to go and point out that the rallies were equally strong on both sides.

For your punishment, go write "nobody voted for a coalition!" 100 times on the nearest available chalkboard. And don't let it happen again.

On selective critiques

Kelly McParland offers up some fairly scathing criticism of a federal party:
(I)t's hardly a sign of firm convictions when a party is so bereft of fundamental beliefs it has to call a time out and ask for suggestions.
Which might be a good enough point if applied with even a modicum of consistency. But guess how much concern McParland has had about another federal leader who's shut down not only his own party's activities, but the legislative bodies governing the entire country based on a supposed need to "recalibrate" his plans?

Deep thought

I for one feel better knowing that Canada's best and brightest have been drafted to the cause of studying Olympic sports rather than wasting their time on trifling issues such as health.

On empty benches

It most certainly hasn't gone unnoticed that an appointment to Stephen Harper's cabinet seems to be for life regardless of how poorly any individual performs. But it's worth noting that however much many current cabinet occupants have done to prove their unworthiness, at least some of Harper's backbenchers seem to be doing their utmost to show that Harper indeed has nobody better-informed or more competent at his disposal.

Just ask, say, MP Blaine Calkins to try to defend Harper's prorogation:
"What has to happen, the only way to change that is to prorogue parliament and start with a new session of parliament."
Sadly, no. Though the next time any Con actually answers questions about the very rules they're pointing to will be the first, so we can hardly blame Calkins personally.
"It will allow the Prime Minister and the house leader to negotiate a new format of the committees, which is good news."
See above. And of course, the same negotiation could take place if Parliament was prorogued for a couple of days in March, rather than over two months.
"(Prorogation) is not uncommon. Jean Chretien prorogued parliament before every election."
Indeed - at the end of the work of a particular Parliament, which is what prorogation is intended to address. Whereas Harper's choice to shut down Parliament is being paired with bleatings about how nobody wants an election, and the same Parliament should go back to work just as soon as Harper finds it convenient.
"If information serves me correctly, I think Pierre Trudeau prorogued parliament right before the opposition leader got up to speak."
If anybody can figure out what Calkins is talking about and how it relates to the current incarnation of prorogation, I'm all ears. But a couple of quick Google searches around the terms "Trudeau", "prorogation" and "opposition leader"/"leader of the opposition" lead right back to Calkins - which combined with the dishonesty of the rest of his statement leaves plenty of reason for suspicion that his "information" is somewhat less than impeccable (if not outright intended to start a zombie lie).

And all this in the span of two short paragraphs in a local paper.

So rest easy, Gordon O'Connor, Lisa Raitt, and the rest of the Cons' dimmer lights in cabinet. You may have embarrassed yourselves on the national stage - but as long as Harper's alternatives are the likes of Calkins, you'll never need to worry about losing your post to a stronger choice within the Cons.

Update: In comments, Dave is right to note that the process before an election would be considered dissolution rather than prorogation. My mistake in managing to give Calkins more credence than he deserved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On dubious legacies

(Barely) shorter Stockwell Day:

My record of fiscal management speaks for itself. And I'd very much appreciate if you didn't listen to it.

On opportunities

So far, the NDP's call for legislation to put prorogation in the hands of Parliament looks to have been extremely well-received. But while the party may have out-flanked the Libs when it comes to dealing with the concerns of the anti-prorogation movement, I'll note that there should be room to go a lot further.

True, prorogation may have been the flashpoint for the building public protests - and Layton deserves credit for getting in front of the parade.

But Harper's abuse of prorogation is ultimately just one manifestation of the overall neutering of Parliament started by previous PMs and reduced to a science by Harper. And while at least preventing the likes of Harper from shutting Parliament down might be a start both symbolically and substantively, forcing the Cons to stay at work can only accomplish so much if they'll still have their full obstruction manual at their disposal.

In effect, Layton's proposal would help treat the most prominent symptom of Harper syndrome - but wouldn't do all that much to address the underlying disease. And there's every reason to think now is the perfect opportunity to actually tackle some of the root causes as well.

After all, when was the last time democratic reformers could simultaneously point to:
- a minority Parliament where the opposition parties can team up to pass legislation over the governing party's objections;
- a hypercontrolling PM who serves as a living example of the type of executive overreach which MPs should be eager to rein in; and
- a popular grassroots movement whose entire focus is the work of Parliament, such that MPs can't have any concern that public opinion isn't behind them?

With all those factors working in favour of the re-empowerment of Parliament, it would be a shame if the most that comes of the situation is a limitation on a single tactic rather than a wholesale rethinking of the relationship between Parliament and executive government. And I'll be hoping for both the NDP and the other opposition parties to use Harper's break to make sure that he and future Prime Ministers are far less able to avoid accountability once he returns.

Update: Jeff has more.

The wisdom of crowds

Much of Brian Topp's latest consists of simply pointing out the obvious downside associated with the expectations the Cons are building up for 2010. But one point of potential weakness is definitely worth keeping an eye on since it seems to depend entirely on matters out of Harper's hands:
(I)t is a truism in politics that it is usually a better idea to keep well clear of large athletic events, since they provide crowds with an opportunity to let their governments know what they think of them, in this case on worldwide television. Pierre Trudeau was routinely booed at Grey Cup games, for example.

So what kind of reception can the Prime Minister and his highly unpopular HST increase look forward to in British Columbia?

Here's my advice to Conservative ministers and MPs at the Olympics: sit right next to B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell. If you're going to do this, do it right.
Of course, the flip side of Topp's cheeky suggestion is that the Cons might well have incentive to sit as close as possible to Campbell and his ministers - if only so that each party can try to claim that any jeers are intended for the other.

In any event, it's certainly worth watching whether the Olympics wind up serving as the B.C. public's golden opportunity to take out its frustration on provincial and federal leaders alike. And it's not hard to see how a regular chorus of boos might make the games into a serious PR loss for both the Campbell Libs and the Harper Cons.

Update: And in case there wasn't enough to be outraged about from Campbell and company, the Olympics themselves may offer up some prime fodder for public anger.

The reviews are in

Jeffrey Simpson:
At the (Liberal) party's upper echelons these days, the pervasive emotion is fear: fear of providing the Conservatives' attack machine with a target, fear of saying anything controversial lest voters be offended, fear of the polls, fear of negative media, fear of voters' unwillingness to accept serious debate.

When a party, like an individual, is guided by fear, then courage is banished, convictions are buried, and politicians will talk but not say much. Or, to be more charitable, the party of fear will offer alternatives to the government, but they will be timid and at the margin of difference, the theory being that governments defeat themselves rather than opposition parties winning by the force of their ideas.

This is the mind space now occupied by the Liberals.
A little more money here, a little longer deficit there, the occasional dissent but not a clear alternative: As a result of these calculations, the Liberals seem fearful of challenging the basic framework of debate established by Mr. Harper, and will thus argue at the margins of his framework rather than trying to create an entirely new one themselves.

The result will be a Liberal Party of little policies without much vision, and certainly without the tools to reconnect with those core convictions that defined the party in its better days. The result, too, will be a leader whose own core convictions will be challenged.


From Robert Hale's report into the Meadow Lake membership sale controversy:
[(T)he local DLC volunteer] readily admitted that he had not contacted the members and had simply filled out the forms based on the information received from the Band offices.

There is no evidence that anyone other than [the local DLC volunteer] handled the applications or arranged delivery to DLC. The applications arrived at DLC campaign office with signatures and volunteers with DLC campaign office did not add signatures. Based on this information the only possible conclusion is that [the local DLC volunteer] entered the signatures on the applications.
It is very significant that this scheme did not succeed. One person did try to deceive the party and to abuse the rights of many individuals. But the NDP found out. It was not just one person or one process that revealed this scheme. Questions were raised by all leadership campaigns, by the local executive, by provincial office and by individual members. He tried to deceive the wrong party. He was caught several times over.
The RCMP's conclusions leading to charges against Ernest Morin alone:
"The investigation is complete. There is only one individual who has been charged," Insp. Stewart Kingdon, head of the RCMP commercial crimes unit, told reporters Tuesday at Regina RCMP headquarters.
Kingdon said he could not discuss details of the investigation — including whether Lingenfelter was interviewed — because the matter was before the courts.

However, he said he considered the NDP to have been fully co-operative with the investigation.
(Edit: fixed link.)

The reviews are in

Norman Spector demolishes the Cons' latest set of excuses and rationalizations:
Yesterday, Conservative anyonymice (sic) were offering a new reason for prorogation. The PM, we were told, wanted to ensure that ministers with new portfolios had time to bone up before facing their opposition critics in Question Period.


Had that been Mr. Harper’s true motivation, he could have shuffled his cabinet weeks ago. For, as has been widely reported, the Prime Minister sent his ministers updated mandate letters before Christmas. Normally, these letters are given to ministers on the day they assume their new responsibilities.

Had the shuffle taken place before Christmas, the new ministers would have had roughly the same amount of time to prepare as they will now have. Outgoing ministers would have been spared some useless work over the holidays.
Yesterday, Conservative spin doctors were whispering that Stockwell Day’s appointment as President of the Treasury Board was a signal of the Harper government’s seriousness in reining in spending. Mr. Day’s experience as Alberta Treasurer was cited as proof; in truth, per capita program spending under the Klein government was the highest of any province in Canada. All the rest was the kind of spin that you can only get away with in a one-party province.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On wasted efforts

For the most part, I wouldn't expect today's cabinet shuffle to have much substantive effect given that Stephen Harper doesn't figure to stop micromanaging his cabinet anytime soon. But it's worth noting the bizarre timing of Harper's game of musical chairs.

Remember that it was just weeks ago that Harper sent new mandate letters to his existing cabinet. Now, he's shifted ten of those ministers into new posts before they had time to actually act on the new mandates.

As a result, the shifted ministers and their staff have effectively wasted the interim receiving and dealing with new instructions for positions which Harper apparently didn't intend to keep them in. Which offers just another example of what passes for efficiency from the Cons.

Flush? Or flushing?

James Wood reports that in last year's by-elections, the Sask Party and its candidates roughly doubled the NDP's spending while failing to cut meaningfully into the NDP's share of the vote. Which, by journalistic convention, is of course good news for Brad Wall.

The reviews are in

The Star-Phoenix editorial board on yesterday's Conadscam ruling:
Justice Luc Martineau boiled the complicated "regional media buy (RMB)" scheme down to whether the candidates voluntarily agreed to participate and if they did, in fact, incur the expenses themselves.

If such ads that promote the party and leader are interpreted as justified for helping the candidate at the constituency level, it only furthers public sentiment that local MPs are mostly empty vessels who are filled up by the party machine and their leader once they get to Ottawa.
The effect, of course, is to render party campaign spending limits almost irrelevant. Even when the court accepts that the tab for what's essentially a national advertisement to promote the party and leader was picked up by the party itself, if the candidate agrees to give up a portion of his spending room to accommodate it, everything's fine, one infers. The taxpayer is on the hook for reimbursement of a portion of these costs.

In an era of ever-growing evidence of tight control over individual MPs by party leaders, is there any question whether candidates wouldn't agree "to incur these expenses themselves" if they are asked?
If Elections Canada won't appeal this decision, as it should, it's up to parliamentarians to do what the judge suggests is their job. The odds of that happening in today's House are all but nil. To let this decision stand ill-serves Canada's electoral process.

Far off target

Mia Rabson points out an utterly bizarre request from a group which is normally at least somewhat consistent in its public demands:
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is pressuring the Liberals and NDP to ensure anti-gun registry MPs get appointed to the committee that will consider a bill to kill the registry when Parliament resumes in March. CTF federal director Kevin Gaudet says if they don't, the bill will likely fail. He argues that as the House already voted in favour of the bill once, it would be anti-democratic of the Liberals and NDP not to give the bill its due.

"I think there is going to be a lot of pressure on both leaders," Gaudet said.
So what's wrong with the request? We can start with the fact that there's no particular reason for the CTF to be taking a particularly strong position on the gun registry in the first place. But let's leave that aside for now and look at the more fundamental problems with the statement.

Even assuming there was some reason for the CTF to take a position as to whether or not a gun registry bill should pass, it would seem to be a rather large leap from agreeing with an idea in principle, to effectively insisting that MPs not work on improving it. Which would be exactly the end result if the CTF's demands were applied generally: the fact that bills had passed second reading would be seen as reason to avoid doing anything to amend them in committee even if a majority of MPs in the committee and the House of Commons alike agree that amendments would result in an improvement.

In effect, in the interest of playing to the base on a single issue, a group which is supposed to be concerned with getting value for public money is asking that Parliament cease to do anything but conduct a single yea-or-nay vote on legislation as presented. Which would presumably result in far more waste than the CTF can possibly allege from the gun registry itself - and more importantly would facilitate the passage of bad legislation as the checks and balances in a multiple-reading system are negated in favour of a declaration that the second-reading vote is the only "democratic" one.

But it gets better yet. Gaudet doesn't just want to tear down Canada's Parliamentary system for the sake of pandering on a single issue, he's also obviously wrong in his assessment of what happens if the bill doesn't get approved by the committee:
Parliamentary rules prevent a committee from killing a bill entirely, but they can report back to Parliament that a bill should not be passed.
So it's nothing short of an outright falsehood to claim that a split committee would actually end the bill's progress: one way or another, it would find its way back to the House of Commons where all MPs would have their say on it. (That is, assuming the Cons don't engineer an election first so they can blame the opposition parties for their choice not to get the bill passed.)

In sum, then, Gaudet seems to have crossed the line from earnest advocacy to blatant misinformation for the sake of pushing an issue which isn't even one of his group's central concerns. And CTF supporters should have reason to question whether they want to encourage that kind of action.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A radical proposal

Shorter Robert Silver:

Some may think it's crazy for governments to encourage the perverse bonus structures and warped incentives that helped push the world into a global financial crisis just over a year ago. But as far as I'm concerned, Canada would be crazy not to.

Update: Greg weighs in as well.

Update II: What Paul Krugman said:
(T)he point needs to be repeated again and again: at this point, there is no reason to take it on faith that cleverness in the financial industry is a net social good. Unless you can provide some clear evidence of productive innovations since regulation began to unravel — and ATMs don’t count — the balance of the evidence suggests that smart people have been devising ingenious ways to concentrate risk and direct capital to the wrong uses.

Not so sweeping

There's no doubt that the Cons will be breathing at least somewhat of a sigh of relief in the wake of today's decision on Conadscam. But before anybody gets carried away in declaring the decison an absolute victory for the Cons, let's take a closer look at what was actually decided.

On my reading, the biggest win for the Cons comes from para. 217, where the general idea behind the in-and-out scheme was effectively held to be lawful:
(I)t was perfectly lawful for the Party to put a condition on the use of any sum of money that would be transferred to a local campaign. It was up to the campaign to accept or refuse such condition, just as it was up to the campaign to accept to participate in a regional media buy organized by the Party.
That finding effectively cuts to the core of the largest area of dispute surrounding Conadscam, representing a judicial declaration that a riding association doesn't ever have to have control over money in order to validly claim to have spent it. And to the extent it doesn't get overturned on an appeal, it effectively permits the Cons to run some form of a similar scheme in future elections.

But that isn't the end of the story by any means.

First, it's worth noting that as much as the Cons would like to pretend that the decision serves as a "test case" for all 67 of the candidates whose returns hadn't been accepted by Elections Canada, the reality is that Martineau J.'s decision makes specific mention of some factors which might make it inapplicable to other candidates.

For example, para. 214 includes a specific mention that for the returns before the court, no ads started running until after the candidate's agent had approved their expense, while para. 213 and 221 point out that there isn't any question that the documents for the two agents before the court were faked or forged. Where those factors are different for a particular agent, there may still be reason for the Chief Electoral Officer to reach a difference conclusion. Moreover, much of Martineau J.'s analysis deals with a lack of reasons by the Chief Electoral Officer, suggesting that some valid grounds may exist to reject returns in the future.

More significantly for the Cons, though, Martineau J. also rejected one key component of their scheme in the form of the attempt to argue that the party and the agents involved could allocated the "commercial value" of advertising as they saw fit. See para. 236-237:
The (Cons') allocation of the broadcasting costs for the three participating campaigns in the Halifax area is not logical and does not reflect the fact that the three ridings benefited equally from the impugned ads. The Halifax West riding ends up paying much more than the Halifax and Dartmouth ridings. The allocation in this case has to be made taking into consideration the equal participation by the ridings in the total buy arranged by RMI. The actual allocation is below the commercial value in the case of the Halifax and Dartmouth ridings, and above the commercial value in the case of the Halifax West riding.

The fact that the amounts charged by the Fund to the participating campaigns were related only to the amounts these campaigns could afford within their respective election spending limits, is irrelevant in establishing the fair commercial value of the impugned ads for each participating campaign. This purely arbitrary allocation, whether it was unilaterally determined by the Party or whether it was jointly agreed upon between the Party and each participating campaign, renders any claim for amounts in excess of the commercial value unreasonable under section 406 of the Act.
So to the extent the Cons might want to carry out similar schemes in the future, Martineau J.'s decision dictates that purchases for a particular area will be required to be allocated equally among the participating ridings, not arranged based solely on which ridings have room under their own spending caps. Which would almost certainly make the organization of such a plan far more difficult. And it would seem entirely possible that under Martineau J.'s analysis, some of the 2006 allocations from Con ridings may have been illegal once their ad buys are properly accounted for.

So while the Cons did indeed win on one major point of argument, they're a long ways from being out of the woods for their 2006 practices - and Martineau J.'s analysis may also make it a lot more difficult for them to engage in similar schemes in the future.

The reviews are in

Carol Goar:
For the past 35 years, Liberal and Conservative prime ministers have weakened Parliament to strengthen their own grip on power. Harper has gone further than any of his predecessors, capitalizing on an ineffective opposition and a tuned-out populace.

If you think this slide toward one-man government is fine, a shuttered Parliament is no problem. If want to preserve the fragile safeguards that remain, it is.

The stakes go beyond the here-and-now, beyond Harper's political tactics, beyond the ill-tempered, unproductive wrangling in the House of Commons.

If Parliament loses its legitimacy, your children and their children will have no institution capable of reining in an autocratic leader or a government that is out of control.

If people with talent, fresh ideas and clear principles give up on Parliament, the best hope of fixing it will be lost.

It may not bother you if democracy is diminished.

It does trouble Canadians who believe the rights their forebears fought and died to protect are worth defending.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Case in point

Yesterday's links:
In order for any kind of party or, indeed, any institution with a democratic base to exist, it must have an organization that delegates tasks. As this bureaucratic structure develops, it invests a small group of people with enough power that they can then subvert the very mechanisms by which they can be held to account: the party press, party conventions and delegate votes. "It is organization which gives birth to the domination of the elected over the electors," (Robert Michels) wrote, "of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organization, says oligarchy."
Today's headlines:
He's called Michael by his friends, Iggy by irreverent pundits, Iffy by his critics.

But to those who work most closely with him every day, the federal Liberal leader now goes by yet another moniker: Mr. Ignatieff.

And, by the way, they have to wear professional office garb while they're at it.
Donolo, who'd seen first hand the success of the more structured approach preferred by Chretien, told Liberals the leader's office needed to establish some defined lines of authority.
Donolo set about creating a more traditional, heirarchical organization chart and a more professional atmosphere, starting with the more formal work wear and manner of referring to the leader.

Harper Holiday Homework Assignment

Steven Blaney:

Define "irony", and explain how the term might apply to your statement that politicians shouldn't "take Canadians...for a bunch of idiots".

Sunday Morning Links

- Erin looks into the question of what programs the Harper Cons might end up slashing in the name of pretending to fight Deficit Jim Flaherty's red ink, and reaches the conclusion that the wholesale cuts which would be needed to put even a slight dent in the projected deficits aren't likely to happen:
(E)ven if the Conservatives completely eliminated the federal departments of Agriculture, Environment, Fisheries, Foreign Affairs, Health, Human Resources, Indian Affairs, Industry, Justice, Natural Resources and Public Works, it would still not save enough to balance the budget next year or even the year after that.

Ottawa writes large and important cheques to seniors, unemployed workers, parents, and provincial governments. But as an institution, the federal government is no longer very large, especially if one excludes the military and security forces. There is simply not much room to cut.
Of course based on the track record of the Cons' provincial cousins, it's still an open question whether they'll look for excuses to hack away at federal programming anyway. But based on Erin's analysis, they at least shouldn't be able to get away with pretending that reducing the deficit is their goal in the process.

- Douglas Bell rightly slams the Wall Street Journal for trying to use Haiti's earthquake as an excuse to engage in disaster capitalism by claiming in effect that if Haiti just gets wealthier, then it'll be able to afford better regulation. But the WSJ's position is particularly appalling when one recognizes that it's outside actors - including Canada and the U.S. - who have not only gone along with efforts to keep democratic government from taking root, but also tried to ensure that Haiti won't have any ability to regulate or otherwise make decisions for itself.

- I've already commented on one tidbit in James Wood's weekend roundup. But as for the lead story, I'll note that while Brad Wall's decision to finally talk about prorogation makes for a bit of a change from his previous attempt to hide from the public on an area within his cabinet responsibilities, the ultimate "Conservative Supporter Supports Conservatives!!!" outcome can hardly come as much surprise.

- Finally, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament is over 198,000 members and counting. So the 200,000 mark looks like a strong likelihood by the end of this weekend - with a week to go until the rallies which figure to serve as the most important move from online organization to visible impact.