Saturday, May 08, 2010

On high-priced credit

Shorter Murray Mandryk:

Sure, Rob Norris' stay in cabinet has generally been a slow motion train wreck. But it's theoretically possible that one letter he wrote could be linked to desirable action if another level of government which has ignored similar requests before decides to change its tune. And under CanWest policy, that entitles any Sask Party minister to a column singing his praises.

Suddenly it all makes sense

No wonder the Sask Party was almost completely devoid of resolutions at its convention this year. Instead of wasting any time on a "party" which doesn't serve as much beyond a public relations department, the Sask Party's corporate base apparently saved its plans for the organization that'll ultimately make the province's decisions as long as the Wall government is in power.

And particularly given the Sask Party's track record of leaving no promise unbroken and no reality undenied in order to give big business what it wants, it's certainly worth wondering exactly how long it'll take for the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce's plans to become the law of the land if Wall stays in office past next year.

Friday, May 07, 2010

On lessons learned

The UK's election yesterday obviously has fallen short of the shift in the balance of party power that some commentators may have anticipated. But the Liberal Democrats' failure to gain any ground serves primarily as an example of how not to capitalize on an opening to pursue real systemic change, rather than a statement that it's futile to try.

At the outset, it's worth noting that the Lib Dems' momentary strength was itself based in part on the actions of its opponents. With both Labour and the Conservatives spending much of the campaign anticipating the possibility of a minority government where the Libs Dems' support could prove crucial, the two historical governing parties managed to turn "I agree with Nick" into the catchphrase of the UK's first-ever leaders' debate. And it's not surprising that with all three leaders effectively boosting the Lib Dems and their leader, public opinion followed suit - though even that represented only a shift of a few points from the 2005 reults.

But while the Lib Dems were happy to ride the wave of hype coming out of the debate, there doesn't seem to be any indication that their political machine had much of a strategy even to maintain their new level of public support, let alone to translate it into the improvements in their seat count. Which means that when the other parties inevitably shifted their message to cut into the Lib Dems' momentum, the Lib Dems ended up right back where they started - except with the burden of having fallen short of temporarily heightened expectations.

Now, the Lib Dems' difficulties are hardly unusual for a third party seeking to rise up to the level of a historical two-party race. And that's probably worth keeping in mind when we'd otherwise be tempted to point to the Lib Dems, or the ADQ, or any other third-party gains as evidence of a public appetite to overturn a longstanding two-party structure.

But while there are plenty of examples of how a momentary increase in third-party support based on a popular leader and dissatisfaction with the two main parties can prove fleeting, that's not the end of the story.

Instead, it's when a third party is able to back up those factors with a sound base of principled support and effective party-level planning that it's actually possible to produce lasting change in party positioning - with the Nova Scotia NDP serving as a prime recent example of how the right conditions can come together. And the fact that the federal NDP has developed an effective inoculation strategy over the past few elections to maintain its support against the Libs' predictable attacks should signal that it's also on the right track.

Ultimately, then, the lesson which any party should draw from the Lib Dems' failings is to keep focusing on those fundamentals which it can largely control, rather than banking on bubbles of support which are sure to burst sooner or later. And hopefully the reminder should serve to ensure a better result in Canada's next election than seems to have arisen in the UK.

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk tears into the Wall government for combining a stubborn refusal to do its job of listening to the province with an arrogant sense of entitlement:
This is more than a government having the occasional bad day, which Thursday truly was. This is a government that's become so arrogantly unaccountable that it can't see right now what it's doing wrong.

On Thursday, we saw Environment Minister Nancy Heppner sashay into the legislature at her own leisure. (After all, why should a minister bother to show up on time for question period?) She then blew off reporters' requests for interviews afterwards as if she was back in Ottawa working for Stephen Harper. She's recently demonstrated less understanding and has been less of an advocate for her department than any other minister.

We then saw a petulant Health Minister Don McMorris -- obviously still stinging from the previous day's apology in the assembly -- trying to justify why a Prince Albert man should have to pay for dental surgery after the removal of a matchbook-sized tumour in his jaw. Isn't this the "accountable" government that promised us a health ombudsman and a "patient-first review" so such patients wouldn't fall between the cracks? But in fairness, the Sask. Party government has been distracted by more pressing issues of the day, like removing the plaque in the legislature commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Tommy Douglas government election.
...
Contrary to Wall's sanctimonious notion Wednesday, this government isn't darn near perfect when it comes to accountability and transparency. It has a hell of a long way to go.

Accountability and transparency should be more than bygone campaign rhetoric. They should be the foundation of government culture.

Right now, that culture does not exist in the Sask. Party government.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The silver lining

It's true enough that the Sask Party's refusal to allow NDP MLAs to introduce Terry Parker in the Legislature makes for a rather glaring breach of the usual procedures in the assembly. But I have to wonder whether it also raises a major filibustering opportunity for the NDP: wouldn't a rotating system of MLAs requesting and being denied leave to introduce guests make for an entirely appropriate means of running out the clock on Bill 80 in particular?

A call for transparency

Stefani Langenegger reports on some good news from the Saskatchewan legislature, as the NDP's motion calling for the release of the RCMP's secret files on Tommy Douglas has passed (as expected). We'll find out in time whether the unanimous agreement among Saskatchewan's MLAs can help to push CSIS to release the documents - but the NDP and Sask Party alike deserve credit for the motion's success.

That said, it's worth noting that the motion also seems to signal that both parties in the Legislature can agree on the value of public disclosure about how government has operated in the past. And that may make it difficult for the Sask Party in particular to keep arguing against transparency (or changing the subject from their own secrecy) in the present.

On misplaced appeals

Shorter Helena Guergis:

If the Conservative Party stands for anything, surely it's letting the "you people" decide who should rule them.

(Not to say that I particularly agree with the Cons' decision to nix Guergis as a candidate. But Guergis has to rank near the bottom of the list of people who should be making arguments based on respect for "grassroots electors".)

Edit: fixed wording.

Pressure time

And speaking of policy choices that seem to be based largely on protecting monopolies at public expense, Michael Geist reports that the Harper Cons plan to introduce yet another copyright bill that attacks consumers for the benefit of corporate distributors.

I'm less surprised than some that the Cons' "consultations" have led them back to exactly where they started: if anything, the time period since the consultations ended probably gave them a reprieve from the pressure that forced them to back off in the first place. And the fact that the Cons have gone back to the anti-consumer model should send a strong signal as to whose interests they'd most like to favour.

But it's worth remembering that it was the Cons themselves who chose not to push their first DMCA clone due to the resulting public outcry. So in addition to the entirely reasonable prospect that the opposition parties could team up to kill the bill, it shouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility that the Cons themselves will at least seek to buy time again in the face of another backlash.

On partial treatment

In the wake of Ontario's move to eliminate "professional allowances" paid to pharmacies by drug manufacturers, the Globe and Mail reports on possible interprovincial cooperation to reduce the cost of generic drugs across the country. And it's certainly a plus if cooperative efforts can make needed medications more affordable for consumers and provinces alike.

But at last notice, the cost of generic drugs made for less than a quarter of all Canadian drug expenses - and of course the market for generics is based entirely on their being a cheaper alternative once a branded drug loses its patent protection. So is there any particular reason why the talk about cost reduction seems to be aimed solely at generic drugs?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

On invitations

From Kady's liveblog of the Government Operations committee today:
(Con MP Chris) Warkentin delivers an impassioned monologue on the power and importance of this particular committee during the estimates process; he would hate the committee to become nothing more than a rubber stamp for the estimates.
So are the Cons actually inviting the opposition parties to use Parliament's authority to limit government expenditures - implicitly suggesting that they'd see that action as constructive rather than grounds for an election? And if so, is it about time for some do-overs?

Now comes the hard part

Needless to say, it's great news that notwithstanding the earlier Lib roadblocks, the NDP's Climate Change Accountability Act has passed in the democratically-elected chamber of Parliament. But does anybody want to bet against the Cons using their unelected, unaccountable Senators to prevent the bill from ever becoming law?

On misleadership

The Sask Party's inevitable decision to put Don McMorris' political interests ahead of the Legislature's ability to request accurate information from government ministers can't come as much surprise. But while the prima facie breach of privilege in McMorris' misinformation is certainly worth pointing out, it's worth noting as well that the significance of McMorris' falsehood pales in comparison to other examples from the Wall government.

Indeed, it's been in just the last week that Brad Wall has publicly presented a patently false explanation as to how the WEPA supposedly differs from the TILMA which he previously promised not to sign. And there's no lack of earlier issues where there's an obvious gap between what the Sask Party has said publicly and what it's planned internally: see e.g. Rod Gantefoer's sudden reversal in going from claiming one day that the province would never enter a recession, to deciding three days later that we were coming out of one.

Of course, McMorris' statement lent itself to immediate censure in that it was made in the Legislative Assembly itself on an issue where the Sask Party couldn't plead that the issue was one of interpretation or debate. But neither McMorris' inaccuracy nor the Sask Party's refusal to acknowledge any problem with it can be said to reflect any particular departure from the Wall government's usual standards. Which means that the McMorris story reflects just one more indication that it'll take a sharp message from the province's voters in 2011 to ensure an honest government.

Update: For more on the McMorris incident, see columns from the Star Phoenix editorial board and Murray Mandryk. h/t to Kent and Leftdog.

Well said

Brian Topp on the all-too-obvious consequences of an economy based on corporate greed, as well as the best way to avoid them:
What British Petroleum has done in the Gulf of Mexico is what Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and the rest of the rogue's gallery have done to the global economy. This latest tragedy is therefore a perfect symbol of our times – and also a reminder that the consequences of limitless greed and mindless deregulation have been socialized with amazing speed. There being no more committed Marxists than corporate boards seeking to pawn the costs of their decisions onto the public sphere, which they otherwise do everything they can to tear down.

Who will pay to clean up the Gulf of Mexico? Don't bet it will be the shareholders of British Petroleum.

Who will pay for the same cleanup required in the broader economy? The bill for that cleanup has already been slipped to our children and grandchildren, in the form of bailouts and stimulus funded by suddenly limitless public debt.

In the United States, Republicans are smacking their lips, saying the Gulf tragedy is Barrack Obama's fault. In reality, it is just another reminder of the central message of these times. People like that can't be trusted to run anything, anywhere.
Meanwhile, the Harper Cons continue to cling to the argument that the banks at the centre of any possible financial meltdown shouldn't bear any responsibility for fixing any resulting mess. And it remains to be seen whether Canada's Republican-style government will singlehandedly manage to torpedo a global effort to at least limit the damage from the next inevitable collapse.

On developing ideas

For those wondering what's going on with the Saskatchewan NDP policy development process, the answer is plenty. The latest meeting was held last week in Swift Current, featuring Greg Marchildon and Daniel Glaeske presenting on rural health care issues; you can see their presentations either on video or in point form here.

But perhaps more importantly, the first publicly-available member-generated content has also been posted (warning: PDF). While the scope for discussion at the provincial convention was limited to two questions related to young people and education, there's no lack of ideas worth discussing, including a few suggestions on linking education to employment that strike me as both novel and worthwhile:
- Promote labour force attachment which would include job coaches for employing people with multiple barriers to employment.
...
- Start with K‐12 providing comprehensive orientation to help choose a future career. We need to engage young people at the early part of their K‐12 education. Start the discussion in elementary/middle school. Have presentations done by people in the trades/professions. Promote this in the curriculum and all throughout the K‐12 system.
...
- Increase pre‐hiring practices – where the student is hired at the beginning of their post secondary education and work with them throughout their education. Upon completion fully integrate them into their work places.
Those are just a few of the points raised at this year's convention - and hopefully they'll be only the beginning of the ideas generated by the policy review process and presented for public discussion.

For those interested in getting involved, the schedule for upcoming events is here, including discussions of northern issues in La Ronge on May 8 (this weekend) and youth issues in North Battleford on May 15. Or for those who prefer to offer their suggestions online, you'll find an e-mail link as well.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

On past consultations

Shorter Wall government:

The previous NDP government did such a good job consulting Saskatchewan citizens about everything under the sun that we see no reason to bother with public input on anything.

On missed opportunities

It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Cons are eager to distract from their open-door policy for Rahim Jaffer by trying to impose a full lobbying reporting regime for all MP contact even when the underlying concern is with influence on government decision-making.

But based on the Cons' eagerness to impose costs on the opposition in this and other cases, I'd think it's Harper - not any of the opposition leaders as argued by some - who's missed a significant opportunity to grandstand on the issue of auditing MP expenses. What better way to take advantage of the government's greater resources - and to deflect attention from what the government has done with far larger amounts of public money - than to saddle every opposition MP with nagging questions about meal expenses?

Tuesday Morning Links

So much going on, so little time. So let's deal with a few recent developments in point form.

- Regina Councillor Chris Szarka wants to put in place a Regina Big Home Lottery (wealthy property owners guaranteed to win!). Christine Whitaker responds by pointing out the problems with shifting the cost of services even further toward those who can't afford to pay more.

- Brad Wall's Sask Party government: consistently outraged that anyone has the nerve to seek out the truth.

- Two former Saskatchewan NDP leadership contestants look to be making solid progress in their riding nomination races: Ryan Meili has relaunched his website and funded his Saskatoon Sutherland nomination contest through a single money bomb, while Yens Pedersen is back blogging with a strong comment on the WEPA.

- Finally, the Georgia Straight reports that the Campbell Liberals have even more to worry about by way of public backlash to the HST as the anti-harmonization forces are looking at recalling MLAs. Meanwhile, Colin Hansen is shocked to learn that the rules apply to his government - while Elections B.C.'s rightful rejection of pro-HST propaganda makes it all the more likely that the current petition initiative will succeed.

On trial balloons

As Leftdog has noted, the Saskatchewan NDP has released a second new ad ("Balloon"), focusing on the Wall government's woeful fiscal track record and its consequences for the province:


On the plus side, the ad is definitely eye-catching, as the cartoon effect and motion of the balloon on screen figure to attract more viewers than a cookie-cutter ad would. And more importantly, it follows up its attention-grabbing effect by packing loads of information (in both visual and audio form) into its 30-second run time.

Of course, the sheer volume of information may have some drawbacks as well, since a substantial part of the message may end up getting lost in the shuffle for the moment. But while that would be a serious problem in election advertising, I'd have to think the NDP's main focus needs to be on planting seeds which will bear fruit in terms of more concrete impressions around the 2011 election date. And the two ads so far look to make for an important start toward that goal.

Edit: fixed formatting.

On new realities

This weekend, I noted that one of the more important choices facing the federal Libs is whether to paint themselves as all things to all people in pursuit of the remote prospect of a majority, or accept a smaller niche which will make it easier for a combined opposition effort to oust the Harper government. But wouldn't have expected even the most rabid of Lib partisans to be entirely willing to acknowledge that the latter is probably all the Libs can plan for in the foreseeable future:
Liberal Party strategist Warren Kinsella, one of the architects of the Chr├ętien majority victories of 1993, 1997, and 2000, said he's told members of the current Liberal leadership to forget about winning a majority.

"It may be those of us who were privileged to work for Chr├ętien worked for the last majority prime minister," he said. "I can see a situation where there will never again be a majority government for the rest of my life."
...
Mr. Kinsella said the entrenchment of the Bloc and the lack of enthusiasm that voters, and particularly young people, have for the two main parties means minority governments are "the way things are going to be."

Declared Mr. Kinsella: "There hasn't been a majority government in this country since 2003 and I've computed it and added it up and so has everybody else and I don't see how you get your way back to that."
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the recognition that a majority simply isn't in the cards anytime soon will lead the Libs to make any meaningful effort to work with the other opposition parties. And in the wake of the Harper precedent of a minority government acting like it has a majority, the Libs may well figure they can attempt the same rather than modifying their usual strategy of pretending that only two parties exist.

But at the very least, the seeming consensus that the Libs can't plausibly expect to win a majority anytime soon would figure to raise questions about how they interact with the elected MPs who will determine who forms the government of Canada in minority Parliaments to come. And if the Libs choose not to look for cooperative solutions to the problems with continued Con government, they may only open the door for another party to successfully take up that mantle.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre - NDP Nomination Race Shaping Up

In the wake of its strong effort to raise money at the constituency level to make sure Tom Lukiwski faces a well-funded opponent, the Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre NDP now looks to have an interesting nomination battle on its hands. Two candidates are in the field so far, with minister Don Hansen boasting a Facebook page and website, while musician Brian Sklar has a Facebook presence.

No nomination date has yet been set, and it may be that there will be more candidates joining the race. But with two strong candidates already stepping forward, Lukiwski figures to face a tough NDP challenge whenever the next election comes around.

Burning question

Sure, one could interpret Michael Chong's motion on Question Period reform as mavericky. Or one could look at the wording of his statement - featuring a "we" which seems to signal approval from on high - and hold out some ill-placed hope that something will come of it. But isn't the more likely conclusion that the Cons want to be seen pretending to be constructive before an election which will cut short whatever work gets started?

The reviews are in

A couple of columns today nicely criticize the Cons' reckless crime policies for their massive public costs - making for a particularly apt message on a day when the Cons are feigning responsibility when it comes to Canada's finances.

Here's the Ottawa Citizen:
By the time Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page is through putting a price tag on the federal government's tough-on-crime agenda, even those who support the concept in principle might well be asking: "Why are we doing this?"

That could turn into a $10 billion question, or more, before all the costs are tallied, according to some estimates. Page is expected to release a report this week on ongoing and future costs of the government's crime bills, something the federal government has failed to do and may not have even calculated for its own benefit, considering the difficulty both Page's office, MPs, and senators have had gathering financial data. Early indications are that provinces will be on the hook for the bulk of the costs associated with one of those crime bills, the Truth in Sentencing legislation, also known as the two-for-one sentencing law.
...
The enormous drain on the public purse that the government's law-and-order agenda represents is, however, not the only reason to question its value. As criminologists, lawyers and other justice experts have repeatedly noted, the policies championed by the Harper government are not likely to make Canadians safer...

It's bad enough that Conservative operatives and politicians decline to set the record straight and disabuse Canadians of their misguided fears about unsafe streets. Worse, the Harper Conservatives have helped stoke these fears in the cynical belief that doing so is to their political benefit.
...
(M)ndatory minimums encourage those who can afford good lawyers to reach plea bargains to avoid harsh mandatory sentences. More importantly, the research makes clear that 40 years of study indicates they do not deter crime.

What these policies will do is substantially increase prison populations across the country, which is going to cost taxpayers a lot of money. Thanks to parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, we may be getting some sense of exactly how exorbitant this will be. The question the government must answer is: What are we getting for our money?
And Dave Breakenridge:
The cost of the so-called Truth-in-Sentencing law, just one of several pieces of Tory tough-on-crime legislation, is in dispute, with Toews suggesting it’s a scant $2 billion, while reports indicate the parliamentary budget officer has it pegged at five times that amount.

Somewhere in that gap lies the real cost, and when it’s added to the several other measures in the hopper, including minimum jail time for drug crimes, we’re left with a large expense to the taxpayer without any real indication our streets will be any safer.
...
(I)t’s time this government realizes that streets can be made safer, and money saved, by not throwing every anti-social type under lock and key.

Drug court funding hikes would be a good start, as would stepping away from some mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes.

Because the more people we keep out of jail who don’t belong there, the more room we have for the worst of the worst.

On influence peddling

Joe at Owls and Roosters has a highly informative post on the Wall government's award of a major contract to former Enterprise Saskatchewan CEO Dale Botting. But Joe seems to me to have only scratched the surface of the glaring problems with the arrangement.

For the most part, Joe focuses in on two major problems: the exorbitant amounts being paid to Botting (more in raw dollars than he's received as CEO, plus public sector-level expenses, plus explicit permission for him to do additional consulting), and the direct link between Botting and the Premier's office.

But there's much more to the deal than that which makes the arrangement look highly questionable. Take for example...

The Sask Party's focus on a "visible culmination" of its corporate-first ideology rather than, say, a mix of development that's actually in the public interest. In effect, Botting's contract explicitly instructs him to use whatever means necessary to give the Sask Party some ribbon cuttings to attend in advance of the 2011 election - reflecting a glaring misuse of public money for political purposes, and a prioritization of glitzy one-time projects over actual economic fundamentals.

And of course, Botting's contract is hardly the only area where public money figures to be funneled into the Wall government's staging. Indeed, the effect of putting a full-court press on the corporations involved in the listed projects seems to be a deliberate attempt to use government influence and resources to alter corporate decision-making.

But what if one recognizes that government has a role in shaping economic development? That brings us to the province's weakened bargaining position. Having been named on a list of projects that the provincial government has a public stake in seeing completed, all of the businesses involved will be able to drive a hard bargain with the province. And the Sask Party doesn't figure to have much choice but to pony up whatever the corporations involved can think to ask for, since it's publicly named a specific list of projects it wants to have finalized as symbolizing economic development (even if they go ahead only because of provincial inducements).

And that in turn leads to the fact that the Wall government has contradicted its constant admonitions against picking winners and losers. The list of 14 projects which they want to be able to point to come election time obviously reflects the "winners" list of corporate interests who can count on provincial support. Meanwhile, the "losers" include both everybody else looking at investment in Saskatchewan - and of course the public which will be stuck with the bill for the Wall government's Potemkin economy.

In sum, Saskatchewan taxpayers are paying a Sask Party crony to peddle his widely-advertised influence with the provincial government, funneling money into politically-motivated "development" intended to provide Brad Wall and company with photo ops in advance of the 2011 election with no regard for the province's longer-term economic interests. And while Saskatchewan voters probably shouldn't be surprised that this is Wall's idea of a market economy, they don't figure to be happy with the knowledge that the province's resources are being so blatantly misused.

Edit: fixed wording.

Dumbing down

A belated shorter John Doyle:

A conscience. An interest in accuracy. A sense of shame. These are the weaknesses which the Cons have long since eliminated in order to better posture on behalf of their party and ideology. And I salute them for it.

On premeditation

It's certainly worth raising the alarm over the Cons' passage of crucial attacks on Parliamentary accountability through lines buried in their omnibus budget bills. But let's also keep in mind what the move says about their supposed commitment to fiscal discipline.

In the spring of 2007, there wasn't much immediate reason for anybody to be concerned about federal borrowing in the wake of large surpluses. And indeed the Cons were a year and a half away from a campaign where they continued to pretend that Canada would never run a deficit on their watch.

But apparently, even while nobody else was expecting Canada to face a sea of red ink, Deficit Jim and Recession Stephen were already scheming to put the public on the hook for borrowed money without Parliamentary oversight. Which in turn suggests that the Cons have always planned to drive Canada into the red, and engaged in plenty of work in advance to avoid public scrutiny when they did so.

Of course, there's never been much room for dispute how ridiculous it is that right-wing, slash-and-burn parties like the Harper Cons claim any reputation as remotely competent fiscal managers. But the Cons' advance planning for unaccountable borrowing looks like thoroughly compelling evidence against their claim to having any interest in managing the country responsibly - and the opposition parties should be eager to reverse the change by pointing out the premeditation involved.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

On ad sense

Kent has already provided his review of the Saskatchewan NDP's new TV ad. But I'll go into a bit more detail with my take on what seems like it could be improved, as well as part of the ad which is open to some potentially useful interpretation as the 2011 election draws nearer.

Here's the ad:

In general, I agree with Kent's take that the ad serves as a useful summary of the damage inflicted on Saskatchewan's provincial finances by the Wall government. But that doesn't mean there aren't some areas which I'd hope will be tightened up in future ads - if only as a matter of nitpicking rather than fundamental disagreement with the campaign.

The first issue I'll raise with the ad is the choice of colour cues attached to the "draining" image.

While the effect itself is reasonably eye-catching and generally effective, I'm not sure that it's sufficiently tied to anything that will be easily recalled around election time. Nothing in the ad tries to chip away at Brad Wall or the Sask Party as anything but a word on the screen, which seems like a wasted opportunity to more closely attach visual identifiers to the government's failings. And even the choice of colours doesn't help matters much: the green of the NDP surplus as portrayed in the ad is a far brighter shade than anything that figures to appear as part of the NDP's materials, while the red of the deficit doesn't have any obvious connection to the Sask Party (and nothing in the ad mentions "red ink" or some other explanation).

So the choice of colours and lack of other obvious identifiers will require the NDP to put in extra work to explain the connection.

In addition, the inclusion of the "draining" behind text about the NDP's surplus might create a confusing visual for those who don't pay close attention. It would seem to have been a simple enough matter to show a steady pool of water linked to the NDP's name and surplus, then show the draining happening only as Wall and the Sask Party are mentioned within that part of the screen - ensuring a connection between the NDP and steady government, then a separate link between the Sask Party and the draining effect. But instead, the actual ad leaves some room for viewers paying only partial attention to associate the draining effect with the NDP as well.

Again, that makes for only minor criticism of what's generally a useful ad. And on the bright side, the tag line at the end looks to leave a couple of especially important options open for future messaging.

The question "who knew they'd cost us so much so fast?" might appear on its face to be entirely rhetorical. And in making a pitch to voters who may have supported Wall in 2007, the NDP will surely be happy to leave it at that, effectively offering an out for those who can claim they didn't anticipate the Sask Party's fiscal mess.

But for more active NDP supporters, there's another answer to the question: we did, which is why we've been raising concerns about the Sask Party from the beginning.

As a result, the ad raises separate lines of conversation among less committed voters and the NDP base, with each serving to position the party nicely. So despite the apparent room for improvement, the NDP figures to be well served in putting the ad in front of the public to help frame the 2011 election campaign.

Edit: fixed formatting.

An instant classic

I fully expect the CBC ombudsman to be on the receiving end of more than one genuinely outraged e-mail in the wake of Calgary Grit's latest. But the rest of us should enjoy the due mockery.

(Edit: fixed label.)

On battle plans

Alongside the Speaker's ruling on Parliament's right to hold the Harper government to account, the other major story in Canadian politics during my absence involved the Cons' attempt to change the subject by heaping truckloads of ill-placed accusations on EKOS' Frank Graves as part of their quarterly CBC-bashing efforts. And the fact that the Cons seem so scared of Graves' advice to the Libs suggests that there's reason why they're not happy to see it made public.

But let's take a closer look at what Graves' suggestion would likely produce. Here's the summary of what he had to say:
(Graves) was reported as saying that the Liberal party "should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitan versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy," to unseat the ruling Conservatives.
Presumably the Cons' desperate counterattack is based on their agreement that their socon underbelly makes for the most obvious source of electoral weakness - particularly when Harper is trying (for example) to declare any abortion debate closed in favour of refusing to fund reproductive health or abortion around the globe.

But while the advice may focus in on the Cons' greatest weakness, that isn't to say that it necessarily reflects the greatest theoretical potential for Lib gains either. Instead, it would figure to result in the Libs focusing on preserving their current urban base in a fiery battle over hot-button social issues, while mostly abandoning any focus on Canada's struggling working class to the NDP.

That would figure to be entirely counterproductive for the Libs if their hope is to maximize their chances of a majority or even a clear single-party plurality anytime soon. At least part of any Lib majority coalition surely has to include pocketbook voters who would be turned off by a cultural debate. And what's more, some of the Cons' inroads into suburban areas have been based on making socon appeals to apparently receptive groups - so playing up those issues would present an obvious cap to the Libs' immediate upside.

But while Graves' advice doesn't seem to be oriented toward maximizing the Libs' seat potential in the near future, it might well be the best strategy to ensure a change of government after the next federal election. That is, so long as the Libs and the NDP stick mostly to their complementary lines of attack, and are willing to work together afterward.

After all, the opposition parties need only hold their current seats to revisit the possibility of taking down the Harper Cons now that Ignatieff has learned what happens to those foolish enough to cooperate with Harper. And an all-out "culture war" would figure to allow the Libs to at least maintain their current urban seats and maybe push back into Con territory, while leaving enough political terrain for the NDP to be able to make gains as well.

In other words, Graves' advice makes sense primarily as a means of ensuring that the Libs and NDP are able to work in the same ultimate direction while conveying distinct and effective messages, rather than being locked in a zero-sum contest to own a common set of issues. And there's every reason for the Cons to be scared of that possibility.

Finding labour's voice

In case there was any doubt that the Sask Party is only interested in listening to corporate voices, it should be put to rest by the fact that the Wall government won't even consider the idea of maintaining SCN for its value to the province, but will keep the lights on at public expense only when told to do so by possible bidders.

But there's a highly intriguing possibility among the groups interested in taking over:
The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour also expressed interest Friday in bringing together various groups that could take over the station.
Of course, the Wall government would burn SCN to the ground and salt the land it's built on before allowing the SFL to get its hands on a media outlet. But it would be entirely fitting if the Sask Party's ideological distaste for public services ended up facilitating the creation of a network to counterbalance the province's corporate media. And while the Sask Party may be able to gum up the works when it comes to SCN in particular, hopefully the SFL's efforts will lead to far better media balance developing over time.

The reviews are in

Bruce Johnstone slams the Wall government for having already done serious damage to Saskatchewan's Crown corporations while diverting money toward corporate mouthpieces:
(A)s (CIC Minister June Draude) has admitted on several occasions, (the Sask Party's) plundering of CIC for dividends -- representing 100 per cent of the profits of all but one of the Crowns -- is clearly not sustainable.

Crown corporations, like other companies, need their profits to reinvest in their operations and their infrastructure, such as plant and equipment. If they're starved for capital, they either wither and die or their debt gets too big. Neither outcome is desirable.

Also not sustainable is the wholesale confiscation of proceeds from asset sales to pay for ongoing operations. Those proceeds should be used to pay down debt, not spent like any other source of revenue.
...
(A)sset stripping is not sound business practice, nor is it good public policy. It artificially boosts revenues with one-time gains, while leaving the fix of the over-expenditure problem to another day.

OK, you say, where should the government get the money, if not from the Crowns?

Well, for starters, how about scrapping Enterprise Saskatchewan and Innovation Saskatchewan? What have we received for the $40 million to $65 million a year these agencies spend?

Aside from a lot of talk about building the new economy and investing in innovation, not much.

The Saskatchewan First policy also needs to be scrapped. Crowns have enough constraints on them without being confined within the boundaries of Saskatchewan.

Aside from selling off some profitable assets, like Hospitality Network, (and admittedly a few dogs, like Navigata), what exactly has Saskatchewan First achieved?

Not much, except for allowing even more political direction in the operation of Crown corporations, which the Sask Party government promised would be run more like businesses.
Of course, it'll only get worse now that the Crowns will be forced to make decisions with an eye toward facilitating profits for other provinces' businesses. Which means that if Saskatchewan doesn't change course in 2011, there all too likely won't be viable Crowns left to save.