Saturday, June 19, 2010

Regina Coronation Park Nomination Recap

Regina Coronation Park Nomination Meeting

An earlier post documenting the speeches managed to disappear, so I'll pick up proceedings at the voting stage. Of note so far:

- Turnout has been set at 168 voting delegates and 38 visitors.  
- In his speech, Jaime Garcia announced a membership sales number of 118 - which would seem to give him an easy victory if he's managed to bring his supporters out, but from other membership numbers I've heard there are plenty who didn't make it.  
- In the crowd, the most noteworthy development has been a surprisingly high number of Fred Kress stickers; otherwise the shows of support for candidates are in line with what I'd expected.
- Roger Bucsis' introducer noted that it was his first nomination meeting, and a quick survey from chair Tim Williams reveals that the same is true for a large chunk of the crowd.

2:24 First-ballot results: Bucsis 36, Garcia 74, Harder 5, Kress 49, McGregor 3. Bucsis, Garcia and Kress go on to the second ballot - though we'll see whether Bucsis stays on since he can't overtake Kress even with all of the outstanding votes.

2:33 On to the second ballot, with nobody further dropping off.

2:49 Following a brief address from Trent Wotherspoon, the second-ballot results are:
Bucsis 33, Garcia 80, Kress 50. Garcia is only 2 votes short of a majority, but we're on to a third ballot.

2:57 Following the third ballot, Noah Evanchuk offers an update on his campaign in Palliser.

3:10 And the winner is Jaime Garcia, 81-60. Again congratulations to all of the candidates, and we'll look forward to Jaime's work as the NDP's candidate in Regina Coronation Park.

So many options

Never mind what Rick Salutin says: surely Gerald Caplan's experience is living proof that left-wing thinkers in Canada are positively swimming in cushy career opportunities. But I'm shocked Caplan's choices don't include the unlimited handouts from George Soros that I keep hearing about.

Raising expectations

Shorter Con G8/G20 spin:

Sure, a million dollars a minute looks ridiculous for any ordinary event, but it's a small price to pay to solve every single one of the world's problems. So...no pressure, folks.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Musical interlude

David Bowie - Little Wonder

Strength in numbers

The NDP has released what's becoming a traditional comparison of MPs' contributions in the House of Commons. And once again, the numbers look to be instructive in determining who's putting in the effort to have their constituents' priorities discussed and voted on in Ottawa.

Of course, I'll certainly acknowledge the inevitable counterargument that the number of votes, motions and bills alone doesn't determine an MP's effectiveness. But I'd think it would expected that most MPs would have at least one or two ideas worth contributing, or would show up for votes to the extent possible - which makes at least some of the numbers for each of the other three parties rather stunning.

For the Cons and Bloc, the remarkable part is their MPs' near-total lack of motions and private members' bills. Even combining the two and taking the Cons' cabinet ministers out of the picture, both parties managed to offer up less than one motion or bill per MP: only 41 from 49 Bloc MPs, and 67 from 96 Con back-benchers. And however much one wants to make excuses based on the Bloc's narrow focus or the Harper message control machine, that seems to send a strong message that both are sorely lacking for ideas worth discussing.

The Libs do better in the motion/bill department (though still well behind the NDP), but fare absolutely pitifully when it comes to showing up for votes - posting only 31% attendance, compared to 46% for the Cons, 93% for the Bloc and 96% for the NDP. And while part of the failure to show up can be tied to the Libs' habit of holding members back on confidence votes, that explanation doesn't come close to fully accounting for their whereabouts. After all, it only takes 24 Libs outside the House of Commons to let the Cons have their way - meaning that even when they're taking a dive, the Libs should be able to manage attendance in the range of 70%.

All of which is to say that while the NDP's efforts to make a mark in Parliament may go further than most Canadians would expect, there's obvious reason to doubt that the other parties' MPs are doing anywhere near enough to properly represent their constituents.

Regina Coronation Park Nomination Wrapup

The Regina Coronation Park nomination race comes to a close tomorrow, and at this point the best assessment possible is that nearly anything could happen. With five candidates in the mix and at least four having obvious paths to victory, tomorrow's meeting promises to be a long but fascinating one.

From the start of the race, Jaime Garcia got the jump on his competitors in finding innovative ways of getting his name and face known. And while he's taken a few unusual steps late in the campaign (particularly a focus on fund-raising at a point when most campaigns would seemingly be focused on spending rather than attracting money), his effective image development, billboards around the riding and strong contingent at the all-candidates' debate still figure to give him an advantage in getting himself known - which is a particularly important consideration on later ballots. And while Garcia got flustered a few times in the debate, he hasn't done much to rule himself out as a second choice for anybody, making him the favourite going into the nomination meeting.

Before discussing Tamara Harder, I'll acknowledge my bias once again: she's a longtime friend, and I've been glad to be involved in her campaign. Even taking that bias into account, though, I'm not sure how anybody could have come away from the all-candidates' debate thinking that any candidate other than Harder would make for the strongest, most knowledgeable voice at a caucus or cabinet table - which on paper should combine with an effective campaign plan to make her a serious contender. Unfortunately, though, it's not clear how much her message has actually managed to resonate in the riding. And that means that in addition to appealing to female voters (and others looking to reach the party's 50% target), she may need to use her speech Saturday to sway enough undecideds into her camp to keep her on the ballot.

Fred Kress' strength in the campaign has always been his connections to Kim Trew and the Regina Coronation Park NDP machine, and that advantage along with a fairly strong debate showing make him another candidate with a chance to eke out a later-ballot victory. But Kress hasn't kept up much of a public presence during the course of the campaign, and he may have to rely on other candidates' supporters not showing up to give him a chance to stay in contention.

Former Green deputy leader Tory McGregor presents as a strong candidate on paper, and has worked hard to get himself known in NDP circles over the course of the nomination race. But I'm not sure his focus on the Legislative Assembly has translated into as much support as he'd have hoped within Regina Coronation Park itself, either in terms of new members or swaying existing ones. And that leaves him as the longshot candidate for tomorrow.

Finally, Roger Bucsis was a late entrant into the nomination race, hasn't put together even a minimal public presence, and was somewhat of a disappointment in the candidates' debate (with regular non-answers even on questions going to the core of NDP policies and principles). But he's apparently managed to sell a flurry of memberships in the campaign's later stages - and while I'm not sure where he'd get later-ballot support, it's not out of the question that he could sweep to a quick win if all of his supporters are motivated to turn up.

So where does that leave Regina Coronation Park members deciding who to vote for?

Endorsement

Based on the above, my endorsement shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. While each of the other candidates brings some pluses to the table, Tamara Harder stands out in combining strong progressive principles, an impeccable command of policy and the ability to communicate with all kinds of audiences - giving her by far the best chance to serve as a leader within the NDP, rather than looking primarily to reflect the party's message within the riding. So I'm glad to endorse Tamara Harder as the best choice for Regina Coronation Park.

Prediction

But of course, tomorrow's results will be decided primarily on the number of supporters each candidate can convince to give up a sunny June afternoon - making family, friends, and community connections within the riding the likely deciding factors. So here's how I'll estimate the chance of winning for each candidate.

35% - Jaime Garcia
25% - Roger Bucsis
20% - Tamara Harder
15% - Fred Kress
5% - Tory McGregor

Again, the meeting will start at 1 PM at Thom Collegiate, with the doors opening at 12 PM. We'll find out soon whether the nomination will be as well attended as Regina South's last night, and which of the factors will ultimately win out in deciding who will represent the NDP in Regina Coronation Park.

On matters of substance

It's a plus to see Chantal Hebert point out some of the interesting private member's business dealt with in the House of Commons this spring. But I have to wonder about her choice of topics to discuss: shouldn't the passage of the Climate Change Accountability Act or the presentation of a plan for the federal government to deal with poverty across Canada (with all parties but one participating or agreeing) make for more important points of discussion than some of the failed or stalled bills or motions on her list?

The rules don't apply to us

For all the talk about Fox News North (or should we be calling it Prison Rape TV?) over the last week, I'm surprised that there doesn't seem to have been much discussion about how Kory Teneycke and company are gleefully ignoring the CRTC's instructions for license applications:
Quebecor is flouting a directive the regulator issued in March stating it would not entertain any applications for the prized (must-carry) carriage status until next year, when the transition from analog to digital broadcasting is finished or at least well underway.

By applying now, industry observers say Quebecor is jumping the line and could be unfairly awarded a classification that few channels will be allowed to enjoy.

Charlotte Bell, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs for Canwest's Global television operations, said she found the timing surprising given the CRTC moratorium, but is watching closely whether or not the commission will change course. Mr. Peladeau seemed sure-footed yesterday, declaring the "new voice" news channel will be available across Canada by January.
About the most generous possible interpretation is that Peladeau expects to go ahead even if he can't get must-carry status (and associated public subsidy). But that doesn't explain the brazen flouting of the rules governing must-carry status - which under most circumstances would seem to be the kiss of death for any application.

Of course, there was already reason to wonder whether Teneycke and company either have already been told that they'll receive privileged treatment, or reasonably assumes that cabinet will overrule the CRTC in order to get a Con propaganda network on the air. But the fact that the network is so openly ignoring the CRTC's rules for everybody else can only elevate those concerns while signalling many more abuses to come.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Regina South Nomination - Belatedly Posted Liveblog

Regina South Nomination Meeting

7:10 For lack of wireless I've written this at the meeting for later posting. Turnout looks to be strong, with a lineup out the door to register starting shortly before 7. And now more chairs are being set up - which would seem to suggest more attendees than expected.

7:13 On a rough look Heather looks to have an edge in the sign department to go with a strong display - but we'll find out soon whether that will translate into votes.

7:27 Still a couple of dozen people in line to register, even as the room is rapidly filling up. If Heather's signs aren't yet being peddled for use as fans, they will be soon.

7:45 And we're underway as Donna Shire takes the podium and highlights the work both candidates have done in building the riding.

7:50 Jeff Grubb, the balloting chair, goes over the rules - noting in particular the constitutional amendment preventing nominations from the floor. But wouldn't this be far more fun if a new candidate could get tossed into the mix?

7:54 On to speeches, with Kent Peterson introducing Heather first and emphasizing the Andrew Thomson endorsement. Jennifer Tupper follows as the official nominator, discussing the need to challenge Bill Hutchinson and presenting Heather as a stronger contrast.

7:59 Heather's speech follows along the "clear contrast" message, then turns to a line that she communicates for a living, seeing that as the best way to make a difference. (That's contrasted against seeing election as a "stepping stone" to other goals.)

8:02 Heather turns to a discussion of an appetite for change from the spin of a Sask Party government which doesn't listen - using "if he'd bothered to ask" as a repeated line criticizing the Wall government's actions.

8:06 "Sask Party Kittens" is officially the joke of the night.

8:07 Heather finishes strong, going back to the contrast message but seeming much more comfortable as the speech went on.

8:10 Velma Wessel introduces Yens, noting his having stepped in on short notice after Thomson left suddenly shortly before the 2007 election - which definitely saps some of the power from Thomson's endorsement.

8:13 "He isn't a woman, but he is a feminist" among other lines about Yens.

8:14 Yens begins his speech saying "tonight, there can be only one loser - Bill Hutchinson".

8:16 Yens recounts his efforts in 2007, saying the lesson to take is that time on the doorstep matters both for winning elections and for learning about constituents.

8:17 On to a reminder of Yens' work as party president and leadership candidate, noting that he stayed involved in Regina South all along.

8:20 Yens talks up his membership sales, particularly highlighting a number of new young members before pledging to knock on every Regina South door twice before the election if he's nominated.

8:21 "The reason I'm running" leads into personal appeals to deal with climate change and child poverty - noting the importance of change even when it's difficult.

8:25 Yens jokes about how often he ends up asking for support, closing by tying that into a message about his experience and commitment.

8:26 And the turnout is...21 guests signed in (plus many not signed in), and 195 delegates. And now voting begins.

8:56 Dwain Lingenfelter finishes his stump speech, with the results to follow Trent Wotherspoon's financial appeal.

9:03 And the winner is...Yens, with the announcement followed shortly by Heather's motion to make the result unanimous. 

Congratulations to both candidates for a hard-fought campaign - and the work that went into tonight will make for a great start on 2011.

Regina Coronation Park - Virtual Document Drop

So far I've only heard from two of the candidates - so if any of the additional contestants have end-of-campaign materials they'd like to see posted, I'll encourage them to send those in.

Jaime Garcia didn't have a new flyer to send, but did pass along this end-of-campaign message:
I very much respect all the work the other Candidates have done and all the work they have put in. More than anything at this point, I'd like to say that no matter what, we are all in one team in one family and the true reward is not for any one individual candidate but for the province as a whole.

Best of luck to all seeking the nomination and see you all on Saturday!
And the one flyer to be posted belongs to Tamara Harder:


Compare and contrast

What the Harper Conservatives promised Saskatchewan: $800 million per year, every year, on the theory that it would result in fair treatment of the province's non-renewable resources.

What Murray Mandryk is now prepared to accept: a one-time partial share of two priorities in the range of $400-500 million, on the theory that we'd might as well get something out of our Con MPs after four years of utter uselessness.

What the Harper Conservatives are actually prepared to offer Saskatchewan: a commemorative Saskatchewan Roughriders loonie, on the theory that the province's collective awareness and activism can be summed up in the phrase, "Ooh, shiny thing!"

Asked and answered

Last week, I noted that the polls following renewed public talk about coalitions should determine whether or not the Cons' apparent belief that they could ride coalition fearmongering to a majority has any basis in reality. And the latest EKOS headline seems to answer the question fairly definitively for now:
EKOS poll, June 17
Which isn't to say that the Cons can't turn the tide somewhat, particularly if the Libs declare that they don't want to talk about cooperation rather than defending the idea. But there seems to be little room for doubt that at best, the recent talk about coalitions and even mergers has done nothing to help Stephen Harper's effort to get into majority territory when it counts - and it wouldn't be at all surprising if the talk about the need for an alternative has helped to push some votes out of the Cons' column.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Surprise, surprise

Oh, how quickly THREE HUNDRED YEARS OF PARLIAMENTARY TRADITION!!!one!! get thrown out the window when ministerial responsibility would involve being responsible for something:
New Brunswick Southwest Conservative MP Greg Thompson on Wednesday said it was a difficult decision to go public with his complaint that Fredericton Conservative MP Keith Ashfield is blocking federal investments in the province.

He also told The Daily Gleaner that he complained last week to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff about the situation.

"It is a tough call because it is one that we felt was happening but only when you see it in black and white do you know that it is happening," said Thompson. "It is not an easy thing to do.

"It is a story that shouldn't have to play out this way, to be perfectly honest with you."
...
The black and white Thompson referred to is an email from Ashfield's chief of staff, Fred Nott, who said a project in St. George should be delayed until after the Sept. 27 provincial election.

Ashfield has distanced himself from Nott's memo, saying it doesn't reflect the minister's position
.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Second thoughts

Following up on this afternoon's post, let's note a couple of issues with the contents of (and spin on) the final detainee document agreement which has since been released.

First off, I'll stick to my initial interpretation that on its face, the agreement wouldn't seem to prevent the MPs on the committee from reviewing documents subject to a claim of Cabinet confidence or solicitor-client privilege. But if the Libs plan on interpreting the agreement to accept that they won't have access to those documents, then the fact that the deal could be interpreted more favourably if they pressed the point won't do anybody much good.

And that in turn undoes any good in the fact that the preamble has changed from the previous version: does it help the opposition's position later on to soften the non-binding portion of the agreement if the Libs are willing to apply a class-based claim to solicitor-client privilege even in a case where legal advice is at the centre of the issue?

Second, I'll respond to Steve's concerns about renewal of the agreement by noting that the potential for the Cons to back out doesn't cover the half of it. Here's the renewal provision:
This Memorandum of Understanding survives a dissolution of Parliament provided that the leaders of the governing party and each opposition party with recognized status in the House of Commons following a general election sign a Memorandum in the same terms in the next Parliament.
Presumably that provision was drafted when all four current parties were expected to participate. But I'm not sure why nobody thought to ask whether it should be left in the same form once the NDP decided not to participate, as it would have seemed simple enough to rewrite the provision to apply only to parties participating in the agreement.

But that point apparently didn't occur to any of the parties to the agreement - or was allowed to slip past. And as a result, the agreement on its own terms ceases to be effective unless the NDP - despite its having chosen not to participate in the current Parliament - changes its mind and also signs on following an election.

First impressions

For the most part, I agree with Amir Attaran's comments on the now-released Afghan detainee document deal. But I'll add a couple of differences in interpretation, while emphasizing some of the implications that go far beyond the deal itself.

First off, there's one pleasant surprise worth noting, as I'm not sure that the deal actually does withhold any documentation from the review committee.

Article 7, which provides for the application of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidences allows the government to seek a declaration from the panel of jurists that information "should not be disclosed". But that language makes for exactly the same wording used in Article 6 for the withheld records generally, and similarly provides for the release of redacted or summarized documents "to Members of Parliament and the public".

In contrast, the section dealing with the committee members (Article 2) uses "access" language to describe the review process. So it looks like there's a distinction between "disclosure" outside the committee and "access" within it - with the latter applying to all of the records falling under the order of Parliament.

But while the process seems to allow for the committee members to see everything, it also seems designed to slow the release of any documentation to the public as much as possible. And it's even worse on that point than would be suggested by Attaran's concern about a single committee member referring documents to the panel of experts for review.

Under Article 6, the process for every single document found to be "relevant and necessary" by the committee is the same as the process applied in case of a dispute as to how to handle a particular record. In effect, absolutely nothing can be released beyond the committee without the panel reviewing it first - so even if none of the members go out of their way to gum up the works, the process is designed to minimize the flow of informaton to the public.

So in substance, the deal is surprisingly reasonable in making records available to the committee, while delaying any release of information to anybody who isn't bound by an oath of secrecy. Which on its face makes for about as palatable a compromise as could be expected between the opposition's desire to see the truth and the Cons' desire to stonewall against any accountability.

But there's a serious problem when one looks at the long-term effects of the deal. Part of the preamble includes the Libs and the Bloc agreeing to the following:
Recognizing that Cabinet confidences and information subject to solicitor-client privilege are classes of information that the Parliament of Canada has long recognized are not necessary or appropriate for the purposes of holding the Government to account.
Now, one could say that it hardly matters whether the opposition parties give their sanction to a particular theory given the Cons' propensity for inventing THREE HUNDRED YEARS OF PARLIAMENTARY TRADITION!1!!eleven!!! out of whole cloth where it suits their purposes. But the fact that Ignatieff and Duceppe are apparently willing to sign onto the theory that classes of information are "not necessary or appropriate for the purposes of holding the Government to account" is bound to weaken the opposition's hand in seeking to hold the Cons to account on other matters. And that win for arbitrary secrecy in the long game may be why the Cons were willing to sign onto the actual deal rather than dragging out this part of the process any further.

Update: Apparently the Libs have released a draft which softens the language about the effect of Cabinet confidences and solicitor-client privilege. Which surely increases everybody's degree of faith in the process.

Regina South Nomination Wrapup

When the Regina South nomination race first got started, I figured both Heather McIntyre and Yens Pedersen would face some interesting choices as to whether to cast off their positioning from previous races. And both have done so with a vengeance.

After highlighting her ability to represent Ward 2 in last year's City Council race, McIntyre has made an explicit appeal to Regina South based on her being the "only candidate who lives in the constituency". Similarly, Pedersen has gone from emphasizing personal but unnamed endorsements as an outsider in last year's NDP leadership race, to presenting testimonials from the biggest names possible as part of an insider/frontrunner campaign.

So where have both candidates gone while distancing themselves from their previous messages?

On the bright side, both candidates presented some excellent ideas to spread messages which seemed to fit their image - but unfortunately, both allowed those to disappear during the course of the campaign. McIntyre's Coffee Talk seemed to be an effective way to take a conversational tone with possible voters visiting her website, but version One was never followed by a Two. Likewise, Pedersen put up a strong blog post on the WEPA when it was first announced which seemed to hint at more wonkish policy discussion than one normally sees in a nomination race - but he didn't follow up with a single post afterward, and his other communications through Facebook have focused almost entirely on photos and membership sales.

With those means of reaching potential voters falling by the wayside, the deciding factors look to be the traditional ones associated with any nomination campaign. And each candidate has had something to crow about lately: Pedersen his strong number of memberships sold, McIntyre her endorsement from longtime Regina South MLA Andrew Thomson. And the race has also become relatively chippy over the last little while (see the comment sections of my previous tagged posts) - which may be surprising based on the past connections between the candidates, but makes sense in a two-candidate race where there's no need to pursue later-ballot support.

So where does that leave the candidates going into tomorrow night's nomination meeting?

(Non-)Endorsement

I'll start by passing on what will become a regular feature in future nomination races. From the beginning of the Regina South race, I've been hesitant to get involved for or against either candidate, and I'll likewise hold off on making an endorsement either way.

Suffice it to say that both McIntyre and Pedersen are top-flight candidates with track records of involvement in the party and the riding. And whoever wins the nomination race should be an effective MLA for a long time to come starting in 2011.

Prediction

That said, I'll be less shy about predicting the outcome than trying to influence it. Both candidates have some obvious strengths they can point to - but the race will ultimately come down to who can bring out the most supporters tomorrow night. And the combination of a province-wide profile built during the leadership race and a high number of claimed new memberships looks to give Pedersen the upper hand against McIntyre's head start and high-profile endorsement.

With that in mind, I'll call the likelihood of winning the Regina South nomination at 60% for Yens Pedersen, 40% for Heather McIntyre. But in a race as close and as hotly contested as this one, neither candidate can take the outcome for granted - so tomorrow's nomination meeting (Sunset United Church at 7:00 pm, for those keeping track) should be a can't-miss for Regina NDP members.

Support Libby Davies

When it was merely Rob Silver and a couple of other bloggers wilfully misrepresenting Libby Davies then demanding that she be fired for their dishonesty, I figured it best not to give the matter any more attention than it deserved. But now that even a Prime Minister who should seemingly have better things to do is taking the time to join the fact-free pile-on (while some of Davies' defenders are unfortunately going somewhat off the rails themselves), I'm not sure it can pass without comment.

So without any further ado...what Murray Dobbin said. And Pogge, Alison and Cliff are worth a read too.

Update: Dr. Dawg's post is also worth a look.

"Put everything on hold in that riding until there is a nominated federal candidate"

I'm not sure it's possible for the Cons to serve up a more brazen example of federal funding being misused for political purposes than this. But will two of the federal opposition parties be too busy defending government secrecy to give it the attention it deserves?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can we get that in writing?

It's a cliche of Canadian politics that there's a reason why "question period" isn't called "answer period" - and the Harper Cons have taken the theory that their answering time should bear as little resemblance as possible to the topic of any given question to downright painful extremes. But it looks like one MP may have stumbled onto a way to cut the Cons' non-answers out of the equation:
Mrs. Alexandra Mendes (Brossard—La Prairie, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, the minister of fake lakes chose to make cuts to Quebec festivals like FrancoFolies, the New France Festival and the Festival Grand Rire de Qu├ębec.

The irony is not lost on Quebeckers who saw a significant amount of support for the tourism industry evaporate, despite the fact that the minister “forgot” to spend $12 million last year.

Can the minister explain how he found the money to drop gazebos into his own riding, but does not have a penny for Quebec culture, nothing for Maillardville and nothing for the people of the Saguenay region?

Hon. Jay Hill (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, we have no minister by that designation and until members actually address their questions in a respectful manner there will not be a minister answering.
In other words, all the opposition has to do to avoid the substance-free bloviations and personal attacks of John Baird or Pierre Poilievre is to impersonate them in framing the questions to be asked. And as an added bonus, they'll get to cycle through nearly twice as many questions for lack of any attempt to answer. So what's not to like?

On contrasting treatment

Following up on this morning's post, I'll note that there's one area where the NDP has left itself open to significant criticism on the detainee document process.

The party's current message is one of making the truth public and upholding Peter Milliken's ruling. And I'm all for framing the NDP's position around those concepts.

But having accepted (and indeed trumpeted) the earlier agreement in principle which fell short on both of those points, the NDP unfortunately contributed to the idea that there was no longer a problem with the Cons' actions. And that may have the unfortunate effect of allowing the Cons to claim far more legitimacy than they deserve for a process which looks to be nothing short of a farce.

Having noted the area where the NDP probably deserves some criticism, though, it's also worth pointing out how ridiculous the Libs' response looks to be. In particular, Ralph Goodale's decision to lash out at the NDP stands in stark contrast to his regular admonitions that the the Cons could be counted on to negotiate in good faith (not to mention his expectation that they'll suddenly start showing "honest behaviour"). And the Libs' continued choice to equate "good faith" with "giving Stephen Harper what he wants" can only further call into doubt their interest in doing their job in opposition.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On shady deals

I'll have more to say about the apparent deal on Afghan detainee documents once it's released in full. But for now, suffice it to say if in fact the Harper government has insistent on being able to withhold documents even from the secret committee (whether that decision is made by the Cons directly or the panelists appointed only with their agreement), then the NDP's stand against ceding Parliamentary authority looks to be the only reasonable response.

The 58 Riding Strategy

While recent Saskatchewan NDP nomination news has been based entirely in Regina and Saskatoon, that doesn't mean the party isn't making significant efforts to reach out to rural ridings as well. In fact, there have been a couple of noteworthy efforts to engage the residents of rural Saskatchewan - and both look to have plenty of potential impact as rural voters realize how empty the Sask Party's promises actually are.

First off, there's Judy Junor's rural health care outreach - which started in Leader with a well-attended meeting focused largely on the community's desperate shortage of physicians, with more interested communities sure to follow with their own concerns.

We'll find out before long how many of the ideas generated during the tour find their way into the NDP's policy development process. But the fact that Junor is taking the lead role in raising and discussing rural health care at a time when the Wall government isn't much listening to anybody should make for compelling evidence that rural voters concerned about health care will see their voice best reflected in the NDP.

Meanwhile, Dwain Lingenfelter has taken the lead role in questioning the lack of any immediate response to the agriculture disaster area in the Tisdale area. There, the lack of any substantive response from either the provincial or federal level of government (both of whom have toured the area without apparently planning to do anything in particular) has left the door wide open for the NDP to speak up for the needs of affected farmers - and so far Lingenfelter has taken up the cause.

Of course, there's far more work to be done both in dealing with those two issues, and in engaging more broadly with rural Saskatchewan. But it's certainly a good sign that the NDP is living up to its intention to work toward better representing the needs of the province as a whole - even where the likelihood of that effort flipping seats in 2011 may seem remote now.

On living standards

Shorter National Post editorial board:

There's no need to try to improve the lives of Canadian seniors living in poverty. But there's another group which deserves public help far more: namely, Canadian seniors living in wealth.

The reviews are in

James Travers wonders whether the Cons are getting away with more now than they would even with a majority government thanks to the Libs' short-term focus:
What began with a padlocked Parliament is ending six months later with democracy wrapped in heavier chains. Despite Commons Speaker Peter Milliken’s acclaimed ruling reaffirming accountability, the Afghanistan detainee dispute that darkened the capital last winter still remains unresolved. Equally worrying, only the Senate now stands between Canadians and swift passage of an omnibus budget bill that effectively silences debate on issues of profound public importance.

Imagine the rage if a prime minister used his majority to frustrate the expressed will of MPs Canadians elect to protect their interests. Imagine the outcry if that prime minister arbitrarily assumed the power to sell an iconic national institution with a pioneering past, or streamline environmental safeguards just when oil spewing in the Gulf is exposing the dangers of laissez-faire regulation.

Harper is doing all that and more. He’s running roughshod over process and principle by making nonsense of Milliken’s order while advancing a budget bill that’s a legislative Trojan horse.
...
Conservatives would be forced to serve Canadians better if Liberals could stop bickering long enough to rediscover their backbone. In contrast to Jack Layton’s NDP and Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc, Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals are so afraid of being led to disaster in an unwanted campaign that rolling over is now the party’s best trick.

More than feeble, that’s foolish. As Layton astutely recognizes, there’s little danger Harper would risk a snap election with Canadians mad as hell over fake lake summit spending. More damning, Liberals never seemed to grasp that breaking a 900-page budget into manageable pieces is a legitimate procedural wrangle, not a persuasive reason for the Prime Minister to ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Burning question

When did it become a "concession" to reluctantly and belatedly pull out obvious poison pills which undermine the entire purpose of an agreement?

Regina South Virtual Document Drop

Heather McIntyre


Yens Pedersen
Yens Handout

(Edits: fixed formatting, updated image.)

On substantial control

Michael Byers becomes the first prominent NDPer (Non-Saints Division) to chime in to support a NDP/Lib merger. But while everybody will find something to disagree with in his piece, it's particularly worth noting his take as to who would figure to exert the most influence in a merged party:
(A)ny concord between the Liberals and NDP would have to be a partnership of equals. The Liberals have lost more than half their seats over the last three elections; the NDP have almost tripled theirs. The NDP, in short, has the momentum — and therefore more to lose.

Jack Layton is likely playing the long game, hoping either to replace the Liberal party as the dominant party of the centre-left or to merge with and substantially control it.

Michael Ignatieff cannot be the leader of a merged party. He is perceived by many New Democrats as too right-wing, too tainted by his views on torture and Iraq, too elitist and patronizing. This likely explains why Ignatieff vehemently opposes the merger idea.

On selective funding

The retired CEO of Prince Albert's health region chimes in on the Sask Party's privatization efforts, and points out that any claims to saving money are bound to be hollow:
Health regions get an operating budget from the provincial government. They also get some capital funding, but there is an expectation (in most instances a requirement) that more capital dollars will be raised locally through donations, foundations and local governments.

The common funding for private providers is a fee-for-service. This fee is based on negotiations between the provider and the government.

It includes sufficient remuneration to cover professional services and office overhead costs, which includes capital. Sometimes the contract includes a defined number of services over a defined period.

Either way, the publicly funded private provider is funded their operating costs and their full capital costs. Based on its operating budget, the publicly funded public provider (the health region) may be limited to how much service it can provide.

Most certainly, it's at a disadvantage when it comes to covering capital costs.

I have had the experience in the public sector of trying to raise money to buy a piece of diagnostic equipment, only to discover that a radiologist could buy the same piece of equipment and, because of the funding mechanism, recover his costs over a shorter time.

The bottom line is that when a government contracts with private providers, it funds them at 100 per cent, but when it provides the services through the public sector, the funding is less than 100 per cent.
Of course, it's worth noting that the private services arranged by the Sask Party are seemingly being carried out through the same health regions which are themselves starved of capital funding. So the price of allowing private actors to fund health services with their easier access to capital is that the regions will end up paying more than they would to set up a similar service - setting up a cycle where more and more short-sighted privatization is seen as the only way to keep the lights on in the near term.

Mind you, that outcome is probably seen as anything but an empty promise to the Sask Party: indeed, that's likely been their corporate sponsors' best-case scenario from day one. But for those of us who are more concerned with making sure that health care services are sustainable than with finding ways to dump money into private pockets, it represents a serious problem.

Ready to govern

It's probably fair to say that David Olive is getting somewhat ahead of himself in describing the outcome of an NDP/Lib coalition. But it's worth highlighting his take on where the NDP stands already:
Layton is the most popular of the federal leaders. He tells me "yeah, that's by default." Uh no. Harper and Duceppe play well to their base; the problem for each is that their bases are too small. The default applies only to Iggy, who hasn't a clue what is base even is, never mind how to expand it.
...
Meanwhile, the NDP is the most dynamic party in Canada. In three elections under Jack Layton, the party has increased its popular vote and seat count in the Commons. The Tories have flatlined; the Grits have slid; even the Bloc has slipped.

And the NDP is dead serious about coalitions. Layton has on his desk a thick binder of successful and failed coalitions worldwide, including the local example of the Peterson-Rae coalition that governed Ontario well in 1985-87.

Layton drew on those examples in his failed bid to win over the Grits in a coalition that would have toppled the Tories two years ago. His eminence gris, Brian Topp, wrote a book about it. Read it if you have any doubts the current NDP caucus is ready to co-govern this country.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

On insider access

Joe Kuchta's latest is an absolute bombshell, taking the Sask Party to task for convening multiple private cabinet meetings with the Saskatchewan Construction Association while refusing to speak to a single workers' representative. But it's worth noting one more piece of how the Sask Party's spin on Bill 80 conflicts with reality.

Here's one of the areas of disagreement between Labour Minister Rob Norris and construction workers over Bill 80 this spring:
Parker said those unions are also unhappy with Norris over comments he made when Bill 80 was introduced in March 2009. He told reporters that no business entities or construction firms were consulted in the drafting of the legislation.

But a freedom of information request produced a letter from October 2008 addressed to Norris from Saskatchewan Construction Association president Michael Fougere that called on the government to revise "abandonment" regulations and "end the monopoly of the Building Trades in the construction industry."

Those are two of the major provisions of Bill 80.

Norris told reporters Wednesday that he did not consider that letter to be consultation, noting that the ministry receives multitudes of correspondence.
Now, Norris' original spin about the letter from Fougere was sketchy enough. But to the extent one takes it at face value as the standard which ought to be applied in judging the Sask Party's actions, the SCA's 2008 meeting with the entire cabinet obviously goes far beyond the type of access or consultation which would be granted to any other stakeholder.

Of course, the Wall government's stubbornness in forcing Bill 80 through this spring likely suggests that no revelation would have been damning enough to push them off course. But Joe's post offers yet another case of the Sask Party being far less than honest with the public about who gets a hearing with government decision-makers (whether paid or not) - and the more those pile up, the more reason Saskatchewan's voters will have to make sure Brad Wall isn't left in charge of deciding who gets privileged access to the cabinet table.

Paying more, getting less

Months after pushing the change through Queen's Park in the absence of full information, the Ontario government has finally bothered to release its own numbers on the effect of the HST. And even in a study which itself looks to make some problematic assumptions to paper over the harmful effects of harmonization, the results plainly don't match the McGuinty government's spin. Here's Erin's summary:
When combined with $2.4 billion of personal income tax cuts and credits, $1.9 billion of pass-through still does not offset $4.7 billion of additional sales-tax costs to Ontario consumers (page 6). Even as the provincial government gives up billions of dollars of revenue, households will pay more tax.
...
Perhaps there is a case to be made that Ontario residents should pay more tax and lose some public services in order to enhance the competitiveness of Ontario-based businesses. The Statistics Canada and Finance studies have forced the provincial government to start making that case, rather than simply claiming its tax changes will deliver financial benefits for everyone.

The real debate is about using public money, whether taken from consumers (the HST) or from general revenues (corporate tax cuts), to support business. We should ask whether across-the-board tax cuts on business inputs and profits are the best way to promote investment and employment in Ontario. As I have suggested elsewhere, more targeted measures could prompt more investment and employment at less cost to consumers and the provincial treasury.

Now we're just haggling over the price

And I'm rather surprised that Brad Wall's big-money corporate backers won't pay more than $6,000 apiece to be officially designated as the "Premier's Sponsors".