Saturday, June 26, 2010

Well said

The must-read on what the G8 and the G20 ultimately mean comes from Gerald Caplan:
While political leaders yammer away, big business acts. And it often acts with the active support of their governments and embassies abroad. While the rich world presents itself as the savior of the poor, giant pharmaceutical companies price vital drugs out of the reach of most poor people; asbestos companies export their deadly product, banned in the rich world, to poor countries; tobacco giants, whose boards are choc-a-bloc with former politicians, university presidents and other respected members of the community, ramp up their lavish advertising campaigns to turn poor country citizens into cigarette addicts; mining companies bribe officials of poor countries (who are later denounced for being corrupt) to plunder their resources at minimal cost, paying little in taxes and royalties and less in wages while creating environmental disasters.

What do you call those who have the capacity to reduce hunger, poverty and disease with a stroke of the pen, and fail to act? What do you call those who are knowingly responsible for causing death and suffering to millions of fellow citizens? What do you call those who deny to the poor the benefits that we in the rich world take for granted? You call them the G8.
(Edit: fixed typo.)

On blanket treatment

Norman Spector's attempt to blame G20 violence on people who have nothing at all to do with it is bad enough on its own. But it's worth paying particular attention to how Spector chooses to frame the treatment of groups of protesters in describing what he claims to be proper means of limiting the amount of violence:
Second, the destruction of property and other acts of violence were quickly condemned by the Mayor of Vancouver — a former NDP member of the legislature — and the city council, also controlled by the left. They were joined by the opposition party in the provincial legislature (Ignatieff, Layton:are you listening?). Non-elected lefties on the west coast quickly followed suit in condemning the violence.

Third, the protesters were roundly denounced by the media; in fact, I cannot think of any journalists who expressed even a modicum of sympathy or admiration for the demonstrators, which is not the impression I’ve been getting in reports for the past week from Toronto.

Finally, after some initial hesitation, the violent demonstrations were eventually condemned by the BC Civil Liberties Association.
While there's some reason to be concerned with Spector's belief that he's entitled to demand a denunciation at any given moment, I don't otherwise have much of a problem with the points dealing with the condemnation of violence.

But Spector takes his message much further when it comes to the media in his third point. Never mind focusing on how the media treats violence or vandalism, and certainly never mind distinguishing between the few violent protesters and the thousands seeking to make a legitimate political point. As far as Spector is concerned, all "protesters" and "demonstrators" must be condemned in the press at all times, lest the public otherwise develop any "sympathy" for them or their causes.

Needless to say, that looks to be nothing but a recipe for ensuring that non-elite voices are never heard, whether surrounding a meeting like the G20 or otherwise. And a blanket policy of refusing to even listen to the message from peaceful protesters would only seem more likely to give rise to violence as disaffected citizens go to ever greater lengths in trying to be heard.

Update: Meanwhile, I'm sure Spector will be apologizing to the NDP any minute now.

Saskatoon Greystone - Peter Prebble to Seek NDP Nomination

James Wood reports on the biggest development to date in what looks to be one of the most hotly contested ridings in the province, as longtime MLA and cabinet minister Peter Prebble has announced his intention to run to retake Saskatoon Greystone. While any nomination meeting will presumably wait until this fall, it would be a surprise if anybody mounts a serious challenge to Prebble now that he's thrown his hat back in the ring.

But what can we expect in the general election? Prebble posted a higher raw vote in 2003 and a higher percentage vote in 1999 and 2003 than Norris managed to achieve in his narrow 2007 victory, meaning that he'll likely rank as a slight favourite despite Norris' incumbency advantage. But there can't be much doubt that the Sask Party will fight tooth and nail to keep the seat, and it'll certainly be worth watching where Norris gets placed in the impending Sask Party cabinet shuffle after two and a half years leading the Wall government's charge against Saskatchewan workers.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

The big picture

Alice at Pundits' Guide has put up another fascinating post based on her new database of riding-level fund-raising, this time providing what looks to be the most accurate numbers yet as to what proportion of party income actually comes from Elections Canada's per-vote funding. And for all the rumours of one opposition party or another agreeing to do away with the subsidy in order to harm another, the national opposition parties have in fact taken in nearly identical proportions of their total funding from the subsidy in the time period since 2004 - with the numbers looking more and more similar in recent years.

Having noted that it's far from clear whether anybody besides the Cons would stand to benefit even indirectly from cutting the per-vote funding out of the equation, Alice also offers this reminder about how federal funding rules should be (and once were) developed:
(I)f we go too far down the road of allowing the victor to create the rules, that’s the most anti-democratic outcome of all. Whatever I might believe about the merits of public funding of political parties, the fact remains that Prime Minister Chrétien introduced it unilaterally, thus violating a longstanding convention that the parties in the House of Commons would collectively establish rules they could all agree on, a rule that was still in effect as late as the 2000 Elections Act amendments.

The second element I hope people will consider is the importance of establishing a principled basis for making those rules, rather than picking some solutions that appear to have a short-term benefit for their own party, but might later be found to have altogether different consequences.
In fairness, all national parties in Parliament now bear some responsibility for deviating from a convention that made a world of sense. But nobody should be eager to permanently create an environment where the governing party or coalition is in the habit of dictating rules affecting its political opponents - and all of the proposals to change the current funding model should be considered with that in mind.

The reviews are in

Bruce Johnstone slams the Wall government's politicization of Saskatchewan's Crowns as part of its general failure to treat them as functional organizations:
The shuffle of Crown corporation heads announced by the Saskatchewan Party government this week bore more resemblance to a game of musical chairs than a serious effort at executive recruitment for companies with billions in assets.

In fact, the intermingling of senior government officials and Crown corporation executives had all the earmarks of a government that regards Crown corporations as mere arms of government, rather than state-owned businesses requiring discrete skill sets and expertise to manage.
(T)he Saskatchewan Party, according to its own party policy resolutions, would have us believe that Crowns are "important tools in the provision of utility services to Saskatchewan families and business and important partners in the economic development of Saskatchewan."

Moreover, the Crowns are mandated to "provide high quality utility and insurance services and customer satisfaction to Saskatchewan people at the lowest possible cost." Those seem like fairly apolitical objectives to me.

But what we've seen from the Sask Party government (rather the party of the same name) is the same old political interference and fuzzy thinking that has passed for good guidance and governance for decades.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Burning question

So far, the media spin is that we should blame the G8 for failing to pledge as much money as had been hoped for maternal health in the developing world. But isn't it worth wondering whether the fact that it's Stephen Harper pushing the initiative - having picked fights with the rest of the G8 on issues like climate change and the bank tax in the recent past - might have something to do with the tepid response?

Musical interlude

Ashley Wallbridge - Shotokan

On imbalances

Shorter Murray Mandryk:

The Saskatchewan NDP is facing the same challenges in promoting and supporting female candidates as every other left-to-centre political party in North America has for the past 30 years. So needless to say, the issue is nobody's problem but Dwain Lingenfelter's.

On police states

(Note: see update below.)

There's rightly been plenty of discussion about the draconian regulations put in place by the McGuinty government surrounding the G20. But it's worth highlighting what strikes me as the most appalling provision of the lot if it's being reported accurately:
The regulation also says that if someone has a dispute with an officer and it goes to court "the police officer's statement under oath is considered conclusive evidence under the Act."
Now, we're hardly lacking for obvious examples of how police abuses have taken place and been denied or covered up by the officers involved. Which would seem to highlight the need to take into account the possibility that an individual officer's word can't be taken as the law of the land.

But the regulation seems to be designed to provide absolute power to any given police officer testifying about an alleged incident. Never mind if there's videotape of an accused sitting quietly in a coffee shop miles away from the fence, then being apprehended by an officer screaming "I'm going to make an example out of you!". And never mind if the officer involved testifies that the accused was a ten-foot tall, eleventy-hundred pound half-man, half-mule who levitated above the security fence then threatened the lives of hundreds of police officers with a cheese grater. Based on the "conclusive" wording, a judge assessing the accused's guilt is bound to accept the officer's statement, without even considering its plausibility or the existence of evidence to the contrary.

Of course, in that particular case a judge would almost certainly find reason to avoid giving effect to such an absurd result - whether by finding the regulation to be unconstitutional, or by reading in some reasonable limits.

But in cases where there's some surface plausibility to an officer's testimony even if video evidence suggests that it's dead wrong, the McGuinty government has needlessly provided for a single officer's word to be gospel. And that deification of the police - and concurrent vilification of anybody caught in a dispute which in fact involves many different possible sides - looks to make for an extremely dangerous precedent even if the issues surrounding the security lockdown never surface again.

Update: Looking at the regulation itself, the report looks to be somewhat oversimplified: the "conclusive evidence" standard applies only to determinations of "the boundaries of the public work" under the statute involved. That can still raise the same issues where there's a dispute as to where the boundaries actually are, which in turn feeds into the problems with the declaration of a Charter-free zone - but at least it falls somewhat short of allowing officers' testimony to go unchallenged on all points after the fact.

(Edit: added link.)

Well said

Mike Burton and Joyce Green respond to the recent merger talk by reminding us of the single change that can do the most to make sure government actions reflect genuine public preferences:
If the objective of representative government and democratic elections is representation and democracy, the fastest way to get it is to adopt a better electoral system. Reforms that would create proportional results would make voting more attractive to citizens, as every vote would go toward electing representatives of parties on the ballot. No longer would people have to vote strategically, choosing the least of electoral evils rather than the party they liked best. Under proportional representation (PR), the votes a party gets translates into an equivalent share of seats in Parliament.
The merger story is a trial balloon, designed to see what the public reaction is. The public should shoot that balloon down. We need to deal with root causes of democratic alienation in our system. We need to involve citizens, represent their views, and produce parliaments that will work constructively for the benefit of the public they are supposed to represent.

If we deal with the electoral dysfunction we will not waste time messing around with symptoms. Two Big Parties are not good for democracy.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre Nomination Liveblog

Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre Liveblog

6:30 John Solomon is chairing the meeting, and gets us going on time. As Don has noted, last night saw turnout of 50+ in Lumsden; I'd peg turnout around the same tonight, but with at least a couple of dozen guests in the crowd.

6:35 Barb Dedi introduces the RLLC executive, followed by approval of the agenda. And we're Solomon's introduction of guests. A few more people trickle in as Solomon reads the rules.

6:44 John Tzupa takes over as balloting chair, followed by Brian Sklar delivering the first speech.

6:46 Brian is introduced by Lorna Standingready (focusing on his resume), Aaron Sklar (discussing his political involvement) and Juliet Eloyfsen (pitching Brian as a strong voice against the Harper Cons).

6:51 Brian begins his speech with a critique of "Silent" Tom Lukiwski as doing nothing but sending mail outs, noting the resource revenue issue as part of the reason Lukiwski was elected.

6:54 On to a sharp policy critique of the Cons ranging from the G8/G20 fiasco to the GST to pharmaceutical patents.

6:57 Still on policy, including child care and the Cons' dumb on crime policies.

6:58 "We have a problem in our own party"...referring to a need to "get tough" and "take back God".

7:00 And I think I just got referenced (as considering Sklar to be in Lingenfelter's pocket). I didn't particularly intend to say that, but always appreciate the shout out.

7:02 Kerry Hecker introduces Don Hansen, painting Don as a voice for the underdog with a strong history in rural and social justice issues.
7:04 Don starts off with some self-deprecation, a noteworthy contrast to Sklar's beginning to the effect that "I'd vote for me" based on his introductions.

7:05 On to an attack on Lukiwski, dealing in particular with a few of Stephen Harper's most notorious quotes.

7:06 Plenty of passion from Don as he slams the Cons' climate change denial and refusal to fund abortions in the developing world.

7:08 On to Lukiwski's "Type B" quote - in its full jarring effect - before noting his failure to do anything to atone after apologizing and claiming to want to make up for it.

7:09 A comparison between churches and political parties, with a statement that both succeed when they're looking outward rather than inward.

7:10 Don discusses his work fighting the child sex trade in the Philippines, telling a story of his participation with indigenous elders in an annual festival for his work protecting children.

7:14 Don closes noting that our goal is not just to win, but to win in order to make the world a better place, with a reference to Woodsworth.

7:15 "For us, politics is not about ourselves,...but about something bigger", referring to Tommy Douglas' "New Jerusalem".

7:16 On to the vote, with 53 registered delegates (exactly matching last night's total). Which will mean radio silence for a bit on this end, as I'll be scrutineering for Don.

7:30 And the winner is...Brian Sklar. As always, congratulations to both candidates, and we'll look forward to making a strong push to retake RLLC.

(Edit: fixed typos as per comment.)

Easily distracted

Shorter Deficit Jim Flaherty:

Remember back when we sent six cabinet ministers to four countries on the public dime to lobby world leaders on behalf of big banks? Complete waste of time, as it turns out. But I got a taxpayer-funded trip to New Delhi, so who's complaining?

(Edit: fixed labels.)

Suddenly it all makes sense

It took Brian Topp's theory as to who's calling the shots when it comes to Alberta oil exports to alert me to the possibility. But doesn't the Sask Party's statement that it's receiving instructions from its corporate masters "around the clock" make a lot more sense if it's one of the governments being run from overseas?

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Thursday Morning Links

- The Cons' international failings have dominated the news lately, it's worth keeping in mind the damage they're doing at home as well - such as the latest phase of their plan to sell off as much as they can push out the door.

- Meanwhile, the NDP offers up another worthwhile idea of the type that tends to get ignored on the federal scene, with Alex Atamanenko proposing a plan for food safety and security.

- James Moore is getting duly slammed for his attacks on anybody interested in fair copyright - including with the new tagline above from Charlie Angus. But it's particularly worth pointing out that the main object of the Cons' "radical extremist" label was being cited by the Cons themselves as the leading authority on copyright just last year.

- Finally, Alice at the Pundits' Guide has added another piece to the puzzle in analyzing the operations of federal parties and candidates. For now, go read her post on riding-level returns and finances - but the new information will be particularly useful in tracking the resources of riding associations in specific ridings over time.

On precarious situations

Pamela Roth reports on the desperate shortage of housing in Regina and Saskatoon, leading to worsening homelessness problems in both cities. But the issue is all the more tragic given that both cities have made matters worse by contributing to the lack of rental housing:
According to a Salvation Army report on homelessness and poverty in Canada, Saskatchewan reported the highest rate of homelessness, with one in five respondents either experiencing or coming close to experiencing homelessness.

Delaney said the problem began to spiral out of control when the province began experiencing an economic boom a couple of years ago.

Housing prices and rent increased dramatically, she said, leaving those who weren't reaping the benefits of the boom out in the cold.
Many apartment buildings in Regina and Saskatoon are also being turned into condos, which has a direct impact on rent prices and the availability of accommodation.

Saskatoon currently has a 1.9 per cent vacancy rate, while Regina is at 1.6 per cent. Delaney said anything below a five per cent vacancy rate means there is an inadequate supply of housing.

"In Regina, right now, housing is an industry and there is a lot of people making money on housing. Our government needs to take responsibility and inject money into it where necessary," said Delaney.
Unfortunately, it's tough to share Delaney's sense of optimism that any level of government will be interested in dealing with the problem: the municipal level has had the most direct involvement in exacerbating matters, while the Wall and Harper governments both combine an ideological aversion to dealing with social issues with self-inflicted budget messes which figure to rule out any substantial spending. Which means that the lack of housing in Saskatchewan's cities figures to get far worse before there's any realistic prospect of improvement.

Deep thought

So it's all but official: instead of the prodigiously wrong Rod Gantefoer as Saskatchewan's Minsiter of Finance, we can look forward to...somebody who Brad Wall considers a second choice behind Rod Gantefoer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Well said

With the Cons now facing international blowback for their efforts to scuttle any global agreement on financial stability, now might be a good time for them to pay attention to Dan Gardner's take:
The Harper government opposes the bank tax on the grounds that a fund for bailing out banks would produce moral hazard. Which is true. But it's hard to see how that's different from a status quo in which everyone knows governments won't let banks fail. Flaherty also argues that Canada's banks didn't need a bailout so they shouldn't have to pay this "punishing" tax, which would be a compelling argument if the tax were about punishing the banks. It's not. It's about insurance. And Flaherty sounds like someone who says he doesn't need fire insurance because the blaze which recently swept through the neighbourhood spared his house.

And this is Canada we're talking about. Humility, prudence, caution, insurance: These are practically the words of the national anthem. It would be nice if the government's position reflected these fine qualities at a crucial moment.
Update: Though to be fair, Gardner is off base just slightly in accepting the zombie lie that Canada's banks didn't receive any bailouts. So that would make Flaherty more like somebody claiming he doesn't need fire insurance even as the flames from neighbours' houses threaten to spread to his own home.

Regina Northeast - Bill Wells Competing for NDP Nomination

I didn't get around to posting it earlier, but there's a third candidate currently entered in the NDP's Regina Northeast nomination race: former Regina City Councillor Bill Wells, who doesn't seem to have a website or Facebook page up yet but whose bio can be found in PDF form here.

While the riding only partially overlaps Wells' home turf as a councillor (at least unless the shape of Ward 10 has radically changed in the meantime), his experience as a candidate and name recognition would seem to make him the favourite among the current set of contestants. But Dwayne Yasinowski and David Froh will have plenty of opportunities to win support into their corner before the nomination meeting this fall - meaning that Regina Northeast looks to be yet another hotly contested race.

Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre Nomination Wrapup

It's perhaps to be expected following a hard-fought provincial leadership race that some observers have looked for signs of a reprise at every turn. And so, some commenters (on this site at least) have tried to paint all kinds of nomination races as reflecting a continuation of the leadership contest - even when the actual connections to the leadership camps have ranged from slim to none.

That said, for those who are looking for a proxy battle, the Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre NDP nomination race is about as close as we figure to get - even if that's based on supporters behind the scenes rather than public intervention by the any of the leadership candidates themselves.

Which isn't to say that the candidates lack personal strengths that they also bring to the table. For example, Brian Sklar offers a strong public profile as a musician and media figure, as well as plenty of political experience within the NDP. But Sklar is also an inner-circle member of Dwain Lingenfelter's camp, with a support base primarily built around Lingenfelter's Regina machine, and a policy statement that echoes Lingenfelter's word for word.

Meanwhile, Don Hansen has plenty of personal and professional standing as a well-regarded pastor based in the rural part of the riding (Strasbourg and Bulyea). And he goes one step beyond Sklar on the independence side with a distinct set of policy messages based around J.S. Woodsworth's principle of "what we desire for ourselves, we wish for all". But Hansen too was recruited by one of Ryan Meili's key organizers, and his political team is built up primarily of participants in each of the runner-ups' leadership camps.

Of course, it's worth noting that the self-selection of supporters in RLLC is based on personal affinity for different priorities within the NDP's tent, rather than any conscious intention to replay the leadership race from either side. And indeed it likely says something for the unity of the provincial party that the most obvious parallels to the leadership race are actually playing out on the federal stage. But RLLC nonetheless looks to send an important signal as to the relative strength of a couple of the different groups of personalities within the party.

With that in mind, what can and should we expect over the nomination meetings to take place over the next couple of nights?


It won't come as much surprise to regular readers that my endorsement goes to Don Hansen, who took the time to introduce himself to readers in an earlier post.

On my reading, both candidates should be able to pose a strong challenge to the invisible Con incumbent Tom Lukiwski, and it'll be a definite plus to see either as Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre's representative in Parliament. But Hansen looks to offer a much stronger independent voice on all-too-often-neglected issues of poverty and social inclusion both within the NDP caucus and in the broader Canadian political scene. And that focus may be just as important politically as it is as a matter of principle, since the NDP's success in the next election and beyond will depend on its being able to draw sharp distinctions from the Cons' corporatist governing philosophy.


So what's most likely to actually happen over the course of the nomination meetings? Sklar's longer-term involvement in the NDP and support of the provincial leader's organization make him the favourite on paper, and it's far from clear how far Hansen's rural advantage will go to overcome those factors. So I'll place the odds of winning at Sklar 65%, Hansen 35%.

But I'll encourage supporters of each side to come together as the provincial party has done in the wake of the leadership race - because whoever wins will have a far better chance of unseating Lukiwski if all sides are able to work together toward that common goal once the nomination is settled.

Update: As a reminder, the nomination meetings will take place tonight, June 23, in Lumsden at the Dew Drop Seniors Centre, and tomorrow, June 24, at the Italian Club in Regina. Registration will start at 5:30, and the meetings will be called to order at 6:30.

The reviews are in

It's a shame it's taken until after the end of the sitting of Parliament for the Cons' dumb on crime legislation to receive the criticism it deserves. But at least we're seeing the right responses now. Here's Marilla Stephenson:
The truly frustrating aspect of the change in law is that it does nothing to speed already slow court dockets that are straining to accommodate cases in often inadequate and understaffed court facilities. The Conservatives, rather than doing something at the front end of the system that could have reduced the "time served before sentencing, have further back-end loaded an already groaning system by tying the hands of judges to prevent them from using their discretion.

And besides mirroring a heavy-handed American justice system, have the Conservatives done anything to demonstrate that eliminating "time served does anything to reduce crime in the first place?
The Leader-Post editorial board:
As he finished his term as Canada's first ombudsman for crime victims in April, Steve Sullivan said: "The tough-on-crime agenda will not meet the needs of victims of crime." Sullivan called for "balance" and questioned the 27-per- cent hike in prison spending at a time of falling crime rates.

Let's be clear: Those who are a menace to society must be removed from it -- and for long periods if necessary.

But one size -- jail -- does not fit all. Locking up thousands more people without offering any evidence that this will increase public safety is itself a miscarriage of justice.
And the Globe and Mail:
It is unfathomable that the Canadian government would be preparing to more than double annual spending on the country’s jails at a time when almost all other government departments are being held in check, or cut. Never mind deficit reduction. Never mind health care or education. Never mind the environment. Only one thing matters: to be seen as tough on crime.

If the Truth in Sentencing Act costs what Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, thinks it will, the act is reckless and ridiculous. Mr. Page’s estimate is that the costs to run the federal and provincial jails, now at $4.4-billion a year, will rise to $9.5-billion by 2015-16. Sixty per cent of the extra costs, or $3.1-billion a year, would be borne by the provinces. And that’s just one of many crime bills.

If the government didn’t know what the new law would cost, its managerial incompetence is inexcusable. If, as is more likely, it knew but didn’t say, its stealth is unjustifiable. Why would Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has been promoting government-wide restraint in the name of deficit control, allow jail budgets to go wild? Why would the government not tell the truth about the Truth in Sentencing Act?

Prepare for a fight

As part of an obvious effort to lay the groundwork for the Cons' strategy following the next election, Tom Flanagan is the first Con-friendly source to put in writing what I've suspected for some time: that Stephen Harper's plan to cling to power at all costs may include refusing to resign even after what would be considered an election loss by any rational standard, then refusing to convene Parliament so as to avoid the inevitable vote of non-confidence:
First (unlikely but possible), the Liberals might win a plurality of seats, i.e., fewer than a majority but more than any other party. In that case, Stephen Harper could attempt to stay on as Prime Minister, as Mackenzie King did in 1925 even though the Conservatives won more seats in that election. But such a course seems unlikely in light of recent precedents and statements by Mr. Harper himself about the importance of “winning the election” – i.e., getting the most seats – in order to form a government.

Another scenario (more plausible, according to all recent polls) is that the Conservatives may win a plurality of seats. In that case, Mr. Harper would certainly attempt to continue as Prime Minister, even if his party had lost seats and the Liberals had gained. He has every right to do so, as by convention he remains Prime Minister until he resigns, and he would have no reason to resign unless defeated in the House of Commons.

At that point, the crucial question becomes, how many seats do the Liberals and NDP hold together? If together, they have a majority (155 or more), their position will be dominant as long as they agree to work together, because they can defeat the government on a confidence vote and force the Prime Minister’s resignation.

However, Mr. Harper would still have cards to play. As long as he remains Prime Minister, he has what game theorists call the first-mover advantage. For example, he does not have to ask the Governor-General to summon Parliament right away (Joe Clark waited four months after the 1979 election before meeting Parliament).

If he chose to play for time, Mr. Harper could try to break up the Liberal-NDP alliance by making a better offer to one or the other.
So with Flanagan obviously setting out the Cons' position, let's respond with a couple of points worth keeping front and centre.

First, if Harper indeed runs the next election on the idea that he needs a majority to beat back an inevitable coalition, then he'll lack any legitimacy whatsoever in trying to cling to power as that coalition forms. And the precedents for maintaining executive continuity don't offer the slightest bit of justification for a Prime Minister who's facing an obvious non-confidence vote to cling to power by refusing to allow Parliament to exercise its democratic authority to vote him down.

And second, it's entirely legitimate for a government to retain power with the support of democratically-elected Bloc MPs - as the Cons themselves did in 2006 and 2007. And particularly if the alignment in the House of Commons after the next election includes an NDP/Lib coalition on one side and the Cons on the other - with either requiring the support of the Bloc to govern - then there will be no reason whatsoever to favour the Cons' demand to stay in power based on concerns about the Bloc's influence.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Proudly unaccountable

Shorter Vic Toews:

I don't know where Kevin Page claims to have found accurate numbers on the cost of our dumb on crime legislation - because he sure as hell didn't get them from us.

On consumer interests

Gavin M serves up the appropriate level of mockery in response to the efforts of a right-wing pundit to pretend there's absolutely no difference between consumer interests and business interests:
On this day in history, that first sentence could be the one that’s the most dense-packed with stupid of all sentences in an Erickson post, and therefore, until proven otherwise, in all of human discourse. “Continue to screw consumers with laws against business” is almost beautiful. It’s a stark, unadorned construction of ideas that required literally decades of work by the postwar right, first in the building of institutions and infrastructure, then in releasing payload after payload of bad-faith claims and contorted analyses into the atmosphere, until at last, a sufficient degree of besozzlement was realized that a sensible moderate-income American might expect to encounter such a phrase outside of the nearly plotless string of laugh-lines that make up a Sinclair Lewis novel.
The almost-beauty of Erickson’s word-sculpture, and I’ll repeat it: “continue to screw consumers with laws against business,” is that anybody with a lick of, and I quote again: “basic economic sense,” knows that consumers and business are inherently, tautologically, by the nature of what ‘consumers’ and ‘business’ are, opposed in their basic interests. For example, buyers want low prices, while sellers want high prices.

In a larger sense, the great project of the right in America since the reaction against Jacksonianism, or fundamentally since Hamilton, has been to advance the interests of the propertied and wealthy, the employers and sellers, in a system set up to respond to the will of the majority, who necessarily will mostly be employees and buyers.

This is not possible to achieve except by fooling the majority that their interests are different from what they are, manipulating them to exert their political power in various foibles and whoopsies...
But is there any way to turn up the scorn by about 40% to answer the same blatant deception in official government position form from Con cabinet minister James Moore?

Update: And I'm thinking we'll need to add another dose to account for Moore telling his favourite consumer group that the Retail Council of Canada are "radical extremists".

Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre Virtual Document Drop

I'm still waiting on word back from Brian Sklar's campaign. But for now, here's Don Hansen's final material for this week's nomination vote:

The road to realignment

In one sense, I'll hope that Andrew Coyne's evaluation of the future of the Libs is on target. But there's reason to think he's off base in his assessment of the NDP's intentions and incentives:
Consider first the implications of a simple coalition—a coalition struck not in the chaotic aftermath of an indecisive election, but anticipated well in advance. For left-leaning voters tempted to stray into the NDP camp, there is no longer any reason to stick with the Liberals, as they have been traditionally admonished, just to keep the Conservatives out: the coalition can see to that now. Indeed, as Chantal Hébert has pointed out, all the more reason to vote NDP, to strengthen its hand in coalition talks.
And as Liberal support continues to bleed away, (the internal divisions) can only grow worse. The left will take this as further evidence of the necessity of striking some sort of deal with the NDP. The right can be expected to push back just as hard: though it is unlikely to prevail, it can probably forestall any decision until after the election. But what are the party’s chances in an election in which it is so painfully divided?

And what is the NDP’s likely response to that calamity? It is true that it was the NDP that first approached the Liberals about a coalition, in the parliamentary crisis of November 2008. And, to be sure, the NDP has benefited handsomely from the recent resurgence of interest in the idea: it is the centre of everyone’s attention, no longer merely a party of protest but potentially taking a hand in government. But that does not mean it will remain committed to the project—or that it ever was.

I do not think it is the ambition of the present NDP leadership to play helpmate to the Grits. Their aim is to replace them. It has served their purposes to keep the coalition talk alive, not least for the mischief it causes inside the Liberal party. But if the Liberal slide continues, the (NDP) will have less and less incentive to agree to anything. Rather, they will raise their demands, and raise them again, until at last they walk away from the talks outright, and leave the Liberals to collapse.
Now, I'd agree with the view that one of NDP's better-case scenarios is to replace the Libs as one of Canada's primary competitors for government. But that ambition raises a couple of obvious questions: can the NDP get there without winning much of the left of the Libs to its side? And if not, what does the NDP need to do in order to actually win them over?

It might be possible to imagine an alternate scenario where the NDP ekes out a plurality by, say, completely co-opting the Bloc and Greens. But within the realm of realistic possibility, the NDP needs to win over the left side of the Lib division described by Coyne in order to win power on its own. And while that means detaching the progressive branch of the Libs from the corporate wing, it also involves leading it into the NDP's camp in the longer term - i.e., developing enough links to overcome the tribal instincts that lead so many current Libs to cling to their own party as it stands (dominant right wing and all) rather than joining a party closer to their values.

And I don't see a way for the NDP to get there without working as a good faith partner in a coalition to replace the Harper government that now serves as the obvious common enemy.

That may result from a coalition government where the NDP takes the opportunity to deal with the Lib wings on equal terms and builds links which might lead left-leaning Libs to change their allegiances. Or it may result from the Libs' right wing deciding once again that it prefers being controlled by Stephen Harper to giving Jack Layton a seat at the table, finally and decisively orphaning Lib voters who don't share that view and pushing them into the NDP's camp. But either way, the NDP's long-term interests are best served by it making every effort to cooperate with members of the coalition it ultimately hopes to win into its own tent.

In contrast, a scenario along the lines described by Coyne would allow the blue Libs to portray the NDP as the villain in a failed attempt to put together a coalition - serving only to reinforce the party's current tribal loyalties. And in fact, that might well be the easiest way for the Libs to reassemble in their previous form without working through the divergent values that make the party's stability so tenuous to begin with. (Not to mention that plenty of NDPers, while expecting to see positive results from a coalition, would also be less than pleased with any overreach that leaves Harper in power.)

So while there's certainly a long-term goal of winning government at play in the NDP's actions, that doesn't mean Coyne is right in thinking the Libs should be suspicious of its bona fides in working toward mutually agreeable goals now.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On targets

At the very least, the NDP's Taking Aim campaign should be a huge plus to keep the party election-ready - particularly compared to its competitors who are looking to downplay the likelihood of a vote anytime soon. But it's worth noting exactly how ambitious the NDP's goals look to be:
Here's exactly how we'll put your additional support into action.

✔ We'll hire 16 Target Team organizers in key Conservative regions.

We'll match Harper's fundraising in the important pre-election period.

✔ And when Harper's negative attack ads come, we'll fire back with advertising of our own highlighting Layton's positive message of change.
Now, the first and last points may not be all that surprising, reflecting exactly the type of organization one would expect to counter the Cons' anticipated efforts. But how realistic is it to think the NDP can match the Cons' fund-raising for any substantial length of time?

For the answer, let's check the quarterly numbers from Pundits Guide. And since the NDP's plan seems to be targeted at a blitz over the course of the summer headed into a fall campaign, let's start by looking at how much the Cons normally raise in the summer months.

While Con fund-raising hasn't exactly followed consistent patterns from year to year, it's not exactly uncommon for third-quarter fund-raising to be relatively low compared to other periods during the course of the year - ranking as the lowest quarter in 2006 and 2007, and the second-lowest in 2005. But of course, that fund-raising was low only by the Cons' standards, counting upwards of $3 million in each individual quarter (as has been the case for every quarter since the Cons raised $2,582,647.00 in Q1 2005).

How likely is the NDP to reach that type of number? The top NDP quarter on record is Q4 2005, which combined the end-of-year donation rush with an election campaign - resulting in total donations of $2,716,054.91. And in the recent third-quarter election campaign in 2008, the NDP was able to pull in $1,889,805.02 for its second-best total since 2005.

Now, if one narrows the time period involved to include only a summer-long NDP election push compared to a quiet time for the Cons, then it may be possible for the NDP to actually match the Cons' numbers. But the more reasonable hope is for the NDP to focus on narrowing the gap and building up enough money for a single pre-election ad campaign if it's needed.

And there wouldn't seem to be a great need for much more than that. All indications are that the NDP will have enough money to fund its next federal election campaign under its business-as-usual scenario, as the party spending limits prevent the Cons from significantly outspending their competitors. So if the NDP's targeting campaign can allow it to fight to something approaching a draw against the Cons' expected attack on the idea of coalition politics, there's ample reason to think the NDP will be on target in its efforts to take down the Harper government.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not looking promising

So it turns out that the Sask Party's hand-picked purchaser for SCN is a company whose last plan to buy a Western Canadian broadcaster...fell through when the CRTC wouldn't agree to rig a future application in its favour, leading to the permanent closure of a broadcasting institution.

Who else is filled with optimism about SCN's future?

Update: Particularly since Bluepoint's interest in SCN is likewise based on a planned change (in this case to add advertising to an educational channel) which requires CRTC approval?

Suitable for framing

Sure, it would be tempting to respond to the Fraser Institute's pro-HST blitz with some of my earlier debunkings - including such hits such as:
(A)nybody saying "the HST will create 591,000 jobs" can be dismissed as either not knowing what they're talking about or lying through their teeth.
But rather than doing that, let's instead note the institute's willingness to depart from its usual no-tax-increases-ever stance when a policy serves to transfer the tax burden from corporations to families:
While many British Columbians have been led to believe that the HST is a significant “tax grab,” the reality is that it is not. The HST will have a negligible impact on the average family’s total tax bill.

The average family will pay slightly more provincial sales tax under the
HST than it would have under the existing PST ($3,382 in HST compared to $3,133 in PST, an increase of $249). However, personal income tax reductions imple mented to ensure that the HST is revenue neutral for government will result in an income tax decrease for the average family (from $11,245 to $11,040, a decline of $205). All told, the average British Columbian family’s total tax bill will increase by $44 (0.12 per cent) from $37,562 under the PST to $37,606 under the HST.
So unless the Fraser Institute is prepared to acknowledge that it's simply making up excuses to facilitate business-friendly policy at the expense of mere citizens in contravention of its supposed core principles, we can safely say from now on that any tax increase (or lack of cut) of anything less than $44 per family per year is "negligible" and not "significant". Which should make for a useful standard in response to all future Fraser Institute attempts to nickel-and-dime government out of existence.

On unity

Remember back when Michael Ignatieff first ascended to the Liberal leadership, and reflexively declared every single issue - including his lunch orders - to be a vital matter of national unity?

I ask because we're at a point where, as noted by Chantal Hebert, there are two obvious alternatives as to where Canadian politics can go when it comes to the relative strength of the two sides of the federalism divide. And unfortunately, Ignatieff and his party look to be the greatest obstacle to the possibility that would actually result in a strengthened Canada.

On the one hand, there's the opportunity for a coalition which can both provide better government for Canada as a whole, and substantially defuse the Bloc in particular. Hebert describes the opportunity this way:
The Bloc’s support role in the opposition arrangement was really a secondary consideration. Replacing Stephen Harper’s regime with a progressive coalition was the plan’s main attraction in Quebec.

Duceppe is aware of the potential appeal of an NDP/Liberal coalition for many of his own supporters. As a social-democrat, he knows it would be hard to campaign against it.
Of course, it's also worth a reminder that not all possible coalitions are created equal. And it's the promise of Jack Layton at the helm which actually seems to have the potential to create the first outright win for a federalist grouping in Quebec since the formation of the Bloc two decades ago.

On the other hand, there's also the danger of continued Con government, with the possibility that would create the conditions for another vote on Quebec separation:
Based on historical trends, the Liberal cycle in the National Assembly is likely coming to an end. If only by default, the Parti Québécois is poised to come back to power after the next provincial election.

Duceppe who has had his finger on the pulse of the rest of Canada like no sovereignist before him expects a Conservative majority government to provide the impetus for a successful referendum.

A collective sense of rejection propelled him in the federal arena at the time of the Meech constitutional crisis twenty years ago and he thinks history is poised to repeat itself.
And what's worst about Hebert's observation is that she seems to have missed much of the basis for anger on the part of the Bloc if the Cons do manage to hold onto power. Indeed, even as the Bloc is hoping to be able to run as Quebec's main voice in response to the Cons, there seems to be no less desire on the Cons' part to run against Quebec.

While Hebert falls into the false trap of assuming that eliminating the per-vote subsidy will significantly harm the Bloc, I don't see much room for doubt that a campaign where the Cons and their media allies spend much of their time insisting that federal policy needs to be designed to kill off a party which holds a majority of Quebec seats would give rise to a significant backlash within Quebec. In effect, the more the Cons try to delegitimize the Bloc, the more outraged voters are likely to be about being told which of their elected representatives are acceptable to Stephen Harper.

And likewise, the Cons seem to be gleefully thumbing their nose at Quebec on a number of core issues: every dumb-on-crime policy and deliberate delay on the environment sends a strong message that areas of agreement among all parties in Quebec are seen as unworthy of even the slightest interest from the Cons.

So Hebert is right to suggest that the Bloc's plausible outcomes in the next election range from suffering a rout at the hands of a progressive alternative, to having the next separation referendum handed to it on a silver platter. But it's also worth noting that one of the most important factors in determining the outcome will be the role played by a leader who can't personally serve as the face of either.

If Ignatieff continues to try to downplay the idea of a coalition (allowing the Cons to run against the concept without offering a meaningful defence of it in response), then the outcome may well be a Con majority based almost entirely outside Quebec that will be seen as a slap in the face of the province. On the other hand, a message that Layton and the NDP can serve as partners and leaders in a cooperative government will allow the maximum number of progressive Quebec voters to shift their allegiances from the Bloc toward members of a possible coalition.

In sum, Ignatieff's Quebec strategy in the next election may provide the ultimate indication of where Canadian unity ranks on his list of priorities. And while the early returns aren't promising, there's still time for him to decide not to put the faint hope of a Lib sweep first.

On public trusts

Brian Topp notes that Kory Teneycke's attempt to use his political connections to force all Canadians to fund his Prison Rape TV sets a strong example of what we shouldn't want out of cable operators. But that leads to the question of what direction we should be pursuing instead:
Canada's regulated cable monopolies are doing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's political work, building television and print empires that share the Prime Minister's political DNA. It illustrates another familiar pattern – how insiders and "public rentiers" work together and serve each other.

It's a familiar story, similar to the abuses associated with privately-owned power companies – almost all of whom were replaced by publicly owned utilities in Canada over the course of the last century for identical reasons.

So what is to be done?

Denying Sun TV a licence would only be a good start.

What is required is a period of energetic trust-busting.

The cable monopolies need to be pruned back to their core mandates. Cable and Internet rates clearly can be cut – to a level sufficient to finance the operation and growth of the cable network, not empire-building.

Perhaps the mandate to provide cable service in specific territories should be put up to regular public tender, complete with a form of term limit.

The reward for consumers will be much cheaper cable and Internet service, at a time when access to that network has become an economic fundamental.
Now, I'm not sure that Topp's suggestions fit together all that neatly: in particular, a single-private-provider model for cable service only seems likely to boost exactly the trusts that Topp quite rightly wants to see busted. Indeed, I have to wonder whether the answer may instead be found in facilitating the entry of more cable providers so as to encourage the type of a-la-carte channel selection that the current system is set up to prevent.

Either way, though, it seems safe to say that we should be looking to alternatives to a system where insiders can expect to be able to use their government access to dictate the public funding of a partisan network. And if the result is a genuinely more open market for television channels along the lines of what Teneycke is pretending to want, then he wouldn't seem to have much reason to complain.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Conveniently self-debunked

The latest from the department of "whatever the Cons say, it's safe to assume the opposite to be true": last anybody checked, the Cons' excuse for their billion-dollar G8/G20 boondoggle that the money is well spent to encourage dialogue between a variety of leaders. So naturally, the Cons are going out of their way to block just that.

Sunday Afternoon Links

- I wouldn't expect Michael Ignatieff to take up Bob Hepburn's call for a focus on health care anytime soon. But Hepburn may want to note that at least one federal leader is already leading the charge on the issue that's most important to Canadians.

- Speaking of whom, those wondering about Jack Layton's progress in dealing with prostate cancer will find some answers from the National Post.

- For those who haven't yet read James Travers' rundown of how the Harper Cons have changed Canada for the worse, it's definitely worth a look. But if anybody wants to add another sad example to the list, how about a government which apparently needs to be told by an auditor to follow rules that it wrote and implemented?

- Finally, Alex Himelfarb's post on how to define Canadian progressivism looks to offer a great jumping-off point for a summer where members of a number of parties face choices as to how best to develop an alternative to Harper's crony conservatism. (Which isn't to say that I'd necessarily want to run with Himelfarb's definition - but I'll deal with that in more detail in future posts.)

Some political perspective

A friend passes along the note below as a reminder of why grassroots political involvement matters - even when what gets noticed among much of the public may seem like nothing more than a clash of scripted theatrics:
I am sitting at home on a Saturday night after having watched many of my friends battle it out this past week in the game of politics. I was mainly a bystander, yet I still feel emotionally exhausted by the weight of the events. I can’t begin to imagine how my friends must feel.

I am writing this because I don’t think enough people understand what it means when my some of my politically-active friends tell others that they're "involved in politics.” How does that look? How does that feel? What does that even mean?

Here's what it boils down to: People immediately seize upon the glitz, glamour and fanfare of a large, successful campaign they saw on TV, and picture you in the background laughing, cheering and holding some sort of flag or identifying marker to show your side.

But politicking is so far from being a pep squad member. It’s complicated, it’s damn hard work, and it’s something that you can’t even put on your resume despite all of this. Politics, unlike other activities, is a calling, not a Saturday afternoon leisure sport. But don’t get me wrong: It sure as Hell requires a lot of sweat and stamina. Politics eats up everything: an unbelievable amount of time, energy, and resources of all kind, especially financial ones when you have to take a leave from your job, or work for free on a long campaign.

Most people think being involved in politics only means supporting a candidate or being one during a six-week period leading up to a provincial or national election. But that’s far from the case. For those truly involved, it’s just one small slice of the pie.

* “Being in politics” involves costly nominations of candidates to a party before they can even represent it in the aforementioned elections. It involves tough decisions as to who you should support, especially when you feel everyone who is running is qualified.

* It means passing along your beliefs during countless hours outside, unremunerated, knocking on doors, or inside, sitting in people’s houses or phoning around.

* It means spending time traveling to be on committees at local, provincial and national levels to determine policies. It involves watching the news and the papers and the blogs and the pundits and reading the pamphlets and talking to the right people so that you’re as informed as possible when you have to make those policy calls.

* It’s spreading yourself thin, trying to do your best to understand all areas of policy through which you're supposed to represent others: Education, Environment, Health Care, Economics, Business, Unions, Agriculture, Utility Rates, Housing, Poverty, Childcare, Women’s Issues, Ethnic Minority Concerns, Aboriginal Rights, and the list goes on.

* It’s not being able to sleep at night because you don’t know if you made the right decision or said exactly the right thing, because it’s damn hard to keep on top of all of these issues. It’s feeling guilty if you let even a day go by without taking time to fully understand the point-of-view of a particular segment of the population involved in these issues. It’s knowing you’ll never fully understand any situation, you'll just have to do your best.

* It's feeling like a mouse – like a voiceless and powerless child -- When you are too sick or stressed to work to your maximum for what you believe in and for those who represent those beliefs. The feeling is intensified because of the high expectations and demands for understanding and keep on top of everything.

Politics isn’t something you do for yourself. It’s something you do for others. Politics is understanding that whatever you hold most dear could be taken away from you tomorrow if people don’t understand how our current government came about, and why it is a living entity that needs to be nourished, grown, and preserved, not a museum monument.

Politics is understanding that our freedoms are not a given. It’s understanding where the power really lies.

* It’s knowing that, tomorrow, low-income seniors could be kicked out of a nursing home because of policy changes if people aren’t there to stop it.

* It’s knowing that hundreds of union members could lose their work benefits due to legislation the United Nations has said is the worst it has ever seen out of any country in many, many years.

* It’s knowing that our education system is being drained of resources with each passing day. It’s knowing that it’s not the fault of the teacher, or the school, or the school board, but of the government that cuts funding to it. It’s knowing that things won’t get better unless we go right to the source of the problem.

* It’s understanding that people take our healthcare system for granted, and that no amount of complaining to friends and family will make wait times go down. No, if you really want your mom to get that operation sooner, you have to fight for it by contacting your local MP, MLA, and getting involved with local interest groups.

* It’s knowing – and not knowing – so many other things, too.

But don’t get me wrong. Yes, politics brings with it feelings of stress, guilt, exhaustion, and frustration, just to name a few.

But that’s not where it ends. If it were, none of us would have the courage to go on.

* Politics involves sitting around a table with your friends after an event, feeling the huge high you get from the satisfaction of knowing you are doing your best to make changes in this world. It’s feeling involved at the highest, most significant level, knowing that you’re doing something that will go down in history, even if you tried, and failed.

* It’s knowing the privilege of living in a democratic country, where you CAN take action, however hard the work towards change might be. It’s knowing that there is so much good in this world when people work together, even though it’s not always easy to do so.

* It’s feeling happy, and actually relaxed, at the end of a long day, knowing that it’s never too late to create a better world.

And as crazy as it might seem, I'm going to be bold enough to say that, in the end, I think it's what keeps us all sane.

On complications

I won't claim to be particularly familiar with the area, so I'm interested to see if there's some reasonable explanation I'm missing. But at first glance, doesn't it seem bizarre that the Cons' G8/G20 billion-dollar boondoggle would create "complications" so far-reaching that they're preventing a public picnic from happening in Brantford, a hundred kilometres away from anything to do with the summits?