Saturday, July 24, 2010

Standing up against Saskatchewan

Shorter Darryl Hickie:

Of course we know Brad Trost and the federal Conservatives are completely wrong in their insulting portrayal of flooded-out municipalities as kids trying to avoid their homework. But who are we to try to set the record straight for our political bosses?

Cut Knife-Turtleford - Bernadette Gopher Nominated as NDP Candidate

The Saskatchewan NDP has added one more candidate to its 2011 slate even during the normally-quiet summer months, nominating Bernadette Gopher in Cut Knife-Turtleford:
Gopher, who is a member of the Saulteaux First Nation, currently owns and operates a small business just outside of North Battleford.

"Bernadette is precisely the type of candidate we want to represent the NDP in the next provincial election," Saskatchewan NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter, who was the guest speaker at the nomination meeting, said. "She comes from a diverse background, has strong roots in her community and is a small business owner. These are all factors that will help the NDP take back the Cut Knife-Turtleford seat and defeat the Wall government in 2011."
Importantly, Cut Knife-Turtleford looks to be the prototype for a rural riding where a strong NDP candidate with enough of a head start should be able to put some serious pressure on the Sask Party. Not only has the riding been highly competitive in the recent past (the NDP finished within 10 points in 2003, and held all of the territory now covered by the riding as recently as 1999), but Sask Party incumbent Michael Chisholm's impending retirement will mean a fairly level playing field for party organization. Which means that there's ample reason to look forward to seeing what Gopher can do to help bring the seat back into NDP hands.

Video of the day

Very nicely done:

The retreat begins?

We'll see how long the Cons stick with Tony Clement's latest census spin before moving on to another set of poor excuses. But it looks like they may be laying the groundwork to backtrack by (however implausibly) blaming Statistics Canada:
Industry Minister Tony Clement says Statistics Canada staff never told him it was a bad idea to make the long-form census voluntary.

In an interview with QMI Agency Friday, Clement said he couldn't say anything about the advice of Statistics Canada staff because advice to cabinet ministers is considered secret.

Media reports have said Statistics Canada staff oppose the change.

The department was due to have a meeting for all staff on Wednesday when chief statistician Munir Sheikh cancelled it at the last minute. He quit later that night, saying in a statement that a voluntary census can't replace a mandatory one.

But when asked about Statistics Canada opposition to the voluntary survey, Clement was terse.

“That is not what they said to me
. I think I'll stand on my answer that they gave us options and we chose one of those options,” he said.
Of course, Clement's claim that he can't tell the truth about what advice he asked for and received from Statistics Canada is patently false. But if the Cons stick to the line that "they never told us there might be problems!", that would seem to both undermine their ability to stick with a decision made in the absence of essential information, and provide a convenient excuse to reverse it while casting blame elsewhere.

Mind you, Clement already seems to be spinning back away from the report. But the Cons may want to take another look at the easiest way out of an issue that obviously isn't going away otherwise.

Update: pogge reaches exactly the opposite conclusion based on the Cons' insistence on hiding the advice they received from Statistics Canada.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Musical interlude

Cerf, Mitiska & Jaren - Light the Skies

On notable omissions

For some reason, I was under the impression that the "backdrop" to the McGuinty government's sudden public-sector restraint included billions in corporate tax breaks that created most of the deficit they're now trying to rein in. But apparently the Globe and Mail has decreed otherwise.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

More and Better New Democrats: Peter Thurley for Kitchener Centre

As promised, let's kick off what I hope will be a successful More and Better New Democrats project with a prime example of a strong candidate whose voice can be significantly amplified with just a bit of support from across Canada. You may know Peter Thurley from his blog or from his active involvement on Twitter - but let's take some time for a closer look at what he's doing as the NDP's candidate for Kitchener Centre.

The Candidate

One of the keys to the "More and Better New Democrats" concept is to boost the campaigns of candidates who can bring strong progressive voices into play. And Peter offers an ideal track record on that point, having been named one of the Waterloo Region’s “40 Under 40” for his work in the community on poverty and housing issues - including both working to improve conditions directly through fund-raising and volunteering, and pushing to build awareness and support for Libby Davies' Bill C-304 to establish a national housing strategy.

But there's an added bonus for those of us looking at online organization as an integral means of building popular awareness, as Peter looks to be one of the strongest candidates in the country on that front. In addition to having an active website and Facebook page, he's also a prolific Twitterer - with his accomplishments there including getting the Con incumbent in his riding to agree that the effective goal in dealing with the Senate should be "as close to abolition as possible". (Needless to say, it may be worth pressing that point as the Senate Cons continue to hold up C-311 and other opposition bills.)

The Riding

From a strategic standpoint, the last few election cycles have seen the NDP running a moderately strong third in Kitchener Centre without putting in a lot of resources, with vote shares ranging from 18.1% to 19.3% since 2004. Which would seem to make the riding a prime testing ground to determine just how much better the NDP can do if it's able to raise and spend close to the riding limit. And there's plenty of reason for optimism there since the NDP has performed well in ridings in the area in the past, winning both Kitchener ridings provincially in 1990 and ranking a strong second both provincially and federally in elections before that.

But of course, Peter's focus on the riding is more than strategic:
Kitchener Centre is a very different riding from Kitchener Waterloo - everyone knows about the tech sector and higher learning in Waterloo, but Kitchener Centre has been hit hard with manufacturing job losses, increased overall unemployment, etc. One of the challenges of the riding is having a representative that will be able to ensure the City of Kitchener is seen as a good place for the Federal government to invest in re-education and job retraining, and that the city has a significant role to play in the Waterloo Region as a manufacturing and industry hub in Southwestern Ontario.
Needless to say, Kitchener Centre voters can't expect to see that kind of challenge met by an MP who's spent most of his time denying that there's any problem at all since that might mean taking some responsibility. Which brings us to...

The Opponents

The incumbent MP in Kitchener Centre is Con backbencher Stephen Woodworth, who won the riding with 36.7% of the vote while spending roughly the maximum in 2008. To his credit, Woodworth is a regular Twitterer himself - but like his partymates, he's used the medium and any other form of communication exclusively to worship Stephen Harper and spout the party line while making excuses for not acting on principle. And for added fun, check out his remarkable tweet that voters should prefer having an MP who disagrees with their values:
@RamaraMan Re next election,if I lose you might end up with an MP who always agrees w you, or who ignors you.Is tht wht you want?Or dialogue
Somehow, I suspect most Canadians would consider themselves better off with an MP who does actually agree with them, rather than one who offers only minimal "dialogue" to excuse a complete failure to meet the riding's needs. And I'm sure progressive voters would much rather be able to use Twitter to exchange ideas with Peter than to slam their heads against the wall trying to get through to one of Harper's cheerleaders.

The Libs' Karen Redman is also back in the Kitchener Centre race after holding the seat until 2008, when the combination of a fully-funded campaign, an incumbency advantage and a high profile as the Libs' whip wasn't enough for her to hold off Woodworth. Needless to say, there's little reason to think she'll be any stronger as a candidate in the next election.

The Plan

So what can we do to help Peter out? The obvious answers are of course:
Donate to the Kitchener Centre NDP - Contact the Kitchener Centre NDP to volunteer

But Peter recognizes that for a candidate going up against a current and a former MP, "the biggest thing people can do is spread the word" - which means reaching the widest possible audience in addition to making sure our own contacts in Kitchener Centre know about his merits as a candidate. So anybody interested in finding out more about Peter and getting the word out through their own medium of choice is encouraged to contact him.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Friday Morning Links

- In case there was any doubt what the Harper Cons' primary goal has been while in office, pogge nails it:
What dominates conservative action is not a belief in the inherent inferiority of government but a radical, nihilistic desire to throw sand into the gears to assure it is inferior.
He's writing about things like senate filibusters and the recent brouhaha surrounding former (and soon to be once again?) USDA employee Shirley Sherrod but it certainly rings true for Canadians as well when he writes:

...this is collective action to stop the government from working, and an attempt to drive competent individuals out of civil service.
I've seen alternative explanations for this government's insistence on crippling Statistics Canada but I would suggest that this is the fundamental motivation. This is what Conservatives have been attempting to do since they first wrote the infamous manual on sabotaging Commons committees: "throw sand into the gears."
- Meanwhile, Douglas Bell echoes the NDP's recent stance in noting another parallel with the U.S.:
The Tories ridding us of the long form census is a feeble attempt to gain political advantage by importing (a culture-war-style) backlash from the States. It’s dollar store demagoguery, pure and simple. Because putting the motto “live free or die” on a license plate was already taken, the Tories have to settle for Potemkin victories like scrapping the census, kicking ass at the G20, nixing affirmative action in the civil service, and building more prisons. Pretty thin gruel really. But you have to take what you can get in a country where only one in three voters really give a damn about your agenda.
- Of course, the latest in the Cons' is their attack on affirmative action. Needless to say, I share Scott's skepticism that the timing following a self-serving complaint from a Con supporter and blogger is a coincidence.

- Finally, Armine Yalnizyan is still optimistic that the Cons will eventually decide to back down on the mandatory long form census:
There are three possible openings for fruitful discussion in the immediate future:

Meetings with groups of reasonable people (i.e. including people who vote Conservative) can be held when Industry Minister Tony Clement returns from overseas. Meetings, such as the one requested on Monday would help save face and might help craft a way out.

The House of Commons Industry Committee is holding summer meetings, which is unusual but not unprecedented. If committee members agree to hear from some of the organizations that have requested standing, one or more witnesses could suggest an exit-strategy from this suicide mission.

The Council of the Federation (the Premiers of Canada’s provinces and territories) meets in early August. The Prime Minister has not yet played his hand. Stephen Harper could cast himself in the role of statesman, entering into negotiations with his peers and saving the day. (I know, I know) Even before this annual event takes place, the provincial and territorial Ministers of social services are meeting. Backroom discussions there, too, could identify or smooth the path forward.
Mind you, the fact that the Cons have only been getting more stubborn and less open to criticism with time doesn't look promising. But it's probably true that there's a reasonable chance of some of the summer's events - particularly the Council of the Federation meeting - resulting in a way out if the Cons decide they want one. And the perk for the Cons in senselessly sticking to a position that nobody much cared about in the first place is that they probably won't take much damage in the long run if they do reverse course.

The reviews are in

Saskatchewan's media has weighed in on Brad Trost's arrogant condescension toward municipalities whose infrastructure work has been delayed for reasons beyond their control. And perhaps not surprisingly, the reviews are less than positive. Here's Murray Mandryk:
(W)hat's more galling? Trost's stupidity in not understanding why the work isn't getting done? His condescension towards "low level" politicians who actually have real responsibilities? Or was it his single- and simple-minded devotion to the prime minister's dictates at the expense of the interests of the Saskatchewan voters that elected him? Is Trost reflecting the supposed sympathy and concern Harper offered flooded-out farmers and businesses when he came here two weeks ago?

Certainly, Brad Wall must be steamed. But any sympathy one might have for Saskatchewan's premier should be couched by the fact that he's allowed his backbenchers to act every bit as arrogantly over the hiring of a new chief electoral officer...

(T)his is an utter abuse of power. Like Trost, Sask. Party caucus members have lost sight of the fact that their job is to serve the public's interests -- not their own interests.
And the Star-Phoenix editorial board:
"I think people are just, you know, wishful thinking," Mr. Trost said. If Ottawa appears to be looking at facts, using logic and being reasonable, next thing one can expect is that "every municipality from one end to the other will have a reason why their deadline should be extended."

Those fabricated reasons, one supposes, includes the more than 43 days of rain since April that flooded every below-grade project in Saskatoon, forcing workers to pump out the worksites, add more shoring and still take greater risks if they are to get in the muck and try to work, rather than "play in the park."

Saskatoon isn't alone in its challenge to manage the water. According to the Saskatchewan Association of Urban Municipalities, there are at least 33 projects across the province, worth at least $36 million, that have been delayed by weather. And one must assume that Alberta and Manitoba, which have also been hit with record amounts of rain, apparently are equally cursed with workers ready to leap on any excuse to goldbrick.

One shouldn't be surprised that Mr. Trost has such a disdainful view of his home province. After all, the entire batch of Saskatchewan's Conservatives has made it a practice of tossing local constituents under the bus in order to curry favour with the party leader.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Well said

While Con spokesparrots across the country try to pretend that the Harper government's choice to gut the census isn't worth talking about, Charlie Angus rightly recognizes which side is trying to make drastic changes based on a complete non-issue:
I’ve never gone into a Tim Hortons in Canada and had someone rail at me about big bad government spying on them with the census, but I am hearing this from Conservative cabinet ministers. I think the public is shaking its head.

The reviews are in

John Moore offers a reminder of which federal party and leader has had the right idea all along when it comes to the future of Afghanistan:
Afghanistan is not Europe. And the Taliban are not the Nazis. Afghanistan is a Godforsaken country of largely illiterate peasants loosely affiliated with rival tribes and gangs. If every last member of the Taliban was magically lifted from the land it’s possible nothing would change. This isn’t Holland waiting for western liberation. It’s a country so riven with violence and instability that citizens show loyalty to no one lest they find themselves on the wrong side should the fighting ever stop.

So yes, sometimes you have to talk to the enemy. In fact post-WW2 realpolitik has shown sometimes you even have to get into bed with the enemy.

So almost four years after Layton suggested talking with the Taliban the minister acknowledges this is now official policy. For a guy who was labeled a soldier-hater and a Taliban-lover Jack Layton is remarkably gracious about the turnaround. I asked him recently if he was planning to ask for an apology and he demurred. “As long as the right thing gets done I don’t really care”.

There’s another lesson the Conservatives could learn from the NDP leader. He’s man enough to set partisanship aside when his rivals are actually getting something right.

On partisan choices

Shorter Don Morgan:

Because it is essential that the province's Chief Electoral Officer have the full support of all MLAs, we plan to pick one unilaterally over the objections of the 20 who aren't in our caucus.

When in doubt, double down

Since Tony Clement apparently didn't win anybody over with his previous attempt to pretend that it's somehow a plus if Stephen Harper does all the thinking for the Cons' hive-mind, here's his latest:
Industry Minister Tony Clement has dismissed growing calls for him to reverse his decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census, saying he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are on the same page on the issue.

Industry Minister Tony Clement acknowledges he would fill out a long-form census if he received one.Industry Minister Tony Clement acknowledges he would fill out a long-form census if he received one. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)"There's not a micron of difference of opinion between myself and the prime minister on this," Clement told the CBC's Rosemary Barton in an interview on Power & Politics with Evan Solomon.
I'm reminded of the saying of a politician slightly less blinded by desire to feign agreement on all things at all times: "If you agree with me seventy percent of the time, vote for me. If you agree with me one hundred percent of the time, see your shrink." And surely the corollary for anything but the most devoted of cults is "If there's not a micron of opinion between yourself and me, please let me know where to serve the restraining order."

Beneath consideration

Con MP Brad Trost offers a clear answer as to whether the Sask Party's choice to serve as Stephen Harper's lapdog has done anything to get the federal government to pay attention when Saskatchewan needs it most:
Saskatchewan Party Municipal Affairs Minister Darryl Hickie confirmed the province -- along with Alberta and Manitoba -- has asked the Conservative government to push back its March 31, 2011, deadline for the completion of stimulus projects because heavy rains on the Prairies have caused major construction delays.

Failing to meet the deadline would mean federal dollars wouldn't flow, leaving municipalities either to abandon projects or be forced to foot the bill on their own.
But Trost, the MP for Saskatoon-Humboldt, said pushing back the deadline would be a "massive headache" and "there's really been no consideration given.

"I think people are just, you know, wishful thinking..."
Now, it's bad enough that the the Harper Cons aren't bothering to act on what would seem to be an obviously unforeseeable impediment to getting construction work done. But Trost has gone beyond mere neglect to offer up a direct slap in the face, stating outright that the Sask Party can't even get the Harper Cons to consider Saskatchewan's request.

That may come as a shock to a Sask Party government which has done little but hope that its legwork for Harper would be repaid with anything of substance. But it was entirely predictable for those of us who recognize that the real wishful thinking was the belief that Harper would ever do anything but take Saskatchewan for granted - and it looks to make for just one more abject failure for the Wall government.

Just wondering

John Geddes posts the reasonable explanation for including information about homes in Canada's long form census - which will of course be merrily ignored by the Cons as they continue to recite their reality-detached talking points. But let's note that the application of some of the data the Cons have criticized looks to have figured rather prominently in what the Cons have done while in office.

After all, wouldn't the most accurate available information about the state of repair of Canadian homes have been rather important in deciding whether and how to offer a home renovation tax credit?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Called out

It hasn't gone unnoticed that Munir Sheikh's resignation letter as Chief Statistician in the wake of the Cons' census fiasco is chock full of noteworthy jabs. But perhaps not surprisingly, my personal favourite is one which applies far beyond his own personal circumstances:
There has also been commentary on the advice that Statistics Canada and I gave the government on this subject.

I cannot reveal and comment on this advice because this information is protected under the law. However, the government can make this information public if it so wishes.
Of course, the most immediate question is that of what Tony Clement has to hide when it comes to the advice provided by Sheikh. But there's no lack of other issues where the Cons have similarly used cabinet confidences as an excuse to avoid accountability - and Sheikh's letter is no less relevant to those cases as well in making clear that the Cons' compulsive secrecy is entirely self-imposed.

Important answers to ill-advised rhetorical questions

Bob Rae:
If a voluntary census is ok, how about a voluntary income tax? Get rid of those obtrusive forms, and just send in dough if you feel like it?
Actually, Stephen Harper is in favour of that too. Which you'd know - and be countering - if you were paying attention.

Defining Progressivism

As promised, let's start looking at what exactly it is that Canadian progressives should be striving for. I'll start by noting a few current theories which seem to have some useful points to contribute, but which on their own look to fall short of a fully satisfactory explanation.

First off, Paul Rosenberg offers a rough definition that may find particular appeal as a Conservative government takes a wrecking ball to the most reliable source of information about Canadians:
I think that the primary difference between conservatives and progressives is that:

Conservatives believe in tribally-shared narrative myths that comfort them in perpetuating a world of inequality, while

Progressives believe in a universalist, critical-empirical approach to creating a world that works for everyone.
One can say that Rosenberg's definition makes for a useful inversion of the comedic trope that reality has a liberal (progressive) bias: can we get anywhere in making that true by definition by framing progressivism as the desire for policy based on empirical fact?

Not surprisingly, Rosenberg himself recognizes that this division doesn't tell the whole story. But I'd go a step further and note that it leaves the most important work undone: the question of how to define "a world that works for everyone" has to be the most important step in discussing progressive values. And indeed one of the greatest failures of the past few decades seems to me to have been progressives' willingness to accept conservative-friendly definitions of overall goals based on the availability of simple measuring sticks (e.g. prosperity defined in terms of total GDP) that's driven public policy in the wrong direction.

Which segues nicely into Alex Himelfarb's initial post on the nature of progressivism:
(M)y sense nonetheless is that the notion of “progressive” does have meaning, if only a belief that government’s role is not just to stop bad things from happening or to correct them when they do, but to help make good thinks happen, to promote human dignity, solidarity in diversity, and equality of opportunity, and to help ordinary people manage change in the face of broad global forces we don’t control. Progressives also give greater focus to government’s role in “correcting” the market, particularly with respect to the environment and poverty, and generally harnessing the market for people’s well-being, and are internationalists in the pursuit of Canada’s interests and committed to fulfilling our responsibilities as global citizens.
Unfortunately, Himelfarb is probably dead on target in trying to describe how progressivism is perceived. But there are two problems with the definition as a matter of setting out durable progressive ideals.

First off, there's the acceptance of global market trends as primary and all other matters - including democratic government - as being merely a means of tinkering around the margins to mitigate its worst excesses. That strikes me as conceding far too much in theory to the notion that citizens lack power to chart their own course, both individually and collectively. But perhaps more importantly (particularly to the extent it's intended as a response to what is rather than a definition of what might be), Himelfarb's definition also seems to present a rather weak defence of government, and a nonexistent defence of other forces needed as a matter of political realism to counterbalance the massive corporate power that actually does exist.

Second, there's the incrementalist nature of Himelfarb's definition which leaves out any particular end goals. If the nature of progressivism is to be slightly more concerned with the environment, poverty and other issues than the alternative, what exactly do we hope to accomplish on those points? (And I consider this more than just a theoretical exercise: in order to actually inspire public support, I'd argue that we need to be able to set out a long-term vision as to where we want to end up, not limit ourselves to fighting defensively on the current political landscape.)

A third effort at framing the political ideal (and last one I'll deal with in this post) is that of George Lakoff, contrasting a "strict father" conservative worldview with a "nurturing mother" progressive one. And there isn't much doubt that Lakoff's language looks to be a useful tool in linking progressive ends to familiar concepts.

But while Lakoff's framing is valuable in putting together talking points to discuss progressive policies, it looks to fall somewhat short in defining what those policies ought to be.

Again, part of that stems from the lack of specificity in Lakoff's framework. "Nurturing" is as much a means as an end, and like Rosenberg's focus on empiricism Lakoff's frame leaves open the question of what ends we're supposed to be pursuing. But there's also some conflict between Lakoff's and Rosenberg's respective priorities where the former would seem to lose out to the latter in a way that illustrates the limits of the "nurturing" model where the state is concerned.

For example, while I'd think it can safely be said that progressives don't agree with the gratuitous incarceration of criminals where the cost to society outweighs the benefit in doing so, I'd think it's equally fair to say that we want our levels of law enforcement and punishment to be based on evidence as to how to balance the costs and benefits of incarceration, not an overarching principle of attachment to the convicted individual as might be associated with an actual "nurturing mother". In effect, even if we see "nurturing" as a plus generally, the state can't be expected to develop and administer the level of attachment with each of its citizens that a mother would with her child - and that limitation needs to be considered when we decide how far to take the theme in defining ourselves as progressives.

So if it isn't enough to classify progressives as skeptical, nurturing incrementalists, what more do we need to add or take away from that picture to get to the right definition? Stay tuned...

The reviews are in

Dan Gardner compares the Cons' feigned concern over the long form census with their complete lack of interest in actual privacy issues surrounding financial reporting:
(L)et's compare and contrast:

One mandatory reporting system is extremely intrusive and burdensome. The privacy commissioner has expressed serious concerns about this system. And there is no evidence it delivers significant social benefit.

Another mandatory reporting system requires some people to spend a few minutes filling out a form once every five years at no cost to them. The privacy commissioner has not expressed concern about this system. And there is voluminous evidence that it delivers enormous social benefit -- indeed, that it is essential to public policy, social science, and business.

The government is scrapping the second system. But it fully supports the first.

Isn't that odd? I can only see two possible explanations.

One, those highly principled Conservatives had no idea what the financial reporting system actually entails. This column will shock them into action and the whole thing will be junked forthwith. Expect an announcement by Friday.

If there is no such announcement, we will be left with Explanation Two: The government's highly principled stand against mandatory reporting is nothing but a post-facto rationalization of a decision made for a different reason.

Memo to Murray Mandryk

"It's always good news for Brad Wall!" is a form of mockery, not a challenge. I trust this clears up your mistaken impression.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Up for the challenge

This spring, the federal NDP put together the Local Victories Challenge, encouraging its riding associations to build their own capacity with incentives for riding-level fund-raising. And the plan looks to have been enough of a success for the NDP to take the next step, with a summer incentive plan to reward ridings for recruiting new members:
While the other parties rely on big money to win campaigns, New Democrats get our strength from committed people on the ground.

That’s why we’re taking the Local Victories campaign to the next level – with the Local Victories: Membership Challenge.

Our challenge – to add tens of thousands of new members by the end of October, and build the base that will help you win your local campaign.
The plan will include both incentives for each membership sold, and extra rewards for the top-performing riding associations. And like the fund-raising challenge before it, the membership drive will be supported by efforts to facilitate idea-sharing among the NDP's riding associations to add to the obvious value in encouraging riding-level activity.

Which means that rather than planning its summer around a cross-country wild goose chase, the NDP is coming up with new ways to keep its grassroots growing. And the combination of strengthened fund-raising and a focus on new members should ensure that the NDP's constituency associations are ready for the next election campaign whenever it comes.

Just wondering

Murray Mandryk is right to note that Enterprise Saskatchewan has turned out to be more a political servant of the Sask Party than an independent decision-maker. But isn't it at least as much of a scandal if a substantial portion of the province's public service has effectively been converted into a political subsidiary of the Sask Party in the guise of an independent body?

On responsible government

With New Brunswick headed to the polls this fall, it's bound to be interesting to see what effect the election of the first NDP government in Nova Scotia might have on the party's fortunes elsewhere in Atlantic Canada. And the Telegraph-Journal notes that the New Brunswick NDP is making a strong push for popular support as the party of fiscal responsibility:
Roger Duguay is knocking on doors in his hometown of Tracadie-Sheila with a message: The New Democratic Party of New Brunswick will rein in the runaway spending of successive Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments.
Observers say the new focus could pay off as taxpayers look for a party to slay the province's growing deficits and debt load.

"I'm going door to door, talking with people about our position, and I'm finding more and more supporters," said Duguay, who has been credited with bringing new supporters under the NDP banner, including francophones and northern New Brunswickers.
Although the NDP's focus on balancing the books might seem out of character, Rob Moir said it's a return to the party's roots.

The UNB Saint John economics professor and a two-time federal NDP candidate said the focus on fiscal responsibility is true to the tradition of Tommy Douglas, former Baptist minister, premier of Saskatchewan, federal NDP leader, and father of universal public health care in Canada.

"Tommy Douglas (was) the first premier to stop deficit financing," Moir said. "From an economics point of view he knew that in order to bring in good jobs you need an educated workforce. If you want people to be at work and productive then they have to be healthy.

"These are investments we make as a society in part because they are the right thing to do, the moral thing to do, but also because it's just darn good economics," he said. "Taxpayers want a party that spends wisely and that's what the NDP represents."
Of course, it's worth adding in a reminder that the NDP's track record of fiscal responsibility has also been better than that of any other party in recent years - so the shift in New Brunswick is merely toward emphasizing that aspect of the party's hard-earned brand.

But in a province that's far too often served as a petri dish for corporatist policies that have never lived up to their billing, a strong emphasis on living within the province's means would seem to be a needed contrast. And with any luck, enough voters will agree to radically change the look of the province's politics this fall.

Update: And lest I forget, stop by the party's site to lend a hand.

Groupthink run amok

It's bad enough that the Harper Cons chose to gut the census with neither any consultation, nor any regard for the massive impact it would have on Canadians. But what would be even more embarrassing for any government that saw its cabinet ministers as even slightly capable of meeting the interests of their constituents is the fact that the Cons have gone out of their way to declare that nobody within the Cons' cabinet hive-mind could ever have held any doubts about the decision:
The government appears most concerned by reports of dissent within the cabinet ranks. Columnists in both The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star have reported that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Industry Minister Tony Clement, whose department contains Statistics Canada, opposed the census decision. The Globe’s Jeffrey Simpson reported that they wrote letters to that effect, but were overruled by the Prime Minister.

“No such letter exists,” Mike Storeshaw, spokesman for Mr. Flaherty, e-mailed, adding that Mr. Flaherty fully supports the decision.

There is no difference of opinion between Minister Clement and the Prime Minister on this issue,” Erik Waddell, Mr. Clement’s spokesman, wrote in a letter to the editor.
Of course, every statement insisting that nobody could possibly question the divine wisdom of Lord Steve will make it tougher for the Cons to reverse course later. And that makes for a serious problem, since as I've noted there's no other realistic way to restore the census in time for 2011.

But it's telling that the Cons have gone beyond merely backing the final decision (which one would expect as a matter of cabinet solidarity), to protesting a little too loudly against the suggestion that they could ever have disagreed with Harper's orders. And the more time the Cons' supposed power brokers spend publicly declaring their inability to so much as hold their own opinion when it conflicts with orders from on high, the more reason Canadians will have to doubt that they're worth listening to on any other point.

Monday, July 19, 2010

On selective pain

Shorter Dwight Duncan:

It's not that we want to attack our public servants. But what other choice do we have when a massive hole just seems to have spontaneously appeared in our budget?

On minimum standards

Kudos to Joe Kuchta for his post on the Sask Party's minimum wage secrecy which has been picked up by the Saskatchewan NDP. But I do think it's worth wondering: is it more likely the Sask Party is hiding the Minimum Wage Board's review because it recommends positive changes to the minimum wage (such as the indexing planned for by the NDP), or because it succeeded in stacking the board to the point where the report itself attacks workers enough to be embarrassing to the Wall government?

Monday Morning Links

An opinion-heavy set of links to start your week, as there's been some great commentary worth highlighting...

- Greg pins down Stephen Harper's governing philosophy:
Since Canadians insist on paying their taxes, we must spend the money as wastefully and thoughtlessly as possible until such time as we can convince them that taxes should be abolished.
- Chet offers his theory as to why the Cons are so eager to trash Canada's census:
I think that what Harper really doesn't want is for the census data to show what the effects of his own policies have been in the here and now. Harper appears to like control more than anything else, and there's just no way he can control what a thorough and complete census will tell. He's perfectly happy to take the limited data that he gets from Bay Street which seem to show that Canada's economy is doing all right in the abstract: he may not be so happy about broader census data that may show that such prosperity is not getting through to average people.

This is why governments of all stripes have often grumbled about StatsCan: the facts are usually any government's most powerful critic. Want to gauge how a party has fulfilled its election promises? The numbers can tell you a lot about that. But this government is going farther than just complaining about its marks: it's burning its report card before Mom and Dad ever get to see it.

This is in part a legacy matter: Harper wants to control his own reputation long-term, and the one thing he can't control is reliable, independently collected and analyzed data. Therefore, he's just going to prevent its collection in the first place.
- Michael Byers points out that the Cons' $16 billion fighter jet purchase looks to be based more on what the U.S. wants us to buy than what Canada actually needs:
The cost of developing the F-35 is estimated at an astonishing $276 billion (U.S.). The cost of the F-22, which is based largely on the same technology, is even higher.

The United States is desperate to spread those costs, without selling its very best planes. It needs Canada firmly on board so that other allies — some of whom are wavering — will also commit to buying F-35s. It can't wait for a tendering process.

Neither can the Harper government. For opening the procurement to tenders would require revisiting the ridiculously narrow operational requirements, and reveal that we've been sold a pig in a poke — on instructions from the Pentagon.
- Finally, lost in the revelry over the fact that the CRTC rightly denied Fox News North's application for a mandatory license is the fact that the Cons' former spinmeister apparently doesn't plan to take "no" for an answer:
Kory Teneycke, a former chief spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper who is at the helm of the new channel, said the company is preparing an amended Category 1 application and will soon try again with the CRTC.

"We're optimistic that this will be resolved in a way that works for us and allows Canadians from coast to coast to have access to the channel," he said. "We're confident that we'll have a licence in place that meets our needs prior to our scheduled launch in the new year."
Which leads me to wonder: will anything be "amended" on the new application aside from a hand-written note saying "Approve this or die. - PMSH"?

On organization-building

Following up on yesterday's post on the need to develop the reach of Canadian progressives, Murray Dobbin adds another item to the to-do list in the form of organization-building:
I often say to people that the left – whatever that is these days – has to offer people hope, not despair, if we are to motivate and engage people in social change action. And yet I still feel like an expert at telling people how bad things are – alerting people to outrages they may not have noticed, predicting economic Armageddon, warning of what Stephen Harper has in mind for the country.
Right now I have to say that there are few organizations in Canada – social, political, environmental, cultural – that demonstrate an awareness of the incredible urgency for action on all these fronts. I may be suffering from some sort of apocalypse syndrome but I find it distressing that the day to day world of social justice politics has not changed even though the situation has altered fundamentally.
Without organizations committed to challenging these enormously powerful forces we are certain to suffer huge setbacks before cultural change begins to reflect itself in the political and economic world.

Does that mean completely new organizations? A huge change in the ones that already exist? Is the answer coalitions of groups that can together come to grips with the fight that is ahead of us? A concerted effort to transform the NDP into a real party of change?
Not surprisingly, I'll have my own thoughts to add on the matter. But I'd think it's worth giving Dobbin's questions some time to simmer first - as well as wondering if there are any essential elements of a strong progressive movement missing from his list.

The reviews are in

The Star Phoenix editorial board weighs in on the Cons' census claptrap:
More and more this is beginning to smack of the Tories in power trying to substitute ideological decisions for evidence-based ones.

This attempt to return to the anti-government politics of an unlamented bygone era is dismaying, but that's increasingly what the Harper government seems to be adopting as its chosen path.
(N)othing about this fiasco makes sense except to those whose ideological blinders are on too tight and who consider Canadians gullible dupes who can be convinced to accept nonsense by repeating it over and over.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

G20 Protest Followup

Unfortunately, yesterday's G20 protests look to have been on the disappointing side both in terms of turnout and media coverage. While stories were filed covering the events in Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton and Winnipeg, that's only a small fraction of the rallies organized across the country - and a turnout below expectations can only create excuses for the media to further ignore any future action in support of Canadians' civil liberties.

Which is to say, what thwap said:
I had HOPED to see more than a couple of hundred people. Alas, alack, all there was were a few hundred people. At one point, they were insisting "Never again!' but it didn't seem to have much resonance. I got the opinion that our elites know damned well they can do this as much as they want.
On the one hand, standing to be counted isn't too much to ask people even if going to these things just so you can say that you did and feel good about yourself doesn't solve a lot of the world's problems. On the other hand though, I can't blame other people for thinking that these demos and rallies are a waste of time. They're not going to achieve anything. They're not going to do anything but allow progressives to get together, discuss, strategize, and look around and realize how powerless and impotent they are.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

The party line after the 'Riders' hard-fought win over Edmonton yesterday seems to be that the team's resilience in coming back to beat the Eskimos should be taken as a sign of greatness. But I'd think the more important lesson in a home game where Saskatchewan narrowly beat the lone winless team in the CFL is that the 'Riders still have a ways yet to go before reaching that level - and that there's room for improvement in both strategy and execution.

On the offensive side of the ball, yesterday's game will hopefully be the worst we'll see out of both Darian Durant and Weston Dressler this season - Durant due to his poor accuracy through the first half in particular, and Dressler in combining one glaring drop with a lack of production. Durant at least recovered to throw a couple of picturesque passes (as well as pile up decent yardage thanks largely to yards after catches), while Dressler's off game didn't hurt too much with Andy Fantuz, Rob Bagg and Chris Getzlaf all having their moments catching the ball.

But while those struggles from two star performers may not have been in the game plan, it shouldn't have come as much surprise that the passing game would face some complications in yesterday's windy conditions. And that makes the play calling somewhat surprising: the running attack was virtually ignored for an entire quarter after the 'Riders' first-quarter field goal, and only received about equal use even after it proved to be extremely effective later on.

Of course, that has a lot to do with Doug Berry's aggressive offensive philosophy which is generally a positive for the 'Riders. But a team needs to adapt to conditions - and the 'Riders spent far more time yesterday flailing around with an inconsistent passing game than they needed to under the circumstances.

On defence, meanwhile, the most important story continues to be the 'Riders' effectiveness against the run. Once again, Saskatchewan held a marquee running back to about 50 yards of production, which combined with some effective red-zone play and a sudden rediscovery of the concept of the "turnover" to keep all but one of the Esks in check.

But there is some reason for concern with the one player who did run wild. For the third week in a row the 'Riders' defence was torched by the opponents' top speed receiver, and the damage has been increasing by the game: from 106 for Kerry Watkins on opening day, to 169 for Geroy Simon against B.C., to 213 for Fred Stamps yesterday. That hasn't necessarily been the result of exploiting similar weaknesses (Watkins did most of his damage downfield in one-on-one matchups, while Stamps racked up his yardage finding holes underneath), but it seems to make for a pattern that the 'Riders will need to break.

As for the special teams...the less said about them, the better. I'm not sure the 'Riders have much choice but to give Louie Sakoda and Dominique Dorsey each a mulligan, but the team's patience must be wearing thin when neither has contributed much previously to make up for yesterday's train wreck. And while those roster spots at least provide some expectation for improvement later on, it can't be too reassuring that last season's weak points on special teams are reemerging with a vengeance.

In sum, while any team will ultimately take a win, yesterday's game seemed to say more about what the 'Riders still have to work on than what they've managed to build so far. And hopefully next week's contest against Calgary will see not just the return of the 'Riders' lethal offence of the first two games, but also some progress in the problem areas.

On natural choices

In response to Alf Apps's statement that the Libs' goal should be simply to win power as the default alternative to the Harper Cons, Paul Wells makes some great points about the Libs' longstanding pattern of losing support during election campaigns. But it's worth putting that trend in the context of the much-debated question of who, if anybody, constitutes Canada's "natural governing party".

As noted by Wells, during their last stay in power the Libs enjoyed a consistent lead between elections, with their baseline share of popular support standing somewhere around 50% until at least the 2004 election. And it's not hard to see how the Libs' strategy at that point could plausibly be based on the assumption that they could relatively easily assemble a majority government out of the voters who looked to them by default.

While an election campaign tends to polarize the choices available to the electorate, there's plenty of room for a majority governing party to choose which opponent to portray as the main threat during the course of a campaign. And the Libs used that ability to great effect in playing up the Reform and Alliance parties even when they had little prospect of emerging as serious contenders to form government - which has unfortunately led to the strengthened right that eventually came to power.

More importantly, with 50% of the electorate as theoretical supporters where 40% would suffice for a majority, the Libs didn't have any particular need to maximize their potential turnout in order to hang onto power. (Indeed, there would be some room for discussion that the ideal outcome would be to gravitate toward the barest majority possible, though that seems more applicable as a matter of pure theory than a strategy for any given party.) Which goes a long way toward explaining why the Libs' election-day operations might have atrophied even while they were able to win majority governments based on broader trends - while their competitors had to maximize every vote in order to survive.

Since then, the Libs have started from lower and lower baseline support levels: around 35-40% during their last term in government, to 30-35% through most of the Cons' stay in power, then only recently tumbling below the 30% level consistently outside a campaign period. Which means that alongside Wells' observation about their support dipping during election campaigns, there's another extremely important trend for the Libs over the past few election cycles: namely, the constant erosion of their ability to rely on being perceived as the default governing party. And if the pattern of weak turnout among Lib supporters repeats itself from the current baseline, then a finish behind the NDP is within sight based on the Libs' failings alone.

But then, for all the talk about the Cons trying to establish themselves as the replacement national governing party, there isn't any indication that they've had any success on that front either, as the Cons' normal support level in the range of 35% doesn't leave any room for error in a campaign. Instead, any musings about Harper forcing a vote look to rely on the assumption that he can once again post an election-day showing that far exceeds the public's normal support for his party, with the hope that this time they can luck their way to a majority.

Of course, one could argue that the Cons might be able to establish a better long-term foothold if they do get a majority mandate. But it's far from clear that a party whose siege mentality as a minority government has resulted in plenty of bad governing habits can change that pattern even if the next election goes its way. And it would be a stretch to treat anything as an imminent "natural" state of affairs when it requires drastic changes in both results and strategy.

In sum, for all the spin to the contrary from Cons and Libs alike, there isn't a single group on the Canadian political scene that can credibly claim the title of "natural governing party", nor any apparent prospect of that changing anytime soon. Which should make for reason to spend far less time bloviating about who should be considered the default government, and far more discussing who we actually want to see making decisions in the public interest.

The reviews are in

The Star's editorial board is off base in suggesting that nobody else is asking the same tough questions. But it's absolutely right to worry that the Harper Cons have turned Canada into the destination of choice for oil companies who don't want the hassle of protecting against the dangers of offshore drilling:
Unlike the U.S., Canada shows few signs of grappling with the risks of deep drilling, the gaps in regulatory enforcement, and the grey areas of corporate liability.

The contrast between our two countries is increasingly stark: While Canada’s political leaders project complacency, President Barack Obama swiftly imposed a moratorium on new offshore drilling; ordered sweeping regulatory reviews; and extracted a $20 billion fund from BP for its liability.

For multinational oil giants, there is one obvious conclusion: It’s now easier and cheaper to drill offshore in Canada than in the U.S.
In recent years, the National Energy Board — which regulates drilling in Arctic waters — has weakened the rules that specified the equipment and methods needed to prevent blowouts, acquiescing to industry pressure for more flexible procedures. Now, heeding public concerns, the NEB is holding a fresh round of public hearings for a review of offshore drilling regulations.

This week was the deadline for submissions in a process that will pit the public and environmental interest against a strong industry push to be exempted from drilling a relief well in the same season as an exploratory well is started. Coming so soon after the massive gulf cleanup — which took place in warm waters, near well-served ports, surrounded by large fleets of vessels — the industry’s demands for even weaker rules in the remote, freezing Arctic is a reminder that there are still battles to be fought to protect Canadian waters from the illusion of risk-free offshore drilling.