Saturday, November 20, 2010

Well said

Gerald Caplan nicely boils down the real question underlying Canada's continued military presence in Afghanistan:
What do we achieve by kidding ourselves? We outsiders have never understood Afghanistan, how complex and inscrutable it is. Despite almost 10 years, many billions of dollars and many foreigners and Afghans killed, we’ve made precious little progress in achieving whatever aims we’ve claimed to have at various stages.

It would be better if all Afghans had a more secure life. But it’s time to admit the obvious. Afghanistan will be what Afghans make it, whether we like it or not. We can do nothing about it. Foreigners have no constructive role to play. It’s time they all got out.

Suddenly it all makes sense

Doug Saunders points out one of the consequences of the disastrous attempt to justify invading Iraq in terms of democracy:
“During the Bush years, many governments understandably lost their enthusiasm for democratization,” he explained. Both the rhetoric and the policy of democracy promotion became associated with U.S. excesses. Now, Mr. Youngs says, “there’s a disappointment in that they have not returned to the agenda after Obama has taken office … It’s slipped down the agenda.”

We now talk about stability, or containment, or conflict prevention. Because the word was abused so violently by Mr. Bush, it may be a generation before democracy returns to that list.
Anybody else wonder whether the Cons have learned just enough from their U.S. cousins' mistakes to set up the concept of "women's rights" for failure in Afghanistan?

One struggle among many

It's well and good that Paul Wells is continuing to highlight the continued obfuscations at Rights and Democracy. And I'll encourage readers to join in the effort to demand that we get some answers through the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development since it's clear none will be forthcoming from Rights and Democracy itself.

But at the same time, it's worth noting that what's happened at Rights and Democracy looks to be an entirely normal practice for the Harper Cons. From stimulus reports turned into infomercials to the systematic abuse of MP mailout privileges, from ignoring the will of Parliament on Afghan detainee documents to denying Kevin Page the information he's requested to accurately cost out crime policies, the Cons have made absolutely clear that their idea of transparency is using every means they can think of to spread political messages while hiding all other information from the public.

Of course, the situation at Rights and Democracy has received more attention than most - due to both some particularly damning facts, and a determined effort from one of Canada's top political reporters. And it's worth at least trying to show that public pressure can result in information coming to light, since the alternative is for Harper and company to conclude that they're absolutely home free.

But while a single runaround might be dismissed as an isolated incident, the bigger issue is the certainty that there are countless similar cases where nobody's even started to meaningfully chase down the Cons. So in making the effort to write in on Rights and Democracy, take some time as well to work on ensuring that Harper's vision of government serving the PM's interests alone doesn't endure any longer than we can avoid.

On turf wars

Jeffrey Simpson's lament on the state of Canadian politics is well worth a read. But it's worth noting the flip side of Simpson's observation that none of the parties is managing to break through to its next logical goal - which is that trench warfare is fairly predictable when each party also has some turf that it's looking to protect. And on that point, it's not hard to see how each of the parties in Parliament might see the prospect of marginally increasing the chances of reaching the next level of support as not being worth losing what they have now.

The Cons have seemingly done everything they can think of to inch their way toward a majority during their stay in government. But it's understandable that they'd want to hold onto their place in government in the process - which obviously be in danger if any risk goes wrong. And that figures to have much to do with the current strategy of hanging onto the base and waiting for some outside factor to break in their favour.

Likewise, the Libs are surely frustrated with being stuck behind the Cons, but face a serious enough threat from the NDP for the role of default alternative party to see the need to defend their turf even if it means further entrenching the current positions. And the NDP has a historically broad base of support to build from in trying to move past its traditional polling levels, meaning that it too has something valuable to lose if it goes on the offensive without protecting its current ground.

And that trend is only reinforced by the professionalization of each of the national parties. That may in fact serve as one of the additional factors signalling a shift away from brokerage politics, as party formations communicate with target voters consistently rather than coming together primarily at election time - while also developing independent incentives to hold onto the resources currently available to them. And the end result is that it becomes more difficult for any party to gain ground compared to its competitors, or to try out radically different strategies.

Now, it's worth noting that the Greens look to be an exception on all fronts: they don't seem to have become professionalized to the same extent as the other parties, and obviously have far more to gain by reaching their next goal of electing an MP than they have to lose if they fall short. But it can't escape notice that their effort to be different hasn't exactly captured much of the public's interest. And that fact may well serve only to reinforce the idea that nobody else should try to follow in their footsteps.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Musical interlude

Orbital - The Box

Friday Afternoon Links

This and that to end your week...

- While the Cons may have received more well-deserved attention for abusing unelected positions to overturn the will of the House of Commons, Susan Delacourt notes that's far from the only reason for concern with their political games this week based on their continued restatement of a story that's been proven to be false:
Once upon a time, the Commons was regarded as equivalent to a legal forum; people didn't deliberately tell mistruths in there. Contempt for political foes is one thing -- contempt for the institution is breath-taking.

And just to put the icing on the cake, Glover also used a government announcement yesterday to accuse Ignatieff of advocating marijuana use for young people, again, exploiting a cynical twist on partial quotes. Your taxpayer dollars paid for that news conference; you should be demanding that the Conservative party foot part of the bill.

I don't particularly care who wins the by-elections, but as a long-time observer of politics, I can tell you that this isn't business as usual. If this is the kind of campaigning that is allowed to stand, if we just shrug, Canada will get the base, cynical politics it deserves.
- Meanwhile, Tim Powers has the gall to try to pretend that the Cons' shredding of C-311 somehow reflects poorly on the party which shepherded it through the House of Commons as a failure to get things done, rather than serving as yet another outrageous affront to democracy by a government which seems eager to produce them at every opportunity.

- I wouldn't necessarily see the Canadian Health Coalition's social media efforts as anything new in Canadian politics: see e.g. the NDP's Twitter-based campaigns or the letter-writing campaign on copyright issues. But Bob Hepburn's column on the group's work is nonetheless worth a read.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert points out how his own party's supporters. And it's worth asking whether some of the nominal Lib voters already dissatisfied with Ignatieff really want to be putting their votes behind a party that's going to be under his thumb:
It is now clear that the decision to promote a three-year extension of Canada's military presence in the war-torn country was a top-down one, with caucus very loosely (if at all) in the loop.

The Liberal party is no stranger to a top-down approach but controversial stances dictated from on high have more usually been a feature of the life of the party when it was in power and rarely on a front as traditionally sensitive for the party as this one.

Even as prime minister, Ignatieff would have faced an uphill battle to bring his caucus and the party on side with the post-2011 military presence he has inspired the Conservatives to maintain.

Like his past support for the American-led Iraq war or Paul Martin's initial intent to sign on to the US missile defence shield, the move goes against the grain of a significant number of Liberal activists.

The adamancy with which Ignatieff and Rae have defended the government's decision to forego a vote on the new Canadian terms of engagement in Afghanistan is also awkward.

This is an official opposition that started off the year accusing Harper of contempt of democracy for proroguing Parliament for the winter. Now it is arguing that MPs need not vote on the country's signature foreign and defence policy.

At the very least, the events of the past week suggest that Canadians should no more count on the current Liberal leadership to restore and enhance the relevance of Parliament than on the ruling Conservatives.

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Following up on my relatively brief post here, I'll take a bit of time to note a few of the storylines going into Sunday's West final - with a focus on some factors which may matter more or less than one would think from the talk I've heard so far.

First off, in the category of factors which may be less important than one might think from the usual CFL commentary...

Andy Fantuz' Receiving Numbers

Yes, it's for the best if the league's leading receiver can once again torch the Stampeders for a 10/255 line. But the Stamps' response in the next game against Saskatchewan shows that they can shut him down if they put their mind to it - and the question for the 'Riders should be how to answer if that's once again Calgary's defensive focus.

On that point, Fantuz' well-known skill in managing time and space would seem to have more uses than just trying to get open himself. If Fantuz scares the Stamps enough to draw away coverage that allows a Getzlaf or a Dressler to get open deep, and if he responds to Brandon Browner's physical coverage in kind with some blocks that keep the Stamps' top defender from making plays, then the 'Riders' offence can operate smoothly even if he's shut down himself. (And indeed his 2-for-11 performance against the Lions didn't stop the 'Riders from getting this far.)

Joffrey Reynolds

There's been plenty of attention paid to the combination of the 'Riders' sometimes-shaky run defence and the Stamps' rushing prowess. But it's worth keeping in mind that even in a reasonably good game, Reynolds' rushing attack will produce less yardage per play than the Stamps' usual passing game.

So the 'Riders' best-case scenario is to have the Stamps rushing the ball as much as possible, preferably due to successful efforts to disrupt the passing game that's more likely to put the Stamps in control. And if Reynolds ends up with 100+ yards and the 'Riders come away with the win, I doubt anybody in green will be complaining.

Meanwhile, a couple of other points which don't seem to have received much attention deserve to be noted before they come into play...

Every Point Counts

The flip side of trying to force the Stampeders into a grind-it-out game is that the 'Riders will need to take advantage of their opportunities to score. And that's a problem with Warren Kean having not yet made a field goal longer than 29 yards, as a couple more misses could make a huge difference in a close game.

Part of the solution will hopefully be for Kean to pick up his game. But I'd also be curious to see whether the 'Riders will try to pick up some spare points in other ways - e.g. by having Eddie Johnson kick more for distance on punts and kickoffs in an effort to put a few singles on the board.

Playing to Win

Finally, let's note one strategic point that seems to have received little mention in last week's game. The Lions scored a touchdown with a second left to go in regulation time, giving them what would seem to me to be a rather important choice: take the single point and go to overtime, or go for a two-point convert which would have won the game immediately (barring a miracle on a single play or kickoff return).

The way the 'Riders' offence had played in the second half, I'd have expected the Lions to give serious consideration to taking their chances with the two-point convert. But instead, they chose to go to overtime...where their success on exactly the type of play that would have won the game in regulation only prolonged the Lions' agony as the 'Riders won on the second series.

Of course, it's generally considered safer for a coach to choose the default option of keeping his team alive. But the Lions' choice to play not to lose may well have cost them the West semi - and I'd hope Ken Miller will be more willing to take advantage of an opportunity to put the Stamps away if one arises.

C-311 Roundup

It took a couple of days for the media to catch up with the Cons' use of unelected senators to override the will of democratically-elected MPs. But now that it's started to notice, the Cons are taking plenty of fire for both definitively demolishing any pretense to wanting to do anything positive about the Senate, and reaching new lows in their disrespect for the will of Canadian voters.

Here's Craig McInnes:
As recently as three years ago, Harper argued it would be intolerable for unelected senators to defy elected members of Parliament.

It was a message that resonated with many Canadians, especially here in the West where disdain is particularly acute for the institution that many see as the ultimate symbol of patronage and pork-barrel politics.

That was before Harper abandoned his promise never to appoint a senator and stuffed the Senate full of his own yes-men and yes-women, before what used to be abhorrent became first tempting, then convenient.
What we have learned in the meantime is that Harper is not the reformer he pretended to be. He has no more interest than any prime minister before him in creating a Senate that has the ability to independently represent Canadians, that can, in fact, operate as a chamber of sober, second thought. What he wants and what he created by offering what are still among the juiciest patronage plums available is another partisan tool to do his bidding.
The Edmonton Journal editorial board:
The elected representatives of the Canadian people created this bill, debated it, voted on it and it passed. That it was then killed by an unelected body -- not delayed, not modified, not put over for more debate, but flat-out killed -- goes against the core principles of the movement that brought Stephen Harper to power.

The early Reformers split from the Progressive Conservative party for many complicated reasons. But one core grievance was always the democratic deficit.
With the Senate now controlled by

his party (thanks to the power of appointment), Harper had a chance to set a new precedent. He could have instructed his senators to advise and debate, but not block legislation passed by the House.

Instead, by having them kill a duly passed bill, he may well have made legitimate a whole new level of senatorial interference. For however the former Liberal senate majority may have slowed things down with assorted parliamentary moves, it never actually never voted down a piece of legislation.

The underlying principle is this: Democracy is not a cudgel to be wielded when the people don't pick you. It's a principle, a belief that the voters get the final say, whether you agree with them or not.
The Toronto Star editorial board:
Harper, who used to rail against Liberal senators second-guessing the work of the Commons, stoutly defends this act of parliamentary sabotage as a way to spare the country from legislation that “sets irresponsible targets . . . throwing hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people out of work.”

In fact, the bill was largely aspirational in content, setting out long-range targets to reduce carbon emissions. It did not bind the hands of government, although it would have required regular reports to Parliament. In other words, this bill would have held the government to account. Not any more, thanks to the pre-emptory move by Conservative senators.
The Globe and Mail editorial board, making a point that's worth some further discussion:
The Conservative senators were fully entitled to vote against the Climate Change Accountability Act on Tuesday, but the power of the Senate to reject Commons bills should be limited, in the same way that the British House of Lords is restrained.
(In Britain), the solution was essentially to let the House of Commons pass a bill again in a subsequent session of Parliament, without further assent of the upper house – so that the Lords could significantly delay, but not definitively veto.

In Canada, an equivalent reform would require a constitutional amendment. Despite the understandable dread of “reopening the Constitution” ever since the Charlottetown Accord referendum of 1992, amendments have been passed in recent years, secularizing school systems in Quebec and Newfoundland. A constitutional change giving the Senate a suspending, not a final, veto ought to be equally uncontentious, being based on a widespread consensus of the supremacy of the House of Commons.
The Winnipeg Free Press editorial board:
Where Mr. Harper has been less consistent, however, is in his position on the Senate. He has, as Mr. Layton pointed out, always opposed it as an unelected and undemocratic institution that can thwart the will of the House of Commons on a whim. This week, Mr. Harper used his new majority in the Senate to thwart the will of the House of Commons because his party opposed the legislation in question, and invited Mr. Layton to join the Tories in reforming this unelected Senate.

But Senate reform, it seems, is merely a merry-go-round of hypocrisy, and no major political party appears willing to get off it. That's a pity, because an unelected Senate can be abused, but it cannot be truly useful or convincing as a chamber of sober second thought.
And finally, John Ivison:
Stephen Harper used to campaign on the phrase “promise made, promise delivered”. Now, his application of principle is so flexible, he would be in danger of being re-branded as the Rubber Man of Canadian politics...

The Prime Minister, having stacked the Senate with his own partisans, knows that they will vote for his agenda. But, on occasion, this means they will overrule the will of the elected House – something he used to consider an affront to democracy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The height of credibility

Memo to John Baird: now might not be the time to pretend that the House of Commons can pass on studying issues based on the expectation that the Senate will take them seriously.

Halfway there

It's undoubtedly a great sign that the Cons' claim that a change in government would result in worse economic outcomes is being soundly rejected by all but the Cons' base:
Despite the Tory foreboding about a possible coalition government, nearly 51 per cent of respondents believe a change in government would have no effect on the stability of our economy. In comparison, about 30 per cent believe change would be risky.
But there's one more crucial step to be taken from "change won't hurt" to "change is needed": the former can just as easily be the result of a belief that politics don't much matter (which largely favours the Cons) rather than a view that a replacement government would actually improve matters. And it's the latter message that will need to stick in order to motivate Canadians to replace the Harper Cons when they have the chance.

A bright idea

I'll plan to deal with PLG's principles and proposal for a genuinely participatory governing structure in a later post. But for now, go read if you haven't already.

Deep thought

Next time there's a fire alarm, not a single Con MP will be allowed to leave the building without a thorough wardrobe vetting by the PMO.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wednesday Night Cat Blogging

Testing the midweek cat-blogging demographics with...cats attached at the face.

On foreseeable results

By the way, in case anybody is wondering how we got to the point where the Cons would feel entitled to shred a bill that had passed among Canada's democratically-elected representatives, let's keep in mind that the issue has been building for some time. And rather than working on establishing a custom that the Senate would generally respect the will of the Commons while they had the ability to actually exert pressure on the Cons, the Libs chose instead to bow to Con pressure on government bills while doing precious little to get opposition legislation passed in return.

Given how the Cons have mostly been able to limit the flow of legislation even while in the minority in the Senate, it shouldn't come as much surprise that they're now using their dominant position to claim an upper-chamber veto over all bills. And unfortunately, the Cons' view that the will of elected representatives doesn't matter if there's some formal power that can be exerted against it will be even more of a problem following the next change in government.

On non-confidence votes

As usual, any discussion of Michael Ignatieff's future needs to be prefaced with caveats about there being no mechanism for the Libs to change leadership until past the next election, about there being little prospect of another leader winning much more internal support, about how the inevitable Con ad blitz would affect anybody, et cetera.

But all that aside, it's rather stunning that after a summer spent trying to cultivate a partisan base, Ignatieff's leadership is this unpopular among his own party:
Half of respondents to The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey say the Conservatives need to replace Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

And 64 per cent say the Liberals need to replace Michael Ignatieff.

Harper at least enjoys solid support among those who identify themselves as Conservatives: 74 per cent say they don’t need a new leader.

By contrast, 59 per cent of Liberals want Ignatieff to go.
What's particularly astonishing is the lack of any meaningful difference between Lib partisans and the general public in wanting to see Ignatieff gone: among both the general public and Lib supporters, roughly 6 in 10 respondents apparently want a change of leadership.

At best, one can try to paint that remarkable similarity as partly the result of other parties' supporters wanting to see Ignatieff stay in place (so that the level of actual support for Iggy would still be higher within the Libs themselves). But that explanation hardly offers a vote of confidence for Ignatieff's ability to inspire either his own side to make gains, or supporters of other parties to join him. And one has to wonder whether the Libs will see a need to find a way to get rid of Ignatieff if even a majority of their own supporters don't think he's up for the job.

Wednesday Morning Links

Assorted material for your perusal...

- On the down side of the current state of Parliament, we've now confirmed exactly how concerned the Cons are about having unelected, unaccountable Senators override the will of democratically-elected representatives. And the principle involved goes far beyond the procedural trick used to call a vote without any apparent notice.

- Brian Topp is far too generous in describing handling of the Afghanistan extension. But he's absolutely right in noting the need for an honest debate:
If the truth is that Canada is recommitting to the Afghan war – despite fundamental misgivings – in service of our relationship with the United States, then let this be said, clearly and without weasel words, so that Canadians can think about its implications.

If the government has negotiated an arrangement with Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberal Party, then (to use some familiar words from our conservative friends) let it be done in the light of day for Canadians to judge – so that both the Conservatives and Mr. Ignatieff and his team can be held accountable.

The proper place for Mr. Harper to speak seriously and in detail about his war policy is in Parliament. The proper means for the Conservative government and its apparent Liberal partner to make this decision is by a vote in the House of Commons. I therefore couldn't agree more with my learned friend Norman Spector, who writes about these issues here.

The Prime Minister owes the people of Canada a detailed explanation that speaks to the real issues; a clear policy for the future; and a vote in their Parliament. We are governed by our Parliament, not by a king.
- Frances Russell nicely highlights the ultimate effect of free trade agreements.

- Finally, there's always reason to wonder whether progressives do more harm than good to their long-term interests by using conservative framing. But Paula Mallea's "tough on taxpayers" looks like a keeper when it comes to reversing the tide of gratuitous crime bills.

Time for some good news

Naturally, there's every reason to disagree with Charles McVety's framing of Bill Siksay's Bill C-389 on gender identity and gender expression. But it's rather interesting that he's applying pressure to the Cons - who have done nothing at all but vote against the bill - for refusing to make more of a public stink out of it. And it seems entirely possible that this may be the point where the Cons' culture warriors break their muzzles - with what are bound to be entertaining results.

That said, it's well worth pointing out the remarkable progress the bill has made with the Libs and Bloc both supporting it. And while there will surely be at least some shenanigans yet to come in the Senate, there's reason to hope that at least one positive social step might yet find its way into law even over the objection of the governing Cons.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In a nutshell

Sure, Bob Rae's comment is intended to refer only to the Libs' failures on Afghanistan in particular. But could anybody ask for a more concise statement of what's wrong with the Liberals generally than this?
But, for now, they are hostages to Conservative policy, as Mr. Rae admitted. “We have done an unusual job for an official opposition and we are not — we are not in a position to negotiate a plan, we are not in a position to do anything…,” he said after Question Period.

A heritage moment

Shorter Michael Fortier, demonstrating the Cons' long-held principle of ministerial accountability at work:

Hey, I was just the minister in charge of the Parliament Hill renovation. How was I supposed to know anything about the project?

Monday, November 15, 2010

On sound strategies

The Star weighs in on the most effective way to ensure retirement security for Canadians:
Ottawa and conservative economists previously argued that the CPP was on a sturdy actuarial footing; that Canada could boast of low poverty rates for seniors; and that Canadians could rely on their RRSPs for extra cash in later years. That’s only half the story, though. Canada’s impressively low poverty rates are due to the Old Age Supplement and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. One reason the CPP is on such a solid financial footing is that its payouts are among the lowest in the world, averaging a mere $6,000 a year and capped at $11,000 annually, which is not good enough.

It’s the middle class who should be most concerned about their future retirement income. Pensions promising a fixed payout (defined benefit plans) are rarely on offer for new hires in the private sector, and longtime employees worry that their old plans are at risk if their company goes bankrupt. RRSPs have long been a disappointment: the take-up rate remains low.

That’s why, to borrow an investment maxim, past returns are no indication of Canada’s future performance when it comes to retirement income. What worked for many in the past — robust private pensions and rising markets — can’t be counted on in future. All the more reason to buttress the CPP as the main pillar of Canada’s pension system.

Monday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- I don't entirely agree with Andrew Coyne on his observations about the Cons, at seems to me they've done plenty in pursuit of their easily-identified ideological position - even if it's normally been supported enough by the Libs not to set the two parties apart. But it's difficult to argue with his conclusion as to what happens when brokerage politics gets taken to its extreme:
The consequence of all this realpolitik, oddly, is more or less to make politics extinct in this country, or at least redundant. The forms are maintained, the rituals are observed, but without purpose or urgency, the kind that motivates activists and inspires voters. To be perfectly clear: absolutely nothing is at stake in Canadian politics. There is no clash of visions, no conflict of values, because neither party has any. Nothing is riding, therefore, on the outcome of any election. It simply does not matter who wins.

Well, it does, but not in any way that is relevant to the voter: that is, whatever policies a given party or leader might enact after the election, in response to whatever random events or pressure groups, they must remain an impenetrable mystery before the election, or indeed at any time until the moment they are enacted. The analogy here would be with the stock market: it obviously matters what stocks you own, but you’ve no way of knowing how they will perform in advance. You might as well pick them at random. Likewise, I defy anyone to predict what the Conservatives—or Liberals—would do on any given issue. Certainly nothing they say or do beforehand should be taken as evidence of anything. Therefore no one who is not actually paid to follow politics should pay it any serious attention. It is not worth your time, except as a diversion.

I admit I have been as reluctant to admit this as anyone. My whole career has been based on the proposition that somewhere, under all the insults and lying and general bad behaviour that makes up the bulk of political life, there was some genuine issue at stake: that if you could just strip away the politics, you would eventually get to the policy. It has taken me all these years to understand that, no, it’s just politics all the way down.
- Dennis Gruending weighs in on the Cons' unilateral Afghanistan extension:
Polling since 2007 has shown consistently that international public opinion is largely opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Even a majority of respondents in seven out of 12 NATO member countries want troops withdrawn as soon as possible. In Canada, an Angus Reid poll conducted in October 2010 indicates that 55% of Canadians oppose our involvement in the war, while only 35% support it, the lowest level of support recorded by the poll in question in the past two years. Among Canadians, 34% have “strong opposition” to involvement in the war, three times higher than the number in “strong support”, standing at only 11%. Our government does not see this popular opposition as something that should be heeded. It is perceived rather as a public relations problem that should be met by attempts to manipulate us.
- Anybody want to change the odds on how much federal infrastructure money will get spent before the Cons' March 2011 deadline?

- Finally, having managed to goad the opposition parties into restricting the use of ten-per-centers, the Cons and the Canadian Taxpayer Federation are now apparently looking to build similar outrage about the use of in-riding mailouts. But in case there was any doubt what the real goal is, the far more costly federal communications spending that's entirely controlled by the Harper government is once again being ignored.

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

A quick take on yesterday's West semi-final win against B.C. for the moment...

Throughout the 2010 season, the 'Riders have seemed to be a different team at different times. And against the Lions, we got to see all of them on display - leaving reason to wonder whether the team can put together the full 60 minutes it'll need to beat Calgary or the East finalist, even as we have to be glad they showed up in the right order.

It was Team Missed Opportunity that showed up to start the game. In their first four possessions the 'Riders used a combination of a turnover, some special-teams success and a couple of effective plays to give themselves first downs at their own 51, the midfield stripe, the B.C. 33 and then the B.C. 22. But a combination of poor execution in the Lions' zone, two sacks and a missed field goal resulted in the team scoring only four points off those possessions.

That failure to convert on early opportunities looked like it might be fatal when Team Misfire showed up around the middle of the second quarter. Suddenly the 'Riders were completely ineffective trying to move the ball, and the defence went from swarming Travis Lulay to hanging on by the skin of its teeth as the Lions moved the ball downfield without much trouble. And when the Lions managed to turn a drive starting on their own 6 into a field goal to boost their lead to 12, there wasn't much indication that the 'Riders would be able to fight back.

But fortunately, Team Whatever It Takes showed up for the rest of the game. The offence suddenly starting functioning again, piecing together an ugly but effective touchdown drive on the ground to bring the game back within reach, then taking the lead on Darian Durant's rainbow pass to Weston Dressler. And while the Lions managed to tie the game at the end of regulation thanks to a sloppy defensive possession when it counted most, the 'Riders' offence kept up its habit of overtime effectiveness to pull out the win.

The bad news for next week is that I'm not sure we can afford to see either of the first two versions of the 'Riders from here on in. But it's at least for the best that the team found the right persona when it counted yesterday - and hopefully the 'Riders can keep up their late-game momentum from the beginning against Calgary.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Shifting sands

We may be some distance yet from actually breaking out of the longstanding impasse on the federal political scene. But a couple of stories today hint at some potentially major changes afoot in Quebec whose effects could reverberate across the country.

First off, there's the talk that the Bloc may be willing to prop up the Harper Cons until 2012 in order to secure funding for a Quebec arena and other goodies for the province - while the Cons would send a bundle of money to Edmonton to try to paper over any questions about the arrangement.

Now, I'd take the theory with a large grain of salt: after all, it's hard to see the upside for a party whose success is normally based on generating outrage against the current federal government rather than being seen as sharing in power. And likewise, the Cons don't seem to have much need to buy off the Bloc when the Libs still aren't putting up any serious resistance.

But the reasons for skepticism are also the reasons why such a deal would make for a potentially massive change in the parties' positions in Quebec. By reversing course after running as the best choice to stop Harper, the Bloc would effectively be declaring itself to be a regional brokerage party, while the role of chief opponent to the Harper Cons in Quebec would be wide open for the taking.

And that's where the other big news of the day comes in, as the latest Leger poll has the NDP on even terms with the Libs for second place in Quebec, including the highest francophone support of any national party.

That's a positive enough sign of progress in and of itself, even if it's subject to the usual caveats about reading too much into a single poll. But remember that even before the latest round of polling, the NDP was already the preferred second choice for Bloc voters. And if the Bloc is about to abandon progressivism and populism in one fell swoop in an effort to be seen as a power broker...well, it's not hard to see which party is best positioned to take over that support.

Meanwhile, the stadium funding issue has also proven to be an explosive one within the Cons. And it's not hard to foresee a scenario where a combination of further frustrated fiscal conservatives and populist voters see through the Edmonton smokescreen and tip a few more seats out of the Cons' column as well.

For now, we'll have to wait and see whether the Bloc indeed flips from competing for anti-Con votes to presenting itself primarily as a deal-maker. But if it does, then the NDP may have an unprecedented opportunity to keep growing in the province where so much of the current logjam originates, while also gaining ground in the West. And that could turn the oft-discussed two-party impasse into a three-party melee as the next election approaches.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On evidence-free assertions

Bob Runciman is searching for some excuse for using public money for the Cons' political purposes. But before anybody takes his indignation too seriously, let's note that he's using the excuse that "everybody does it" before checking to see whether anybody actually has:
Loveys said this type of partisanship was unheard of before the Harper government came to power.

But Runciman isn't so sure.

He said the government will be checking to see if Liberal senators have done the same in the past.
Now, it's noteworthy enough that it's "the government" - and apparently not Runciman himself - who will take on the task of actually checking whether there's any truth to the theory that the Cons are simply doing what the Libs would have done before. And that should say plenty about who's actually pulling the strings when it comes to the mailout.

But the more remarkable part of the statement is that Runciman apparently has no qualms about using "as far as we know, they could have done it too" - presented without any effort to see whether or not it has any basis in reality - as a catch-all defence which justifies any action which might benefit the Cons. And while the standard of ethics shouldn't come as much surprise, it's surely something we should be looking to change - regardless of where it originates.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted weekend reading...

- Gerald Caplan delivers a stinging critique of military jingoism that's linked to deliberate attempts to avoid recognizing and sharing the real costs of war:
The truth is that for most of us, whether we support or oppose Canadian participation, the Afghan war is a remote abstraction. Except for the tiny number who have enlisted and their families, the war touches no Canadian directly. Despite the extra costs of waging war, no extra contributions are asked of us, including those among us who keep getting richer and richer even as the war and recession continue. Imagine the heartfelt sacrifice Defence Minister Peter MacKay seems about to make on behalf of his boys and girls if, following Jim Prentice, he too jumps to Bay Street.

Not a single business person has stood up and offered to share the sacrifices of those noble soldiers they all support so patriotically. None is offering to take home a less staggering amount in earnings. Those powerful lobbies representing business interests have not demanded higher taxes from their members to help the government provide jobs and training and scholarships and homes and proper treatment for returning troops. In fact, as everyone knows, they very publicly demand the very opposite.

Not only do our vets sacrifice alone, when they return home their sacrifices are somehow forgotten. Somehow, we’re more committed to honouring them than to helping them. A Progressive Conservative member of the Ontario Legislature wants to honour our troops even more by giving the rest of us a statutory holiday every Remembrance Day. Hey, more time for shopping! But how does it honour wounded or traumatized returnees if they can’t get the support they need and have earned?
- I don't entirely agree with Doug Saunders' efforts to downplay the effects of inequality at all income levels. But his concern about the dangers of social exclusion is definitely worth a look:
There is a terrible danger that the solutions to the financial crisis, whether domestic fiscal policies or international trade and currency measures, will create walls that will prevent people and nations from improving their lot when growth resumes.
At core is a problem of inequality: While a minority of people, and countries, will have the wherewithal to get themselves going again, a much larger group are increasingly unable to participate.

I live in a country where there are 10 million working adults who earn less than $24,000 a year (and stuff is expensive here), but policies are aimed at the 400,000 who make more than $160,000. Postsecondary education has become prohibitively expensive, as has living in the regions where quality jobs and entrepreneurial activities exist.

This is what the economist Will Hutton – an adviser to the Cameron government on its public-sector wage policy – calls, in his new book Them and Us, “a disastrous social geography,” in which “the poor and disadvantaged live in ever more concentrated wards that are blighted by run-down social housing and over-stretched schools.” Indeed, life expectancy for Britain’s wealthy is 14 years more than for the poor. The economic bubble, he writes, “fostered social polarization” in many countries.
If we manage to bring back growth at the expense of equal opportunity, it will be, as the mayor suggests, a time of social cleansing and lasting impoverishment and division. The consequences of that would be far more serious than a mere recession.
- Not that the Cons likely needed more excuses to throw a monkey wrench in the works at last year's Copenhagen climate change talks. But it shouldn't be much surprise if they were happy to accept the claim that if we just ignore what's actually happening, nobody will be able to ask for help in fixing it.

- Finally, Catherine Porter points out what's really at stake as we decide what to do about the treatment of G20 protesters (not to mention the unrelated civilians caught up in the security apparatus):
Twice, I heard the sad statement, “I wasn’t even protesting.” A businessman was so frightened by what he saw on the streets that weekend he didn’t want to be photographed at the hearing. He worried police were watching him.

It reminded me of that slippery slope and a line from Auden’s Refugee Blues: “Once we had a country and we thought it fair.”

First it was the anarchists, who deserved the draconian measures. Then the protesters. Then anyone wearing black. Then anyone on Queen Street. Then anyone in a cab who casually said something nice to a police officer.

Rights are not easily gained. Nor should they be easily withdrawn, for a weekend, for an evening, for a moment.

Our faith in our police was effortlessly broken. It will take careful effort and months of hard work to rebuild it.

On meaningful discussions

It's well and good to point out the apparent frustration of some MPs with the state of federal politics, as Susan Delacourt does this morning. But it's also worth noting that there are a couple of fairly clear beneficiaries of any disillusionment that's leading politically active Canadians to withdraw from Parliament or from politics generally.

Within in each party, a system of top-down control only figures to become all the more firmly entrenched if high-profile figures who have the capacity to challenge it decide not to bother. And when it comes to the parties' relative positioning, it's a government which wants to depress turnout in order to eke out a majority of seats with just over a third of the popular vote that has the most to gain if even the people at the core of our system of government send the message that it isn't worth their time or attention.

Needless to say, those consequences would figure to be the worst possible outcomes for anybody who thinks a political system can and should matter in improving the lives of citizens. So it's well worth making sure that any message about how meaningless politics might seem at the moment is accompanied with some effort to change that status quo - both by pointing out the sources of the problem, and especially by highlighting the purposes that our elected representatives should be able to serve.