Saturday, November 27, 2010

On cornerstones

I'm surprised it doesn't seem to have received more attention in the lead up to the Grey Cup. But the National Post's media poll highlights the fact that the Saskatchewan Roughriders enjoy an advantage now that may be unprecedented in the team's history.

Here are two of the questions in the poll of CFL writers:
24. First Canadian you’d sign if all were available:
Andy Fantuz, Saskatchewan — 76.9 per cent
Josh Bourke (Montreal), Jon Cornish (Calgary) — 5.8 per cent

25. First import you’d sign if all were available:
Darian Durant, Saskatchewan — 21.2 per cent
Anthony Calvillo (Montreal), Cory Boyd (Toronto), Travis Lulay (B.C.) — 13.5 per cent
Chad Owens, Toronto — 9.6 per cent
Henry Burris, Calgary — 5.8 per cent
Markeith Knowlton (Hamilton), Ricky Ray (Edmonton) — 3.8 per cent
Now, considering that these questions cover the two types of players in the CFL, the inescapable conclusion is that the 'Riders have the player on their roster that observers around the league would most like to have as a team's cornerstone. And despite Fantuz' massive lead in the non-import category, I doubt there's much dispute that the category which features the CFL's top quarterbacks is the one which best tells us who teams would most like to build around.

So it's probably fair to say that at least based on current media perceptions, Darian Durant is the single most valuable building block in the CFL. And that's been a rather rare occurrence in the 'Riders' history to date.

After all, the CFL tends to be a quarterback-dominated league - so one can fairly safely rule out players at nearly any other position for the title. And even when Saskatchewan has had an effective young starting quarterback in the past, it's never had much of a claim to the most valuable player in the league from the standpoint of future team development.

Ron Lancaster would obviously be the most likely prospect for the title given that he actually turned into one of the league's all-time greats. But I'm not sure that Lancaster would have been considered more valuable than Russ Jackson around the league while the latter was still active - as Jackson established himself as a star far earlier without being substantially older. And by the time Jackson retired, Lancaster was 32 years old, leaving open the argument that younger quarterbacks like Sonny Wade and Tom Wilkinson would have been expected to carry more future value (for the same reason that Travis Lulay ranks ahead of Burris and Ray today).

And Lancaster's arguable case in the early '70s is likely the only point in 'Rider history where one of the team's players was even close to the title of most valuable property in the CFL. As great as Kent Austin was, there wouldn't seem to be any moment in his career whether either Tracy Ham or Doug Flutie didn't carry far more projected future value. Kerry Joseph's Most Outstanding Player award was more the result of a single season when the likes of Calvillo, Burris and Ray were injured or slumping than any sense that he was actually the league's best player to build around. And while one might be able to make an argument for Henry Burris at some point in the early 2000s, it's tough to give him the title for a 2000 season when he was eyeing the NFL, or his return when he was at best battling Nealon Greene for the 'Riders' starting job.

Of course, a ranking like Durant's can be a product of timing and luck to some extent. Durant's place surely has much to do with the fact that he's the league's only established starting quarterback under 30 other than the painfully fragile Buck Pierce, allowing him to rank at the top of the list without holding a huge lead over either better-established or high-upside alternatives.

And more importantly, while there's reason for optimism that Durant can develop into a Flutie-style threat with time, for now his future value figures to be based in large part on the expectation that he hasn't yet hit his ceiling - as evidenced by the fact that Durant doesn't even register in the "quarterback to win one championship game" question in the same poll.

But it's still worth noting that with Durant being seen as the #1 target of those who cover the CFL, the 'Riders look to have an advantage that they've arguably never enjoyed before in building their team for the future. And whatever happens in Durant's second chance at a Grey Cup as a starter tomorrow, it's worth keeping in mind how valuable that advantage should be for many years to come.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted material for your weekend:

- Your latest Con copyright talking point: if someone from an opposing viewpoint hasn't presented draft legislation, they deserve to be ignored. Which makes for an interesting political strategy: presumably the goal is to provoke somebody to draft something that the Cons can attack, but isn't there some serious risk involved in dwelling on procedure while allowing the opposite side to argue on principle?

- From the standpoint of dealing with short-term deficits without damaging (and indeed perhaps even improving) the theoretical long-term incentive to boost economic development, Andrew Jackson's suggestion of a one-time capital levy makes a world of sense. Needless to say, I never expect to hear of it again.

- Michael Harris weighs in on the Libs' latest Afghanistan capitulation:
The chill Stephen Harper has put on parliament is still looking for a spine to run up in the Liberal Party. The only Liberals standing up for anything are men and women whose loyalty requires official silence outside of caucus. Dion’s questioning of the training mission is a thundering rebuke of the elitist appeasement that plagues the party at the top.
- Finally, the Free Press's coverage in Winnipeg North paints a rather stark distinction as to how two of the campaigns are doing in actually getting people interested in participating:
Chief, a political rookie, is facing Liberal Kevin Lamoureux, a strong constituency man and formidable campaigner who has represented 75 per cent of the sprawling federal riding at one time or the other in his 18 years as an MLA. The NDP hopeful boasts a team of more than 300 volunteers.

The other main contender is Julie Javier, acting executive director of the Philippine Canadian Centre, who has run a low-profile campaign in which she has avoided two all-candidates meetings and ducked media interviews (she only consented to a brief telephone interview for this piece and refused to pose for a photograph, emailing one of herself instead) to concentrate on door-knocking. She said this week she has 10 volunteers working on her campaign.
And the distinction looks to be more a matter of bad news for the Cons than anything: doesn't it seem downright stunning that a governing party would be unable to summon up more than 10 volunteers from one of Canada's ten biggest cities for a by-election campaign?

Worth following up

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that Lib candidate Scott Sarna will be an also-ran in Monday's Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette by-election. But he may manage to have some significant impact on his party due to a seemingly new position which looks to demand some response from Ralph Goodale and other Libs who have normally pushed a different line:
Liberal candidate and young businessman Scott Sarna said he's heard a mix of views from farmers -- most prefer the wheat board but some would like reforms or alternative marketing options. He said the party is toying with the idea of allowing farmers to decide riding by riding on the issue.

On disruption

I've noted before the all-too-likely prospect that Stephen Harper will see no downside to using his unelected Senators to block the will of the House of Commons for years to come. But Michael Behiels goes a step further, theorizing that Harper may see anti-democratic action from the Senate as a deliberate strategy rather than merely a neutral outcome that he'd encourage in order to disempower Canada's elected representatives:
Behiels thinks Harper has a plan up his sleeve: bring so much disrepute to the Senate that Canadians explode in anger, giving him the excuse to hold a referendum on the whether to implement constitutional change to allow for direct election of senators.

In the wake of that referendum, with a mandate for change in hand, Harper would then call a meeting with premiers to push for constitutional amendments, says Behiels.

"This is the long-term game plan. Let's make this thing so disruptive that Canadians are going to say we have to get rid of it. So he's creating a crisis."
Now, I'd think it's more likely that Harper's preference is to push toward a U.S.-style roadblock to government action rather than abolishing the Senate - which may be more difficult if Harper does go as far as Behiels suggests.

But it's well worth asking whether this is just another example of the Cons using their place in power to deliberately damage Canada's democracy. And either way, there's no justification for Harper's combination of broken promises and brazen disdain for the will of elected officials as a matter of anything but raw political calculation.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Musical interlude

Matthew Good Band - Everything Is Automatic

Part of the pattern

Don Martin's indignance at being lectured by Con MP Jim Abbott based on his "sanitized, censored exposure" to only the portions of Afghanistan cleaned up for visiting dignitaries is rightfully getting plenty of attention. But it's worth recognizing that the issue goes far beyond Afghanistan alone.

After all, one of the core problems with the Harper Cons is the fact that they so scrupulously avoid being exposed to anything which might disturb their bubble of hyperpartisanship, feeding into their constant message that nobody else's experience or opinion deserves to be taken into account. And if Martin's own experience has taught him that the world as the Cons perceive it - and fervently believe it should be presented in the media - has nothing at all to do with reality, maybe that should lead him and others in the media to start being far more critical of the Cons' spin in other contexts.

On fakery

With the Libs' mock outrage machine running at full capacity, I don't expect them to pay much attention to the facts about Lloyd Axworthy's now-public views about NDP candidate Kevin Chief. But for those actually interested in whether Axworthy's praise actually reflects his personal opinion...
A Chief campaign spokesman said he had been given permission by Axworthy to report Axworthy had made a "significant" donation of more than $100 to the Chief campaign.

Axworthy noted Chief had approached him for permission to use a photo of the two of them from their time working together on the U of W's Innovative Learning Centre.

Axworthy said it was a public event and a media photo and he could not stop him.

But the photo that appeared was not that photo so Axworthy asked Chief to stop using the brochure and he complied.

However, Axworthy said it is unfair of anyone to suggest he has no connection to Chief or that he does not in fact admire him.

"He's got a very nice touch with people," he said.
So by all indications, Axworthy:
- made a publicly-disclosable donation to Chief's campaign;
- had no objection to one photograph of him with Chief being used in campaign literature, and had his concerns addressed when a different photo was used instead; and
- as a matter of fact, does have a positive personal take on Chief. Which would seem to close the case as to whether or not the Libs have a leg to stand on in pretending there's something wrong with that being pointed out.

To be fair, Axworthy is complimentary toward Lib candidate Kevin Lamoureux as well. But that doesn't affect the accuracy of his explicit and implicit praise for Chief - and the more the Libs pretend that accurate words are somehow "fake", the more it shows their desperation going into Monday's by-elections.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted material for your end-of-week reading.

- Chris Selley points out just how odd it is that Michael Ignatieff is serving as an apologist for arbitrary security measures:
Michael Ignatieff was asked on Wednesday if he’d endured the new indignities being foisted upon air travellers, which are the subject of an ongoing backlash on both sides of the border. “I’ve long ceased worrying about these issues,” he responded. “We have to keep this country safe and the people I feel strongly in support of are the hardworking security scanners.”

In other words: Everything Transport Canada approves must be designed to keep us safe, right? Why else would they do it?

This seems an oddly credulous thing for any leader of the opposition to say — his duty being, in part, to oppose the government. It’s odder still for an ostensibly liberal leader of the opposition. And it’s downright bizarre for a leader of the opposition who was once celebrated as a human-rights brainbox. We’re talking about the needless, hideously expensive violation of basic privacies Westerners used to take for granted.
- Sometimes, the system doesn't work - and the G20 example looks to be glaring enough to raise questions about whether it was ever intended to. After all, even if it's difficult for an outsider to determine which police were responsible for which abuses, shouldn't it be possible to do so, presumably at least some of the officers at the scene would have some idea who had done what - making the lack of any answers look highly suspicious.

- Just when you thought the HST was nearly done with as an issue, it looks to be back on the front burner in Quebec. And if the Bloc indeed sides with the Quebec government (which doesn't seem like a sure thing to be given that harmonization would result in an unpopular federalist government ceding authority to Ottawa), then the NDP's efforts on the issue in Ontario and B.C. should put it in perfect position to capitalize.

- Finally, I don't entirely disagree with Norman Spector's theory that the NDP can do more to build and shape a protest movement on Afghanistan among other issues. But one would think Spector should take the time to at least check, say a simple Twitter feed to see what NDP MPs are doing across the country before pretending that they're nowhere other than in Ottawa.

Too little, too late

It's well and good that Stephane Dion is pointing out the absurdity of keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan for training purposes. But it's worth noting that Dion wasn't always asking such important questions - and indeed chose not to do so when it counted most.

After all, Dion himself was the leader responsible for setting the Libs' position on Afghanistan when they were strongarmed into voting for the current extension. Which is well worth keeping in mind, even if there isn't much new to say on the subject.

More to the point, though, Dion helped to lay the groundwork for the Cons' current "training" excuse even before Harper exerted any meaningful political pressure on him. Given the choice as to what submission to make to Harper's hand-picked extension approval panel, here's what Dion staked out as his party's position:
Federal Liberals formally outlined their position on Afghanistan Tuesday, arguing the combat mission should end as scheduled in February, 2009, but suggesting troops could remain in the country to perform other tasks.
While it was a Liberal government that first sent the troops to Kandahar in August, 2005, the submission said it was “never intended to be a life-long effort or even a 10-year commitment.” Since he was chosen Liberal leader 14 months ago, Stéphane Dion has unsuccessfully pressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper to give formal notice to the NATO alliance that the Canadian mission will not be extended past February, 2009 -- already a two-year extension that was approved by Parliament in 2006.

The Liberals say Canada’s “enormous sacrifice” in Afghanistan must be brought to a close by ending the combat mission in Kandahar, reducing troop deployments and shifting them to training, civilian protection and reconstruction in safer zones.
We are open to other possible military roles in Afghanistan to continue training the Afghan National Army and police, protect Afghan civilians or for reconstruction efforts,” Mr. Dion said in a prepared statement.
So Dion's questions look to be simply another example of a prominent Lib stumbling into a principled discussion only when it's certain not to matter. And Dion and his party still own a substantial share of the blame for allowing the Cons to keep Canada in Afghanistan as a result.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beer drinkers of Canada, unite

So what's the most offensive part of the Financial Post's report on the bank sector's policy preferences?

Is it the Post's willingness to publish ideas to address poverty ranging from tax slashing for the rich, all the way to tax slashing for the poor?

Or is it Tom Velk's embarrassing explanation as to why he favours the former?
“I would really dispute Mr. Clark’s notion that we need to give money to the beer drinkers,” McGill University economist Thomas Velk said Thursday. “We can’t afford it."

On predictable results

Gloria Galloway's piece includes plenty of justifiable outrage over the Cons' abuse of the unelected Senate. But while it's well worth being concerned about what happens now, it's also worth another reminder that this was entirely predictable long before the Cons actually had a Senate majority with which to block legislation approved by the majority of our elected MPs:
(T)he Cons can point to a grand total of one government bill where delay caused by the current party standings in the Senate could have affected their ability to implement legislation approved by the House. Which hardly seems like a compelling impetus for not just breaking but downright eviscerating what was supposed to have been a firm campaign promise based on the founding principles of the party which first launched Harper into Parliament.

Meanwhile, there's also the future of the Senate to look at. And the fact that Harper has obviously made loyalty his top priority in Senate nominees suggests that it may not be long before exactly the problem which the Cons are falsely claiming to want to solve becomes a reality for the next government.

After all, if the current Con caucus in the Senate sticks together and continues to take orders from Harper or another leader equally determined to press every potential political advantage with no regard for democratic principles, then a Con majority created by the next wave of Harper appointments would figure to have no more regard for the will of the majority of the House of Commons than...well, Harper himself when it's proven inconvenient. And the fact that Harper's current rhetoric ties any talk about democratically-elected governments to his personal "agenda" should provide yet one more hint that when push comes to shove, his appointees will be instructed to put the Cons' political interests ahead of any commitment to respecting the will of the democratically-elected House.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday.

- Harron Siddiqui takes on the Cons, Libs and media alike for pushing Canada into an Afghanistan extension which most citizens don't want:
Harper’s flip-flops — won’t cut and run; won’t stay a day longer than July 2011; okay, will stay until 2014 — are functions of political posturing. Ignatieff’s position springs from his written conviction that the Afghan war was essential to Pax Americana, Empire Lite.

Regardless of motivation, Harper and Ignatieff are the eager errand boys of America in Afghanistan.

And much of our mainstream media are their cheerleaders — as they were for Bush’s war on Iraq. Good luck to the two-thirds of Canadians who oppose the Afghan war in getting fair news coverage.
NATO is on a treadmill going nowhere. But it won’t admit defeat, least of all Barack Obama. Battered in the midterm election, he cannot afford to give any opening to Republican and Tea Party warmongers. The 2014 deadline will neutralize Afghanistan as an issue in the 2012 presidential election.

Harper and Ignatieff are happy to oblige. The rest is propaganda.
- Sometimes, the system works!!!

- You know a political party is in trouble when its supporters are reduced to arguing that one of its competitors somehow shouldn't want the influx of high-profile figures crossing party lines to join it.

- Finally, while Rick Mercer's rant this week has already received plenty of attention, it's well worth including here as well:

[Edit: fixed wording, added and removed Axworthy link.]

Deep thought

If there's anything that can convince Canadians that it somehow makes the slightest bit of sense to spend $16 billion on F-35s in hopes of winning a share of $12 billion in contracts, it's the knowledge that the government in charge is willing to burn another pile of money on PR.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Burning questions

Since the Libs can never claim to be united by principle, the best they can apparently hope for is a common sense of fear. Which leads to this delightfully ironic passage:
Sources said Wednesday's caucus meeting was dominated by MPs who were furious that last week's private discussions had been aired publicly. About a dozen MPs complained that such leaks are divisive and damaging to the party.

According to insiders, Ignatieff vowed to find the perpetrators of the leaks and throw them out of caucus.
Which raises a couple of questions.

First, can we presume that Ignatieff has failed in his tough talk if the Libs aren't down an MP or two within the next few weeks?

And second, what punishment will befall those who have now leaked the aftermath and consequences of leaking?

On clear choices

Just so we're clear, there's only one opposition party in Parliament that's rejected both the Cons' fighter-jet debacle in the making, and their perennial Afghanistan extension plan. Which may be worth keeping in mind in next week's by-elections and beyond as voters decide who's actually willing to stand up to the Harper Cons on principle.

Wednesday Morning Links

Content goes here.

- Bruce Anderson's take on what's ailing Michael Ignatieff looks to dovetail nicely with the recent discussion about brokerage politics:
More fundamentally, he hasn't yet developed clusters of voters who see him as "their guy." I'm talking about groups of voters with common interests: aligned by income or region or gender based concerns, or who hold a particular place on the political spectrum, or who care deeply about a single issue, and who know they can trust him to champion their causes.

His policy positions are becoming varied and substantive, but their variety is both an advantage and a disadvantage. He has thus far chosen not to crusade for one or two big ideas or speak to a single organizing point of view about the future. Instead, he looks like a smart, rational, pragmatic man who cares a fair bit about dozens of different things. (This is perhaps not surprising given his past life.)

But in the end, for the voter who worries about taxes, or health, or retirement, or fiscal management, or jobs, or the environment, or trade, or foreign policy, or who lives in Atlantic Canada, or economically stressed Ontario, or the lower mainland of British Columbia, there is a sense that he is sufficiently smart but insufficiently passionate about what keeps you awake at night.
- Ladies and gentlemen, start your news alerts. The over/under on Russell Ulyatt's soft landing within the right-wing noise machine (after he was fired for leaking secret documents to lobbyists) is December 1.

- Or maybe it should be earlier based on the federal resources being poured into PR for the oil sands.

- Finally, it's always a plus to see the NDP taking a stand on an issue like the abuse of tax loopholes. But it'll be especially interesting to watch the Cons' response - which normally ranges somewhere between lip service and changing the subject - in such an obvious case of people who play by the rules getting the short end of the stick.

On cautionary tales

With the Cons pushing for a free trade agreement with Europe, one has to figure they'll be concerned with how Canada is perceived in that part of the world. So let's see what the European Union has to say about the Cons' political interference in the census:
In the newly released report, the European Statistical Governance Advisory Board decries the government's decision to replace the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary survey, citing Canada as a cautionary tale of statistical agencies losing their traditional autonomy.

"We were utterly astonished, given our view of Canadian statistics. We didn't expect it to happen in Canada, quite frankly," said Johnny Akerholm, chair of ESGAB. "We've all been full of admiration of everything that is going on in the statistical field in Canada. Canada has frequently been seen as the benchmark, the best performer."

ESGAB was established by the European Parliament in 2008 to boost the professional independence, integrity and accountability of European statistical agencies. One of the tenets of the organization's code of practice is that the autonomy of statistical agencies should be guaranteed by legislation, and the annual report cites Canada as a country where the statistical agency had a tradition of independence, until the government exercised "dormant legal powers" in making changes to the census.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Sunbathing cats for a wintry night.

On responsibility

Brian Topp's take on the Irish disaster is well worth a read. But it's worth offering up a reminder to the converse of Topp's take on why progressives should be concerned with careful money management:
(B)eyond a certain threshold, every dollar borrowed from the markets to finance day-to-day spending by a provincial government is a step towards the disempowerment of the public and its legislature. Over-dependence on debt hands the keys of public policy to lenders and to their advisers.

Small wonder then that the press in Ireland is full of lament for the loss of that country's independence – so expensively won after so many centuries of oppression and struggle.
The state is awash in debt (thanks in part to excessive tax cuts); the deregulated private sector has gorged itself in an orgy of speculative greed, and finally expired in a property and banking bubble; and now the working and middle class – and their children, and their grandchildren – get to pick up the tab while the winners enjoy their properties in the Grand Caymans. Nobody in Ireland stood up to the special interests. They “ran like a business.” Now the bill has come due.

These are the real stakes between those who work for moderate, prudent, incremental progressive government, moving forward within its means in the public interest, and the other side – the mouthpieces for greed and reckless irresponsibility. The shills and charlatans of the populist right, and those who fund them.
Put simply, anybody who believes that government has a useful role to play in the lives of citizens should want to make sure that it's not wasting money - both for the sake of avoiding the issues with creditors mentioned by Topp, and in order to ensure that it maximizes the amount of good that public spending actually achieves.

On the other hand, a party which believes that government action is generally illegitimate in the first place can far more easily justify reckless attacks on public finances - knowing that when the bill comes due, it will serve to ensure that the next goverment is limited in what it can do. And while we haven't yet seen quite the same excesses in Canada that resulted in the disaster in Ireland, it's well worth asking whether we can afford to keep power in the hands of parties who agree wholeheartedly with the beliefs that created such a stark cautionary tale.

Deep thought

We really can't trust these irresponsible Conservatives with sensitive information, can we?

Worth retiring

Shorter Martin Hering and Thomas Klassen:

We just had the most radically original idea ever: Canada could form a catfood commission of its very own! Can you feel the innovation?

A slight correction

Lawrence Martin's column on the aftereffects of the 1993 federal election certainly makes for an interesting read. But it's worth noting that he's entirely off base in one of his base assumptions - and the effect is to significantly change at least part of the analysis.

Here's Martin:
To find the reason for their woes, they might look back, strangely enough, at one of their successes – the election of 1993. That campaign, which gutted the Canadian political structure like no other, is known as the one that vanquished the old Progressive Conservative Party. The Tories came away with two seats. But it should also be known as the one that undermined the Liberals, who came away with a majority.

Although they won handily, that campaign effectively reduced the Grits to an Ontario party with a few regional add-ons. Post-1993, the party won successive majorities in 1997 and 2000, but in each it was an all-Ontario show, with the party registering unbelievable sweeps of 100 or so seats in that province.

That represented close to two-thirds of the party’s overall total in those elections. The warning signals were there. These majorities masked the Liberal Party’s geographical isolation.

The tumult of 1993 saw the simultaneous beanstalk ascendancies of the Reform Party in the West and the Bloc Québécois in the East. Quebec had always been a Liberal Party pillar. The arrival of the Bloc, which would take half or more of Quebec’s seats in the following campaigns, removed it. On the Prairies, the Liberals’ misfortune had begun long before. But they were still potentially competitive. Reform’s 1993 rise effectively sealed the door. Like Quebec, the West now had its own political formation.
So what's the problem with that take on the Libs' geographic distribution? Well, the Libs won 27 western seats in 1993 (including 21 on the prairies) - compared to 6 western seats in 1988 and only 2 in 1984 and 1980.

In fact, the Libs' 1993 western haul was tied with the 1968 Trudeau sweep as the party's highest since 1949. So if anything, 1993 looks to have given the Libs as good a chance to build a presence in the West as they've had at any other time in the past 60 years.

Mind you, it's fair enough to say that the Libs squandered that opportunity. And it's not hard to see how the regional politics and seat distribution discussed by Martin might play into that end result.

After all, from a strategic standpoint, why worry about trying to build off a base of a couple of dozen seats when it's possible to win an election outright simply by sweeping Ontario? And in turn, why worry about listening to the few western MPs and their constituents whose interests aren't seen as closely tied to the party's? (Needless to say, the same phenomenon played out to some extent in Atlantic Canada as well - leading to the NDP's gains there beginning in 1997.)

In contrast, Reform had nothing to build on but its western base, and thus had every incentive to scratch and claw for every available seat in the region. And that figures to explain in large part why the Libs' numbers declined again in 1997 to the benefit of Reform.

But then, even if one wants to look at the Libs' subsequent downturn, they've still managed to stay above the levels that prevailed before the election which Martin sees as reflecting a permanent sealed door. Instead, all that's happened is a return to the usual pattern in the West - leaving 1993 as less a turning point in the West than a blip which the Libs failed to use to their advantage. And that makes the rise of the Bloc the lone substantial change arising out of that election in cutting off the Libs' traditional road to government.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lowered expectations

So let's get this straight: the same Libs who just last week were (rightly) up in arms over a backroom deal to break what was once a hard-won concession to end Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan...are now parroting the party line based on nothing more than the fact that a vote will take place in which the Libs once again give cover to the Cons.

I'm sure Michael Ignatieff and company are glad to have a base that's so easily brought back in line. But doesn't it speak volumes about how little the Libs stand for if even their supposed activist supporters are willing to ignore any semblance of substance as the price of claiming victory on a minor process point?

Evidence of irrelevance

The Hill Times' report on party fund-raising includes a transparent effort on the part of one Con supporter to pretend that the party's anti-coalition message has served to boost its fund-raising:
The constant threat of a snap election in this minority government era is another issue they've consistently brought to their donors over the years to keep the war chest full, said Bob Plamondon, a public policy specialist and the author of two books on conservative politics.

But the most frequent word that has appeared in fundraising letters lately, from what Mr. Plamondon has seen, is "coalition."

"I would say their emphasis has been more on the fear than on hope. I think it's a stronger motivator," said Mr. Plamondon. "They use the fear of a Bloc-NDP-Liberal coalition as the reason to keep the Conservative Party strong and to help them push the Conservatives toward a majority government. It's a message that's resonating with their base. And the evidence is the fundraising dollars are quite substantial."
So let's take a quick test: looking at Alice's handy chart of quarterly fund-raising efforts, spot the point where the Cons are supposed to have radically improved their fund-raising based on anti-coalition fearmongering.
As best I can tell, the only conclusion available is that the Cons' fund-raising is somewhere between exactly on course and slightly down compared to when they didn't use the coalition bogeyman as their chief pitch. And that looks to me more like evidence that it's done nothing much to motivate the base beyond the party's normal fund-raising tactics - not an indication that it somehow reflects any particular motivation on the part of donors.

Monday Afternoon Links

An extra helping of content to start your week...

- Tom Ford nicely contrasts a couple of Tommy Douglas' more notable (and valuable) governing philosophies against those we've come to expect from right-wing parties:
Managers are supposed to get work done through others. But Harper gets work done through his own efforts or those of confidants a few offices away. Initiatives come from the Prime Minister's Office. Communications are closely controlled. There's an emphasis on scoring political points.
In short, Harper, "a control freak," is a lousy manager.

Douglas, on the other hand, ran a more open administration. In their book Tommy's Team: The People Behind the Douglas Years, Stuart Houston, a Douglas expert, and Bill Waiser, a historian, say Douglas had an "uncanny knack" for choosing the right person for the task at hand.

And he ranged the world to find the right people including a member of one of the UK's wealthiest families and a world expert on rural health. The diminutive premier had socialist leanings, but he was "both realistic and practical."

He made clear to his experts what he wanted and when -- particularly in the case of health care -- but he rarely told them how to do their jobs. Douglas delegated responsibility, but he did not abdicate.

As a general manager in the federal public service for 20 years, the Douglas accomplishment I most admire is this: When they stormed into office in 1944, most of his followers had never been in government before, but because of Douglas's management skill they were able to clean up the leftovers of the Great Depression and the Second World War; to start a complex health care program, North America's first, and to deliver 16 consecutive balanced budgets -- all without the help of massive oil, gas and potash revenues.
- I'll join the many bloggers pointing to iPolitics as an intriguing new source of political information. (Though I'd be more impressed if it wasn't imposing registration requirements simply to read its basic content.)

- What thwap said. X2. And see more from Murray Dobbin.

- All of which leads nicely to Alice's post on what can be done to try to cultivate more fertile territory for progressive politics:
Progressive groups must learn from the strategies adopted by the conservative movement in Canada, and spend less time being “think tanks” and more “do tanks” if they want to fight the erosion of democracy in Canada, delegates to the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives’ 30th Anniversary conference were told Thursday.

“Yes, research is important, but it can’t be such a large focus,” University of Ottawa professor Paul Saurette urged the audience, arguing that their opponents in the conservative movement, such as the Fraser Institute and more recently the Manning Centre, “understand that they’re in the persuasion business, not the research business,” and that progressive groups will need to develop new ways to advocate.

Prof. Saurette, whose academic work has studied the development of conservative think tanks and organizations in both Canada and the United States, said that unlike the think tanks of 30 years ago, which used to follow a “tree-tops strategy” of influencing policy, there has been a massive growth in the conservative “ideological persuasion industry,” which funds a variety of narrative tools targeted at the grassroots.

The past 30 years has also seen enormous change in the media landscape, Prof. Saurette argued, citing Tony Blair’s observation that after the war in Iraq, he had to spend the next biggest amount of time responding to the media. Not only has the media adopted a “highly pro-market fundamentalist orientation,” he said, but they “have very limited content capacity now, and journalists are scared of being labelled as biased, which is the result of a campaign by right-wing bloggers, making them even more susceptible.”
“The problem is that political parties can’t create these narratives alone, or create the intellectual property behind them. Preston Manning’s idea of ‘surfing the wave’ has been important to building the Conservative Party, but happened outside of it,” said Prof. Saurette.

“The progressive movement has to help recreate a narrative that allows politicians to tap into that.”
- Finally, it may not be news that the Cons' choice to gut the long-form census will have real consequences in ensuring that decision-making is less well-informed. But a reminder can never hurt.

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Gary Etcheverry's defence is known for working to catch offences by surprising, using a combination of unfamiliar looks, unique personnel combinations, and a focus on turnovers to keep opponents uncomfortable. But I'm not sure anybody could have seen yesterday's strategy coming from the 'Riders' game tapes.

Rather than working from its usual bag of stunts and tricks, the 'Riders' brain trust came up with the radical idea of "tackling the ball carrier" - which the defence did brilliantly on all but about three plays. And Calgary had no answers for that strategy once it became clear that the Stamps' early points weren't going to hold up.

Indeed, the 'Riders became more and more effective on D as the game progressed. The first couple of drives, Calgary did manage to move the ball - taking only slightly longer than usual as every handoff, dump-off and quick pass was met with an immediate hit.

But as the game went on, Burris held onto the ball longer and longer trying to find a receiver who was already in position to get the yardage the Stamps needed - leading first to a series of dumpoffs, then to a flurry of late sacks. And the end result was that the CFL's top-scoring offence was held to its second-lowest point total of the season.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' offence did just enough to pull out the win. After leaving some points on the field in the first half as two drives stalled in Calgary territory, Darian Durant turned the 'Riders' final three scoring opportunities into touchdowns. And an effective one-two punch on the ground from Durant and Wes Cates along with another big game from Chris Getzlaf did plenty to make up for the field position issues caused by the 'Riders' continued special-teams follies (featuring a missed convert, a fumbled punt return and a number of big returns for the Stamps).

If there's any bad news for the 'Riders going into the Grey Cup game, it's that Montreal likely won't be taken by surprise by the concept of sure-handed tackling from a team that's displayed nothing of the sort through most of the season. But it's still a great sign that the 'Riders were able to reach the big game by shutting down a top opponent (rather than having to win a shootout as they did in previous victories over Calgary and Montreal). And with Saskatchewan having won in a way nobody would have anticipated, Marc Trestman and the Als can do little more than guess as to what to expect with the CFL's championship on the line.

More like this

It may be only a start in comparing the Harper Cons' bloated communication spending to the much smaller amounts of party funding being targeted for slashing. But it's nonetheless a plus to see both national opposition parties in Parliament pointing out the amount of money being spent on self-promotion by the Cons - and Pat Martin's explanation in particular looks to be worth highlighting:
Liberals are accusing the Conservatives of spending millions of Taxpayers' money on government ads to trick their way to a majority government.

"Mr. Harper is a cheat," Liberal House Leader David McGuinty told QMI Agency. "He is trying to take public money to cheat his way into a majority."

Liberals say the Tories are using unprecedented means - through government advertising, taxpayer-funded direct mail campaigns and extra spending on communications staff - to make Canadians forget the feds have posted a record setting $55.6 billion deficit.
NDP MP Pat Martin said he believes the Tories are spending more because it is "a lot more expensive to peddle unpopular positions."

"In a period of fiscal restraint, when every government department is being asked to tighten their belt, the communications budget of the PMO is exploding," he said.

Even MPs, Martin notes, have had their budgets frozen.

"It's hypocritical and dishonest."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Burning question

James Moore takes Brian Lilley's invitation to bash the CBC:
"While I won't comment on the matter that is before the courts,” Heritage Minister James Moore told QMI, “I will say that under our Government, over 70 institutions are now accountable for the first time under the Access to Information Act, including the CBC. We expect the CBC to respect our Access to Information laws and answer requests responsibly and quickly."
Which raises the obvious question: did Moore manage to keep a straight face while saying it?

The log in one's own eye

Let's give Kevin Libin credit for at least not being so brazen as to present quotes from his own paper's group of anonymously-funded message machines in building up a vast left-wing conspiracy for reader consumption.

But I'll be highly curious to see just how long it takes for Tides Canada to get even a fraction of the free media space regularly signed over by Libin's employer to, say, the Fraser Institute - and the answer will say plenty about which set of shadowy organizations is actually exerting disproportionate influence on our political conversation.

On inclusion

Erin Anderssen's article on the possibility of a Guaranteed Annual Income is definitely worth a read. But it's particularly worth noting how barriers set up to limit access to social programs can prove counterproductive:
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, one of the more vocal proponents of no-strings-attached aid for the poor, points out that the guaranteed-income program for seniors has greatly reduced poverty, especially among women.

“There's a bias that when given the chance people will be lazy,” he says. “That's not my sense of reality.”

Mr. Segal argues that giving money with no conditions removes the stigma and shame around poverty, allowing people to focus instead on how to improve their lot.

Requiring the poor to prove continually that they are deserving of assistance or threatening to pull help away without notice only discourages the risk-taking and confidence required to get out of poverty.

“It's dehumanizing,” Mr. Segal says. “Think of a mother having to negotiate though Plexiglas for enough money to feed her family.”

Or the mom who goes back to school to improve her prospects and loses her welfare payments because she is not seeking jobs.

It also costs people their privacy. Candace Witkowskyj, a legal advocate for welfare recipients in British Columbia, tells stories of people forced to take pictures of the contents of their drawers to prove that they lived alone or to get a doctor's note to justify a $20 emergency food voucher.

“If you think of the core premise of charity, it is not to treat people as lesser,” Mr. Segal says. “[It] is to give people a leg-up so they can have some measure of independence and can make some of their own choices.”
Of course, there's reason for concern about Segal's framing of the issue as one of "charity" rather than the benefits associated with reduced inequality and social exclusion, particularly in the context of traditional rightspeak about "risk-taking" and individual choice which serve more often than not as arguments to eliminate any social support whatsoever. But it's well worth highlighting the fact that efforts to paint social assistance as a black mark on its recipients have serious consequences - and to hold Segal and others to their stated principles in pushing for programs that provide for an adequate income level without being designed to humiliate the poor.

Sunday Morning Links

News and notes for your weekend reading...

- I'm not sure that anybody much expected this fall's session of Parliament to accomplish much considering the results so far under the Cons. But Susan Delacourt's commentary as to the dangers of the House of Commons being shut out of any meaningful decision-making is otherwise right on target:
Parliamentary experts might argue over whether Senate abolition would be a wise move in the future. Their more pressing concern, however, might be whether the elected House of Commons — the one that's supposed to be the real, working half of Parliament — is already being abolished, bit by bit, day by day, in Harper's Ottawa.

The slaps to the Commons' authority are, after all, merely the latest in a series of direct challenges to the chamber in recent years.

This time last year, for instance, the Harper government decided to disregard a Commons resolution, duly passed by a majority of MPs, to produce all documents pertaining to the treatment of Afghan detainees handled by Canadian troops.

Then, on New Year's Eve, with only a cursory phone call to the governor general, Harper shut down Parliament until March.

That decision appeared to wake up Canadians to something amiss. Demonstrations were held in cities across Canada to protest against the prorogation — a word that probably wasn't in most Canadians' vocabulary until the past two years.

But the Commons' problems aren't just a case of open and closed doors. Nor can they simply be reduced to the now-familiar, though very real, worries about decorum and partisan antics in question period. If it's true that the Commons' actual power and authority are eroding, then all this bad behaviour looks more like the band playing while the Titanic goes down.
- And the Star Phoenix also unloads on the Cons' Senate abuses:
in a confused and chaotic display of petty politics and childish bickering, the Tories killed the bill in a snap vote before it even made it to a Senate committee for consideration -- the first time in more than seven decades such a thing has happened.

Marjory LeBreton, Government Leader in the Senate, blamed the Liberals while the Grits blamed the Tories.

It doesn't matter. The appointed senators should never have even contemplated summarily dismissing the will of a majority of elected MPs.

But to rub salt in the wound, the Conservatives weren't done yet. No sooner did the stink begin to rise from the actions of the senators than the government tried to force a long-stalled Senate reform bill through the Commons without having it debated in committee -- a further embarrassment to Parliament and an insult (to) Canadians.
Mr. Harper, who advocated for an elected and responsible Senate, has appointed more senators in a shorter period of time than has any other Canadian prime minister and, as this debate illustrates, chosen for the job more blindly and irresponsibly partisan candidates.

To continue to declare that his government has any intention of making meaningful Senate reforms insults the intelligence of Canadians.

The first meaningful reform should be to have senators behave as thoughtful adults instead of farcical characters in a Saturday afternoon wrestling spectacle.
- Meanwhile, the Star also rightly notes that poverty looks to be at the top of the list of issues where the Cons have absolutely no interest in seeing anything accomplished.

- And finally, as the Cons try to make up numbers to explain their decision to pick a fight with the United Arab Emirates, let's ask the question: how many airline jobs would we be able to preserve and improve if we weren't flushing hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain?