Saturday, December 04, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted reading material for your weekend.

- Alice has all the background you could need to the much-discussed bill on seat redistribution.

- Apparently it's time for a reminder which party to the contracts surrounding the G20 is actually in charge of running the country:
Anne White, Deerhurst communications director, says it is against company policy to make public how much the resort was paid by the federal government to run the central venue for the G8 meeting.
Which, last I checked, wouldn't seem to trump the law of the land. But I suppose we can never rule out the possibility that the Access to Information Act passed by Parliament setting out a right to information about how Canada's government works has quietly been made subordinate to corporate policy.

- Thomas Walkom follows up on Kevin Page's report showing that the Cons' stimulus didn't actually do anything much to create jobs:
u(U)employment remains persistently high. Even Friday’s announcement that the official jobless rate fell to 7.6 per cent must be seen in the context of a labour market where thousands have simply given up looking for work.

So perhaps the economists — and the government — should pay more attention to Page on this. Granted, those he interviewed may not have taken into account the spin-offs from stimulus spending (as, for instance, when a construction worker laying sewer-pipe buys a submarine sandwich).

Granted also that recipients of federal cash may not have considered the jobs that stimulus spending saved from being lost.

But if one-fifth of those at the sharp end found that the government money they spent reduced employment in their communities, alarm bells should ring.
- Finally, Scott Feschuk's compilation of Julian Fantino's childhood correspondence nicely skewers his post-election diatribe.

Public Sector Accounting Principle #1

As long as somebody in the private sector makes money performing public services, the cost doesn't count as a government expense. As Ottawa well knows.

Well said

Allen Gregg's review of Lawrence Martin's Harperland is well worth a read in general. But it's worth highlighting the impact that Martin's compilation of Harper micromanagement had even on a Con supporter who's paid close attention to the events as they happened:
Even though it has become a cliché to refer to Stephen Harper as a control freak, the power of Martin’s argument hits you like a jackhammer. Those of us who follow these things quite closely remember a number of occasions when the Conservatives have found themselves in hot water because of allegations of abuse of power, but we tend to forget just how frequently this has occurred and the myriad forms this malfeasance has taken over the last four and a half years. Crammed into a compact 301 pages, Martin’s book itemizes an endless series of occasions where Harper exercises his “Control Fixation”—obsessive secrecy often around inconsequential matters (like black bear mating habits), “clampdown strategies” aimed at squelching unwanted announcements (including a failed attempt to muzzle the auditor general), a “permanent campaign” of pre-writ advertising and ad hominem attacks on “enemies everywhere,” ignoring his own election laws and disregarding judicial and court rulings, dumping or refusing to appoint numerous heads of arm’s-length agencies and commissions who fail to "toe the government line,” defending policies and record not with facts or reason but by a constant refrain of “attack and obstruct,” and the imperious proroguing of Parliament—not once, but twice—for no reason greater than a desire to save his own political skin.

In total, Martin cites some 70-odd cases of these types of abuse and the combined effect is almost dizzying.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Musical interlude

Menno de Jong & Leon Bolier - Last Light Tonight

Friday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- No, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the choice to gut the long form census was "the prime minister's decision". But what's more striking in today's news is that the "decision" was made - and presented as being that, rather than a proposal - long before anybody bothered to examine the resulting negative effects.

- Since making a patronage appointment to the Senate to fill a cabinet space and try to position the beneficiary for a subsequent run for the House of Commons worked so well for the Cons last time they tried it, they're apparently giving it another shot.

- Robert Silver is on target with his take on the only way to ensure journalists can expect anything approaching honesty from their anonymous sources:
I have lost count of how many stories in Canada over just the last 12 months have been mirror images of this case. Writer puts forward juicy story based on unnamed sources, PMO denies any truth to the story, life goes on as if the story was never filed. It is certainly not confined to The Globe as pretty much every paper has been “burned” this way.

There are two solutions – and only two solutions – to this problem. Either papers should stop relying on unnamed sources and given the impossibility that this will happen, the other option is this: When a source burns a paper – when they put something out that turns out to be patently false – the affected paper should immediately refile the story with the names of the sources relied on included.

I have a feeling sources would stop making up nonexistent facts pretty quickly after a few of their colleagues get outed.
- And finally, Chris MacDonald's take on why we should all be concerned about corporate governance (no matter how remote it may seem from our daily lives) is well worth a read.

A request worth heeding

Norman Spector notes one passage from the recent Wikileaks document dump which nicely highlights just how little use Canadian troops are serving from the perspective of the government they're supposed to be propping up:
“Non-US troops can stay home” is the headline in a cable recording a meeting Hamid Karzai had with the U.S. ambassador and Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, at the end of 2009. Showing his strong preference for U.S. soldiers, in the Afghan president’s view the 7,000 extra troops promised by NATO allies as part of the troop surge in 2010 were more trouble than they were worth.

On misplaced outrage

Before the rapidly-spreading outrage over John Ibbitson's article on seat redistribution goes too far, let's pause and check whether the headline and lede actually match the facts. And I'd think there's ample reason to think that most of the controversy is entirely manufactured.

Here's the area of apparent agreement, along with the parties' substantive positions:
Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic MPs and party strategists, speaking on condition that they not be named, stated this week that the bill has no chance of passage. Although all three national parties remain committed to the principle of equal representation for all Canadians in the House of Commons, in practice, the legislation that would advance that cause has virtually no hope of becoming law.
Minister of State for Democratic Reform Steven Fletcher’s office said the minister was not available to be interviewed. However “our government is moving forward with the Democratic Representation Act,” said spokesperson Jessica Georgakopoulos. She added that “it is anticipated” that the bill will be brought forward for debate next year.

That supposition, however, is contradicted by higher officials within the government.

Liberal Democratic Reform critic Carolyn Bennett, from Toronto, said her party was not ready to support the bill “without robust consultation with the provinces.”

“This is no way to run a federation,” she said. “Where is the consultation? Where is the first ministers’ meeting? Where is any understanding of how this country is supposed to work?”

When asked whether she was concerned about the underrepresentation of visible minorities, Dr. Bennett said it is equally important to “make the rest of Canada more inclusive for people choosing to come to Canada.”

Although NDP sources said the party was split over the bill, David Christopherson, critic for Democratic Reform, predicted his party would ultimately have voted for it.

“We were prepared to support C-12,” he said in an interview. “And if [the Conservatives] are not going to move on C-12, they should bloody well bring forward something that deals with this.” Mr. Christopherson’s seat is in Hamilton, another underrepresented Ontario city.
Now, it's first worth drawing a distinction between predictions and party intentions. It's entirely possible that all parties could rationally believe a bill would go nowhere even while planning to support it themselves: e.g. if the Cons assumed that the opposition parties would unite against it and the opposition parties didn't think the Cons would actually move it forward, it's possible for all parties to predict a bill's failure while nonetheless supporting it.

Of course, that's not exactly the case here. But the main point of dispute looks to be the Cons' claim to want to advance the bill.

After all, if Fletcher isn't merely blowing smoke about the Cons advancing the bill and putting their weight behind it, then all evidence is that it would have the votes to pass. Even a split in the NDP would seem likely to produce enough support to move the bill ahead, and the Libs' process concerns sound like they can be dealt with relatively easily.

Which means that if C-12 doesn't move forward, the obvious explanation is that the Cons have chosen not to act on it even while knowing that it's likely to pass.

In sum, then, there's absolutely no evidence of agreement that the bill shouldn't pass. And any agreement that the bill won't pass looks to be based on the likelihood that the party in power will choose not to make it a priority, rather than some grand multiparty conspiracy to undermine it.

Of course, it's also worth noting that a slight reallocation of voting influence looks to be far from the most important issue in a system that's seen massive executive power grabs and abuse of unelected authority at the expense of our elected officials - not to mention far greater distortions in the value of votes based on the preservation of a first-past-the-post electoral system. But even to the extent seat reallocation is going to be seen as a litmus test for a party's commitment to democracy, there's no reason to take a "throw them all out" line in response to a misleading bit of media spin.

Update: And having expressed skepticism about the balance of the article, I'll also note that Susan Delacourt's post on "higher" officials overruling Fletcher similarly seems to be unsubstantiated in the article. Though I'd certainly be interested to know who claims the title.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Thursday, December 02, 2010

How indeed

I've already provided a partial answer. But it's still worth highlighting Dan Gardner's pointed questions on the disturbing turn taken by politicians on both sides of the border over the past decade:
How is it possible that in this most civilized of nations, in 2010, a member of Parliament felt the need to raise (the question of murder as a matter of policy)? And while we’re asking rhetorical questions that would not need to be asked in a sane world, how is it possible that the Republican party has so completely embraced aggression and brutality that almost all its leading figures feel the near-drowning of suspects is a valid interrogation technique and imprisonment without charge or trial is a legitimate practice that should be expanded? Why is it that most people in the United States and elsewhere are not disturbed in the slightest that, despite abundant evidence, American officials who apparently committed heinous crimes in the war on terror will not be investigated and held to account, while Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who apparently did nothing illegal this week, is hunted to the ends of the Earth? And how in hell is it possible that when a former president of the United States of America admits he authorized the commission of torture — which is to say, he admits he committed a major crime — the international media and political classes express not a fraction of the anger they are now directing at the man who leaked the secrets of that president’s administration?

I marvel at that paragraph. It would have been inconceivable even 10 years ago. Murder treated as a legitimate option in political discourse? Torture as acceptable government policy? No, impossible. A decade ago, it would have been satire too crude to be funny.

And yet, here we are.

Deep thought

Yes, that sound you heard was the opening of a spring election window.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading...

- The most remarkable part of Kevin Page's latest report isn't so much the fact that it suggests doubt that the Cons' claims to creating jobs were utter nonsense, but rather the group of stakeholders who actually hold that viewpoint:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s department has issued numerous progress reports on federal stimulus spending, but his department has not tied job numbers to specific projects. The budget watchdog sought to answer that question by surveying 1,143 organizations that were eligible to receive grants under the program; it received 644 responses.
And if even the exact organizations who were eligible to benefit directly from the stimulus were generally skeptical that it accomplished anything, the number would figure to be far lower when one takes into account those who weren't.

- Meanwhile, the Cons' latest bit of fiscal genius is their strategy for dealing with the inflated cost of the F-35s they've ordered. Which consists of...hoping that in what would have to be a global first, the price for military procurement will somehow go down:
Canadians can't be told precisely what the top criteria are that made only Lockheed's plane eligible, said Dave Burt, Canada's director for air requirements, because they are "highly classified," and "a question of national security."

Burt conceded the $70-million to $78-million price tag per plane is not guaranteed. It could rise or fall, he said, depending on the timing of the delivery. Lockheed Martin has only recently started the F-35's mass-production process. The earlier the slot in which an aircraft is produced, the more costly it is.

Burt added that commodities prices and other factors could also drive up prices. "But they could also drive prices down," he noted.
Your responsible economic managers at work.

- Dan Gardner slams Michael Ignatieff (and others) for choosing poor spin over remotely realistic analysis of the issues facing Parliament in dealing with the striking down of prostitution laws. But leaving aside the obviously flawed "not my job" line, does that make for any difference from how the Libs (and indeed Cons) handle most issues?

- Finally, Gary Mason criticizes the idea that politics can be taken out of health care decision-making. But isn't the bigger problem that plenty of processes that were supposed to produce non-partisan advice - such as, say, the Romanow commission - have been utterly ignored by the governments who claimed they wanted some better ideas to strengthen our health care system?

Well said

I'll offer one caveat to Susan Delacourt's brilliant post this morning, which is that I'm not sure I'd want to rule out the possibility that some "fight" is entirely necessary in discussing politics (even if it would far better to see the clash involve more ideas and less personal shots). But otherwise, it looks to be a great conversation-starter as to why women are underrepresented in the media as well as in politics.

So go read, and ask whether a bit more "womanly" counterbalance to the Cons' brand of kabuki machismo might make for a huge improvement.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Burning question

So how long after the next change in Canada's federal government will it take for Stephen Harper's Senate minions to give us our own version of this headline?

And this is why the debate is deteriorating

Does anybody doubt that if any person remotely affiliated with an opposition party had said anything anywhere near as offensive or inflammatory as Tom Flanagan's declaration that Julian Assange should be summarily executed, a harsh spin on the quote would have been a staple in Con press releases, members' statements and retorts for months (if not years) afterward?

Just wondering, since the first apparent response to Flanagan's eliminationist rhetoric from a prominent Lib validate it as being entirely innocent.

[Edit: fixed wording, added labels.]

On minimal influence

There's plenty to agree with in the Ottawa Citizen's criticism of the Cons' crime policies. But I have serious doubts about the assertion that Julian Fantino will push the Cons even further toward the side of fearmongering on crime ahead of libertarian principles of justice.

After all, the expectation that Fantino's arrival will change anything would seem to imply that there was actually room for the Cons toward the "tough on crime" posturing end of the spectrum. But can anybody name a point when the Fantino-free Harper government hasn't chosen the most extreme possible posture on a crime issue (rather than an issue unrelated to actual criminal justice like the census)?

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your morning reading.

- Linda McQuaig weighs in on the choice between public and private pension savings:
The notion that we can’t afford strong public programs — that we’re better off buying services or benefits on our own — is one of the central falsehoods blocking meaningful progress toward improving Canadian well-being.

An excellent example is the looming battle over public pensions, an issue that will be the focus of a meeting of Canada’s finance ministers in December.
According to Jonathan Kesselman, professor of public finance at Simon Fraser University, management costs at Canadian mutual funds eat up nearly 2 per cent of assets — the highest rate in 20 countries surveyed. By comparison, CPP management costs were just 0.17 per cent last year.

This enables the CPP to pay out more in pension benefits. Kesselman argues that significantly extending the CPP would be “by far the best of all savings vehicles.” In fact, expanding the CPP would ultimately save governments money, by making future retirees less financially dependent.

But this eminently sensible, cost-effective public solution has been resisted by some on the right, who argue that the mandatory CPP deprives Canadians of the choice not to invest in their retirement.
Of course, those making such arguments are usually well-off financially, with little risk in their own lives. Still, they fiercely defend the right of the poor to experience the risky pleasures of life without a safety net.
- And the CCPA helpfully points out that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of Canada's population continues to grow:
The higher up the income scale, the more dramatic the gains. For the richest one per cent, the share of all Canadian incomes almost doubled between the late 1970s and 2007. For the richest 0.1 per cent of tax files, their total share almost tripled during those 20 years.

And for the creme-de-la-creme — the richest 0.01 per cent making more than $640,000 a year — their share of total incomes more than quintupled.

The trends shown in the tax data are undeniable, analysts say.
- Jason Kenney's apparent epiphany that relationships matter shouldn't make for anything particularly surprising. But the relationships-vs-policies question is worth linking back to this fall's discussion about brokerage politics.

After all, it would make sense that relationships and soft perceptions are likely to play a far larger role in political outcomes where there's less discussion about differences in policy. Which seems to me to explain in part why the Cons have continued to pay lip service to issues like climate change even while doing everything in their power to prevent any action - and to present both a need and an opportunity for the opposition parties to sharpen their policy distinctions against the Cons so that the relationships developed by Kenney and the rest of his party on the public dime play less of a role in shaping electoral outcomes.

- And a focus on a broader view of public policy goals might not be a terrible place to start.

The reviews are in

When the Harper Cons have lost Sun Media, you know they're in trouble. And their Senate abuses have lost Sun Media:
November’s vote killing a climate-change bill that had been passed by the House of Commons was the most noticeable foray in the Tories’ guerrilla war.

The Senate’s historic function of giving legislation a thorough once-over and public airing before it becomes law is on hold.
As a politician who hasn’t been able to break through and gain majority-inducing public support — somewhere north of 40% — Harper has to be careful about taking any path that alienates large numbers of voters.

But election concerns aside, he should not be undermining the purpose of one of the branches of Parliament.

Canadians are partial to consensus. Helping forge consensus is one of the Senate’s strengths, maybe its only one. Turning it into a Conservative bully boy might be legal, but it is wrong.
And even Senator James Cowan is less than pleased that his chamber is overriding the will of elected representatives with nothing but a single snap vote:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, refusing to recognize the limitations inherent in our parliamentary system of government, particularly in a minority Parliament, is turning the chamber of sober second thought into his personal back-stop by using it to defeat measures passed by the elected members of the House of Commons he does not agree with.
Bill C-311 arrived in the Senate on May 10, 2010, but for more than six months not a single Conservative senator rose to debate it. In response to a request by Liberals to either speak on this important initiative to help deal with climate change, or allow it to go to committee so that Canadians could have a chance to express their views before the Senate made a final decision about its fate, Conservative senators decided to simply kill it outright, and to do so immediately.

History was made that afternoon. Until that vote on Bill C-311, there had been an understanding spanning generations that there exist self-imposed limitations on a powerful appointed chamber in our parliamentary system of democratic government. Those limitations and that understanding have been erased by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who once again has shown little respect for Parliament or for Canadians who wish to be heard on the important issues of the day — in this instance, climate change.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats exploring.

On unsupported assertions

John Geddes documents the latest example of how the Cons' dumb-on-crime policies are based on no evidence whatsoever. But it's worth pointing out just what it is that the Cons aren't even bothering to try to back up:
Treasury Board Stockwell Day, for instance, spoke in detail during a news conference last summer about how repeat, violent offenders often got off with no jail time under the Liberals, particularly thugs who broke into the homes of senior citizens and beat them up.

Day painted a disturbing picture. But when I asked his officials for background on the judicial outrages he so vividly described—cases, reports, anything at all—they could provide nothing. Shunted along to the Justice and Public Safety ministers offices, I discovered they, too, couldn’t point to examples that support Day’s remarks. In fact, as I discovered when I looked into the question, Canadian judges typically hand down sentences of eight to 13 years in for violent home invasions, and prison time has been getting longer in recent years.

It’s entirely possible, of course, that judges have been systematically handing down sentences for some crimes that Canadians might find too lenient. The government simply hasn’t bothered to make that case. Instead, the Conservatives seem to be using mandatory minimums mainly as an easy way of signaling their outrage.
Now, it's not at all surprising that the Cons' message flies in the face of any actual evidence about broad trends. But what's most striking about Geddes' request is that it could easily have been met with something less than systemic data which would have made the point: say, a single case provided as a "for instance", from which some staffer might have extrapolated a conclusion that similar cases happen "often".

But the Cons have apparently reached the point of not even bothering to have a single supporting example for their crime spin. And it's well past time for the media to take everything they say with enough skepticism to counteract that complete disregard for accurate information.

A dose of reality

I won't argue with Andrew Steele's take that the latest WikiLeaks document disclosure is probably closer to "gossip" than "whistleblowing". But I'd argue that there's room for a far more positive response than the one he seems to expect:
Today, national leaders of other countries will provide less information to Americans and the West generally, fearing it will become public.

Take Saudi Arabian, United Arab Emirate and Egyptian opinion that Iran's President is "another Hitler." These leaders will face abrogation not only from Iran but from some within their own country over siding with Israel against another Muslim country.

If the criticism becomes strong enough within government and power structures, they could have to alter their positioning publicly and privately to compensate, making concessions to Iran to demonstrate solidarity.

And that is bad for the world.

It weakens the prestige and attraction of the very democratic institutions Mr. Assange claims to be supporting, at just the time when another model of state-operating is becoming fashionable.
From my standpoint, Steele's concern raises a fairly important question: how sustainable can any institution be if it can't survive the revelation that its actors are mere people, subject to holding strong opinions and occasionally lapsing in judgment just like anybody else?

If anything, the value in the latest documents looks to be some much-needed confirmation that for all the prestige we may seek to ascribe to diplomatic institutions, they - like the military, and the police, and the other groups who have been built up as requiring public support and fealty at all costs - are ultimately made up of human beings who are both fallible and opinionated. And maybe the better course of action is to avoid blowing out of proportion the revelation of the obvious and predictable, rather than stoking outrage as an excuse to clamp down more tightly on the escape of the occasional bit of truth.

The aftermath

Alice has the definitive rundown from last night's by-elections - which from the standpoint of wanting to see the most progressive candidate win turned into about as gory a train wreck as possible. So let's take a look at what went wrong, and how to improve matters in future trips to the polls.

Obviously the biggest disappointment came in Winnipeg North, where Lib Kevin Lamoureux narrowly beat out the NDP's Kevin Chief in the seat that Judy Wasylycia-Leis had previously held for a decade.

Most of the talk in the wake of last night's results has surrounded Lamoureux as a candidate, and I don't think there's much room for doubt that his personal profile enabled him to win a seat that otherwise might not have been in play. But it's worth noting as well that the NDP spent much of the campaign on unfriendly policy ground which may have helped to push votes out of its column.

Nearly all of the coverage I saw of Winnipeg North was framed around the concept that crime was issue #1 for the riding's residents, and that all three parties were presenting similar messages in dealing with it. But that means that the main focus was placed on a policy area where the Cons have spent years building up their brand (even if it didn't seem to help them in the by-election result), while Lamoureux was able to run against Manitoba's provincial NDP in creating a bit of space for voters to lean his way.

Of course, it may be that Lamoureux was well enough positioned to take on whatever campaign the NDP could develop. But I have to wonder if some more time spent changing the topic of conversation to health care, poverty and other more NDP-friendly issues might have made all the difference.

As for the other seats, there wasn't much news for the NDP. While the party's vote share in Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette improved somewhat, I'm not sure it can be seen as much more than the expected gain from running as the alternative in a riding that received more attention than usual. And the much-ballyhooed Con/Lib contest in Vaughan looks to have completely silenced the other parties, including the NDP.

The end result is that all of the parties have at least some success to point to - but both Winnipeg North and Vaughan saw turns for the worse in their party representation. And that figures to make it all the less likely that we'll see much accomplished in Parliament until the next general election.

Monday, November 29, 2010

On afterthoughts

Funny that this doesn't get mentioned until the end of the Globe and Mail's attack on corporate property tax rates, long after the mandatory dose of anti-tax hysteria:
(Commercial property tax rates) don’t seem to be hurting the country’s investment landscape, however, with the value of commercial property deals set to reach $16-billion by the end of the year, according to Avison Young.

That’s $4-billion more than in 2009, powered largely by real estate investment trusts that have been able to raise millions of dollars to invest in office, industrial, retail, land and multi-residential properties.

“This upswing is attributed to a number of factors, including stable and improving market fundamentals, historically low borrowing costs, high availability of debt, a narrowing bid-ask gap and the emergence of REITs as active buyers,” said Avison Young’s director of research Bill Argeropoulos.

Office sales have accounted for about $2.3-billion of 2010’s sales, Mr. Argeropoulos said.

On efficiencies

It's still a wide open question how Sun Media expects to gain a competitive advantage over better-established media outlets. But its by-election editorial today offers at least one hint, as it confirms that QMI will save itself the time and effort most of its competitors go through in deciding who to endorse or predict to win any election.

Coming soon to a Sun Media paper near you: "The reason Conservative Corruptles the Clown will win is because he is the best candidate, and has promised more jug-a-thug and less hug-a-thug".

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Another year, another close call in the Grey Cup as the Saskatchewan Roughriders fell three points short of the Alouettes yesterday. But the good news is that there are obvious areas where the team can improve for next season without affecting its overall game plan.

Indeed, one of the 'Riders' trouble spots for most of this season looks to have turned into a late-season strength - and promises to get all the better going into next year. For much of 2010, the team had trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks even in Gary Etcheverry's high-pressure system. But in the last few games, Jerrell Freeman's emergence and Brent Hawkins' return has gave the team the push it needed to frustrate even the league's top two veteran quarterbacks. And if Keith Shologan's playoff results hold up and Shomari Williams can improve from his rookie-season difficulties, the 'Riders may be back to having one of the league's top pass-rushing units from the start of 2011.

And indeed based on yesterday's game, there doesn't seem to be much missing from Saskatchewan's defence. The 'Riders clamped down on Avon Cobourne in addition to giving Anthony Calvillo fits for most of the game - and their biggest early-game weakness (tackling bigger receivers like Jamel Richardson and S.J. Green after a catch) was thoroughly fixed by the end.

Unfortunately, while the defence put the 'Riders in a position to win, the offence couldn't get the job done. And while it's tough to blame Darian Durant for his interception which effectively ended the game, there's a bit more reason for concern about the offence's weak production through the middle of the game when it had a chance to build on the 'Riders' only lead.

After all, the 'Riders actually deployed a better ground attack than they had in ages - which in theory should open up opportunities for Durant. But the passing attack didn't land a single deep play all game (the big gainers to Jason Clermont, Cary Koch and Andy Fantuz were all on catch-and-run plays), and was inconsistent at best on short- and mid-range routes. And that kept the 'Riders from either building an advantage, or taking back the game at the end.

But that looks to be more an issue of execution than personnel. So aside from maybe looking at making the line a bit more athletic for next season and working Jordan Sisco into a seven-receiver rotation, I'd doubt the 'Riders will want to make any big changes from a unit that showed the ability to dominate at times.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' special teams had about as good a game as could have been expected. Yes, Montreal converted on a fake punt - but that was due to a missed tackle by Hawkins in a one-on-one matchup, not a problem with the coverage scheme. And the return games were close enough to even that there isn't much reason for concern.

That said, it's worth noting that while the special teams mostly executed what they were asked to do, the 'Riders' loss can be traced to limitations in the coaches' confidence. Before the Calgary game, one of my observations was that a lack of confidence in a team's kicking game can be huge when every point counts. And yesterday, the 'Riders punted on third downs from the Montreal 38 and 41 - leading to one point on the board, and five missing from what the team could have posted with a successful field goal unit.

Of course, kicks from that distance aren't gimmes for anybody in the CFL - as Damon Duval showed with his two misses. And even if Luca Congi hadn't been hurt, the 'Riders' normal kicker wouldn't figure to be a lock from those distances.

But it can't escape notice that despite using two roster spots on kickers including an import, the 'Riders didn't have enough confidence to even try a field goal from 45 yards. (Which might not have been the case if they'd jumped on, say, Justin Medlock when he was available.) And the points most certainly would have come in handy at the end.

The good news is that once the disappointment from yesterday wears off, there's plenty to look forward to for the 'Riders going into 2011. But it's always frustrating to fall just short, especially when that's due at least in part to problems which may well have been within the team's control. And hopefully the team will learn from its roster construction issues to take full advantage of another chance next year.

Cause for abolition

In case there was any doubt, Harper Senate appointee Pamela Wallin confirms what we've known all along: as far as the Cons are concerned, democracy means passing only the bills they approve of regardless of how a majority of MPs have voted:
Sen. Wallin criticized the opposition MPs and Liberal Senators who were criticizing the Conservatives for defeating the bill. Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) had previously said in October 2008 that "We don't believe an unelected body should in anyway be blocking an elected body."

Critics reiterated that line back to the Conservatives when the bill was defeated, but Sen. Wallin said it's a "totally different" situation.
"It isn't a government bill. There was not one Conservative in the House of Commons that voted for it. It's a coalition bill, a private member's bill put forward by a New Democrat. This is not a government bill, this is not some piece of legislation that came to us from the House of Commons voted on as was the budget for example, by the two main parties. This was a private member's bill by a new democrat. This is a totally different thing."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Morning Links

For those looking to pass the time until the Grey Cup...

- Remember the Cons' glossy, big-money emergency preparedness campaign last year? Just wondering, since we now have confirmation that the much-trumpeted "get prepared" slogan indeed includes the explanation "because we can't be bothered":
(W)hen the magnitude-5.0 earthquake actually happened on June 23, those best laid plans fell apart.

The Earthquakes Canada website crashed within minutes. So did phone lines to the government seismologists. The Government Operations Centre, a federal nerve centre for disasters, was reduced to regurgitating news lifted from media websites.

Natural Resources Canada media staff saw their buildings evacuated — a sensible step, but one that slowed their ability to answer questions.

Worse, the chain of command snarled. Media staffers were forbidden to answer questions. When they set up a conference call for media hours later, it had to be approved by the Privy Council Office, effectively stalling the flow of information into the evening.

About 2,500 pages of emails from the 24 hours after the quake show that the experts, trying to get the message out, were hamstrung by dead technology and the demands of senior management.
- The Star weighs in on the findings of the Special Investigations Unit which reviewed police abuses at the G20:
The SIU can’t be blamed for failing to collect enough evidence to lay charges. The officers involved in the incidents it investigated wore dark helmets and indistinguishable uniforms. The protesters couldn’t see their faces. Their fellow officers chose not to reveal their identities. Investigators were thwarted.

To prevent this from happening again, it would be useful to emblazon officers’ badge numbers on their helmets.

But that is a poor answer to demonstrators who sought to hold police officers accountable for their injuries and Torontonians who watched the ugly spectacle on their streets in shocked dismay.
- I'm sure the suspicions of bribery in Quebec's health care system will be spun to death to the effect that fully privatized medicine is inevitable. But if there is indeed a widespread recognition that (a) the current system is short of capacity and (b) it's worth putting in more money to alleviate the effects of that shortage, then I'd think it should also serve as reason to question just how true it is that we have no choice but to pare back public health budgets.

- Finally, Paul Krugman nicely sums up how free-market dogmatism led to the 2008 crash - and seems certain to do the same again absent some significant changes:
(Monetarism) worked for a while – roughly speaking from 1985 to 2007, the era of the Great Moderation. It worked in part because the political insulation of central banks also gave them more than a bit of intellectual insulation, too. If we’re living in a Dark Age of macroeconomics, central banks have been its monasteries, hoarding and studying the ancient texts lost to the rest of the world. Even as the real business cycle people took over the professional journals, to the point where it became very hard to publish models in which monetary policy, let alone fiscal policy, matters, the research departments of the Fed system continued to study counter-cyclical policy in a relatively realistic way.

But this, too, was unstable. For one thing, there was bound to be a shock, sooner or later, too big for the central bankers to handle without help from broader fiscal policy. Also, sooner or later the barbarians were going to go after the monasteries too; and as the current furor over quantitative easing shows, the invading hordes have arrived.

Last but not least, the very success of central-bank-led stabilization, combined with financial deregulation – itself a by-product of the revival of free-market fundamentalism – set the stage for a crisis too big for the central bankers to handle. This is Minskyism: the long period of relative stability led to greater risk-taking, greater leverage, and, finally, a huge deleveraging shock. And Milton Friedman was wrong: in the face of a really big shock, which pushes the economy into a liquidity trap, the central bank can’t prevent a depression.

And by the time that big shock arrived, the descent into an intellectual Dark Age combined with the rejection of policy activism on political grounds had left us unable to agree on a wider response.

Full circle

When the Cons first took office, their first step in dealing with climate change was to abandon any intention of complying with a global agreement which set comprehensive, country-by-country targets in favour of a "Made in Canada" scheme that of course never developed.

When people started asking questions about their annual declarations that a national plan was coming "next year", the Cons responded that it was silly to try to develop anything in Canada rather than harmonizing a strategy with the U.S. as Canada's largest trading partner.

And now that the U.S. is actually implementing some standards for large industrial facilities, the Cons are declaring their intention to ignore what the U.S. is doing...because it isn't comprehensive enough.

Which raises the question: can we all agree to ignore the Cons' talking points du jour on climate change in favour of the general conclusion that they're firmly opposed to whatever anybody proposes to do about it?