Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Saturday reading.

- If it weren't for Stephen Harper's attempts to unilaterally rewrite Canada's constitution to fit his current political interests, we wouldn't need a reminder what the rules actually are in an election where no party wins a majority. But since a refresher is in order, Peter Russell provides it:
Until Parliament meets, we won’t know who has its confidence – and commanding the confidence of the House is the licence to govern in our system of parliamentary government. Mr. Harper has the right to carry on as Prime Minister whether or not his party has more seats than the Liberals but only as a “caretaker government” that can take no initiatives. It would be intolerable if Mr. Harper were to follow the example of Joe Clark, who, after the May 22, 1979, election, formed a minority Conservative government but then waited until Sept. 10, 140 days after the election, to test whether his government had the confidence of the House.

When the House does meet and no party has a majority, there are basically three ways of forming a government. First, the Conservatives can simply carry on as a minority government hoping to win support, issue by issue, from opposition MPs. Second, either the Conservatives or the party that finishes second in seat numbers can form a legislative alliance with one or more other parties that would agree to support them on the basis of a shared legislative program. Such an agreement between David Peterson’s Liberals (who finished second to Frank Miller’s Conservatives) and Bob Rae’s NDP gave Ontario a stable minority after the 1985 provincial election. In this option, the parties supporting a Liberal or NDP government would not have cabinet positions. The third option is a coalition government in which two or more parties form a government and share cabinet posts.
If the Conservatives don’t win a majority on Monday, Mr. Harper isn’t likely to try to form a coalition government or make a legislative alliance with any opposition party. So what would happen if his government fails to win the support of any opposition party when the House meets in late May or early June and is defeated on the Speech from the Throne?

At this point, constitutionally, Mr. Harper has two options. He could resign and advise the Governor-General to invite the leader of the party with the second-largest number of seats, either Michael Ignatieff or Jack Layton, to form a government. Or he could advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and call another election.

It’s the second case that lands us in a “constitutional crisis” similar to the Byng-King affair of 1926. The principal that the Governor-General must be guided by in considering Mr. Harper’s request is that a prime minister’s advice (even if the prime minister has lost a confidence vote in the House) should be rejected only if doing so is necessary to protect the integrity of our parliamentary system. Calling an election, the fifth in seven years, just a few weeks after the last election when there’s a plausible alternative government that can command the confidence of the new Parliament may well be such a situation.
- Chandra Pasma nicely lays out the opportunity costs of continued corporate tax slashing:
Health care is at the top of the list for issues many Canadians worry about. If we invested $3 billion in health care, we could create more than 54,000 jobs, while the effect on GDP would be in the range of $4.8 billion. We would also have improvements in health care, such as possible reductions in wait times, more family doctors, and more access to specialized equipment.

Canada currently has an affordable-housing emergency, as identified by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Housing. Investing $3 billion in affordable housing could result in more than 47,000 new jobs and a $4.5-billion increase in GDP. Many of the 1.5 million Canadian households in core housing need (with housing that does not meet standards of adequacy, affordability, and suitability) would also have access to safer, more appropriate, and more affordable housing.

More than one in 10 Canadians live in poverty. In 2008, the poverty gap – the amount of money needed to bring everyone in Canada up to the poverty line – was $13.1 billion. If the $3 billion were transferred directly to low-income Canadians through the tax system as a guaranteed annual income, it could generate nearly 56,000 new jobs and a $5.1-billion increase in GDP. It would also reduce poverty by nearly 25 per cent, bringing new-found dignity and security to the lives of many who struggle with the day-to-day challenges of putting food on the table and paying the rent.

Now it is true that the Finance Department, like Jack Mintz, suggests that the benefits of corporate tax cuts will kick in over the long term. But remember, tax cuts happen annually. So this $3 billion investment is not a one-time thing – we are choosing where to invest our $3 billion every year. So while we are waiting for our 100,000 jobs to materialize from business tax cuts at the end of seven years, we could have invested $21 billion in physical or social infrastructure.
- Meanwhile, Erin highlights the conclusion of the Conference Board of Canada that our past corporate tax cuts haven't produced the investment benefits that are supposed to justify their existence. And thwap is rather less restrained in calling out the corporatist spin.

- Trish Hennessy releases a special version of her Numbers in advance of Monday's election.

- Finally, the Leader-Post editorial board weighs in on the importance of voting:
The best reason to vote is not out of fear or starry-eyed idealism (though that is not unimportant), but out of enlightened self-interest.

Many Canadians fought long and hard in the past to widen the franchise because they understood the desirability of having a government chosen by as many people as possible, rather than a few. Canadians defended this concept, even at the cost of their lives.

Put simply, this country and its political system work best when as many Canadians as possible take a part in the construction of future governments.

Canada bestows many benefits on its citizens. Paying it back by voting is a small price to pay for what we have been given. Voting is a good thing for a citizen to take.
But embarrassingly enough, George Jonas and Lawrence Solomon are both working hard to suppress the vote.

On proportional benefits

Following up on the question of what the NDP can put on the table to encourage the Libs to support it as Canada's government starting on Tuesday, let's note one more option (being discussed as a possibility by some already) which will look more and more plausible as a selling point as the Libs' vote and seat numbers fall.

The result of an election seeing the NDP rise to a strong second place and the Libs drop to a distant third would be to create the perception that Canada's political scene is polarizing into left- and right-wing parties with enough strength to form government, leaving little room for a centrist brokerage party. Which means that as part of their effort to define themselves for the future, the Libs will face the question of whether Canada's current electoral system is conducive to their very existence once they can't rely on strategic voting pitches to win support to their side.

And that looks to be an ideal time for the Libs to revisit electoral reform, making it either a demand of an NDP government or at least a perceived benefit if it's offered.

After all, a party that's being being squeezed out of a polarized FPTP system would surely see plenty to like in a PR system which places them around the median of any conceivable Parliament - allowing for a better prospect of carving out a substantial amount of space at the centre of the political spectrum, and likely ensuring that they'll both hold at least the types of seats that stay in their hands by Tuesday, and earn the opportunity to participate in governments for the foreseeable future.

As always, there figures to be some pushback from some who enjoy the possibility of winning 38% majorities in an ever-more-distant future. But for the Libs' remaining MPs and supporters alike, now may be the absolute best time to consider putting the party's frequent musings about PR into effect - as much for their own benefit as for that of Canada's democracy.

On non-answers

There are some questions that can reasonably be left unanswered before election day.

The Prime Minister's willingness (or lack thereof) to accept Canada's constitutional means of transferring power is not one of them.

Good on Terry Milewski for challenging Stephen Harper to make it absolutely clear whether or not he'll accept the Governor General's authority to ask another party to form government. And as long as Harper refuses to answer, we have to assume the worst as to how far Harper is willing to go - and how much damage he's prepared to do - in clinging to power regardless of the will of Canada's voters and elected representatives.

Update: After serving as one of the Cons' chief cheerleaders through most of the campaign, even John Ivison can't help but to see serious problems in both Harper's evasion and his party's attempt to intimidate Milewski and the rest of the media:
CBC Television’s Terry Milewski asked whether Mr. Harper would respect the Governor-General’s decision, if he called on a second-placed party to form government after a Conservative minority was brought down. The Prime Minister said he wasn’t going to speculate on what might happen after the election, despite the fact his whole campaign has been based on conjecture about what might happen post May 2. Mr. Milewski accused the Conservative leader of ducking the question and repeatedly asked him to answer. By this point, the assembled partisans felt it their duty to jump in for their man. “Shut down the CBC,” shouted one man. Another behind Mr. Harper was screaming, gesticulating and visibly upset. To be fair to Mr. Harper, he gestured for calm and maintained his composure. In days gone by, he would have responded to such a challenge by attacking the source.

Quite why the press conference needed to be held in front of a hostile crowd is not clear, unless it was an attempt to intimidate journalists. Other parties hold the presser in a separate room after the event.

Party spindoctors suggest Mr. Harper likes the visuals of being surrounded by supporters but it lends the appearance of a lynch mob when the inevitable happens. One suspects the visuals of this morning’s episode will be replayed on newscasts across the country and confirm many people’s impressions of the Conservative Party as the home of anger, intolerance and blind partisanship.
Update II: Mark Kennedy nicely summarizes the stakes:
His refusal to answer the question Saturday raises fundamental questions about whether Harper might provoke a constitutional crisis in the wake of an election.
[Edit: fixed wording.]

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- The good news from the polls just keeps on coming, as Angus Reid and Ipsos-Reid both show the NDP at 33% across Canada (within 5 points of the Harper Cons). But perhaps more importantly, both also place the NDP in second place in Ontario - signalling that any damaging vote split has either already resolved itself in the NDP's favour, or can easily do so by Monday.

- Judy Rebick calls for Canadians to join the NDP's people-powered wave of support while noting the effect of social media in spreading the message:
People are fed up with politics as usual. That’s the sentiment that brought Rob Ford to power in Toronto and as strange as it seems, it’s the same sentiment fueling the NDP vote. Just as economics have been taken over by corporate shills, politics have been taken over by cynical operatives who see elections as number crunching and spinning (another word for lying).
...I do like Jack and I’ve known him for 30 years. He is a passionate, committed, politician who believes in equality and social justice and has fought with all his energy his whole life for what he believes in. People can see that, which makes him the choice of those who want to get rid of Stephen Harper. Once Quebec broke to Harper, everyone else started to see that the strategic vote and the heart vote was one and the same.

But more importantly, Jack is riding an unprecedented wave of democratic participation. Not since the 1988 free trade election have we seen a greater participation of citizens in an election campaign. Not since the Charlottetown Accord in 1992 have we seen a more profound revolt against the political elites of this country.

But unlike 1988 and 1992, no organization or individual is leading this revolt. It is happening through You Tube, through Facebook, through Twitter, through Vote Mobs, through web sites, through the creativity, humour, audacity of mostly young Canadians. It is the first time we have seen the dynamic of networked politics, which I wrote about in Transforming Power: From the personal to the political work in Canada

No-one over 40 who has a progressive bone in their body can fail to be inspired by the energy and passion of those vote mob videos. And thanks to the willingness of the people of Quebec to take a risk, Jack Layton and the NDP are now the most viable option for those of us who would do anything to get rid of Stephen Harper and his desire to be President for Life of Canada.
- Meanwhile, Glen Pearson is absolutely right in noting that a key driver of the NDP's surge has been the fact that Jack Layton has performed well in response to a genuine opportunity to define himself which the Libs' contenders have lacked ever since the Harper ad-bombing strategy became the norm:
Which I think helps to define Layton’s rise in the polls. Is he a good man? Absolutely. Does he care for people? For sure. A good leader for his party? Yup. His rise in popularity comes in part because Canadians have been permitted to judge him with a collective open mind – something that should come standard with any political campaign. I bet you the Conservative Machiavellian types in their war room now wish they had spent millions passing their untruths on to the Canadian people about the NDP leader. But it’s too late; they, like the rest of us, didn’t see it coming. They are now scrambling, realizing that they’re not so smart after all.
I’m glad for Jack, to be truthful, because every leader deserves a fair shot at power. His rather obscure rating at the beginning of the campaign has now provided him with an open field to display his skills – he was never placed in a box. Every party leader should have been afforded that opportunity, and in Canada that used to be a given. Jack deserves his freedom; Ignatieff should have had that right too. Regardless of the this election’s outcome, the best thing that could happen wouldn’t just be an opposition win as it would be a sending of the Republican strategists back across the border and a Conservative government humbled by the Canadian people for its deeply devious way of treating its citizens.
- But Adam Radwanski notes that whatever the end result, the election campaign should indeed result in some substantial change for the better in how political parties approach Canadian citizens:
Stephen Harper’s push for a majority government has revolved around the idea that to most voters, the “air war” – the party’s communication efforts, their exchanges with each other, the media’s coverage of it all – is just a lot of white noise. So he has made no effort to engage us collectively. On the contrary, the Conservatives have tried to foster indifference with a stultifyingly boring and repetitive central campaign – all the better to allow them to micro-target just enough swing voters in just enough ridings to win a majority government.

Many pollsters, and some insiders from other parties, entered this campaign sharing the belief that the vast majority of voters aren’t really in play. It was a depressing experience to listen to them explain why, beyond motivating their bases to come out and vote, parties really just had to worry about targeting a relatively tiny number of swing voters in swing ridings.
(T)he Conservatives, who thought they had this election fully gamed out, have not been nimble enough to respond (to the NDP's surge). They have watched as anti-Harper support has consolidated behind the NDP, putting in jeopardy some of the seats they were counting on, and until the last few days seemingly refused to believe it was happening. And because they didn’t think it was worth speaking to most self-identified supporters of other parties, they’ve been unable to woo many of the disaffected Liberals leaving that party in droves.

None of this is to say that Mr. Harper won’t get his majority. The vote splits could still break that way. And if they do, the strategists will no doubt pat themselves on the back.

But they cannot seriously claim any more to have had the electorate all figured out. And in future campaigns, all parties will know better than to treat us as quite the automatons the Conservatives thought we were.

On endorsements

Like their personal counterparts, I'd generally classify newspaper endorsements as relatively inconsequential except to the extent they differ substantially from what one would expect. Which means that while the predictable effort by most of the corporate media to circle the wagons around the Harper Cons doesn't mean much, the Star's endorsement of the NDP is the one worth taking more seriously:
The New Democrats have been reinvigorated under the leadership of Jack Layton. After Monday, they may well challenge the Liberals as the principal national standard-bearer for the roughly two voters in three who disagree fundamentally with the course charted by the Harper Conservatives. Progressive voters should give them their support on Monday.
New Democrats have shown at the provincial level that once in office they can square their social conscience with fiscal responsibility. They are the party of Tommy Douglas, Allan Blakeney and Roy Romanow — pragmatists with a vision and a heart. Now that a much more significant role beckons at the federal level they must accept the challenge of developing that approach nationally as well.
Elections are about the future, and the Liberals have not made a persuasive case for themselves as the alternative in 2011.

Fortunately, this time there is a real choice. Voters who believe Canada should aspire to something greater than the crabbed, narrow vision offered by the Harper Conservatives should look to Jack Layton and the New Democrats on Monday.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Musical interlude

Let's make a positive appeal from an NDP supporter into the last musical interlude of the election campaign.

Geoffrey Stone - Anthem for the NDP

[Update: Fixed link.]

On distractions

Lest anyone try to make too much of Fox News North's desperate plea for attention, I'll guess that the direct effects woun't figure to be all that strong in either direction. Yes, the story actually fits nicely with the NDP's call to fix politics as they stand, but I'd expect that to roughly balance out the intended effect of smearing Jack Layton.

That said, though, the indirect effect looks to be far more important.

With the Cons having taken their time even beginning to answer the possibility that the NDP might be able to form government, their closest media ally has now ensured that their choice of anti-NDP messages will be receive limited discussion as election day approaches. Which doesn't necessarily mean the NDP will benefit in the end - but may mean that we shouldn't expect much to change from the support levels and trends already in place today.

Friday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to end your week.

- Toby Sanger puts the NDP's track record as Canada's most responsible party in balancing budgets into handy chart form.

- Anna Jarvis offers her case for the NDP:
Jack Layton and the NDP have earned their opportunity. Layton, who heads the latest leadership survey measuring vision, trust and competence, appears genuinely passionate about his social democratic beliefs. He has connected with Canadians across the spectrum and reinvigorated voters. He started this campaign after cancer and hip surgery. As usual, the race was framed as between the Conservatives and Liberals. But Layton persevered.

People were told to vote strategically. He said vote for whoever you want.

Coalitions? He said he'll work with whomever Canadians elect.

I like the NDP plan to end tax cuts for large corporations (whose profits don't always stay in Canada and whose CEOs make obscene salaries) and instead use the money for tax breaks for small businesses. The party has at least identified health care issues such as home care, long-term care and prescription drug costs. It's the only party with a firm plan for capping greenhouse gas emissions. It's offering much more for pensions. Layton is already doing what nobody else has: bringing Quebecers into the fold.
(Con Jeff) Watson delivered a lot of money to this region (or the Conservatives did to shore up his seat). But despite "delusions of grandeur," according to observers, he's not likely to get even a minor portfolio. He'll always be a backbencher.

Put me down for an alternative.
- Meanwhile, Susan Riley sees the possibility of replacing the Harper Cons as the start of a new opportunity for growth in Canadian politics:
it will not start raining frogs if Layton has more influence in a postelection Parliament. It is nonsense to suggest he would embrace environmental measures if they would bankrupt the economy and even more absurd to suggest that the watchful, cautious Michael Ignatieff would start raising taxes willy-nilly.

Here is what could change, though, at least for non-Conservatives: the big dark cloud that hangs over federal politics might lift with Harper's departure.

A Liberal/NDP coalition -admittedly still a less likely outcome than another Conservative government -would bring confusion, but might also inject much-needed optimism in public life, and, we can only hope, more co-operation.

Whatever happens, spring is a good time to clean house. And the first thing to go should be those outdated myths, distortions of history that obscure any vision of a happier future.
- Finally, no Lib swoon would be complete without some public infighting. And for all their other failings, Jane Taber and John Ibbitson at least provide that:
But as Liberals try to refocus in these last crucial days, the infighting is beginning with some senior Liberals blaming a disconnect between the leader and his national campaign team.

They blame the polling – arguing that it misdiagnosed the concerns and attitudes of voters.

But pollster Michael Marzolini said “it’s news to me.”

“How do they think I have misdiagnosed? The only thing I failed to predict was Layton’s debate performance – and that kind of prediction isn’t my job.”

Others are blaming the flurry of confusing messages.

A senior Liberal complained, for example, that while the party’s health-care ads were being run on television, Mr. Ignatieff was talking about “rising up” and calling the Tories anti-democratic. He was repeatedly blown off message and seemed to come up with new themes almost daily, from concern-for-democracy to health care to wasted spending on the G8 and G20 summits. This confused voters.
(S)o far, the Liberals are not yet directly blaming Mr. Ignatieff – there is a view that he has done an admirable job. The blaming may come on Tuesday, however, if the polls are correct.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted material for your Friday reading.

- The latest in great polling news: EKOS has the NDP building on its previous support levels, making 30% nationally and 40% in Quebec into the new normal. Nanos suggests the highest NDP vote share yet at 31%, with the possibility of moving much higher if the party can break a statistical tie with the Libs in Ontario. And CROP has the NDP winning multiple seats from the Cons' Quebec base in Quebec City, and even reaching a dead heat in the Louis-Saint-Laurent riding where Josee Verner has previously won up to 58% of the vote.

- Chris Cobb offers an explanation for the NDP's orange crush:
(T)he pundits all underestimated the Tao of Jack and his Walking Stick — the crutch that has become a Churchillian-like symbol brandished with increased frequency in Layton's public battles against his political enemies.
"He struck an emotional chord just by the way he faced up to his setbacks and went about his work. He appeared in the House of Commons after his hip surgery and showed he was a fighter. People developed an emotional relationship with him that wasn't there before."
Crucially, added Gauthier, the walking stick has helped Layton differentiate himself from other leaders, especially Stephen Harper.

"In many ways, he has become the foil to Harper," he said. "His body language is different, his appearance is different, and his voice and language is different.

"You have one leader (Layton) reaching into crowds and talking to people versus another whose handlers have barricaded him. The contrast in image between the two is quite remarkable."
- All of which helps to explain why it's being noted that the Cons can't beat the NDP on personality. (Though the Cons' efforts to avoid demonstrating any may have something to do with that as well.)

- Meanwhile, John Geddes highlights an Innovative Research poll to the effect that the NDP has done nothing but bolster its standing both on individual issues and on general appeal to the middle class:
Early in the election, 31 per cent rated the Conservatives “somewhat better” or “much better” for the middle class, 25 per cent preferred the Liberals, and 23 per cent the NDP. By the Easter long weekend, the Tories were down slightly to 29 per cent, the Liberals off about five points to 20 per cent, and Layton’s NDP up a very substantial 10 point to 33 per cent—vaulting into top spot.
On impressions of Layton’s underlying attributes, Quebecers also seem to have warmed to him the most. On which leader they associate with “strong leadership,” Layton’s score rose to 31 per cent in Quebec from 14 per cent near the start of the campaign. In the rest of Canada, the climb was to 22 per cent from 14 per cent. Similarly, Layton’s image on attributes like “having the best plan” and “caring about people like me” rose smartly in Canada as a whole, but more markedly in Quebec.

When it came to probing voter attitudes on specific issues, the NDP made big gains during the campaign on protecting the middle class—a major thrust of Latyon’s stump-speech rhetoric and his party’s TV ads—and on understanding the needs of “people like me,” maintaining high ethical standards, and health care.
- The Star offers a pre-endorsement of its own, rightly concluding that the Cons shouldn't receive another term in government.

- And finally, as many others have noted, Peter Russell goes much further in condemning the Harper Cons for their belief that Parliamentary crime pays:

[Edit: Added Nanos result.]

On consistency

Jim Flaherty, speaking as Canada's Minister of Finance, declares that low interest rates are to be preferred, or that interest rates have nowhere to go but up. Response from commentators to the fact that a politician is commenting on the Bank of Canada's monetary policy: zero.

Jack Layton, speaking as a leader in an election campaign, suggests that interest rates ought to stay low while confirming that he won't interfere with the Bank of Canada's discretion. Response from commentators: "ZOMG!!! THE SKY IS FALLING!!! THE SKY IS FALLING!!! GET THE SHOTGUN SHELLS AND EMERGENCY RATIONS AND MEET ME IN THE DIEFENBUNKER!!!".

Not that we should expect anything different.

[Edit: fixed label.]

On dilemmas

No, it isn't much of a surprise that the Cons are desperate enough to have based their campaign's closing argument on a single false tweet.

But it'll be especially interesting to see what happens now that the calls they're directing to Jack Mintz aren't producing the desired outcome. Will this be the point where they finally have no choice but to admit to having been wrong? Or will they once again double down on repeating what they know to be incorrect - even as it only highlights the dishonest and delusional politics so many Canadians are eager to replace?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday Evening Links

Assorted content for your end-of-week reading.

- Harris-Decima is the latest pollster to confirm the NDP's momentum, this time with a poll carrying responses from over a week ago which nonetheless places the NDP at 30% and gaining on the Cons.

- Alison takes Patrick Muttart's dismissal from the Harper campaign as a much-needed opportunity to point out the links between Muttart and the Cons' U.S. Republican cousins.

- Paul Wells highlights some of the lasting impacts we can expect from the NDP's surge:
The rise of Jack Layton’s NDP was the story of the campaign’s fourth week. At this writing I have no way to guess whether the NDP will keep rising, or fade away as it has done more than once before. But at any rate, the Layton phenomenon is hardly the only way Canadian voters have stubbornly refused to stick to their assigned role. Conversations are breaking out all over, honest-to-goodness debates, and all the campaign pros in all the war rooms won’t be able to herd us back into our tidy demographic stables again.
Layton is not perfect. His ideas for the country will leave many unpersuaded. But he rises because he at least acts like a guy who would rather fix problems than fix blame. Even if he fades in the stretch, something permanent will remain. A whole country has remembered that it does not like to be told what it may talk about and how it may react. And when a country gets its back up the way this one has, it will not go back to sleepy predictability any time soon.
- Meanwhile, Rick Mercer's brilliant campaign summary includes this damning tidbit on the Harper Cons' duplicity:
To get a feel for the Harper campaign you only need a few hours. The differences from one event to the other are minuscule. In English Canada they start each event by singing “O Canada,” and Stephen Harper tells the crowd he’s proud to lead a party that starts every event this way no matter where they are in the country. In Quebec they skip this part and they hide the Canadian flags in the plane.
Mercer also wonders whether the leader's tour is nothing more than an anachronism - which makes it particularly interesting to note that the NDP has pushed ahead with a full-on tour as part of its successful campaign even though there may have been reason to expect otherwise.

- Finally, "Steve Shutt" on Babble raises an idea which could tell us in a hurry whether the Libs will work on replacing or joining Stephen Harper next week:
I'm wondering how best to get pledges from the Liberals who might survive to not pull a David Emerson, the former Martin Liberal from Vancouver, who between E-Day and the cabinet swearing in had a conversion from the Liberal banner he was elected under to the Harper Conservatives, who were now the one's in charge.

I think it would need to focus on the wide policy differences between the Tories and the Liberals (at least on paper both Jack and Iggy had, until the surge hit, pointed to the commonality between Liberal and NDP platforms) so that voters know that they don't have to worry about voting for the "red" door and getting their MP walking through the "blue" door.

On party interests

Scott Reid is probably right in describing what he thinks the Libs' strategy is driving at as our election campaign draws to a close. But let's take a step back and ask what it says about the party's desperation:
The least conventional ballot question in Canadian history is taking shape: Do you care about the Liberal party's future?
Harper and Layton may discover that many others dislike the idea of overlooking an institution that offers a reliably sensible and centrist option.

They may learn that Canadians are none too eager to reduce future national debates to twin poles of extreme opinion.

They may find that in the quiet of the ballot box, there are many voters who decide they value the Liberal party and will vote to preserve its ability to positively influence their future. Just as it has their past.
Leaving aside Reid's own personal stake in the Libs, let's turn the question around.

If, in an election where there was a close race between the Libs and Cons for government, the NDP had ever ended a campaign by declaring that voters should ignore policy, principle, leadership and strategy alike, and vote simply based on a desire to preserve their party's brand...

How well would that have gone over as a direct appeal?

And perhaps more importantly, how savagely would it have been shredded by a Lib party declaring that it proved the NDP wasn't interested in stopping a mutual opponent?

In effect, Reid's analysis looks to be the next stage of the Libs' culture of entitlement. Having failed in their effort to dictate that nobody else could stop the Harper Cons, they're now asking that voters put on hold every real consideration at play in the current election campaign - every prospect of replacing the Harper Cons with a better government - solely for the benefit of a party which has shown it can't win support on the merits.

Now, one might point to cases where a relatively similar message has fallen flat (anybody else hearing an echo of Ujjal Dosanjh's plea to at least allow for some B.C. opposition in 2001?). But Reid's pitch looks to be even less justifiable, since he's trying to make the case in an election whose outcome is actually in doubt.

If there's any saving grace for the Libs, it's that enough Canadians may have tuned them out that the message isn't certain to reach all of the voters who may yet vote Lib out of habit. But if "save the furniture" is now the Libs' public appeal rather than merely their internal rallying cry, then there's reason to think there are plenty more votes for the NDP to win as the campaign reaches an end.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Yes, it's noteworthy enough that Jack Layton is surging ahead as Canada's first choice for Prime Minister. But perhaps the most stunning news is that the first of those polls comes from Ipsos-Reid - the pollster which regularly places Conservative support (and one would think by association Stephen Harper's) higher than any other. And if even the most Con-friendly of polls is showing Layton ahead, there doesn't seem to be much prospect of the Cons getting any good news as the campaign winds down.

- Meanwhile, the party polling is looking no less promising for the NDP.

- John Duffy notes why the NDP's gains don't figure to be ending anytime soon:
There is no reason to believe...that this has to come to a halt. Fact: various polls are now showing the NDP eating not only into the Liberal vote (as in Ontario) but also into the Conservative vote pretty much everywhere outside the prairies. Analysis is catching up. Fact: the NDP surge is showing no sign of abating. Fact: The NDP has a great, upbeat "closer"-style spot on television right now, while the other parties have ads that are not resonating. Fact: The Conservative response, which would probably be impressive, is nowhere to be seen, plus they just lost one of their best strategy guys at the worst possible moment. Meanwhile, the Liberals are starting to fall off the coverage radar. Fact: earned media campaign coverage is about to go dark for the Royal Wedding and the final weekend.
I am seriously starting to wonder whether some sort of massive genie hasn't been let out of the bottle here. Mr. Harper has framed the campaign and its run-up as an anti-politics exercise. Putting words in the PM's mouth, I described his core pitch as being, "The heck with these elections we've all come to hate. Vote for a Harper majority and all this political crap gets out of your hair for four years." What appears to be happening here is that the anti-politics appeal has found its audience, and it's expression is "the heck with Harper and Ignatieff." The response seems not to have taken the form of Liberal voters sourly staying home and throwing the election to the Conservatives. Rather, it appears the anti-politician mood that the Prime Minister stoked has created an immense opening for Mr. Layton's positive, uplifting, take-a-chance-on-me offering.
- Douglas Bell rightly points out that the NDP's surge is based at least as much on the party's appeal to Canadian values as to any protest vote.

- And Bell also passes along Liam McHugh-Russell's end-of-campaign prediction:
I told you two weeks ago that the NDP would need just a glimmer of hope to finally take off, and now they've gotten it. They're finally heading toward their ceiling and that ceiling is high indeed: 130 per cent the height of the Conservatives or the Liberals. You want a seat count? NDP 115, Conservatives 110; Liberals 65; Bloc 18. In the end, politics is possible and suddenly, so are these results. Me, I am still rooting for the NDP because I believe they're serious about us having the Canada we already have, except better. But it's also very exciting that the result we do get five days from now will be determined by the question I said mattered when this whole thing started: whether Canadians believe it's possible for them to have the government they want. And it seems increasingly like they can – and that they will.
- Armine Yalnizyan offers a reminder of the Cons' choice to gut the long-form census - and points out the wide range of Canadians affected by their inexplicable disregard for thorough and accurate census data.

- Stephen Whitworth expresses some restrained displeasure with the Globe and Mail's train wreck of a Con endorsement.

- And finally, Les Perreaux debunks the efforts of political opponents and media alike to make an issue of the NDP's potential wave of new MPs.

There's the panic

Yes, it was probably inevitable that the Cons would notice that something was happening outside their campaign bubble and feel a need to lash out at it. But the timing and effect couldn't be worse for Stephen Harper and the Cons.

For all the talk about how campaigns can shift at the last minute, two of the most recent examples (the Cons' late-campaign swoons in 2004 and 2006) also serve as evidence of something else: when Harper ad-libs in trying to seal a campaign, he can be his own worst enemy. And there's plenty of reason to think that's happening one more time - with potentially even more significant consequences.

After all, Harper has spent the entire campaign trying to stay above or outside the fray, effectively portraying any discussion with or about other parties as being beneath him. But with Harper taking the lead role in attacking Layton now, he's giving up any pretense of appearing prime ministerial just at the point where he faces the most serious challenge for the position. (See Wells' Rule of Politics #4 as to why that's particularly dangerous.)

What's more, Harper's choice of attacks also looks to be counterintuitive (to be generous). In effect, Harper is challenging Layton on trust just as all indications suggest that Layton is opening up a wide lead on that point. And with Harper already seen as relatively untrustworthy, he may only cast more doubt on himself by forcing a collision with the positive impression Canadians have formed of Layton.

Of course, one can make the case that Harper didn't have a choice: it's probably too late to develop a brand-new ad campaign to have somebody else serve as the point person in attacking Layton, and the NDP surge certainly demanded that the Cons do something. But Harper's choice of responses may only end up confirming the public's impression that he's a major part of the problem that needs fixing.

New column day

Here, closing the federal election campaign with a bit more analysis and less advocacy than usual.

(For the astute pre-campaign observation mentioned in the column, see Alice's post.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Open questions

Now that the NDP is reaching levels of popular support that make a change in government look highly plausible, it's about time to double back to some of the more serious questions about what Stephen Harper might seek to do to stay in power after an election that doesn't go his way.

If he's determined to cling to power and continues to believe that he can get away with absolutely any level of damage to Canada's democratic system that suits his purposes, Harper holds plenty of cards regardless of how Monday's vote actually turns out. He'll technically remain Prime Minister either until he resigns to create a vacancy in the office, or until a non-confidence vote is held. He can put off the latter possibility by refusing to allow Parliament to sit for up to twelve months from the date of the previous dissolution. (Indeed, I'm not entirely sure what the remedy would be if Harper were to breach even that minimal requirement.) And even if he allows a new government to be sworn in, he can prevent it from passing any legislation by continuing to whip his majority in the Senate.

So while I wouldn't expect an answer from Harper anytime soon, now would seem to be the time to start asking some pointed questions about what will happen if the election results aren't to the Cons' liking.

First, will Harper resign as Prime Minister if his party fails to secure the largest number of seats in the House of Commons? (Actually, this would seem to be something less than a clear requirement to the extent there's some prospect of his finding support among other parties - but if the answer is "no", then based on Harper's rhetoric about the most seats being the measure of victory then it makes for the first clear indication that all bets are off as to what he'll do to stay in power.)

Second, will Harper summon Parliament to meet at some point before the last possible moment - and allow it to vote on his Throne Speech - even if the likely result is a non-confidence vote against his government?

Third, does Harper plan to comply with the instructions of the Governor General rather than threatening to take a case "to the people" if his attempts to shut down democratic voting mechanisms are overruled?

And finally, if another government takes power, will Harper order his Senators to allow it to pass legislation which receives the approval of the House of Commons?

Needless to say, in any remotely functional democracy the answer should be a clear "yes" to the latter three questions. But there's plenty of reason for concern that Harper will see matters differently.

Update: Turns out I'm not the only one asking these types of questions, and Tom Flanagan offers some theories in response to John Duffy:
If a single party wins more seats than the Conservatives, I think Mr. Harper, based on his statements, will announce his resignation as prime minister. If the Conservatives win a plurality but not a majority, he will carry on as prime minister and try to bring in a budget fairly quickly. If he is defeated in the House, he could (1) offer his resignation as Prime Minister to the Governor General, thereby allowing the latter to ask the leader of the Opposition to form a government; (2) resign as PM and also as party leader, opening up the possibility that the Governor General might ask an interim Conservative leader chosen by caucus to form a government; (3) ask for another election, as Mackenzie King did in 1926. If the GG refused that request, I imagine Mr. Harper would then resign as King did, and the GG would try to find someone else to form a government. I don't foresee anyone challenging the GG's authority with an appeal to the Queen, or ruling by decree. I don't think we will reenact “State of Siege.”
Needless to say I'd hope he's right. But until Harper himself starts answering, there's still reason to wonder whether Flanagan is being optimistic based on the Harper he knew rather than the one who's already shut down Parliament once to avoid losing power.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- David Coletto of Abacus Data offers his theory for the NDP's surge in Quebec which has since spread to the rest of the country:
Has all the talk about coalitions at the start of the campaign actually laid a foundation for NDP growth in Quebec?

The BQ has clearly stated it won’t join in a formal coalition with any other parties. And no party has said it would want BQ members in cabinet. Perhaps Quebec voters have decided that although the BQ has done a good job at representing Quebec in the past, it really can’t prevent a Stephen Harper majority. In fact, voters may have figured out that by electing NDP MPs they can actually prevent a Harper minority – by giving the NDP enough seats in Quebec to form a working arrangement with the Liberals elected outside of Quebec.

Fewer BQ seats in Parliament means that the math becomes more palatable for Canadians because the real problem with coalitions was not the principle of a coalition but the idea of separatists holding a government hostage.
We found that in Quebec, when given the choice between a Conservative minority government and a coalition or agreement between the Liberals and NDP, 57% of Quebec respondents preferred a coalition while 29% preferred a Conservative minority. 14% were unsure.

An Angus Reid poll released today found that 61% of Quebec respondents believed that “The Conservative government has performed poorly, and does not deserve to form a government after the next election” – the highest percentage in Canada.

So what we may be seeing in Quebec, and the data backs up this argument, is that Quebecers have realized that they can prevent another Conservative government not by voting BQ, but by voting NDP. If this is true, what we could be witnessing is a collective decision to vote strategically from a large part of a provincial electorate.
- Toby Sanger notes that fair taxation of Canada'a financial sector could generate upwards of $10 billion per year in extra revenue - which would seem to make for a rather compelling contrast against the service cuts on offer from the Harper Cons.

- It shouldn't come as much surprise. But since I haven't yet seen anybody put the factors together, let's note how the regular polling as to which party is most trusted on health care may largely miss the point as to what position will actually sway votes:
Twenty-seven per cent of voters ranked the economy and job creation as the most important election issue, compared to 18 per cent who placed health care as the most important issue and 18 per cent who put government ethics and accountability at the top of the list, the survey suggests.
Of the voters who ranked health care as the most important issue, 87 per cent of the survey respondents said they were in favour of supporting medicare rather than having more privatization of medical care and services. Although Ottawa transfers billions of dollars annually to provincial governments for health care, the provinces have jurisdiction over delivery of health services.

Preference for supporting medicare over having more privatization was highest in the Atlantic provinces and British Columbia. Fully 98 per cent of respondents in both regions said they want to support medicare over more privatization. In Ontario, of the medicare supporters who said the issue is the most important in the campaign, 90 per cent favoured medicare support over more privatization.
Given that the Cons are actively affirming their support for private health service delivery, that finding would seem to confirm that there's virtually no overlap between the relatively high number of voters listing the Cons as their first choice on health care (about 30 per cent in the polls linked above) and the voters who are actually motivated by the issue - while the NDP's position as the strongest advocate for public delivery has the potential to deliver a large number of votes.

- Dan Gardner points out that there's no reason why a minority government can't function under reasonable leadership - making the Cons' desperate plea for a majority into more of an admission of their own failings than a reasonable argument:
In the last Conservative budget, the gap between what the NDP asked for its support and what the Conservatives offered was tiny and so a new Conservative minority could make modest concessions to the NDP, pass the budget, and get on with governing. But Harper has already said his government will re-introduce the budget without changes, which suggests this simple bit of negotiation and compromise won’t happen. And we will get the instability the prime minister predicted.

Why? It’s not a defect inherent in minority government. Nor is it that the big three parties have irreconcilable visions and policies. In fact, the substantive disagreements between the parties are as small or smaller than they’ve ever been in modern times.

No, the problem is the leader.

Stephen Harper gambled everything on winning a majority. Now, after swearing that anything less would cause earth to shudder and sky to weep, it would be personally calamitous if a Conservative minority government functioned smoothly. Harper said there would be instability, damn it. And he will make sure of it.
- Finally, there's a new leader in race for the dubious honour of "most bizarre campaign coverage from a major media outlet": Tamsin McMahon's article which not only wastes readers' time with the question, "does the federal NDP actually want to be in power?", but manages to answer with something close to a "no".

They write letters

And if they aren't contributing to an NDP-led government, I heartily endorse the prospect that the Libs' top figures have plenty of time to keep right on writing open letters by this time next week.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Gilles Duceppe never saw it coming. Stephen Harper won't admit it's happening. But the NDP's surge to within striking distance of forming government is getting confirmed by poll after poll.

[Update: After poll.]
[Update II: After poll.]

- Naturally, Sun Media buries the results in a story about party mergers. But in case there's any doubt whether Canadians want Stephen Harper to plunge the country into a do-over election if he doesn't get the majority he's demanding, Canadians are saying otherwise even in an alternative based on the most Con-friendly framing possible:
If Conservative Leader Stephen Harper doesn't get the majority he's yearning for and the opposition parties gang up to replace him, the poll suggests 40% of Canadians would support a coalition government with the support of the Bloc.

But 28% would want another federal election, while 30% were non-committal.
Needless to say, the number of respondents supporting a coalition would figure to go even higher if (as seems entirely possible) the Bloc's support isn't needed. [Update: See e.g. the response to EKOS' less-slanted question.] Which means that the Cons would seem to have little choice but to pull out all the stops now - unless they have another plan to cling to power.

- James Bow chimes in on why the media's treatment of the NDP's newcomers to the political scene is off base:
(L)et me run two reads of this by you, and see what you think of each one:

Read One: NDP candidate works at a campus bar and has taken a vacation mid-campaign in Las Vegas.

Read Two: A single-mother working to raise her child, put her name forward as an NDP candidate knowing she would probably lose, booked an extra cheap vacation in Las Vegas weeks before the election was called and could not cancel the ticket.

Tell me: doesn’t read one sound a heck of a lot more sinister to you? Care to guess what certain media pundits and more than a few partisans chose to run with?
For today, I think it’s unfortunate that the media have chosen to report Ms. Brosseau’s situation in the most sinister way possible. It may make for good copy, but it does a disservice to dedicated individuals like Ms. Brosseau who believe enough in democracy to step forward and fight a campaign they believe they cannot win.
- It's great news to see a surge in turnout at the advance polls. But while I don't buy some of the absurd spin about it reflecting only campaign workers, I do have to wonder whether it reflects a conscious effort to turn out support early which might not be reflected in final voting numbers.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry nicely sums up the basic precondition for supporting the Harper Conservatives:
Stephen Harper seems to ask only that you disregard—or remain entirely unaware of—recent events, and bow in total deference to what he is saying to you now.

Never mind that two and a half years ago he had Parliament dissolved, flouting his own government’s apparently flimsy attempt to limit a Prime Minister’s ability to do so. Never mind that after that election—as a recession set in—he had Parliament prorogued so he might avoid defeat on an imminent confidence vote. Never mind that a year after that he had Parliament prorogued again—this time so he could have more time to have his picture taken watching hockey games with Wayne Gretzky—and that Canada was thus left without a functioning House of Commons for nearly three months as it proceeded with the aforementioned and still-fragile recovery.

Never mind that he is here now, campaigning for re-election, because last month his government became the first in the history of British democracy to be found in contempt of the House of Commons.

For all of these reasons and various other examples as well, Mr. Harper is often accused of abusing the institutions of Parliament, of disrespecting the formal levers of our democracy and of holding the House of Commons in disdain. And so here he stands in front of his fellow citizens and professes that there is no other place he’d rather be. It is as if he is taunting his detractors. Daring them to call him on it. Mocking their outrage.

He is not creating alternate realities, he is simply daring enough to breeze past any assertion of reality which does not serve his purposes. He is looking you in the eye, shrugging and moving on. He is entirely undaunted by his own record of words and actions.

On posturing

Sure, there have been a couple of responses already to corporate Canada's efforts to tell scary stories about a possible NDP government. But let's add one more to the list which seems to me to highlight how the NDP's cooperative approach to politics leaves absolutely no room for such fearmongering.

Over two years ago, word came out that the NDP was fact reaching out to Canada's financial sector in the course of developing its economic policies - and impressing a number of the people it consulted along the way:
(T)he NDP caucus has been calling on external advisors and allocating more resources to strengthening its research on financial policy.

"There as been an effort to expand the capacity of the caucus," says an aide, who points to meetings with outside economists such as Glen Hodgson, chief economist for the Conference Board of Canada...

"I think you can see in Mulcair a fairly pragmatic approach to our issues. It is probably a more effective approach. I think he is on to something," says one bank lobbyist.

One former lobbyist still active on Bay Street says during meetings with senior party figures they had consistently shown themselves to be "thoughtful and backed up by good research, though we didn't always agree."
That's right: over a period of several years, the NDP has been talking with both outside experts and the financial sector - winning accolades for being "pragmatic" in its discussions generally, and having a position that was "thoughtful and backed up by good research" even where there was disagreement over the best possible policies.

And what's more, the above story came out in early January 2009, at a time when a coalition government including the NDP was still a real possibility. So one can't explain the difference between the message sent then and the fearmongering we're seeing now as being based on some sudden realization that the NDP might be close to power.

Which would seem to signal that any alarmism about what an NDP government might mean for the economy is more in the realm of utter fabrication than serious concern. Instead, the real problem for at least some interest groups seems to be that that the NDP's thoughtful policies might well catch on - and that serves as all the more reason for voters to be encouraged by the opportunity for change.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Canada's corporate sector is officially launching CASH Care to try to wrest control over our health sector from anybody who doesn't put profits first. This might be just the right time to have the party that fought for universal health care in charge to fight back the tide.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Relaxed cats.

On clean campaigns

Sure, the NDP's opponents are salivating over what isn't yet known about the party's candidates and potential MPs in Quebec. But let's put that argument based on a lack of evidence into perspective.

After all, we're currently stuck with a micro-managing Prime Minister whose level of control putatively extends as far as running background checks on individuals entering his party's rallies. Yet his party's campaign has been derailed in just the last couple of days by revelations that they've appointed a fanatic who rants about "black shirts" and the "SS" to a gun advisory committee, their happy acceptance of campaign support from a dangerous offender and Paul Bernardo admirer, and the knowledge that a star candidate has been repudiated by her own family while gladly accepting an endorsement from one of the country's most notorious terrorist financiers. And that's to say nothing of the scandal-ridden staffers who have made regular appearances on the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, from the party which is expected to crumble under scrutiny, the closest there is to that type of story is...idle speculation from other parties' spinmeisters.

Lest there be any doubt, I'm not a huge fan of gotcha politics in any event. But for anybody making a remotely rational comparison between the NDP and its rivals in this campaign, it's Jack Layton and company who have done the best job of avoiding any impropriety or perception thereof.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- Yes, the top story in EKOS' polling update is that the NDP's vote has stabilized in a solid second place nationally. But while not much has changed from the weekend's results, let's note that there is one interesting difference: the NDP managed to pick up even more ground in possible second-choice support, giving it a stunning 54.4% of voters rating the party as their first or second choice.

And based on the campaign so far, there's little reason to think that at least a few more of those potential supporters won't turn into actual ones by election day. (Needless to say, this includes the brouhaha over potentially revisiting Canada's constitution at some point in the future - which was apparently never seen as a big enough deal to interfere with Stephen Harper's path to power.)

- Meanwhile, Bruce Anderson explains why the NDP may have managed to catch its opponents by surprise:
(I)n my view a lot of people who aren't normally consumed with politics are looking at the NDP with fresh eyes, as it occupies centre stage in the last days of this election campaign. What do they perceive?

First, a leader with a passionate, friendly, easy manner. A guy who knows his way around a Tim Hortons and looks like he would draw a crowd to his table over a double-double.

They’d hear him say politics has too much mud-slinging and not enough progress on things that count for average folks. They’d listen to him go on about wanting to work with other people and parties, about hiring more doctors and nurses, “rewarding job creators,” “strengthening your pension” and “making your life a little more affordable.” The language is not that of class warfare, and the goals don’t sound weirdly utopian. These voters might compare Mr. Layton’s pitch with the urgings of Stephen Harper to avoid a coalition, to cut taxes, to strengthen law and order. Or the entreaties of Michael Ignatieff to rise up in defense of our democracy. The NDP themes might well compare favourably, as far as themes go.
- The Star rightly notes that a non-vote effectively serves as a vote for both the status quo and vote suppression, both of which play entirely into the Cons' hands:
This time, too, apathy is likely to amount to a vote by default for the Conservatives. That’s because large numbers of disengaged and alienated voters lean to Jack Layton’s New Democrats or to the Liberals. Those who opt not to vote risk becoming enablers of the Conservative victory that Harper claims is in the bag.

After five years of hyperpartisan, divisive minority government, the last thing Canadians need is to end up with a Tory majority by default because people couldn’t be bothered to turn out. As Harper himself observed on the weekend, “voters are never supposed to give absolute trust to anybody.”
The Conservatives don’t deserve to coast home again on a wave of voter apathy. Canadians should rouse themselves on Monday to cast judgment on Harper’s governance since 2006, and on the opposition parties’ competing visions. The country’s future is worth that much.
- But fortunately, there's little reason to think the Cons will get what they're after. And in the latest sign of desperation, Saskatchewan's Cons have followed up on their vacant house strategy with a short-lived attempt to use Saskatchewan's legislative buildings as a billboard.

On broken links

So far, the Cons have stayed remarkably quiet about the NDP's national surge, following up on their first weak response with a single ad attacking the NDP only as a secondary part of the usual "higher taxes" line against the Ignatieff Libs. But while the Libs' responses look to have failed mostly because they come out of nowhere, the biggest problem for the Cons may be that their attack on the NDP is so similar to an existing message linked to the Libs.

Obviously the Cons are well aware that an attack needs some time to sink in, and that it only figures to work if voters link a particular leader they might be considering to the attack when they vote. (Otherwise, their years of direct shots at the Libs' leaders would figure to have been a waste of money.)

But having so deliberately branded Michael Ignatieff with the "higher taxes" label over a period of years in the general public, the Cons figure to have an awfully tough time suddenly transferring that same label to Layton in the last week of the campaign. Which may reflect another area where the Cons' bubble might have caused them to miss what's happening in the country at large: while they've used the "higher taxes line as a talking point dealing with the NDP in what might be seen as inside-baseball conversations in Parliament and on talk shows, they haven't done anything to reach a broader audience.

And what's more, the job is made all the more difficult by the fact that they're still trying to include Ignatieff in their ads, serving only to dilute the message even more. Which means that the chances of the Cons being able to suddenly attach a negative to a leader whose reputation has been carefully built over nearly a decade look to be rather slim.

Of course, the Cons are presumably hoping that some combination of "coalition" messaging and general visual association between Layton and Ignatieff will be enough to make the charge stick. But there's a real possibility that the Cons have indeed been too cute by half in hoping that relentless attacks on the Libs would clear the field entirely - and we're just now starting to see panic set in on their side as well now that the orange wave is submerging their hopes for a majority.


Call it a crazy hunch, but I'm guessing this is another rather bad sign for the Libs:
When the campaign began last month, the Liberals had prepared a strategy to roll out their ads in four phases – the first was to introduce Mr. Ignatieff, the rookie leader, to Canadians; the second phase was to promote the platform. The party launched a couple of attack ads in the third phase. Phase four was to be aimed at trying to get out the vote – it seems now, however, the Liberals have abandoned that plan as they drive toward May 2.
Which is telling in a couple of ways.

First, there's the fact that the Libs - who have bragged for ages about how they're so much better organized with Michael Ignatieff and Peter Donolo in charge than under previous structures - have officially reached the point of having to throw out the playbook they'd developed before the campaign. Instead, they're truly "making it up as they go along" for lack of any plan to deal with how the campaign has developed.

But perhaps more interestingly, it makes clear that the Libs don't see a get-out-the-vote message as a winner for them anymore - highlighting the fact that to the extent anybody new is going to be drawn into the election campaign, it's the NDP that figures to benefit.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The NDP has unveiled another positive ad to keep up its momentum over the last week of the federal election campaign:

- And in case we needed a reminder why a more honest and positive brand of politics would be such a radical departure from what we have now, the first appointee to the Cons' Ombudsman for Victims of Crime is saying publicly that the office was a wasteful and politically-motivated sham.

- Likewise, it may be news that yet another of the Cons' environmental plans is designed to be as expensive and ineffective as possible. But there's no reason to be the least bit surprised based on their track record.

- And one more to file under "what needs changing", as the latest reality check on the cost of F-35s looks mostly to confirm what should already have been obvious about the Cons' unwillingness to acknowledge what a new fleet of sole-sourced fighter jets would cost.

- Finally, Armine Yalnizyan points out how the Cons' tax slashing has been pitched as being directed at the middle class even while its benefits are felt almost exclusively at the top:
Where’s the real middle? There are many ways to measure it, but let’s keep it simple: the dead centre of the income distribution -median income. Half of Canadian households have more, and half of Canadian households make do with less. In 2008, median after-tax household income of Canadians was $48,500 ($55,000 before taxes).
Both the Liberals and the NDP address poverty and decry growing income inequality. Harper’s Conservatives do not. They all claim to introduce measures to ease pressures on average families, but Harper’s proposals actually worsen income disparities and do almost nothing of substance for those truly in the middle.

Take income splitting for young families -a promise that comes with a $2.5-billion price tag. The Harper team touts average savings of $1,300 per family. But a 2006 Library of Parliament assessment showed only 8% trickles down to half of Canada’s young families, those with incomes under $60,000. Most goes to the rich, nothing goes to the poorest -single parents have no incomes to split. (One in five families raising children are headed by single parents. They have the highest poverty rate of any group in Canada.)

It’s the same with elderly benefits. Harper promises modest improvements to Guaranteed Income Supplements, worth $300-million. But his pension splitting scheme, introduced in 2007, costs the public purse over $920-million. The elderly living on incomes under $30,000 get 6% of that. They make up 40% of seniors’ households. None gets to the poorest seniors, mostly women living alone.

Then there’s the Tax Free Savings Account. Introduced in January 2009 -at the height of the recession, when every other govern-ment across the globe was trying to stimulate spending, not saving. Harper now promises to double the maximum contribution, from $5,000 to $10,000.

It’s pitched as something that’s good for everyone, with a whopping price-tag of over $6-billion a year upon full implementation. But in 2008, before the recession hit, half of Canadians made less than $25,400 after tax. Try taking $10,000 out of that. But their incomes, along with those of every other Canadian, are enhanced by the public health care, public transit and other public services (clean water, bridges and roads, education and more) that taxes support.

On choices

A couple of Lib stalwarts are already starting the conversation about what that party figures to do if faced with the choice of supporting either the Cons or the NDP as Canada's government. And without getting too far ahead of ourselves, we definitely shouldn't take for granted that the Libs will support an NDP effort to replace Harper - though there's one easy step the NDP can take to significantly swing their decision.

To start off with, I don't think there's much doubt that at least part of the Libs' braintrust will insist on sticking to its current plan of doing nothing to suggest the NDP might be of use to anybody based on the hope that it'll go away on its own.

To the extent the Libs are more concerned about their party brand than their ability to accomplish anything useful in public life, there's at least some argument to be made for that view. And I'd fully expect the Cons to take up that message at every available opportunity to the extent they don't want to give an inch on either policy or cabinet posts.

Of course, that list of non-negotiable items from the Cons hints at the options available to the NDP. But the Libs figure to be a relatively difficult party to win over in terms of policy.

Yes, some Lib MPs will genuinely want to see a progressive alternative replace the Harper Cons, and an NDP government would likely be willing to implement some of the Libs' core platform planks if that's the price of their support. But I'm not sure anybody thinks the Libs as a whole are so attached to any policies as to make those the deciding factor.

But that leaves the area where there's the most room for discussion.

After all, the Libs' late-campaign attack on the NDP has included an attempt to paint their own experience as a major selling point. And that leaves the door open for Jack Layton to say that while he fully intends to follow through on changing Ottawa, he'll be glad to see the Libs use their experience for the good of the country under a coalition government.

That may make for a rather compelling opportunity not just for Michael Ignatieff himself, but also for the Bob Raes, John McCallums and Carolyn Bennetts of the party who surely figured they'd be headed for senior cabinet posts rather than third-party status. And younger Lib members who haven't yet had a chance to serve as parliamentary secretaries might also see more of an opportunity than they'd ever receive as long as the Harper Cons are in power.

So if yesterday's EKOS results reflect where the campaign is going, I'd fully expect the battle among the Libs to be less an issue of red versus blue, and more a question of strategists versus MPs (to say nothing of a substantial part of the party's base). And considering what the strategists have accomplished in the last four election cycles, the Libs would be well advised to be skeptical that they should carry the day this time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Coming together

Sure, it's great enough news that EKOS' latest shows the NDP all alone in second place, and with the most potential for growth of any party in terms of second-choice support. (Which in turn fits with the other polls released today showing the NDP in at worst a dead heat for second place.)

But perhaps the most striking news is the lowest showing for the Cons in any poll I can recall seeing this election campaign. With Harper polling at only 33.7% and sinking, the NDP looks to be well within striking distance of first place with plenty of time left in the campaign. And that means that the sometimes-divergent goals of stopping a Harper majority, replacing the Cons outright, and voting on principle all figure to lead to the exact same end result as the campaign enters its home stretch.

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Murray Dobbin rightly notes that the main effect of the NDP's surge looks to be to bring our political system more in line with the values of Canadians:
If the NDP surge is real, it may represent the breaking of an historic contradiction in Canadian politics. One of the largely unspoken features of Canadian political culture is the gap between the majority's stated social and community values and their voting patterns. The CBC's fatally flawed Vote Compass notwithstanding (it's virtually impossible to get a result suggesting your values line up with the NDP), years of polling and focus groups suggest that if there was a direct line between voting and values, the NDP would win every election, hands down.

Even though the NDP is skittish when it comes to talking about tax increases (rightfully anticipating a firestorm of media attacks), the fact is Canadians say they would support tax increases if they could be assured the money would be spent on things they want. And the things they want are, of course, essentially the list of things the NDP has always run on: Medicare, affordable post-secondary education, generous social assistance, human rights, genuine EI, eliminating poverty. You know the list -- if you are part of the 70 per cent majority, it is your list, too.
- Meanwhile, Ian Capstick has some simple suggestions to make sure the NDP wave keeps rising until election day.

- I suppose it shouldn't come as much surprise that the closest anybody has come to criticizing the NDP's answers to questions on its platform is to suggest that it would somehow be better off pretending that it doesn't matter whether policy proposals are affordable. But Boris points out that the NDP's stance really amounts to nothing more than treating Canadian voters like responsible adults - which makes for a particularly nice contrast after the Cons' 2008 "never a recession! never a deficit" nonsense.

- Finally, David Climenhaga notes that the CBC ranks near the top of the list of Canadian institutions which figure to be on the chopping block - and that at least one Con backbencher who reliably sticks to the party line is making that explicit on the campaign trail.

On last gasps

I'll give the Libs this much: at the very least their latest attempt to counter the NDP's national surge might make a bit more sense than their previous one. But that's only true if one assumes that they see their numbers diving and the NDP's soaring as the campaign reaches its conclusion.

After all, as John Ibbitson notes, the latest ad doesn't make a lick of sense in trying to tie the NDP and Cons together in terms of policy. But that leaves one area where one might try to find a perceived uniformity of interest between the two. And the Libs are quite explicit about what they see as being the major similarity: both voted to bring down Paul Martin's Lib government in 2005.

Now, for anybody looking at the situation remotely reasonably that criticism doesn't figure to get very far. After all, it was thoroughly debunked from the beginning, and figures to be less and less relevant to most voters as Canada's political debate has moved in different directions since then.

But there's one group of voters which does figure to be motivated by an appeal to the Libs' continuing sense of entitlement to have held office at all times even since their 2006 election defeat. The ad will speak directly to the Libs' inner core, which may well have carried a grudge for over five years which can now give rise to some amount of additional motivation once it's activated through an election ad.

Here's the catch, though. While it works well on a purely tribal basis for stalwart Lib supporters, the ad also serves to exclude anybody who's so much as considered the possibility that the Libs shouldn't expect to be Canada's default government. And yet the Libs are using a broadcast medium which will put the ad in front of those voters in addition to the base they're seeking to reach.

Which looks to me like a signal that the Libs see a real possibility that a Layton wave will wipe them out across the country - and are thus pulling out all the stops to try to keep the top tier of party diehards in the fold, even at the expense of looking both insulting and incoherent to swing voters. And if the Libs are indeed in such dire straits that they need to advertise to reach their strongest supporters, then there figures to be a strong chance that the NDP can pull enough softer support away to present a serious challenge to Stephen Harper's stay in power.

Monday Morning Links

Content goes here.

- Brian Topp sums up the choices facing Canadian voters as the election campaign winds down to its final week:
Anything can happen in politics. But what we may be in for in the last week of this campaign is the unusual sight of three leaders – Mr. Harper, Mr. Ignatieff, and Mr. Duceppe – focused on attacking the NDP.

And the increasingly familiar sight of Jack Layton shrugging off these attacks, and offering Canadians something they are clearly looking for – some hope, some optimism, some unity, some relief from angry and divisive politics.

A choice between three angry, threatened men and a relaxed, smiling, positive national leader – in some ways, the only real national leader running in this election.

As I was saying a few weeks ago, this might just work out surprisingly well.
- James Laxer notes the absurdity of Stephen Harper trying to run on national unity even as he deliberately inflames regional tensions:
Now we’ve seen everything---Stephen Harper, who only a few years ago counseled Albertans to build “firewalls” around their province to protect it from Canada, has proclaimed himself the indispensable champion of national unity. Without him at the helm of a majority government, this one-time quasi-Alberta separatist would have us believe there will be no one to protect the country from a new round of sovereignist upheaval in Quebec.

In fact, I’d be surprised if Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois didn't regard a Harper majority government as one of the essential “winning conditions” for a sovereignty referendum should she succeed in becoming premier of Quebec in the next provincial election.
Nothing would fire up the engines of the aging Quebec sovereignists more than a Harper majority. They would make the case that Harper’s Canada is remote from Quebec and everything the Quebecois aspire to.
The truly hopeful development in Quebec during this election campaign has been the stunning rise in Jack Layton’s standing in the province.

For six federal election campaigns in a row, the Bloc Quebecois has been dominant in Quebec. Now the Quebecois are turning in huge numbers to the NDP, embracing a progressive federalist party that could give them a voice in governing the country. Layton’s breakthrough in Quebec has the potential to change the landscape of Canadian politics.
- Miss Vicky fact-checks Kathleen Petty's attempt to paint a national childcare program as unaffordable.

- And finally, Erin points out why the Cons' wanton tax slashing figures to do plenty of damage on the provincial level in addition to limiting the ability of the federal government to act:
Provincial income tax generally applies to income as defined by federal tax rules. Shifting income to a spouse in a lower tax bracket or into a TFSA reduces both federal and provincial revenues.

It would be constitutionally possible, but practically difficult, for provinces to disallow income splitting for provincial tax purposes or to tax investment gains realized inside TFSAs. Provincial governments would not be obliged to create provincial credits for fitness and arts spending eligible for the promised federal credits. However, provinces set a precedent of doing so with the children’s fitness credit.
The additional cost of doubling the (TFSA) threshold would be below $3 billion because fewer people could afford to contribute $10,000. However, the three Conservative promises could easily punch a $5-billion hole in the federal budget.

How much would they cost the provinces? Provincial income tax generates about two-thirds as much revenue as federal income tax.

Top marginal rates are especially important for income splitting and TFSAs, which disproportionately benefit high-income Canadians. Outside of Quebec, top provincial tax rates are about half of the top federal rate.

The upshot is that federal Conservative promises could easily reduce combined provincial tax revenues by between $2 billion and $3 billion per year.