Saturday, June 11, 2011

Exciting Crowdsourcing Opportunity!

With some people rightly wondering whether there's time to conduct a full and proper review of the Cons' budgetary plans before Parliament rises for the summer, now would figure to be an ideal time for some crowdsourcing work in digging through the Cons' plans. I'll be taking a look myself, but for those interested the main estimates (which weren't reviewed in detail after being introduced in March), supplementary estimates and departmental plans and priorities would all seem to be areas in need of some serious review.

[Edit: fixed links.]

You may not have noticed, but...

...the first vote on budgetary policy in Canada's new Parliament took place on Wednesday, with the parties taking their positions on the Libs' budget subamendment. And it may make for an interesting signal as to who's willing to work together in providing an alternative to the Cons that the NDP (along with Elizabeth May) voted in favour, while the Bloc (seemingly without explanation) voted against a motion speaking in favour of housing, health care and government services.

[Edit: Posted too soon.]

On shocking transformations

I suspect it'll be quite some time before we see an end to stories about how the NDP's Quebec breakthrough means that it'll have to radically change direction. But let's put the spin in perspective.

In their first opportunity to introduce bills as Official Opposition, NDP MPs have brought forward six - all of them reflecting bills introduced in previous Parliaments. And while the party has made announcements about other issues (e.g. bilingual Supreme Court justices), they've done nothing but continue policies promoted by the party before and during the election campaign.

That is, with one exception: there is indeed a high-profile action taken at the start of the NDP's isn't directly referred to in the NDP's platform or previous policy statements.

So who wants to be the first to dismiss the NDP's ban on heckling - and the resulting ability to deal with far more substantive issues in Parliament - as a Quebec-focused betrayal of the rest of Canada?

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Gerald Caplan has a modest suggestion to ensure the Senate doesn't do any more avoidable harm to Canada's democracy:
That we have no need for a second house of Parliament of any kind is the first proposition here; in today's world, no persuasive case for such a chamber, elected or appointed, can be made. There is no role for it that can’t be better played by others, whether the House of Commons or the provinces. If Canada was being created today, no one would think it needed two chambers, just as no Egyptian or Tunisian rebel has pleaded for a bicameral parliament.

What makes most sense in terms of both democratic theory and Canada's needs is to get rid of the damn place entirely before it scuppers more useful legislation. But abolition requires a constitutional amendment, which is also as likely as getting Tony Clement to show integrity. Still, the way forward is remarkably simple: Impose stringent term limits on sitting senators – I’m thinking Labour Day at the latest – and then just stop appointing new members. Before you could curse Mike Duffy, there’d be no more senators in the Senate.
- Andre Pratte may be right in theorizing as to why separatism is relatively popular among young Quebeckers:
Younger Quebecers are rarely exposed to passionate, intelligent arguments in favour of federalism and the Canadian experience. Most of what they hear from English Canada transmits, at best, indifference toward Quebec and the French language (witness the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Games). Having not lived through two referendums and endless constitutional debates, they don't understand English Canadians' hostility toward changes that would be advantageous to Quebec.

Meanwhile, separation is promoted by their professors, by the artists they admire and by brilliant politicians young and old. Two weeks from now, when tens of thousands of people attend the huge Fête Nationale shows in Montreal and Quebec City, they'll hear pop singers and rap groups yell “Vive le Québec Libre!” at the beginning or the end of their performance. At l'Université de Montréal, there is an annual “semaine de la souveraineté,” when students can listen to figures like Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry explain why separation would be in Quebec's economic and cultural interests. Needless to say, there is no “semaine du Canada.”

Nowadays, no one speaks to Quebecers, especially the younger generation, about Canada and the principles and values that are the foundation of the federation.
But it's far from clear that the imbalance can't be changed - particularly now that for the first time in over two decades, Quebec has elected a substantial number of MPs who actually have an interest in building links to the rest of the country rather than presenting or harping about a sovereigntist threat.

- Meanwhile, there's also an open question as to how the Harper Cons will handle Quebec. And at least some of the party's own members are rightly frustrated about a failure to engage with the province:
Of the approximately 2,400 delegates and observers in at-tendance, just 200 are from Quebec.

Among them is Peter White, a vocal riding association president in the riding of Brome-Missisquoi, who argues the party didn't invest the necessary resources in its Quebec candidates' campaigns in the May 2 general election and that many of them are upset.

"We didn't get much help from outside and we didn't get very good results, so naturally, we're disappointed," he said Friday.

"There wasn't much of a national campaign in Quebec."

For example, White said his rural riding didn't get its signs until a week after the writ dropped, and not a single high-profile party official stopped by during the fiveweek campaign.
- And similarly, Chantal Hebert notes that the Cons have reason to listen to Quebec as well if they hope to build a party capable of winning more than a single majority:
The excesses described in Thursday’s auditor general’s report on the G20 summit spending also suggest that the sense of entitlement that helped bring the Liberals to their knees is already running strong within the ranks of Harper’s government.

Finally, some Conservatives always feared that the price to pay for a majority would be a government beholden to Quebec. The tenor of the party’s recent victory put those fears to rest.

But if Quebecers do re-engage in federalist politics long-term, their absence from the Conservative table could become the party’s Achilles heel.

The early seeds of the deconstruction of the Liberal coalition were planted when the party gave up on Western Canada. Allowing Quebec to turn into a permanent black hole would be just as short-sighted on the part of the Conservatives.
Needless to say, the same lesson figures to apply to the NDP - and hopefully we'll see it making some inroads into the few areas where the party is still running third (notably Calgary and much of suburban Ontario).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Musical interlude

BT feat. Jes - Every Other Way (Armin Van Buuren Radio Edit)

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- When Paul Wells tears into a story, you can be assured of results that are both entertaining and frustrating. This week, he's been hard at work pointing the complete lack of transparency and credibility in cuts which the Cons have already booked in this year's budget - which should tell us all we need to know about how much credence we should give to their deficit reduction rhetoric.

- Though at least the Cons are equal-opportunity cover-up artists, having made sure that their G8 debacle was funded without any written documentation at all.

- Which leads us to Susan Riley's latest:
On one hand, the new majority government has been promising judicious trimming of the federal bureaucracy, eliminating “inefficiencies,” stale-dated programs, redundant art curators — that stubborn “fat” that seems impervious to each periodic purge.

On the other, it stands accused in Thursday’s understated auditor general’s report on G8/G20 spending of the most blatant pork-barrelling in recent memory — essentially, two ministers, without benefit of bureaucratic oversight, carving up nearly $50 million in taxpayer money to prettify the Muskoka-area riding of then-industry minister Tony Clement.

The flimsy justification: some bored foreign reporter might have wandered father afield than the tightly constrained summit sight in Huntsville and needed to use a public washroom 20 kilometres away, or shelter from the sun in a pretty parkland gazebo.
It was Baird, as infrastructure minister, who approved the 32 projects only tangentially tied to the summit, dipping into an unrelated border infrastructure fund to pay for them — without telling Parliament. Odd behaviour from the father of the accountability act, but this was a rush job, he explained. No time, apparently, for a paper trail (sometimes known as accountability.)

This will be disquieting news to thousands of scrupulous public servants who now have to sign forms in triplicate, produce three witnesses, submit to a drug test and wait several months to be reimbursed for a $20 cab ride.
- Finally, John Gormley's sad defence of Stephen Harper's flight to is to declare that Harper is the decider - so that one he decided to attend the game he was entitled to saddle the public with any cost involved in that choice. Your principled fiscal conservatives at work!

Worth discussing

One of the few times when the NDP has always been able to count on pundit attention in the past has been its policy conventions, when commentators often churn out an easy column or post by gleefully mocking some of the resolutions put forward for debate. So now that the resolutions for the Cons' convention this weekend are available, it might be tempting to return the favour. (And yes, there are some glaring examples of proposals which would make the Cons appear thoroughly reactionary and out of touch with Canadians.)

But instead, let's stick with the theme of more positive politics by pointing out some of the ideas being put forward by the Cons' rank and file that deserve more attention than they seem to have received at higher levels within the party.

On health care, a number of Ontario ridings are proposing an explicit emphasis on preventative care (A-042), while another proposal (A-043) would set up a national palliative care strategy. Of course, neither of the latter suggestions would seem to fit with the party's usual hands-off approach - but either or both could go a long way toward ensuring that health dollars lead to the greatest possible benefit.

On democratic reform, Regina-Qu'Appelle's riding association is proposing that all votes other than the budget and estimates be treated as free votes (B-004).

On the economic side, Edmonton-Leduc is proposing improved "secondary, post-secondary and job-related education" as part of a strategy to increase productivity (C-018), while a number of Ontario ridings are proposing a small business development strategy that acknowledges the risk that foreign competition can stifle growth. In addition, two resolutions (C-021 and C-022) suggest formalizing a policy on foreign takeovers, while two more seek to promote growth in the North, including one on tourism (C-027) and one on "physical, regulatory and military" development (C-028).

On energy, the Labrador riding association is proposing an explicit emphasis on hydroelectric development (C-032), which is currently omitted entirely from the Cons' list of energy priorities.

On Internet policy, the Durham riding association has proposed that network neutrality form part of a general effort to ensure that access is widely available (C-063).

And perhaps most remarkably, the Yukon riding association wants to formalize the following policy on the CBC (C-062):
v) We believe the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a duty to provide service to rural areas and the North, including maintaining AM Band Radio and television broadcast services.
Now, it remains to be seen whether any of these resolutions will even see the light of day at the convention, let alone be acted upon by Harper's central command. But at the very least, they surely serve as evidence of the value of listening to ideas developed by a party's grassroots - and if the Cons aren't prepared to work with their supporters who have put the ideas forward, the NDP and other opposition parties may have every reason to lead the way instead.

On incomplete reporting

Yes, it's a problem if the Cons are giving different answers about climate-change policy to different audiences. But I'm not sure how the difference between federal action making next to no difference and its making even less than that makes for a more significant story than the prospect that each set of numbers from the Cons excludes up to half of the emissions actually produced by the tar sands:
The department said its estimates on overall emissions from the oilsands were preliminary and subject to change based on ongoing work to assess and calculate the industry's carbon footprint.

An independent report released Wednesday by British Columbia researcher Michelle Mech also listed numerous sources of emissions in oilsands production that were not included in previous calculations and could double the estimate of its annual carbon footprint.
Of course, there's somewhat of a chicken-and-egg problem as long as the Harper Cons remain in power. After all, one can argue that it doesn't much matter what our future emissions path actually looks like as long as we're stuck with a government determined to do nothing to improve it, and willing to mislead Canadians in the process.

But from the standpoint of whether it's possible to trust the Cons' word on climate change, Mech's observations look at least as important as the differing federal reports. And based on the greater emission impacts involved, they're far more important in trying to develop a meaningful plan for a future Canadian government.

(For those interested, Mech's report (PDF) is well worth a read in summarizing numerous issues surrounding the development of the oil sands. And kudos to Mech for an important contribution to help shape the discussion about the oil sands over the next few years.)

Thursday, June 09, 2011

On destructive suggestions

Lest there be any doubt, one of the most important ways an opposition party can have influence in a majority Parliament is by choosing issues to highlight, thereby creating a perceived safe space for the governing party to act if it so chooses.

Which is to say that now might be a great time for the Libs to permanently dissociate themselves from Alf Apps - before Stephen Harper spots just the opening he'd need to elevate property interests to the status of constitutional rights.

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Chantal Hebert points out that the biggest difference resulting from the NDP's emergence as Canada's official opposition may have to do with gender rather than age:
A lot has been written and said about the youthfulness of the new Parliament but at first glance, it is the larger place that women are staking out in the House of Commons that strikes the eye.

The latter is a direct by-product of the advent of the NDP as official Opposition.

Layton’s caucus boasts more women than the past parliamentary average. At 40 per cent, the NDP is as close to parity as any federal party has ever come. The party also exhibits a greater willingness to walk the talk of gender equality.

In their previous incarnation as official Opposition, the Liberals did not lack for able women but ultimately the front line of the party was very much a boys club.

Under Michael Ignatieff, the high-profile portfolios of foreign affairs, health, finance and the environment were all held by male critics. Under the NDP, three of those roles — including finance — are now spoken for by women.
- The Bloc's decision to be seen as being onside with the Cons by supporting the budget wasn't surprising enough on its own. But the choice looks particularly odd when compared to the gratuitous obstruction the Bloc leveled at the NDP in scheduling around its convention. And it surely can't be a positive sign if the most substantial contribution the Bloc thinks it can make is to try to ratchet up the incivility level.

- While Greg's critique of Jean Chretien's conservatism is right on point, I'm not sure there's much reason to criticize Susan Delacourt's blog post - particularly when it includes this needed correction to several days worth of highly misleading headlines:
(T)here are some "values" I'd definitely associate more with Conservativism, especially Harper's brand. One of those is a greater emphasis on patriotism and the military. Another would be a belief that the private sector has better ideas than government. In those terms, Canadians' support for those values is actually waning, the poll shows. So how is it possible to say that this brand of conservatism is on the rise?
In other words, the Manning spin about a country moving to the right isn't just unfounded based on a single data point, it's outright false based on past polling. Which goes a long way toward explaining why the Cons are so afraid to defend the bulk of their policies.

- Finally, Alex Balingall comments on the value of humour in getting citizens engaged in politics:
“This generation has a lot of skepticism,” says Boler. “They have a very different political world and a different sort of political sensibility.” That could be why garnered more than four million page views in its first three days, the vast majority of which, says Devlin, came from people under 35. Journalism students at New York University also recently went for laughs by producing a music video for My Water’s On Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song), which aims to bring attention to the practice of creating fissures deep underground to loosen up fossil fuels for extraction. The song has a funky, hip-hop feel and includes lines such as, “Frack baby frack till the break of dawn.” So far, the video has been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube. “In all the elections past, we’ve never really had anything aimed specifically at our generation,” says Lisa Lagace, a 25-year-old editorial and marketing assistant. “It’s just been the same old thing: a bunch of old guys talking.”

Boler says this disaffection is fed by a “crisis of faith in truth,” something she sees as an American cultural import. “There’s hardly anyone any longer who has an idealized notion that those in power—or those with economic power—have our best interests at heart,” she says. “The public has lost trust in government, in politicians, in media, in people running Wall Street.” And, she adds, “this generation is growing up in a very grim world,” where laughs are appreciated as a way of tempering the bleakness. Boler also argues that political satire can create an avenue for political engagement—even if that doesn’t always mean turning out to vote. Her proof: the 400,000 who came out for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, led by American satirists Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart last fall.

And while both Devlin and Boler say political satire is on the rise, they also see it as a revival of something “almost ancient.” Comedians have traditionally used satire to express dissent and hold leaders accountable.

New column day

Here, on how Saskatchewan has avoided the usage-based billing dispute that's caused so many problems elsewhere in Canada - and how strong and creative Crowns are an essential part of that advantage.

See Christopher Walsh for a rough summary of the changes which have seen Shaw become the first major national provider to offer what we've enjoyed for ages. And for more on usage-based billing, see among others David Beers, Tim Wu, and of course Michael Geist, passim.

Just wondering...

...but can anybody else remember a case of proportional representation being used as a boogeyman outside of an actual electoral reform referendum?

I ask only because Peter MacKay's plea to keep the Cons' party constitution as is seems to go way over the top in assuming that party supporters will consider it a disastrous possibility to be opposed at all costs:
Equality of Ridings is also our best argument against our political opponents' push for Proportional Representation. Elizabeth May and Jack Layton are already calling for proportional representation in our electoral system.

Conservatives must stand together and oppose the proportional representation system being proposed as a "compromise". If we adopt this system in our party constitution how can we legitimately oppose it as a government?
And I'm not entirely sure we shouldn't be picking up on MacKay's argument, if only to use the Cons' amendment vote as a springboard toward exactly the PR discussion that MacKay seems to fear.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

On regional effects

The NDP's provincial surges in Canada's Atlantic provinces has received some attention already. But it's particularly worth noting how the provincial numbers figure to relate to the recent federal election results.

On the one hand, it does seem that the federal campaign managed to catch the attention some voters who otherwise weren't considering the NDP as a possibility - with at least some of those voters now expressing their support.

But perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that the NDP's provincial results in each province other than Nova Scotia still have a ways to go to catch up to the party's federal vote share. And if a higher profile nationally can make those numbers converge, then it looks entirely possible that the NDP could emerge as the leading challenger for government throughout a region that's historically been almost entirely barren territory.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your midweek reading.

- The Star skewers the Cons' insistence on pushing ahead with bad budget choices:
As the Star argued during the election, Canada needs progressive economic vision in the form of strategic investments in scientific research and innovation, health care, a national child-care plan and improving the Canada Pension Plan for younger workers and the elderly poor. Measured by these needs, this budget, like its predecessor, is a bust.

Moreover, it remains packed with dubious spending, including an unwarranted $6 billion corporate tax cut and a smattering of other giveaways. And the Conservatives’ profligacy won’t end there. They are on an imprudent course to spend untold billions on F-35 fighter aircraft and prison-building, as other priorities go unmet.

Apart from its fundamentally skewed agenda, the budget is built on an unstable platform of rosy optimism that may not survive the gathering economic storm. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty readily acknowledges that “the global economic recovery remains fragile.” Even so, he says he can eliminate the $32 billion deficit by 2014/15 by trimming spending by 5 per cent. Yet Ottawa’s anticipated revenue growth could be dragged down by a variety of factors: the weak American economy, $100 a barrel oil, Europe’s debt woes, slowing growth in China and India, or Japan’s tsunami fallout. Anything less than an optimal outcome could force Ottawa to cut more deeply than the $4 billion a year it has earmarked to balance the books.
- And Thomas Walkom also notes the problems with Harpernomics:
When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled his budget this week, he used precisely these kinds of calming words.

Sure, we’ll be doing a bit of cutting here and there, he said. But don’t sweat it. We’re only talking about trimming up to $4 billion a year from $80 billion worth of direct program spending. That’s just 5 per cent. Chill out.

Yet the reality of his plan is quite different.

First, he’s not planning to cut just $4 billion. He’s planning to cut up to $4 billion every year for four years. As his budget document points out, the cumulative total of these as-yet-unspecified cuts is $11 billion.

But that’s on top of the cuts that the government announced in past budgets but that have not yet kicked in. The cumulative total of these, according to Flaherty’s own figures, is at least $9.7 billion.

Add the two together and you get more than $20 billion in planned cutbacks between now and 2015. That’s not 5 per cent of federal direct program spending. It’s closer to 25 per cent.

Which is radical surgery.

So what gives?

The most obvious explanation is that the government is being dishonest.
Harper and his finance minister are taking a gamble. Taking a leaf from the Jean Chrétien Liberals, the Conservatives are using the deficit as an excuse to continue dismantling the parts of government they’ve already signalled they don’t like — such as health and safety regulation, veterans’ disability pensions and job training.

This would move Canada in the direction Harper wants it to go. But I suspect the Prime Minister knows his cuts could also threaten jobs and income should the world economy take another turn for the worse.

In that sense, the government’s careful rhetoric is more appropriate than its actions. This is a time for caution. It’s not a time for massive spending cuts, no matter how ideologically attractive the right might find them.
- No, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the Bush administration saw Stephen Harper's Con government as a useful tool from day one. But it's striking how both the U.S. and the Cons seem to have overestimated the value of the softwood lumber debacle in giving Harper room to sell out Canada's interests further:
“That said, I see a real opportunity for us to advance our agenda with the new government,” Mr. Wilkins wrote. “I recommend early on that we look for an opportunity to give Harper a bilateral success story by resolving an irritant such as the Devil's Lake filter system or entering into good faith negotiations to reach a solution on softwood lumber. Press reports here indicate a growing willingness across Canada to get back to the table. Early success on a bilateral issue will bolster Harper and allow him to take a more pro-American position publicly without as much political risk.”

Less than four months later, Canada and the US reached an agreement on softwood lumber, with the Americans returning 80 per cent of the $5.3 billion in duties it had collected on lumber imports over the years.

However, if the deal was supposed to give the Conservative government an accomplishment to show the public it could stand up for the country and defend Canada’s interests in dealing with the US, it badly backfired.

A large number of softwood lumber industry groups, the BC government and the federal Liberals and NDP strongly opposed the agreement, declaring that the Harper government had in fact sold out to the Americans. The Conservatives retaliated by describing it as the best agreement possible and made the deal a confidence motion.
- Paul Krugman sums up how fiscal policy designed for the benefit of current creditors ends up harming the general public. [Update: And then highlights exactly who stands to gain as a result.]

- Finally, Nik Nanos' advice to the NDP may not be particularly surprising, but it nicely summarizes the message the party will need to develop:
“What’s always risky for a party is when it does things that seem to be inauthentic,” Mr. Nanos said. “Your guys and gals are going, ‘Hey what’s this all about now,’ now that we’re in the opposition people will expect certain things from the New Democrats.”

Mr. Nanos added: “I would say that the best way for the New Democrats to try to consolidate second spot is to deliver what people would expect from New Democrats, which is a socially progressive agenda that’s very compassionate, fighting for the little guy and gal.”

On accountability

Aaron Wherry picks up on a new theme in the Cons' rhetoric on health care. But since it seems to be drastically out of step with their actions since taking office, let's ask the question: how can any province be seen as "accountable" for its actions when it faces no enforcement of the rules linked to federal funding?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats and plastic.

Moved to action

It remains to be seen how far the NDP will get in pushing for all parties to engage in meaningful discussion about policy. But if you're wondering whether there's already evidence of progress in the first days of the new session of Parliament, look no further than the Libs' budget subamendment.

By way of comparison, the Libs' budget amendment strategy since the 2008 election had ranged from not even bothering to present one, to procedural nit-picking which left the Cons' policy direction untouched, to serving up content-free disapproval which they weren't even willing to back up with votes.

Now, the Libs actually seem to have put some effort into finding policy areas not covered by either the Cons' budget or the NDP's main amendment, and taking the opportunity to bring them up for debate. (And there's little reason for the NDP to disagree with the amendment the Libs put forward - just as the Libs figure to have every reason to back the NDP's more general amendment.)

On recruitment tactics

So that's the Cons' long-term economic action plan...
A Conservative MP recently nominated by the federal government to sit on a secretive Canada-U.S. committee on continental defence told U.S. officials he was hoping a downturn in the economy would lead to increased recruitment for the Canadian army, according to a “confidential” U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks to APTN National News.

Edmonton Centre Conservative MP Laurie Hawn said he saw “hope” that the rising numbers of unemployed would lead to an increased in army recruits, according to the diplomatic cable from March 12, 2009.
“He expressed the hope that rising unemployment rates at home on one hand, and the welcome new deployment of U.S. troops in Kandahar on the other, would help the Canadian Forces to recruit and retain troops, at least in 2009 and 2010,” the cable said, which was based on a March 4, 2009 conversation.
Needless to say, many of the Cons' economic choices make a lot more sense if their goal is to drive unemployed Canadians into the military. But it still leaves a few open questions about their other priorities: after all, what happens when potential military recruits instead find plenty of jobs waiting in the Cons' new prisons?

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- With health care once again receiving plenty of attention on the U.S. political scene thanks to the Republicans' plan to dismantle publicly-funded Medicare, the differences between Canada and the U.S. are once again serving as a major point of discussion. And Aaron Carroll has posted a neat defence of Canada's universal system from the standpoint of patients and health practictioners alike.

- Megan Leslie highlights the Cons' continued failure to do anything meaningful on the climate change front - which looks all the more glaring when even oilsands operators are crying out for a clear and predictable system rather than another half a decade of delays and uncertainty.

- For all the talk about opposition parties' votes now being irrelevant in Parliament, it's noteworthy that the Bloc is planning to vote for the Cons' budget - even after the party had declared earlier this year that the HST money for Quebec which reflects the main change from the budget rejected in March wouldn't necessarily be enough to earn its support.

That would figure to mean the Bloc sees so little prospect of achieving much in the years to come that it has no choice but to paint the HST money as its main accomplishment for the next little while. Which may be an entirely reasonable conclusion - but seems to suggest that a Bloc resurgence is a long ways away.

- Shorter Murray Mandryk, serving up as embarrassing a sop to Brad Wall as one could imagine this side of John Gormley:
(insert Saskatchewan Party advertisement here)
- Finally, Rob Rainer nicely counters the perennial anti-tax spin from the Fraser Institute (which the Cons are working feverishly to promote) with a suggested Tax Benefits Day:
(H)appy Tax Benefits Day 2011! A day to remind ourselves that, far from being “bad” – as even Prime Minister Harper is on record as believing – taxes and our willingness to pay them make possible our democratic institutions and the many public goods and services that Canadians value.
(O)f all the recommendations of McQuaig and Brooks, the most important may be to “strive to bring about a change in social attitudes toward taxation and its essential role in a democracy.” Hence the inauguration of Tax Benefits Day – to fall on the day immediately after the Fraser Institute’s Tax Freedom Day, to counter the misguided view that taxes are bad.

One of these things is not like the others

One of these things just doesn't belong. See if you can spot the difference in the following single-election results - and consider what it might mean for each party's future strategy...

Vote Share Seats Provinces w Seats Provinces under 20% High Prov% Low Prov% Rebates
30.6% 103 8 2 42.9% 15.4% 306
25.5% 66 5 5 58.9% 3.9% 182
30.2% 103 9 1 52.5% 15.3% 283
29.6% 99 8 1 61.7% 8.8% 251

For those wondering, the parties who posted those totals are respectively the NDP in 2011, the Canadian Alliance in 2000, the Libs in 2006, and the Cons in 2004. And of course, each party served as the official opposition following the listed general election.

So let's ask the rhetorical question: is there an obvious reason why one of those parties might have had both a glaring need to pursue a merger, and an obvious opportunity in doing so?

And conversely, is there an equally obvious reason why the other three might see fit to work from an existing national base, rather than pursuing wrenching structural changes?

Monday, June 06, 2011

On flattering comparisons

Yes, it'll take time to break the habits that have formed over the past few years - and it may well be that the Harper Cons will continue to stonewall and distort no matter what they face from the Official Opposition. But if this turns into a consistent theme to Question Period coverage in the Parliament to come - comparing the NDP's substantive questions and civil tone to the Cons' lack of willingness to engage in reasonable discussion - doesn't that offer about the best possible chance to push for change for the better?

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Brian Topp's initial observations on the new sitting of Parliament include this note on the Libs' interim leader:
(A)s a footnote, Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae was also interesting in these exchanges. He too noted the small sum being invested in alleviating seniors’ poverty, and asked: “Why would there not be more, as has been proposed by the opposition parties?” As his first words of substance in the new House, this was not without interest. It spoke to some of the common themes on the broader opposition bench that led the parties there, only a few short years ago, to think seriously about building and supporting a progressive government together.
Of course, we shouldn't presume that Rae's every signal of agreement with the NDP means that he wants to pursue a merger. But it's well worth keeping an eye on whether the Libs want to be part of a united front to push policies that the Cons would sooner ignore - and it's surely for the best if they keep moving in that direction.

- Can there possibly be a more sure sign that the Cons' bloated cabinet is purely a matter of patronage rather than need or merit than the fact that the group is too unwieldy to actually make decisions?

- It's well and good that Pat Davidson recognizes the problems with the Cons' continued funding off (and shilling for) the asbestos industry. But wouldn't her efforts figure to be far better directed at working with MPs from other parties who agree, rather than shouting into internal channels where they're easily ignored?

- Finally, Peter Chernoff spots the trend in Saskatchewan politics which voters will need to break this fall:
Years ago, we elected as premier Ross "The Boss" Thatcher. The media raved about his first term, so we elected him to a second. The result, you recall, was utter disaster! He was thrown out in the next election; things were fixed up and turned around eventually.

Then we elected Grant Devine. Again, the media raved about how well things were going during his first term. We forgot our history and elected him to a second.

Total and complete disaster - we are still paying off that one. In fact, we had to jail some MLAs!

Now, we are being told that our economy will be fantastic forever if we just vote right-wing again. Forget history!

On responsibility

Shorter Con instructions to ministers:

If your underlings break the law based on your instructions, it's their own damn fault for taking orders. So go nuts!

Burning questions

Since when does a faction of the Cons get to declare that Denise Savoie should stand down as a candidate for speaker for their own benefit?

And if Lee Richardson and his supporters were genuinely concerned about Andrew Scheer's inexperience (rather than merely wanting to make a power grab at the NDP's expense), wouldn't they logically have voted for Savoie themselves on the final ballot?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

On dominance

Meanwhile, the obvious potential for growth in NDP support figures to have some rather important effects on the Cons' strategy as well. After all, their current coalition of support left them little room for error even with a split opposition - and if the NDP can win over the Lib votes that figure to be most readily available (resulting in something approaching an equal 40%/40% split), then there's little reason to think the Cons' longtime goal of demolishing the Libs' brand will actually position them as a default governing party.

On fading reasons

There's plenty to catch up on in Canadian politics from the past week, and I'll try to cover the biggest news over the next couple of days. But let's start with one polling tidbit that looks even more important than the NDP's improving support totals:
Respondents were asked which party they voted for in the May 2 federal election, and those who voted were asked their main reasons for their party choice (on an unprompted question which allowed any response). A majority of Conservative voters (54%) say they liked the party’s performance in government or the party’s philosophy or promises, followed by the party leader (Mr. Harper, 12%) and liking their local candidate (10%). Similarly, Bloc Quebecois voters also focus on that party’s philosophy (66%) as the main reason for their support.

Reasons for supporting the other two parties show a rather different profile. New Democrat voters are divided in their reasons between liking that party’s philosophy (34%) and a desire for change (28%). Given the considerable media attention paid to the importance of Mr. Layton, fewer New Democrat voters than expected (10%) mention him as their reason to vote for the party. Liberal voters emphasize stopping the Conservatives (33%) and this party’s philosophy or promises (27%) as their main reasons, with a significant number mentioning their local candidate (20%).
Comparing the three numbers, one gets a sense as to just how fragile the Libs' continued support figures to be (which also seems to be confirmed by later polls). The leading reason for Lib votes is one which might foreseeably evaporate completely if the NDP is able to make itself the leading voice opposing Harper in the lead up to the next federal election campaign. And another chunk of the Libs' support - adding up with the "stop Harper" factor to total more than half of the already-reduced vote share for the party - is based on local candidates rather than anything to do with the national party, presumably signalling votes which might also switch easily if the NDP can parlay its increased strength into higher-profile candidates.

(Granted, the Libs also benefited from another factor not mentioned in the commentary: "longtime party supporter", which accounted for 9% of Lib support compared to 3% for the other national parties. But I doubt that number offers much solace.)

In contrast, the NDP's most important factors are ones which only figure to be strengthened as the party both raises the profile of its own policy priorities, and makes the case for change in the next election. Which means that there's plenty of reason for optimism that 2015 will see the strongest possible anti-Harper coalition uniting in the NDP's camp.