Sunday, December 04, 2005

a smattering of notes

Been a bit busy lately, so the posts have been sparse. My last couple entries seemed a bit ... erm ... cranky.

- Layton's tariffs -

Layton proposed slapping export tariffs on energy exports to the United States until the US buckles on the softwood lumber dispute. This would cost him seats in Alberta, if he had any there to lose.

Some support in Saskatchewan will likely scurry away as a result of the announcement, but he should be able to pick up more support in critical British Columbia where this message will be better received.

Now there is just that whole tricky issue of whether or not the idea actually has any merit ...

... but promising to apply sanctions to Florida orange juice just doesn't have the same kind of "getting tough" oomph.

- Green debates -

The election funding rules were changed by the governing Liberals on January 1st, 2004. Any political party receiving in excess of 2% of the vote nationally is now receiving public funding. It is worth considering that it may be problematic to consider a party significant enough to fund with taxpayer dollars, but not significant enough that they should be allowed to present their message to those same taxpayers.

Ultimately, however, it is up to the networks. And it seems that they've made their decision, and the Green Party will not be involved this year.

The debate format has also been changed. There will be four debates, two in english and two in french. Each debate will consist of four questions, and each leader given an opportunity to answer.

Thankfully, this time around, the microphones of those candidates not answering a given question will be shut off, forcing each to speak in turn. That alone should make the events more watchable than the 2004 all-at-once bicker-fest.

- conservative campaign -

Outdated turtleneck look aside, overall the Conservative Party is running a much smoother campaign this time around. A single, clear policy announcement each day. Setting the message and story. A bit of a slip-up with the bungling of the "Do you love Canada?" question, perhaps, but otherwise a solid effort (sure you can argue that it was a dumb question or a planted question. Whatever it was, it was a softball with an obvious answer.)

Has Stephen Harper taken to dyeing his hair?

There has been some speculation that the announcements are coming out sooner than the CPC had planned to make them, perhaps to "change the channel" (to use a Solbergism) from the SSM story of the first day. But whether it was the initial strategy, or simply a way of rolling with the punches, it is coming off well.

The question now is whether that momentum is sustainable to the end of the campaign, with the policies being revealed in these early days.

Speaking of the Same Sex Marriage story of the first day, I wrote at the time:
"it seems [Harper]'s gone a step further and is willfully firing those bullets into his own head."
That sentiment was humourously illustrated in this morning's edition of The Ottawa Citizen. A blank looking Harper fires a bullet labeled "Same Sex Issue" clear through his head from his "Election Starter Pistol". I'll link to it once/if it becomes available online.

- hazards of the political beat -

In the confusion of excited supporters, reporters rushing off to file their stories and Conservative staffers scurrying to lend a hand, Kitchener-Waterloo Record reporter Philip Jalsevac, reliably described as a middle-aged and unassuming man, "lunged" -- as one Tory described it -- at Mr. Harper with his tape recorder. Like Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard, a burly officer manhandled Mr. Jalsevac into submission. It took just a few moments for Mr. Harper's communications team to recognize the error, and Mr. Jalsevac was ushered into a private room for his scheduled interview with the campaigning Conservative chief.
Whoops!
National Post story here

- public vs private -

Jack Layton was asked yesterday by a Vancouver radio talk show host whether he and his wife, Olivia Chow, would use a private clinic should Chow, say, require a hip replacement.

Hmm. Keeping in mind that Olivia Chow used exclusively the public system in her battle with cancer, I'm thinking that this one answers itself.

The issue of private clinics is on people's minds in BC, as the first private clinic in the province recently opened. Doctors and specialists will see you for $1,200 up front, and $2,300 yearly thereafter.

- another blog -

Martin speechwriter Scott Feschuk has a pretty funny blog that he is writing while on the campaign trail. You can check it out here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Surprise over Hargrove comments ... surprising

The pundits and anchors on the television news channels are expressing their absolute surprise over Canadian Auto Workers union president Buzz Hargrove today.

Hargrove introduced Paul Martin at a CAW meeting, speaking with high praise for Martin's record in government. Though an NDP member, and traditionally seen as a strong ally of the NDP, Hargrove suggested that a minority Liberal government should be returned to power (though it is being played up as though Hargrove endorsed the Liberals wholesale).

The mouths of the talking heads fell agape. Much speculation and expressions of amazement ensued on CTV and CBC's election coverage.

But really, it shouldn't be so shocking.

To a certain extent, Hargrove has always been to the NDP what Ralph Klein is to the Conservative Party. He can usually be counted on to make a statement that is embarrassing to or critical of the party, and to do so at precisely the wrong time.

More importantly still, is that Hargrove's primary obligations are to the union members that he represents. With GM closing its Oshawa plant by 2008 and the announced Ford closings, he needs to push forward for legislative protection of the pensions for those workers who will be affected. Presently, such protection does not exist.

For this reason, the particular timing of this election must have him frustrated. He has been grumbling about the fact that he felt an election should not be triggered for some time now, and has been sharply critical towards Jack Layton for co-operating with the other opposition parties to bring the government down for weeks.

On November 7th, there were reports such as this:
One of the NDP'’s biggest backers, automotive union president Buzz Hargrove, cautioned Layton against bringing down the Liberals, saying the House of Commons still has lots of work to do and an election likely would result in another minority government.

"“I don'’t think bringing down the government makes any sense,"” the Canadian Auto Workers Union president told the Globe and Mail. "“We should try to make the government work . . . there'’s just too much to be done to force an election."”
He repeated a similar message as a guest on Don Newman's show Politics around the same time.

A Conservative government or a Liberal majority would make it much more difficult to get the protective legislation he is seeking passed. He has been open about this.

The perplexed commentators can kindly close their open mouths now, thank you.

[update 5:25pm] Hargrove was just on Mike Duffy Live, and made his position clear. Indeed, he suggested that he was concerned about securing pensions, and that he primarily supports the NDP. He wants to see a Liberal minority, and is thus suggesting to CAW members that they vote NDP in those ridings where the NDP candidate has a reasonable chance of winning, but is suggesting that they vote Liberal in those ridings where it is clearly a race between the Liberals and the Conservatives with the NDP as a distant third.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Harper self-destructs. Voluntarily.

It is November 29th. Parliament dissolved this morning, and campaigning has officially begun. I have said before that sometimes it seems as though Harper has never seen a bullet he didn't want to jump in front of.

Even the stray ones.

Now, it seems, he's gone a step further and is willfully firing those bullets into his own head.

Harper volunteered this little gem this afternoon - that he would introduce a "traditional marriage bill" should his party win the January 23rd election.

Damn it, the man just can't help himself. Never mind that such a bill has no chance of being effective in any way. He still can't stop himself from saying it.

He seems to still not recognize that 'civil unions' are outside of Federal jurisdiction. So nice of him, though, to commit to honouring the 3,000 same-sex marriages already existing.

I said in an earlier post that the CPC wasn't about to make a campaign issue out of this. It seems that whatever his handlers may tell him (or should be telling him), Harper ain't listening.

Who, exactly, is he playing to? He already has Alberta locked up.

Political instincts of a ... gawd, I don't know. Political instincts of a something-that-has-no-political-instincts. How's that?

Unbelievable. This issue isn't even alive, anymore.

Wasn't. Wasn't alive anymore.

Ok. I get that this is a concern for much of his base. Maybe he wants to get it out there early, since it is going to be coming out (pun!) eventually, anyways. Brison or the party faithful would guarantee it.

Maybe volunteering it after the cameras were already off was the way to handle it, politically.

Still, I'm stunned.

Sure, some CPC candidate somewhere was going to say something ridiculous about SSM. It was bound to happen.

But Harper decides that he wants to be that someone?

Today?

Bye bye whatever slim chance the CPC might have had.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Layton vs. Dosanjh

I haven't seen this reported anywhere, so thought I'd make a note of it.

A war of words between NDP leader Jack Layton and Health Minister Ujjal Donsajh.

Nov. 07: Layton's original letter to Dosanjh

Nov. 25: Donsajh to Layton
Nov. 25: Layton responds

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

liberals, conservatives, tax cuts, *sigh*

The chronic meta-commentary of the blogging world sort of gives me the creeps. That is not so much a criticism as a confession.

But I'm posting this here because the site referenced doesn't seem to allow comments, and hey, sometimes if you don't vent, you're liable to blow a valve. That's likely why most of us are here in the first place.

Trodwell over at RightThinkingPeople lends credence to a Toronto Sun article lamenting the lack of media criticism over the Liberal Party's proposed tax cuts, when tax cuts by the Conservative's usually draw fire.

Now, I'm no Liberal Party apologist. I enjoy seeing them taking a good ribbing as much as the next guy. But it is the fiscal circumstances surrounding such measures that make the difference.

Nobody hates tax cuts when they think that the social expenditures to which they are committed, or for which they are concerned, are being covered. Seeing as the Liberals are practically pissing money at the moment, the notion that anything important need go underfunded is far from anybodies mind. (That important things do go underfunded when they needn't, does in fact get criticized).

The realm or justification for potential concern isn't just remote. It is remote in the remotest way that things can ever possibly be remote. It's not just Pluto -- it is planets yet to be discovered in galaxies far, far away.

Every working person approves of tax cuts when they are assured that their priority concerns are being met.

Would Goldstein (or, by extension, Trodwell) care to revisit the social, political or fiscal climates under which such oh-so-woefully criticized Conservative tax cuts were put forward?

The New Democrats are proposing tax cuts under this federal economic environment, for [insert preferred vulgarity or religious verbiage here]'s sake.

From the closing remarks of the article:
Anyway, I'm still searching for liberal outrage over tax cuts
Keep searching. And in your contextual blindness, try not to knock over the lamp.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Need an excuse to ignore polls? Here's one.

(I started writing a piece early on this morning when the papers came out about today's competing polls. My attempts at a side by side comparison were thwarted, however, because I can not get Blogger to act sanely with tables. Here's what I had saved as a draft:)

There are plenty of reasons. Even when polls are accurate, what they are measuring is fleeting. The wording of the questions often shapes the results. The numbers themselves are worth little without the proper context and analysis.

I follow them anyways. I like to have a general sense of where opinion is, and how it has shifted.

But here's a doozy:

The National Post today has a poll (Ipsos-Reid) it claims as a "tight" race.
The Toronto Star today has a poll (EKOS Research) showing the Liberals with majority government levels of support.

Both polls were conducted over the same time period (November 22 - November 24).

Here is how they compare --

Polling data comparison
partyIpsos-ReidEKOS
LPC34% (-3%)38% (+5.7%)
CPC30% (n/c)29% (+1.5%)
NDP16% (n/c)16% (-4%)
BQ15% (+3%)10%
sample size1,000802
margin of error3.1%3.5%


Ultimately EKOS and Ipsos-Reid numbers are different, but not dramatically so. If you take the margin of errors into account, they aren't so far off. What is more interesting is how the newspapers spin the numbers, and how the polls seem to so nicely fit into the overall philosophy of the organizations who commissioned them.

You find what you are looking for, I suppose.

Anyways, I obsess over polls a bit. I reserve my right to do so. But I pretend to myself that I follow them because I am concerned about how people are reacting to what happened yesterday, rather than as prophetic insights into what might happen tomorrow. Yesterdays are important. We learn from yesterdays.

Hopefully.

Something about Ipsos-Reid's BC numbers seem off to me (Liberals down 18% and Conservatives up 14%?). I'm not sure I like the EKOS sample size, so much, either, and the Bloc seems quite unbelievably low at 10%.

But the results aren't as far apart from each other as the headlines suggest. Other than divergent trends of a few percentage points among the LPC and BQ, they are practically identical.

One thing both do seem to show is that the Liberal support that bled off to the NDP has gone back to the Liberals and the Conservatives are - again! - stagnant.

Hmm. You know what? Your time is valuable, and the speculation isn't worth it. My suggestion for today is: read Mallick's latest column. It's a good read.

Bono on Martin

You just knew that Bono wasn't going to come to Ottawa without taking the opportunity to take a shot or two at his old buddy Paul Martin.

The U2 frontman, of course, is upset with Martin for not living up to his promise to increase foreign aid spending. Bono wants Canada to commit 0.7% of the country's GDP towards eliminating poverty internationally.

The best part, though? Bono was literally wearing rose-coloured (sun)glasses at the press conference in which he remarked - "I'm personally not just disappointed, I'm crushed, actually, because I really believed the Prime Minister would do that."

That belief was optimistic, certainly. But a bit naive, given the circumstances.

In the late 1980's, there was a commitment to eliminate (hey, we'd settle for reduce at this point) child poverty in Canada by 2000. And where are we, nearly six years since that target date has passed?

  • One in six Canadian children is poor
  • Canada's child poverty rate of 15% is three times as high as the rates of Sweden, Norway or Finland.
  • Every month, 770,000 people in Canada use food banks. Forty percent of those relying food banks are children.
(from the National Anti-Poverty Association)


It clearly isn't only internationally that our efforts against poverty are lagging.

Oh, and that commitment to raise foreign aid spending to 0.7% of GDP? It was the unanimous will of the House of Commons, based on the UN recommendation of Lester B. Pearson, back in 1969. (Incidentally, Pearson's Liberal minority government - propped up by the New Democratic Party - introduced universal health care, student loans, bilingualism, the Canada Pension Plan, and Canada's flag. Where oh where has the Liberal Party gone?)

While we are far from the only country to fall short of the 0.7% target, our foreign aid has routinely dropped over the years, to almost half of what it once was. This is certainly not an encouraging signal that we ever intend to honour our pledge. If we don't mean it, can we please at least stop pretending that we do?

Story links: here, here & here

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Liberals threaten legal action over Conservative remarks

About two minutes ago, Mike Duffy got a message on his blackberry from a Liberal Party insider who suggested the Liberals are reviewing transcripts and considering legal action against certain members of the Conservative Party.

The complaint stems from mentions in the House of Commons and in scrums afterward, in which the opposition suggested that the Liberals had "broken every conceivable law in Quebec" and had done so with the "help of organized crime".

Statements by CPC Deputy Leader Peter MacKay, BC MP John Reynolds, and others are currently being reviewed.

My understanding is that statements made within the House of Commons or Senate are immune from legal attack, even if they would otherwise be found to be slanderous or libelous. Technically, however, I suppose that this doesn't apply to statements made in the foyer, leaving MacKay and Reynolds vulnerable should the Liberals actually try to pursue this.

It has been an interesting day, but I'm pretty bogged down with work so I'll have to refrain from commenting on the other events for now.