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Thursday Morning Links

12 hours 15 min ago
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Following up on this post, it was Terry Glavin who broke the story about refugee children dying after being refused admission into Canada. And the Guardian recognizes that the tragic image of Aylin Kurdi represents only a reminder of a a long-running human tragedy.

- Which is why Canada's treatment of newcomers was already emerging as a significant issue - with Harsha Walia rightly slamming the Cons' policy of jailing refugees and favouring temporary immigration. And Jason Kenney's response was to offer spin which was readily debunked by his government's own numbers.

- Zi-Ann Lum reports on another international embarrassment for Canada, as Barack Obama and John Kerry are calling out the Cons for refusing to take climate change seriously.

- Jeremy Nuttall examines how a recession and continued economic stagnation will affect different segments of Canadian society. And Trish Hennessy offers ten reasons why nobody should be taking Stephen Harper's economic advice, while Andrew Jackson makes the case for more investment as the best way to move us back toward real development.

- Finally, Frances Russell repurposes the Cons' "Stand Up for Canada" slogan as a compelling reason to vote Harper and company out of office.

New column day

12 hours 33 min ago
Here, condensing this post about the lessons the federal NDP can and should learn from past provincial elections.

For further reading...
- Michelle Gagnon notes that one area where matters don't seem to be in doubt is Quebec, where the NDP looks set to hold or even build on its 2011 wave. And with the NDP's numbers looking strong in B.C. as well, that leaves Ontario as the largest piece of the puzzle which remains in substantial doubt.
- Susan Delacourt comments on the ghosts looming over each of the federal parties. 
- Finally, John Ivison writes about the contest between the NDP and the Liberals for the large number of voters who have had enough of the Harper Cons, while Robin Sears discusses the Libs' rebranding and how it affects all of the parties' strategies.

Juxtaposition II: Humanitarian Boogaloo

14 hours 3 min ago
From one stunt...
The news of McCain's suspension drew gales of derision from the press. No one was willing to give him the slightest benefit of the doubt...that his motivations were anything less than craven...

McCainworld had assumed that the suspension would be viewed as an authentic, characteristic act of putting country first. But...McCain was now seen as a typical, and faintly desperate politician - and his campaign a campaign of another:
Conservative candidate Chris Alexander has suspended his campaign for re-election in the riding of Ajax, Ont., in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Alexander cancelled a Thursday morning media appearance and is returning to Ottawa to focus on his ministerial responsibilities. They include looking into a case brought to the forefront Wednesday after disturbing images emerged showing a Syrian toddler's body washed up on a beach in Turkey.

In a statement, Alexander said "the tragic photo of young Aylan Kurdi and the news of the death of his brother and mother broke hearts around the world."Meanwhile, Tabatha Southey calls out Alexander for still caring only about optics:
“Photo,” “images,” image,” talking point. A sense of what Alexander sees as the problem & where he’s going with it.— Tabatha Southey (@TabathaSouthey) September 3, 2015 And Tonda MacCharles notes how the Cons' campaign-only mentality will prevent Alexander from running even a public relations exercise from his office:
According to Chris Alexander's Ottawa office, all media relations spox are on leave until Oct. 19 working on election.— Tonda MacCharles (@TondaMacC) September 3, 2015

On reasonable responses

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 07:05
Let's offer a quick reminder to the Libs' spin machine, and particularly to the people who should know better who are choosing to echo it.

No party is under an obligation to reflexively attack or belittle everything another party proposes in its election platform.

If a platform plank or general principle raised during the campaign can't reasonably be opposed, the appropriate response is to at least recognize that fact before trying to start spinning. And one Lib spokesperson roughly followed that course in addressing the NDP's push to fund women's shelters to ensure nobody in need of a safe place gets turned away.

Another did not. And it's no excuse to say that Ralph Goodale chose to respond to a specific idea by ignoring the subject at hand, and instead reverting to his party's most tired, off-topic talking points.

It's absolutely true that the goal of combating violence against women should be so obvious that no reasonable public representative could pretend it doesn't matter. That leaves plenty of room for response to any proposal - including general agreement in the context of the wider campaign, an offer of alternative solutions, or pointing out a valid reason why the proposal fails to meet the purpose.

But if Goodale or any other politician is so caught up in negativity as to pretend both a policy and the undisputed issue it addresses don't matter, surely the fault lies with him - not with the party pointing out his unreasonableness.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 05:40
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Jim Stanford, Iglika Ivanova and David MacDonald each highlight how there's far more to be concerned about in Canada's economy beyond the GDP dip alone. Both Thomas Walkom and the Star's editorial board write that it's clear the Cons have nothing to offer when it comes to trying to improve on our current stagnation, while Balbulican notes that the Cons' economic message amounts to little more than denial. And David Climenhaga calls out the laughable attempt by Alberta's right wing to shield Stephen Harper from blame for a decade of failed federal economic policy while declaring the NDP to bear full and sole responsibility for a province it's only governed since May.

- Gillian Steward explains why B.C.'s First Nations are wary of the Northern Gateway pipeline. 

- Michele Biss argues that we can best combat poverty with a rights-based approach. And Mark Lemstra, Marla Rogers, and John Moraros study the connection between low incomes and heart disease.

- Kady O'Malley takes an interesting look at the types of basic information requests which have been met with no response whatsoever from the federal government. And Elizabeth Thompson exposes the Cons' proclamation of dozens of secret Orders in Council which serve no purpose but to prevent anybody from holding the government to account.

- Finally, Marc Spooner laments the commoditization of post-secondary education as audit culture replaces any interest in new or creative forms of education and research.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 17:00
Capped cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 05:56
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Sherri Torjman comments on the importance of social policy among our political choices, while lamenting its absence from the first leaders' debate:
(M)arket economies go through cycles, with periods of stability followed by periods of slump and uncertainty. Canada has weathered these economic cycles, and even major recessions, largely because of our social-policy initiatives. Income-security programs, in particular, are vital economic measures. The problem is that most of these have withered and shrunk in recent years and are in need of major repair.

Why is social policy so important to the economy?
First, income-security programs act as household shock absorbers when times are tough. Employment Insurance, childcare benefits, public pensions and welfare are intended to ensure that all Canadians have at least some money to pay for necessities such as food, clothing and shelter....Second, income-security programs act as fiscal stimulus when the economic wheels start slowing. They put money directly into the hands of large numbers of Canadians, whose collective spending can jump-start our economic engine and help keep it running....Finally, certain income-security programs stabilize the economy by bolstering low wages. These earning supplementation programs are controversial, with many arguing that decent living wages should be employers’ responsibility. In the meantime, millions of Canadians struggle on low and unstable incomes....Shock absorber, fiscal stimulus and economic stabilizer: These are all crucial roles of social policy and of income-security programs, specifically. They blow wind into the sails of the economy and help ensure a smoother economic ride.
While their vital roles are central to the country’s economic health, they are relegated to the sidelines in most debates. An economic-policy discussion without its intrinsic social-policy component is definitely incomplete.- Angella MacEwen challenges the theory that deficits necessarily have anything to do with progressive policy, while Nora Loreto fact-checks the Libs' spin about the opposition parties' placement on the political spectrum.

- The CCPA's Good for Canada project offers an important summary of what we should be looking for in order to reduce inequality. And Jim Hightower writes that some of the wealthiest Americans are looking to fight inequality for everybody's good including their own.

- Michael Harris calls out the Cons' continued reign of fear. But Chantal Hebert writes that the goal of scaring voters away from opposition parties no longer seems to be in reach for Harper and company, as they're the party spooking away voters they need to form government. Which goes to show that the Harper propaganda discussed by Andrew Nikiforuk is far from having its intended effect.

- Finally, Sandy Garossino notes that the revelations about Mike Duffy's bribery, cover-up and trial represent just the latest example of Stephen Harper's war against the law. And David Krayden comments on the laughable plea of knowing nothing from the PMO when it comes to one of its most significant issues from the Cons' time in office.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 06:38
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Branko Milanovic answers Harry Frankfurt's attempt to treat inequality as merely an issue of absolute deprivation by reminding us how needs are inherently social:
“[Under necessities] I understand not only the commodities that are indispensable for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.” (Book 5, Chapter 2) Smith’s observation has far-reaching consequences. If our needs depend on what is socially acceptable, then they will clearly vary as between different societies. They will depend on the wealth of such societies or wealth of our peer groups. Consequently, our needs are (1) even in theory endless (because development has no material limit), and (2) they are thoroughly relative. We cannot distinguish between that part of the needs which is presumably due to ourselves, our “real” needs that, according to Professor Frankfurt, determine whether “[we] have good lives, and not how [our] lives compare with the lives of others” and the other part which is presumably due to the environment.

It is futile to try to distinguish between the two. We do not know what are our needs until we live in a society and observe the needs of others. So, pace Professor Frankfurt, we cannot just imagine that others do not exist as he enjoins us to do. All our needs are social. - Meanwhile, John Rentoul reports on a new poll showing just how many social needs are going unmet in the UK, as two-thirds of people don't see themselves having any meaningful influence in shaping their own society. And Robyn Benson comments on the Cons' silencing of anybody who has anything to say beyond their own talking points.

- Guy Boulton discusses new research into the link between poverty and brain development. And Amy Traub points out that equal pay for women would go a long way toward reducing poverty in the U.S.

- Lobat Sadrehashemi, Peter Edelmann and Suzanne Baustad highlight how the Cons' rushed policy on refugees is designed to prevent valid claims from being fully assessed. And Dean Beeby takes a look at the Cons' costly broken promise of a database to track missing persons.

- Finally, Rick Salutin writes that whatever its end result, Donald Trump's presidential run should offer us a disturbing indication as to how anti-democratic leaders can use democratic systems to take power.

On transitions

Sun, 08/30/2015 - 11:07
Bob Hepburn makes clear that while the Libs may still be in denial about the importance of cooperating to remove the Harper Cons from power, their best friends in the media are under no such illusions. But the most noteworthy contribution to Canada's discussion about post-election options comes from Aaron Wherry - particularly in highlighting what factors have, and have not, been taken into account in determining who gets a chance to form government:
(A) Progressive Conservative government in Ontario in 1985 was defeated in the legislature and replaced by a Liberal government that had signed a governing accord with the NDP caucus. Interestingly, it is recounted in this piece for Canadian Parliamentary Review that when the defeated premier, Frank Miller, tendered his resignation with Ontario’s lieutenant-governor, he advised that an alternative was prepared to govern: “It would appear that the Honourable Leader of the Opposition is able to gain the confidence of the House at this time.”

The lieutenant-governor of the day, John Black Aird, then issued a statement to explain the change:
In my capacity as Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario and as the representative of Her Majesty the Queen in Ontario, I have this day asked Mr. David Peterson to form a government, he having assured me that he can form a government which will have the confidence of the Legislative Assembly for a reasonable length of time. On the advice of counsel with whose opinions I agree, I have advised Mr. Peterson that the agreement between the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, a copy of which had been delivered to me, has no legal force or effect and that it should be considered solely as a joint political statement of intent and that the agreement cannot affect or impair the powers or privileges of the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario nor of the members of the Legislative Assembly.Wherry goes on to note that there are also two precedents in which alternative governments might have had the opportunity to form government without the consent of the incumbent: the federal Parliament in 1980 when other parties did not seek the opportunity to replace Joe Clark's PCs (who had already won a confidence vote), and again in 2004 when no confidence vote was brought against Paul Martin's Libs. And there's one example of a party actually finishing second in seats and forming government over the objections of the incumbent which had lost a confidence vote (that being Saskatchewan's legislature in 1929).

But the review of the historical record suggests a few points to keep in mind. The Governor General actually holds a great deal of discretion in determining what factors matter in assessing an incumbent's request for dissolution and/or the right to continue governing - with a previous confidence vote and a signed agreement encompassing a majority of representatives being less than determinative (if significant at all) on their own. And the transition process (like so many other aspects of our system of governance) relies in substantial part on the good faith of the leaders involved in assessing their prospects of winning Parliament's support, which we can't take for granted from Harper.

All of which means that we shouldn't consider a seeming defeat for the Cons - whether the loss of a majority or a drop in the party standings - to completely close the door on Harper clinging to power. And we should thus stay motivated to make sure the electorate's verdict leaves Harper and the Governor General no choice but to allow for a transfer of power.

The secret platform

Sun, 08/30/2015 - 09:58
It never figured to take long for the Cons to start making up numbers for lack of any legitimate criticism of the NDP's platform - and Jason Kenney has charged into the breach. But it's worth noting the source of many of the supposedly-costed items, which consist of NDP MPs' committee reports.

To be clear, committee reports represent an important contribution in Parliament's governance of public policy. And what makes them stand out is that fact that they offer independent review by representatives tasked with assessing particular issues - who can then be expected to reach their own conclusions on the optimal solutions for those issues in a vacuum.

But because reports are necessarily focused on specific areas of review, they can't generally be taken as a statement of the decisions which a party might make in balancing competing priorities. And that's exactly where voters normally have reason to look to a party's platform as an integrated set of policy choices for the next term of office - and to ignore any attempt to let opposition parties treat committee reports as a substitute.

That said, there is one exception which is only highlighted by Kenney's stance.

It's well-known (and recently confirmed) that due to the meddling of Stephen Harper's PMO, Conservative caucus members - MPs and Senators alike - don't have the freedom to conduct independent reviews of legislation or policy choices that we'd expect from the rest of our parliamentarians. And so it's probably fair to treat the Cons' committee reports as reflecting Stephen Harper's judgment - a conclusion which is only reinforced by his right hand man in saying he consideres other parties' representatives' reports to be party policy.

That means that Harper is on the hook to answer for, say, the proposals from his Senate caucus to pursue government certification of imams, or to gut the CBC. And the opposition parties may want to take a far closer look at the Cons' committee reports as the campaign progresses - since no less a figure than Jason Kenney considers them to be part of his party's platform.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 08/30/2015 - 09:04
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Dana Flavelle examines how many Canadians are facing serious economic insecurity. And Kevin Campbell discusses how the Cons are vulnerable on the economy due to their obvious failure to deliver on their promises, as well as their misplaced focus on trickle-down ideology:
During this election it is essential to understand that we live in an era of persistent financial insecurity among the majority of the population. Household balance sheets are in a tenuous state throughout the industrialized world, particularly in Canada. This inevitably affects how citizens choose to vote. Healthcare, education, ethics and the environment — they all matter a great deal and undoubtedly influence voter behaviour. But the party that secures economic confidence wins elections in this country.
The reality is that the parties of the left actually focus heavily on the well-being of the most vital driver in the economy: you. The household. And by that, I do not mean nuclear families alone. I mean any household, including single people, single parents, childless couples and widowers. I mean everyone who orbits around the average or the median, and certainly those who survive on less. The household is the engine to which the rest of the economy responds. It is a strong foundation of employment, consumption and tax revenue that propels everything else in the system.

Corporations and investors simply respond to demand — and aggregate demand is not powered by the top one per cent or even the top 10 per cent. Disposable income flows when we create the conditions for the average household to adequately feed, clothe and shelter itself, supported by the opportunity to be healthy and educated.
A Leger poll released last week placed “stimulating the Canadian economy” as the top issue for the October election, sequentially followed by the related subjects of “helping middle-class families” and “job creation.” The NDP leads on the latter two items and is nipping at Harper’s heels on the first. If recent history is any guide, victory will come to the party that evokes the greatest confidence on such issues.

Progressives can, and must, earn that confidence.- Meanwhile, Roderick Benns talks to Alax mayor Steve Parish about the benefits a basic income can provide in both fighting poverty and ensuring economic security. 

- Martha Friendly highlights the need for child care in Canada - as well as for the federal government to be involved in funding and developing a functional system. And Joey Porter reports on the Cons' gross failure to deliver even approved funding for clean water for First Nations.

- Dave Cournoyer takes a first look at Alberta's royalty review panel and the benefits it should produce for the public. And Mike De Souza reports on what happens when environmental regulators actually do their jobs - as Nexen is being required to demonstrate it can operate pipelines safely in the wake of its spill, rather than being let off with a promise to do better.

- Finally, Harriet Sherwood examines a global crackdown on human rights organizations and other civil society groups. And Sheena Goodyear reports on how Tony Turner's Harperman fits into the wider issue of allowing public servants some voice in the political system in which they work.

On balanced options

Sat, 08/29/2015 - 13:36
Dave McGrane offers a historical perspective on how deficits for their own sake shouldn't be seen as an element of left-wing or progressive policy, while Excited Delerium takes a look at the policies on offer in Canada's federal election to see how it's possible to pursue substantive progressive change within a balanced budget. But let's examine more closely why it's wrong to draw any equivalence between the Trudeau Libs' platform, deficits and progressive policies (despite their frantic efforts to pretend there's no difference between the three).

Taking the Libs at their word, their current plan is to engage in deficit spending over the next few years, then balance the budget by 2019. So to the extent one might be inclined to prefer a measure of fiscal health other than balanced budgets (such as keeping debt at a stable proportion of GDP), the Libs aren't offering that choice - only a delayed return to balance, with the additional money spent in the meantime being necessarily limited to short-term projects. 

And once the budget is balanced, the Libs are attacking the very idea of national programs such as the NDP's child care plan - which is designed to fit within balanced budgets while actually building a substantial new social benefit in the longer term.

Fortunately, we don't need to look far to see the Trudeau philosophy in action, as his leading provincial proxy is offering up exactly the mix of unfocused short-term infrastructure spending, privatization in the name of false economies and cuts to actual programs implied by the federal Libs' platform. 

The contrast between the NDP and the Libs then represents a classic case of long-term planning with permanent returns, versus instant but fleeting gratification. And Canadian progressives who have seen the Harper Cons deliberately inflict long-term damage on our federal institutions should be wary of settling for the latter.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 08/29/2015 - 09:26
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Michal Rozworski calls for the election to include far more discussion as to who benefits from our economy as it's designed, and who gets left behind. Michael Wilson examines how Canada's economy has become far less equal over the past few decades. And Michelle Zilio talks to Munir Sheikh about the "made in Canada recession" under the Harper Cons, as a rare divergence between Canada and the rest of the world is seeing us headed in the wrong direction even as the U.S. and other developed countries do relatively well.

- Joanna Smith examines some of the key e-mails showing the Cons' interference with an independent Senate audit. Andrew Mitrovica discusses the Duffy trial and some of the more noteworthy media coverage. Michael Spratt highlights the public's interest in the trial and in assigning responsibility for Harper and his minions, while Michael Harris argues that the Duffy scandal has exposed the Harper PMO as a rogue operation interfering in actual governance. The Globe and Mail notes that the same mindset which led to the initial cover-up is leading the Cons to keep trying to stick their nose where it doesn't belong. And Tabatha Southey riffs off the concept of Duffy as the elephant in the room for the PMOs.

- Colette Derworiz reports on how even basic public-interest information has been shut down during the election campaign. And Kathryn May tells Tony Turner's story as to how a simple protest song has resulted in a scientist being sidelined from his job.

- David Rider reports on the NDP's C-51 push as the election looms 51 days down the road. The Montreal Gazette slams the civil rights abuses inherent in kettling as a crowd control technique. And Michael Geist looks to recent Senate reports for a hint as to just how much worse the Cons' attacks on rights might get if they get the chance.

- Speaking of which, Marc Swelling argues that this fall's election will ultimately come down to the core question of whether voters want four more years of Stephen Harper or not. And while the answer looks to be "no" for the moment, we'll need to make sure that position doesn't change during the rest of the campaign.

Musical interlude

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 17:09
Big Data feat. Joywave - Dangerous

And as a bonus, Tony Turner's Harperman:

On crystallized positions

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 13:56
I've largely held off on discussing federal polls since few of them seem to be out of line with my initial assessment of the election as a three-way race with the NDP in a narrow lead, but with plenty of room for movement during the election campaign.

But EKOS' latest signals that we may have reached the point where more of the same is news in and of itself - particularly for the party which most needs to try to change the direction of public opinion.

While there might once have been reason to wonder whether public assessments of the NDP and Lib leaders would hold up until the glare of an election campaign, those questions seem largely to have been answered. One could have doubted whether Tom Mulcair's high approval ratings would hold up when he was still unknown to a substantial number of voters - but he's still in strong positive territory with only 12% of respondents giving a "don't know" or no response. And while Justin Trudeau likely won't be returning to his honeymoon levels of support anytime soon, he seems to have leveled off at a neutral-to-positive assessment despite being the target of years of concentrated attacks.

As a result, the Cons are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to leadership. Instead of being able to rely on Harper being seen as bland but acceptable by enough people to vote them into office, they now have no choice but to try to attack the credibility of more-popular leaders in a spending-limited environment when the lone spokesperson they dare to put in front of a camera is disliked by two-thirds of the population (and distrusted by even more).

Similarly, the change/no change question seems to have been decisively resolved against the Cons. It may have been possible to point to vote splitting as a factor operating in their favour when enough voters to make up a majority were satisfied with matters as they stood; it's rather more difficult when the wrong-track and change numbers are into the high 60s, particularly when voters don't trust the government's claims as to how the country is doing.

In sum, we've reached the point where people know exactly what they think of Stephen Harper and his party, both in general and in relation to their opponents. And it's hard to see how two more months of the same from the Cons can turn the public in their favour.

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 08:08
Assorted content to end your week.

- Joseph Stiglitz notes that the recent stock market turmoil may be most important for its effect in highlighting far more important economic weaknesses. And Richard McCormack discusses the link between stock buybacks, inequality and economic stagnation - meaning that a plan to eliminate loopholes for stock options may also have positive spillover effects for the economy as a whole.

- Barry Schwartz writes about the meaning of work, while noting that a focus on theoretical efficiency by eliminating all satisfaction from a work day may be leading to worse results for employers and employees alike:
(W)hen given the chance to make their work meaningful and engaging, employees jump at it, even if it means that they have to work harder. Such cases should serve to remind us there is a human cost to routinizing and depersonalizing work. Too often, instead of being able to take pride in what they do, and derive satisfaction from doing it well, workers have little to show for their efforts aside from their pay.
In the face of longstanding evidence that routinization and an overemphasis on pay lead to worse performance in the workplace, why have we continued to tolerate and even embrace that approach to work?

The answer, I think, is that the ideas of Adam Smith have become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: They gave rise to a world of work in which his gloomy assumptions about human beings became true. When you take all opportunities for meaning and engagement out of the work that people do, why would they work, except for the wage? What Smith and his descendants failed to realize is that rather than exploiting a fact about human nature, they were creating a fact about human nature.
The transformation I have in mind goes something like this: You enter an occupation with a variety of aspirations aside from receiving your pay. But then you discover that your work is structured so that most of those aspirations will be unmet. Maybe you’re a call center employee who wants to help customers solve their problems — but you find out that all that matters is how quickly you terminate each call. Or you’re a teacher who wants to educate kids — but you discover that only their test scores matter. Or you’re a corporate lawyer who wants to serve his client with care and professionalism — but you learn that racking up billable hours is all that really counts.
Pretty soon, you lose your lofty aspirations. And over time, later generations don’t even develop the lofty aspirations in the first place. Compensation becomes the measure of all that is possible from work. When employees negotiate, they negotiate for improved compensation, since nothing else is on the table. And when this goes on long enough, we become just the kind of creatures that Adam Smith thought we always were.
To be sure, people should be adequately compensated for their work. Recent efforts across the country to achieve a significant increase in the minimum wage represent real social progress. But in securing such victories for working people, we should not lose sight of the aspiration to make work the kind of activity people embrace, rather than the kind of activity they shun. - Tana Ganeva exposes how some of the lucky few most insulated from homelessness and poverty demean the people who struggle to face those obstacles every day. And Jeffrey Simpson theorizes that our politics are lacking for big ideas and generosity.

- Edward Keenan writes that the most disturbing aspect of the G20 police abuses was the eagerness with which the people responsible for maintaining social order abandoned any attempt to preserve democratic rights.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry discusses the "snowflake" organizational model which is developing as the alternative to top-down messaging. And that model may make for an interesting contrast against the Cons' most limited broadcasting structure yet, as candidates are being told not to engage with media, public debates or any other format which could possibly deviate from central messaging.

On final choices

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 17:30
Following up on this post and some additional discussion, let's take a look at the question of what options would be available to Stephen Harper if he decided he wanted to escape a drubbing at the polls by cancelling the federal election. And fortunately, the answer looks to be "not much".

The Canada Elections Act does allows for a writ to be withdrawn, but only with some important limitations (emphasis added):
59. (1) The Governor in Council may order the withdrawal of a writ for any electoral district for which the Chief Electoral Officer certifies that by reason of a flood, fire or other disaster it is impracticable to carry out the provisions of this Act.
(2) If the Governor in Council orders the withdrawal of a writ, the Chief Electoral Officer shall publish a notice of the withdrawal in the Canada Gazette and issue a new writ ordering an election within three months after publication of the notice.
(3) The day named in the new writ for polling day may not be later than three months after the issue of the new writ.The key point in this section is that an order to withdraw a writ is available only based on the Chief Electoral Officer's determination that it's impracticable to proceed with an election. And the limitation by "electoral district" is also likely to be significant, as it reflects an intention to account for local disasters rather than a desire for a do-over across the country.

Now, Harper might try either to claim some inherent authority to stop an election in its tracks, or to bully the Chief Electoral Officer into interpreting the provision extremely broadly. But it's doubtful that either the Chief Electoral Officer or Governor General would go along with those types of moves in the face of what the law says (particularly in the absence of any statement that discretion is reserved).

The more real danger is then that rather than using a message of fear to avoid the election altogether, he'd instead try to lean on the last issue where he's had any success turning public opinion in his favour over the last couple of years.

But the example where that's worked may limit the possibility of a repeat performance. After all, the Cons (with the Libs' support) were able to impose their own choice of limitations on rights in the name of security by passing C-51. So an actual attack or threat would only serve as an indictment of the Cons' failure to accomplish what they promised.

Alternatively, the Cons could be planning for an announcement of arrests or C-51 "disruptions" as a means of claiming success. But that would only go so far in changing the subject, particularly if the public has already tuned Harper and his party out for other reasons.

In sum, while we need to watch out for fearmongering as the last arrow in Harper's quiver, it's not clear that it will serve either as an excuse to avoid the polls or a major factor in shifting votes.

On statements of values

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 11:04
It's true that a party's policy book is not the same as its election platform.

But it's also true that there is more to a party than a single campaign or platform. And considering that the difference between a policy book and a platform can be pointed out in a single sentence, I'm hard-pressed to see what the NDP stands to gain by limiting access to the policy goals developed by its members.

On needless machinery

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 10:34
Those of us who have seen the Libs focus much of this year on criticizing the Cons' partisan advertising might be rather surprised to learn they don't think there's any room to cut or redirect any current federal spending, and in fact consider it offensive that anybody might suggest such room exists.

But on a closer look, there's actually a consistent theme behind the Libs' message. While their petition on advertising criticizes the Cons for wasteful spending, it doesn't promise to change anything other than to create a new commissioner position to oversee future publicity - meaning that it could simply increase the cost of continuing ad spending.

So let's see if we can summarize the opposition parties' take on the hundreds of millions of dollars the Cons have spent on government advertising.

The NDP sees a waste of public money which could be put to better uses, and asks "why not stop?"

On the other hand, the Libs refuse to consider whether cuts might be appropriate, and ask "why not pay more?"

So which of those seems like the more appropriate response? It's up to Canadians to decide.

Keep Quiet - Chess Master At Work

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 08:12
Yessiree, Stephen Harper's choice to impose a longer election period rather than waiting to see whether his party would have a shred of credibility left after the PMO went under the microscope looks more brilliant by the day.