Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Moving Voters0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Vague Check, Gaia (Friday December 30, 2005 at 10:36 pm)

The Conservatives have released a public transit proposal, consisting of a 16% tax credit on the receipted amount spent on public transit fares. Any purchase of passes or bulk purchases of tickets would be eligible for the tax credit, the value of which would therefore vary considerably. In addition, the credit could be transferred within a given family, so that a parent could claim amounts in respect of children or a spouse. The Conservative website calculates an average value of $153 for the credit, dependent, of course, on whether commuters actually ask for receipts.

The Liberal response to this proposal has been far better than most. Naturally, there is an irrelevant shot taken at Conservative opposition to Bill C-48. C-48 was a brief bill allowing the Minister of Finance to spend part of the budget surplus. In it, $900 Million was allocated to the environment, including (but not limited to) public transit and energy-efficient upgrades to low-cost housing. The Bill gives broad discretion to the Minister in allocating those funds, and doesn’t specify what portion is going to “public transit” or what that money goes to (hopefully, they weren’t paying icebreaker prices for whatever they spent it on).

The other objections are a mixed bag:

Funding a tax credit doesn’t create new transit systems
True. The trickle-down effect from a potential increase in use (more later) is likely to be too small to justify the infrastructure costs for cities to create new systems.
No expansion of capacity in existing systems
True. No funding goes to the system, and the increase in use, again, would likely be small.
Public transit won’t become more accessible or affordable
False. If accessibility means making it easier for people to use public transit, that’s just not true. A $153 reduction in the cost is still a reduction in the cost. The Liberals might be pointing to the fact that a tax credit only shows up after income tax is paid, therefore making transit no more affordable to those who are too poor to afford it now; but that doesn’t mean that those who can afford it don’t end up spending less, neither does it mean that there aren’t many people for whom it might make a difference. Those who scrape by would find it easier to get that money back at the end of the year.
It won’t significantly increase ridership
True. People take cars either because of convenience or because they must. Most commuters who choose cars because they have to use one to get to work either can’t get to work by public transit or because there is some other compelling reason for the car. Considering the cost of a car, if it was only obtained in order to commute to work, $153 isn’t likely to make the difference between choosing the car or choosing public transit. If the driver already has the car and doesn’t have to use it to get to work, then it must be chosen for convenience’s sake. Those who choose the car for convenience, be it greater flexibility in travel times, cargo, or itineraries, aren’t likely to be moved by the credit. Convenience shows up every time you use the car — it’s more significant than a minor contribution to the car’s costs payable at year’s end.
No reduction in greenhouse gases
True. Unless the program results in a massive decrease in car use, it’s unlikely to have any effect on greenhouse gas emissions.
The program will decrease spending on greenhous gas emissions and meeting Kyoto targets
Misleading. While true, the spending targeted for redirection is money set aside to buy additional carbon credits so as to allow Canada to increase greenhouse gas emissions without the increase counting against Kyoto targets. The spending in question is an accounting remedy which shifts the benefit of underindustrialization in the third world to the first world without doing anything to actually reduce emissions.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with the policy, but it isn’t a solution to either environmental woes or overreliance on automobiles. It’s purely a taxation carrot for a country still playing the hare to its own polluting tortoise.

The Conservatives have promised that future announcements will deal with the environmental impact of and funding for public transit. Once those are in, Canadians will be in a position to judge the relative benefits of each party’s offerings on this matter.

Trust in Evidence0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Doubletake/Doubletalk (Thursday December 29, 2005 at 12:11 pm)

The real shame about some scandals is the way responsibility gets shifted.

It’s very unlikely that Ralph Goodale, Minister of Finance, was personally responsible for a leak from his office, and just as unlikely that the Prime Minister was responsible for a leak from his own. Both men were probably busy that afternoon. Besides which, neither really has much to gain.

It’s the staff members that one really has to worry about.

A Minister’s office (including the Prime Minister’s) isn’t like an MP’s, with one to three people on staff. There will be at least ten, perhaps twenty staff on the political side of the office (in the Prime Minister’s, a much higher number), not counting the dozens of other people within the Ministry who often have access to the policies and documents which they help to prepare. These offices include everything from logistical and secretarial staff to policy analysts, and both have access to highly confidential information, although not everyone will always have access to the same information.

As a result, there could easily have been ten to twenty people on staff who knew that a decision favorable to income trusts was about to be released, any one of whom could have passed that information along to traders or engaged in trading themselves. The result would be insider trading either way, a criminal offence, in addition to a serious breach of their duties to the Crown (which can also be a criminal offence).

In the light of which, Minister Goodale’s insistence on remaining in his post isn’t really unreasonable. Shouldn’t he be looking into his own office and undertaking his own investigation? Should he wait for the police to determine whether someone in his office is incapable of fulfilling their duties, while they continue to work? Should the Prime Minister?

After all, it’s not like this story is new. The call for the probe came back in November, when the matter actually took place.

Which makes the Prime Minister’s comments (from a prepared speech — no followup questions were permitted) hard to understand:

“The fact is first of all, we’re dealing with Opposition allegations and that’s all we’re dealing with, and we’re dealing with Opposition allegations during an election campaign.”

The allegations were made prior to the campaign. And it’s not just Opposition allegations — the RCMP undertook a preliminary review of the matter, and in a letter of December 23rd statedthat:

“Based on the information obtained during the review, the RCMP will be commencing a criminal investigation,”

Clearly there’s something more than an allegation, given that information emerging from a preliminary investigation has led the RCMP to believe that a criminal investigation is worthwhile.

But wait, didn’t Paul Martin say that there wasn’t any evidence? Oh yes:

The RCMP obviously have a responsibility to follow up on matters such as this — that’s their job — and they’re doing it. But the fact is the RCMP have also said that there is simply no evidence to demonstrate that those allegations in fact hold water.

And his statement seems absolutely true, backed up by the RCMP’s own remarks:

The RCMP noted in a statement Wednesday that “there is no evidence of wrongdoing or illegal activity on the part of anyone associated to this investigation,” including the finance minister.

Isn’t this all getting just a bit confusing? The RCMP says that it has information suggesting that there should be an investigation, but that there’s no evidence against anyone they’re investigating. What’s going on?

It’s important to remember the difference between evidence and information. If the RCMP says they have evidence, they’re talking courtroom-grade, not simply suggestions or likelihoods. That’s why they don’t bandy the word around. When the Prime Minister says that there’s no evidence that the allegations hold water, it sounds like he’s saying that there’s nothing to suggest that the allegations are true, but he can only be telling the truth if he means evidence in the same, narrow, legal way.

Martin responded well to the post-election emergence of the Gomery scandal last year: he promised punishment for those involved (which includes a lecture tour and an unenforceable banishment from the Liberal Party). Why, in a case where wrongdoing is pointed at, doesn’t he prepare the same statement? A proposed draft:

The RCMP’s investigation will have the fullest cooperation of both Minister Goodale and my offices. I share their concern, and want to make certain that there was no wrongdoing by any member of my staff. Their preliminary investigation has shown no evidence of wrongdoing; but if there was a leak in either office, we will insist the individuals responsible be punished according to the law. Selfishness and greed have no part to play in government, and I will not have anyone in my office putting their own interests ahead of their public duty.

But why take a strong tack? Especially when you can try to pretend that an RCMP investigation is merely an opposition ploy. Is there some reason why politicians think they can’t admit to mistakes in such a way as to take responsibility and redirect the issue?

In Other Elections0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday December 28, 2005 at 11:49 pm)

While the Green Party has at times had difficulties in fielding a slate of candidates, we can be grateful that they haven’t resorted to armed insurrections.

No, not grateful. Indifferently unsurprised. If they did, we’d be apoplectic. Or so the cold Wonk hopes.

Gracefully as ever, The Toronto Star declines to delve much into the nature of the problem. Reuters offers a bit more:

The gunmen, who spent years battling Israel but sometimes felt marginalised within Fatah because of the dominance of an Old Guard leadership, fear they will not be fairly represented on Fatah’s ticket unless the primaries are repeated.

Fatah’s younger generation is also concerned that if Old Guard leaders hand-pick the candidates, rather than allowing them to be elected in popular primaries, the ruling party will be less able to fend off a Hamas challenge at the polls.

It’s not everyday, mind you, that armed gunmen have this sophisticated a political nit to pick, so it might be worth considering. Is the political structure of Fatah so impassable that no younger representative can rise? It would seem the sort of poor political (and richly self-interested) approach of which the gunmen speak to avoid promoting at least a few of the Young Turks, if only to keep the rest of them from wasting bullets on their own policemen. If so, the point is well-taken. But then, no one called Fatah a party, did they?

More to the point: if armed violence is the only political solution the “young guard” could devise, what makes them think they’d do any better in the elections? Aren’t they confusing politics with war again? If they’re not, and the elections are to be won by violence, what difference does it make who runs for Fatah, so long as the movement intimidates the population as one? A different candidate won’t change the number of guns they have on call.

Could the outcry be no less self-interested than the corruption it opposes?

Guns Go Ban Boom0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Golden Tacks (Tuesday December 27, 2005 at 10:01 am)

Remember this?

The proposed sort-of handgun ban has already begun (forgive that one) to have its effects: a massive surge in handgun purchases.

The difficulty, as is wisely pointed out, is in knowing what the ban will actually consist of. Target shooters will be exempted, it has been said, but how? What qualifies someone?? What can keep someone from being qualified? How many guns can a target shooter own? Where can they purchase them? How will those stores be regulated?

Nitty-gritty? Yes. But they point, once more, to the essential problem: the ban is unlikely to prevent handguns from being in circulation and certain to increase criminal activity.

Halftime Show: New Democrats0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning (Monday December 26, 2005 at 1:23 am)

The NDP, Canada’s left-wing party, hasn’t been quite the same since their heady days under former leader (and outgoing member) Ed Broadbent. A series of leaders from different parts of the country failed to provide any clear direction or leadership, although some inroads were made in Nova Scotia in 1997.

Under the leadership of former Toronto City Councillor Jack Layton, chosen in 2003, the NDP tried to take advantage of the vague coincidence of anti-globalist and anti-war sentiment fueled by the 2004 US Presidential Election. The strategy, along with prominent star candidates, made some inroads in Ontario, but failed to muster enough support to win additional seats in the major urban centres where the strategy seemed likeliest to find willing ears. Moreover, the strategy offered nothing to help bolster union support, a traditional foundation of NDP policy, and failed to recapture the strength the party had possessed in Nova Scotia.

Some of the blame for the lukewarm response to the NDP’s strategy might be laid at the feet of the Liberal campaign strategy in the last campaign’s closing weeks, which was designed primarily to draw support away from the NDP. Nevertheless, it wasn’t clear that Jack Layton was campaigning as a strong proponent of traditional NDP values.

Mr. Layton has taken a more traditional tack in this campaign, focussing on NDP strengths and actively denouncing the effectiveness of strategic voting. The direct approach of the latter strategy has been combined with an indirect approach in the form of direct attacks on Paul Martin and the Liberal party. Beyond steeling his supporters against strategic voting, Layton wants there to be no mistake in NDP voters’ minds: the Liberals are not an acceptable substitute for the NDP. The hope is clear: prepare voters to reject the Liberals when that party inevitably asks to borrow their support.

Traditional NDP supporters have not been left behind by this campaign. Pumping for healthcare, Layton recently spent some time beating the left’s traditional straw man of federal programs. Similarly, vocal support for native rights is intended to play both to northern ridings and guilt-ridden urbanites. Finally, the NDP is making certain that union demands are given a fair showing this time. No more than fair, though: their issues site presents union-friendly issues (such as jobs, pensions, and training) without using the word “union”.

To this point, it isn’t clear that this approach is having a nationwide effect, but there are some more localised positive indications. Numbers in the Atlantic, and especially in Nova Scotia, suggest that the NDP should easily be able to maintain their present seats there, though they are unlikely to return to their dominant position under Alexa McDonough.

Jack Layton’s adequate French has done little to move Quebec, where the NDP remains in single digits. There is no real chance of an NDP victory party in that province.

In Ontario, the NDP’s polling hasn’t improved much, but those numbers are partly due to lower showings outside of traditional strongholds like Toronto and Windsor. In those ridings where NDP support is concentrated, there is every chance of the party holding and possibly gaining several seats. Ottawa Centre, won in the last campaign by Mr. Broadbent, will be much more difficult to take with a candidate of lesser reputation, and may return to the Liberal fold (where it has been with one exception since 1968). Mr. Layton’s wife, Toronto City Councillor Olivia Chow, will repeat her 2004 (and 1997) attacks on Liberal Tony Ianno, this time buoyed by her resignation from Toronto City Council. The 1,000 vote margin in 2004 may well vanish in this campaign, leaving the Liberals short one Minister in Toronto.

More exciting, perhaps, have been polls from the West. There, the NDP expect to retake some of their support in Saskatchewan, where a number of polls have placed them in second-place. In addition, they appear to be in a strong three-way race in BC, giving them a good chance at increasing their seat totals, particularly where former MP Svend Robinson has good hope of resurrecting his political career after serious difficulties.

But these promising increases may not ultimately be to the NDP’s benefit. Virtually every chance the NDP has (with the exception of Saskatchewan seats), comes at the expense of the Liberal party, their natural coalition partners. Seats passed between the two will do little to change the balance of power in the Commons if the Liberals lose additional seats to the Bloc Quebecois and Conservatives.

More serious, however, is the possibility that the NDP has reached a natural plateau of support, where additional gains can only come from the marshalling of strong local candidates. If so, Jack Layton’s strategy is perfectly pitched: to secure and reinforce existing bases of support. If not, then Mr. Layton is missing a genuine opportunity: as voters hope for change, a large block of ennui-laden Liberal voters may find themselves attracted to a strong NDP position.

Of course, the strategy may fail. Liberals will undoubtedly turn to NDP voters to secure them as the campaign continues. If those voters prove fickle once more, the NDP will go nowhere. More dangerous still for NDP hopes is the possibility of vote-splitting with the Liberals. If supporters prove too faithful, Conservative pluralities could emerge from near-obscurity in a number of BC and Ontario ridings.

But would that be so very bad? Consider this: the Bloc isn’t very far removed from the NDP on social issues. Remember, they’re the ones who ensured the passage of the same-sex bill. Their position on transfers to provinces is also likely to make heavy demands on the Liberals. The NDP’s support for the Liberal government netted them a half-year’s delay in the implementation of $4.6 Billion in corporate tax cuts. Hardly a victory.

If the Liberals manage to pull things off in this election, and, with the NDP, manage to outnumber the other parties, the NDP are no worse off. But if they don’t, it shouldn’t really cost the NDP anything more.

Imagine what the NDP and BQ’s support would cost a Conservative minority government on social issues and you’ll understand why Jack Layton would be pleased with even a handful more seats in the Commons, regardless of who wins the next election.

As things go, that seems like the most likely outcome.

Halftime Show: Conservatives0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning (Sunday December 25, 2005 at 1:59 am)

Next up in a the halftime show lineup: the Conservatives.

No election since 1993 had looked as promising for Canada’s “right-wing” than 2004. At last, the Western Reform movement had been united formally with the remains of the federal Progressive Conservatives (surely uniting their support levels?) and a major scandal had just rocked the Liberal party.

It was no surprise to close observers that simply merging two parties wouldn’t naturally result in the combination of their supporters, even leaving the more organized opponents aside. The new party, fronted by Preston Manning disciple and long-time Conservative policy analyst Steven Harper, hoped to take advantage of Liberal weakness over the sponsorship scandal.

Mr. Harper came across as stand-offish and angry in the election. A close race between the Liberals and Conservatives widened in the Grits’ favour over the final week. Harper’s focus on policy made him appear cold, while his responses to Liberal attacks were unsuccessful in stemming a final tide. Most of the attacks hinted at a “hidden agenda” which would undermine the Charter of Rights and bring Canada closer to the United States. The Conservatives wound up in second place; but in a Parliament where the government couldn’t be certain of the House’s support.

Satisfyingly, the question of the election’s necessity never gained any traction, despite early Liberal efforts to make it an issue. The Conservatives have largely defined the issues in the first half of the campaign, forcing the Liberals to respond with both policy offerings such as their daycare proposal and quick rebuttals such as their response to the Tory plans for Arctic sovereignty.

The regular release of policies (both social and military) has done more than enable the Tories to frame the debate, they’ve captured more lead stories than the Liberals (can’t report on nothing). Moreover, by presenting substantive material, they’ve managed, so far, to define themselves and articulate their policy choices, which inhibits the Liberals’ ability to present them as purveyors of a “hidden agenda”. If they can keep this pace up, rather than turning their focus to the sponsorship scandal (as they did last time), the Liberals will have a hard time demonizing them or their leader.

And the Conservative leader is proving much harder to demonize. Harper’s speech on the dissolution of Parliament was the first stage in a deliberate effort to rebrand himself. Rather than discuss either the events of the day or policies to come, he spent his time naming and praising those around him like a weepy thespian with a golden statue. If a bit over the top, the point was made: this Steven Harper isn’t a cold fish — he’s a people person.

But in spite of this change (and voters’ desire for change), there has been relatively little movement in the polls for Conservatives. Much of this can be attributed to lingering distrust — the kind of wariness that has been sown over time cannot easily be dismissed, and Mr. Harper’s efforts have a bit too much effort about them to be easily accepted. On the other hand, the lack of movement may also be due to a large number of undecided voters little-interested in the first half of a long campaign, and yet to turn their attention to the issues and candidates. These voters may be surprised by what they see; and movement of support in the second week of January may surprise many curious onlookers.

Conservative strategy has been focussed on two fronts: the aforementioned presentation of policies and self-determination; and the humanised Steven Harper. The difficulty is that the party has little more to offer. They’re distinguishing themselves cleanly and doing a decent job of responding to Liberal attacks (thus far), but have little to show. They need to hope that voter attention will increase and result in better returns.

In the Atlantic, Conservative support has remained roughly constant. Given Steven Harper’s notorious and incendiary remarks about Maritime Canadians, it doesn’t seem likely that the Conservatives will gain much in the region under his leadership. Conservative hopes in the area must rest on improving NDP numbers taking some seats from the Liberals.

In Quebec, little is expected of the Conservatives, and they aren’t asking for much. An improved showing by the BQ will benefit the Tories, if only because the Liberals will lose seats.

In Ontario, where the new Conservative party made a strong showing in the last election, indications are positive. Liberal strength is concentrated in the GTA, where the Tories have few sitting members and where NDP victories may strip the Liberals of a few additional seats. Outside the GTA, Conservative support is either even or slightly ahead of Liberal numbers. The Tories may make inroads, picking up one or two seats around Peterborough and Northumberland, as well as a small number in Southwestern Ontario, depending on local candidates. The Liberals will be under two prongs of attack, with a strong chance, as things stand, of losing as many as ten seats in the province.

The West looks unpromising for the Tories, mostly because they’re starting from a position of significant strength. In 2004, they took 68 of 92 seats in the region. Now, faced with resurgent NDP support in Saskatchewan and a three-way race in British Columbia, they run the risk of losing between five and ten seats in the region.

Overall, the Tories may prove little better off given present polling after the election. Increased support in Ontario (the likeliest place for them to pick up more seats) is unlikely unless voters come to feel more comfortable with them. On that score, there seems to be little hope save the theory that voters haven’t really started to pay attention yet. In British Columbia, some degree of dissatisfaction with the local right-wing government may be helping to depress levels of Conservative support, even in its traditional strongholds. Without a strong showing from its Atlantic component (unlikely), levels of support in that region are unlikely to rise.

The Conservatives seem well-placed for moderate gains which, depending on the Bloc and Liberals’ performances, will put them in a stronger second place. While that might be disappointing, the most disappointing news for them must be that their campaign is being as well-run so far as might be expected. Whether more of the same will be helpful remains to be seen in the New Year.

Putting Religion In Its Place1

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen (Sunday December 25, 2005 at 12:01 am)

And a place for everything.

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it.

Happy Hannukah to those of you who do the same.

Enjoy the calm, peace and pause which this public holiday indiscriminately offers.

Everyone.

Halftime Show: Liberals0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning (Saturday December 24, 2005 at 11:47 am)

As the various parties in the Canadian federal election take their rest, it’s time to do a quick roundup of the campaign so far, where it’s been, and where it could go. First, a look at the Liberals.

Faithful readers may have noticed that relatively few posts have been dedicated to Liberal policy. The gun registry and daycare question have each been showcased a few times, but more posts have starred Tory and NDP statements. The reason is simple: the Liberals aren’t offering much that is new.

The daycare proposal is a case in point. Rather than a new program, as their campaigning might suggest, the moneys pledged are simply the annual cost of extending the current program for an additional five years. Their just-released package for seniors similarly offers up nothing more than a discussion of past and present government initiatives. In a nutshell, the Liberals are running on their record.

By itself, this is a risky strategy. Regardless of Canadians’ impressions of the Liberal record, polling through this campaign has suggested a desire for change, suggesting that it doesn’t matter how well the Liberals have done. People are simply tired of them.

Which is why the Liberal campaign has a second string to its bow: fear. In 2004, “Team Martin” signs and a general lack of policy came from the deep belief on the part of new leader Paul Martin’s team that victory was theirs if only Canadians could all bask in his gentle decency. This belief, the natural product of ten years of fervent proslytizing while taking over the Liberal party, was doing little to prop up Liberal fortunes. And so, in the last week of the campaign, a new tactic was introduced, and the demonizing of Steven Harper brought about a slender Liberal victory.

We’ve already seen some similar efforts in this campaign. Paul Martin has raised the spectres of the Charter of Rights and national unity in a clear attempt to frighten voters away from other parties, presumably unable to adequately deal with these tasks. The theory runs that since there hasn’t been a failure under Liberal governments thus far, better to stay the course and stick with Liberals when such threats to the country loom. If these efforts weren’t enough, early reports suggest a more intensive negative campaign is being readied for after the holidays, to boost what has been a lacklustre Liberal performance.

There are a number of things to consider in evaluating the Liberal position. First, the general absence of policy announcements (relying instead on vague references to existing programmes and the Prime Ministerial appearance of the leader). The Liberals may be banking on the notion that presenting their substantive platform later on will make it more memorable — a significant advantage to be had in a lengthy campaign. Their low-key campaigning may stem, in general, from a similar premise: that this is simply a phony war, and that resources will be better spent in the high-energy kick after the holidays. Then, this theory goes, voters will be paying closer attention (what else do you do in Canada in January) and, given the shorter time before elections, there is less likelihood of the message wearing thin or voters becoming forgetful.

This strategy has a number of potential faults. The early part of the election was seized upon by the Conservatives to define themselves (more on this next post). If it has been successful, the Liberals will seem to be reacting rather than leading. Paul Martin has already spent a great deal of time early in this campaign on the defensive (even the pointless child care announcement was a hastily-concocted response to a Conservative presentation). This may continue if the Liberals don’t abandon their apparent campaign focus: the land is strong. The more Paul Martin has to respond, the less Prime Ministerial he looks — particularly given how poorly he presents himself when not reading prepared speeches.

Last time around, the fear strategy relied heavily on soft NDP supporters (and perhaps even a few harder Dippers) running to support Liberal candidates, lest a Conservative government emerge from the fray (and with it, policies they abhorred). This time around, the NDP leader, Jack Layton, has been trying to fight that result pre-emptively. Whether NDP voters will listen to him isn’t clear; but with that message coming out much earlier (and better performance from the NDP — more later), there’s a chance that a few would-be fairweather voters will stay NDP.

The other change (and perhaps more significant) has been the change of Steven Harper — a change in the target rather than the voters. Without preempting too much of the analysis of Conservatives yet to come, Harper’s early focus on defining himself and tactfully active work on diffusing Liberal attacks may ruin the effect of the fear strategy. Failure for want of adequate demons would eliminate the effect of the campaign on undecided voters, rather than those who might vote strategically to fend off a threat, and this is the prime target of most campaigning.

As the polls go, the Liberals have a few things to be happy about, and much to fear.

While overall support for the Liberals remains high, this is in large measure due to their share of the Quebec vote. Notwithstanding that their current standing in that provice, averaging just under 30%, isn’t high enough to fend off what looks like a Bloc resurgence (more on which later), 25% of Quebec’s 4-5 Million voters is a high enough number to significantly skew national figures without making any difference in seats. Liberal support has moved little in Quebec, though a slight upswing might have been observed. The only hope for the Liberals there is that enough Bloc support is composed of federalists upset with the Liberals who will lose their nerve come election day. The Liberals are bound, at present, to lose a few seats in Quebec.

In the Atlantic provinces, the Liberals retain a strong lead over the Conservatives, but a resurgent NDP vote may steal a few more seats away or even split the vote in enough ridings to increase Tory numbers. Layton’s campaign must falter for the Liberals to retain their position here, and as the Wonk has argued before, this region is crucial to any hope for a Liberal government.

Ontario, which many regard as a battleground, is more of a problem for the Liberals than it a first glance suggests. Fairly good overall numbers hide tremendous strength in the GTA (averaging 50% in most polling), and a dead heat beyond. In Southern Ontario, Liberals have a slim lead over Tories, while in Eastern Ontario, the Tories have a more convincing lead over the Liberals. Overall, there’s no reason to believe that the Liberals will be able to increase their seat count in Ontario.

The Prairies and Alberta remain a hard sell for Liberals. Strong overall Conservative numbers conceal growing NDP support in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The Liberals may find themselves in a two-way battle for second place in a number of ridings, but seem unlikely to make significant inroads. Alberta remains staunchly Conservative, where the party has the highest margin of any party in any polling district. Liberal hopes amount to no more than Anne McLellan retaining their lone seat.

British Columbia is the sole ray of sunshine at present. There, what looks like a tight three-way race is shaping up, in which the Liberals may have hopes of building on their 8 seats. That outcome will depend on the success of their fear campaign, as well as hopes that enough NDP support will swing their way to avoid vote-splitting and the election of Tory candidates.

Overall, the Liberals at present must hope that gains in BC offset losses in the East; but such an outcome is next to impossible. To retain their position, they must retrench their Eastern seats. To that end, the next phase of their campaign needs its fearmongering (and for that fearmongering to be successful) as well as a positive message for voters to choose (see “change” above). If they prove themselves incapable of either landing these punches or offering voters the change they seek, the Liberals will have to pray for Tory , BQ and NDP blunders to keep from losing seats and, possibly, government.

Odi et Amo0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Golden Tacks (Friday December 23, 2005 at 12:26 pm)

Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s NDP, has already shown his willingness to fight for youth issues in prudently dismissing non-education policies on the grounds that they don’t deal with education. Now, he’s taking on another issue close to the youth. He’s attacking the national bogeyman.

Without a trace of sarcasm, the icy Wonk is among those who’d be terrified to find Ralph Klein lurking in their closet, but we’re talking about a political bogeyman here.

Premier Klein’s appearances in federal elections are always bound to delight and terrify in equal parts, depending on one’s own political bend; but his Alberta has long been the whipping boy of politicians, like Mr. Layton, raising the macabre spectacle of privately funded health care in Canada (boo, children, remember, its all pantomime).

Whether privately-funded health care is a bad thing or not, there’s one important point to be noted about Alberta’s health care system: it appears to be offering some results. A recent initiative has provided a new model for health services dealing with knee and joint problems. By bringing all the requisite practitioners and specialists together in centralized clinics, the government has managed to reduce wait times for these kinds of surgery. Preliminary reports suggest that the reduced wait times come from a combination of time saved in travelling between and booking appointments for the various specialists, better prioritization of patients and elimination of unnecessary surgeries due to collaborative efforts at diagnosis and evaluation, and better diagnoses resulting from the enhanced collaboration and proximity of specialists. Considering that wait times for this kind of surgery are a concern for most provincial healthcare systems, programs like this are well worth investigating.

The folly is obvious. Cheap demonizing of Alberta for political ends tends to obscure what successes it may have; and this means in turn that Canadians may not be adequately informed about what policy solutions are out there. How can people make wise decisions while blinded to viable options on the basis of a straw man argument?

Attack Ralph Klein, if you must, with whatever vitriole you think is best; but don’t let distaste prevent you from recognizing the good done by anyone. We should hope that Mr. Layton’s remarks run only straw-deep.

Land of the Midnight Sun0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Bad Press, By other means. . . (Thursday December 22, 2005 at 6:41 pm)

Much ado about 60+ degrees of north latitude, that oft-neglected part of Canada.

Sometimes, it just seems unfair. The arctic showed so very much promise once the Northwest Passage was finally found. But then, it is frozen rather more of the year than the Panama Canal.

But Canadians surely respect the region that gives their nation its special something. Oslo may be farther north, Russia may have more Arctic territory, but Canada has. . .a territory largely administered by and for populations native to the region (and the line “True North strong and free” in the national anthem). That and a hotel located within dogsledding distance of a local tourists’ graveyard.

Small wonder, then, that the party leaders have been spending so very much time on the three seats representing this northern region.

Mr. Layton’s recent visit even attempted to capture some of the magic of Ed Broadbent’s dogsled ride with his wife, back in 1980, which helped the NDP in garnering one of two seats. Though there was a photo-op, the equipment must have malfunctioned, as the National Post ran the 1980 photo on page A6. Either CanWest (still primping to be a national network) didn’t send anyone to cover the event, or the Post decided that not enough readers would care. Probably the latter. Besides which, the 1980 election was more interesting. Anyone for Social Credit?

Mr. Harper, meanwhile, has proposed the acquisition of three heavy-duty icebreakers and the increase of military forces stationed in the Arctic, at a cost of $5.3 Billion over five years. The priority would be to detect and respond to foreign ships and others in the Arctic.

Mr. Martin has gone on the defensive, attacking the Conservative plan with two claims: first, that the icebreakers will cost at least $1 Billion each plus $150 Million per annum to operate; and second, in the words of Defence Minister Bill Graham, that the plan is an expensive response to a non-existent military threat.

Mr. Graham might be having some difficulty in remembering that he took a costly trip to the Arctic not long ago to help reestablish Canadian claims to an island repeatedly “visited” by the Danish army.

Why offer himself up in such hypocrisy? Criticisms tend to sound less partisan when they come out of Ministers’ mouths than the campaigning party leader. Besides which, all parties seem to agree that the region is only going to grow in importance.

As Mr. Layton put it, global warming is likely to make the Canadian north more amenable both to shipping and to exploration for mineral and other natural resources. His proposals, to increase locals’ role in the development and benefit from these resources is a classic strategy for sovereign control (as well as a prudent campaign promise): make sure that the locals have a vested interest in promoting your control of the region.

The prospect of global warming means a harder time for Canadians. Ensuring sovereign control over the Arctic isn’t merely a spitting contest between states — it is the only way to enforce Canadian interests such as environmental protection, resource extraction, and the rule of law. If Canada fails to develop the capacity to enforce its jurisdiction in the North, others will expand their own sovereignty to take on the role.

The Liberals point out that there are presently over 4,000 Army Rangers covering the North; but a quick check shows that only about 1,600 of those are actually in the Territories (and many of those in northern BC and Alberta).

As for the cost question, the United States Coast Guard has just requisitioned $110 Million USD for the acquisition of a new heavy icebreaker for use on the Great Lakes. Is it conceivable that an Arctic version will cost at least eight times as much? Hardly. Arctic-use icebreakers cost the US Coast Guard $11 Million each to operate in 1994. Why would it cost the federal government more than three times as much to operate Canadian icebreakers a mere ten years later? With inflation, we’d expect a 30% increase over that time, not 200%. Isn’t the US military known for overinflated costs anyway? Does the Liberal party have a source for a quotation on icebreakers which it produced in less than a day? It was a fairly quick response. Did they go with the first quote? And were they on the public payroll or the party payroll when they did it?

The question really isn’t whether Canadians need to have the capacity to respond to sovereignty threats and rescue efforts in the vast Arctic region — it’s how much is necessary to achieve that aim. Misleading quotations of troop figures and brash announcements of massive investment do the same thing for the debate: little. A campaign is a poor time to refine policy — it must be at its bluntest to avoid seeming insignificant. The pity is that Canadians may respond to such sweeping statements and genuine needs with indifference; and the North which succours their identity deserves better.

One-Liner: The Land is Strong0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Doubletake/Doubletalk (Thursday December 22, 2005 at 1:09 am)

There are moments when politics no longer matter. Those are the moments when a policy, however skillfully crafted and prudently designed, is promoted with a statement of such sublime stupidity that a quoter of Quayleisms would look down in disgust.

To wit: the introduction of an environmental policy by the Greens was accompanied by the following remark by Calgary Southwest candidate Kim Warnke. When confronted with the possibility that Albertans might not respond well to the elimination of business subsidies to oil and gas concerns, Ms Warnke suggested that environmentalism was on the rise in Alberta:

“A lot of people in Alberta use the land on a regular basis. They visit it, they live on it, we have a large rural contingent. And so people see the changes that are happening and they’re concerned.”

Indeed.

The frosty Wonk visited the land recently, after slipping on a patch of ice also curiously using the land. With this kind of penetration, there’s no doubt that environmentalism is on the upswing.

There Goes the Country0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Doubletake/Doubletalk, Strategic Planning, A House Divided (Wednesday December 21, 2005 at 5:30 pm)

It wasn’t long after the first debate in the Canadian election that Liberal leader, Paul Martin, made a pledge to fight separatism:

Later Martin told reporters: “I’m going to meet him (Duceppe) on every street corner, in every city and in every town and village in Quebec.”

A Quebec television station, TQS offered an opportunity to do just that yesterday. M. Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, said yes. Mr. Martin said no.

Liberals are now saying it makes no sense for Mr. Martin, a national leader, to debate a leader of a party that runs no candidates outside Quebec.

Does Mr. Martin frequently say things which make no sense? Sure: his claim that it’s the job of the Prime Minister to “defend” the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (it’s the Courts’ job, actually, more on which later); his grandstanding jabs at non-Kyoto countries doing a better job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions than Canada; and his claims that merely continuing the funding levels of an existing program constitutes the introduction of something bigger and better.

But surely, having fought for federalism all his life, Mr. Martin has achieved some successes? Well, having been born in 1938, we might hope to see some improvement over time:

Well, that’s not much. How about something more substantial and pertinent? How about Liberal support in Quebec?

Note, those polling numbers haven’t gotten any better over the course of the campaign, no matter what histrionics the Prime Minister has offered.

But this is all a bit unfair. After all, a major factor in the Liberals’ performance has to be the sponsorship scandal.

If so, why doesn’t Paul Martin take the opportunity to distance himself from the past performance of his party? Exonerated by the Gomery report, why doesn’t he take the opportunity to distinguish himself and strengthen his party in a region where it has historically been strong?

If you’ve watched the man answer reporters’ questions, you’ll know why he won’t stand in a forum where he can’t get away with prepared remarks.

More worrying for federalists should be recent reports from the Maritimes. Apparently, the Bloc have a certain appeal out East, and small wonder. Privately, the Wonk is certain that many Canadians outside of Quebec would prefer Gilles Duceppe as a leader to most of the other candidates; and the Bloc has consistently bucked for Quebec’s interests in the house, rather than merely blockading the government in an attempt to tear the country apart. Recently, consider the Bloc’s insistence that the same-sex marriage bill be put to a vote as a condition for extending the House of Commons’ Spring Session this past year, without which it remains uncertain that the Liberal government would have slated the bill for a final vote (easier to delay while claiming to support the policy than to actually implement it and pay a political price — see “decriminalizing marijuana”).

Moreover, pressed by the new PQ (the BQ’s provincial cousin) leader to clarify his own position on the federal election, Quebec Premier (and Liberal) Jean Charest has suggested that some of the Conservatives’ proposals offer encouraging signs for Quebec’s interests. Despite Paul Martin’s reply that the Liberal plan has much to offer Quebecers, such approval could make votes for Conservatives more agreeable in a province which has long avoided that. Given the combination of anger with the Liberal party, desire for a federalist voice, and support from the Liberal Premier, some votes could slip from the Liberals’ grasp in crucial ridings. There are no polls recent enough to show whether this has had any immediate effect on the electorate. It’s unlikely to have much effect, considering Steven Harper’s uncelebrated (if passable) French skills, but a little means a lot in this campaign.

The PQ Leader (Andre Boisclair) isn’t the only one who might like some clarification.

Given all this, the Prime Minister’s refusal to debate sends a bad message to all sides. Soft federalists hearing the Liberal excuse might be excused themselves for wondering how Mr. Martin plans to fight separatists if he can’t engage with them on principle. Soft sovereigntists will see cowardice, countered only by claims sounding like entitlement from the mouth of an anglophone instead of the vision and heart which grounds the separatist position. Mr. Martin recently offered the sound of the following fury:

“You are not going to take my country away from me with some trick, with some ambiguous question,” he said.
“This is my country and my children were born and raised in Quebec, and you’re not going to go to them and say that you’re going to find some back-door way of taking my country or dividing Quebec family against Quebec family.”

Mr. Martin was responding to a question pointing out that he had never supported the controversial Clarity Act before wielding it like a rubber sword earlier in this campaign. But this response, however passably deflective, is far from adequate to the task of defending Canada.

It’s simply not the way to go: “my” country, not “ours”, and in English, to boot. In putting things that way, isn’t the Prime Minister himself dividing Quebec family against Quebec family by setting “his” family apart from anyone else’s who might opt for sovereignty? Ah, but the separatists did it first — their fault.

It’s also uncertain that a province-wide referendum campaign constitutes a back-door. If Mr. Martin is referring to the idea that the question being asked is so misleading as to prevent voters from knowing the separatists’ purpose, he’s treading on dangerous ground. Is suggesting that Quebecers are too stupid to understand what sovereigntists are after really the way to sway their votes?

Yes, it is. Just not to your side.

Such rhetoric plays superbly in Ontario, where anglophone throats choke forth cholerous French-sounding dipthongs at the mere thought of Quebecois separatists rending families asunder. In Laval, they probably laugh. If they bother to listen, that is.

On the whole, bad signs for the Liberals in Quebec — the Prime Minister hasn’t found a way to boost his party there, yet.

Worse signs for Canada, if this is the best defence it can get.

Gaffe: You’re Either With Us, Or. . .0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning (Wednesday December 21, 2005 at 1:45 am)

You can take your gun-totin’ ass back to the US.

Wonderful. It’s not the anti-americanism displayed by the President of the Liberal Oakville Riding Association that should really concern anyone. It’s the fact that this particular brand of intolerance is the most dangerous: that which will not allow other opinions.

Isn’t this exactly what Paul Martin condemned the Bloc Quebecois for earlier in the campaign:

Liberal Leader Paul Martin, meanwhile, said Duceppe’s comments demonstrate a “narrowness of mind and an arrogance that is simply unacceptable.”

“Essentially, what they’re saying is if you don’t share the separatist option, then we don’t believe that you belong in contemporary Quebec.”

Right. So failing to share the separatist opinion doesn’t preclude you from belonging to Quebec, but failing to share an anti-gun opinion means that you don’t belong in Canada.

Arrogance? We’ve seen that from the Liberals. Narrowness of mind? That too, now.

As the Liberal leader put it: unacceptable.

Teated Bull0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Doubletake/Doubletalk, Strategic Planning (Tuesday December 20, 2005 at 4:35 pm)

Ah, that wacky Jack Layton. When the leader of Canada’s NDP isn’t helping his wife’s campaign in Trinity-Spadina, he’s busy displaying the kind of single-minded determination which can ensure that his party misses the point.

The possibility of a Conservative minority may raise the spectre of a deal for support between Tories and Dippers (as the NDP is sometimes known). But, as Mr. Layton puts it, a deal of that sort could be difficult, given Conservative agenda items:

“I think the problem is that their policy ideas are founded on a principle that doesn’t make sense. … I think they’re wrong on the issues and their connection isn’t with the values that Canadians have,” Layton said.
He singled out the Tory promise to slash the GST to 5 per cent as an idea the NDP couldn’t support because it would make little progress toward things like training and recreation programs or lowering tuition fees.

Quite so, Mr. Layton. A serious problem of which the Wonk knows something. The wonk has a computer, for example, which makes little progress toward shoveling snow and a number of tires which don’t help much with dinner.

But then, no one in their right mind expects them to.

If every policy were to be judged by its efficacy in promoting higher education, government might end by doing relatively little.

But then, has Mr. Layton really considered the effect of a 2% reduction in the GST on the costs of education? Books, supplies, tools, computers and clothing are all subject to GST (most notoriously the first). Would such a policy really do nothing for students? Ah, but when you define the issue from your perspective alone, these kinds of mistakes are inevitable.

But what, precisely, is the inevitable mistake: Mr. Layon’s analysis, or the NDP’s?

Tables Unturning0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, A House Divided (Tuesday December 20, 2005 at 2:52 pm)

The weapons of the enemy are always a promising avenue of attack. Master them, and you’re on your way to mastering the enemy itself. It worked for the Romans and the English, but can it work for Canadian Conservative leader Steven Harper?

Long accustomed to enduring attacks painting him as a danger to Canada, Harper has spent the first few weeks of this campaign focussing on policy in a clear attempt to preemptively define himself.

Now, he’s gone on the attack with a strategy torn from the pages of his opponents (more on which later).

The Conservative leader has alleged that the federal Liberals’ poor performance in Quebec is just what Liberals want. Given that the Liberals are the only national party presenting a real challenge to the separatist Bloc Quebecois in that province, Canadians will naturally turn to the Liberals when national unity is threatened. Therefore, goes his thinking, by letting the BQ surge, the Liberals secure the support of fearful federalists across the country, boosting their performance elsewhere.

If true, Mr. Harper’s allegations merely brand the Liberal Party of Canada as the stupidest strategists in history — a questionable charge for a party which held power for three quarters of the last century, even given their recent weakness.

But let’s say, as we must to believe Mr. Harper’s claim, that the Liberals have the ability to win or lose something in the neighbourhood of twenty seats in Quebec — enough to make the difference between a Liberal and a separatist hold on that provinces 75 constituencies. How many seats would the threat of national disunity add, nationwide, to Liberal totals? Out West, probably none — concessions to Quebec aren’t as saleable as the Liberals might like. Out East, the Liberals have about as many seats as they’re likely to win. National unity wouldn’t likely pick up more than about 15 of the thirty seats they don’t already hold there (at a maximum).

By contrast, what would the situation be if they held the twenty seats in Quebec, rather than lying down? Twenty more seats in the House. In the last election, that would have brought them a majority. In this election, twenty seats could, once more, make that much of a difference. Unless the Liberals are able to gain twenty seats by stoking fears of separatism, it’s unlikely such a stratagem would be worth deploying — holding the seats is more worthwhile.

So even if it’s true that Liberals benefit from fears of separation, they probably benefit less from such fears than they would from a strong showing in Quebec. It’s highly unlikely, then, that the Liberals intentionally do badly in Quebec — it’s more worthwhile for them to do well there, as their historic performance in the province shows. Their present weakness is one of the major contributing factors in their inability to hold a majority.

And most Canadians probably have a certain understanding of this. The Liberals have had a powerbase in Quebec since the Conservatives fell apart there in the 1920s. That they would sacrifice that base in the face of weakness and uncertain performance elsewhere is too preposterous an idea to suggest. No one will believe it.

Full marks to Mr. Harper for trying to turn the tables on the Liberals; but he needs to try a claim that isn’t so transparently ridiculous. It lays his strategy bare, and bare strategies look ugly. He’s right to take the enemy’s weapons, but he needs to wield them with a bit more subtlety and skill.

Nothing Doing0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Saturday December 17, 2005 at 12:58 pm)

Another debate? See this post.

But at least someone is interested in a real debate. Gilles Duceppe is calling for a debate format that will bring real exchanges between the leaders.

A debate, you say, rather than a series of pointed, disjointed prepared statements?

Apparently, Canadians are responding favorably to a format in which the leaders merely present the opinions on their web sites, rather than challenging one another on the viability and details of their plans. But then, Canadian’s probably aren’t interested in the viability of the parties’ proposals — they’re happy to take them at face value, no doubt (which, gauging from the opinion of politicians’ reliability, is zero).

Does turning the debate on make Canadians feel better informed about the options? Really? In the absence of contrary information? The above poll suggests they’re not getting information anywhere else. . .

But Paul Martin (if you don’t know who he is, please try reading something else) seemed willing to leap into the fray with Mr. Duceppe:

Following the English-language debate in Vancouver Friday night, Martin promised to meet Duceppe on every street corner in every town and city in Quebec to fight on behalf federalism.

A worthy proposition. Rest assured, the Frigid Wonk will be there, making the book (en francais, chers lecteurs).

Or not. As Mr. Martin later pointed out:

Martin, however, says he has no interest in changing the debate’s format.
“The format was negotiated by the parties, and the television networks,” Martin said Saturday.

Indeed. Why try to change things if they’re already set up a certain way? Just to make things better? Why, that would require making new rules or something equally complicated, inconvenient, and just plain hard to do. You know, something like making laws. That might be a job for a politician or a leader.

Clearly not Mr. Martin’s preferred vocation.

Unsurprisingly Pedestrian0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Friday December 16, 2005 at 12:41 am)

A debate, you thought? Not with that format.

No direct exchanges? Check.

Rehashing of public statements? Check.

Prepared remarks? Check.

Utterly pointless? And how.

No wonder the Globe and Mail cranked up its reporting skills to provide this breaking headline:

Leaders Sound off in First Debate

As true today as it was when it was coined (probably by the first english-speaking debate promoter speaking to the first debate promotee).

But we don’t go to the papers for news, do we? Or to news outlets for meaningful presentations of political debate?

Health Care, STAT0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Golden Tacks (Thursday December 15, 2005 at 12:01 am)

Suddenly, the quintessential Canadian question comes to the fore.

Apparently, there’s a secret plan in the works to privatize health care. Don’t tell too many people, though — it won’t be secret anymore.

Remarkably, we’ve not had to suffer too much on the subject in this election, but the debates are ahead. Once more, the leaders will no doubt compete in swearing their undying loyalty to health care as equally and surely (and probably with as much significance) as they swear loyalty to the Queen.

But this is different, isn’t it? They’ll promise better health care, whatever that means (surely not better health, they’re neither that stupid nor that clever).

But wasn’t this already dealt with, you ask? After all, last election we were promised that health care was to be fixed for a generation. Then it happened, didn’t it? This time around, we didn’t just transfer money — we agreed to set standards nationwide!

And so the provinces have. A new wait-time strategy was recently released, setting 10 benchmarks for wait times that provinces will be required to meet.

Eventually.

If you bother to read the report (which, apparently, few people have), you’ll discover that this is merely the first of a number of stages:

The agreement itself
Finished. Now we know exactly how long we’d like to wait for medical treatment. Good thing, too. I was starting to wonder. Note, however, that the wait times in the agreement are for certain categories of major treatment. They don’t set standards for waiting around in hospitals or for waiting to find a family doctor — lower-profile problems, to be sure, but also the starting point for major ones.
The plan to implement it
Now we’re getting somewhere. You see, the agreement doesn’t tell provinces how to achieve these goals, it simply suggests that they must meet these goals, and prepare plans to do so by, say, the end of 2007. Just to emphasise, no plan to meet the goals needs to be ready (not implemented) until 2007.
The implementation
This part is, of course, where we actually want to be. Unfortunately, there’s no indication whatsoever of when we can expect the benchmarks to be met. Notwithstanding that the federal government has already committed additional funds on an annual basis, nothing provides that the program effect its purported aims at any particular point. It merely requires that a plan to do so be in place by the end of 2007. Presumably, the implementation will begin at some point thereafter. Who knows how long it will take.

What does it all mean?

No progress on wait times for years, despite the fact that both levels of government claim to have struck the deal to fix healthcare for a generation.

No real initiatives to deal with doctor shortages, hospital overcrowding, or any problem beyond some surgical procedures.

A few vague promises to deal with other issues.

Not a fix for this generation, clearly. When will politicians stop making ridiculous claims to have solved our problems?

When we stop assuming that spending is proof enough.

Just Don’t Look0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Doubletake/Doubletalk, The Elephant (Wednesday December 14, 2005 at 11:35 pm)

Yes, the business with teasing the US is still going on in the Canadian election.

The CBC’s temporary radio show, Spin-Off got it right. Is Paul Martin’s playing up of animosity with the US any different from George Bush’s repeated use of the spectre of 9/11?

Yes. 9/11 was more serious.

As the CBC reported:

Martin has been critical of U.S. policy, not only in trade disputes, but also on global warming. He denies he is raising these things now as election fodder.

“Those issues predate the election campaign,” he said. “But if those issues arise, then I will deal with them as they arise.”

If the issues predated the campaign, then surely they’ve already arisen. Isn’t it about time the Prime Minister shut his mouth and dealt with them? The issue he started with was greenhouse gases, and as is becoming clear, Canada wasn’t just lagging the US in controlling emissions, it’s steadily getting worse. Paul Martin might want to remove the log from his own lungs before he complains about the mote in President Bush’s again; but then, it didn’t stop him before, did it?

Remember: he just wants attention, like any child throwing a tantrum. Ignore him, and he’ll have to offer something other than straw men in the way of campaigning.

Politics Confused0

Posted by JJ in By other means. . ., Golden Tacks, Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday December 14, 2005 at 12:26 am)

Politics is a dangerous game, make no mistake. In some places, it’s even more dangerous.

Some time ago, some Palestinians determined that the most effective way to achieve their political demands (a Palestinian state) was by targeted terror activities. The success of that approach may be judged by the status eventually accorded to one terrorist group’s leader, Yasser Arafat, by both Palestinians and the international community.

But political choices always come with consequences. Sometimes the consequences are ignored, and sometimes they are accepted as necessary costs; but they are inevitable.

The consequence of using terrorism to advance a political end is clear: it legitimises the use of terror as a mode of political activity.

The result is what we’re seeing now: armed groups attacking electoral officials as the result of infighting among political candidates.

Not to be blind, in times before the imposition of the secret ballot in other countries, intimidation by party-run gangs was a strong possibility. But this did not emerge from a legitimized use of such methods, and objections to this process played a role in the development of the secret ballot.

The present attacks are different. There is a secret ballot in Palestine. The attacks are meant to intimidate election workers and voters alike, to undermine the authority of the elections themselves, and with it, those in charge of the nascent state.

This should not be taken to mean that Palestinians are anti-democratic, or that they prefer violence to other political options — far from the truth. But it does demonstrate the severity of the challenges they face in erecting a functional system of politics to deliver the benefits of an organized society: overcoming a dangerous confusion between politics and warfare.

The Palestinian Authority has promised to respond with increased security for electoral officials, but this will not resolve the underlying problem. Since terrorism is intertwined with the road to their statehood, they cannot villify violent action so easily; and without deligitimizing violent action as a means of political action, there will be no end of those who resort to it.

This is a difficult problem: to be a victim of one’s own success. The ability of Palestinians to find a solution is crucial to their state’s future success.

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