Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Primus Super Pares0

Posted by JJ in Golden Tacks, Crossroads of Culture (Monday January 30, 2006 at 12:20 am)

Whether you agree with the Iraqi war or not, it’s led to some interesting revelations.

It may be classically trite to point out that dictators rule for themselves, and not for any other purpose; but this is really the only point worth dwelling on. It’s not absolute power that makes a tyrant, neither is it solitary rule. Debatably, granted, but no one’s ever had the former, and the latter makes both tyrants and beloved monarchs.

The ancients made the distinction closely (as some have tried to point out): a tyranny was a corrupt form of monarchy, in which power no longer served the political community, but rather, the tyrant himself. The tyrant served his own interests, bringing to life the ancient Greek’s vision of the Oriental (read: Persian) potentate, a decadent, self-serving fop.

The tyrant isn’t part of the politics of a community, he stands above it. He commands the community the way a Roman father commands the household. All those within are working for his advancement. What benefit they derive is incidental — he is entitled to their service and they are required to be grateful. He is not part of the household, he is above it. Not part of the community, but outside it, by virtue of his position.

Which is why outbursts like this from Saddam Hussein, former ruler of Iraq, seem telling:

“I want to leave the court,” Saddam Hussein demanded of the judge, who in turn ordered the former leader out.

“I led you for 35 years and you order me out of the court?” the former Iraqi president responded angrily.

Presumably, having led the country entitles Mr. Hussein to some special consideration — he is no longer within the ambit of the law.

This is not the outburst of a criminal who thinks the law is wrong, neither the anger of a man who claims that he is falsely accused or wrongly deposed. It is plainly the indignation of a man who is no subject.

Easy, perhaps, to recognize in the tantrum of a fallen dictator the indicia of tyranny. He refuses to be subject to the law, for no man is subject to his servant, and the law, like everything else in Iraq, was consigned to his service.

Leadership bestows no gifts anymore than being a doctor makes a man wealthy. It is, in point of fact, charging for a doctor’s services that makes a man wealthy. A good doctor makes people well — it is a good biller who amasses wealth; and there have always been those of skill who cannot seem to make a profit from it.

The gifts bestowed on leaders are thanks for good work done. They should not come from having led, though, more and more, it seems acceptable that former leaders should qualify for high honours (a deplorable practice which does little to uphold the value of such honours and much to diminish the accomplishments of the truly deserving).

But to the point: when those who come to power play it for their own benefit do we stop and wonder? Do we ask how far a government can bend the state to satisfy its political supporters? Do we, in short, demand that governments work for the interests of us all, or are we satisfied to see them work for only a few of us?

Do we, or are there tyrants living above us, too?

Long Time No Wonk0

Posted by JJ in Brass Tacks (Sunday January 29, 2006 at 7:33 pm)

An election takes a lot out of any wonk, no matter how hard and battle-ready, but that’s a poor excuse for a week’s delay. That’s a real long time in politics. . .

Who’s Intimidating Whom?0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Sunday January 22, 2006 at 10:03 pm)

Apparently, Elections Canada expects to have some problems in the coming election. They’ve rushed out a release reminding Canadians that if they vote, they have to vote for someone on the ballot, or else:

Spoiling your ballot is a crime

Well, it could be true.

Section 167 of the Elections Act (combined with section 489(3)(e)) makes it an offence to “alter, deface or destroy” a ballot, for which a judge can render a sentence of up to $500 in fines or 3 months in prison. Of course, that means the judge can also render a sentence of $0 in fines and no time in prison. It’s all up to what the judge thinks is proper.

Obviously, someone who eats their ballot in protest has destroyed it, and anyone who strikes out a name and writes in a new one has altered it. But does that mean that someone who fails to mark any circle has defaced it? Someone who marks every circle? Doubtful. There’s no Canadian case saying so, and it’s hard to imagine that a judge would believe that not marking off any boxes somehow means defacing a ballot. . .

So what’s Elections Canada’s problem?

They’ve sugested that spoiling your ballot is a waste of time:

Spoiling a ballot in privacy is not much of a protest, suggests Elections Canada spokesman Dana Doiron.

“Nobody gets real satisfaction out of it because nobody knows about it,” Doiron said.

Isn’t that in the nature of a secret ballot? No one else knows how you’ve voted? Isn’t satisfaction something you enjoy yourself? Does everyone in the world need to know that you’ve done a good thing for you to be satisfied by it? Does Elections Canada employ anyone a little less shallow?

If it’s an act of protest that’s never publicized, what’s the difference between spoiling a ballot and voting for a candidate who isn’t elected?


  • A sudden surge in the reported number of spoiled ballots suggests that voters were dissatisfied with the selection
  • A sudden surge in hold-your-nose and vote for one of several unacceptable choices suggests that voters support those choices

Let’s be clear. Holding your nose and voting doesn’t express anything but support for the party you’ve settled for. If you want parties to stop messing around and try to propose genuine governance (rather than cheap pandering), voting for them isn’t the way to go. Staying home is equally ineffective. If your response is to not vote, it suggests that voting isn’t important enough for you for them to care what you do — after all, if you can’t be bothered, why should they be?

Don’t let Elections Canada intimidate you: spoiled ballots are counted, they’re just not reported by news agencies. They are, however, tracked as “rejected” or “spoiled” and the fact that x number of ballots were so treated is part of the public record of the election. And believe it or not, parties are very interested in the number of voters.

Should there be another option? An option to reject the ballot? Certainly. There isn’t now, and that’s not just an oversight — it’s a failure on the part of Elections Canada and our legislators (who are doubtless happier with hold-your-nose than with the option to denounce them all). Until that’s resolved (along with countless other bits of associated foolishness — this announcement being only one of many), feel free to let them know that they need to provide choices to let Canadians effectively exercise their slender right to control their government.

For now, remember this: a little civil disobedience can be a good thing.

Short Stack0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Vague Check (Saturday January 21, 2006 at 1:31 pm)

Scary stuff this: according to Liberal leader Paul Martin, Steven Harper has a secret plan to stack the court with judges favorable to “the most socially conservative agenda that has ever been this close to forming a government”.

First things first, is this even plausible? No.

While there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court at the moment (since the retirement of Justice Major in December), no more openings are expected before 2013 and 2014, well after a Conservative mandate in the 2006 election would end. If Paul Martin believes what he’s saying, it can mean only one of two things:

  • The appointment of a single judge can suddenly overwhelm the judgement of eight others
  • Paul Martin knows that several justices will die well before their 75th birthdays

The former is merely laughable, the latter absurd.

But the Liberal leader’s seeming ignorance in easily-researched matters such as the age of sitting judges falls right into line with the remainder of his claim: that the Conservative party presently represents the most right-wing agenda in the history of the country.

Surely this doesn’t include Liberal governments which prohibited immigration from China between 1927 and 1948, upheld prohibition, or the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War?

Certainly not. After all, when you’re ignorant, no one can fault you for preposterous claims. The question remains: will anyone hold you to account for them?


Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning (Thursday January 19, 2006 at 10:46 pm)

One of the most unusual features of this campaign was the timing of platform releases by the two leading parties. The Liberal platform wasn’t released until January 11th, and the Conservative platform even later — waiting for the 13th, ten days before the election.

One might expect an earlier release date. After all, shouldn’t the parties have an idea of where they’re going with policy well in advance of the election? Wouldn’t they be better off showing Canadians the goods from the get-go? Don’t they run the risk of missing the boat with voters interested in policies not yet announced?

As campaigns are increasingly run by strategic considerations, the function of a platform shifts from a de rigeur presentation of a party’s “position”. Everyone recognizes that delivery of the message is as important as the content of the message. Given that, there are a few important considerations in timing platform’s release:

  • The risk of other events detracting from the publicity associated with a platform release
  • The risk of delayed releases being botched by leaks, making the party look unprofessional
  • The need to generate publicity consistently throughout a campaign

Layout and publication take some time — text and its translation must be vetted thoroughly to ensure that the written material matches up with the campaign message. This election came about quickly enough that parties may not have had platforms ready for release at the outset. Still, if the campaigns had any strategy in them, it shouldn’t have taken long to release a platform. So why did the parties wait so long?

In the Conservative’s case, it was certainly intentional. The Tory plan began with a careful attempt to establish their identity through a controlled daily dose of policy announcements. Had their platform been released before their announcements, other parties could have disrupted their planned presentation or worse: levelled critiques before the Tories had had the chance to frame the issues. Their strategy worked so effectively that a number of early Liberal announcements (head-tax reduction, daycare funding extension) were responses to Tory releases. Control of the agenda can easily become control of the election, and the results have proven the Tory approach.

The Liberals have been busy reacting through much of the campaign. Most notably, the launch of their negative advertisements came after the holidays — few national events and announcements preceded the new year. Major events included the Prime Minister reading to schoolchildren, which failed to impress Liberal backbenchers. The Liberals had clearly calculated that voters would only begin paying attention after the holidays. While this might have been true, it’s clear that the Tory groundwork pre-Christmas had some effect, while voters are still wondering what “values” means when Paul Martin speaks of them. In the Liberals’ case, an early release could have provided a sense of the party’s position and offered the basis for further campaigning. The platform itself was vaguely enough framed to contain few things for the Conservatives or NDP to attack.

It’s not clear that platforms are particularly crucial to a campaign, especially since the specific presentation of policies has probably eclipsed their content in importance. The late release of platforms in this campaign may not, in itself, be an issue, but the one fact is a reflection of the two front-runners’ campaigns as a whole; and remarkably opposite in effect for each.


Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Doubletake/Doubletalk (Wednesday January 18, 2006 at 2:30 pm)

Unionists aren’t traditionally known for the subtlety of their political messages, so Liberal leader Paul Martin shouldn’t really have been surprised to find that he had some ’splainin’ to do when he arranged for Buzz Hargrove to toast him.

The CAW boss promptly urged Quebecers to vote for the Bloc Quebecois (a separatist party) to prevent Conservatives from gaining seats in Quebec, called the Conservative leader (a federalist party) a separatist, and suggested that Albertan values aren’t shared by others in Canada.

Curiously, it wasn’t Hargrove who offered the retraction, but Martin, in the following terms:

  • “I have large differences with Stephen Harper but I have never doubted his patriotism”
  • “[T]he values that we hold in this country go from coast to coast”

Which explains why Martin offered the retractions: he’s reversing his position on both of these points.

He did question Harper’s patriotism in the course of the second English-language debate, as reported here:

Harper desperately waves the flag in defence, even though as Martin said, “I never attacked Mr. Harper’s patriotism.'’ But he did manage to raise that ugly Harper speech of 1997.

And it hardly needs be repeated that the crux of the Liberals’ negative campaign has been the difference between their values and Tory values, as reported here:

“This is about the kind of Canada you want and it’s about values,” Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh said. “The Prime Minister has laid out very clearly that this election offers a stark choice between the values of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives and we Liberals.”

The only way out of this would be for Martin to claim that Tory values aren’t Canadian values. But doesn’t that return us to point one?

See, this is the problem with negative campaigning. Say enough things that you don’t believe yourself, and you’ll wind up with enough rope to be hanged from.

Fear And Apathy0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Tuesday January 17, 2006 at 11:23 am)

A potent combination.

Tony Ianno, Minister of State for Families and Caregivers (it’s just like being a Secretary of State — you don’t get an enormous Ministry, but you do get a bigger budget), is apparently running scared in Trinity-Spadina.

Olivia Chow, popular local councillor and wife of NDP leader Jack Layton, came within 800 votes of defeating Minister Ianno. Some attributed the narrow loss to her failure to resign her seat on city council.

But now, she’s done that; and hubby Jack’s making the rounds to convince NDP voters that the Liberals aren’t an option.

But how bad is it for the Minister?

Bad enough to shut down a student-oriented poll, out of fear that it was likely to result in easier votes for the NDP.

Was it set up in violation of Elections Canada rules? Quite possibly. Would his office have spent even an instant trying to shut it down if it expected to gain from it? Don’t bet on it.

Ah, Fudge0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Tuesday January 17, 2006 at 1:23 am)

The Liberals have been working hard to sour Canadians on the surging Conservative party. But now, it appears that something might be able to stick.

Initial attempts to discredit the Tory platform’s numbers didn’t seem to have much effect (partly, at least, because the Liberal reading of the numbers added Tory spending proposals to spending projections which included Liberal proposals). But now, there’s a new detail creeping in.

Eager to have their housekeeping skills approved, the Tories had submitted their numbers to an economist at the Conference Board of Canada for independent verification of the numbers. But, it seems, they didn’t give him all the details to look over. Instead, they omitted two major areas: health care wait times and “fiscal imbalance”.

The first is easy enough to deal with. The Conservatives are promising to transport patients on long waiting lists to other jurisdictions for speedy treatment. It’s a bit difficult for Liberals to complain about this one, given that their identical proposal is costed at $75 Million. That’s not enough to break the bank.

Second, the “fiscal imbalance”. This imbalance is a vague theory, stemming from the fact that the federal government runs a surplus while most provinces are running a deficit. Attributing this in part to the 1993 reductions in transfers from the federal government for health care and social programs, the theory argues that the federal government now takes a dominant share of income taxes but no longer has a dominant role in delivery of the services which they pay for. Therefore, its control over those tax resources is inappropriate.

The proposed change would consist of the federal government reducing taxes while the provincial governments raise them by a corresponding amount. The net level of taxation (and hence, revenue) wouldn’t change, but more of it would be collected by the governments which spend it, hopefully shifting enough of the burden to ease budgetary pressures on the provinces.

While making sure that such a proposal has the intended effect (no overall impact on revenue) would be difficult, it’s not impossible — it’s just a matter of negotiation between the parties. The real point is that this kind of arrangement shouldn’t have any effect on funding for programs, just on who collects the funding.

So what’s the net impact of these omissions? About $75 Million in a budget of roughly $230 Billion, or a “fudge factor” of .032%.

Not worth worrying about? Hah.

The reviewing economist suggested that the wait time guarantee might not have been included because it was difficult to price and would require negotiations. How’d the Liberals manage it, then? Why couldn’t the Tories establish a cap for the federal contribution to such a program? Considering how small the difference in the platform would have been, what would it cost them?

In fact, this is the real issue: why hide something this small and petty? Why overlook somethiong this simple and easy? What kind of approach to management does it suggest?

Oh, and if it’s fudge ye want, fudge may ye have.


Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Monday January 16, 2006 at 10:40 pm)

And now for something completely different:

Iran will be hosting a conference on the holocaust.

Previously, this kind of spectacle could only be had by watching South African President Mbeki deliver another famous conference speech on AIDS.

Coming soon, a Vatican conference on the death of God.

And now, a man with fire-proof pants.

Who Will Rid Me Of This Turbulent Priest?0

Posted by JJ in The Other America (Monday January 16, 2006 at 12:55 am)

What does that pesky Catholic Church really want?

Souls? Gold? Tickets to Bon Jovi?

According to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the downfall of his government.

Apparently, fresh (in Vatican terms 15 years isn’t that long) from its victory over Communism in Eastern Europe, the Vatican is going to take on socialist regimes elsewhere. Cuba was out of course, having gotten a cautious thumbs up from former pontiff, John Paul II.

So where’s a German Shepherd to go? Well, Venezuela offers a hot-headed President with his own, hand-made “world’s most advanced” constitution (presumably, it can tell you when it’s being breached), a persecution complex, and a new approach to socialism. Why not try there?

Surely a senior Cardinal, having lived in Venezuela for years, has some ulterior motive for his statements:

  • Speaking out against the arrests of opponents of the regime
  • Voicing concerns about the concentration of power under the current constitution

Oh, and the Vatican has taken pains to point out that these positions are those of the Cardinal in his personal capacity, and not the position of the Vatican. On the other hand, the bishops of Venezuela, in a rare step, have stood behind the Cardinal’s remarks.

So if the bishops “on the ground” and the Cardinal are concerned, only one question remains: what’s their angle? Couldn’t the Vatican’s disclaimer be a mere Elizabethan ploy?

Stop this sarcastic nonsense. The Vatican doesn’t have any reason to go around badmouthing random regimes, or any reason to “conspire” with the United States to attack Latin America — a major bulwark of the faith. Neither do its priests, bishops, or cardinals.

A bully is a bully. There has been bullying of Priests before, and the weapons of a populist aren’t those of a medieval king. Henry II proved to regret the outcome of his rage; let’s hope no one has cause to regret President Chavez’s outburst.

I’m Better Times Infinity0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Vague Check, Golden Tacks (Sunday January 15, 2006 at 10:11 pm)

Another day, another last-minute addition to the Liberal platform.

Desperate to find a positive, resonant message to keep Ontario from slipping away, and apparently unable to find anything compelling in his own platform, Liberal leader Paul Martin came up with another bold pronouncement: making the gas tax transfer to cities permanent.

In 2005-2006, $600 Million (or 15% of the amount received from federal gas tax) was distributed to cities, and the government has pledged to reach a distribution of 50% of revenues from this tax (or about $2 Billion) by 2009-2010.

But there’s nothing new in this promise — the Liberals already made it (see here). What has changed? The Liberals are promising that legislation will be passed to obligate the government to maintain the payments.

Sounds good — sounds great! The problem is that no such legislation can exist.

Parliament, subject to the constitution, is supreme. The only way to stop Parliament from passing legislation saying, for example, that red is green, is by something in the Constitution which says that Parliament can’t pass legislation to say that red is green (or something to that effect). Agreements between the federal and provincial governments can’t force Parliament to pass legislation or even honour a given agreement — the Supreme Court said so back in 1991.

Which is why no piece of legislation can possibly compel Parliament to approve any spending indefinitely, and spending must always be approved by Parliament. Any legislation passed which claims to have that effect will only last until new legislation is passed to do things differently.

So it’s a nice-sounding proposition, but short of becoming immortal and being declared dictator for life, there’s simply no way for it to be fulfilled. If you feel like fighting a lost cause, of course, promise anything you can — you can always point to your opponent’s later failures to implement your promise and claim, “I would have done it!”

Which makes this promise a prime example of childish politics. After all, any kid knows that a bid of infinity just can’t be beat!

Unless, of course, the Tories come up with infinity plus one. . .

Bribery’s Just Another Word For. . .0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Saturday January 14, 2006 at 8:43 pm)


Sounds so much better, doesn’t it? Is there really any difference?

What’s the real problem with offering a strong opponent a reason to help you instead of fighting? Isn’t that just a horse-trade of a different colour?

Casual observers might think that Liberal candidate David Oliver’s job offer to his NDP rival parallels the recent troubles of a BC Tory candidate.


  • Both kept something they were doing secret
  • Both secrets were exposed
  • Both exposes came within the same two days
  • Both party leaders have declared that the offenders won’t be allowed to sit in caucus if they win (well, sort of in the Tory case — see here)

So very much in common, but all completely superficial. The differences run deeper:

  • The Tory candidate concealed a quasi-criminal offence
  • The Liberal candidate concealed a legal bit of politicking

The cold Wonk knows there are those who would take offence at the suggestion that bribing an opponent to take a dive isn’t a big deal. But let’s look at this seriously: the NDP candidate had a duty to his party, not to the public. Trying to persuade him to break faith with his party just isn’t the same thing as violating a duty to the public, which, as the Wonk’s pointed out, is just what the Tory candidate has done, which is difference two:

  • The Tory candidate showed that he would break his public duty when it advantaged him
  • The Liberal candidate showed that he would persuade others to break their private duties when it advantaged him

We might not like the second one any more, but we certainly can’t say it’s the same thing. After all, isn’t persuasion to break private duties just what the government did in support of its budget when it persuaded Belinda Stronach to cross the floor?

Sure, (now) Minister Stronach claimed that she chose to cross. But if that were true, why would she have been made a Minister? Her political reputation? If she came freely, what bargaining power could she possibly have had?

Let’s try this scenario for a moment. You’re the Prime Minister of a minority government. A well-known and senior member (and one-time leadership candidate) of the opposition approaches you before a crucial vote and says that she can no longer support her own party, ideologically, and wants to join yours. Do you:

  • Immediately give her a Ministerial portfolio?
  • Give her a frontbench seat?
  • Give her a backbench seat and a portfolio some months later in a cabinet reshufle?

If you chose option 3, congratulate yourself. You’ve shown your opponents up dramatically — someone was willing to abandon their front ranks to become your mere footsoldier. The later shuffle will come along well after the initial shocks pass, and once the issue is passe (and the press favorable to your party), won’t make her look like an opportunist, either. Choosing option 1 might look like an honest expression of gratitude, but is that really the basis on which a shrewd operator like yourself gives out scarce political posts? Especially if it detracts from the recipient’s aura of sincerity. . .

If you don’t have options 2 and 3, then one thing is clear: she didn’t cross on principle.

In that event, it doesn’t matter whether she asked for a reward or you offered one. Two things are true:

  • She was willing to break her private duty for a reward
  • You were willing to offer a reward for her to break her private duty

And these are the offences we’re dealing with in the Liberal candidate’s case. Well, one of them, anyway.

When one party isn’t willing, the offence is obvious. Otherwise, it’s harder to spot; but we can’t be too hard on people for doing this kind of thing. It happens all the time in negotiations: one side offers the other an inducement to compromise one of their pledges.

The Prime Minister wants to get high and mighty on the issue:

“I have zero tolerance for that kind of thing, I acted, and that person is no longer a candidate for the Liberal party,” he said.

But isn’t this exactly what he did in changing the budget to secure NDP support for the measure? Offering inducements for the NDP to prefer some of their pledges and forego others?

Isn’t this what happened with Belinda Stronach?

Isn’t this, in all honesty, something to be expected in the process of political negotiations? Why is it that we can tolerate it when we can pretend it isn’t happening, but can’t tolerate it when it’s laid bare before us? Something about sausage springs to mind. . .

So if the offer isn’t a real problem, what is? It’s a clever strategic manouevre, if you pull it off. . .

No, it’s not that he got found out. It’s what that implies. For all the prudence in dealmaking, the revelation of deals like this makes the offeror look weak; and the Liberals can’t afford admissions of vulnerability while they’re behind in the polls. There is something left to lose, after all. Making your own party look weak is a serious offence, and when the other propsective party to the transaction won’t play ball, there’s no way to pretend that it’s anything other than weakness. That’s enough to require punishment, even if Paul Martin might wish the punishment could involve less self-sacrifice. After all, the offence may show weakness, but it also shows loyalty, if little judgement.

Of course the public won’t see much difference. A superficial similarity to Steven Harper’s troubles the day before demands a superficially similar response, whether deserved or not. There might be important distinctions to draw, but politics is no place to hone fine distinctions — just to pity those cut upon their edges.

Just Shy Of Right0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Friday January 13, 2006 at 11:24 pm)

Shyness just might be the explanation for former Conservative candidate Derek Zeisman’s failure to tell Customs officials he was bringing large quantities of alcohol back from his trip. It might also explain why he didn’t tell his party he was being prosecuted for smuggling as a result of his border bashfulness.

Faced with the consequences of discovery, a sudden case of shyness just might come over anyone.

So what’s Steven Harper’s excuse?

Oh, yes, the frosty Wonk knows: he’s declared that Mr. Zeisman won’t be allowed to sit as a Conservative if elected — until he’s cleared of charges:

Leader Stephen Harper said even if he wins B.C. Southern Interior Jan. 23, Zeisman will not be allowed to sit as a Tory until charges laid last year are resolved. Officials would not clarify what “resolved” means.

Let’s be clear about something. A criminal record doesn’t (and shouldn’t) necessarily prevent someone from sitting in the House of Commons (try to keep the cynical jokes to a minimum, please). Just ask Svend Robinson. If we really believe that people can change, past wrongs should simply be weighed among other considerations in deciding whether to vote for a candidate. Does any party have a perfect track record? Any candidate? Does it really matter what the offence is?

Yes. Some offences should be disqualifying; and Mr. Zeisman’s certainly is. It’s just not the offence that’s being talked about.

The problem isn’t that Mr. Zeisman may be guilty of smuggling, it’s that he’s definitely guilty of concealing important information from the public and his party.

If you can’t trust someone to tell you things which might make a significant difference, then how can you trust them in government? If Mr. Zeisman shirks his duty when it carries a personal cost, then he can’t possibly be considered suitable for public service. Whether he is cleared of all Customs offences or not, these offences will remain; and they are the serious ones.

That’s why Mr. Harper’s solution doesn’t go far enough. Mr. Zeisman should be expelled from the Conservative caucus (if not the party) for his offences, but not for a smuggling charge. And given these offences, Mr. Harper can’t be shy about what should be done: permanent and irreversible expulsion.

Good Sense Notwithstanding0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Golden Tacks (Thursday January 12, 2006 at 10:47 pm)

Getting folks riled up can be tough. Sometimes, they just don’t seem to care.

Confronted with that problem, Paul Martin responded with an idea so novel, he hadn’t bothered to include it in his election platform: prohibit the federal government from using the notwithstanding clause.

Is it a clever tactic, as the Hamilton Spectator suggests? Could it be that it will let Martin expose Harper’s position on various rights by accusing him of wanting to keep the clause so as to use it?

Perhaps, but it’s not worth the costs.

Canadians haven’t forgotten the trials and tribulations of a decade of constitutional wrangling. The prospect of reintroducing constitutional debate is hardly appetizing, especially given that most Canadians understand the political costs of using the clause. Given Martin’s performance so far this campaign, it’s unlikely he can wield a backbiting sword with the necessary skill to find his target.

Martin is again trying to present himself as a defender of the Charter of Rights. He’s not — that’s the Courts’ job. If he were so very disposed to defend it, why would his government have appealed the Court of Appeal’s decision in Harper v. Canada? Once the court determined that the Charter was violated by the electoral gag law, shouldn’t he have rushed to defend it? What exactly does this duty of defence amount to? Surely not selective policy advancement — that would just be cynical.

But to the point. Isn’t it notable that no other party has voiced support for the proposal (including the NDP)? They’ve got good reasons.

Could the notwithstanding clause be used to impose restrictions on child pornography? If necessary, yes. Could it be used to overrule the Supreme Court’s decision that convicts must be allowed to vote? If the public supports it, yes. Is giving up this flexibility worth an unlikely and minimal political benefit?

Only in a situation of extreme and dire desperation.

Besides which, Canadians are surely on to this ploy. If it’s that easy to stop the federal government from using the clause, isn’t it just as easy for another federal government to restore that power (don’t think too hard — the answer’s not well-hidden)?

Ah, but why think? Our leaders clearly don’t bother to, and they’re in charge.

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Wednesday January 11, 2006 at 11:09 pm)

If you haven’t heard of Duffy vs. Duffy, watch it.

No, this is serious. Download the plugin, do whatever is necessary, but watch it.

Canadian journalists have long suffered from a case of shrunken cojones (a certain risk in northern climes). Avoiding hard questions seems almost a religion. As regular readers will know, important questions aren’t hard to ask — if the frozen Wonk can ask them, anyone can.

The problem is that politicians are allowed to deflect. Journalists allow them to avoid questions, rephrase them, turn them back, or any number of other simple ploys to give the answer they want, rather than what the questioner is demanding.

That’s why special effort demands kudos.

Mike Duffy wasn’t putting up with John Duffy, Liberal strategist’s, evasions. He told him off, revealed the strategist’s off-camera plea to avoid the issue, and insisted on the importance of the question. Let there be no mistake, John Duffy doesn’t have to answer; but he does have to live with the consequences of not answering.

Will Duffy’s ratings rise? Sure hope so. He deserves it, a tip of the hat, and some kind of award from his colleagues.

Will someone cynically wish that this happened to politicians in moments of strength, and not just in moments of weakness? Yes.

But let’s not let that detract from a good thing.

Kudos, Mike.


Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Tuesday January 10, 2006 at 11:02 pm)

Four leaders, two final debates.

The good news: no more debates to come.
The bad news: no real debates so far.

Evidently, the media discovered what had long been known: debates require debate.

And so, they introduced limited rebuttals. The effect?

Nothing much. The leaders chose to remain on message — a task simplified by the fact that there could only be one rebuttal in the formal format. Failing to answer posed questions had no real consequences without significant cross-debate.

What was revealed were the policies for the remainder of the campaign:

For the Liberals, fear of the Conservatives’ numbers has led to negative campaigning. Paul Martin spent most of his time trying to establish a campaign on the basis of “values” — painting himself as a defender of “Canadian” values and the Tories and Steven Harper as against Canadian values. Attack ads aired since then have attempted to portray Steven Harper as a frightening, American-style (the horror) politician.

This tactic may not help much. The Tories have been focused on defining themselves from the beginning of this campaign, and it may be too late to succeed at redefining them. The major hope for this strategy is probably to attract NDP supporters frightened of a Tory win.

And Jack Layton and the NDP are trying to defend against that outcome. His message at the debate was simple: the NDP are a “better choice”. Look for him to use the term again and again as the campaign moves into the final stretch. He needs to reemphasize that the Liberals are not an adequate substitute for the NDP, and Layton’s attacks on Paul Martin were designed precisely for that purpose.

Similarly, Gilles Duceppe spent two nights picking mostly at the Liberals. When he had the opportunity, he spoke up the Bloc Quebecois as a defender of Quebec’s interests. In the English debate, he often seemed tired, but the discussion of national unity brought fire back to his eyes; and his performance in the french-language debate was more fiery. No real punches were landed on him in either debate; as before, most anti-separatist rhetoric was designed for consumption by those outside of Quebec.

Harper, ahead in the polls, managed to keep his cool while being attacked. He seemed to believe that his strategy of a steady diet of policy announcements and carefully-controlled appearances was paying dividends. He offered nothing he hadn’t before, but managed to come through no worse off.

The only novel point in the debate was a vague pledge by Paul Martin to eliminate federal use of the notwithstanding clause. Considering that the clause has never been used by the federal government, this point, too, can only be effective if Canadians genuinely fear a specific use of the clause. Those who do have likely already sided with the Liberals or NDP, which makes the whole effort dependent on swaying NDP voters.

That will depend on how fearful those voters are; and how readily they believe Liberal attack ads. Will these voters be those who were swayed by aggressive negative campaigning before, or will they be those who prefer to take offence at the idea of such ads? Isn’t it the very bloc of anti-American voters who would be ideologically opposed to negative campaigning? Isn’t that the bloc the ads are intended to appeal to?

All of which means one thing: the ads may be the only real source of debate.

So Far Away. . .0

Posted by JJ in By other means. . ., Crossroads of Culture (Monday January 9, 2006 at 1:38 am)

Iran, that mideast theocracy and long-time anti-Satan can seem far removed from the interests of the West. After all, the country seems unable to get so much as a loan without someone raising the issue of stoning or some other “barbaric” torture in objection. Trade between Iran and North America is small (most Iranian trade is with Central Europe, Syria, Japan, China, and South Korea.

But recently, the long-time agitator against the US has been giving other countries reason for concern.

Although no proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons program has been found (its explanation for the discovery of enriched uranium was corroborated last year), the United States is still concerned that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

But surely that won’t mean a nuclear holocaust. The Iranians don’t believe in holocausts.

If it were only the United States complaining, we might be able to dismiss the hijinks as another case of American overreaction. It’s not, though. Iran withdrew last week from a meeting with the IAEA, the global body responsible for monitoring nuclear activities, prompting an angry response from the body’s head, Mr. El Baradei:

I am running out of patience, the international community is running out patience, the credibility of the verification process is at stake and I’d like - by March - which is when my next report is, to be able to clarify these issues,

Everybody would like to see a regime by which the international community is assured that the Iranian programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes and there are still a number of issues we are looking at.

There is also a consensus that enrichment in … Iran right now is a matter of serious concern.

Iran feigned surprise at this show of concern, pointing out that:

R&D activities will be under the IAEA’s supervision and there is nothing to be worried about.

But then, just maybe, the head of the IAEA knows which things are worth worrying about.

Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (or NPT), a voluntary agreement whose signatories subject themselves to periodic monitoring of their nuclear operations by the IAEA. If the IAEA isn’t pleased with compliance, there’s a problem.

Now, Iranian non-compliance may just be a religio-national point of pride aimed at maintaining public support for what some claim is a totalitarian regime; but in this case, neighbours share some of these concerns.

In part, these concerns are shared by other non-democratic regimes fearful of the threat posed by would-be theocrats within their own borders. Iran’s ruling elite has elements supportive of exporting their theocratic islamic government abroad. These government’s self-interest notwithstanding, it’s far from clear that creating more Taliban-era Afghanistans would be a good thing.

Is this just so much anti-Iran harangue? Overreaction?

No. It shouldn’t be. It’s a call to make sure that international agencies do what they’re supposed to. If the head of the IAEA isn’t satisfied with Iran’s compliance, it’s time for governments to stand behind him. Russia is offering a face-saving solution, where they would oversee and control any enrichment programs for the Iranians, but will also block any attempt to use the Security Council to impose conditions on Iran — both Russia and China want to maintain positive relations with the country.

Should other countries be concerned? Absolutely. It doesn’t get much more dangerous, potentially, than nuclear arms; and even if the threat of MAD isn’t the top-ten item it once was (no, not MAD, MAD), it shouldn’t just drop off the radar.

If people are engaged in positive debate and understanding, we might just avoid knee-jerk reactions which fail to achieve their ends. That’s something those opposed to Iran’s alleged ambitions really don’t need.

If candidates in the Canadian election feel that Canada needs to play a larger role in global affairs, it might be interesting to know how they propose Canada contribute to this situation. Or will Canada navel-gaze behind the shield it loves to spurn?

Shouldn’t we pay this whole thing a bit more attention?

Daughters of Mnemosyne0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Bad Press (Sunday January 8, 2006 at 11:47 pm)

The Muses, if you’ll recall, were patrons of the arts and sources of inspiration.

Apparently, inspiring isn’t what it used to be.

When a reporter recently suggested that it was impossible for the Conservatives to form a majority government, their leader, Steven Harper, tersely retorted:

I don’t think we know that yet.

Which the Toronto Star reports as:

Harper Muses on Possibility of Majority Win

Truly inspirational.

In other news, man muses on backpacking through Europe by choosing between French and Italian salad dressing.

Is nothing happening? Oh, not so. The Liberals are shifting ground to attack the Conservative plan’s underlying economic base, the Conservatives are hinting at further substantive policy releases and the leaders are gearing up for the last round of debates.

But let’s go with the muse thing.

Nothing to Add0

Posted by JJ in The Elephant, Golden Tacks, A House Divided (Sunday January 8, 2006 at 11:05 am)

This, sadly, is too long to be a daily feature.

Fortunately, it’s been published.

We’ve Heard That One Before0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Vague Check (Friday January 6, 2006 at 12:49 pm)

Conservative leader Steven Harper is now trying to reap the fruits of his earlier work. Having spent the previous half of the campaign promoting his platform, he’s now going to refer back to it, hopefully reinforcing the proposals.

But his daycare business? Nonsense.

How will he create 125,000 daycare spaces in five years by spending $250 Million each year? Simple! The cost per space will shrink!

  • Year one: $10,000 per space for 25,000 spaces
  • Year two: $5,000 per space for 50,000 spaces
  • Year three: $3,333.33 per space for 75,000 spaces
  • Year four: $2,500 per space for 100,000 spaces
  • Year five: $2,000 per space for 125,000 spaces

See? Division is easy! It’s funding childcare spaces that’s hard.

Ah, but Harper has at least admitted that this funding will only help with the set-up of spaces and that maintenance of those spaces will be funded by users. Will Paul Martin do the same?

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